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When One Issue Drowns Out Others

When One Issue Drowns Out Others

After interviewing Allan R. Bevere a few days ago I discovered another video. First, here’s my interview with Allan. We were talking about the United Methodist Church General Conference in 2019 looking for a way forward as a denomination with regard to same-sex marriage and related issues.

The new video is from the Adventist News Network (HT Spectrum Magazine), which is an official project of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Long time readers of this blog will know I grew up Seventh-day Adventist, but am now a member of a United Methodist congregation. Here it is:

The issues in the two denominations are different. While United Methodists discuss homosexuality and same-sex marriage, Seventh-day Adventists are discussing ordination of women. In many discussions, I have heard the arguments against women’s ordination expressed in terms of the danger of a slippery slope toward accepting homosexuality. The claim is that the same arguments might be, and have been, used for both.

In the process of discussing these issues, however, we see a number of things:

  • Money becomes a key. In the United Methodist Church it becomes a question of how much power our brethren in the global south should have over the church seeing as they are financially supported by the American church. In the SDA Church the issue of tithe has now been raised, as the North American Division wants to reduce the percentage of its tithe sent to other divisions.
  • People are accused based simply on their viewpoint. I understand how this happens. Sincerity does not mean one is right. One can be passionately and sincerely wrong, even when rightly motivated. (I should know! I’ve been there and might be now!) But one can be firm on one’s convictions and still be respectful.
  • Each side accuses the other of bringing disunity. This is a choice that comes to all. When a “Martin Luther” moment comes is it an act of disunity or an act of conscience?
  • One’s opponents may be seen as guilty of putting a stop to the gospel message, such as the implication in the Adventist News Network video that those who support women’s ordination are holding back the work of the gospel and preparation for the coming of Jesus.
  • Conformity is seen as unity.
  • Everyone starts looking at the legal ownership of church property (see the first point)!

I have made my opinion on women in ministry clear, so I can’t stand back and play facilitator to a discussion. I believe that those God has gifted in any way should serve in that way, and I do believe women can be and are gifted for ministry. I believe God equips those he calls and the equipping is quite enough evidence. On homosexuality I’ve tried to stand back. A very good friend who passed away recently said to me once: “Henry, it’s very hard to be both a prophet and a facilitator.” He was very right. So I’ve refrained from any pulpit pounding type statements on homosexuality. It doesn’t mean I have no opinions; just that I’m going to let others do the discussion, and there’s no lack of those ready and waiting to engage.

But let me turn to two other issues on which I’ll make something of a statement. I’m a firm believer on the one hand that we should have unity in essentials, liberty in non-essentials, and especially charity in all things. (Note the interesting and difficult history of the saying I paraphrase.) On the other hand I believe in keeping your essentials to a minimum, as reflected in the doctrinal statement I use for my publishing company, Energion Publications. I’ve discussed this before, and will link to my post Not All Doctrines Are Equal, which links to several others.)

For my first issue I’m opposed to just about any form of prosperity theology, or even letting finance drive the train. Financial management is necessary, but it’s generally the first thing to get in the way of good moral decision making. We simply don’t take the time to find a way to do things that is financially responsible and yet morally right.

In the case of the controversies I’m mentioning, this comes up in wanting to diminish the influence of some people over finance. Money is the presenting issue, but behind it is the fact that someone does not like the viewpoint of the other person. Whether I agree with someone or not, I believe as a Christian that I must respect that person. The believer in Africa, South America, or Asia is not diminished before God because I don’t like the way he or she will vote in a conference. Financial status should not change the nature of our relationships in the family of God. In this case, I think it would be better to lose a vote than to in any diminish another person.

Of course, this must include not diminishing the person who is on the other side, or who is being argued about. Whether we are talking about the level of a person’s financial contributions, their sexuality, or simply their gender, it can be (usually is) paternalistic and diminishing when the person with the power discusses whether to share that power with the person who does not. In the kingdoms of the world it may be necessary. I think Jesus calls us to better behavior. (Not that I know how to always do it right.)

Money comes up in terms of church property as well. Allan Bevere noted that the one thing that may connect us soon is our pensions (speaking as a pastor). One of the things that will likely cause controversy is those congregations who, no matter what happens, may want to withdraw from the United Methodist Church. Then we face the specter of people claiming the name of Jesus fighting it out in secular court due to church property. Quoth Paul, “Why would it not be better to be wronged? Why would it not be better to be defrauded?”

