“Do Not Forsake the Assembly…”

What happens when a small church has nearly all the men called away on a job in the community, leaving but one regular male attendee, who does not prefer to lead, and a host of women and children, and some visiting males?

“Normal” Church of Christ: The solitary male — regardless of leadership history or skill — must step up and lead these women and children by doing everything. OR services must be cancelled until such a time that the men can come back and lead a service. OR the men reject those who need them in favor of the assembly, which could not function without them.

Our church: Women take over, so we can have services at a normal time, in the normal place.

The title of this post is a misnomer, because it isn’t about the men going off to do a project on a Sunday morning, “forsaking” the needs of the church for the needs of the community. What if it had been a war? Or an emergency, epidemic, etc.? Sure, those are rather far-fetched possibilities, but just so it’s known: service projects that early on a Sunday are not common. These guys had special skills and equipment and an allotted amount of time to tear down and build up a new food bank in town. Sometimes, weekends are the only time they have to do projects like this.

And because this is the 21st century, the women could go join them later that day to swing a hammer, if needed.

So, why can’t 21st century women in the church pick up a Bible they’ve been reading all their lives, or a lead songs they’ve been singing forever (because that’s the only voice they had in the assembly), or pass communion plates, or pray to God like they do in every other part of their lives? Because of the body parts we possess? Because we are feeble-minded and easily deceived, in comparison to men, and will mess it all up? Because we are untrustworthy with scripture and “pattern of worship”? Because we are somehow still unclean in the eyes of God?

I’ve done a lot of learning “in quietness and full submission” (1 Tim 2:11) — much of it in a college. If I have the ability to use that education for something other than teaching my children, I should use it, especially if it allows us to hold services at the normal time, so we can welcome guests and provide a time of renewal and fellowship. Why should the women be forced to forsake an assembly because a man with the spiritual gifts of leadership — regardless of the length of time he’s been a Christian — is not around to make sure it’s done RIGHT?

Wouldn’t that be more dangerous than just allowing the women to share some of the burden of leadership once in awhile?

Here’s an interesting scenario: Say we had some kind of mass conversion of adult male Mormons or people off the streets, who don’t quite understand the Gospel (yet) as those women in the congregation who’ve been studying it all their lives. Who is it who now must learn in quietness and full submission, like the wives in Timothy who’d never been to a synagogue? In the event that most of the men were gone one day, would any of those new, baptized, male members of the church be qualified to stand up and take authority over the women? What about an eight- or nine-year-old male who’s just been baptized, making it impossible for a woman to teach his Sunday School class, per church policy? (Funny side note: That teacher, now out of a job, could attend the adult class and speak up whenever she wanted to. Because…not worship? She could also teach her own male children at home, adult or otherwise.)

I would be all about letting them speak and give testimony, but I do not believe that it should be church practice to force the women to submit to the “authority” of someone who has not been in the church very long. I can’t imagine Priscilla, who is so often referenced by Paul for her evangelizing with her husband, kept her mouth shut when Apollos went off the rails a bit. She and her husband took him in hand and taught him more thoroughly (Acts 18:24-26). Do you think Priscilla was mentioned because she merely provided a meal while the men talked? I cannot see her doing anything but speaking up when it was necessary. How about Paul’s other female co-workers (mentioned in previous posts), or Timothy’s mother and grandmother? What about Lydia, who attended a prayer group in Philippi (Acts 16:11-15)? She converted and led the conversion of her entire household, and she began hosting a church in her home. Do you think she needed Paul to stick around and raise up some male leaders before they could get that thing going? Did they have to reject all men and only have ladies’ classes until a preacher could be sent to them? Nope, by the time Paul and Silas left the region, they already had sisters and brothers at Lydia’s house.

Really, it’s about consistency of narrative. Are women truly that much farther from God, or morally inferior, than the men? Does God play favorites, or is he impartial (as in 1 Pet 1:17 and Gal 3:28)? And why should first century attitudes toward women still prevail in the 21st century church, when we’ve modernized and standardized everything else?

BONUS:

Speaking of modernization… I eventually want to touch on other subjects, like instruments in worship, but for now women’s roles in the church has been a more urgent topic to me. However, yesterday really was an interesting case study on flexible worship practices. Women led the services, and though we have been in the habit of using instruments — including a projector for words to the music — our main guitar player was gone and I am not comfortable playing piano and leading songs. Too many moving parts there. 🙂

We don’t have hymnals, either. Like the first century church, we make do with what we have at the time. I confess that I used to dislike “devo songs” outside of camp, youth activities, and small group get-togethers, because the church the size of the one we used to attend, which can afford hymnals and projecting the notes on the screen above the congregation, should be able to also afford to raise good, strong song leaders and train the congregation in the more complicated hymns — if the only instruments we are allowed to use are our voices. However, when half the tiny congregation to which you belong is either too young, too new, or too shy to sing in four-part harmony those hymns others who’ve been in church all their lives probably remember by heart, you have to use easy-to-learn, easy-to-follow “devo songs” that do not require hymnals, projectors, or complicated harmonies.

We didn’t even turn the lights on in the building we were in yesterday. Well, there were some lights on in the kitchen area, and some Christmas lights strung around the room, but the overhead lights where we were sitting weren’t on. We had no need for electricity at all, and sat in chairs in a half-circle, singing songs together, taking the Lord’s Supper, sharing scripture (Psalms, no less!) and testimony, and praying as a group. That’s what I imagine the first century church was like — perhaps with more male involvement, but who knows whether the “first day of the week” might not have been a day the men could close up shop or leave their duties they had in town, like it is today.

So when I hear the term “The Pattern of the Church” used like “The Law of the Fathers”, I grit my teeth, especially since the modern Church of Christ today is so far removed from the church it’s trying to emulate, in the post-Jewish-Law first century.

I haven’t yet completely exhausted the topic of women’s roles in the church, but I do feel like branching out into other topics now. Maybe my next post will be about instruments, since that is another interesting, convoluted hot-button topic in Church of Christ Law.

Until then, the peace and comfort of the Lord be with you!

Unless this post has made you uncomfortable, in which case may the Lord guide you in your studies and testing of the scripture, until you come to a reasonable conclusion. Don’t just take my word for it! Go look it up in the true Word, and see if it is right or wrong — but do it without bias, and in the context of the scriptures around it. We cannot pick and choose verses to uphold practice if it does not hold up in context. Let the Holy Spirit point out those verses we always took for granted, and let Jesus shine light on them so we can all come to a better understanding.

“May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” 2 Cor 13:14

Advertisements

A Communion Memorial Story

I had a chance to do the communion message today. I wasn’t sure what to talk about, though, since I hadn’t really thought about communion for some time. I’ve participated in it, sure, like I have nearly every week of my life as a baptized Christian, but I’ve struggled with its significance and its impact on my life (not the necessity for it, just how I need to approach it, because I feel I had not been taking it seriously for years).

Communion is very important in our particular “faith tribe”, and is performed every Sunday, but only Sundays. Evening services were created back during WWII so those who worked Sunday mornings could go to church in the evenings and take communion then. If you missed communion, it could be brought to you, or you could partake in a small group setting. I grew up with the impression that if you missed communion for any reason other than sickness, you’ve messed up somehow. You showed up on Sunday to take communion.

On one hand, this mindset is okay. It says, I take this new covenant very seriously, and I desire a weekly memorial of why Jesus came to earth for me and why I am a part of this congregation of believers. The early Christians desired this, too, and, according to Acts, came together weekly to break bread and pray together, Jew and Gentile alike.

On the other hand, if you’re not careful, it becomes just another church ritual that you check off every week. I’ve felt like this for a long time, and even though I was happy to be asked to bring a communion message (me, or my husband, or both of us — however we wanted to do it), I was a little terrified that my message would be fraudulent, spoken from the mouth of someone who’d merely been going through the motions for years.

But maybe I wasn’t the only one feeling this way. So, I figured, why not get down to the nuts and bolts of it? This little morsel of bread and sip of juice that we do every week is a tiny remnant from Jesus’ last Passover feast with his apostles. I’ve heard 1 Cor 11:23-32 repeated verbatim every week in one congregation we attended years ago. Don’t get me wrong; that’s an important passage. It makes you think. I also used to almost have my dad’s communion reading memorized. I know the story from years of hearing it read or repeated from memory over the plates before they were passed, but when was the last time I really thought about it?

