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Why God Would Never Use a Woman (or other misfits)

eye rollBut I’m Just A…

God has a crazy way of looking at things – a crazy way of solving problems. You would think that NORMAL people would encounter a problem and then find the best possible solution to overcoming the problem. Not God. God throughout history, rather than choosing the BEST possible solution to carry out the Divine Will, God seems to choose the less-than-desirable solution.

The minority.

The weakling.

The outcast.

The long-shot.

I once hear a song with the line, “He uses improbable people for impossible tasks.” That pretty much sums it up. He used a young shepherd boy to fight a giant and save a nation. He used a murderer with a speech impediment to go lead the Israelites out of Egypt. He used a woman to lead the Israelite army to victory over Sisera. He used a low-born peasant bastard (please excuse the harshness of the word, but imagine the reaction of ancient listeners finding out that Jesus had no earthly father) to be the Salvation of the world.

And those are just a few examples.

HOW CAN THIS BE?!? It doesn’t seem right. In fact, many of the people God uses are people we would tell to sit down and stop rocking the boat. That’s not how things are done. You can’t do that. You can’t say that. You’re just a…

And we buy into it. Many of us go through life believing, “I’m just a…” and we fill in the blank with whatever limitation fits our life.

I’m just a child.

I’m just a woman.

I’m just a minority.

I’m just a cripple.

I’m just a felon.

I’m just a….

The problem with “I’m just a” kind of thinking is that it means we’re putting ourselves in the driver’s seat and not allowing God to drive the bus. In the big picture, it isn’t about US. Whether you’re a superstar or a superdud, YOU are not the critical element in God’s plan. God can use whomever or whatever He chooses. This is what Jesus is saying in Mark 4:

26 Here is what the kingdom of God is like: a man who throws seeds onto the earth. 27 Day and night, as he works and as he sleeps, the seeds sprout and climb out into the light, even though he doesn’t understand how it works. 28 It’s as though the soil itself produced the grain somehow—from a sprouted stalk to ripened fruit. 29 But however it happens, when he sees that the grain has grown and ripened, he gets his sickle and begins to cut it because the harvest has come.

30 What else is the kingdom of God like? What earthly thing can we compare it to? 31 The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, the tiniest seed you can sow. 32 But after that seed is planted, it grows into the largest plant in the garden, a plant so big that birds can build their nests in the shade of its branches.

33 Jesus spoke many parables like these to the people who followed Him. 34 This was the only way He taught them, although when He was alone with His chosen few, He interpreted all the stories so the disciples truly understood.

God’s work isn’t about the grandness or immensity of the event. God can use something itty-bitty and worthless to bring about something phenomenal. The farmer isn’t doing the work to make the grain grow. God does it. The mustard seed is tiny, but look at what it produces. God’s work doesn’t have to have the best and the brightest to have tremendous results. I’m sure this was a great comfort for Jesus’s disciples, who once or twice probably thought that their rabbi had lost it. While many people try hard to gain followers, Jesus often seems to intentionally repel them. “Go and don’t say anything.” “Go keep quiet about what I did.” “Demons, be silent!” Jesus is the complete opposite of a media hound. So his words can serve as comfort – God can work incredibly even through the small and insignificant.

Let us have ears to hear this message – we are called to follow and be his disciples. No matter how insignificant we might seem to the world (I’m just a…), God can utilize us for great things. We may not even know the extent of our work, but like tossing a stone into a smooth lake, the ripples keep going and going.

So don’t allow the “I’m just a…” label to stick. And believe me – people WILL try to stick it to you! But not God. God will make sure that His will is accomplished, and it’s very often done by the misfits and outcasts.

So if you’re one of the misfits and outcasts, the excluded and minority, the unlikely and improbable, you’re in good company.

Keep an open ear for how God might want to use you.

5 Manly Christian Ideas That Belittle Christian Women

The other day I read an article from a pastor called, “5 Ways Your Church Can Be More Bro Friendly.” While I had hoped it would offer unique insight into ministry to men, it rather was merely the resounding gong against the “feminization of the church” – an accusation that is not new in conservative Christian circles. The answer to this horrible, horrible problem is to create a more masculine culture within the church.men don't cry

Barf.

Barf for a couple of reasons. First, the notion of what is masculine or feminine is not entirely static. It is fluid and changes from era to era and from culture to culture. Our notion of what it means to “be a man” today isn’t the same as it has been in our history or in the history of other cultures. This means that the ideals we’re promoting as “masculine” are not about biblical values but about our OWN notions and comfort. Second, the Bible clearly says that, in Christ, the cultural distinctions that exist in the world no longer have any value.

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)

It really shouldn’t matter how one does church, then. What we’re talking about is purely STYLISTIC differences and preferences, not anything that has a foundation in biblical truth. But for the sake of argument, let’s look at the author’s notions of what makes church better for men as opposed to a woman’s church.

1. Cast Compelling Vision – Pastor, if you want to keep men interested (especially men who are leaders), you must give your people a clear picture of where your organization is going and why you believe God is leading you to go there.

He fails to prove that this is a masculine characteristic. Rather, this is a HUMAN characteristic. Who wants to follow an aimless person? Men AND women want a clear picture of where and why organizations are heading in a particular direction.

2. Masculine Design – From the titles of sermon series, to the church’s logo, to the stained concrete replacing the carpet, even special parking for guys on motorcycles…

Ah, here it is. This is “preference central.” It’s not about any universal truth. It’s about stereotypes of what the author considers masculine and feminine. It’s about design, not truth. Now carpet is feminine? I happen to LIKE cushioned seats, but I guess real men prefer to have a numb butt by the end of a manly sermon – no cushions for those bros. And the stereotype about motorcycles? Yikes! I need to introduce this guy to my friend Junie, one hard-core female biker who attended a church I pastored. This guy’s stereotypes are ridiculous.