Second, however, is the issue of hierarchy. All of these issues become issues of power. Who gets to tell who else what they should and shouldn’t do, and who gets to enforce the result. Again, after noting how the rulers of the nations behaved, Jesus told his disciples it was not to be that way with them. The greatest should be a servant. (Mark 10:41-45) I wonder how the debate would change if we saw it as a question of serving rather than having power over. (In fact, I have a problem with the whole idea of a separated class of ordained clergy, but that is a different debate.)

I hope and pray that both my former and my present denominations will find a Christ-like way through their divisions. I don’t actually feel very hopeful. Perhaps it’s “Oh me of little faith!” Still it doesn’t look that good, no matter which direction the wind blows on the various doctrines. There is likely a right and wrong answer.  I tend to believe in moral absolutes while doubting our ability to come very close to them. But we must not violate much clearer moral values, such as the way we treat one another, in the pursuit of those truths.

When we pursue absolutes at the expense of other absolutes, the resulting mess is absolute.

Convoluted Reasoning on Women Writing Commentaries

Convoluted Reasoning on Women Writing Commentaries

John Piper is asked in a podcast whether a man can read a commentary written by a woman, with a follow-up as to whether one could then quote the commentary from the pulpit (HT: Jesus Creed).

I find his reasoning here very convoluted. There is a much better logical basis for reading 1 Timothy 2:12 as applying to a particular time and place. Those who argue that such reasoning weakens the force of Scripture should consider whether Piper’s reasoning could not be used to avoid almost any Scripture.

The fact is that we all pick and choose, and we all should pick and choose. The question is whether we will use good discernment in doing so.

Ken Schenck on Women in Ministry

Ken Schenck on Women in Ministry

Ken Schenck outlines his reasons for supporting complete equality in ministry, and he even uses the t-word — trajectory, as I did in my previous post. The arguments are related to those used by Kubo, but Schenck goes into some detail on the specific texts rather than just laying out the approach.

I think all of the referenced posts illustrate the importance of going over our hermeneutics at the beginning of a discussion like this. Too often we shoot past one another because while we’re reading the same texts, we’re using a different method of interpretation. And the most varied aspect of interpretation is the way in which a text is applied to the interpreter’s context.

 

 

Scripture Reading

Scripture Reading

I’m a strong advocate of the public reading of Scripture, so I’ve been following with interest the discussion that Tim Challies set off when he wrote about this ministry at his home church.

In his initial post he discussed how those who are to read scripture are trained and makes some suggestions for making one’s reading of scripture a constructive part of the worship service. These suggestions are helpful. I’ve often wished that people would prepare more. Often it is all too clear that the person doing the scripture reading never actually took a look at the passage before getting in front of the congregation to read.

I would add that I believe public reading of Scripture is an act of corporate worship, as is singing, praying, and the proclamation of the word through preaching. Thus there may be many different ways in which Scripture might be presented as part of worship. In my church, First United Methodist Church of Pensacola, we have had the scripture presented in music and in drama as well as simply read. In some cases we have had responses from members of the congregation, some of which are represented in the book A Living Psalter, which compiles art, photography, poetry, and other literature presented as a response to the Psalter.

In general, however, I don’t think we have much patience in the church today for listening to substantial amounts of Scripture. We can handle it when there is exposition between phrases, but not so much when large amounts are presented at once. I believe, however, that we need to both read and hear the scripture in larger portions and develop greater patience for Scripture itself.

This whole discussion has gotten largely sidetracked by the issue of women in worship. As an egalitarian, I obviously believe women have the same privilege and duty to read Scripture as do men. I find the fact that Grace Fellowship Church does not allow women to read Scripture publicly rather odd. For me, however, it’s hard to respond to this issue considering that I believe women should be allowed to be pastors, in fact, should be allowed the privilege and duty of every office of the church for which God gives them the necessary gifts. Thus debating about whether women can read Scripture publicly gives me this sort of surreal feeling.

Tim Challies further explained his view (and that of his church) on women reading scripture. I don’t find the equation of Scripture reading with teaching at all convincing, but again, I must note that I also don’t accept the idea that women should be restricted from teaching.