So, I did what comes easiest to me: I wrote a story and read it aloud. Here it is:

Once upon a time, a certain Jewish man and twelve of his dearest students and friends sat down to eat a meal that they had participated in once a year, every year for most of their remembered lives. These twelve friends had been traveling with this man, their Teacher, for months, enduring hardships of all kinds. He taught them a new way to treat people, and a new way to view God and His Law. At first it was difficult to believe that this lowly man was more than another prophet sent from God to predict the Messiah, but hearing him speak and seeing his signs made the truth undeniable — this man was the Savior.

And he was going to die.

He had told them this, himself, several times leading up to this meal. They knew from the prophets. But they still had so much to learn! Surely the Father would let him stay around longer. He had said he was to be crucified. Surely he was speaking figuratively again. How could God allow his Son to die in such a cruel, humiliating way? Wouldn’t that just discredit everything he had taught? Crucifixion was for criminals.

As their Teacher spoke to them while they ate this ritual supper, he changed some things. He wouldn’t drink the wine, instead telling them to share it amongst themselves. He broke the bread, gave thanks as was customary, handed it to them, and said, “This is my body.”

Wait, hadn’t they heard him say this before? The Pharisees had fits over it. Those literal perfectionists weren’t used to his figurative speech.

“Broken for you.”

…Because he had a habit of speaking figuratively.

“Do this in remembrance of me.”

For decades they had participated in this meal. It was a pinnacle of their religion. But their rabbi was asking them to change the focus of their ritual.

Do this, my friends, not to remember something God commanded your ancestors to do, but someone who is with you right now. Someone you will miss. Someone who loves you and who has been patient with your tempers and slow understanding, who has spent nearly every waking moment with you while we traveled all over and preached new, wonderful, dangerous things to a needy world. Listen up now, my dear friends. This is an important moment.

How silent might they have been at this point, waiting for what comes next? After their supper, Jesus picked up a cup and said in his familiar, figurative speech, “This cup represents a new covenant, established in my blood.” Not the blood of the sacrifice on Mt. Sinai, when Moses sprinkled the people standing before him, sealing the covenant making them God’s people. “It is shed for the forgiveness of sins. For many. For you.”

Not a week would pass before they would understand these words fully. They would see their friend die in the worst possible way. They would see his followers, even his dearest friends, betray him, desert him…deny him. Terrible signs would mark his passing, as if Creation, itself, were grieving. But they would not see him fly off that cross and make a show of forgiving the world. No angels came down to retrieve his body and take it up to heaven, to show these unbelievers how wrong they were to kill him. This was a disaster.

And then, a short time later, it wasn’t. He showed himself to few, and then to many — risen, resurrected, just as he and the prophets foretold.

Passover would never be the same again.

And then I read Jeremiah 31:31-34:

“The days are coming,” declares the Lord,
“when I will make a new covenant
with the people of Israel
and with the people of Judah.

It will not be like the covenant
I made with their ancestors
when I took them by the hand
to lead them out of Egypt,
because they broke my covenant,
though I was a husband to them,”
declares the Lord.

“This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel
after that time,” declares the Lord.
“I will put my law in their minds
and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
No longer will they teach their neighbor,
or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest,”
declares the Lord.

“For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more.”

I said a few more things, and left out some things I wanted to say, but overall I think it went well. It sure was harder to read than to write. My voice was already wavering in the first paragraph. But it helped me get back to basics, and remember why our teeny little version of the critical covenant ritual is so crucial to our religious lives. It’s a faint shadow of what it used to be, and possibly of things to come. It’s a moment of grief and rejoicing, not just rote doctrine, not just cerebral reflection. There are some “big feelings” attached to it that I can barely handle if I think about it too deeply — and that may be why I just never thought about it too deeply. I’m thankful I had the chance to dig into it and share it with others in my church family when we met together for that reason.

I didn’t know what I would feel like bringing an actual message to the congregation, up front, like someone with some form of authority on the subject. That opportunity had never been extended to me before in such a venue. I’d often wondered what it would be like to do such a thing, and whether I could remain humble. How I felt was similar to Paul’s feelings in 1 Cor 2:1-5. Not that I equate myself to Paul, or even think I wasn’t trying to be wise on the subject, but the only “eloquence” I managed was written beforehand. Anything I said outside of that fell out of my mouth in an understandable way only by the grace of God. 🙂 Fortunately, my husband was doing the praying and the offering thought. God blessed me with a great partner. 🙂

Interesting Find

This Sunday, we visited my parents’ church. We actually made it for class — which is kind of a miracle for me — and it’s a good thing we did. I probably would have noticed it eventually, but the teacher of the adult class read a passage from Philippians, and as I was skimming around, my eyes lit upon 4:2-3, which reads:

I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life. (Phil 4:2-3, NIV)

I read it over and over again, and the more I read it, the more it occurred to me that this language is about as unambiguous as you can get. Yet again, it’s another passage I’ve always just kind of skimmed over, like Roman’s 16. After all, it has no bearing on today’s church, and it’s talking about women, besides. Women didn’t do anything important in the epistles, right? Other than hold churches in their houses, that is. Just hosting, not leading… We’re supposed to believe Paul didn’t like women taking part in services.

Except that these two forgettable verses totally blow that belief out of the water.

Let’s break it down:

1. Paul pleads with two women to agree on spiritual matters. This is not a plea for them to agree over the children’s curriculum, how to conduct the women’s ministry, what flowers to place on the pulpit, or what food they would make for the love feasts. The disagreement of these two women — if, indeed, it even is a disagreement — appears to be making waves big enough for Paul to gently ask his fellow “companion” (unnamed in this particular verse, though some believe it is either Epaphroditus or someone named “Syzygos”, which literally means “companion”) to “help” them. We don’t know what their dispute is, and we don’t know what kind of help Paul asks of his friend, but we know the dispute must be making an impact on congregations in that area, and if so, those women must have some ministerial clout — otherwise, why would Paul waste time on it?

2. Paul does not tell the recipient of his letter to command them to be silent. Even women members of churches that do not allow female leadership can cause divisions and strife, but if they are to be subject to male authority, wouldn’t Paul be telling the men of Philippi to shut their women down, as he supposedly told Timothy to do in Ephesus? No, these women were special to Paul. It’s fairly clear they have a special place in the ministry. He is not asking them to sit down, shut up, and learn in silence and humility from the men — as we think he does for every woman, if 1 Tim 2:12 is to be taken literally for time and eternity. Why not? Did Paul change his mind by the time he wrote to Timothy, or…is it possible that the passage in Timothy might have been — dare I say it — cultural? No, he is asking his companion to help them — either mediate their dispute or just be there for them — but not silence them. Why? Because…

3. These women are “co-workers” with Paul, and have worked “by his side” for the cause of the gospel. (Quotes added to emphasize literal terms taken from the verses.) I suppose we could stretch that out, like some have stretched the reference to Philip’s four daughters, to say that they only taught the women and children. But Paul doesn’t say that here, and he mentions Clement — a male — in the same reference. He uses the same language (“in the cause of the Gospel” and “co-workers”) in the beginning of the book, referring to men we recognize readily as church ministers or deacons. It seems foolhardy to attribute any other occupation to these women than teaching the gospel as Paul taught it — to anyone and everyone who would listen.

These passages are vignettes into the early ministry of the church, but have been excluded from serious consideration by the adherence to the “pattern of the church”. It’s amazing to me how I could read the same book over and over, and not ever pick up on little important tidbits like this one until I start opening my heart to what the New Testament really says about the early church, and stop using it as a God’s New Law for Christians.

Here is an article providing a little more insight on the topic: http://newlife.id.au/bible-study-notes/philippians-4_2-5/

BONUS:

My parents’ church is one that doesn’t allow women in the pulpit or active ministry during the worship services — not even for scripture readings, song leading, or plate passing. However, with the exception of leading them, women can fully participate in adult classes before or after services, or during the week. They still can’t lead prayer or be a speaker with men present, but they can read aloud and take part in the discussion.

