Women in Ministry, Part 4 – The Testimony of the Early Church

This is part 4 in a series surveying the role of women in ministry (part 3 here). In case you didn’t know there were many female servants in the early church. Unfortunately, the female servants do not get a whole lot of pub. While most of us probably cannot name all 12 apostles, we can probably struggle through half of them or more if we have been in church for awhile. Comparatively, I am not sure most of us could name more than one or two influential female leaders in the early church (Mary doesn’t count), and many of us maybe shocked that there were any at all.

There is sufficient evidence in the New Testament to show that this new Christian faith was to be an inclusive faith, eschewing arbitrary distinctions like gender and race in a lot of ways. That was later forgotten or obscured by the institutional church that coalesced at Nicea (and after), but the first Christians were not shy about using women to further the mission of God. Before Jesus died, it has been argued by many that the women we see in the Gospels helped “bankroll” his ministry. We do know that these women were loved by Jesus, and ministered to Him.

Let’s skip to the very early church. What kinds of things do we see women doing in the infantile stage of the church? Let’s look first at Priscilla. She and her husband Acquila worked with Paul in several places in the New Testament. What is a bit shocking for the New Testament, is that Priscilla is most frequently mentioned before her husband. This would be very uncommon because usually the more influential person would be mentioned first, and that would always be the husband. In this case, however; Paul frequently placed Priscilla at the beginning of his greeting. What did she do in ministry? Many things, but maybe the most striking was that she (primarily it seems) and her husband helped train one of the most gifted speakers of their time Apollos in the fullness of the Gospel. Not only that, she lived on mission, serving the Lord with Paul and her husband. Paul evidently thought very highly of her and her husband, as they traveled with him, labored with him, and were greeted many times by him. In the early church, women were allowed to communicate the Gospel to all. (As an aside, often people will say that we have no evidence she did this in “church,” but we also do not have evidence to the contrary. It should be be remembered that church was like it is today, see Acts 2:42-47. They met often, and they taught often)

Then we have Phoebe in Romans 16:1-2. We aren’t exactly sure what Phoebe did, or what her role in the church at Cenchrea was. We do know that she was called a διάκονος. This word is the same word translated as deacon. There was no female form of this word till later in the church’s development, so Phoebe is called the same thing as a male deacon would be. What is interesting is that she is also called προστάτις. The root word means one who is set over others or leads others, but it is here in a feminine form because Phoebe was a woman. Many will argue that the change in gender indicates a lesser role for Phoebe than a “real” deacon, but there is really no exegetical reason to conclude that. While it isn’t clear what Phoebe was in charge of, it is clear she held a place of authority. The act of carrying Paul’s letter to Rome was a supremely important task, especially when we consider just how important this letter was to Christian Systematic Theology. It is very likely that letter carriers served as interpreters of the letters they carried. They would be charged with explaining exactly what the author meant to their audience. That would have Phoebe instructing the Roman Christians about Paul’s doctrine (similar to what Pastors due today), including men.

As we read further in Romans 16, we see many women mentioned, but maybe no one more quixotic than Junia in verse 7. For many years a debate has raged as to whether Paul was addressing a man or woman. That is why we see this name translated as Junias in different English translations. After many years of studying the culture and texts, most scholars agree that this was a woman called Junia. Greeting her was nothing surprising, but what Paul said about her was. In the NASB it says that she (and Andronicus) were outstanding among the apostles. There is a bit of controversy here as that phrase could be translated as “known to the apostles.” Neither translation is “better.” If Junia is just known by the Apostles our understanding of women’s roles in the church is not much changed from the traditional understanding. If, however; Junia was an apostle, it radically shifts our understanding of the role of women in the New Testament. As an apostle, she would be elevated to a role of authority we have previously thought was only occupied by men. There would then be no reason to exclude women from any role in the church.

While there is no exegetical reason to conclude that Junia was not an apostle, it is also difficult to conclude that she was on the apostolic level. Unfortunately, there is just no way to know for sure what Paul meant; so while we cannot take a mandate from this verse either way, we must leave open the possibility that she was indeed an apostle.

