Homosexuality: Does a Pastor have to have an Answer?

As a minister, you get used to hearing people ask you what you believe about all kinds of different issues.  This occurs from people within your church as well as people outside your church – from Christians as well as non-Christians.  Occasionally, I’ll even receive Facebook messages from high school friends and old acquaintances asking my opinion about certain matters – anything from doctrine to politics to current events to interior design – ok, that hasn’t happened, but just about everything else has!  Most ministers become adept at navigating their responses to delicate and controversial issues in order to convey their true feelings while also respecting a diversity of thought and opinion.  Some, like Patrick Mead, even offer an ongoing “ask the preacher” kind of format in his blog. No doubt, we all have our sacred cows and find it difficult to answer both honestly and succinctly to certain matters (just ask me about militarism), but by and large, this is something that comes with the territory and the title.  We are teachers.  Those who preach come from a long line of prophets and Christian leaders.  Our voices aren’t more important than anyone else’s – I firmly believe that – but our voices are often heard by more than others.  Even those of us who preach at small churches like mine carry some degree of influence.  Thus, people are genuinely interested in what we have to say.

Generally, I truly appreciate these inquiries and am humbled that anyone cares about my opinion.  I try to be a constant student, love learning, and make every effort to be as prepared for any question or discussion that may come my way.  The older I get and the more I study and learn – the more inadequate I feel and the more difficulty I have in offering short answers to just about any question.  I find I hate yes/no questions more than ever.  And the more I change my mind about things, the less certain I become about many of the beliefs I currently hold.

And so, inevitably, I find myself asked in different ways, under differing circumstances, and by a broad diversity of people what I believe about homosexuality and correspondingly what I believe the Bible teaches about homosexuality.  I have some pretty controversial perspectives on politics and nationalism (along with a few other things :-)) but I have become more afraid of tackling this topic than any other . . . by far.

If you are like me, you have a short attention span when it comes to reading blog posts and so, if you are truly like me, you probably won’t read this entire thing, because . . . if you’re like me, you can’t write shortly or succinctly about this one, but I’ll do what I can to offer what is at the heart of my struggle here.

In response to one of the most recent inquiries into my beliefs about homosexuality and Christianity and the Bible, I hemmed and hawed and finally said, “I don’t know.”  It wasn’t a cop-out and I wasn’t trying to avoid the discussion.  Honestly, I’ve been studying and thinking about this issue pretty seriously since 1998 when I was first exposed to teenagers who were wrestling with this issue.  I was pretty confused back then, and I find it discouraging that 15 years later, I’m still really confused and unsure.

And now everyone wants to know what I think – well, not everyone, but three or four people.  As of late, it’s become an explosive topic to discuss – even more than in the past.  I’m disappointed that more high profile pastors and Christian leaders aren’t having honest public discussion about the topic.  I’m disappointed, but I’m not surprised. I’m sure they’re scared to death to open this can of worms.  Sure, the boisterous voices on either the far right and far left of the issue are quick to throw out their zingers and offer their messages of condemnation or salvation, but just look at how many are really quiet.  My tradition is, admittedly, an interesting one, but we have our fair share of public figures, and I haven’t heard many of them address this topic head on.  Thank you for being an exception Sally Gary!

This post is already long, so let me get to the heart of things here.  You want to know my opinion about this matter?  I don’t know.  Honestly.  I don’t know what I believe about it.  I feel caught between a rock and a hard place in coming to terms with a theological articulation that I am comfortable with.  I’ll offer a point or two below to highlight why I don’t know, but first I want to ask the question, “Is it so bad that I don’t know?”  Haven’t we moved beyond the era where pastors and other teachers and leaders have to be “answer men/women”?  Haven’t we been wrong on enough matters to keep us from speaking too definitively on just about anything?  I know this scares the hell out of some people, but just look at the track record of the church.  We’ve been wrong . . . really, really wrong, on some crucial matters in the past.  Southern churches on slavery and later on civil rights, German Lutherans and their dual kingdom theology allowing them to turn the other way at Hitler’s rise to power . . . torture and execution of heretics . . . need I go on?

Even the Bible gets it wrong.  If you’ve never squirmed your way through some of the Old Testament passages that kicked the women out of the camp because they were on their period or that would offer a rapist the woman’s hand in marriage for a fee or read the book of Joshua and considered the countless women and children that were murdered at the hands of God’s people, you have skipped over the icky parts.  Maybe I’m overstating it to say that “the Bible gets it wrong” . . . but my point is that it’s not like this sacred book that we all point to for guidance and truth can just be picked up preached without some unpacking.

For this issue of homosexuality, there’s a lot at stake, and I understand that’s why it’s so explosive.  All wrapped up in this matter are the issues of politics, the sacredness/sacrament of marriage, equality, rights, biblical interpretation (hermeneutics), your view of Scripture, your view of the state, love, parenting, creation, the nature of God, the nature of humanity, science, genetics, and probably a thousand others I’ve overlooked.

And I don’t know what to do with it all.  Theologically and hermeneutically, I struggle to make homosexuality “fit.”  There’s a lot at stake in order for me to make it “fit,” and slowly around me some of those troubles are beginning to fall away.  However, for good or for ill, I remain reluctant to make that jump.   Experientially, I struggle to make the prohibition of homosexuality “fit.”  Friends, companions, and conversation partners I have had in the past and currently have help me struggle through their created nature.  Why would they have feelings like this?  Why would God make them like this?  What does it mean?  It is like other struggles (alcoholism, etc.) but it’s not the same.  Not by a long stretch.  And so . . . what to do?

I have a good friend who is transgendered and, whether she knows it or not, is helping me think through this as well.  When I say alot is at stake, this comes front and center in the matter of gender identity.  The first question we ask upon a child’s birth is, “Is it a boy or a girl?”  It’s the fundamental black and white question in our society.  But what about when it’s not black and white?  What about when we understand gender as more than anatomical?  When that question becomes complicated, that seems to make the point that everything is complicated.

There are so many related issues under the rubric of homosexuality and I am far from prepared to delve into even a few of them.  For now, I am prepared to let you know that I don’t know.  Many, maybe even most, will look at that as being “soft.”  A cop out.  Wimping out.  Maybe it is.  Maybe I am.  I do believe that most of what I am hearing and reading about regarding the matter of homosexuality from professed Christians isn’t helping anyone.  It’s often vitriol, judgmental, and condescending.  I know that all of it isn’t and that we are becoming more adept at public discourse regarding the issue, but we have a long ways to go.