3. Involve Men in Projects – we are naturally fixers and doers.

Another laughable stereotype. I’ve known many women who are fixers and doers (and if my wife, mother-in-law, and sister-in-law are reading this, please know that I love you very much and I’ve got some projects that need to be finished when you have the time). Really, it’s a personality thing and not a gender thing.

4. Avoid Being Overly Emotional – Spiritual matters are emotionally heavy. Emotion should certainly be expressed in healthy ways. Too much of it from pastors or worship leaders may be perceived as weak and become a turn-off to many men.

manly-manYes! We want manly men to lead our churches. We don’t want any sissy poetry-spouting men. Give us real men like King David. Hey, wait a minute….

I’m emotional. I know emotional pastors, professors, even military commanding officers. Gimme a break.

And finally…

5. Challenge/Truth – Men starve to be given truth– good or bad, and typically are insulted by a shallow watered-down approach.

Pure garbage. I’ve known many men that prefer a shallow, feel-good message as opposed to a challenge. I’ve known many women who step up to challenges and HATE hearing shallow drivel.

Please STOP the stereotyping. People are people, and people are more unique than your gender stereotypes allow for.

But if you want to argue about it, let’s step outside and settle this like men.

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I welcome all discussion, just keep it civil and polite. If this post resonates with you in any way, please share it on social media or email.

Searching For Sunday: A Review of Rachel Held Evans’s Book

Rachel Held Evans I’ll admit it; I’ve got a love/hate relationship with Rachel Held Evans. Not that she knows it – we’ve never met. But I read her blog and her stuff on social media.

Some of the questions she has for and about how the church behaves are right on. I’ve wrestled with some of the same issues myself. At the same time, she gets a lot of it wrong, goes too far on some issues, and completely misses it on other issues. She has a tendency to get tunnel vision – she’s got her couple core issues that get played on repeat over, and over, and over, and…well, you get it.

Searching for Sunday
So when I heard she had a new book out about “loving, leaving, and finding the church,” I thought I’d give it a read. Before even reading it I’d seen liberals praising it and conservative lambasting it. So I read it for myself.

Ms. Evans divides her book into a prologue and 7 sections, following the sacraments of the Church: Baptism, Confession, Holy Orders, Communion, Confirmation, Anointing of the Sick, and Marriage. Since she wrote in this order, my review will take one section at a time in the same order. Here’s my take on it.

Prologue:

Ms. Evans begins laying the groundwork for the rest of the book, setting the stage for her own journey away from the evangelical church. As I expected, she starts right in by bringing up her pet peeves with evangelical faith: biblical interpretation, religious pluralism, sexuality (feminism and LGBTQ issues), racial reconciliation, and social justice. These issues come as no surprise, for they are the resounding gong of all of her work.

The problem for me comes a few pages into the prologue where she writes:

The truth is, I don’t even bother getting out of bed many Sunday mornings, especially on days when I’m not sure I believe in God or when there’s an interesting guest on Meet the Press.

She finishes the prologue with similar words:

It’s about why, even on days when I suspect all this talk of Jesus and resurrection and life everlasting is a bunch of bunk designed to coddle us through an essentially meaningless existence, I should still like to be buried with my feet facing the rising sun. Just in case.

This is the problem. The entire rest of the book isn’t coming from a place of faith. It’s coming from a place of un-faith (yes, I know that’s not a real word). I’m not against asking God questions – even difficult questions. I firmly believe that God is big enough to handle any questions we may have. But we’re not talking about mere questions here. We’re talking about lack of faith.

People like Ms. Evans like to use the example from the Gospels when a Jesus has a conversation with a man (see Mark 9):

Jesus: All things are possible to him who believes.
Man: Lord, I believe, help my unbelief!”

But this case is different. The man comes from a place of belief and is asking help to get the rest of the way. Ms. Evans admittedly approaches much of her life beginning with unbelief.

If you spend much time doubting the resurrection actually happened can you really consider yourself a Christian? Ms. Evans seems to like the IDEA of church when it works to serve people and the issues she cares about, but she doesn’t seem to like the faith that is the FOUNDATION of that church. While some of her criticisms may have validity, it is difficult for me to receive criticisms from someone who doubts in the resurrection or the existence of God.

I don’t judge her for her lack of faith. I don’t judge anyone who is a non-believer. But I think Ms. Evans is fooling herself to say she doubts the existence of God and the resurrection yet still makes a claim to be Christian. She seems to fit better in the category (I know she hates labels, but they help us make sense of the world) of agnostic.

My other problem with the prologue is that Ms. Evans claims:

My aim in employing these seven sacraments is not theological or ecclesiological, but rather literary.

Yet the book IS theological and ecclesiological. My problem is not that she claims not to but then does write on theology and ecclesiology (theology as applied to the nature and structure of the Christian Church) but that I think she gets some of the theology wrong. So here we go…

Baptism: Baptism

From the get-go I don’t think Ms. Evans has the right view of baptism. As she tells her own story she lists various baptism traditions that could have been had she not been born to an evangelical family. But among the list of baptismal traditions she mentions the Mormon tradition. It’s mixed right in there with evangelicals, Orthodox, Catholic, and Presbyterian.

But Mormonism is NOT a branch of Christianity. The fact that she includes Mormonism is another indicator that she falls under the agnostic column more than the Christian.

