Monthly Archives: September 2009

Eve: Apples and Ribs and Silence

CreationofEveMichelangeloLRGThis Saturday we had another great porch meeting talking about women’s roles. The readings for this week were on Genesis 1-3 and I Cor 14 (where Paul says women should be silent in church) and we read articles interpreting these texts from both sides (egalitarian/feminist and complementatian/hierarchical).

Genesis 1-3 has a number of important passages: a. humanity being referred to as ‘man’ (adam) a masculine form b. woman being created after adam and named by him c. woman being created from adams rib. d. woman being deceived and the resulting curse.

In brief the complementarian/hierchicalist we read first pointed out that man and woman are equal in worth insofar as they are created in God’s image, although they don’t necessarily have the same roles. He also said that it is significant that God refers to humanity with a masculine form (man for ‘mankind’ or humanity) and the order of creation (woman coming after man and from his rib) and the fact that man named woman (as he did all the animals) is significant in showing us the order of creation. He also characterized the egalitarian as holding the view that male headship is perceived as part of the curse from which women are freed in Christ. Ortland (the author) was clear also to point out that his view is not a male-domination view (that men should dominate women and oppress them) but was a view that male headship basically was about leading and initiating, not making all the decisions.

The egalitarian/feminist take on this passage was that it doesn’t make much sense to think that since man was created first, that he is more important, because the squirrels were created before Adam, and the fish before that, according to the account in the Bible– which would make fish more important than squirrels and adam, etc.  On the other hand, it seems that the Created things constantly get better actually as you go along (fish, then land animals, then adam–) but then Eve is created last so on this timeline view, woman must actually be the pinnacle of creation and superior to adam… (but in fact the temporal sequence seems to be insignificant).

The fact that woman was created from mans rib need not imply anything more than that they are one– made of the identical stuff of flesh.

The egalitarian sees the curse of the fall in chapter 3 NOT as male headship being put on her, but rather the curse is primarily about dissention and disorder and broken harmony. Humanity will fight against the earth now, man and woman will both strive against each other, and there is a need for healing to this broken state. The idea that the fall happened because the woman did not properly submit to adam seems to be a reading that distracts us from the fundamental issue of pride and self-gratification and self-glorification driving adam and eve to disobey God.

That the Hebrew refers to humanity with a masculine term is more a matter of Hebrew language than of any sort of substantial point about God’s placing man over woman.

One final point we discussed was that the hierchical/complementarian seemed to view egalitarianism as the view that there are no differences between men and women by nature, and again, that view doesn’t seem to be the egalitarian viewpoint. Most if not all egalitarians, like feminists, believe that women do in fact possess ablities unique from those of men. Women are unique. Ortland characterized the egalitarians as promoting sameness without difference (the idea that women and men are equally good at all things). But thats not it. Perhaps a better phrase is different with differences– women and men are generally different, but even those differences can vary and differ depending on the person. The key for the egalitarian seems to be to not pigeonhole one’s giftings and abilities according to their role rooted in a metaphysics of gender ‘hardwiring’. Rather than saying women can lead in particular circumstances (like the complementarian who says they can lead other women or children) the egalitarian says women will lead in different ways– not all women will lead exactly alike, but its likely women will as a rule lead differently than men would.

I Corinthians 14: Women Silent

I Corinthians 14 is where Paul says women must be silent in church. We came to realize that neither side generally holds that women should always be silent. The complementarian normally thinks that women can prophecy and pray in church, but shouldn’t teach over a man.

The egalitarian reading of this passage was that a lot of this is cultural. Some of us discussed our experiences in foreign middle east countries where even today women can’t touch any man even with a handshake, and speaking to a man you are not related to is considered to be unseemly. The reading pointed out that the house church teachings/sermons, like most ‘lectures’ of that time period (and likely most synagogue instruction as well) were situations where the teacher would be regularly interrupted by questions form the group, in a back-and-forth style. (see Plutarch’s “lectures”)  Women were taught by Paul not to ask questions in this setting. We discussed why, and while some argue that it could be because women in general were not well educated and perhaps were regularly sidetracking discussion with very basic questions (jewish men were trained as boys in the Torah– young girls were not generally). It may also be a matter of protocol in such a culture for women to not ask. Again, in discussing contemporary middle eastern countries, we talked about how that there it is almost unseemly for a woman to ask questions in a public forum to a man, because it can seem she is questioning him and that is culturally problematic. In such a culture, it would be good to do as they do, but in our own culture, where it is not problematic for a woman to publically ask questions in a public forum, it seems such prohibitions don’t really apply. Paul seems to be focusing on two general isues in this chapter overall– making sure the church has some order and structure (not chaos) and to make sure that the church considers how it appears to outsiders who might visit. Both of these considerations, it was argued, prompt Paul to want women to comform to the cultural expectations of the surrounding society, while he also does in fact want them to learn.