There are many other women we see doing great things in the New Testament, from Chloe who seems like she hosted a church in her home, to Lydia who was the first convert in Macedonia and may have also had a church in her home, to Timothy’s mother and grandmother. We see that women impacted the Early Church in many ways.

I put this overview before we start examining the specific passages to make sure that we have a level-set on the types of things women did in the very early church. As the church developed and became more sacerdotal (led by priest-types), women were marginalized. This colors how we view the texts we will see later on, so know that God used women greatly to impact the early church. Indeed, because of church culture, we need to be reminded often of how valuable women were in all facets of ministry in the early church. Remember: the New Testament was not written as a handbook on how to do church, but recorded what the people did from which we derive principles. If this was their practice of ministry (women serving in many ways, even authoritatively) we should be careful not to view their practices anachronistically. This allows us to invent our own view of their model to mirror our traditions and prejudices, and then apply a fallacious basis of practice forward to our day. The principle is clear: women were servants, held authoritative positions, and were invaluable to the spread of the Gospel.

In our next post we are going to start addressing in detail the passages that would appear to limit the scope and roles of women in ministry. It’s likely that we will see our presuppositions challenged most in these next few posts. Hang with me, and I pray that what we have done so far has been helpful!

Women in Ministry, Part 3, Creation’s Purpose

This is part 3 of a series discussing the role of women in ministry, and trying to decide what the Bible teaches on this controversial subject. You can find Part 2 here. The first Biblical point I want to address is to answer this question: What was God’s purpose in creation?  Let me begin by stating that I believe God created humanity out of nothing, and that Theistic Evolution is bogus and not a truth taught in the bible. This is important because it means that God created humanity with purpose. Genesis 1:27 is the great statement on God’s design of man and woman: He created man in His image, male and female He created them. This is where God breathed life into humanity and men and women became image bearers. We each carry the Imago Dei, with the capacity for reason, worship, ministry, and fellowship. Now before some of my Complementarian friends say “see He created MAN in His image…” no serious scholar believes that the “man” here is meant to be anything other than a representation of humanity. Hebrew has two words for man אָדָם (‘adam) and אִישׁ (‘iysh), and אָדָם most commonly refers to mankind/humanity. Hence Adam’s name (also אָדָם, but with the הָֽ indicating a specific אָדָם) isn’t just man, but carries with it the idea of him being the beginning of humanity. If you will allow me to paraphrase, verse 27 would say: God created humanity in His image; He created them male and female. Male and female are properties of humans. God included both in this statement to show that all humanity was in his image regardless of gender. As the narrative is recapitulated in Genesis 2, we also see the אָדָם used everywhere we see “man” up until Genesis 2:23 when both man and woman were created.

What is the point of all that information? God was not making אִישׁ (man) better or first as an order of rule. Someone had to be first, and it was Adam. The point of what is being communicated here is that man and woman form a unit. אִישׁ and אִשָּׁה (‘yishah, woman) were inextricably linked together in creation. In fact, the purpose of God of creation of humanity was for us to have fellowship with Him. I believe that is demonstrated in minuscule form in Genesis 3:8 when God comes looking for them and found them hiding in their shame. Their sin broke fellowship and the rest of Scripture is about restoring the relationship between God and humanity (this post contains some of my thoughts about that). The creation account is an account of God making humanity for fellowship, both man and woman. There is absolutely no reason to think these passages teach hierarchy or rule of men over women. God’s purpose in giving us this story was to show us that we need each other equally.

Now let me anticipate some of my Complementarian friends arguments for male headship at this point:

  • Man was created first, he is primarily the representative of God and His ruler of creation: not withstanding our Hebrew lesson above, this objection says that because God created man first, he is automatically the boss. God brought Adam the animals to name. God thought Adam needed a partner. The problem with this argument of creation order is that God saved His most important creation for last (humanity), and with that logic His most important creation would be woman, as she was the last thing created. Creation order will be a big part of the argument for male headship/leadership in the church, so this will be an argument we come back to.
  • Woman is described as a helper, this implies someone who is under another’s rule: First, remember God’s purpose in creating humanity was for fellowship and interdependence, not hierarchy; but more important than that is that Hebrew עֵזֶר (‘ezer) NEVER means or implies inferiority or subservience in the Scripture. It means helper (helper is not an indicator of hierarchy), one who succors (ministers to another, the same could be said of a Pastor), and one who stands in front of. In order to get this text to mean “one who is subordinate to,” we have to bring that conclusion into the text.
  • Jim just read Genesis 3:16! God said man will rule over woman – this is indeed what Genesis 3:16 says, but in context this statement is part of the curse given to humanity when they chose sin. Each part of the curse is something that humanity now has to fight against: bad ground when planting, pain in childbearing, and yes rule of man over woman. Isn’t this what we see as a giant problem in church culture today? Powerful men abusing women in the church? This is not a command but a curse we should fight against.
  • The New Testament tells us that creation order is a thing – as I said above, this is a very real argument that comes from the New Testament. We will be going through these passages later, so I will hold off on the discussion of this item till them.

So what can we conclude? Seeing that fellowship and interdependence of man and woman, and humanity and God are the primary topics; we can conclude that God made man and woman for each other. Without man there is no woman, and without woman there would be no more man (childbirth). We are intricately linked together and cannot be separated into factions. This may not help us to make a conclusion about the ultimate role of women in the church, but it does get us to see that God thinks and purposes about humanity holistically and not necessarily piecemeal. Divisiveness is common in humanity. We like to divide people by gender, age, color, and whatever else we can find. This seems to always be a precursor to sin and discrimination.

The next topic will be to analyze the early church and discover the types of ministry women were doing. This will give us some clues as to what the earliest Christians thought women should be engaged in.

Women in Ministry, Part 2: The Enemies of Understanding

This post is the second in a series evaluating the role of women in ministry (first post). Before we get into understanding and interpreting the relevant passages in relationship to women in ministry, we need to address two big enemies to us having an open mind to this topic, the first being tradition. Tradition can be an enemy to properly understanding what the Bible says because it tells us that the issue has been settled a long time ago. Indeed we may already think we know what the Bible says about the issue, because our church, parents, or leaders have told us what we should believe based on their traditions. Unfortunately, tradition is not necessarily biblically derived, and conclusions can often be based on faulty logic or cultural preferences.  This is why tradition can be difficult to wade through for us seeking to understand the Bible in context.

A second enemy to our study here will be that many of us are not trained in how to properly understand the Bible and apply it in the modern world. I don’t want to alarm anyone but we very rarely do direct application of practice in the New Testament church to ourselves. That is because one of the rules of proper biblical application is to understand what the basis of practice was described as in the New Testament, derive the principles that are present in these practices, and use the principles to guide our modern church practices. A proper analysis of a text has to take into account what the writer of the passage was trying to communicate (and what the people they were writing to understood them to mean), the location and customs of the recipients, the situation of the recipients and purpose of the writing, as well as any difficult to understand terms, and incorporated literary devices (yes, things like sarcasm existed in the Bible and we have to be able to recognize it without a sarcasm font). That may sound complex, but it gets even worse. Generally speaking, we don’t always know the answers to these questions. This is one of the reasons that we have wide varieties of understanding and application of “very clear” biblical texts. We as Biblical exegetes (and if we are to have an opinion on the Bible we better be exegetes) have to carefully study all these factors to engage in a meaningful way with the Biblical text. Misunderstanding context, culture, and meaning have led to more divisions and heresies than any other practice.

Defeating these enemies will not be easy for some. I would like to say that enemy number 2 will be the most difficult one to overcome, but for most of us it will be enemy number 1. I will attempt to walk us through the difficulties of interpretation and various understandings of the Biblical texts after having studied it quite a bit. That does not mean I will not be wrong, but hopefully through the exegesis you will see that and be able to draw your own conclusions. By contrast, I cannot do anything to change your pre-conceived notions about what church should be like, just like you cannot change mine. Tradition will be our biggest challenge as we seek Biblical understanding. For example, if we are not used to seeing women preach and teach, it may strike us very wrong (even if it isn’t); if we are used to it, and we find the Scripture to teach that it is wrong, we may not be willing to accept it. Tradition has consistently been the biggest problem to reforming failing and un-biblical practice in the church.