I also know that there are many Christians who are struggling through this matter.  I know many of them are not in churches that allow them to share openly and honestly the struggles that comes with these feelings and, perhaps, being in these relationships.  I know that I don’t understand what they are going through.  I want to empathize, and try as much as I can, but I don’t understand their struggles.  I am full of my own struggles and know the temptation of pornography, short skirts, and tight shirts.  I know the power of libido and confess my own shortcomings in taking captive those thoughts to Christ.  And I know that I am not in a position of being your judge, and hope that these people can find friends and companions that will help them navigate these challenging waters.  I hope to provide some additional posts in the coming weeks into some of my struggles through this issue, but as for now, I just wanted to say to all those who want to know what I think about homosexuality: “I don’t know.”

Sermon #2 in Deconstructing Theology: Unlearning the Rules of Church

Here’s yesterday’s installment. What do you think?

The Idol of Certainty: When ‘I Don’t Know’ is Good Enough

I’m not exactly sure about the complete makeup of our audience this morning, so I’ll try to speak the next several minute in a bit of code. If you do not follow the code . . . don’t be alarmed, we’ll explain it all a little bit later. I want to begin by discussing the pandemic ruse of little children in Western culture about one Kris Cringle. Take a moment and decipher the code . . . pandemic . . .ruse (trick . . . deception) . . . Kris Cringle . . . got it? OK
I don’t know how everything went down when the ruse was exposed to you, perhaps by your parental units, but all children get to a certain age where they begin to ask challenging questions. They begin to figure things out. There is a bit of unraveling that each child has to go through. What about this and what about that? The big hang up before I could see the light was . . . let’s see if I can be diplomatic again . . . I was very skeptical about the financial capacity of my legal guardians to afford the commercial offerings with which I was given each year – got all that . . . by the way, if your kids are following this discussion, it’s probably time to let the cat out of the bag, Mom and Dad. Although it might be cool to see if you could get a snipe hunting expedition out of them before they get older. In any case, I can still remember trying to rationalize and think through things when it was all crashing down around me.
The fact is we all go through some kind of rite of passage when it comes to some of our childhood fantasies . . . there are others, but I think we’ve risked enough already. In any case, Donald Miller tells a very humorous story on his investigation of this current ruse that I felt is relevant to our discussion this morning. It happened in the bathroom, so be forewarned of some bathroom content. Donald was at a mall to see the big guy, and, before he got in line, he walked into the bathroom. As he stood at the urinal, who should walk up beside him, but the big man himself. Donald’s retelling of the event is worth repeating. . . .
“I remember being at the mall when I was eight and seeing [him] relieve himself in the men’s restroom. I was excited because we were going to see him that day, but I didn’t want to disturb him as he was hardly in his element. I watched him, though, his red suit, his white beard coming down his belly, his loud echoing belch coming off the walls, his spread-legged stance and the way he looked straight up at the ceiling as [he finished up] (original is “shook the dew off the lily, as they say” but I won’t read that]. It was quite an honor to stand next to him and use the big urinal and act like it was nothing substantial to be standing next to him, as though I didn’t even believe in him the way my friends Roy and Travis Massie no longer believed in him. I believed in him, though. . . . edited for reasons of exposing the secret . . .
[Him] In the bathroom was a very tall man, younger than you would think, a bit depressed in the eyes and unshaven under his beard (if such a thing was possible). [He gave his familiar laugh to me,] (ho, ho, ho) zipping up his fluffy pants. I didn’t say anything back. I just stood there and peed on my shoes. He looked at me, raised his eyebrows, shrugged his shoulders and walked out.
That is when I realized the most terrible thing I’d ever realized: [HE] doesn’t wash his hands after he used the bathroom. How awful, I thought to myself. And I was horrified. All those little bacteria, the little flus and colds and cancer bacteria that grow in small villages on a person’s hands if he doesn’t wash them. I could see in my mind the village of bacteria on [his] hands; a kind of Tim Burton version of the microbial North Pole; all the textures and contours of the villages correct, but the colors off; grays for greens, blacks for blues, lots of coughing, lots of mad cows.
I washed my hands and joined the family already in line. I watched [his] dirty hands grab kids to pick them up and set them on his knee. I watched as he patted their backs and, heavens no, their heads. It made me want to throw up, if you want to know the truth. I asked my mother if I could skip my meeting, and she told me I could go across the aisle to Ladies’ Underwear and sit quietly on the floor, which is what I did, sitting there quietly on the floor, pointing women toward lingerie I thought might fit them best, trying to be helpful, trying not to think about the fact that Him, of all people, doesn’t wash his hands.”
Maybe your experience of revelation was similar to this, maybe it wasn’t. We laugh and joke about it now, but when we are faced with that mind-blowing revelation, it’s not the best day of our lives. It’s tough. We get thrown off our equilibrium. It’s like we’re inside a box and the box has been shaken up and turned over multiple times and we have no idea whether we’re on our heads or our feet. “What?” We ask ourselves. “How could we have been so wrong?” It’s a grand revelation that begins a series of dominoes falling on top of the next ones.
And the more confident of that reality that you were, the “righter” that you were . . . the dumber you feel. The harder it is to take. And that may have been the first time when you were that wrong, at least that wrong – and we think to ourselves, we will never be this wrong about anything ever again. But we will be. We all live a lifetime coming to terms with various things that we just knew to be true . . . but aren’t. I’m not sure you can ever get used to that.
And sometimes, I think that what people most want out of their church experience is to know, for a fact, that they are right. They want to know that, at least about one thing in their lives, they can hang their hats on their doctrine, on their belief, and know that beyond a shadow of a doubt, they’ve got it nailed down, they’ve gotten it right. It’s comforting. Reassuring . . . not to mention a little good for the ego.
So, maybe that’s why you’ve come here this morning. For answers – right answers, anyway. Perhaps you’ve come here to sing the right songs, sung the right way, and hear the right message preached, preached the right way.
And in your defense . . . through the years . . . the church has become very good at being answer providers. Give us your questions, we’ll give you the answers. You leave happy because you got an answer to your question and we’re happy because you asked us a question and we still feel needed in society. But last week we looked at how the church’s answers haven’t always been right. They were experts of astronomy assuring everyone that the earth was the center of the universe . . . and . . . yeah, they had Scripture’s support for that. And we share in that same question . . . “How could they have been so wrong?”