It was also pointed out that the fact that Paul told the men to help their wives understand at home meant he thought women could be taught– which was in contrast to many thinkers of his day who thought women were not capable of learning, so it should be left to men.

Overall it was a great week for discussion. One thing we pointed out was that it seemed that often men don’t think about their role much, which leads either to a male-domination mode, or to a passive shadow role, and both of those are not good. A good complementarian guy will not simply lord it over a woman, and a good egalitarian guy will not simply relinquish his responsibility to act with concern and courage. Thoughtful egalitarians OR complementarians are more likely to be better leaders than either unthoughtful passive or domineering ones.   May God have grace and mercy on us all.

A More Egalitarian ComplEmentarianism?

crowe and house011Last week’s women’s roles study group was interesting. While the first week we’d read a good introduction to the more traditional perspective (often known as complementarian) that a woman was naturally designed to “complement” a man with her unique gender-based giftings and abilities, this last week we read more about the other side of this discussion– what is known as the egalitarian position which essentially holds that peoples abilities are not always limited by gender and that women should not be limited in the roles they fill at church or in society simply because they are a woman.

We had three readings. The first was basically an overview of the egalitarian movement, and the egalitarian-complementarian debate, in the 20th century. One interesting facet of this reading was the realization that until pretty recently, the more traditional position in this debate was known as the patriarchal or hierarchical view. Egalitarianism is sometimes characterized as ‘christian feminism’ by its opponents.

Perhaps the most interesting thing to me from this chapter was the fact that so much has been written on this topic in the last 60 years and there has been some significant shifting of position and the egalitarian position has made some progress in at least getting acknowledgement of women’s leadership roles in the church by the more traditional complementarians– even so that the name of the view has been softened to ‘complementarian’ rather than hierarchical or patriarchal.

One other interesting point to me in this chapter was that the egalitarians believe in some sense that women complement men, but not always in a gender specific way. Some women, for example, might make for very good leaders, and so complement the church in that way. I think about the many different leadership theory styles– and it seems like some women would match certain leadership styles better than some men, and some men would fit other leadership styles than most women (although there are always some outlyer women who are great in leadership styles that usually men are better at) and so when you acknowledge that there are different ways to provide leadership, the question of whether men or women make better leaders becomes maybe too simple. It may depend not only on the individual, but on what type of leadership style you are even talking about. Some are good mentor-leaders, some are better at taking-the-reigns leadership, some are better at servant leadership– but maybe not simply on the basis of their gender…

The second chapter we read was about women leaders in the bible.

There was discussion of female prophets and judges, and it was pointed out that often the female prophets were very powerful as contemporaries of other prophets (thus undermining the notion that women were leaders only when there were no good men around).

Some significant space was given to the discussion of Junia, mentioned in the New Testament by Paul, who seems to be pointed out by Paul as an apostle and leader in the early church, although by most accounts of the early church fathers (including St. John Crysostom) she was a woman. If she was in fact a significant leader in the early church, it would provide a significant counter-example to the view that women were not to be leaders in the early church.

Many other examples were pointed out.

The third chapter was about hermeneutical principles, and in it the author provided 6 principles for reading scripture, which he then applied to the discussion of women’s roles in the Bible. (In stating them no one is supporting them necessarily, and their application at any rate is debateable)  They were a. you have to make a distinction between literal and figurative meanings.  App he made: God is spirit and so nonsexual, and so any gender reference to God is distantly figurative, at best.  B. Prescriptions vs descriptions.  App: “though the patriarchal society in the OT serves as a background of much of Israel’s history, this does not imply a diveinley sanctioned order.” (357)  and “Paul’s description of male authority in the ancient Greco-Roman household does not attain to a prescription for all times.” (358)  C. Individual, collective and universal references.  app: some commands of Paul in I Timothy seem to be directed towards a specific background with specific problems, not meant as general universalizable commands.  D. Peripheral vs Central concerns.  App: He said that “one would think that Spirit gifting, which receives considerable attention in the NT with regard to the ministry of the body…would be more central than church order [and gender specificity of specific positions, etc]” (359)  E. Fragmentary vs Canonical Interpretations.  App: read things in context, and avoid proof texting.  Ex: “some…forbid women to teach men on the basis of ! Tim 2:11-12 but in so doing are dismissive of the evidence that stands on the other side….Others, on th ebasis of I Cor 14:34-35 either disallow women to speak at all in a church gathering or severely limit which speaking is allowed.  But to do so they must reject not only the surrounding context of I cor 14 but also the evidence of ! cor 11:4-5, not to mention much else in the NT” (360)  F. Situation of those being addressed.  App: “Cultural differences demand of us a double shift: we must ascertain the principles at the root of cultural mandates made in antiquity in order to perceive their significance in relation to our own time and place; and we must beware lest we present as divine mandate what may be only a cultural feature of some part of our own Christian environment…” (361) 