In our next installment we are going to look at the big picture that God had in creation and try to derive His plan and purpose for it. We will begin to challenge some of the assumptions we have and start laying the groundwork for where we are going to go in the future. With that, let’s get Biblical (sung to the tune of Olivia Newton John)!

Women in Ministry – Grappling With Controversy and Truth, Part 1

I have been contemplating writing on this topic for some time. The catalyst for me really goes back about 25 years to a conversation my wife and I had when we were 18 and I was not a Christian. It was the first time I ever heard the view espoused that I would later learn was called Complementarianism. I was quite shocked and horrified that God would design an order in the relationship between a husband and a wife. Over time, that shock dissipated and became more of an “ok, that’s what the Bible clearly teaches” type of thing, and I acquiesced and became a Complementarian. Something always bugged me about it though. The idea of marital hierarchy was problematic with other things I read about God in my Bible. God’s nature didn’t seem to dictate that conclusion, but then I would study passages of Scripture like I Corinthians 11:2-16I Corinthians 14:34-46I Timothy 2:9-15Ephesians 5:22, and I Peter 3:1-7 and I would run back to my Complementarianism. As our church leaders would say: it was obviously exactly what the Bible taught, however; my wife didn’t cover her head with a veil, all the churches we were in allowed women to talk (and teach select groups), and none of them thought women were redeemed through having babies (though all were Complementarian). It was quite a conundrum, and a haphazard application of these same texts.

Now let me be very honest, I do not really care much about what other people think. If the Bible clearly taught Complementarian theology, I would be a proponent of it no matter what anyone thought. As I studied more and more theology, I became more thoroughly convinced of a Reformed understanding of theology, and women fully included in ministry was clearly not something endorsed as a Reformed Baptist. As I read and studied modern Reformed people, it became clear to me that most people I interacted with equated women ministers as an anathema, on par with the other favorite cultural punching bag of self-righteousness, homosexuality. These two issues are not related. Almost all of the arguments cited the above texts, without exegesis and interpretation, and declared victory.

That was not a viable alternative for me because women not serving festered (even though I didn’t really want it to). I knew so many great women that were amazing teachers, shepherds, and who had borne so much fruit for the kingdom, that their systematic exclusion bothered me. I thought of my wife and how her gifting, outside of our theological bent, was that of an Execute Pastor or a Youth Pastor, a strong teacher and leader; and I had a very hard time squaring the party line with my reality of experience.

I decided I wanted to tackle this topic seriously and apply the old adage ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda: the Church reformed, always reforming. This means that we should always study our methods and beliefs and compare them with what the Scripture teaches. As we make that comparison, we adjust to Scripture and not persist in error. I have found that most people I know have inherited their stance on this issue from their parents, tradition, or pastor, and very few have actually studied it. I purposed to study the issue and figure out exactly what the Bible taught and apply it to my practice of the faith. Fortuitously, I started taking some doctoral classes at a Baptist seminary. My first class gave me 3 options of research topics and one was Women in Ministry, so of course I jumped at it.

In this series of blog posts I want to share what my study led to, what conclusions I came to, and how I think this should practically impact the church. I have felt like I should share for some time, but have not really sat down to write. Part of the reason is it will take a while to properly flush all this out, part of it was an unwillingness to write on a divisive topic while I have been looking for a new pastorate. Ultimately, the shocking revelations of abuse emanating from the church in the past months motivated me to want to address the topic of “does our practice cause abuse, and is our practice Biblical?”

I know that some of you will disagree with what I conclude, which is fine. Disagreement between family is going to happen. The Bible may leave a topic unresolved (because its ultimate purpose is about redemption, not leadership), but I would ask that all of us have an open mind considering the topic. Let’s not lean on our previous understanding, traditions, and inherited bible interpretation; but let’s look afresh at what the Bible actually says. The charge to us is serious: keep reforming and to understand why we believe what we believe.

 

Playing the Poor for Money

I usually avoid TV preachers before church on Sunday. They tend to make me upset rather than encourage me to be more like Christ. Sunday morning I was watching a sermon and the preacher quoted a stat to encourage people to give more to the church: “Americans, even poor ones, are richer than 99% of the world.” He said this to let his congregation know that they were financially well off. The United States is a financially rich nation, and we have always been a very generous nation at home and abroad.