Mormonism notwithstanding, Ms. Evans and I disagree with the nature and significance of baptism. She writes:

In the ritual of baptism, our ancestors acted out the bizarre truth of the Christian identity: We are people who stand totally exposed before evil and death and declare then powerless against love.

While I agree that baptism is about identity, her language about love doesn’t sit right with me. Baptism ISN’T about declaring evil and death powerless against love. Baptism is about sin, repentance, death, and resurrection. John the Baptist was baptizing people before Jesus even came on the scene, preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins (see Mark 1:4). In our baptism we are putting to death our old identity and emerging from the water with a new identity. Love beating evil and death is too generic, too “new age-y.”

Baptism says, “I have a new life as a follower of the risen Christ.”

Of course, nothing from Ms. Evans would be complete without vocal support of the LGBTQ community, so she includes a chapter dedicated to the baptism story of a gay young man. She concludes the section with the statement:

…baptism is done at the beginning of your faith journey, not the middle or the end. You don’t have to have everything together to be baptized.

She is absolutely right on this point. You DON’T have to have it together to be baptized. The problem with many who fall in the liberal camp is that they have no expectation of spiritual growth and development post-baptism. God accepts us the way we are. That doesn’t mean God is content we STAY the way we are.

Finally, Ms. Evans uses this section to blast evangelicals on a couple points. She presents her criticisms as though they are universally representative of evangelical churches, but they are not. I was raised in the Assemblies of God my entire life (though I am now non-denominational). Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) was never banned in my church or home. The King James Version was not the only allowed Bible. I was allowed to watch movies and television. I never once heard women’s breasts referred to as “stumbling blocks” (an expression Ms. Evans uses a couple of times). My church tradition ordains women (my own mother is ordained) and recognizes their place in ministry.

Since my evangelical story is vastly different from hers, I suggest Ms. Evans refine her definitions and terminology and stop leveling generic accusations that don’t hold water across the evangelical spectrum.

Confession: Confession

In the section on confession, Ms. Evans seems to be confessing her own story – why she really started turning away from the Christian Church. Part of her split is due to the role of women in the church. Her background is in a church where she felt relegated to baby showers and ladies’ teas when she wanted to be leading a Bible study or theological discussion. Not to beat a dead horse, but she levels accusations at evangelicalism that aren’t true across the board. My wife has led Bible studies and has NEVER constructed a diaper cake. But these peripheral issues seem to be simply excuses for the real issue – a loss of faith. She writes:

I couldn’t pretend to believe things I didn’t believe anymore.

So she talks about singing “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” with an unraveled faith (even though the “shadow of turning” line in the song isn’t about OUR faith but about GOD’S faithfulness through it all). Still, she gets it right when she talks about the practice of confession.

The practice of confession gives us the chance to admit to one another that we’re not okay, and then to seek healing and reconciliation together, in community.

The contemporary American evangelical church does NOT do a good job with confession. We’re too busy pretending we’ve got it all together. Heaven forbid we admit to each other that we’re struggling with something. Heave forbid our pastors show flaws or weaknesses! Ms. Evans is right when she notes that our churches feel more like country clubs than Alcoholics Anonymous. Church ought to be the place where we are free to be broken with one another.

But then she devolves from a good conversation about confession into a litany of historical grievances against Christians, beginning with the Crusades and including Western empire building (although that was political behavior behind a veneer of religion, not religious behavior). I don’t agree with the liberal re-interpretation of the history, and I won’t spend time arguing about that here. It just seems out of place in this book and wasn’t tied into the larger story being developed.

She ends the section with the liberal call to stop judging people and to love them instead. Not surprising. I happen to think the Bible calls us to love people AND to judge them. We can point out sin without being unloving. And just because we wrestle with our own sin doesn’t mean we must shut up about talking about other sins.

Holy Orders: Holy Orders

Ms. Evans uses the sacrament of holy orders to talk about her experience being part of a church plant. Most of the section is personal narrative of her experience with planting a church. It’s tough to be part of a church plant, which she and her husband experienced first-hand. Ministry is difficult in ANY setting.

She is right that all Christians share the same calling. We are kingdom of priests and should be serving and ministering to one another. What amazes me is that she would even attempt to be part of a ministry team and a faith leader when she admittedly lacks faith.

Communion: Communion

Ms. Evans is big on doing as opposed to believing. The mainstay of evangelical churches is belief. She believes we miss the mark because we prefer to believe rather than do. When it comes to communion writes:

‘Do this,’ he said–not believe this but do this–in remembrance of me.

But what she misses is that the doing was a result OF the believing. Jesus said DO this to remember me. Without the believing communion is simply shared meal time. Even in the early church gatherings, the communal meal wasn’t the totality of the gathering. They gathered for the apostles’ teaching (doctrine and belief) and to prayer (elements of faith and belief). It was BECAUSE of their belief that they continued to meet together. You cannot separate believing and doing. Indeed, believing must precede the doing, or else we’re just Boy Scouts looking to do good deeds for others.

Ms. Evans seems to relegate communion to the act of feeding one another and table fellowship. She writes:

Certainly nonbelievers can care for one another and make one another food. But it is Christians who recognize this act as sacrament, as holy.

NO! Communion isn’t about caring for one another and making food for each other. It’s about the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross, giving up his body and blood to pay a price we couldn’t afford to pay. She de-theologizes communion when she makes it about food rather than the work of Christ on the cross. Because she makes it about table fellowship rather than Christ’s substitutionary work, she can talk about welcoming all to the table.

“Welcome! There’s bread and wine. Come eat with us and talk.” This isn’t a kingdom for the worthy; it’s a kingdom for the hungry.