The adult class was pretty large this Sunday, but few were participating, even though the teacher asked for people to read passages aloud. I assume not as many were volunteering, because he was asking for them to read entire chapters from Ecclesiastes, and they had to be loud, but it was really odd to me just how quiet everyone was. No one jumped on the chance to read aloud by the third chapter he was asking for, and I hadn’t been participating fully because I was kind of a visitor and didn’t need to draw attention to myself when I hadn’t been there for most of the discussions — but I love reading aloud. I volunteered, and he called on me. I read Ecclesiastes 10 out loud, and no one batted an eye (that I know of).

1 Tim 2:11 says, “A woman (or “wife”, and I am both) should learn in quietness and full submission.” Those who have interpreted this to mean women (or wives) can’t even be allowed to stand in the pulpit on Sundays and read scripture upon pain of disapproval or condemnation have no trouble with this practice outside of the corporate worship service. But why? Paul isn’t specific about when or where. He does say learn, so wouldn’t that also apply to Bible classes? Couldn’t I, interpreting that verse as church law (which is what it has become), have “usurped” the “authority” of another man in the group to read the Bible aloud, even when no men were rising to the task? Shouldn’t the teacher have picked one of the able-voiced men to read, so the women wouldn’t get any ideas?

To be fair, this church is solidly centrist, all things considered, so there is a great deal more freedom there than in other churches I’ve been to. It just seems to me they (and other churches who still believe as they do) are working from a double standard. If they believe that God commanded through Paul for time and eternity that women cannot participate in services, even to read scripture or silently pass plates down the aisles (an activity which is even less scriptural than female participation in it), it would follow that women should be forced to keep to themselves in Bible classes, also.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m thankful I’ve been allowed to participate, because it’s hard for me to keep my mouth shut on some topics, but it chafes that the same scriptural knowledge or talent for reading aloud that I’m allowed to show in class cannot be used for good in the worship service, as well.

Just a thought for today. God be with you!

There is Still SO MUCH…

…But I’m going to leave you with some stuff I found, before I can update again:

So, how DID we get so anti-woman in our translations? Good ol’ Augustine, following trusty, dusty ol’ Plato! This post contains a great Power Point (and PDF of it, if you don’t have the requisite software) outlining just where some of this reasoning came from: https://godaslove.wordpress.com/2015/03/04/platos-spectacles-how-greek-philosophy-has-distorted-our-view-of-women-in-the-bible/

When Paul uses the form of authenteo in his writing in 1 Timothy 2:12, what is he referring to? Here is an eye-opening description of the temple worship in Ephesus, which the newborn church had to contend with, and it is NOT pretty (this is where the study of culture makes SUCH a huge difference in our interpretation of Paul’s letters): https://apostleswarning.wordpress.com/2015/06/22/idol-worship-in-the-old-testament-and-the-new-implications-for-biblical-equality/

And an interesting, mistranslated passage from Isaiah 3:12 that does not jive with the Old Testament scriptures the New Testament Greeks quoted from. This is cool!: https://godaslove.wordpress.com/2015/02/10/a-biblical-view-of-men-and-women/

(Along a similar vein, Joel 2:28, where “your sons AND DAUGHTERS will prophesy” has often been overlooked, because the next two lines don’t mention women at all (not that they mention anything the churches believe men are doing nowadays). But in the Septuagint, the word “men” isn’t even present. It’s essentially, “Your old will see visions and your young will dream dreams.” This passage is all-inclusive!)

I’ve been neglectful of my blogs, but I need to get back into it. In the meantime, check out those blogs I posted from above, and also The Junia Project, which I discovered while reading a couple of Facebook pages, where I got those other blog posts: What the Bible Really Says About Women and Let My People Go: A Call To End the Oppression of Women in the Church

I hope you enjoy those references as much as I have! 🙂

[CORR: I originally wrote “2 Tim 2:12” instead of “1 Tim”, so I’ve gone back and fixed that, and the tag.]

What Do I Mean When I Say “Christian Feminism”?

I know that the conservative circles in which I tend to step foot generally have this gut reaction to the word “feminism”, that causes them to back off and give you the side-eye, and all but make the sign of the cross in your direction. Not to say these people are bad or rude, or even wrong –– merely mistaken.

“Feminism” wasn’t always a dirty word, at least not to those with basic human rights in mind. Women wouldn’t have the right to vote today, or the ability to drive or work side-by-side with men in the business world if it weren’t for feminism. Most of the “enlightened” world thought women feeble-minded, delicate in everything, highly distractible –– yet didn’t think twice about expecting them to carry and birth children while also taking care of the laborious chores of the home, with children underfoot. Women too “distractible” to drive a car still had to budget the money, shop for the food, care for the children, do the laundry, sometimes school the children, etc. No one looked twice at the double-standard, just as no one looks twice at the double-standard in the church regarding women who are expected to do all the “Christiany” and “churchy” things to “stay right with God” –– but are untrustworthy in the pulpit, even to give testimony, make a confession, or read scripture (as if the mere presence of a woman and a Bible on a dais in the front of a church is a formula for condemnation of a whole congregation).

So, when I say “Christian Feminism”, I’m not talking about the destructive feminist attitudes of today, which go beyond securing natural rights for women, to the point of destroying masculinity and femininity in a pursuit to scrub all differences, bringing men low and elevating women, to a point where we cannot celebrate our differences or make them work together in an egalitarian fashion. I am talking about the masculine and the feminine working together to achieve a balance, with maturity and agape attitudes, and a healthy dose of common sense.

Because of the work of past feminists, I had the right to go to college. Not only that, I had the right to go to a Christian college and wear pants (“trousers” for those in the UK). I could take almost all the Bible classes I wanted to, and get the education I desired at that time.

However, because feminism diverged so radically from Christianity somewhere down the line, our particular “faith tribe” never got the memo that women have the same capability for public speaking and teaching, the same mental acuity for apologetics and hermeneutics –– and the same Spirit that God gave to men upon committing themselves to Christ. We can still do all the things in modern society that women are allowed to do (any men still hold regrets that women can vote, drive, or run for public office?), but we cannot even stand in front of the congregation and read the Bible out loud, for fear of… What? Men thinking that woman has snatched that Bible out of the hand of the [male] elder or deacon sent up there to read it, told him to sit down and shut up because it’s HER time to shine, and is reading the words of Paul or Moses or Amos or whomever with the intent to cast some sort of feminine spell over the married men in the congregation, or somehow become confused and deceived by the words she’s reading, like Eve was deceived by the serpent? Seriously?

Or that God has somehow deemed, somewhere between the time of the apostles and the last words of Paul, that women are not worthy to be asked to even repeat the words from the Bible in a church setting (nevermind public; that seems to be okay), because that was not what we were made for, and in fact would be sinful?

In what reasonable, logical world does that make even a modicum of sense?

“Christian Feminism”, in the context I use it here, is a term for the effort to break through the misguided traditions of the churches based on the misinterpretation (deliberate or otherwise) of Paul’s words in the epistles, and allow women to work side-by-side with men (while still retaining our God-given femininity) as sisters in Christ –– not as Spiritual weaklings who need men to recommend us to Christ for salvation. It is not a grasp for power. It is not a means of seduction or deception or destruction of the masculine half of the church. It is a plea for Christian freedom. A plea to be allowed to desire the greater gifts of the Spirit Paul talks about in his epistles, when he addresses the congregations as a whole. A plea to be taken seriously in Christ, just as the men demand we take them seriously. A plea to quit insulting our intelligence and our integrity –– or the male’s integrity toward his sisters in Christ.

I’m not saying to turn a blind eye to the weaknesses and failings of humanity toward the opposite sex, so obviously I could hope common sense would be used in making sure women and men act appropriately toward one another, just like the writers of the epistles asked the early Christians to. We can celebrate the unique capabilities of the masculine and the feminine, working in harmony for a better church and a better world, without turning it into an instant recipe for sexual immorality (which seems to be the trump card many will play when their traditions don’t hold up to logic). Of course there will be temptations. Of course there should be boundaries in place. But aren’t we already expected to have those in the workplace? In schools? Everywhere outside the church building?

As if secular society is so much better at acting appropriately toward one another than the church is?

If this is the case, the church has a much bigger problem than women approaching the pulpit.