From this truth, however; this sermon quickly trickled into the Evangelical go to when it comes to giving: guilt. The next line of the sermon stated “you on welfare, you are in the top 1%. You are rich.” This statement, I believe, was meant to motivate people to give by guilting those who weren’t on welfare to give more to the church. My assumption is (looking at the fine building, and the crowd as they panned the audience) that this church had a very small contingent of people actually on welfare in the audience. The pastor was using a form of false equivalency of “rich” welfare recipients to illustrate that non-welfare recipients were really blessed. This means, of course, they should give more. This also means that they should feel guilty about not giving more, because even our poor are so rich. This is a far cry from Paul’s call in II Corinthians 9:7 to “give what you have decided in your heart…..not under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” Notice Paul did not say that God loves a guilted giver.

While I have many issues with the proper exegesis and application of giving in many churches today, it wasn’t actually the guilting of the congregation that bothered me most. The real issue I had was that this sermon minimized the struggle of the poor in this country. Yes, welfare recipients receive more money than much of the world. However, what this gentleman failed to address was the fact that it costs more to live in America than in the places where most of the world’s population lives. I am not sure if this TV pastor has spent much time with those on welfare, but rest assured they do not have extra money to spare. They aren’t squirreling it away, eschewing the offering, because they have a surplus and are stingy. In my experience, the poor in America (as well as all over the world) are the most generous people I know. However, they were minimized because they aren’t quite as horrifically poor as those in Africa and India, but THEY ARE ALL POOR. If we do not recognize that the poor in America are actually “the poor” we should be ministering to, we are missing the mark. This is one of the reasons I struggle with the idea of eliminating social programs to help the poor, because our churches uses them as object lessons instead of treating them as real people whom we should be serving.

I wonder if this Pastor realizes just how many people his church building would have fed oversees and right here at home if it was sold? A few million dollars goes a long way to mitigating the struggle of those who need it (instead of minimizing them). I wonder if this Pastor realizes that those whom he used as a guilting block for others in his congregation have kids who go to bed hungry every night, right here, in America. I also wonder what the application he would draw from the parable of the sheep and the goats, where our commitment to Christ was boiled down to how we love those who are hurting, suffering, and in need of help.

It seems pastors always want to take the directions to Israel in Malachi on how to give, but they don’t find it equally applicable to find the verses of treating those in our nation as God directed Israel to in the Torah. We do not believe that God blesses those who give to the poor from Psalms and Proverbs.

We have real poverty in America and the right thing to do is to meet those needs, not use them as an object lesson. Perhaps getting out of the ivory tower, plush, and comfortable church building, and spending time with the least of these right here at home would help him find better analogies to use to fleece the flock.

 

Modern Christianity – Neo-Gnostics?

If you ever want to denigrate a philosophy that is even remotely Christian, the best thing to call it is Gnostic. Gnostics were around during the time of the early church the movement purveyed many heretical ideas. In a gross oversimplification, the root tenant of their philosophy was centered on the idea that matter was bad and spirit was good. Therefore what was spirit was to be elevated, and what was matter was to be abased. This allowed Gnostics to live hedonistically due to the separation of good and bad parts of their nature. In the New Testament, there are rejections of this dualism, indicating that the authors knew of this proto-Gnostic philosophy that would develop as a real challenge to Orthodoxy as the church grew.

What does this have to do with modern Christianity? 

If you have not heard the #metoo movement you need to crawl out from the rock you are living under. Ever since the revelation that many powerful men have committed sexual assault we have been reacquainted (on a national scale) with human depravity. This was not at all shocking to those of us who know humanity, but it was surprising that the victims were listened to, and action against the perpetrators happened. The subsequent #churchtoo revelations also confirmed what we didn’t want to admit: powerful people in church do the same bad things as other powerful people. From pastors raping students (and being applauded for their confessions), to the child sex abuse scandals and all the other incidents in between, local churches proved to be as corrupt as the rest of society. This is not really news either if you have ever been to church, or hung out with church people. Humanity is sinful, and Christ-followers are just as sinful as anyone else. You have probably heard the phrase “not perfect, just forgiven,” which, while true, doesn’t necessarily push people to righteous living.