In response to those in the complementarian/hierarchical camp who say that egalitarianism in Christianity is motivated primarily by wanting to be like our secular culture he says, “The great problem for Christianity is not that biblical egalitarians have been carried away by their desire to emulate secular feminism.  Rather, the problem appears to be that Bible-believing people have permitted themselves to fall below biblical standards because they were unduly influenced by surrounding societies in which oppression prevailed in spite of centuries of Christian witness.” (361-2)

So this second week was a nice counterpart to our first week where we looked only at the complementarian viewpoint of piper and grudem.  Questions were raised about some of the arguments of the complementarian authors, and we look forward to reading the two viewpoints and their interpretation of Genesis 1-3 and I Cor 14 this next Saturday.

Peacemaking

Last night at simple free we were nearly done with liturgy– just going through the prayer of thanksgiving– when the front doorbell rang…and then rang again. I figured it was one of ‘my guys’– one of the local semi-homeless guys who have worked for me for the last 2 1/2 years on different projects in the neighborhood. It is common for them to show up at my door hoping for a few bucks this time of night. I went ahead and finished with the group liturgy, then went to the door to see who it was. As I got to the front hall, Josh my nephew was coming in and said ‘its Deano. He got in a fight, and wanted to talk to you, but go ahead and finish church, I’m talking to him and hes settling down.’ Josh is especially good at this kind of thing, being a chaplain, so I figured Deano was in good hands (and he was). So we had prayer and talked a bit and as I was walking out to the porch with others Josh came in and said Deano was still here and wanted to talk. So I went right out.

Now Deano is a character. He is about 50, wears cutoff net shirts in the summer, and spends most days walking around collecting cans. Some of his family is from up in the central north area of nebraska, where the sandhills start. He’s lived in Omaha a long time, and doesn’t like to get out of his neighborhood. One time when we were en route to go out to 72nd street to visit with a social worker for him he suddenly had a panic attack of sorts and felt he was too far from home and we had to turn back and go home. Another time I’d brought him to Burger King and as we were in the drivethrough he suddenly jumped out of the truck and ran home– you never know for sure what is going on in his head. But generally he is like a little kid, and he laughs a lot, and repeats himself a lot. He often says to me ‘you are a busy busy man. A hard workin man Andy!’ (and then he giggles: he he he!) Every once in a while he’ll say “you get so many calls andy, your like the president of the united states!” and things like that. He is really fun loving, and just sort of simple, but sometimes he frets and keeps repeating things over and over.

Deano was on the porch and was obviously distraught. He’d gotten mad and done something he knew he shouldn’t have done and he felt awful. He’d lost his cool and been mean to Joey, wife of Richard the Omaha native who works for me almost daily. No one had gotten hurt, but Deano was obviously sad and repentent.

We talked a while about what had happened and what he should do. He kept saying “i just have to get out of here, its driving me crazy all this stress” Deano goes through these cycles where he decides he has to move, but yet he is afraid to move more than 3 blocks from here, so it makes it difficult for him to really look and he is on a fixed income of around 600/mo. I tried to comfort him and talk him through stuff. He didn’t know if he should go home (he lives next to Joey and Richard, and felt strange and didn’t know how to approach them) I encouraged him to apologize and he said “yeah, thats right. I should do that.” Eventually I said, “do you want me to walk you home Deano?” and he said “if you want” so I walked back home (2 blocks) with him. We got to the houses and he just looked up at Richards place. He said “what do you suppose I should do?” and I said, “well, how about if I go see if Richard wants to come down?” and Deano liked that idea. I went up the back stairs and knocked. Richard came to the doors. Richard is a big 56 year old Omaha indian. His face is weathered from his hard life, but he was a boxer in his youth, and he still prides himself on his strength. He loves tall ladders and is often the one guy I’ve got to do painting high up. He won’t allow cursing around his wife, and is perhaps the most respectful decent guy I’ve met on 33rd street. He is always polite and when he saw it was me he invited me right in. I told him Deano was awfully sorry, and asked him what happened, and he said Deano had come over with some things from the store and Joey had said something to set him off– Joey has kind of a mouth sometimes, especially if shes had a couple– which is most of the time– and Richard had had to grab Deano. Now Deano hangs out with Richard and Joey a lot, so this was tramatic for him to have hurt this relationship at all. I asked Richard if he’d mind coming down to talk to Deano, and Richard said “that’d be alright” and he came down with me. Richard has slowed up a lot since I first met him two and a half years ago. At that time he was still agile enough to stop knife fights between his 30-something nephews and he would actually fight guys once in a while if they bothered his wife (he is very protective). But I’ve seen him in and out of the hospital twice with liver problems. Now he is alcohol free and doing well, but he has slowed up– in no small part due to cancer which he has. But it was powerful somehow to be with this giant indian, the guy who always tells me to tell my parents that ‘the chief says hi’– the man who commands respect on the street and who always has a laugh ready when he hears something funny. We came down those steps and Deano was pacing, talking to himself. We got down and I stood there between them and said, “Well, Deano wanted to apologize for acting as he did Richard” and at that point Deano cried while he told Richard he was sorry, and he didn’t know what got into him, etc.   Richard just looked silently with his kind eyes, and after Deano got done he said, “well no one got hurt and these things happen” and I was happy because I knew it would be OK now. Deano went on to again repeat that the stress was making him crazy and he really needed to get out of here and find another place over and over, but I was just happy that some normalcy had been restored once again on 33rd street.