While we will never be worthy (which is why we couldn’t pay the price for our sins ourselves), communion is about Jesus paying the price for us. When we come to faith we begin a shift, though, and cannot remain the same. The Church that should be welcoming to all still needs to be the Church that quotes God, “Be holy as I am holy.”

Confirmation: Confirmation

Now addressing the issue of denominations within Protestantism, Ms. Evans notes:

…our various traditions seem a sweet and necessary grace.

Well…not ALL of them. Not the denominations that go against what she holds near and dear to her heart, namely women’s ordination and exclusion of the LGBTQ community from communion. But other than those groups, a sweet and necessary grace.

And so Ms. Evans clings to the Apostles’ Creed as the end-all of Christianity. To an extent, I agree. I think that there are more things that unite Christians than divide us. We like to get bogged down in the differences, but the basic elements of faith are identical from group to group.

But there is more to faith than the ancient creeds – things like sin lists and virtue lists (both in the Bible in multiple places). Christianity is more than reciting a creed. It’s about a faith that leads us to be more Christ-like. But what happens when you don’t have that faith? As she puts it, when you’re

swallowing down the bread and wine, not believing a word of it.

Not a word.

Then all you have is a creed. Dead words that mean nothing in the grand scheme of eternity.

Anointing of the Sick: Anointing of the Sick

This is another point where I think Ms. Evans gets it completely wrong. She makes a distinction between healing and curing. We’re called to heal, not to cure. She says:

The thing about healing, as opposed to curing, is that it is relationship. It takes time.

I don’t know where she’s coming up with this stuff, but it isn’t biblical. When Jesus sends his disciples out with his authority to preach and heal, the disciples HEALED THE SICK and cast out demons. It wasn’t relationship. It was about the power of God breaking through to our reality. It was a sign that the kingdom of God is HERE! In the New Testament we see other examples of the church laying on hands and praying for healing – for people to be cured of what ailed them. It is dishonest to the Bible to pretend that there is a difference between healing and curing.

While God doesn’t always answer prayer the way we’d like, we cannot pretend that biblical healing is anything other than God changing and repairing physical bodies. Can healing take place emotionally and relationally? Yes. But don’t downplay the power of God and what the Bible says about healing. Otherwise you turn God’s healing power into one big Kumbaya sing-along where we end up crying and hugging each other.

Marriage: Marriage

Here again I find myself agreeing with Ms. Evans. Following Jesus is a group activity and wasn’t ever intended to be a solo event. But it goes beyond that. The Church is called the Bride of Christ. Turning from Jesus is infidelity. There is no other way to the Father. The Church is His, and those who believe are called to be a part of it.

She gets it right when she says:

And the church universal is sacramental when it knows no geographic boundaries, no political parties, no single language or culture, and when it advances not through power and might, but through acts of love, joy, and peace and missions of mercy, kindness, humility.

So, yes.

THIS is what the church is supposed to look like in the world.

All said and done, the book can give you a good insight into what a lot of young people go through when they realize that the faith of their parents is not their own. The book will help you see Christianity from a liberal vantage point. In the end, I think the vantage point is hollow, substituting social action for genuine faith.

The local church will always be flawed because humans are flawed. That doesn’t mean the institution is flawed or that faith is lost. The Church belongs to Jesus, and we should do our best to be faithful to him and His Church.

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It has not been my intention to misrepresent the views or writings of Rachel Held Evans in any way. This has simply been my interpretation and response to what I read.

I welcome all discussion, just keep it civil and polite. If this post resonates with you in any way, please share it on Facebook, Twitter, or email!

How to Destroy the Bible: Reading Through Feminist Eyes

feminism

One of the enduring fights among the faithful is the “proper” role of women within Christianity. People really get heated when they talk about it. I have made no secret how I feel about women in ministry. You can get a pretty good understanding of my view in my post, “Skirts in the Pulpit.”

But even though I support women in ministry, I cannot get behind feminist theology that views every single biblical story as a story of oppression and abuse.

Case in point: a Twitter account popped up not too long ago that seeks to tell the story of every woman in the Bible through a feminist lens. I like the concept of telling the stories of people whose voices are not always heard. The problem is that the feminist lens falsely colors the stories and the new interpretation does damage to the text of Scripture which, in all honesty, is actually a sacred text that contains a high regard for women.

I have never written a blog post about a specific Twitterer before but I guess there’s a first time for everything, so let’s look at a few of these feminist renderings of biblical women with a few comments. Then let me know what YOU think.

This one interests me. Hannah, Samuel’s mother, was praying desperately for a child. When the priest, Eli, saw her lips moving but couldn’t hear her voice, he thought she was intoxicated (see 1 Samuel 1:9-18). So the feminist lens judges Eli as being misogynistic.

I take issue with this for two reasons:

1) Eli isn’t concerned about her gender, only about her appearing intoxicated before God. Once Hannah explains the situation Eli replies, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant the petition you’ve requested from Him.” Yup – he’s a real woman-hater. 😐
2) When Jesus’ disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit in Acts 2, some who overheard sneered and accused them of being drunk. Peter has to stand up and say, “We’re not drunk. It’s only 9 a.m.!” In both stories gender isn’t the issue. The issue is the appearance of drunkenness.

The feminist re-interpretation damages the text.

How about:

This tweet assumes that there is something wrong with these women being remembered as the mother/grandmother of Timothy, as if they are being slighted for not having a more fully-developed story.