How did this happen?

The trite answer is “sin” or “sin nature.” While true, that simple answer is not very helpful as we try to figure out how to deal with this issue in the Church. Unfortunately for the church, the corruption of practice continues to reveal an ever bigger problem, and that is a corruption of belief. While I acknowledge that we have a sin problem, I believe our real problem is the resurrection of Gnosticism in the local church. We do not really believe that body and spirit make up our humanity, so we can try to isolate our sin from our spirit. This is why we can go to church on Sunday and worship in spirit, while living in gross sin in our body.  This is why it is so very easy to decouple a woman from her feelings and personhood, and treat her as a sex object. This is why we don’t view casual sex, or premarital sex, or homosexual sex, or polyamorous sex as corrupting of who we are, but just something we do. This is how we can self-justify the murder of unborn children (they are just cells after all) in a genocide that rivals or beats the worst in human history. We don’t feel that our fleshy action is the real us. We don’t recognize that sex involves body and spirit, and that’s why we ruin ourselves spiritually when we act physically. You cannot separate the body from the spirit anymore than you can separate breathing from your lungs: they are one in the same for practical usage. Sin in your body is sin in your spirit, and vice versa. Sin always impacts who you are. Sin always corrupts the totality of you completely.

What can we do about it?

Once we recognize that our actions come from a corruption of belief we can work to correct the theology that informs those actions. As a church, we need to spend more time teaching a correct Anthropology instead of swimming in the dualistic land of the Gnostics. This has to be practical, hands on equipping of the church. People need to know how to embrace their whole self, and how to recognize the impacts that sin has on all aspects of who they are. It has been a long time since I have heard sermons on the unity of the nature of  humans, and longer still since I have heard how to fight against sin because of the impact it has on us holistically. I think that’s probably because many preachers are guilty of being closet Gnostics, embracing cultural views on humanity instead of the truth of the Word.

I wonder how many more stories are lurking out in the shadows that hopefully will be brought to the light. I know many probably would rather have them stay in the shadows so that the church isn’t hurt anymore, but I want all the wickedness to be flushed out of the church. Sunlight is the best disinfectant, so pulling the covers back from what we have hidden will push us towards holiness. I want the church to be purified of those who would harbor assailants. I want the church to stand for the victimized. We can only really do that when we embrace what God teaches about humanity:

God created humankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them,
male and female he created them.” – Genesis 1:27 (NET)

We are unique and amazing creations of God, each of us. We are more than the sum of our material parts, and complicated beyond belief. Gnosticism is ultimately the worst form of idolatry because we place what we believe humanity is above what God says we are, and we the church must stand against it!

What the Heck Happened?

I am not fan of President Trump. I think he is less than desirable in many ways. I probably make my conservative friends upset by saying that, though Trump is not a conservative in many respects. I was not a big fan of President Obama either. I thought he was deficient in my ways also. That probably makes some of my more liberal friends upset. When I look at that state of our discourse on these things, however; I have noticed that as Americans, we are so polarized that any form of discussion of the merits of these individuals has been obfuscated by our own need to “be right.” Our friends cannot disagree with us without becoming our mortal enemies. We cannot possibly admit that someone we do not like at all had a good day, or did something that we appreciate.

What the heck happened?

I remember hearing stories of Democrats and Republicans disagreeing all day long, and then having a beer after work and being friends. That used to be common in America, but it seems like we have lost our ability to reason and be friends with people we disagree with. This is obvious by the raging hate storms you see on any discussion of politics or religion on social media if you are brave enough to view the comments of a post.

I do not really care much for politics, so my concern is always more focused on the church. Unfortunately, the same attitude is present in the church. People who disagree on matters of belief are so quick to condemn their “opponents” (not their friends who disagree) as heretics. People shun and criticize others because they believe or do things just a little bit different. There is no room for dissent about topics that can be arbitrary and no related to anything important. I do believe there are issues that should separate believers, and that there are required divisions in the big tent of the Body of Christ, but I also think those are few and far between.

What the heck happened?