I am thankful for all the relationships I have with my friends on 33rd. When I left Deano and Richard I went with Josh and David to Sullivans bar. When we walked in the bartender said “andy I haven’t seen you in a while” and he then said, “hows the mayor of 33rd street?” I told him about Deano that night, and said “I used to think my hobby was home renovation, but now I realize its social work.” Of course lots of people have lots of interactions like this. My nephew Josh does this for a living.  Our friends Renae and Ryan do this for a living as well as social workers.  But I am thankful for opportunities like this to keep me focused on what is really important. It is so easy for me to be, as Deano says, “a busy busy man” but times like last night remind me of how happy I am to know Deano, and Richard, and the rest of the characters on 33rd. They are a blessing of God to me and I don’t want to take them for granted.

Boys will be Boys (Girls will be Girls)

piper booThis was our first week to do our ‘womens roles’ study, and it was really great. We are using two books, each coming at the issue from a different position. This week we started with the more conservative position, a book by John Piper and Wayne Grudem called ‘recovering biblical masculinity’.   These two men have had amazing lives of leadership and ministry for the Church and God’s kingdom, and it was a priviledge to get to read their thoughts on this topic.

Generally the reaction of the group was fairly positive. Some commented that they had expected to disagree more with the book, because they expected it to be more male-centric. But Piper and Grudems position essentially revolves around a male and female essentialism which believes that men and women really will be happier if they take on their respective gender roles.   As they say, “The tendency today is to stress the equality of men and women by minimizing the unique significance of our maleness or femaleness….The consequence…is more divorce, more homosexuality, more sexual abuse, more promiscuity, more social awkwardness, and more emotional distress and suicide that come with the loss of God-given identity.”  (33) This view of Piper and Grudems is basically that there are essential roles which people’s gender gives them.  For example, “No woman should have to take the initiative to set a disobediaent child right while her husband sits obliviously by, as though nothing were at stake.”  And although they definitely think that men should ‘man-up’ and take the initiative in many circumstances, from decision making to sexual encounters, they also point out that “The aim of leadership is not to demonstrate the superiority of the leader but to bring out all the stengths of people that will move them forward to the desired goal.” (39)

The theme throughout their writing is that there is an established order of male roles and female roles, which is not ever to be changed: “The redemptive thrust of the Bible does not aim at abolishing headship and submission but at transforming them for their original purposes in the created order.” (65)  As for women who feel that this view constrains them, they say, “God does not intend for women to be squelched or cramped or frustrated.  But neither does he intend for women to do whatever seems to remove these feelings without regard to the appropriateness of the action.”  (47)  They also point out that women are not particularly ‘weaker’ than men in all respects: “women are weaker in someways adn men are weaker in some ways; women are smarter in some ways and men are smarter in some ways’ womena are more easily frightened in some kinds of circumstances and men are more easily frightened in other kinds of circumstances.” (49)

Perhaps one of the strongest challenges in the book is for men to take responsibility.  “Pride and self-pity and fear and laziness and confusion are luring many men into self-protecting, self-exalting cocoons of silence.  And to the degree that this makes room for women to take more leadership it is sometimes even endorsed as a virtue.  But I believe that deep down the men–and the women–know better.”  In a specific challenge they say “that you not fritter away your time on excessive sports and recreation or unimportant hobbies or aimless didling in the garage; but that you redeem the time for Christ and his Kingdom.” (55)  Piper and Grudem are straight and to the point about this, and I think it is great advice– men often neglect to take responsibility to lead in the church.  Even egalitarians who think women should play some role in church leadership should agree that men need to take responsibility and not fritter their lives away on frivilous pursuits!  This is a challenge though to both men and women.  