The problem is that there are many names in the Bible – men and women – who are only given a brief mention. How about Simon the Cyrene? How many Christians actually know who he is without looking him up? He’s the man who carried the cross of Jesus but he only gets one sentence. Just because the Bible doesn’t give pages and pages to a biblical character does not mean that the character is ignored or slighted. The feminist reading is creating a false dilemma.

The feminist re-interpretation damages the text.

Okay, just one more, because the tweets are starting to get my blood boiling…

In the ancient world, carrying on the family line was of extreme importance. When Sarai couldn’t give Abram children, Hagar (an Egyptian slave) was taken to be a surrogate mother in order to provide offspring. Later on, Hagar and her child were removed from the family and sent into the wilderness. It is a tragic story, to be sure.

The problem is that it’s not misogynistic violence against women. From beginning to end, Sarai is the one who mistreated Hagar. It was Sarai’s idea to use Hagar as a surrogate. It was Sarai who asked to remove Hagar and Ishmael. The feminist reading doesn’t admit that it is a WOMAN who is mistreating Hagar. It plays fast and loose with the text, ignoring certain elements in order to make the case for the Bible promoting female oppression.

The feminist re-interpretation damages the text.

The Bible illustrates many women who are terrific people of faith: Deborah, Jael, Huldah, Anna, Mary, Junia, Philip’s daughters…and on and on. So why go to the trouble to make up these problems? It’s about promoting a non-biblical agenda rather than reading Scripture honestly.

Don’t make up stuff in the Bible just because you have an axe to grind.

Skirts in the Pulpit: Women in Ministry

05_Flatbed_2 - JUNE Original Filename: 76548479.jpg

The idea of women in ministry has been, and will continue to be, a hot-button topic in the Christian church. There is no unified, monolithic Christian voice deciding on the issue. People even leave churches over disputes regarding the ordination of women. Some believe that it is the God-given right of “the call” for women to be involved in ministry and receive ordination. Many denominations still see the issue contrary to God’s creative work.

I know the mere topic will send some readers into a rage. I know that one blog among millions will really not convince people out of their deeply held convictions. Still, I wanted to explain why I think the church should recognize the spiritual authority of women in ministry.

God’s original intent was that male and female are partners in life and purpose. In the creation narrative, Eve is created to be the one thing that can fulfill what Adam is missing. She is separate, yet not created lower. The Old Testament creation narrative does not place any importance on primacy of creation. Genesis 1:27 reads:

“So God created man in His own image; He created him in the image of God; He created them male and female.”

The second creation narrative similarly places NO hierarchical value on created order (Genesis 2:18-24).

The created order has no significance on primacy. Adam’s solitary nature is the only “not good” in the Creation narrative. Woman is created equally with man as a companion. It is only after the fall that hierarchical structures enter the scene in Genesis 3:16:

“He said to the woman…‘your desire will be for your husband, yet he will dominate you.”

At the fall, the connection that man and woman had prior to eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil is severed. While they were created in equality, now the relationship takes on a hierarchical nature. This is a complete reversal from the created nature of male/female relationships, where man is incomplete without woman.

In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul uses the creative order to support his argument that men should have their heads uncovered and women should have their heads covered. In 1 Timothy 2:13, Paul uses the creative order to support his argument that women should learn in quiet submission and not be allowed to teach or have authority over men. In the former passage, Paul finishes his argument by stating that nature itself teaches that long hair is disgraceful on men but glorious on women and that church customs do not support any other position. Paul is using the creation story to combat specific people and specific circumstances – he is not teaching any universal doctrine. His sole purpose is to control the behavior of Christian men and women and prevent them from acting shamefully.

Logically, it stands to reason that Paul uses the creative order in a similar manner in the Timothy passage. That is to say, the argument is not “gospel truth” but is a typical rabbinical method of using Scripture to support cultural positions. If one is to say that Paul is simply reflecting his culture regarding hair coverings, one is compelled to say the same regarding his silencing of women. Ann Miller notes that, if created order was significant for hierarchical standing, every created thing would be above humanity. It seems clear that Paul is not making theological statements but rather is trying to prevent Christians from embarrassing the church with “inappropriate behavior”. As culture changes and notions of appropriate behavior change, Paul’s arguments no longer become binding. The higher principle is still at work: do not act shamefully and thus bring scorn on the faith and on Christ. How that works out practically changes from culture to culture and from age to age.

Admittedly, 1 Timothy 2 gives people pause when discussing women in ministry when Paul commands women to learn in silence and submission. The entire context of the epistles to Timothy and Titus show that Paul’s commands are given in an attempt to combat false and destructive teaching in the church. The false teaching leads Christians astray and the “wild women” bring shame upon the church that struggles for social acceptance. Thus, the command is not a general order for all women for all eternity.

Another passage frequently used to support a hierarchical perspective of gender is Ephesians 5:22-32, wherein Paul calls for submission from the wives to their husbands. But the passage does not stand alone – it contextually fits into a broader passage in which Paul is discussing what it means to live out a Christian life. Paul calls people to walk wisely, “submitting to one another in the fear of Christ.” Paul then goes on to illustrate submission from three perspectives: 1) wife to husband, 2) children to parents, and 3) slaves to masters. Each one of the perspectives represents a socially inferior to a socially superior point of view. Women, children, and slaves were all viewed as inferior to their respective counterparts. Paul is giving practical advice on how to behave, even if one is in a socially inferior position. His directives are not theological arguments supporting social hierarchy. If they were, then one would be compelled to say that Paul advocates slavery, a concept that is radically foreign to Christian faith. Rather, Paul is trying to work within the social structure as it exists.

bibleThe New Testament does reaffirm the idea of gender equality. Matthew 23:8-10, Acts 10:34, and James 2:1 all highlight humanity’s equal standing before God. Additionally, Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians highlights the fact that every Christian is called to be a minister. Each role in Paul’s list in Ephesians 4 carries a similar function to the other roles – they all involve some aspect of speaking on God’s behalf with the purpose of preparing the church for service and to build up the body. Admittedly, though Paul’s epistle does differentiate between different ministry roles, i.e. pastors, apostles, evangelists, etc., Paul nowhere mentions that any of these roles have gender prerequisites.