None of that, however, prevents me from appreciating the emphasis on Scripture reading, something I believe is sadly neglected in many churches.

Bad Girls, Bad Girls

Bad Girls, Bad Girls

Rachel Held Evans, in her Sunday Superlatives links, provides a link to a post by Sarah Bubar on The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood blog titled The Bad Girl’s Club.

In this post are featured four women for this “bad girl’s [sic] club”: Julian of Norwich, Ann Hutchinson, Margaret Fell Fox, and Phoebe Palmer.

Now it’s not my plan to explain how these four weren’t bad girls. Rather, I’m interested in just what Sarah Bubar thinks they have in common. Apparently, the real problem is that they all failed to bow to the proper authorities and thus came up with doctrines that are, perhaps, objectionable. I say, “perhaps” because I would have a different opinion on certain of these.

There are two critical things in common between these women, as far as I can see. First, they all saw visions or emphasized spiritual experience. Second, they exercised, or tried to exercise leadership.

I recall once discussing biblical inspiration with another man. At one point I asked how, if one hears a voice, does one know whether it’s from God or not. His response was, “We’re not talking about voices; we’re talking about the Bible.”

Well, I’m afraid that if you want to read the Bible you are going to read things written by and about people who heard voices. In view of this post, I’d add that your going to read things by and about people who saw visions.

And you’re also going to read about women who did all those things. So here’s my list of bad girls.

  1. How about Miriam, a prophetess? She was leading singing, but there must have been a reason she was called a prophetess. And yes, I know about her later experiences for challenging Moses; but remember she wasn’t the only one who had such problems (Exodus 15:20-21).
  2. How about Deborah (Judges 4:4), prophetess and judge? You may argue that Miriam was leading women, but Deborah went much further than that. You know, this prophetess thing pretty definitely indicates some kind of spiritual experience.
  3. How about Huldah (2 Kings 22:14-20), giving God’s instructions to the men of the temple in Josiah’s time? Visionary experiences and teaching the men, I’d say.
  4. Or Anna, a prophetess who affirmed Jesus (Luke 2:36-38). If women can’t speak with authority, why record her words for all Christian generations?

But there’s another side. How many men who do not claim any special spiritual experiences go off track. We’ve had plenty of heresies started by men whose method for finding their own “new truths” was in searching through texts.

The fact is that you can find good an bad examples of people of either gender in any time and place.

And since I note that women in scripture exercised more authority than certain modern Christians believe is legitimate, I think there’s good reason to think that exclusions of women were, in fact, limited in terms of time and place.

 

Reason is all over Bible Study

Reason is all over Bible Study

In a post on Complegalitarian, Molly Alley discusses how reasonable it is to hold a doctrine that assumes that women will never mature, as in men where once boys who needed the guidance of a parent, but eventually they become mature and are considered ready for leadership. But what about women?

Of course, as an egalitarian, I think the idea that women can’t be in leadership is nonsense, and I want to focus on that word, nonsense, and the phrase good common sense in Molly’s concluding question that I quote below, along with the related term reasonable.

Molly says:

In other words, why does female subjection not seem to make good common sense (to me, anyways) when so many of the other commands do?

Now there’s a lively discussion of Molly’s actual point on that blog, and it’s one I’m not going to get into. What I’m going to discuss here takes off at a sharp angle from the topic, but it may explain why I find it next to impossible to get into these debates.

For many people that I encounter the idea that one uses reason or what is reasonable as part of one’s interpretation of scripture is somewhere between irritating and blasphemous, and it’s weighted toward blasphemous. Obviously God is wiser than we are, and he could ask us to do things that don’t seem reasonable to us, but that are reasonable from his perspective. Of course the question remains (and I discuss it in my book When People Speak for God), of just one decides whether one is doing something that is really stupid, or whether one is using divine wisdom.

The fact is that we all use reason when we read, interpret, and apply the scriptures. There’s no way out. Our reason is what we use to process information. We can hope it’s reason guided by the Holy Spirit, but that doesn’t make it any less a matter of reason. So the question is not whether reason will be involved. The question is just how well one’s reason will function when it is involved.

Let’s consider Molly’s question. There are several perspectives from which I can ask the question whether a command, such as the command not to let women speak in church, is reasonable.