Piper and Grudem are clear about the gender roles of marriage, church positions, and career.

Piper and Grudem are clear about the gender roles of marriage:  “…in a well-ordered Biblical marriage both husband and wife acknowledge in principle that, if necessary in some disagreement, the husband will accept the burden of making the final choice.” (40)

They believe these gender roles also prohibit women from being leaders in church as elders or pastors: “The same is true of god’s design for the leadership of the church.  The realities of headship and submission in marriage have their counterparts in the church.” (53)   And again, “The Biblical connection between family and church strongly suggest that the headship of the husband at home leads naturally to the primary leadership of spiritual men in the church.” (61)

They also hold that women and men have particular responsibilities for the household regarding their work activities: “The point of this genseis text is not to define limits of what else the man and the woman might do.  But it does suggest that any role reversal at these basic levels of childcare and breadwinning labor will be contrary to the original intention of God, and contrary to the way he made us as male and female for our ordained roles.  Supporting the family is primarily the responsibility of the husband.  Caring for the children is primarily the responsibility of the wife….Again I stress that the point here is not to dictate the details of any particular pattern of labor in the home.  The point is that mature manhood senses a benevolent responsibility before God to be the primary provider for his family” (43)

So at home, at church, and with regard to career, Piper and Grudem hold the conservative complimentarian view that the Bible says that gender dictates what one should do. 

Piper and Grudem of course don’t think Paul prohibited women from teaching, but they do see it as a prohibition for women to be sole teachers of men in church assemblies or one on one, specifically because women aren’t to have authority over men but are to submit to their authority. (70)  This gets a little interesting in the work-world where they seem to think that women having male secretaries is against God’s order (45).  They also say its OK for a woman to write books instructing men, but not to teach: “Nor would we say that what a woman writes in books and articles cannot be spoken audibly. The issue for us is whether she should function as part of the primary teaching leadership (=eldership) in a fellowship of women and men.  We have not, of course, ruled out either small or worldwide ministries of teaching other women.  Neither have we ruled out occasional lectureships and periodic addresses (as distinct from recognized Bible teaching in the church) in which women address men as well as women…” (85)  This is interesting to me– women can write books for men to read, but just not teach them directly, due to the order God ordained.  Women are allowed to prophecy in church, and to pray, but not to teach or preach.  My first thought was, what if a woman preached in a style much more like the pentecostal preachers, which is in many ways often more prophecy than bible instruction?  (just a thought)

One problem I personally have with Piper and Grudems analysis is that they make so many gender-generalizations.  I know I am kind of a freak guy (especially living in Nebraska– the cornhusker state) since I am not interested at all in video games or sports.  (My niece Marta constantly tells me that I should not assume that most guys think like I do because I am a freak! (I love you marta! :)))  But I tend to see people as individuals and think of some people as being smart, others as not, some as weak, others as not.  There are some women I would rather have watching my back in an alley fight than some guys– I wouldn’t choose simply based on gender (men protect, women nurture).   In short, one’s gender is one of many things I consider when making a judgment about someones abilities, and I am hesitant to make many assumptions based merely on gender.  Piper and Grudems books simply strikes me as gender-centric in an awkward sort of way. 

Another problem I personally have with Piper and Grudem is that it seems aimed at  unisex androginous feminism– one which claims that there are no non-social real differences between men and women.  But that form of feminism is largely discredited– in feminist circles.  Rather, what we have today is a view that women ARE different than men– and that they have abilities men to not– which are quite useful in leadership, among other things.  Women managers manage differently than men in many cases, but this difference is often seen as a strength, not a weakness.  Just as a board may benefit from the difference of perspective of minorities, so it may prosper from the benefit of women.  So contemporary feminism would not argue that men and women are the same, but rather, that they are different, and that those differences can be advantages for the woman.  Piper and Grudem would of course say that there are differences as well, but they argue for a biblical mandate for the specific hierarchical roles of gender.   The other book we are reading is for the egalitarian position (in contrast to Piper’s complimentarian position) but that book is called “Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity without Hierarchy” which is interesting because from that title they acknowledge that men and women compliment each other with their differences.  But this egalitarian view holds that women can compliment men in leadership as co-leaders, for example, with their unique perspectives and abilities.  So sometimes when piper and grudem are criticizing this ‘christian feminism’ which trys to anhilate all differences between men and women, it seems to be a bit of a straw man/woman.