The Bible incontrovertibly mentions prophetesses in the Old and New Testaments, e.g. Deborah and Philip’s daughters. Romans 16:6-8 indicates that Paul considered Junia and possibly Mary among the apostles, a role that contained a teaching and proclamation aspect. Aquila was a teacher of Apollos. Paul knew of and approved of women who ran (pastored?) house churches. He refers to female leaders of the early churches as deacons and apostles, titles normally reserved for men, and titles that imply both service and proclamation of the gospel message.

In 1 Corinthians 12:28 Paul lists roles and offices within the church. Paul never advocates one role above or below another. They all function towards the same purpose – glorifying God and building up the body. There is no restriction on who may fill what role. Biblical evidence seems to stack up in favor of women in all ministry positions, even pastoring and teaching.

There is no indication of a technical ordination in the New Testament or by the early church fathers. What does exist is a list of qualifications for people who are to be appointed elders over the local churches. For lack of a better phrase, this list provides the biblical requirements for ordination. Between the epistles to Timothy and Titus, Paul’s qualifications are: the elders must 1) be the husbands of one wife, 2) rule well their own houses, 3) not be novices, 4) have a good report from those outside the church, 5) practice good behavior, 6) be given to hospitality, 7) be apt to teach, 8) not be given to wine or strong drink, 9) not be brawlers, 10) not be greedy, 11) be lovers of good men, 12) give good advice, 13) be holy, and 14) be temperate.

Of these qualifications, only the first directly addresses gender issues, where the elder must be the husband of one wife. If one were to take Paul’s words absolutely at face value, then no single men, whether men who have never married, men who are divorced, or men who are widowed could ever be elders. Paul’s comment seems not to be referring to the fact that elders must be men, but that the elders must not be involved in multiple marriage relationships. It is not gender exclusive. It could be reworded in a contemporary setting to say that married elders must be part of a monogamous marriage. With this common misunderstanding cleared up, all of the other requirements could equally apply to women in ministry.

Though a select few passages in the Bible have an issue with particular women involved in a preaching/teaching ministry, the Old and New Testaments seem to have no problems with women being the mouthpieces of God.

From the time of the early, post-New Testament church, men have taken the biggest role in church leadership. This has typically been based on society’s view of gender roles, which downplays the role and value of women. These views were then read into Scripture, with biblical scholars eisegeting texts like 1 Timothy 2 rather than working a proper exegesis. In the post-Constantinian era, male dominance became the norm within the church.

Yet as early as the 1800’s, Freewill Baptists and American Baptists were ordaining female preachers. Charismatic denominations like the Assemblies of God or the Foursquare Church allow and ordain female clergy. Yet, even though female ordination occurs, one is hard-pressed to find many female pastors leading churches. There is a verbal endorsement of ordination but a functional disapproval – it simply doesn’t happen very much.

Personal experience is not the standard for coming to any conclusion regarding faith. God’s Word is the standard by which our actions, thoughts, and faith are judged. It is nice, though, when Scripture supports opinions gained from personal experience. In my case, three women in my life illustrate that God calls women to preach the gospel as much as He calls any man.

First, my wife is an incredible minister in her own right. She has participated in numerous mission trips around the world, engaging in street preaching and evangelism. Her heart and calling for ministry are evident to all. Who am I to tell her that she cannot share the Gospel with others in public simply because she is a woman?

Second, my mother is ordained to preach with the Assemblies of God. She is a Ph.D. and a college professor. Her ability to preach the Word to an audience is far better than many men I have heard in the pulpit. As a child, my parents were pastors. When my father was away for any reason, my mother would fill the pulpit for him. Her sermons edify the body and teach truth – Paul’s requirements for biblical elders.

Third, and finally, one of my Bible college professors was one of the best preachers I have ever heard. She is clearly inspired and called to preach, and that calling is evident and her sermons are proof of the calling.

When all is said and done, Scripture, church history, and personal experience lead me to believe that God may call men and women to the task of preaching the Word and being involved in ministry. The Church sometimes loses sight of Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Contextually, Paul here speaks about salvation. Salvation is not limited to anyone. By extension, however, one could say that the God whose grace that extends freely to all is the God who extends the call to ministry to all. When the church truly lives according to Scripture, the church will see that God chooses whom He will.

God is sovereign, not people. If God wants to speak to Balaam through a donkey, it’s His prerogative. If God wants to speak to the Gentile world through a Christian-persecuting Pharisee like Paul, it’s His call to make. If God wants to speak to His Church through women, so be it.

