Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Women in Church Leadership

I am no longer living in Chicago. I woke up one morning and found myself down by the train station. Well long story short, I am now in Canada eating a brisket. (JUST KIDDING). Seriously, Biblicaly, What is the role of women in the church? And how do we relate it to our current culture?

As you know, this is an extremely controversial question. Some strong "biblicists" stand firmly by keeping women out of leadership in the church, while other "compassion and justice" folks insist that Paul's comments on women in leadership are antiquated and so we should ignore them and just look at the more positive statments about women, such as "there is no male or female in Christ."

Both of these notions I find to be looking at only part of the Biblical story.

For one, in the New Testament, there are women in all the leadership positions of the church, including a disciple of Jesus (Luke 10), the leader of a congregation (I Corinthians 16 and II John), deacon (I Timothy 3) and apostle (Romans 16). And there are women teaching men (Acts 16). And it is interesting that Paul was involved in many of these instances. So does Paul contradict himself? Even if we were talking about just a normal joe, I don't think that Paul would say and do one thing and then say the opposite. And if it is divine Scripture, I find that less likely.

There are two passages that give the basis of understanding that Paul is opposed to women in leadership roles, despite the evidence in the NT that he held the opposite view: I Corinthians 14 and I Timothy 2. Let's examine both of them.

I Corinthians 14:29-38

Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment. But if a revelation is made to another who is seated, the first one must keep silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be exhorted; and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets; for God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints. The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church. Was it from you that the word of God first went forth? Or has it come to you only? If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, let him recognize that the things which I write to you are the Lord's commandment. But if anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized.

In the context, Paul is speaking about order in prophecy, and how to be both spiritual and polite in the speaking of prophecy. First of all, someone is in charge-- the one who is seated, for everyone stood except for the teacher-- over the group of prophets and they had to listen to that one. And everyone takes their turn.
Then Paul seems to say that women could not prophesy, or "not speak". In the context, he might only be talking about prophecy, but if so, that is strange since it seems that he said that women could prophecy if their heads were covered in chapter 11 (which I think he did not say, but that's for another day, but at least he was accepting women prophets speaking in the church). So, again, is Paul contradicting himself? And why is he reacting so strongly after this statement to... what? He is giving a command and then immediately rebuking the Corinthians? Why?

Well, the broader context, from Chapter 7, Paul has been responding to the Corinthians about "that which you wrote." In other words, he received a letter from the Corinthians to which he is responding. This explains the many changes of subject he does in the letter. And it also explains many of the seeming "contradictions" in the text. Why? Because he is quoting from the letter he received from the Corinthians. This is why, in chapter 7, it is quoted "A husband shall not touch a wife" and then Paul contradicts it immediately. Because he was quoting a Corinthian position and then refuting it. Later on, in chapter 8, he quotes that "idols are nothing," and then in chapter 10 he says that "idols are demons." He is not contradicting himself, but the Corinthians.

Even so, here in this passage, he is speaking about orderliness in prophecy and how the lesser prophets need to pay attention to authority ("he who is sitting") and then he quotes a prophecy that was given to the Corinthians "Women are to keep silent in the churches..." etc. Paul recognizes this as the opposite practice of the rest of the churches, which he already spoke about in I Cor 11:19, that they can't have a standard practice or command that isn't accepted by all the other churches. Here, a prophet in Corinth is saying, "All women IN ALL THE CHURCHES must remain silent." Paul is responding by saying, "Who do you think you are? Are you the primary apostle that can tell all the churches what to do?" Then he says, "Instead, pay attention to what I'm telling you-- and I'm telling you to listen to the authorities in your church, do what they say and SHUT UP!"

So rather than Paul saying "women should be silent" Paul is actually saying, "Prophets who say that women should be silent should shut up themselves."

Then we've got the ever popular I Timothy 2

First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time. For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying) as a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth. Therefore I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension.

Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments, but rather by means of good works, as is proper for women making a claim to godliness. A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. But women will be preserved through the bearing of children if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint.

First of all, I want to firmly agree that this was probably written by Paul and not some misogynist years after Paul. But I want us to understand clearly what Paul is saying here. First of all, he is not speaking to men and to women, but rather to husbands and to wives. This passage is a brief version of a "household text" of which we have many examples in Scripture, such as Ephesians 6, where instruction is given to different parts of a household. Husbands are commanded to go to the synagouge and pray with other husbands. This is specifically given to husbands because they are the head of the household and it is a part of their responsibility as the authority of the house.

