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Important Clarification and Brief Subject Change

I hope you’ll forgive my long absence. I’ve had a lot of stuff to do, and not much lent itself well to writing of any kind. And sometimes ideas have to roll around in my head for awhile until I fully understand them enough to be comfortable discussing them on an intellectual level. Most of what I read or come across merits an emotional response, but I never want that to be my only response. I don’t believe that is a wise way to approach matters of Biblical truth — unless it is an actual emotional matter, and even then I’d want to analyze it a little first. I’m just not good at quickly turning out an emotional response (or any response, it seems). I want to be able to back up my reasoning, or at least leave the door open to further understanding, and not just leave a flash-bang reaction and have to apologize later for going off unprepared.

That said, there is something I need to clarify once more, especially since social politics have blurred the definitions and boundaries of the subject to the point where there needs to be new distinction made.

I’ve described myself early in the creation of this blog as a “Christian Feminist”. I also sought to define it more specifically in another post. Since then, I’ve learned more about secular feminism (specifically “third-wave feminism”, which seems to have grown more obnoxious in recent years) and how its terms and conditions have pervaded the egalitarian movement and begun to destroy what has been a great thing with distasteful ideals that I, personally, want to distance myself from immediately.

I joined an egalitarian group on Facebook awhile back, mostly out of curiosity, but also out of a desire for blog fodder and like-minded camaraderie. I did find some like-minded individuals with great things to say. I also accrued some blog fodder, but not in the way I was expecting. I realized after a few days that there appeared to be a prevailing attitude among a majority of the posters that smelled very much like the “us vs. them” mentality of secular third-wave feminists. I would find myself reading a post, in full agreement with the pleas to allow women to work alongside men in the churches — until it turned back on itself and began throwing around terms like “patriarchy”, “toxic masculinity”, and “misogyny” — in their colloquial context — and generally tearing down men in order to build women up in their place.

I finally left that group after being accused of being a traitor for saying that we shouldn’t be badmouthing men and having an attitude that is exactly what Paul was warning Timothy about in our Very Favorite Prooftext, 1 Tim 2:12.

A traitor. Okay. But a traitor to whom? Not all my Christian brothers actually seek to “oppress” me; many of them are just steeped in church culture. Many of them, like me, grew up with the beliefs that women and men had different roles in the church, directed by God and never to be questioned or changed. Men do wonderful, powerful things in the church. Imagine what they could do with women helping them carry the burden of leadership and teaching, and not just in a subservient role! I would never want men to take a backseat to let the women drive — especially not the women who unironically fling around terms like “toxic masculinity”, and take “patriarchy” tritely out of its historical context.

I have more to say on this matter, and I’ve been researching the difference between Egalitarianism and Complementarianism (including the beliefs of the Discipleship movement). There are some really deep and frightful differences and non-scriptural traditions and beliefs held by Complementarians that just make my heart ache for those women who are like me (leadership-oriented, self-teaching, and all but outrightly called to dig into scripture with adults), who are trapped in that kind of faith tradition.

However, I’m going to swerve off into a different direction for a moment…

Leaving the traditional Church of Christ has had its ups and downs for me, I’ve discovered. I’m so happy to have the freedoms I do now, to volunteer or be asked to lead the adult worship or teaching time. But my absolute favorite tradition of the Churches of Christ is their a capella* song service. I miss it so very much, I cannot rightly express it in words. And I don’t even miss the version I left a few years ago as much as I miss the skill and spontaneity of the singing in the church I grew up in as a little kid. We brought hymnals to every gathering, and we could sing any song at any time, anywhere — in four-part harmony, with gusto. It was an ultra-conservative, legalistic church — but did they ever know how to sing! Thanks to Spotify, I’ve been revisiting some gorgeous arrangements of favorite a capella hymns, and trying to figure out ways to gather a group together to sing them again. I have a few friends from our previous congregation who I’m sure would be happy to do so, since I don’t think they have regular singing services anymore, either (other than the songs normally incorporated in the regular worship time).

I have mentioned before, I believe (but am not sure), that I find the subject of instruments in worship 100% based on preference and not scripture, so I do not believe our instrumental singing time at the church we belong to now is wrong or sinful. However, I am one who prefers more investment in the worship time by everyone involved, and the louder the instruments, the softer the singing, or the less participation by the congregation at large. Loud instrumentation gives people an excuse not to participate (which, to be honest, is sometimes a good thing for people who do not prefer to sing, but still find listening to the music a transcendent form of worship — that’s just fine if that is actually true for that person). It can make the worship time more complicated if those instruments (or the people who play them the most skillfully) are missing — because no one else learns melody or rhythm that may not always exist without the instruments. I won’t even get started on converting radio songs for the worship service right now, because I am far too emotional about it today, and that subject kind of requires a whole other post on its own.

But before anyone from an a capella tradition looks at that and thinks, “Well maybe that means the a capella way is the best way, and the reason God meant for us to worship in that fashion,” I would suggest taking a good, hard look at the song-leading skills in your own congregations, and what happens when the church does not have a good backup song leader for the one who has the skill, or even maintains a teaching program for future [male] song leaders. I have been to more congregations (even large ones, like the one I left) whose leaders cannot carry a tune or rhythm to save their lives (and the women sitting in the pews, who aren’t allowed to lead, occasionally end up leading the singing from the pews, because they know the songs better than the men and can hit all the notes in their part). At least a guitar or piano in the right hands has the capability of holding a pitch and maintaining a rhythm. Just sayin’ — there are pros and cons to both forms of worship.

Anyway, it’s been ages since I’ve posted, and this draft has been sitting here for waaaaaaayyyy too long. I’m gonna post it now, even though it’s still kinda messy, and try to be more intentional about posting again sooner rather than later.

May your day be filled with blessings and music!

*I feel the need to italicize “a capella“, because it looks wrong without it. It doesn’t look any more right with it, but it looks…less wrong? I don’t know. I’m doing it, and I reserve the right to change my mind later. Shutting up and posting now!

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“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 Muslims* 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

*EDIT, Feb 7, 2018: I originally had “Mormon” there, but I feel that is actually a little heavy-handed toward Mormons, who are often much better at being hospitable, loving people than a lot of Christians out there. We just don’t quite agree on certain religious principles, which is why I originally threw it out as an example. “Muslim” is a greater contrast, and I should have thought to use that in the first place.

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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.

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