I merely ask that we take a better look at our motivations for keeping women from leadership, or out of the pulpit altogether, because the “Biblical” ones don’t hold water. If the prophetess Anna can be allowed to proclaim the birth of Jesus in the temple, and the Samaritan woman at the well can be the first evangelist to the Gentiles, it should seem reasonable that a woman can at the very least do the scripture reading before the sermon or silently pass the communion emblems between the aisles, with confidence that God isn’t going to yank her salvation or that of those who allowed her to do these things.

I also ask that anyone who questions this use their brain first in considering this topic. Those who immediately pull out the trumps and throw the red flags are leading with their emotions, and not their reasoning. Emotions have their place, but they have for too long been used to uphold erroneous traditions, because sometimes it hurts to question or go against “how we’ve always done it”. I know this well; there are still traditions I balk at questioning. If I were a Jew back in Jesus’ era, I might very well have balked at Jesus’ radical message of eradicating the manmade traditions in favor of relationship and forgiveness that doesn’t require setting fire to something or washing my hands to my elbows.

We’ve done so much to modernize the church: We have a pulpit, baptistries, electricity (so, warm baptistries!), audio-visual systems, hymnals and projections, streaming webcams, buildings with many rooms, libraries, children’s curriculum, etc. We have paid preachers, youth ministers, church officers (to comply with state and/or federal law), schools, song leaders –– and many more things never, ever mentioned in scripture. Yet, because of the deviations of a few misguided cultural entities back in Paul’s time (SOOO much different than ours), we have excluded an entire gender from the important and relevant work of the church –– but only inside the confines of the hours the church meets, as if it’s the only time God is present in our lives –– despite the fact that women have equal or nearly equal (and sometimes greater) footing with the very same men in public society.

So now, regardless of whether you agree with me, you at least have some understanding of my use of the term “Christian Feminism”, and why I believe it’s an important topic that should be addressed by every church.

As always, may the Peace and Love of Christ be with you. 🙂

“Christian Feminism and the Modern Church” Revisited

After my last post, I received a comment that required much more time and space to respond than I wanted to leave in the comment section. The commenter, Scott Shifferd Jr., brings up a number of points that are recognizably the same doctrines I grew up with, and a couple I hadn’t heard before. The church in which I spent most of my childhood probably had these same talking points, but I was pretty young when it split up over a leadership dispute – as was the habit of Churches of Christ in this part of Washington State.

At any rate, I figured I’d just turn my response into a blog post, because these are the very traditions I am questioning, delivered in a manner that, though patronizing, was not harsh, abusive, or worthy of editing/deletion. It took a long time to fashion this, but I wanted to make sure I said as much as I could in as few words as possible – and there is so much to say! I probably should have published it in parts, because I couldn’t spend a lot of time on the whole thing to get it all out in once piece in a timely fashion.

I also wanted to make sure I answered in as reasonable a tone as possible. I know that the old resentment I fight with will leak through at times, and I ask that my readers forgive me, because I am still grieving over being subjected to a law of condemnation for most of my Christian life, and I’m grieving for those who still are. As much as I wish people with the same beliefs as Mr. Shifferd could understand my perspective, I don’t wish ill on any of them. They’re still my brothers and sisters.

So, without further ado…

Mr. Shifferd: I plead with you to reconsider in the name of Christ. Can we not deceive ourselves? Are you open-minded to rethink this?

I believe what you’re asking me here is if I can stop deceiving myself, and if I’m open to rethinking this.

Because I do believe the Churches of Christ have inadvertantly deceived themselves, and I am open-minded for rethinking it. And the name of Christ gives me freedom to do so.

Mr. Shifferd: Do a word-study of every use of diakonos and gunaikos.

It’s not necessary to do that, because the use of gune is even more versatile than the use of diakonos. Every mention of woman does not necessarily mean wife, and vice-versa. But every use of diakonos in the epistles means deacon, in the “churchy” sense – and that is how Paul uses it in Romans 16:1. He is describing a woman, using the word diakonos. It is undeniable, and unrefutable. He is telling a church to accept a hard-working woman deacon as they would accept Paul (Romans 16:1-2).

But most Bible translations change it to “servant”, so why look it up and question tradition? Even my dad, who is more of a Bible scholar than I am, didn’t know that diakonos was used here – because, supposedly, the first century churches did not employ women deacons, so there would be no reason to link “servant” with “deacon”. Not only that, but most translations will put a little footnote that says “deaconess”, which allows anyone reading it to put her in some other women-only category, but that’s not how the word is used, either. It is a gender-neutral word, meaning deacon. We have no reason to believe Paul would have used the word the way he did in this particular context if he meant something else (like he did in Philippians 1:1, when using a different word for “servant” in the context of himself and Timothy, as I mentioned in my last post).

Not only that, but it appears Phoebe – from a church in Cenchrea, in Corinth, where Paul is supposedly telling women to sit down and shut up – is hand-delivering the letter from Paul to the church of the Romans. Paul didn’t choose a man to do it. He didn’t tell just the women to accept her. He didn’t tell the church leaders to accept her as they would accept a woman of God’s people. He told them to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of His people (the saints) (vs 2). Then he proceeded to praise a number of hard-working women, even elevating Priscilla to the level of co-worker with him, and elevating Junia (yes, a woman, despite the efforts of early translators to attempt to change the name into a man’s) even higher than him as an apostle who came before him in Christ (not one of the Twelve, obviously, but one that came after – remember, “apostle” merely means “one sent”. Paul wasn’t one of the Twelve, either). (Romans 16)

Mr. Shifferd: Your hermeneutic is foreign to me. Knowledge of first-century culture helps us to understand, but it is not an approach to comprehending God’s Word.

You’re half right. God’s Word (Jesus) doesn’t require cultural translation. God’s Word is loving your neighbor as yourself. It’s loving your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. It’s allowing God to transform your life with grace instead of condemnation, producing the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. If we read the words of the Bible without cultural trappings, we can ingest the messages and apply it to our own culture.

However, knowledge of first-century culture is instrinsic and essential to comprehending Paul’s words. And Matthew’s, Mark’s, Luke’s, John’s (especially Revelation), etc. Jesus wasn’t born in a cultural vacuum, and did not perfect it before his death. There were difficulties in the first century church, or there would not have been any need for reprimand or correction in the epistles. The first-century church was a mess, but we romanticize it and epitomize it as this doctrinal ideal, and hang on Paul’s words as if they were the new Law written down for the ages, when what he was doing was telling them that they need to pay attention to the teachings of Jesus, be loving to each other, quit fighting and taking each other for granted, make the worship service orderly and respectful instead of a chaotic pagan party, and love only your spouses (instead of your mistresses) and don’t divorce them – among other things.

Mr. Shifferd: The Scriptures command no cultural practices, and knowing culture is never needed to understand Scripture. I would reconsider if you could provide scripture.

Paul expressly, succinctly mentioned four times to greet each other with a holy kiss. He also said that men are to pray with their hands raised. Do we do that today? No. Why not? Because they’re cultural, and we can dispense with them at will, right? Do we force the women in the church to keep their hair long and unbraided, and leave their jewelry at home, just as we force them to live in subjection during the service? No? Why not? Because that was cultural. We say it all the time when brushing off those passages, so we don’t look like the Pentecostals, who make their women wear skirts and grow their hair long and eschew all makeup and jewelry. Interesting choices in interpretation we make when applying culture to some things and not to all.

Why would Paul discourage marriage in 1 Corinthians 7 and highly encourage it in Timothy if there wasn’t something cultural going on? In fact, in 1 Cor 7:26, Paul refers to a “present crisis”. Clearly, that does not concern our age, but we wouldn’t be good students of the Bible if we didn’t differentiate between the “present crises” of Paul’s era (social inequality, pagan traditions, Gnosticism, political upheaval, warfare, persecution, etc.) and the relative safety and luxury of our era, including social and educational equality for women.

Another point of fact: All those chapters on gifts of the Spirit – where Paul is saying to eagerly desire the “greater gifts” (such as prophecy, in 14:1) – are directed toward the adelphos, or “brethren”, which does not distinguish between men and women, but addresses them both. Seems he would have been careful to differentiate between men and women in the churches where he supposedly is forbidding (for time and eternity) women to have any role in the worship other than spectator.