I wish I had more answers. I really do. I wish the Bible gave us more answers. I wish the Bible would be more direct and specific at times. I wish God himself would come down and whisper the answers to the test questions in my ear. I wish that, when my son asks me “Dad, why did Jesus have to die on the cross for me?” I had a better answer to give him. I wish I didn’t have to stammer and stutter through something that is at the core of my faith.
There’s an old story in the Bible that teaches about someone who wish he had more answers. Many people believe that the story of Job is the oldest text in the Bible. It’s one of the most compelling stories in all of literature. The story of this fine, upstanding citizen, who has everything taken from him. Job, you may recall, had things figured out pretty well.
Read Job 1: 1 – 5.
Job was deeply religious. He watched out, not only for himself, but his entire family, offering sacrifices for their behalf and purifying them after feasts. You have to imagine that Job had a pretty good hold on things. He didn’t ask a lot of questions as he may not have felt the need to.
He was the guy you went to when you wanted advice, when you had questions. And then the tests begin . . .
In the first test Job loses his wealth and his children.
In the second test Job loses his health and his well-being.
After the storm of events, the only thing he has left is a wife who tells him to curse God and die, three friends who are going to spend the rest of the book trying to convince him that he obviously did something wrong to deserve this punishment, and many, many questions:
· “Why didn’t I die at birth as I came from the womb?” – 3:11
· “Why should light be given to the weary, and life to those in misery?” – 3: 20
· “Why won’t you leave me alone, even for a moment?” – 7: 19
· “What have I done wrong?” – 13: 23
· “Who can create impurity from one born impure?” – 14: 4
· “Where do people find wisdom?” – 28: 12
What was happening to Job didn’t fit in his way of understanding. That, perhaps, was
the cherry on top of his trial – he didn’t understand it. Notice how so many of the questions begin from the lips of Job . . . Why? He just wanted some answers. He wanted to be able to understand it. He wanted to place it into some kind of frame of reference, have some bearings about the whole thing. Anytime you are around someone who is experiencing a devastating tragedy the question they are quickest to ask is, “Why?” “Why is this happening?” If he had an answer it would make the pain at least a little more bearable. Job really makes this clear in the questions he asks in chapter 31:
– “Have I lied to anyone or deceived anyone?”
– “Have I refused to help the poor or crushed the hopes of widows who looked for me to help?
– “Have I been stingy with my food and refused to share it with hungry orphans?”
– “Have I put my trust in money for felt secure because of my gold?”
– “Have I looked at the sun shining in the skies, or the moon walking down its silver pathway, and been secretly enticed in my heart to worship them?
– “Have I ever rejoiced when my enemies came to ruin or become exited when harm came their ways?”
– “Have I tried to hide my sins as people normally do, hiding my guilt in a closet?”
“Just tell me what I’ve done!” comes the plea from Job. In tragedy we often focus
solely on the emotional aspect because it is so important and so fragile, but there is also a cognitive or rational aspect that has been effected – a side that says, “This doesn’t make sense.”
And then God speaks . . .
Read Job 38: 1 – 7.
And on and on God goes justifying His position as the God of the universe. The final chapters of Job are perhaps the most emotive of the entire Bible. The entire book has been building and building to this moment. Questions flying back and forth. Accusations flying back and forth, and then, finally, comes an answer . . . but not really an answer.
Job first responds with these words from Job 40: 3 – 5:
“I am unworthy – how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once, but I have no answer – twice , but I will say no more.”
In other words, Job is finally moved to saying, “I don’t know.” I don’t know about you, but I don’t like to say, “I don’t know.” Have you seem that commercial where the guy can’t get, “I love you” out of his mouth to his girlfriend”? That’s how I am about saying, “I don’t know.” Really, that’s how we all are. But being a parent has made it a little easier. Clark is full of questions, and I try to shoot back as many answers as I can, but he always gets to a question where I finally have to give in and tell him, “Clark, I don’t know.”
I think that the church is a lot like that when it comes to saying “I don’t know.” It’s almost as if we feel like telling someone “I don’t know” exposes us or lets them down. After all, we are Christians, part of the church, and we are supposed to be answer people. In reality, however, I think a lot more people would care more about what we had to say if we said, “I don’t know” more often. I like this quote from Donald Miller, which he writes just before the story we opened with:
“The very scary thing about religion, to me, is that people actually believe God is who they think He is. By that I mean they have Him all figured out.”
I know it is a lot more appealing for me to stand up here and give you all the answers. However, it is a lot more realistic to stand up here and tell you that more times than not, “I don’t know.”
This doesn’t mean that we jettison all the things that we believe. Instead, it means that we preface our beliefs with . . . this is how I understand God for now – but I’m certainly open to new ideas and new conversations. Consider some of these difficult questions:
· Does a person who has never heard about God go to hell?
· If a person isn’t baptized but shows all the fruits of the spirit in their lives, are they a Christian?
· What’s the “biblical” role of women in Christ’s church?
· What does the Bible teach about homosexuality?
· Are all people from other faiths hell-bound?
Imagine the difference in starting a conversation on these matters in humility stating,
“I really don’t know, I have some opinions . . . but I’d like to talk to you more about it” instead of, “I’ve got a pretty good idea, but you can try and convince me otherwise.”
I know this probably scares some of you to death because it speaks so contrary to everything you’ve ever heard in churches your entire life. Doesn’t the church have any authority? Isn’t there any truth to hang our hats on? I want to close with this story I ran across in my reading this week that I think speaks volumes for a new understanding of the identity of the church.
In some farming communities, the farmers might build fences up around their properties to keep their livestock in and the livestock of neighboring farms out. This is a bounded set. But in rural communities where farms or ranches cover an enormous geographic area, fencing the property is out of the question. In our home of Australia, ranches (called stations) are so vast that fences are superfluous. Under these conditions a farmer has to sink a bore and create a well, a precious water supply in the Outback. It is assumed that livestock, though they will stray, will never roam too far from the well, lest they die. That is a centered set. As long as there is a supply of clean water, the livestock will remain close by.”
We are so preconditioned by the idea of putting up doctrinal fences all around us, that most of us have never thought about another way. When there are fences erected, absolution is the stated case. We are stating, “We are right, absolutely, and there is no room for discussion.”
“But there are some things we know we are right about,” comes the response. Let’s make those the well at the center of who we are that keeps us together. Read 1 Corinthians 15: 3 – 8. Paul shares with us what those things are. As a church, let’s place these things at the center of who we are and anchor there, and leave some room for those who may differ on the other things.

I lost my footnotes on the copy – the Santa story comes from Donald Miller’s book Searching for God knows what and the ending story from Hirsch and Frost is from The Shaping of Things to Come.