I do also not agree that men have to be the primary breadwinners.  I just don’t see enough clear guidance from Scripture to make such claims.  Of course they must not be lazy, but stay at home dads who care for the kids while CEO mom is at work is hardly lazy, unless we say that stay at home moms are lazy…

Finally, I sometimes find myself thinking this about their view regarding the cultural-specificity of some of Paul’s teachings: On their view of what is cultural and what is not– they say that when Paul is prohibiting women from braided hair or jewelry that we should read that culturally and realize the real point is that women should be modest.  (74)  This is my problem personally (I am just trying to be honest, not particularly critical): I have a hard time seeing how, if you allow such a model of interpretation, that you couldn’t also go on to say that so long as culture is not offended by women having a larger role in the church — than they did 2000 years ago in a world where women had few if any rights whatsoever– that its OK for women to hold those types of positions if they are in fact good at leading.  I mean, if the women-should-not-talk-or-lead is cultural, then of course I would want the best leaders and not exclude someone based on their gender (or pick a guy who is a rotten leader merely because he is a guy, and so pass over much better women leaders).  In our culture, most are not offended by braided hair or jewelry, and most are not offended by women teaching men.  But if there are some who are offended by jewelry, or braids, or women teaching, then let them not allow it in their own fellowship circle.  But why impose this limit on the world at large due to one’s own uncomfortableness?  I realize that this question assumes that braided hair, jewelry and women’s roles in the church are similarly cultural.  But that is the real debate here I think– what is cultural and what is not– and I am not yet able to see with clarity and conviction Piper and Grudem’s point of view from Scripture.  But fortunately, we have a few more weeks to get more scriptural explanations for their position as we continue…may God have mercy on us all. 

Please feel free to respond with any of your own thoughts.  Please realize people on both sides of this debate will be reading this, and its best to speak with kindness and gentleness, especially when you have strong opinions.  We want to have ongoing discussion here, not to have discussion stoppers 🙂

–Andy Gustafson (PS: I do not speak for all of Simple Free, just for myself.  We have a variety of opinions on this issue in our fellowship)

PSPS: Why this topic interests me:

I got interested in the ways which evangelical women think of themselves and their possibilities when I was teaching at Bethel in Minnesota.  Two of our strongest departments were Philosophy and Physics, yet these departments had the fewest women.  When we would ask women if they would consider being a philosophy major (becaue they were doing so well in the philosophy classes) their response was usually that they were women, so they didn’t think they could do that.  They hadn’t seen women Christian philosophers, and didn’t know women could/would do such a thing. Some even said that they felt like their family and church had sort of told them that teaching philosophy was not for women.   This made me start to think about what women are told they can and cant do.  It also made me act, and I helped some female students start BUFF: Bethel University Feminist Forum (we debated over labeling it feminist, but eventually decided to, more for effect and the added benefit of the cool acronym)  Here is the old site:  http://www.fusionapple.com/buff/index.htm  My goal was to help break down stereotypes so that women wouldn’t feel that they needed to be either teachers, nurses or social workers– there are other options.   I wonder how many of our ideas about these things have to do with never having seen otherwise sometimes…like my students who had never met an evangelical woman philosophy professor. (Bethel now has two)

If you want to be a fan of simplefree on facebook, its pretty easy: http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#/group.php?gid=100998097389&ref=ts

Of Straw Men and Anabaptists (by Angus McDonald)

Red_AngusSimple & Free dialogues are delightful to read because they are RAW. They evidence real thinking rather than fearful clinging to hackneyed principles. They belie the idea that those who believe in the authority of the Word of God and the Holy Spirit cannot have an original thought. I hope what I add will help remove another barrier to genuine thinking. That barrier is the “straw man.” Straw men are those ideas that do not really portray the authentic views of opponents in a debate. They just help win the argument against them. I have seen a few straw men emerge in the S&F dialogues. Straw men should be limited to political harangues and diatribe or worse, propaganda, not discussions of S&F.
In this spirit I would like to present a solid example for discussion; the Evangelical Mennonite Conference. These folks not only take certain positions, they live by them. They are real men not straw men. Surprisingly enough this historic denomination may offer some original thinking. Though they are evangelicals I believe the EMC exhibits thinking SEPARATE from mainline evangelicalism. I am suggesting that Evangelical Mennonites could bring a fresh view on topics for the very reason that they do not tow the party line of mainline evangelicalism.