Suggested Reading

– Author unknown. “Women’s Ordination in Baptist Churches.” Christian Century 123 (2006).
– Aleaz, Bonita. “Empowered by God: Women Breaking Boundaries.” Asia Journal of Theology 22 (2008).
– Behr-Sigel, Elisabeth. “The Ordination of Women: A Point of Contention in Ecumenical Dialogue.” St Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 48 (2004).
Bilezikian, Gilbert. Beyond Sex Roles.
– Blevins, Carolyn DeArmond. “Diverse Baptist Attitudes Toward Women in Ministry.” Baptist History and Heritage 37 (2002).
– Ferrara, Jennifer and Sarah Hinlicky Wilson. “Ordaining Women: Two Views.” First Things 132 (2003).
– Grenz, Stanley J. “Anticipating God’s New Community: Theological Foundations for Women in Ministry.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 38 (1995).
– Grudem, Wayne A. “The Meaning of Kephale (“head”): An Evaluation of New Evidence, Real and Alleged.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 44 (2001).
– Grudem, Wayne A. “Prophecy – Yes, But Teaching – No: Paul’s Consistent Advocacy of Women’s Participation Without Governing Authority.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 30 (1987).
– Heidebrecht, Doug. “Reading 1 Timothy 2:9-15 in its Literary Context.” Direction 33 (2004).
– Johnson, Charles F. “God’s Women.” Review & Expositor 103 (2006).
– Liefield, Walter L. “The Nature of Authority in the New Testament.” pages 255-271 in Discovering Biblical Equality: Complimentarity Without Hierarchy. Edited by Ronald W. Pierce and Rebecca Merrill Groothuis, Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2005.
– Lind, Christopher. “What Makes Good Ministry God? Women in Ministry.” Theology & Sexuality 11 (2005).
– McDougall, Joy Ann. “Weaving Garments of Grace: En-gendering a Theology of the Call to Ordained Ministry for Women Today.” Theological Education 39 (2003).
– Merkle, Benjamin L. “Paul’s Arguments From Creation in 1 Corinthians 11:8-9 and 1 Timothy 2:13-14: An Apparent Inconsistency Answered.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 49 (2006).
– Miller, Ann. “The Ordination of Women Among Texas Baptists.” Perspectives in Religious Studies 29 (2002).
– Moon, Hellena. “Womenpriests: Radical Change or More of the Same?” Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 24 (2008).
– Mow, Anna B. “Gee! Women in the Ministry!” Brethren Life and Thought 50 (2005).
– Romarate-Knipel, Carla Gay A. « Angelina B. Buensucesco: Harbinger of Baptist Ordination of Women in the Philippines.” Baptist History and Heritage 41 (2006).
– Schmitt, Frank J. A Practical Introduction to Church Administration. Lynchburg: Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, 1991.
– Zagano, Phyllis. “The Question of Governance and Ministry for Women.” Theological Studies 68 (2007).

15 Reasons I Left the Church: A Response to Rachel Held Evans

The local church I attend in Mattoon, IL

Recently I read a post from Rachel Held Evans called “15 Reason I Left the Church.” I don’t know Ms. Evans, but her post seems to be intended to reflect a common experience (and thus motivations?) of all 18-29 year olds who have left the church. To be fair, in much contemporary usage “leaving the church” does not mean abandoning faith but rather  walking away from “organized religion” – traditional Christianity as known and practiced by Evangelicals world-wide.

I love the church. I don’t love the church just because I’m a pastor. I love the church for what it is and what it does. I love the church because of WHOSE it is – not mine (though we often refer to a building as “that’s my church”) but God’s.

In the Bible the word “church” is ekklesia which quite literally means “called out”. The church is the group that God has called out of the world to be different; to be HIS. That being said, church is never about us. It’s always about HIM. Too often we get caught up in personal desires and wants when it comes to the local church. I believe this to be one of the primary errors of the generation Ms. Evans claims to represent – their focus is directed in the wrong direction. There is too much focus on the self instead of on the One who established and called out this group.

But I do want to look at the reasons she gives for walking away:

1.      I’m better at planning Bible studies than baby showers…but they only wanted me to plan baby showers. Bible

I’m not exactly sure what Ms. Evans means by this reason. Perhaps she’s trying to make a point about gender roles in the church? Without her explaining we’re left to guess, but my guess seems reasonable. I’m not sure why her church didn’t want her to plan Bible studies. I would encourage all Christians with the words of Paul:

Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? (1 Corinthians 12:14-17)

Paul’s point is this – there are many parts and roles within the body of believers, the church. One part is not better or worse than the others. Each must fulfill its role to have a healthy and fully functioning body. We can’t always have our ideal role – sometimes we fill roles that don’t fulfill our personal desires. That’s when we have to remember that it’s not about us – it’s about the body. Sometimes we are called to put ourselves on the back burner for the benefit of the group.

2.      When we talked about sin, we mostly talked about sex.
Sin

Some churches do this, I’m sure, but not all. The Bible talks about all sorts of sin. Here’s the thing, when the Bible does talk about sin lists, i.e. here are things to avoid (as in Ephesians 5:3-5), sexual sins are always on the list. Our sexuality is a big part of who we are, and it keeps coming up in the Bible. So, while churches should talk about all the different ways sin destroys our connection with God, young people shouldn’t be surprised when sexual sin becomes part of the conversation.

My question is this: is the problem that churches are mostly talking about sexual sin or is the problem that sexuality is not an area where young people want to be told that God has an ideal right and wrong?

3.      My questions were seen as liabilities.

I can imagine that there are churches that try to quash questions. I know there are some road-sign-63983_1920churches and pastors who embrace questions. It means people are thinking! Since I know there are churches and pastors where questions are encouraged I have a hard time accepting this sweeping generalization as a legitimate complaint against The Church. One church’s behavior doesn’t mean The Church worldwide has the same attitude.

4.      Sometimes it felt like a cult, or a country club, and I wasn’t sure which was worse.

There’s really nothing to say about this complaint. It’s about a feeling, and you can’t argue with feelings. I would ask why she felt that way, but feelings are subjective. It’s dangerous to judge people or organizations on subjective grounds rather than objective. Feelings change. “I don’t like the music there. I don’t like the pastor here. I don’t like the color of the carpet.” The subjective complaints could go on and on and on. Rather than merely leveling complaints, what is it Ms. Evans is looking for? What feeling would be acceptable?