Mr. Shifferd: Using culture as your lenses for comprehension will distort your view replacing sight with a veil.

On the contrary: It opens your eyes. One of the biggest failings in using our culture as a lens through which to read scripture (instead of using Jesus as the lens) is in understanding the significance of the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4. Women in our culture have the capability of divorcing and marrying whomever we want, so we assume that same ability on the women of Jesus’ era, so when we view Jesus’ response to the Samaritan woman’s mention that she has no husband (vs. 17-18), we call her a sinner, an adultress, a woman who “gets around” – as if she had a choice. In fact, when we study the culture of that time, we find that she is a pariah, unwanted, and probably unclean by their standards. If she had children with any of those husbands who divorced her, they would be considered illegitimate. Her situation is heartbreaking when the veil of 21st-century self-righteousness is lifted from our eyes.

Women couldn’t divorce their husbands in that culture – and why would they, since their husbands were their livelihoods? – but they could be divorced for any number of reasons by their husbands, up to and including being seen talking to another man in the street, unchaperoned. Perhaps one or two of this woman’s five husbands had died. In order to even scrape out a life for herself, she is forced to live with a man who either doesn’t want to marry her or could be keeping her as a mistress in exchange for a roof over her head. Why else would she be avoiding the crowds at the well in the cooler parts of the day?

Without knowing something about the culture of that time, all we see is Jesus judging this woman, not having compassion on her in her lowly, humble state. So we feel free to judge, as if she had a choice to leave all those husbands like we do, instead of trying to understand the depth of Jesus’ compassion for the very dregs of humanity he reached out to. But we don’t see a chastised woman leaving to go evangelize to her village (Jesus’ first evangelist! A woman!). We see one who has received relief.

Talk about a veil.

What we should be doing is looking at culture through the lenses of love, forgiveness, and grace that God exemplifies – through Jesus – and try to figure out in the epistles what the churches were actually doing right, and try to copy that, instead of categorizing the actions of an infant church and legislating that pattern on Christians with a more mature understanding of Jesus’ teachings. We don’t need another Law. We need maturity.

Mr. Shifferd: Please, do not be deceived to take this fruit and give to us.

How amusing; you’re comparing me to Eve. Don’t worry, I can’t be deceived any more easily than you can, despite the fact that I’m a woman.

Here’s a question for you: If the “old Adam” can be forgiven and given grace in Jesus’ sacrifice, why can’t the “old Eve” (1 Cor 15: 21-22)? In every picture of every preaching about why women can’t lead, that one verse from Paul is trotted out about how Eve was deceived and gave the fruit to Adam (who was with her, presumably watching the serpent deceiving her and not doing anything about it), precipitating the Fall. But Jesus redeemed the fallen, and in our churches today, Christ has saved us from death and made us one in Him. So why must women still bear the burden of the deception of Eve, therefore not gaining the same redemption and oneness as men when they take on Christ?

I’ll expound on that more in the end.

Mr. Shifferd: You ask for comments from love. Do you think “legalists” will hear that? I do not. Please, revise.

This is my house, and my rules. Anyone commenting without a spirit of kindness or respect will either get his (or her!) comment edited or deleted – legalist or no. If they are abusive, they do not get to speak. Commenters will treat others as they wish to be treated. Therefore, they will be mature adults, or they will not get a turn. I’m a mom; I know how this works. And our God is not a god of chaos. Legalists, especially, know this.

The fact that a self-proclaimed Christian minister is telling me to discourage people from responding in a peaceful manner is not only confusing, it is profoundly disappointing. What fruits hang on your tree, brother?

Mr. Shifferd: When you understand our position, then you may able to convince us in some points. You do know that we believe in equality and that we are made in the same image. You case must be made upon gender roles in the church.

I understand your position, and I understand I probably won’t convince you of some points, but maybe there are other people who don’t toe the party line who might be interested in what Paul was talking about when he references mature Christianity, that encompasses all – even the two or three who meet in Jesus’ name. I think Paul might have been more concerned with cultural gender roles that kept the peace among a radical shift in church behavior than setting up eternal laws about gender roles in the church services.

Mr. Shifferd: Do you understand the five reasons that God gives for men to lead?

Only in the context of the early church, the immature church, that also silenced men who brought in false teachings, and sought to live peacefully in the culture in which it was couched. It has no bearing on the church of today.

Mr. Shifferd: Was woman made like man in God’s glory, no longer from man, no longer for men…

No argument here, especially in light of Galatians 3:28 and 1 Cor 11:11-12.

OR…are you saying woman wasn’t created in the image and glory of God, but to glorify man and be of his use? Wouldn’t that negate salvation for women? Let’s check Genesis 1:27: “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”

Near as I can tell, God made woman like man in God’s glory, used a part of man to make her but man was asleep so he can’t take the credit, and men are for women as much as women are for men if you read 1 Cor 11:11-12 (instead of just cherry-picking verses for subjugation).

Here’s a trustworthy statement: Woman was made from man’s body while he was in a deep, merciful sleep – that one time in the Garden of Eden. Men (and women) are now carried in a woman’s body for nine months and born in blood and pain. Jesus was not made from the dust like Adam, but born of a woman – with no input from man. This doesn’t make women more special than men, but it does illustrate how important women are to men, and why Paul would say that the wife’s body is not her own, but neither is the husband’s body his own (1 Cor 7:4).

Mr. Shifferd: …made first before man…

No, and you’re referencing a saying that Paul used to keep the Gnostics and the Ephesians’ pagan teachings out of the churches. It’s clear in the Bible that God created man first, then woman – both in the image of God, not each other! – but while creation order shouldn’t matter to us – because what matters is that we were made in the image of God – it mattered greatly to the pagans and Gnostics. They taught that woman was created by the Ephesian goddess Artemis (not the same as the Greek goddess Artemis) in a more perfect form, and a lesser god created the males. They taught that she couldn’t have been misled or sinned, because she was a superior being. Paul says, no, the woman was made after man, and deceived first and became sinful. It doesn’t have anything to do with our religious services, but merely getting the record straight. But one wouldn’t know that if one didn’t study and apply the culture of that time and the obstacles the church in that region had to face.

So by taking these verses at face value, without the “lens of culture”, you and those who believe like you have just repeated the Ephesians’ mistake. Look at your first four requirements God supposedly gives us for men to lead and you would have a very similar doctrine, only in reverse: God created man first in His image, and then created woman from man’s body for man’s use and to make man look good.

That is a doctrine from the Fall, not from God. It says that women, by nature of creation, cannot bear the image of God – that man is the lesser being from which the woman’s creation is borne. This is not only an unfair standard, it is false doctrine, and only serves to feed men’s pride.

Mr. Shifferd: …and are women no more deceived in leading (1 Cor 11:7-9, 1 Tim 2:13-14)?

Aha! And here is the crux of the matter: Women’s minds, integrity, and discernment are inferior to men’s in your hermaneutic. Our salvation is not the same as yours, because, though Adam was with Eve when she was deceived and still ate the fruit (Gen 3:6), Adam gets redemption from his sins, and Eve does not. She still bears the burden of her mistake, because of one passage in Timothy that sets the record straight for the pagans. It doesn’t matter that Paul recognizes in his epistles that Adam is the one through whom all have died (Rom 5:14; 1 Cor 15:21-22), Eve is the one who made him do it, who is eternally punished for her mistake by way of religious inferiority. Is this right?

Where in the Bible does it say this? 1 Cor 11:7-9 is not a reliable text to prove this, especially if you follow it up with verses 11-12. It sounds as if Paul set up the pins in verses 7-9 (by either paraphrasing or quoting cultural beliefs of the time) and knocks them down in 11-12. In fact, look at those verses very carefully (emphasis is mine): “However, in the Lord, neither is a woman independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as the woman originates from the man, so also the man [has his birth] through the woman; and all things originate from God.” So, it seems a little ridiculous to argue that men are superior to women in anything spiritual, based on 1 Cor 11:11-12 and Galatians 3:28.