Wives, however, have their own work to do. First, they aren't to be distracted by fleshly things such as beauty and cosmetics. This doesn't mean ANY braiding of hair, but the common practice of spending half of one's day caring for hair and beautifying oneself. The work they are to to is twofold-- first of all, submissiveness, and secondly childbearing. Who is the wife to be submissive to? Why, her husband, of course, as Paul says in I Corinthians 11. Women are not to submit to ALL men. Rather, wives are to submit to their husbands.

Thus, Paul is not speaking of church leadership here, but household leadership. Can women be leaders in the church? Yes, because there the kingdom standards apply instead of the standards of the world. But even there, wives should be submissive to their husbands, even as children should submit to their parents if they are living with them. So a wife should not think to teach her husband, but it is fine if she can teach other men. If men want to see in this passage all women submit to them, it is just a part of some patriartic fantasy. Let's face it, women often know better than us. And if any man is worth anything, they will ask women-- especially their wives-- to teach them.

And what about childbearing? I think its shorthand for the raising of children, even as it is in Genesis 3, where it says that women will bear children in pain. It is hard labor, raising children, especially the younger ones and, let's face it, it is almost always the mothers who do that job, even in todays "balanced" society. And note, Paul doesnt say that women will just be saved through the raising of children. Rather, he says that the raising of children will be enough to save them if they do it with gentleness and faith. In other words, whatever work God gives us, let's do it with Christlikeness. That is what will save us, not a specific work by itself.


Friday, November 09, 2007

Welcoming the Homeless Into Your Home

Good Morning Steve,
My name is Devan and I met you at the Mennonite Church USA conference this past July; I attended your lecture on gods and theology in the ancient world, and I sat with you at Willard Swartley's lecture on peace and justice. I had a chance to talk with you a little bit about your ministry and church for those experiencing homelessness. I was very intrigued and wanted to hear more but, alas, I was only in San Jose for 2 days.

I have, for a few months, been considering doing a similar ministry. Generally, my neighborhood doesn't have many chronically homelessness folks residing in or around it given that it is far from most of the human service agencies. Nonetheless, my neighborhood is known for gang violence, is one of the poorest in the city of Buffalo (with a 30% poverty rate, most of which is concentrated in blocks surrounding my home), and has a lot of youth who are steps away from serious incarceration or death. Many of them are in and out of homelessnesses from month to month. A ministry down the street from me (it's a thrift store) offers job training and steady pay to teenagers in the neighborhood - even if they leave for two weeks and come back needing more money - and some of the folks who work there have increasingly been asking me to get involved by mentoring those youth. I know that, eventually, this will mean making my home a place for them to come and feel welcome and get some food and have a chance to have someone listen.

I thought perhaps you would have some insight about how to safely open my home in that way. How did you do it? What are the anticipated challenges? Even if folks are coming into your home like that, there are still boundaries set I assume? What are they and how did you communicate to the folks you were welcoming how to respect those boundaries? Has anyone stolen things from you? How have you responded to this? I know this is a lot to ask, I appreciate any insight you are willing to give.
Shalom, Devan

That's great that you're thinking about such a needy and challenging ministry. I am actually sitting here thinking, "How WOULD you start a ministry like that?" The way we started was so "easy" and God-driven, it just started itself. But if you are really open and friendly to the kids, then you should go far.

And, yep, we've had stuff stolen from our place. One time we had a checkbook stolen, and we ended up losing a thousand dollars-- which, as you know, we couldn't afford. The lesson we learned from that is: Don't tempt people by having stuff out that is easy to steal. But we never pressed charges against anyone. Heck, we didn't know who stole the checkbook, anyway, and we wouldn't want to even file a police report because we don't want to be the cause of someone being sent to a place where they could learn worse things than on the street.

There was another guy who stole from us. He was a kleptomaniac, actually-- actually diagnosed. As soon as he stole something, he felt guilty and then would give it away. I just asked him to apologize to whomever he stole from and then he was welcomed back. He did. Another who stole from a church that we were meeting at didn't and I haven't seen him since. It's hard to draw that line, but there is a basic rule of the street-- you don't shit in your garden. Meaning, you don't do something bad to someone who is helping you. So, when the street ethic is the same as the biblical ethic, I try to support that.

Keep your eyes open and listen carefully. Thats the main thing. Assume that you don't know anything about anybody when you meet them and you will learn something surprizing and new. For most folks on the street-- unless they are deeply involved in a gang-- they are isolated and feel out on a limb. So be open about yourself. Most folks on the street can read somone who is being falsely sincere. And other folks will think that a person is being insincere when they aren't. Just be yourself as much as you can, share your opinions if you think they agree with them.

