Women & the Church, Part 1

Posted: May 20, 2012 in Uncategorized, Women & the Church
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Jesus & Women

I believe in the liberation of women. I believe in equal opportunity based on equal capability, and equal pay for equal work. I do not believe that women should be kept barefoot and pregnant, locked in the kitchen or chained to the stove. I believe that they should choose the life they want to live.

Years ago when Pentecostals were being asked if we believed in women’s lib, the answer should have been, “Yes! We believe that women should be free!” We used to say, “A woman’s place is in the home!” But a woman’s place is to fulfill her God-given role as a person, whether in the home or out of it.

So, once again, I believe in the liberation of women. But from my observation, in spite of the years of social and political activism that have moved us much farther down the road toward equal rights, women have only exchanged one form of bondage for another. From my observation women have traded the chains of a kitchen for those of a career, the whims of a man for those of the marketplace, and the objectifying by selfish husbands for that of a sensual culture.

Women are now enslaved to the same immorality and materialism as men, and are driven by the same greed and selfishness as men. Sure, I agree with you…you have every right to be. It’s just funny that you’d call it “freedom”. Yes, women are truly equal to men…you’re just as vile as we are.

Congratulations.

Somehow I expect that’s not what you had in mind by the pursuit of “equality” and “liberation”. Whatever extremes Betty Freidan or Gloria Steinem may have promoted, you simply wanted opportunity. And a little respect. You wanted the recognition that you weren’t less than a man, and that given opportunity you could equal or exceed his performance in many, many areas. You wanted the chance to build your own life and make your own choices. But this…this corruption, this fragmentation, this soul-rot…you had something better in mind than this.

So did Jesus.

Jesus & the New Kingdom

Here at the start I need to emphasize that Jesus came introducing a New Kingdom. For those of you who’ve been worshipping at The Refuge for a while, you’ll recognize this theme. Jesus came preaching that a New Kingdom had come. A new Kingdom meant a new King, new laws, new customs, and a new culture. It meant that the old kingdom with its old, corrupt, and abusive ways was passing and a new day had dawned. For people who were oppressed, downtrodden, and mistreated, this was good news…very good news. So they called it “The Gospel”, because ‘gospel’ meant ‘good-news’.

We know that ultimately governments are about people, and the Kingdom of God is no exception. This New Kingdom that Jesus preached about was going to turn a lot of things upside down. One of the ways it would do so was in the way that people related to each other. The greatest would be the least, and the master would be a servant, and the humble would be exalted. The customs that isolated people from each other would be supplanted. The culture that kept people locked in their places, bound to certain expectations, unable to alter their lives or become something other, was going to be replaced. A new culture was coming! And that new culture of the New Kingdom would include a new view of…women.

Jesus & the Samaritan Woman

I’m not sure we grasp just how far Jesus operated outside the cultural norms of his day, especially when it came to his relationship with women. In fact, I’m sure we don’t realize just how different Jesus’ ways of relating to women were from his contemporaries.

While I’m not going to explore the first century, middle-eastern cultural view of women in any detail, there are a few things you need to understand.

Women were property; of their fathers, then of their husbands, and finally of their sons. While Jewish women weren’t as cloistered as in some other cultures of the time, they were still kept largely isolated. A man wasn’t to speak to a woman in public that he wasn’t immediately related to; it was assumed that a conversation occurring in public between a man and woman who weren’t immediate family was only for illicit purposes. Education for women was discouraged. Most rabbis wouldn’t even address a woman, and none would allow a woman outside of his immediate family to touch him.

These…along with many other customs and cultural norms…kept women confined to an exceedingly limited kind of life. There were exceptions…there always have been. Some women were learned and wise, some women functioned as God’s ministers, some women engaged in some form of business…but these were, well, exceptions. The norm was for women to be isolated, uneducated, and devalued.

But then Jesus came…and Jesus was adept at destroying old cultural norms as he introduced the culture of the New Kingdom. The Gospels tell of Jesus defending a woman caught in adultery, of allowing his feet to be anointed by a prostitute, of his gracious response when touched by an unclean woman, of his teaching women, engaging them in theological conversation, and including them in his ministry. Jesus shattered the conventions of his time and demonstrated that there was a new, a different, a better way for women in the New Kingdom.

Read the very famous account of Jesus and the Samaritan Woman in John 4; it’s found in John 4:1-30. In this story, Jesus shatters one social convention after another. First, he defies the racial bigotry of his people to talk to a Samaritan. Then, he demonstrates New Kingdom culture by engaging in meaningful conversation with a woman...and in doing so destroys another social convention. Finally, not only does he speak to a Samaritan, who is a woman, but to one who is also an extremely immoral woman.

When you read the story you’ll discover something equally amazing…Jesus’ utter acceptance of her person, and his complete lack of condemnation of her. Know this; Jesus acceptance did not equate with approval, and his lack of condemnation didn’t mean he condoned her sin. He didn’t approve, and he didn’t condone. But he did accept her and he did not condemn her. Instead, Jesus told her plainly what God wanted from her more than anything else; spirituality and authenticity. He told her that the Father wanted to connect with her on the deepest, most mystical level of a human being. “He wants you to worship him in spirit,” Jesus said, “and not be bound by ritual.” And he told her that the Father looked for authenticity, for her to be real with him. “He wants you to worship him in truth,” Jesus said. “Be true, be genuine, be honest with God and before God.” And then Jesus finished by saying, “The Father seeks for people to worship Him this way.”

Christ & Culture

It’s nothing short of amazing that one of the most profound passages in the New Testament is the record of a conversation between Jesus and an immoral Samaritan woman. By engaging her as he did, Jesus was promising her freedom not only from her sin, but from the cultural norms that restricted her. Jesus offered her fresh life! New life! A new place in the New Kingdom! A new culture and a new opportunity!

Jesus still promises release from the unregenerate culture that restricts you. Feminism promised freedom, but only provided a different master and different chains. It was called “liberation”, but it required your subjection to its particular values and refused you the liberty to live on your own terms. Please don’t confuse liberation within the culture with freedom from the culture…they are not the same. Only Christ can make you free.

In a culture of shallow values, God wants to free you to know Him deeply…in spirit. In a culture that emphasises the superficial, God wants to free you to be authentic, to be real, and to be true. Christ wants free you from the limitations of the old culture, and establish your place in the new culture of the New Kingdom.

Closing:

You may think that you’ve got the skinny on the New Kingdom. “I know all about that, Dennis. I know all about the church’s teachings on the subjugation of women, and how the church has treated women as second class spiritual citizens. I know all about that.” Maybe you do know all about that, but I’ll caution you not to confuse the customs of the institution known as the Christian Religion with the culture of Christ’s Kingdom. Christ didn’t establish Christianity…He founded a Church, an ecclesia, a spiritual assembly of called-out ones. And he intends for those called-out ones to live by a different set of norms, in a different, truly liberating, more inclusive culture.

Comments
  1. Paul says:

    powerful… Woman needs to fulfil her “God-given role” as a person, likwise a man too. I like this too,,, “don’t confuse liberation within the culture with freedom from the culture…they are not the same. Only Christ can make you free.”…. a must read for any woman in ministry… and man too.

    • Dennis Munn says:

      I used this micro-series as a teaser for a midweek series I’m starting in June examining some of St. Paul’s statements about women, and what he may be telling us. The working title of the series is “Paul; the Apostle Women Love to Hate” 🙂

      Neither our cultural view or our traditional “church” view of the roles of women adequately reflects the position Christ has afforded them in the New Covenant.

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