Hopeful Fruit #2 – The Passion for the Sacred Text of Churches of Christ

Perhaps it is one of the most enduring qualities of the Churches of Christ that we have managed to be unapologetically Bible-focused and Bible-centered, while at the same time remaining outside the limiting circles of Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism [Richard Hughes argues that this may no longer be the case for much of the movement in his Reclaiming a Heritage (a great read for any reader of this blog!) ACU Press, 2002 – see especially chapter seven entitled: “Why Restorationists Don’t Fit the Evangelical Mold; Why Churches of Christ Increasingly Do” Another topic for another day]. In compiling the “Heart of the Restoration Series,” ACU Press was quick to release a work centered on the place of the Bible in our heritage [volume 2 in the series is entitled God’s Holy Fire: The nature and function of Scripture, 2002.] Gospel meetings, mission statements, sermons, and classes echo from congregations of Churches of Christ the world over with the message of “Back to the Bible.” Any study taken upon by her students inevitably begins with the question, “What does the Bible say about that?” Stated simply, there aren’t many groups who know the Bible as well as our people do, and to not recognize that as a hopeful fruit would be disingenous and a disservice.

Brightly hanging down from the branches of the Churches of Christ tradition is their abiding love for the story of God. I remember sitting in Bible classes learning the books of the Bible, the 12 Tribes of Israel, the 12 Apostles, the chronology of the Old Testament . . . just about everything that’s in those 66 books, we covered it. Bible bowls, Sunday school, lectureships, Vacation Bible School, and Gospel meetings still retain the undeniably Bible-focus even today. From the smallest, most rural congregations to the largest suburban megaplexes among Churches of Christ, these churches love to teach the Bible.

Among members of Churches of Christ, a person’s age, education, and life situation all are considered secondary to how well she or he knows the Bible. Bible knowledge is often directly equated with spirituality – the more Bible you know, the more spiritual you are. Quoting Scripture is sometimes seen as paramount to a spiritual gift. These latter case points illustrate some worms that lay underneath the skin of a perfectly healthy piece of fruit, but shouldn’t take away from the fact that Churches of Christ hold steadfast to the biblical text.

It is widely held that children within Churches of Christ are not learning as much Bible as they did in bygone days. Biblical literacy across denominational boundaries is suffering and the Churches of Christ are certainly not immune to this phenomenon. However, there remains, by and large, an incredible commitment to teaching our people the Bible. While there may be a general laxity in the general audience when it comes to the biblical literacy, it also should be noted that scholarship in Churches of Christ has gained an increased audience in recent years and is more widely respected by the broader theological community than ever before (could this be evidence of an increased Evangelical leaning??)

While the commitment to being biblical and Bible-people should be seen as hopeful fruit, the good fruit has not come without potential worms. Often, in Churches of Christ, the story about God has been elevated to a higher plane than God Himself. Bibliolatry has become the golden calf for many in Churches of Christ – this excessive emphasis on the bonded leather and gold-tipped pages to the neglect of the mysterious Creator and Savior of all that is in existence. Too often we have bound God to the ink on the pages instead of allowing Him the freedom to work apart from the Scripture itself (we seem to have overlooked Paul’s point in Romans 1 all too often).

Just as damaging, we have often married our love and emphasis of the text to our love and emphasis of “necessary” antiquated interpretive devices. The thoroughly modernistic hermentuic evolving from Enlightenment philosophy is often valued equal to the text it seeks to interpret. Churches continue to be taught the interpretive system of command, example, and necessary inference both directly and indirectly. The limitations of this foundational philosophy has been exposed over the past several years (see the work of Michael Casey, John Mark Hicks, along with others). Unfortunately, for many in Churches of Christ their love for the sacred text is married to their love for their interpretation of the sacred text. The certainty demanded of foundationalism has created skepticism of alternative voices and a myopic view of the hand of God. As the Churches of Christ engage the world of postmodernism, nothing has been more harmful to her cause than the lack of place for alternative voices and this begins at the table of biblical interpretation.

I believe we must reinvigorate our love and passion for the story of God, and not find ourselves so committed to one interpretive device or another. Instead, we need to find our way beyond the need for certainty and past the place of answers, as very difficult as that is going to be. If we will once again fall in love with the text and, in the spirit of Psalm 119, meditate over it, take it to heart, allow it to sink into our very ethos . . . and allow part of God to be revealed in the text, but not limited to the text. Our churches should be filled with people who love the text and love to learn about the text and engage in long discussions about what the text means. Churches of Christ must become a place where conversation is encouraged and facilitated instead of streamled monologue and uniform teaching dominate the floor. May diversity abound and the unity of the Spirit be what unites us instead of the unity of thought and homogenous hermeneutics.

Reflections from The Blue Parakeet

I have kicked off my New Year’s reading with Scot McKnight’s very interesting book on biblical interpretation: The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking how you read the Bible. The book is built around the metaphor of McKnight seeing a blue parakeet in their back yard at the bird feeder – an escapee pet blue parakeet. McKnight uses the concept of the parakeet to apply to teachings in the Bible that don’t “fit.”

He begins by asserting all of us are inconsistent in the way we read the Bible. I love the brass tacks approach he takes – direct, yet tactful and humorous. He uses several examples of the ways we are inconsistent with our applications – “We all pick and choose” how to apply the Bible, McKnight states. Whether it’s the sabbath, tithing, foot washing, surrendering our possessions, or a host of other contentious issues (ie. abortion, war, homosexuality, etc.), we all pick and choose what we want the Bible to say. I didn’t find this statement all that earth-shattering, but he dresses his argument in a palatable way that is difficult to argue.

He asserts our inconsistency, and then provides keys for moving forward in our interpretation of the Bible. Central to his proposal is that the Bible must be understood as fundamentally a story (narrative). Contrary to what many critics have accused, reading the Bible as story is actually more involved and complicated than other options. We have become lazy in our Bible reading. Think about how much more time consuming it is to consider the entire biblical story in framing a text as opposed to taking the text as a tidbit of teaching!

McKnight outlines the narratives in what he calls “wiki-stories” (Creating eikons, cracked eikons, covenant community, Christ (the perfect Eikon) redeems, consumation). He states: “The unity of the Bible is this story. It is this story that puts the Bible together. Our grand systems do not form the unity of the Bible; the story that God tells forms and frames that unity.” p. 67. This unity and wiki-stories approach to Scripture is how I have learned to frame all of my teaching and preaching in recent years. It is, as McKnight states, much more complicated and involved, and takes deep committment to the stories.

Next, McKnight explores the relationship between the Christian and the Bible. He wants to clearly affirm that the Bible must not be equated to God. “God gave us this papered Bible to lead us to love his person. But the person and the paper are not the same.” p. 87. The Bible is a means to an end . . . and too often we have made it the end. I think McKnight really helps to ground us and remind us what the chief end of the Bible’s teaching is in the first place. “Our relationship to the GOd of the BIble is to listen to God so we can love him more deeply and love others more completely.” (p. 96).