Try to build trust. Trust is earned, not given. And you are asking folks to come into your place, which is a foreign world to them. Welcome them, but don't overwhelm them. Treat them as you would an immigrant from another country. Be careful about their concerns and try to ask them about what their needs might be. They probably won't ask you for anything, so be generous.

Give whatever things of substance you can, but try to avoid giving money. If folks have addiction issues, then even if they have the best intentions and are sincere, they will use the money on their addiction. If you give clothes or blankets or anything, make sure the tags are off and there's no reciept, so they can't just return them and use the money for something that won't help them.

Now, do you have kids? I do, and that offers another level of challenges, but I won't get into it unless you have some. Actually, is there anyone living with you at all?

Ummm. I'm sure there's pleanty more I could say. But perhaps you were thinking of stuff that was more pratical. Have you got any questions? If I know, I'd be glad to answer, or at least give a thoughtul opinion about that of which I am clueless.

May God grant you peace and fullness in this ministry.

Steve K

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Bonhoeffer and Ideologies

Have you read,'The Cost Of Discipeship'? Wow! So, what are your thoughts?

Yes, I have read it. The Cost of Discipleship is great, for a book. But Bonhoffer went against the very principles he stated in that book when he worked to get Hitler assassinated. He chose to live against those principles. So it just goes to show that head knowledge only goes so far.
I have really appreciated the first part of his book, Ethics, and many people have praised his book "Life Together," although I didn't think it was as good as the other two.

Why is it great for a book? I am interested in what you really think. Are we as christians supossed to faithfull to our idolagies, no matter what? Gordon

We are not supposed to be faithful to ideologies. We are supposed to be faithful to Jesus. Bonhoeffer wrote this book, the cost of discipleship, as his best, most accurate expression of what it means to follow Jesus. He wrote it specifically against the church that ended up following Hitler and his regime.

Bonhoeffer knew that we were meant to follow Jesus, not the state, not ideologies, but the Lord. This is why he wrote the book. To inform us of what Jesus demanded-- not the church, not the state, but Jesus alone.

So when Bonhoeffer stood against the principles he wrote in this book, he was standing against his own best understanding of what Jesus demanded. He knew that Jesus wanted us to love our enemies, and that Jesus wanted us to sacrifice ourselves for the good of others. Bonhoeffer decided that he would compromise what Jesus demanded that he do for the sake of his country. Since he could not find a way to love his enemy and love his country, he determined to hate his enemy, Hitler. He did this with good intentions, but the good intentions took him away from Jesus.

In this, then, he ended up in an insideous way, agreeing with Hitler. Bonhoeffer and Hitler had different ideas who their enemy was, but they both agreed that the way to deal with enemies is to destroy them ourselves. They both disagreed with Jesus in this area. And yet, in a way, Bonhoeffer was the worst of the two. Hitler did what he did in ignorance of Jesus, not having commited himself to him. Bonhoeffer counted the cost, made the determination to follow Jesus, and then, when the crisis hit, he determined to love his country more than Jesus.

"He who takes up the plow and turns back is not worthy to follow Me."

"Remember Lot's wife."

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Real Church

What is it that we get from church that we cannot get from (1) a small group (fellowship), (2) a good Bible Study (being taught/equipped) and (3) serving (living it) in our communities? All are forms of worship to the Lord, 2/3 is being a part of the body of believers and the other 1/3 is doing what the Lord asked us to do…Go! This question has been on my mind as of late. In two different seasons of my life I have sensed the Lord calling me OUT of churches just as I have sensed He was leading me to them. There have been huge gaps though, in between the exiting church and finding a new one. What are those gaps?? It just dawned on me that I should ask the Lord. But I would love your insight
-Paula Reece

As far as what you were talking about your church. The problem, I think, it considing the "Sunday service" group as "THE church" and all other groups as something other than "real" church. But the Bible says that the "real" church we need to be involved in is a fellowshipping body. Fellowship or koinonia in Greek doesn't mean just talking or encouraging, but meeting each other's physical needs, keeping each other accountable, as well as sharing songs, Scriptures and what we've learned from the Lord and prayer requests and encouraging to keeping on with the Lord. So what I ask is, where IS the "real" church? In a meeting where everyone is observing, but not talking to each other? Or in a small group where we are sharing our needs and burdens and joys and hopes in the Lord? I believe that often a Bible study or accountability group is actually more of a real church than a Sunday meeting. So when Hebrews says, "Do not forsake the gathering together", I think it means one's accountability group, not a big Sunday service.