Let me give a few examples. Historically, they have opposed war. Article # 9, of their statement of faith states, “We believe that the teachings and example of Christ call us to a life of nonviolence and a ministry of peace in this world.” Whether you agree with that or not, it is different from the majority of evangelicals. Another example is social action. Evangelicals could be called Fideists (those who believe in faith only), but the EMC folks have an admirable track record with regard to social action. What community experiencing hurricanes or floods has not been thankful for the presence of these humble workers? They have also taken powerful stances against materialism (something rampant among evangelicals). Here are just two of the articles on the EMC website: The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience: Why are Christians living just like the rest of the world? And, Overcoming One-Sided Christianity: Combining Evangelism and Social Action. That is mild compared to some of the articles presented.
How could this group be helpful in S&F discussions? You have been dialoguing about the complementarian vs. the egalitarian position. The “Wikipedia Dictionary” states, “Along with other evangelicals and orthodox Mennonites, the EMC takes a complementarian stance . . . .” Today I was reading a blog by an Evangelical Mennonite who wrote, “Most recently, our church has clarified our position on gender and ordination. As a body, we have (re)affirmed our complementarian understanding of the Scriptures, which mirrors the wider evangelical world.” So, differing from mainline evangelicals regarding war, social action, and materialism, they take a clear complementarian position. Their thinking may be helpful on this topic for the very fact that it will not bear the mark of an evangelical imprimatur.
There is another reason for taking Evangelical Mennonites and the larger category, Anabaptists, seriously regarding this issue. For nearly 300 years they have applied their doctrines in the most difficult school of pragmatic reality. If we ask, “Does it work?” we will find remarkable stability among these people, even when under persecution for their beliefs. Just following their paths of immigration (at times fleeing pogroms) one breaks out in a sweat! Though I do not know their statistics with regard to marriage and divorce, I will wager that the longevity of their marriages exceed those of most Americans 2 to 1.

So, what does this admirable denomination say about the issue of gender? Its website home page says, “Women serve on most national boards, as council delegates, as missionaries, and within local church activities; while they can be selected locally as ministers….” Wow, sounds almost egalitarian, doesn’t it?! But, it goes on, “the conference does not provide for the ordination of women.” That is similar to my own denomination, the Evangelical Free Church. They do not ordain women to the position of pastor/elder, but they do have a second track of ordination which provides for women on the mission field, in Christian education, and in the military.
Why do these denominations hold back from ordaining women to the position of pastor/elder? Fundamentally, because of their position regarding authority. EMC’s home page states, “As Evangelical, we hold to scripture as our final authority in faith and practice.”(emphases, mine) In other words, they see women as fully capable to serve on national boards (which may determine the fate of pastors within their denomination); council delegates (women can change the very charter of their denomination); missionaries (this means presenting the Gospel to mixed audiences); local church activities (perhaps that includes physical plant issues, praise and worship, etc.); and note this carefully, “can be selected locally as ministers.” This last statement would certainly affirm the presence of such great women in the early Church such as Lydia, Priscilla, and Phoebe.

Yet, the EMC is complementarian! It is not because they restrict women from authority, decision making, or the center of the life of the church or believe that they are somehow unequal. They make their decisions about pastor/elder positions based on their reading of Scripture. If you have come up with a straw man regarding complementarians, please think again! We come in many stripes and one thing we agree on is this, THE AMAZING AUTHORITY AND DECISION MAKING ABILITY WITH WHICH GOD HAS ENDOWED WOMEN! We also agree on the magnificent differences between the genders and the incredible richness that affirming this brings to life. Next time I have a moment to write, I would love to address the issue of women in combat. Just a tickler: about 80% of women who go through combat come back with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Could it be that there is something fundamental to being a bearer of life that makes taking a life virtually impossible?

[Note: I (Andy) posted this on behalf of Angus McDonald, my brother in law who is a 30year + Free Church Pastor in Virginia. I’m thankful for his guest-blogging!]

Why Churchless Christianity Doesn’t Work

liturgy2What makes a church a church?  This is an important question with all the novel approaches to no-church-churches that we currently see in the contemporary evangelical world.  Its also an important question for Simple Free, since we don’t look like a typical church– meeting in a house, without a pastor, etc.  Kevin DeYoung writes interesting books.  He has a  book called “Just Do Something” which encourages 20 and 30-somethings to stop sitting around waiting to figure out what to do and just start doing things. Thats an interesting thesis. Another book DeYoung wrote with Ted Kluck is “Why We Are Not Emergent”, in which they explain why the Emergent Church movement is flawed. Now these young authors have a new book, “Why We Love the Church”, an adamant defense of traditional church as being essential to the Christian life. There is a nice interview with DeYoung in a recent Christianity Today magazine about his views (http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2009/august/35.58.html) They are responding to disgruntled Christians, many of whom have come out with recent books like Pagan Christianity?, Quitting Church, Life After Church, and They Like Jesus But Not the Church. DeYoung and Kluck respond that despite its flaws, the traditional institutional church is important, and loved by Christ. They say at one point:

“And any husband worth the paper his marriage license is printed on will be jealous to guard the good name of his wife. She may be a lying, no good,
double-crossing poor excuse for a wife, but if she’s your wife, you’ll protect
her honor, whatever may be left of it. And woe to the friend who comes
around your house, hangs out, and expects to have a good time, all the while getting digs in on your bride. Who wants a friend who rolls his eyes and sighs every time your wife walks into the room? Apparently, some people imagine Jesus wants friends like that. They roll their eyes and sigh over the church.”