He brings this all to bear in our every day application of the Bible in the final section addressing interpretion entitled “Discernment.” In this section he addresses the matter of consistency and knowing how to “apply” teaching and how to “disregard” teaching. He’s not so interested in the specifics invovled at this point, but in the process we go through in determining this. I believe this is the most overlooked step in our churches today. We just right in to the “issues” (women’s place, homosexuality, worship battles, ethical quandries, etc.) and we fail to realize that these issues are not the issue. The real issue is discernment. How do we do with the teachings that are there. McKnight goes on to address the matter of women in ministry and leadership for the last third of the book. I have seen some reviewers critical of the amount of time he spends on that issue, but I believe it provides a good case study and makes practical the matters he’s laid out in the first sections of the book.

One of McKnight’s main points throughout the book is that God has always communicated with people in their ways and in thier days. This requires great discernment and process in bridging the gap between their days and our days and their ways and our ways. I think the following statement is a good summary of what McKnight is working towards:

“What is good for Abraham, Moses, David, Isaiah, Ezra, Jesus, Peter and Paul is also good for us. But, the precise expression of the gospel or the manner of living of Abraham, Moses, David, Isaiah, Ezra, Jesus, Peter, and Paul may not b e our expression or our manner of lving. Living our the Bible means living out the Bible in our day in our way by discerning together God would have us live.” p. 143.

For what it’s worth, I think McKnight is right on in this book. He provides a way forward in a time when we are quickly nearing an impasse in our churches as our hermeneutics prove insufficient for today’s cultural challenges and vicissitudes (I like to throw that word in there whenever I can – thanks to Mr. Johnson my high school American history teacher). What he states about women in ministry I believe will be pivotal for churches to understand. It is something that many churches wish to ignore arguing – that’s just the way that it is. However, we must begin asking what God is communicating to us today in our way.

McKnight’s thesis in this book reminds me of a more evangelical clothed approach that Luke Timothy Johnson sets forth in Scripture and Discernment (I don’t think McKnight ever references the work), and Johnson uses as his case study the more difficult issue, for many Christians, of homosexuality. Discernment is not easy and diversity is difficult, however, I hope that Christians will only become more willing to listen to one another and understand one another instead of demonizing and hating one another. The Emergent Village has gone a long way in increasing everyone’s presence at the theological table. As the table becomes larger, those sitting there now will be faced with difficult choices and interesting discussions will abound. I believe we are on the cusp of a revival . . . but it will be a revival that looks much differently than previous ones.

I will be beginning a series of posts next week that will be especially challenging for most to grasp. I am preparing a paper for a conference this summer, and in preparation for it, I will be reading several books on the matters of nationalism and the intersection of faith and politics. If you have read much here, you probably have sensed that I have a strong pacifist leaning towards political invovlement coming partly from my tradition (David Lipscomb, Lee Camp) and also some of the ideology I have been exposed to in recent years (Stanley Hauerwas, J.H. Yoder, et al.) This will be a particularly difficult discussion for many to participate in, and even for some to stomach the reading. I won’t focus on this topic exclusively, but that will be a major focus of mine through the next several months. [As a side note, I missed the recent video from the Truth Project entitled “The American Project” and from all that I have heard about it, strikes fundamentally against what I will be affirming in my upcoming project. I find it extremely unfortunate that so many Christians have so easily bowed to the idol of nationalism.] I hope you will give me the benefit of the doubt, that you will hear me out, and that you will allow the discernment process to take place, because much of what I will set forth will probably be new to many of your thinking. I hope you find it beneficial and will be prompted to pariticipation. I’ll work on not being so verbose in these things . . . I just type . . . type . . . type my little heart out. That’s enough. God bless you.

Book Review: The Last Word: Scripture and the Authority of God – Getting Beyond the Bible Wars

I was at the bookstore last week and saw this book by N.T. Wright that sounded intriguing. It was fairly short and dealt with an issue that is close to my heart: the authority of Scripture. It is succinct and to the point. I always write in books underlining and making comments throughout, and found myself frequently making marginal notes in this book. I find it to be a great take on a difficult and controversial topic.

Wright sets out to address the question “what is the authority of Scripture?” or probably better put, “what does the authority of Scripture mean?” This matter is especially relevant to me and the fellowship that I am a part of. As a Restoration Movement church, we began as a “No creed but the Bible” group. Our people love the Scriptures. Our love for the Bible is unparalleled in other denominations. In recent years, however, we have been dealt a blow as the hermeneutic of our past (command, example, inference) has been shown to be antiquated and ill-equipped for the postmodern matrix of thought. This has created quite a splintered division among our churches. While the arguments take on several different fronts, at the core, I believe is this issue of the authority of Scripture.

Wright sets forth his “central claim of the book: that the phrase ‘authority of Scripture’ can make Christian sense only if it is a short hand for ‘the authority of the triune God, exercised somehow through Scripture.'” (p. 23) He expounds on this claim by examining Scripture through the eyes of Israel, Jesus, the early church fathers, and the rest of church history. The historical approach to the authority of Scripture is something that builds a firm foundation for his final presentation at the conclusion of his work.

What I really appreciate about Wright’s approach to Scripture is his seeing Scripture as a means to an end. Scripture is not the end itself. He manages to say this while upholding a very high view of the text as it is on its own. In his words, “We need to set scripture within the larger context which the biblical writers themselves insist upon: that of the authority of God himself.” (p. 28).

Wright quickly addresses the function of Scripture within Israel. Succinctly stated, Wright understands the function of Scripture within Israel as “the place where, and the means by which, Israel discovered again and again who the true God was, and how his Kingdom-purposes were being taken forward.” (p. 36). Moving towards the second-temple period in Judaism, Wright puts forth two keys – forming the “controlling story” in which Israel sets to accomplish its kingdom purposes, and, secondly, “formed the call to a present obedience.”

His discussion regarding Jesus and Scripture, in its brevity (four pages), presents Jesus operating from the confines of scriptural authority. Jesus, as the Word, becomes the essence of Scriptural authority. “Once we set Jesus in the context of the larger scriptural story, however, and come to grips with his sense of what exactly the new covenant would mean, and how it would both fulfill and transform the old one . . . we discover a much higher and more narratival, sense of ‘fulfillment,’ which generates that subtle and powerful view of scripture we find in the early church.” (45 – 46)

Through the early church fathers, Wright sees the “rule of faith” as pivotal in the understanding of Scripture. While the New Testament canon was in process, the “rule of faith” evolved into a controlling reality in the assembly of the early church fathers’ understanding of the Gospel. The Old Testament, then, became re-imagined through the lens of the rule of faith.