I have tried to be thoughtful about this. I thought: “has anything really changed?” People have always been self-righteous, self-focused, and self-aggrandizing. I think that part hasn’t changed at all, but the rapid ability to disseminate our opinion has certainly changed with the advent of social media. It allows us to make our own platforms that we can pontificate from, regardless of our education on a topic. We can be jerks (me included!), and we can pretend like our way is the right way. We get to have one way discussions, and make sure people know that we are right.

While that is true, I think the issue is really bigger, because Jesus taught His people to behave differently. To love others. To give to others. To respect others. Even those (maybe, especially those) who disagree with us. How can it be possible that those of us who claim Christ act like we do just because we have a megaphone at our fingertips? The answer, I think, is the lack of the Spirit’s voice in our hearts. The Spirit is the one thing that should prompt us to act differently, to love more, and to be more committed to people than we are to ourselves. I believe the church has systematically silenced Him. Baptists do it out of fear (can you imagine if the Spirit got out of His box in some churches)? Charismatics silence Him by overindulging in emotionalism and fake Spirit movements. The high church Protestants/Catholics silence Him through traditionalism. The Spirit, the influence that should be pushing us to be like Christ, is speaking to those who have no room to listen. Our society is suffering for it. Our friends and neighbors are suffering for it. We are suffering individually for it. Most of all, the Kingdom is suffering for it.

What the heck happened?

We tuned the Spirit out and have become the coarse, nasty, and uncaring society that we are today.  The Bible says that those in the Spirit have peace, patience, self-control, joy, and many other things. Do these define us? They certainly do not dominate our culture, and those who claim Christ have lost that subversive, cross-cultural impact we need to keep pushing the Kingdom forward. Not in the sense that we try and be hipster cool, but in the sense that we love radically. People need to look at all aspects of our lives and see a difference.  Too often, what they see are people arguing and trying to justify themselves and their always right opinions.

What the heck happened?
We stopped listening to the Spirit, and we didn’t even notice.

Why So Sad?

The title of this post is from one of my favorite songs in Hamilton. Confession, King George is my favorite in the musical. His question is really quite revealing about the King in this song, because it captures how disconnected from reality the King was with the Colonies. He did not understand the people, and by the power of his position as Regent of his empire, he didn’t consider it something he had to care about.

I find this line of thinking common amongst those with some claim to power. We all see it I am sure. In the intellectual circles I run in its almost always related to church or theology. It’s common in the big church pastor who doesn’t quite get why people no longer want to fund the building program. It’s common in the Calvinist who cannot understand why the Arminian doesn’t understand how right he is (and vice versa). It’s common in the Protestant who cannot fathom how Catholics can claim Christ at all. It’s common in the Evangelical who cannot understand that other Evangelicals did not vote for Trump, and that some even voted for Hillary.

Lord Acton said “that power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Unfortunately this seems to be proven true again and again, and while I care about the dismissing of those who are “less than” in most facets of the world, I care more about it in the Church. When we consider ourselves more important than others, and we have to if we view ourselves as powerful, we cut off discussion with those who are not up to our level. We do not make headway, and we fracture the diverse Body of Christ. That’s why we see so many people screaming at others about how right they are, and the other people tuning them out (or screaming back), and no dialogue or understanding actually happens.

The Christ-follower who wants to be like Jesus should heed His example: He humbled Himself, removing Himself from a position of power, and died on a cross. This complete emptying of Himself is called the kenosis and is taken from that Greek word in Philippians 2:7, where Paul said that Jesus emptied Himself of all His divine attributes. Jesus gave up power to reconcile humanity. He emptied Himself for us.

As Christ-followers, we have no power compared to what Jesus gave up. Colossians 1:15-20 explained Jesus power, and the Book of Hebrews exalted how much better Christ is than all other things. Why is it that we cannot condescend to those who are “less than” us, showing them grace and love, and pursuing reconciliation and unity? That’s what Jesus prayed for His church, unity; so why is it so easy to pull a King George? We look at those “peasants” beneath us without trying to understand them, or include them in our groups. Why is it so difficult to disagree and remain friends?

It took the King fighting a war to finally get that the American problem wouldn’t just go away, and the people didn’t see him as their superior. What is it going to take for us to lay down our self-perceived power (or power given to us by others) for the sake of the Gospel of love?