But since you referenced 1 Tim 2, we’ll go there for a second. Here is one chapter where a proper study of the words (and culture!)  of the text comes in handy. Gune can mean “woman/wife” and aner can mean “man/husband”. Women, in that time, were not to contradict their husbands, especially in public – but neither were they were allowed education outside of the home. There was also a cult and Gnostic teaching going around that women were somehow created differently and superior to men by a different god. These women didn’t know any different, but that cult was destroying families and churches with its disastrous, woman-power teachings. It kind of reminds me of the militant feminists of today, who preach special rights instead of equal rights, detest men and all things masculine, and tear down the nuclear family, religion, and patriarchy. Who knows? Maybe they’re throwbacks from these very same teachings Paul warned against! I wouldn’t let those women teach in the churches, either.

So, when you look at verse 12 through that cultural lens we were talking about earlier, you see that Paul might actually be using the forms of “gune” and “aner” that mean “wife” and “husband”. If you were to look even closer, you’d see that the word “usurp” or “exercise authority” is authenteo, which had violent, domineering, abusive connotations – probably because the women (and men!) who subscribed to the teachings of Artemis were wresting authority from those who preached the truth and foisting it on those who didn’t know any better, destroying churches and families. Wives were not to yank the authority of their husbands out from under their feet, either, or embarrass them in the service by being disruptive.

Today, it is utterly ridiculous to take a word that means “domineer” and apply it to a woman approaching the pulpit during services, especially when asked by the leadership to do so, or to a woman who might have been voted into a church office by the congregation and leads in humility, as Christ did. In that way, she is not exercising any authority, but using the “greater gifts” Paul mentioned, that were available to all believers – not just the men. Furthermore, Paul said the women were to be “quiet” in the same way all the believers were to lead “peaceful and quiet lives” in verses 1-2. This is not a verse about subjugation, as we believe it is today. It’s a verse about proper behavior from immature Christians, who are still learning and who should not be giving Christ’s followers a bad name by undermining their husbands in public.

If you want to go to the other scripture on this subject, try 1 Cor 14:34-35 in relation to verse 36. Once again, it appears Paul is setting up pins in 34-35 (why would he subject someone to the Law if he’s constantly telling people that the Law is inadequate for salvation?) and knocking them down in 36. Then he uses the term ei tis in verse 37, which means “anyone”. He did not use aner to make it male-specific. Verse 39 uses adelphos again, urging everyone to desire to prophesy!

The Bible is silent about to whom Phillip’s daughters preached in Acts 21:8-9, though we, in our lawful arrogance, limit them to only preaching to the women. Where does it say that? It doesn’t. It would have if it was that important.

Paul tells Timothy in 2 Tim 3:15-17 that all Scripture is God-breathed and useful for all teaching and righteousness. Was Paul talking about his letters to the other churches? (I think he’d be aghast to know how “scriptural” his words are considered today, if 1 Cor 3:5-7 are any indication.) The as-yet-unwritten Gospel accounts? No, Paul meant the Old Testament. Timothy – like Paul – would have grown up learning about the prophetess Miriam, Moses’ own sister, who prophesied with the women not to them (Exodus 15:20); Deborah the prophetess and one of the greatest of the Judges, and an influential leader of armies (Judges 4-5); Huldah, a prophetess, trusted with a message from the Lord that precipitated the renewal of the covenant in Judah and Jerusalem (2 Kings 22:14-23:25; 2 Chronicles 34:22-35:27); Isaiah’s wife, who was a prophetess (Isaiah 8:3); and especially Joel’s prophecy that sons and daughters will prophesy, and men and women alike will have the Spirit poured out on them (Joel 3:28-29). And it would have been no secret that Anna, a prophetess when Jesus was born, heralded His coming in the temple (Luke 2:36-38).

So what about the leadership of Godly women did God suddenly distrust among His people after the death of Jesus? Or is it that women are only to evangelize outside of the church assemblies? We’re only qualified to teach the unbaptized? In what hermaneutic does that make sense?

Mr. Shifferd: These Scriptures must be greatly insulting to the secular mind. Will their response be love and blessing for “insult”?

How about love and blessing for understanding? Using the aforementioned, and oft-trotted-out passages to subjugate women in the church should be insulting to those in the church, where men and women should be equal in the Lord.

Mr. Shifferd: Lastly, God’s Word is given to those who can receive it. Can you?

I am learning to. I grew up with a Law of the Church, where God is this hovering being just waiting for us to mess up so He can kick us out of His family, and who has only a few perfect congregations that people can attend perfectly in order to keep their salvation. But I’m shrugging that off in favor of the real Word of God, which preaches spiritual equality in all believers, and gifts are poured out freely as God sees fit. I’m not looking to grasp a leadership position, I’m seeking to make it open to all who have that gift, whether they be male or female. The pulpit (never mentioned in scripture) is not a magical place that becomes sinful for women when they stand behind it when men are in the audience. I believe it is sinful to not allow a woman to approach it, especially if she is making a confession or seeking prayers of the church – because men are allowing their pride to get in the way of the needs of their sisters.

God’s Word is love: Love your neighbor as yourself and love God with all your heart, soul, and mind. It is not “do church perfectly or be condemned and/or shunned”. Churches cling so tightly to their points of order that they do not see how they are hurting themselves and others, or not using all the parts of the Body of Christ as they should be used. This is denying and limiting Christ’s power in all His believers, and writing a new, man-made law for believers to follow. I can’t get behind that anymore.

And whether or not you believe I am a false teacher for bringing this up, you can only speak for yourself. I hope that others who come along can make the decisions for themselves whether what they see here is true or false, according to the words in the Bible and the historical evidence we have at hand to prove them.

I’m not looking for debate in writing this (it took me long enough to say what I needed to say), but clarity. I’ve seen how futile it is arguing with people on the internet, and I know I can’t change anyone’s mind in a single blog post. This one, however, touched on the points I wanted to address, anyway, down the line, so it’s been a great journey of discovery and affirmation. I do hope it will be just as helpful to others who are searching as I am.

Peace, Love, and Blessings!

Christian Feminism and the Modern Church

We’ve started attending a new church, still within the flavor of our previous church’s denomination, but one that seems to be doing things Biblically, rather than traditionally. It’s also closer to where we live, so it is easier for us to help out when needed, instead of traveling out to warm a pew for a couple hours on Sunday and leaving before we can talk to more than a handful of people. It is also focused on spreading the Gospel of Jesus to our community, and planting more churches as they grow. The focus is not on filling a building, but on filling people with Good News and Salvation. It’s joyful and wonderful, and I’m so excited that we’ve found them!

This Sunday, a great thing happened: A young woman – raised in the church and currently attending a Christian college – delivered the communion message and prayer. She did it just as any man would, and even more succinctly than some men I’ve heard in the past. Her prayer had many of the same words used by men, and delivered in the same way as a man would. Just one year ago, this might have made me extremely uncomfortable, but Sunday I was thrilled!

I know for a fact that had she gotten up to deliver any message or prayer – or even a confession or prayer request – in our previous congregation, there might have been several people, men and women alike, who would have walked out, some never to come back until they were reassured it would never happen again. There would definitely have been angry letters and meetings with the elders. There might have been immediate confrontations with the leaders of the church and even the young woman and/or her parents. And many more in the congregation would have been upset, afraid their communion was somehow invalidated, and shaken to their core. In a more conservative (read: legalistic or militant) congregation, there might have been talks of (duh-duh-DUUUH!) disfellowship.

All because a young woman – who grew up in the church; who has access to every form of education a man does in our culture, religious or otherwise; who has access to any form of leadership and influence a man does in our secular world – dared present her educated, intelligent, loving message in front of an audience that contained adult males, most of whom we can assume were baptized.

I would wager real money (if I was sure I would not be lectured about the evils of gambling) that if a man brand new to the faith, recently baptized, perhaps even recently acquainted with the Bible, who’s come out of a life of sin (praise the Lord!) got up to deliver the communion message and prayer, not a single person would complain. In fact, he might even be encouraged to continue on a path to leadership, continue in strengthening his faith and knowledge, lauded as brave for being willing to approach the pulpit so soon and insightful for sharing how faith has changed his life.