Wright, then moves his discussion into the first sixteenth centuries of biblical scholarship and the evolution of biblical authority in the Pre-Reformation centuries. It is particularly within this era of Church history that biblical authority especially becomes a front and center issue. Medieval theology allowed the allegorization of text became a central methodology of scriptural interpretation opening the door to multiple interpretations, and thus, creating the tension in regards to a control over identifying the reality of of biblical authority.

Enter the Enlightenment. The sense of progress and optimism and faith in the sciences brought about by the Age of Reason has, in large part, brought us to the dilemma we now find ourselves. The promises of hope, objectivity, and progress that the Enlightenment proposed has failed to be delivered. Wright proposes several aspects where the Enlightenment has led us down erroneous paths: offering an alternative view of history (eschatology), evil (“turning ‘Kingdom of God’ into ‘the hope for heaven after death'”), emphasis on individualistic pietism to the exclusion of globally-impacted matters, etc.

I found his chapter on “Misreadings of Scripture” to be especially interesting. Here Wright specifically mentions scriptural misrepresentations coming from “conservatives” as well as from “liberals” illustrating how Enlightenment sensibilities have allowed us to “tame the text” and say what we would have it said.

Finally, in the last chapter, Wright lays out his proposal for understanding “the authority of Scripture.” I found it reassuring, refreshing, and convicting. “‘the authority of Scripture,’ when unpacked, offers a picture of God’s sovereign and saving plan for the entire cosmos, dramatically inaugurated by Jesus himself, and now to be implemented through the Spirit-led life of the church precisely as the scripture-reading community.” (p. 114) He offers a great discussion on what role tradition plays in our understanding of the text. (This is an area that Churches of Christ especially needs to hear.) “Every period, every key figure in the history of the church has left his, her or its mark on subsequent readings readings of scripture, and if we are unaware of this we are to that extent less able to understand why we ‘naturally’ read this text in this or that way.” (p. 117) Just a great quote! Wright also offers a perspective on the role that reason plays in the process.

Wright proposes a “five-act multi-layered model” to understanding Scripture. (This is a synopsis of his more-detailed treatment in chapter five of his The New Testament and the People of God.) He affirms a reading of Scripture should be: Totally contextual; Liturgically grounded; Privately studied; Refreshed by appropriate scholarship; and Taught by the church’s accredited leaders. Each of these areas deserve extended treatment, but Wright’s discussion is succinct and to the point enough that I’ve chosen not to expound on it.

His approach is a welcome and refreshing treatment of Scripture that, most of all, emphasizes both the centrality to the life the church, and the communal nature. I end with this great analogy offered by Wright. For me this a key perspective in our churches overcoming their polarized stances and staunch unrelatedness:

“The notion of ‘improving’ is important, but sometimes misunderstood. As all musicians know, improvisation does not at all mean a free-for-all where ‘anything goes,’ but precisely a disciplined and careful listening to all the other voices around us, and a constant attention to the themes rhythms and harmonies of the complete performance so far, the performance which we are now called to continue. At the same time, of course, it invites us, while being fully obedient to the music so far, and fully attentive to the voices around us, to explore fresh expressions, provided they will eventually lead to that ultimate resolution which appears in the New Testament as the goal, the full and complete new creation which was gloriously anticipated in Jesus’ resurrection. The music so far, the voices around us, and the ultimate multi-part harmony of God’s new world: these, taken together, form the parameters for appropriate improvisation in the reading of scripture and the announcement and living out of the gospel it contains. All Christians, all churches, are free to improvise their own variations designed to take the music forward. No Christian, no church, is free to play out of tune. To change the metaphor back to the theater: all the actors, and all the traveling companies of which they are part (i.e., different churches) are free to improvise their own fresh scenes. No actor, no company, is free to improvise scenes from another play, or one with a different ending. If only we could grasp that, we would be on the way to healthy and mutually respectful living under the authority of scripture. (p. 126 – 127, italics mine).

The Story We Find Ourselves in

I only have a minute to post, but I’ve been in the midst of this book and it’s been spurring some good thoughts in my mind and needed a place to splurge them out. These have potential to spur some discussion,

The early chapters of Genesis are completely unique to the rest of Scripture. By “early chapters,” I’m referring to the first eleven chapters. Beginning with chapter twelve, the narrative shifts to Abraham and from there on we are dealing history that can/has been verified historically. It is the early chapters that deal with pre-history. It is here where the rub often arises between science and Christianity. It is here that is the heart of the evolution vs. intelligent design issue. Here are some specific points/questions/ramblings from this early portion of Scripture: (I’m interested to see what they spur in others)

* Does a belief in evolution deem the creation accounts false? Must we choose one or the other? Could God have used evolution to accomplish the things listed in the Genesis account?

* We don’t want to paint ourselves into a corner. Too many times Christians come out too strongly against things that aren’t necessarily that important. We state our case too strongly, and later information comes out to prove our position wrong. Ie. What if they find a gay gene? What if they find the missing links of evolution? We need to make room to for God to fit into whatever science proves. Maybe this is a copout. I’m not intending that.

* We must stay true to the genre. The early stories are true to ancient near eastern poetic literature. We cannot take them from their context and allow them to come immediately into 2006 white, suburban America – or whatever context we might find ourselves in.

McLaren’s book sets forth many interesting takes on evolution and the Bible. Too many times our rhetoric is lost in political debates regarding what’s going to be taught in schools when it would be much more proffitable to spend time setting forth an image that portrays Christianity in a more favorable light in its relationship to science.

I don’t have time to make this coherent . . . hopefully somewhere this makes sense to you.

Binding example

So continuing along in line with my previous post, I would like to continue to discuss the problem with the traditional hermenuetic used in Churches of Christ. When is an example binding? We have upheld traditions based on a “they did it so we’ll do it logic” but have remained incredibly inconsistent. We sing a capella, but we meet in church buildings (which they clearly didn’t do). We take communion every first day of the week but we’ve reduced the “meal” to a small piece of cracker and a quarter shot of Welches (by the way neither of which they took in the first century). We baptize through immersion taking confessions, but do not uphold the tradition of catechismal training that even as early as the third century was two or three years long.

The argument goes we want to “restore” the New Testament church, but is that even a legitimate cause? (Check out Adam Ellis’ blog and his podcast regarding what he terms “post-Restorationism). Is that what God ever intended? What if God simply wants us to worship him however we can doing whatever we feel would best honor and glorify him? Is that not what worship is about? Is that not how God’s people have always worshiped him? Noah comes out of the ark and doesn’t know what else to do but build an alter. Why? It just seemed appropriate to him.