Maybe we would benefit by continually asking ourselves “what would Jesus do?” when it comes to understanding others and remember what He did do to reconcile humanity. I think of myself as a vile, horrendous offender of God, who disagrees with Him continually, but is loved and redeemed regardless. I have begun to pray more fervently the same thing that Jesus prayed for us: unity. God made for Himself a diverse Body, perhaps it’s ok that we do not all see things the same way.

Social Media Survival Guide

I’ve been on social media for a while and I have figured out a few rules. These rules are not hard and fast, but are an excellent way to make sure that you are doing the Dale Carnegie thing and winning friends and influence people. These rules are especially true if you are trying to be like Jesus.
1 – There is no room for differing opinions, if you do not agree with everyone else 100%, you are an idiot and should be called all the vile names. You are barely above a cave dweller. Especially if your opinion is contrary to the ever-changing landscape of socially acceptable norms.
2 – You will NEVER change your mind through well-reasoned discussion and thought, your prior convictions (especially if not based in fact), can never be changed.
3 – You must never believe the motives of a person are pure, they are always secretly out to destroy you, so you must respond back with as much venom and vitriol as possible.
4 – You are defending the rights of whomever you are supporting to the death. Key Board Warriors are required. If you cannot be one, you are not ready for social media.
5 – Important issues must be pushed aside to discuss and debate the immaterial, like if someone thinks its OK to stand or sit.
6 – Sharing about how  you are praying for something is just like actually helping.
7 – God really cares if you share stuff about him on Facebook and do not live it out in real life. The meme that says you have to share if you aren’t ashamed of Him IS REAL LIFE PEOPLE.
8 – This is life or death people. Engage and defend. This will really make a difference in people’s lives!

Are We the Children of God?

If you go to church for any length of time, you will inevitably hear a sermon series on the “Beatitudes.” The first time I heard this word I was a bit freaked out, because that is not a word. However, I quickly learned that church people make up words all the time, and this was no more egregious then many of my personal inventions. The Beatitudes are the first few verses found in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus was teaching people about the Kingdom and trying to make tangible something that was completely foreign to humanity.

Favorite preacher passages are ones like “Blessed are the meek…Blessed are the poor in spirit…Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,” because their applications are direct. The meek gain strength in the Lord, the poor in spirit get the Kingdom, and those who hunger and seek for righteousness are satisfied by their pursuit. One of the more difficult “Beatitudes” to preach is this one “Blessed are the peacemakers…” Why is that so hard? It seems like Christians should want to be peacemakers. Jesus brought peace to humanity by becoming human, and dying a criminal’s death. That’s what Christian believe. However, it seems that in this day and age peacemaking is not only tough to preach, but it’s extremely tough to live. In this modern day of hot takes, indignation, outrage at all disagreement, and the need to paint everyone we interact with on social media as either Satan or the Second Coming, we have lost the desire to make peace. The gentle answer that turns away wrath. The ability to lovingly disagree or better yet, NOT engage (It’s an unwritten maxim of social media that the best fights are the ones not entered into). The ability to look at someone we love, who is representing beliefs we absolutely abhor, and recognizing we still love them and want to build peace not relational destruction. Is there ever a time when peacemakers were more needed? In this divisive and binary climate, don’t we believe that Jesus would want that from His people?

Maybe it’s just the circles I run in online, but I find that “His “people” are some of the most nasty, intolerant, and totalitarian people out there. My friends, how can that be? How can we not lovingly make peace in a world where making peace would be an act of radical obedience? The promise Jesus gave for the peacemakers was this: that they would be called Children of God. Was Jesus saying that His real people would be those who fostered peace, not conflict? Jesus did advocate conflict, but only for the sake of the Gospel. Too often we stoke the fires of rage in others for politics, or feelings, or social awareness; and we miss the point of engaging with the Gospel (which is love and peace, and the only answer to the human condition).

I know it’s difficult, especially when confronted with those who are so virulently against all things godly. However, for Jesus’ sake, don’t hit send on your “pièce de résistance” of a post that will cripple your opponent; give them the love of the Gospel instead. If we are really His children, shouldn’t that be our normal response?