How about the difference between a man confessing and requesting prayers in the pulpit at the end of the service and a woman doing likewise? You can bet the same problems would abound in some congregations if a woman even tried. As it is, she can go to the front, but she must whisper her request to the person who would be leading the prayer, or give them a note, leaving their requests and confessions open to comment, paraphrase, and editorializing by the man in the pulpit. I’ve seen it done, and it I can tell you it is not edifying to the congregation or the person confessing or asking for prayers.

To sum up my example: In most Church of Christ traditions (and many other denominations who subscribe to the same beliefs), women of every age, who are raised and educated in the faith, who know the Bible back to front and can quote the same theology as men, will never be treated equally in terms of leadership, influence, or even presence as a man (sometimes even a boy). Period. The man doesn’t need to have spent their life in church, their schooling in a Christian college, or much time in the Bible.

Still TL;DR? Women, even with vast Bible knowledge and church history, speaking in front of the congregation = sinful, heretical, unthinkable, even shameful and harmful to others. Men speaking in front of the congregation, regardless of anything = brave, acceptable, encouraging, normal, Biblical.

In light of Galatians 3:28, and our current culture, where women have access to all education and leadership positions in our secular world, this makes no sense.

(Disclaimer: I am NOT saying that a man brand new to the faith, no matter his past, shouldn’t get up to speak. I’m just making a comparison, which in any circumstance should be considered unfair.)

In the Churches of Christ in which I was brought up, even if the female in question was the President of the United States – trusted with making important decisions for the entire country, vetoing laws, and heading up the military – and also a Bible scholar, educated in a Christian college, brought up in the church – perhaps even attended the same one since birth – she would still be relegated to children’s classes 6th grade and under, teaching ladies’ classes, and speaking at ladies-only events. Because she is a woman, and Paul said that women shouldn’t usurp authority from men. So, clearly, she could never be trusted to lead a prayer to God or speak authoritatively on the Bible to a congregation where baptized men are present. Even when some of those men, being in the military, would consider her their Commander in Chief.

Do you see where I’m going with this?

The Churches of Christ have always been keenly determined to emulate the “First Century Church”. However, in the process, they have failed to separate the cultural from the imperative, and in fact have considered many vagaries as imperatives while ignoring very explicit suggestions and commands (“sing” = never, ever use instruments upon pain of condemnation; “greet each other with a holy kiss” = wait, what?). In this desire to practice as closely to what Paul wrote as possible, the Churches of Christ (and others that subscribe to the same beliefs) have relegated their women to the very first-century secular, cultural ideals Jesus and His followers were trying to change.

Those who perpetuate these ideals ignore or shrug off the fact that most churches met in homes, growing and spreading exponentially through love, care, and service. They didn’t have electricity, a separate ladies’ ministry, children’s classes, little plastic cups and special crackers (and non-alcoholic wine!) for communion, paid ministers, or projectors. They certainly didn’t have hymnals; they didn’t even have Bibles!

They did have not only Paul’s letters (all of them!), but also the letters sent to Paul, so they had context – which we do not have consistently in our current, modern Bible. Don’t get me wrong! Despite the loving care with which we have translated and preserved the words of Paul in our modern Bibles, we have not been able to recover or preserve the words of the churches to Paul, nor all of Paul’s letters to the churches. (Remember the one he wrote to the church in Laodicea, which he recommended everyone read? Yeah, we don’t have that one.)

What else they had was a culture where women were lower than slaves – and in many cases lower than animals. They were considered by most scholars and teachers of the time to be vessels of sexual depravity, good only for bearing children and seducing men, and not at all capable of the same level of intelligence or trustworthiness as any given male. A man could divorce his wife and doom his children to illegitimacy just for seeing her talking to another man on the street, or even leaving the house.

This wasn’t a world where husbands loved their wives as they loved themselves. This wasn’t a world where women could casually wear their hair uncovered, or elaborately braided and adorned – unless they were trying to show off how unmarried and sexually available they were. This wasn’t a world where women were brought up learning the same things as men – or anything, for that matter, beyond how to run a house. Many of them did understand the ways of false gods and Gnosticism (a rampant belief at the time where you had to have special spiritual knowledge in order to understand God), and women suddenly freed from the bonds of secular slavery into a place where they could be treated equally with the men – as well as some men who were just as uneducated in Christ’s radical message – began to spread false doctrines and turn the churches toward their idol worship (especially that of the Ephesian Artemis, a goddess whose worshipers believed woman was created before man and sought to undermine the Word).

Paul encouraging women to be educated was much more of a scandal back then than encouraging them to be silent. (And, for the record, the word isn’t silent, as in shut up; it’s quiet, as in calm and patient. Otherwise, how would women sing?) His message for men to love their wives and not divorce them was crazy talk. Allowing women to work alongside him was radical – even now! We have ignored all the commendations Paul gave women, who worked hard for the church. We blithely allowed the change of the word diakonos in reference to Phoebe in Romans 16:1 to “servant”, even though the word is no different in any context to its use as “deacon” in Timothy and Philippians (note that Paul used a different word – doulos, actually meaning servant – in Philippians 1:1 to describe himself and Timothy as servants in an actual servile sense, before using the word deacon in its traditional sense). We have ignored the fact that in the covered-head controversy in 1 Corinthians 11, Paul mentioned women praying and prophesying with the men. The acceptable action there was that women were praying and prophesying. The controversy was their uncovered head – because married women signified they were married by covering their hair, which in that time was more sexually attractive to other men than whatever men today find attractive. Married women with uncovered hair were considered scandalous in their culture, and a shaved head was a shamed woman. Conversely, as mentioned before, elaborately braided and adorned hair signified sexual availability, and had no place in worship. But we don’t have those same problems today. In our culture, we consider the prophesying (preaching, teaching, admonishing) to be the scandal – clinging to the idea that Paul thought so, too, because he told some women in another part of the world to listen quietly and learn before they spoke.

What about Lois, Timothy’s grandmother, and Eunice, his mother, who taught Timothy and who are commended by Paul for their great faith (2 Tim 1:5) – the same faith Paul is sure lives in Timothy at the time of his letter? Do they not possess the same Spirit promised to all who follow Jesus, which Paul speaks about in 2 Tim 1:6-7, because they’re women?

The church was very new to almost everyone. The Jews, who’d had the tutor of the Law for centuries, even had to learn a new way of life. Paul and the other apostles (not just the initial twelve, but all who were sent to minister) had a lot of work to do to make sure the churches didn’t deviate from Jesus’ teachings and commands. Somehow the churches grew and thrived, despite only having oral knowledge and the scriptures from the Old Testament kept in the synagogues, even before they had letters from Paul or written Gospel accounts.

So here we are in our society. We not only have some 2000 years since Christ walked the earth in which to practice what He preached, but we also have the Bible in its current form (and many translations thereof), forensic evidence, archaeological evidence, linguistic distinctions and lexicons galore, countless commentaries, endless resources, lifetimes of study – now available to men and women equally. We live in the lap of luxury, as far as religion is concerned.

And yet, we continue to believe that men and women should be treated differently in the churches. Why? Our brains are the same. We have access to the same salvation, the same Bible, the same secular careers and influence. Did Jesus truly wish that women have unequal influence in the churches? Are women dangerous to the doctrine, even now? Can one honestly think, in light of all the evidence, that Jesus could condemn a congregation if a woman approached the pulpit, or merely led the singing? In light of the proper comparisons and knowledge of how mature adults who are One in Christ should act in the church, how on earth can anyone believe that such inequality perpetuates the belief of true Oneness in Christ?

Women who desire to proclaim the Word of God to a dying world and are told they can only do so to children, other women, and unbaptized men (as long as they remain appropriate, or appropriately chaperoned), at the risk of their salvation and the salvation of others, are subjected to spiritual slavery. A new Law. Dare I say, a different Gospel than the one preached by Jesus and the apostles.

This, Paul and other writers of the epistles say when they warn about false teaching, is wrong. (So is continuing to do so because “that’s always how it’s been done”. Let’s think about what Jesus and Paul had to say to the Jews when they trotted out that complaint. Neither should we continue to do so to mollify the male ego.)

I’m sad it’s taken me this long to understand it – and finally write about it! – but I’m thankful that I can now see a woman speaking in a thriving new church and praise God for the freedom He (and that church) has given her – and me. My mouth is no longer chained to a misinterpreted letter directed at a culture that is nothing like ours, and I am free to proclaim Christ alongside my Christian brethren, as many a female did in the first century church.