This would scare the pants off alot of Church of Christ folks, but why? What is there to be scared of?

“With what shall I come before the Lord?
Shall I come before him with my unacompanied singing?
With the obedience of weekly observing the Lord’s Supper?
With the proper mode of baptism?
He has shown you man what is good! Over and over again in Scripture!
To love mercy, to act justly, and to walk humbly with your God!”
O how I long to do that! Let’s get away from these tedious arguments of who’s right, who’s wrong, who’s orthodox, who’s heretic, and come together and worship the one Savior who’s saved us all! Give me some Scripture that stands opposed that idea! Jesus’ prayer is that we be one! Not divided into our many factions and idealogical polarized groups.
Our people ask, “Should we cast fire down on the Baptists, Lord, for their heretical view of baptism? Should we burn the Catholic churches because of their veneration of the Virgin Mary, Lord? Should we raid the Methodist churches because of the liberal ivew of Scripture? Should we throw rocks at the windows of the United Churches of Christ for stealing our name and ordaining homosexuals?”
Do the Lord’s words come back harshly, “Patience my child they will get what they deserve in the end?” . . . quite the contrary, Jesus looks at the people doing his work and lovingly rebukes us, “Children, if they come in my name, they are on our side. If they’re not against us, they’re for us. Accept them as your brothers and sisters.” and you’ll know my people by their love . . . we must look around us for we are surrounded by love in all of these groups – a love that is a fruit of the Spirit – God’s Holy Spirit. How dare we work against Him?

I stand in the tradition of the Apostle’s Creed. If someone comes to challenge the values upheld there, then maybe we can engage discussion of heresy and orthodoxy, but until God is challenged in the longstanding tradition of the Church, or in the standing of the moral image of holiness presented in Scripture, you are my brother, you are my sister. Let’s be busy in kingdom work!

Hermeneutical Shortcomings

I am so sorry to let my avid readers down (both of you) by making you wait so long for me to get back to the blogging drawing board. Yeah, well the past week was crazy. I figured Mary Beth and I were in the car for 35 hours in seven days – just counting long trips. I can sum up our recent happenings this way: Winterfest, Lewisburg, TN, youth rally, funeral, driving, driving, driving, gas station, truck stop, crying baby, ear infections, bronchitis, Toledo, OH, moving, packing, septic backup, wet basement, driving, driving . . . ok, you get the point, I’m done complaining. It really wasn’t a bad week . . . I’m ready to get that behind and move forward.

My thoughts today revolved around the hermeneutic utilized in Churches of Christ. “Hermeneutic” is simply a big word for how we read and interpret the Bible. It is my belief that the standard hermeneutic widely used in Churches of Christ over the past sixty years has contributed to a malnourished, elitist theology which has been bequeathed to my generation. It has put us in a hole that does not connect with the society in which it is set and is not conversant with Christians from other “tribes” “groups” “denominations” whatever you want to call them. That puts us in a bit of a pickle from where I sit.

Our tradition has upheld the hermeneutic of command, example, and necessary inference. In short, there are three veins of teaching found in Scripture applicable to us today.

*Some are commands: the text says “Thou shalt not murder” and, well, we shouldn’t murder, just like it says directly.
* Some are examples: the texts says “They met on the first day of the week and broke bread, so we should get together on the first day of the week and break bread.
* Some are necessary inferences: I think this third aspect of the tripartate hermeneutic is especially flawed so I can’t give a good example, but my best shot is to say that nowhere does the Bible mandate weekly observance of the Lord’s Supper, and the example we have of them taking communion was on the first day of the week, and it was a big deal to them, so we can infer that it is something that should be done every first day of the week.

One of the most influential professors I had in my training at Lipscomb was Dr. John Mark Hicks and one of the most influential classes on my thinking had to be Theological Hermenuetics. In this class Dr. Hicks examines the above hermeneutical construct and highlights its flaws proposing a new theological hermeneutic. Check out the syllabus to the class as it contains an invaluable list of references to this topic specifcally within Churches of Christ.

As postmodern philosophy continues to debunk the antiquated system of “command, example, and inference” Churches of Christ must be proactive in prayerfully establishing a new way to read the Holy Scriptures. It is encouraging in schools training our ministers to see professors conversing with those outside of our “fellowship” to learn from the broader scope of God’s kingdom, something that has been completely absent in Churches of Christ until recently. Abilene Christian University,, Lipscomb University, , Pepperdine University, Rochester College, Oklahoma Christian University, and Lubbock Christian University have all taken tremendous steps forward in broadening the scope of influence (and in humbling themselves) in conversing with those traditionally outside of our circles of discussion.

This year talk is centering on the divide with Christian Churches, but I belive for many members of our tribe in my generation that is a very, very small step forward. Discussions with those using instrumental music is a matter of pride (even our antiquated hermeneutic isn’t alot of help on this issue). As I read somewhere Rubel Shelly has written, “My Lord did not hang on the cross over whether or not they would worship him with a piano or not.” How ridiculous is this argument? I have heard a very sincere and “successful” minister argue that CHurches of Christ (acappella) and Christian Churches could never mend fences because, “they’ll never give up the instrument.” How completely arrogant of us! Why must we talk more about this issue than the grace of Christ which Paul spent so many pen strokes articulating?

Another issue I am especially ready to study is the influence geography plays (and has played) in Churches of Christ’s effectiveness. My setting is a large metropolitan area in central Ohio (there’s only one there – Columbus) whose population is over 1 million and grows to about 2 million in the metropolitan area. Consistent members of Churches of Christ may number 1,000 in that city. Christian Churches in the area are much stronger. I have no idea of the numbers but they would be substantial. Christian Churches explode, Churches of CHrist whimper and whine about a member here and there. How important is acapella music? I am beginning to think that we are losing souls to the devil because we are hellbent on worshiping unacompanied by any instrument. Is it that important? Is it that big of deal to unbelievers? That’s another question.

I have rambled too long on this entry . . . I will follow up later . . .

Scripture

I have to admit that coming from a “speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where the Bible is silent” has been especially challenging to me as I have traveled through the postmodern matrix in my thinking. Suddenly I have to wrestle with the way such unavoidable realities like experience, culture, gender, and race affect the Gospel message – or better said, my understanding of the Gospel. This thought brings me to the theme of my post today.

Teaching Bible classes to teenagers may be the single most difficult duty of the church. Teaching Bible classes to teeangers after you’ve spent years in seminary simply complicates matters. But, recently, I have really been impacted by teaching these teenagers and I think the experience is teaching me alot about the Bible.

We are currently engaged in a short series of classes regarding the life of David. Because we’re only studying this topic over five or six weeks, we’re pretty much sticking to the bestknown stories.