This seems like a great book to start conversation and thinking about the value of traditional church structure and institution, and a thoughtful response to those who are overly critical of traditional church. Some of the things DeYoung says are essential to the church are: preaching, praying, singing, sacraments, pastor, sermon, doctrinal boundaries, regular meetings. In reference to Churchless Christianity they say ” It’s important to remember that when you have two people at Starbucks who are talking about Jesus, that’s nice and that may be a group of Christians, but a church has order, offices, and certain worship elements.”

This is a great challenge for us at Simple Free to think about, because we don’t have a church building per se (DeYoung doesn’t think that is necessary), yet we do have a lot of elements of what DeYoung seems to think are essential for the institutional church: order, worship (liturgy), songs, prayer, sacraments (we have communion each week), doctrinal boundaries (we follow the Free Church statement of faith) and regular meetings.

It would appear that we fail to be a real church on DeYoung’s account because we do not have a pastor, a sermon, or offices. Now DeYoung, a pastor from the Calvinist branch of the Reformed tradition (Arminius was from the Dutch Reformed tradition, so 5 point Calvinists are a part but not the whole of ‘Reformed thought”) seems to have a strong emphasis on the sermon and the pastors role in preaching it. That makes sense given the Calvinists view that the sermon is the center of Church worship, as well as the Enlightenment roots of that Reformed tradition which highly valued ‘informing’ the congregation of new knowledge (in the Enlightenment tradition). But that the sermon is the center of worship is a Calvinist viewpoint, not shared by everyone.  Its almost like saying if a church doesn’t have the same central emphases of the Calvinists, then its not a church (I don’t think DeYoung would really say that, but it could come across that way). There are Christian traditions without pastors– such as the Brethern or Quaker traditions, or home churches. And in the Anglican or Catholic Church, it would likely be argued that the liturgy and communion are much more important than the homily itself.

Now that offices are important in the historical church is a point well taken, and while Simple Free was at 5 regular attenders for 6 months, it didn’t seem very relevant to try to figure out which of us would be the elders. Direct congregational rule works great at that size. Now that we have more like 12 coming, we will probably have to make some decisions about such things, but fortunately we already have bylaws in place for just such an occassion (the bylaws were put in place by our original 4, with the expectation if we grew a bit, we’d revisit them and congregationally decide how to modify them and move forward). The congregational rule is a problem for many in the calvinist tradition, but thats kind of a side issue here I believe. I’m a strong advocate of congregationally-elected Elders in churches– but primarily because I think they provide direction and some pushback and accountability to the congregation, and to a pastor when one has a pastor. A pastor without an elder board is not a good situation, in my view.

I do think Deyoung and Kluck’s book is timely and is a good reminder first of all not to complain or be overly critical of churches and especially traditional practices of churches.   We do tend to be very consumer-like in our church-expectations and very self focused in what we expect.  But most important I really like the general thrust of the book– that those who want to throw out traditional church practices as being irrelevant in our postmodern age are mistaken– is for the most part right on. People are hungry for church tradition, actually. Simple Free is starting to get inquiries from local small groups at other churches about utilizing liturgy and the church calander of scripture passages (not that we have any corner on the market– we simply shamelessly rip off book of common prayer liturgy and use old hymnbooks from the free church of my youth (from the days when hymnbooks were used instead of power projectors). I believe there is a hunger for MORE tradition, not less, among many younger believers. A highlight of our service each week is singing an old hymn accapella together. It isn’t news that many are rediscovering the historical church and its liturgy, prayers, hymns, and other practices such as fasting and honoring lent and advent– and they are finding powerful life in Christ through these historic church practices. Call it retro Christianity, call it old fashioned Christianity, call it historic Christianity, whatever it is, it is far from reinventing the wheel, it is simply going back and submitting to what the church has used for millenia to establish good faith and Christian practice.

I’m just not conviced that a pastor and a sermon are quite as essential as DeYoung and Kluck do. I hope thats just because I don’t have a Calvinist viewpoint on that issue, and not because I’m not Biblical. May God give us wisdom and grace.

For the introduction to their book check out: http://www.moodypublishers.com/Media/MediaLibrary/WhyWeLoveChurchExcerpt.pdf

Also check out DeYoung’s site at:
http://www.revkevindeyoung.com/

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