Agree or disagree? I’d love to hear your responses! Just be aware that comments are moderated, so anything not offered in a spirit of love will be subject to editing or deletion. Thank you in advance for being kind and considerate. 🙂

Struggling

I’ve been struggling with how to start this blog. Since my sudden burst of active Bible study a couple weeks ago — after a long, depressing rebellion of doing little more than showing up at church and asking God to forgive my tendency to swear in my head — I have been steamrolled by amazing, earth- and tradition-shattering thoughts and insights. The Holy Spirit is moving around the furniture in my mind; dusting away the cobwebs, redecorating, and airing out the rugs.

This has been a month of revelations, y’all.

And I’ve had NO ONE to talk to about them. (Until my husband came home from a long trip last week, that is. Even then, I was afraid to bring it up right away, for fear of his reaction.)

I’ve sat in front of this blank screen, trying to figure out how to even BEGIN to reconstruct verbally everything that I’ve learned that has turned the theology I grew up with completely, utterly, irrevocably inside-out. Because I needed to tell SOMEONE. I needed a place to parse these thoughts; get them out in the open so I don’t go crazy keeping them to myself. As my husband so wisely pointed out after I gathered the courage to talk to him: Whether or not I’m right, the conversation needs to be had.

You see, I’ve been a member of the Church of Christ all of my life. It’s where I’m most comfortable, because I so easily subscribed to all the theology preached at me since birth. Most of it made sense . . . until, suddenly, it didn’t.

It didn’t start out like a revelation, though. Some things began to chafe as I grew older. Some things didn’t make as much sense when brought to light and faced with logic (which God also gives us, and, indeed, supports faith because we are reasoned beings), but what could I do about them? I have my dad’s ear most of the time, him being an elder at the church we attend, but my complaints ran counter to his (and my mom’s) beliefs. It was heartbreaking that he could no longer be my [earthly] spiritual mentor or guide.

It truly was that heartbreak that prompted my immediate, frantic, desperate search for Big-T Truth, in hopes that I could finally have a clear explanation for my recent spiritual malaise and disappointment over the beliefs I grew up with.

My search began with instrumental music in worship. Don’t get me wrong, I prefer an a capella service over an instrumental service; I always have. I have just never been happy with the explanations given for why we insist on it, even to the point of believing instruments are sinful.

It led me to this post (scroll down past the broken picture link) by Patrick Mead, a Church of Christ preacher. (He has since taken down that blog, and I haven’t yet found an archive, so I am forced to use Google cache. The blog post linked above is the second in a series, but the first one I read. Here are One, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight, Nine, Ten, and Eleven. They are worth the time it takes to read them.) [UPDATE: Those links are to cached sites that are no longer available. His blog has moved so many times, mainly because of servers he’s used, that it can be hard to track him down. Sadly, those posts aren’t available anywhere anymore, BUT! you can read his more recent available writings at patrickmead.net.]

Long story short, my mind was blown. Blown.

My study might have been prompted by the Church of Christ’s reasoning for instrumental music and the so-called “pattern” of worship that somehow makes us acceptable to God and makes or breaks our salvation (I won’t get started on that now; it’s a topic for another time), but I had more or less firmly held beliefs on the subject of women’s roles in the church — that is, I had talked myself into settling on what I’d been told. I had nothing to fall back on, I “knew my theology” on the subject, and knew I wasn’t ready to pursue any kind of changes because of my inability to be comfortable with the idea of a woman communion plate-passer, let alone a preacher or song leader. Even if I didn’t agree with Paul, because of our culture, I had to agree with the practice. I just didn’t have a better answer. I guess it was just what God wanted.

Or DID he??

After reading Patrick Mead’s posts, my eyes were opened to Junia; Phoebe; Prisca (whom I knew about, but had always been led to believe was secondary to Aquila, despite the name order in the epistles); the countless women who basically ran the home churches in the first century, because they ran the homes; Philip’s four unmarried daughters who prophesied; the fact that when Paul talked about head coverings, he basically condoned women praying and prophesying in the assembly (how did I miss that??); the “elect lady” and her “elect sister” in 2 John (whom I’d always been led to believe was code for a church congregation); the use of “anyONE” not “any MAN” at the beginning of the descriptions of elders and deacons; the honest, researched truth behind the cultural significance of the verses the church uses to keep women out of leadership; and on and on.

Most importantly, Galations 3:28 was brought to my full attention. I cannot say but that the Holy Spirit revealed the true meaning of that verse to me, and what it is really telling us when applied to the “fulness of scripture”. The way I suppose I’ve always read it has been,

“There is neither Jew nor Greek [racial equality], there is neither slave nor free [social equality], there is no male and female [gender equality, except where leadership and certain spiritual gifts are concerned], for you are all one in Christ Jesus [at least, your salvation is — as long as you “do church” right].”

But, really, it’s been this all along:

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free — but male and female roles are subject to change based on context, for you are mostly one in Christ Jesus, as long as women don’t try to teach baptized male believers or go anywhere near the pulpit on a Sunday morning. But don’t worry! You can be baptized and saved just like men!”

It is not very easy to envision the culture of the first century church, especially if you’re not much of a history buff. I thought I knew about first century culture, but I did not! It IS easy to sit at this end of history and judge the culture, looking through the lens of our own culture, and make decisions based on that — which is what has been done with the favored verses the churches have been using for centuries to keep women out of whole-church leadership. However, I did some research (which didn’t take long!), and learned enough to turn my view on those scriptures completely around.

I also discovered, thanks to Patrick Mead, that the movement to equalize gender roles in the church has been A Thing for quite some time! I had no idea!! I listened to the sermons from “A Community Without Barriers”, the podcasts from “Half the Church”, read the mission statements at 1voice4change.com (and borrowed their logo), and it went on and on from there.

I bought a couple books from Amazon.com: “Ten Lies the Church Tells Women” and “What Paul Really Said About Women”, which I haven’t yet gotten around to reading, because I was reading what I’d checked out from our local library: “Paul Among the People: The Apostle Reinterpreted and Reimagined in His Own Time” (EXCELLENT read! Very engaging and eye-opening!) and “The Lost Apostle: Searching for the Truth About Junia” (which I am still working on). I also want to get my hands on “Junia, the First Woman Apostle” and “I Suffer Not a Woman: Rethinking I Timothy 2:11-15 in Light of Ancient Evidence”. Right now, the prices aren’t right, so I’ll search for them elsewhere for a while. I’ve got plenty to keep me busy right now, especially with the research on instrumental music and the “pattern of worship”.

I also have stuff to work through — to get past. Long-held presuppositions and prejudices to wipe out. Resentment over lost opportunities to mollify. That niggling fear that I’ve got it wrong to pray unceasingly about. The bigger fear I need to face, of being a very small female person in my rather large church, and swimming against the current — and against my parents.

Let me tell you, that is the scariest fear of all. The only thing that steels me against it is the fact that I trust the Holy Spirit’s working in me, and I do not trust a works-based theology that keeps me in fear of my salvation. Their hearts were changed once, a long time ago. I think they can be changed again. But I also keep in mind Matthew 10:37:

“Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”

This, of course, does not mean I will love my parents any less. I will just hold God higher — and challenge them because I love them and want them to see truth.

When I made this discovery initially, my heart did some flip-flopping, but mostly it sang for joy! I felt this intense freedom and empowerment (which was why it was so hard to not have anyone to talk to about it). Of course I questioned, but at some point I have to have faith that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and the new-covenant law written on my heart and mind by God could not steer me wrong on this issue.

For now, though, with the exception of this blog and conversations with my Sweetie, I’m keeping quiet about it and devouring everything I can get my hands on. I have not been this On Fire for the Gospel since . . . Well, since studying with the Jehovah’s Witnesses a couple years ago, and the Mormons several years before that.

It’s liberating! I still believe the Church of Christ is my favorite denomination, if I were forced to choose, but I don’t feel enslaved to a works-based theology anymore that is in addition to believing, being baptized, and remaining penitent and faithful. I feel more at peace with the good parts, and strengthened to speak out against the wrong parts. But with love. And tact. Because I love these people, and, really, that’s what it’s all about.