Anyone who has ever taught a BIble class knows that the most difficult subjects to talk about are ones that we’ve heard a million times . . . what can we say they haven’t already heard before.

As I was preparing for last week’s class on David and Goliath in 1 Samuel 17, I faced that dilemma. They know everything about this story. They’ve heard it a million times (even our German exchange student who never goes to church knows this story). What am I to do with this story? Then I began thinking about what the story actually is. Because of my heritage it is difficult for me to see very far beyond the page. That’s when it hit me. Those of us from conservative Bible churches have a difficult time grasping the larger scope of what “God’s Word.”

The best I could come up with would have probably gotten me fired in nine out of ten churches of Christ (maybe I’ll be fired here when they find out, just kidding). I took the story of David and Goliath and made it into a Mad Lib – you know those stories where everyone offers an adjective, phrase, exclamation, whatever without realizing what the story is about and where it will fall in the writing.

The teens loved it! Especially when Goliath got hit in the nose with one of his 20,000 smooth stones he had picked up and exclaimed, “Holy Crap!” It was hillarious moment.

Now taken at face value, we changed the Bible. Goliath was carrying around a bazooka and some gernades if I remember right . . . but did we change anything? The message was still there loud and clear!

Our obsession with “inspiration” has, I think, caused us to miss the point of the Bible. We are so concerned with the derivation of Greek and Hebrew words that we sometimes miss the bigger picture – what postmodern theologians so fondly refer to as the metanarrative. That is what the BIble is all about. The story of God loving his creation so much that he would not be overcome by their choice to turn from. The story of him lovingly sending his only son to live and die and be brought back to life so that the creation could be redeemed. It’s the story of how life has meaning and how hope is not far from anyone.

Through our obsession with the “written word” we have missed so much that the Spirit is saying right next to those words. If only we would admit how much the Catholics had to do with finalizing the Bible that we have, maybe then folks in our strong Protestant groups wouldn’t be so obsessed with the actual ink and letters and could instead be falling in love with a God and a Savior who long for us to be part of His love story.

Our bickering over translations, definitions, and theology goes counter to Jesus’ prayer in John 17. If only we would strive for unity rather than correctiveness. If only we would allow grace to pervade as Jesus did. Wouldn’t the church be a different place. I know so many people who are scared to death of that comment . . . but afraid of what? That God’s Spirit may blow through this place as though never before?

A Gospel imparted through oration and story should never have been reduced to simply a book. It is the Living WORD! Not just a word on the page, but so much more than that. The word is alive . . . The Word is around us . . .

Venting

OK, I just need to spend some time venting about two things that are bugging me today . . . Oh, by the way . . . Happy New Years to everyone. Any way, the matter at hand.

I am preparing our worship service for next Sunday. From time to time, I am in charge of planning a week so that we can get our teens involved. It’s a great idea, only there are certain stipulations that come with participating in worship that frustrate me to no end. Our two rules for participating in worship are this: must be a boy, must be baptized. Both of these criteria are tough for me to swallow, and tough for our youth group to swallow. Total number of youth group members who qualify: 2. Two guys that are great kids, but not our most active, nor do they show the most interest in God. But, because they are boys and because they are baptized they can pass plates, lead prayers, read Scriptures, and do just about whatever they want. The girls can pick songs out, act in skits, and that’s about it.

We claim to be a Bible-based, Bible-only church, but will someone please give me some Bible on this? I know the woman’s role thing is difficult, but the non-baptized thing is ridiculous. Why would we ever want to restrict someone from praying or reading their Bibles? We tell everyone read, pray all the time, but the only time they are not allowed to do so is in front of the church on Sundays when it may be most beneficial and edifying!?!!? What a bunch of crap. That is about where I have landed on this issue. I have fought and fought to end up here, but this is where I am. I think that the bottom line is that many or most churches have a group of men in leadership positions who are unwilling to give up their power to women. Period. I’m not a radical who has jumped to this position. I have simply witnessed it time after time. We constantly need servers, prayers, and readers, but we limit our pool of candidates on traditional mores that are no longer socially appealing – in fact are socially offensive. But yet we plod on.

I know enough people who think this way to know that their motives are not impure, but neither were many of the slaveowners’ motives of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. That was just the way things were done. When all the superficialities are removed, that is the same argument we are left with here: that is just the way things are done. Some people say, “It’s divisive, so we shouldn’t it do it.” If it was divisive for a black person to pray in Alabama in the early 1900’s, should they still not have the right? The same logic applies here. If there is not good, foundational, biblical reasons to restrict someone from taking part in a worship assembly – someone who has the gift and the spurring of the Holy Spirit, why would we ever restrict them? Why would we ever limit them?

Churches of Christ must change! Some/many will be uncomfortable, that is why I do not think it should happen each week. Baby steps. But if we really are a unified and open church as we claim to be, why can’t these differences bring us together amidst variety instead of divide as we have allowed so many other issues to? We are having a discussion within our churches that those outside of churches don’t care or understand. I have seldome met a twenty-something or even a thirty-something who cares about this issue. For us it is over, let’s move on. The Bible is far less clear about it than we want to admit. Those I have who are more conservative on the issue are that way because they were raised that way. I have never met an adult “convert” who had a clue why we would waste so much time limiting women’s responsibilities in our churches.

For now I am only talking about serving communion, testifying before the church, praying before the church, leading communion devotionals, and reading Scripture before the Church. The issue of women elders and preachers is a more complicated theological issue. However, 1 Corinthians 11 presupposes that women are praying and prophesying in a mixed assembly (This is the straightforward reading of the text, though few want to admit that.) The key to this text is “headship.” “Man is head of the woman” we are so often told. Seldom is it added, “He is the head of the woman the same way that God is the head of Christ, and Christ is the head of the church.” The male/female relationship mirrors the Christ/God relationship in its headship details. Christ’s role in the Trinity is diminished when our male/female relationships are not what they were intended. In relation to this text, when males dominate and control (decisions, positions, etc.) we are saying that this is the way that God is the head of Christ, and nothing could be farther from the truth.

It seems that we must dig deeper theologically than simply head coverings and women leading prayer. This issue is about the Trinity – something that Churches of Christ are utterly unfamiliar with. We need to understand the unique roles that each part of the Trinity plays within it, that will help us understand our roles among each other.

I am appalled by the sexism and discrimination that I see in my church. I pray that God forgives us for it. I also am encouraged by the heart of some, though hesitant, often condescending, and sarcastic, a glimmer of hope and openmindedness is seen on occassion.

OK, that’s my vent for today, and I feel much better. Have a good New Year.