5.      I believe the earth is 4.5 billion years old and that humans share a common ancestor with apes, which I was told was incompatible with my faith.

There are churches where this is not an issue. I agree with the idea of an “old earth”. As for the humans and apes bit, I tend to believe that the commonality reflects a common creator rather than a common ancestor, but I can still worship with people who disagree. The Bible is not a science book – it is a book of faith. Our relationship with God is not based on science but on faith. Christians around the globe can agree on the basics of faith and choose to lovingly disagree on non-essential issues. Again, Ms. Evans is making broad generalizations based on limited (or singular) church experiences.

6.      Sometimes I doubt, and church can be the worst place to doubt.

Yes, some churches frown on doubt. But an honest reading of the Bible shows that even some of the “greats” go through times of doubt. Will you turn your back on what God has instituted based on some who cannot allow an expression of doubt? You discredit those churches that would express it with you.

7.      I didn’t want to be anyone’s “project.”

Without further explanation from Ms. Evans I really don’t know what she’s talking about other than to say that she seems to have a specific example in mind. There are people in the church who will try to make others into projects. Sometimes those people are well-intentioned. Sometimes they are not. But the church is not a perfect place – it is a group of sinners who are part of a new community – a kingdom community. That means that our humanity is sometimes going to get in the way. It means that church and church relationships can get messy. It’s not a reason to walk away.

8.      It was often assumed that everyone in the congregation voted for Republicans.

This excuse amuses me. I think the voting record of a church changes based on geographic location. While some churches are largely Republican, I know of congregations that are largely Democrat. Then there are some churches that hold to neither side but try to preach Jesus and the Gospel regardless of politics. As a pastor I firmly believe that neither party has it all right. Sometimes the Bible will side with one and other times it will side with the other.

9.      I felt like I was the only one troubled by stories of violence and misogyny and genocide found in the Bible, and I was tired of people telling me not to worry about it because “God’s ways are higher than our ways.”

Again with the “feeling.” It’s impossible to argue against subjective criticisms. You felt that way but were you really the only one? There’s no one else?

10.  My own selfishness and pride.

I think a lot of these 15 reasons could actually be subcategories of #10…

11.  I knew I would never see a woman behind the pulpit, at least not in the congregation in which I grew up.

There are Christian traditions that frown on women in ministry. There are other traditions that do not. Why walk away from the Church because you are unhappy with a single tradition? I am the son of an educated (Ph.D) and ordained woman. I grew up in a home and church where mom was a contributor to the theological discussion and service. I am married to a woman who has a graduate degree in Biblical Studies and has preached the gospel on multiple continents. Your sweeping complaints do not represent the whole of American Christianity.

12.  I wanted to help people in my community without feeling pressure to convert them to Christianity.

I agree that the church should be involved in helping the community! And we should offer help with no strings attached. At some point, however, we have to come to a realization that physical help has limits if we never tell people about the gospel. It’s saying, “I care about your well-being but I don’t care about your eternity.” While we may not be balanced, the Church (even 18-29 year olds) needs to know that telling people about eternity is important.

13.  I had learned more from Oprah about addressing poverty and injustice than I had learned from 25 years of Sunday school.

True, many churches do not really approach the subject of poverty and injustice. But you’re really talking about a political endeavor rather than a spiritual one. I agree that Christians ought to be concerned with poverty and injustice, but many people seem to want these elements to be the sole mission of the Church. They are not. The mission of the Church is Jesus and disciple-making – helping people grow in their own faith and worship of Him. The Bible says that when the early church got together:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. (Acts 2:43-46)

While helping to assist other believers was part of what they did it was not their primary raison d’etre. They were there for prayer, worship, spiritual growth, and fellowship. Taking care of each other was a natural expression of the love they developed for each other. Please don’t mistake the Church for a political or social activism group. Oprah is great on the poverty and justice issues – she’s not so hot on promoting worship of the One True God. The Church is not supposed to be Oprah – it’s supposed to be the Church.

14.  There are days when I’m not sure I believe in God, and no one told me that “dark nights of the soul” can be part of the faith experience.

Dark nights of the soul can be part of the faith experience. Now you can come back to us.

15.  One day, they put out signs in the church lawn that said, “Marriage = 1 Man + 1 Woman: Vote Yes on Prop 1,” and I knew the moment I saw them that I never wanted to come back.

It grieves me to see the church get involved in politics. Ed Stetzer writes, “When you mix politics and religion you get politics.” I believe that churches ought to stick to preaching Jesus and the gospel and not promote any particular political measure. I don’t know if your church put up those signs or if others in the community put them up, but the church shouldn’t promote any political activity. That being said, the Bible DOES address issues that come up in politics. There are good Christians who differ in politics.

Well, there you have it. Probably not the most eloquent response to your 15 reasons, but I wanted to give another perspective to all of the 18-29 year olds who have walked away from the church. The church is not perfect because it is filled with flawed humans. Nevertheless, God has instituted the church – it’s about His kingdom here on earth.

Perfect? No.

Growing in God’s grace? I pray so.

p.s. I don’t really imagine this ever getting around to Ms. Evans, but if you do know her shoot a copy of this over to her, would you?  😉

How about you? Have you had positive experiences with the Church?

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I welcome all discussion, just keep it civil and polite. If this post resonates with you in any way, please share it on Facebook, Twitter, or email!

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