  1. I can look from my own perspective. Does this look reasonable in my context? If I am as objective about this as possible, I will look at the potential harm and benefit to see whether a specific command works where I live. A good question is this: Does the command have the effect in my environment that it would have had when it was first given? The only reason I use the original context here is that it is helpful to have some anchor point when discussing the impact of a particular policy. This is largely a question of application and applicability.
  2. You can ask about the perspective of the original author. Does this command look reasonable as you interpret it in the world of that author? Does it appear reasonable that the command would have the effect that is clearly intended? What is that effect? (You can then check that effect with point #1.)
  3. What about God’s perspective? Since none of us have even a prayer of a God’s eye view, what I mean here is to ask just how universally the command could reasonably be expected to be in application. Does it look like the sort of thing that should be universal? As an example, “you shall not commit murder” is uttered and presented in a way that looks like it is intended universally. “Hide yourself by the Wadi Cherith” looks like it’s intended very specifically. But there will likely be a whole range of commands and statements between that will not be nearly so obvious.
  4. Does the command make sense theologically? Most of us have theological baggage. Some consider it an ideal to jettison all of that and come at the text anew. For exegesis, I think that can be helpful, but when it comes down to application, it has to fit into a system. Many of the Biblical commands that we no longer follow are regarded as inapplicable because of our existing theology. For example, the command to bring an animal to the tabernacle and sacrifice it instantly registers as “no applicable to me” because my theology says that one has passed away.
  5. Is there another reasonable way to understand the text? Many people struggle with texts believing they have to accept a certain interpretation when the solution might lie in rechecking the exegesis and application.

Reason is not merely useful, it’s essential in applying the Bible to our lives. Molly has asked a good question. Even when we do something that appears weird because we believe God has commanded it, some combination of revelation, reason, and experience has brought us to the conclusion that, despite popular opinion, our course of action is reasonable. Thus I think Molly’s question is a good one, and could be applied to many aspects of this situation.

As a sort of postscript, let me note that I do not find a modern application of the various texts that indicate that women shouldn’t preach or enjoy leadership roles to be reasonable at all. There are a number of reasons for this, certainly including the evidence that women carried out those roles in the earliest stages of the church. One of the best indications that a command is not universal is that you find exceptions in the very literature in which the command is contained.

Thus I tire of detailed exegetical arguments about these texts on both sides, even though I understand my more conservative brothers and sisters feel the need to go that way. Paul speaks pastorally to his situation. It should be no shock that he doesn’t overturn every aspect of the culture–he’s overturning enough already. But my situation in the modern world is so much different, that I find it extremely unreasonable to try to apply Paul’s pastoral advice in unadjusted form to the modern church. Thus when Paul says “husband of one wife” in my application I think “monogamous.” When Paul argues based on Adam being created first, I think, “I bet that made sense to Paul and that audience and got them on board, but it doesn’t make any sense to me.

But then I guess I’m a dangerous liberal (per my accusers) or passionate moderate (by my own confession) and I’m just intent on ignoring the Bible. Well, no, not actually. I think the Bible is a gold mine of principles, and more importantly it guides me in hearing God speak to my situation today. I’m glad that God continues to speak, and today he does so both through women and men.

Interesting Response to 5 Lies the Church Tells Women

Interesting Response to 5 Lies the Church Tells Women

Dave Warnock has an interesting response to 5 Lies the Church Tells Women which he titles 5 Lies the Church Tells Women: does not go far enough. Working with some principles derived from Karl Barth’s writings, he responds point by point, except to a couple of them that he says he can’t take seriously.

I commend his article to those who are trying to think about this in a way that is faithful to the message of scripture, rather than merely to certain words in scripture. It’s thought provoking stuff.

Complegalitarian

Complegalitarian

Wayne Leman, in a commendable effort to maintain a tighter focus on Better Bibles, has started a new group blog Complegalitarian, which he defines as “Adj. Pertaining to complementarianism and egalitarianism.” This would take the largest single topic not directly related to Bible translation off of the Better Bibles blog.

As I read it, discussion of translations related to such issues would still be welcome at Better Bibles, but discussions of the broader related issues of theology and how egalitarianism or complementarianism works in practice would be left for the new blog.

I think this could be an enjoyable new blogging option.