Archive for the ‘Women & the Church’ Category

Here’s the final, long overdue final lesson in the first unit.  A complete bibliography will be posted next.

Paul & Women 4

Lesson Three in the first unit of the Paul & Women Series.

Paul & Women 3

Here’s the long awaited (at least in some circles, by some people) addition to the Paul & Women series.

Paul & Women 2

Lesson 1 of the first unit in the series, Paul & Women…exploring 1 Timothy 2:11-15

Paul & Women 1 Edit

Here’s a more finely edited version of the “Introduction to Paul & Women” podcast.  Thanks to Cameron Price for pointing out an blooper that I’d missed in the previous edit!

Introduction to Paul & Women

A Liberating Purpose

Radical feminism has failed you, and here’s how; it released you from the expectations of men, and then bound you to its own expectations. But Jesus promises release from the unregenerate culture that restricts you. You can know God deeply…in spirit. You can be authentic, real, and true. Christ promises freedom from the limitations of the old culture, and establishes your place in the new culture of the New Kingdom.

So, we’ve learned what Jesus wants to free you from. But now the question is, “What does he want to free you for? We know that Jesus freed women from the bondage and expectations of an unregenerate culture, but what were they freed to do? This is no insignificant question! This is something that women who are either following Jesus or are considering following Jesus need to know.

WHY does Jesus offer me this freedom?” What’s the purpose of this gift? We know that freedom that doesn’t involve purpose is freedom without value or significance. You can release a woman from bondage, but unless you provide her with a function she will only find herself in a different sort of bondage. Christ never offers his gifts this way. Christ frees you from the past with an eye to your future. In the New Kingdom, freedom is always joined to function.

We can discover what that fundamental purpose is by taking a look at those women whom Jesus freed.

You Are Woman

George Orwell said, “We have now sunk to a depth at which the restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.” So here at the start of this message I’m going to restate the obvious; you are woman…I hear you roar (my apologies to Helen Reddy.)

Here’s the point of reaffirming that little fact; that while Jesus frees you from the bondage of an unregenerate culture, he doesn’t free you from your gender. In John 19, as he is dying, Jesus places his mother Mary among the disciples. He does this by identifying her as a woman…and not as his mother. Here’s what this means…at least in part; In following Jesus you don’t cease to be a woman, with all that womanhood entails. In the Kingdom of God you are freed from the limitations that the world’s kingdom may place on you, but the function Jesus frees you to perform will be in the context of being a woman.

One of goals of radical feminism was the creation of a social construct in which there was no difference between men and women. So, some feminist leaders essentially said, “Dress like men, act like men, talk like men, be aggressive, don’t get married, don’t be monogamous, and don’t bear children.” One leader said, “We want to make men more like women and women more like men.” One of the goals was a sort of gender neutrality…as if men and women weren’t really different.

Jesus doesn’t do that. He acknowledges that you are indeed a woman, and it’s as a woman…not some androgynous species…that he calls you.

Great! But what’s that calling look like? Well, we get a good look at it by examining the women who followed Jesus.

Called to Learning

Luke chapter ten includes a story about two women…sisters…named Martha and Mary who were Jesus’ followers. The story starts out by presenting both of them as functioning outside of cultural expectations. Martha, in her busy serving, was actually doing what no woman of the time would do if she had a choice. You see, women only served men at mealtime if they had no servant to do the job. Martha was distracted by what she had to do, and seems to have been a bit resentful about having to do it.

Then there is her sister, Mary, whom the Bible describes as sitting at Jesus feet, listening to his teaching. In our minds this paints a picture of Mary quietly and devotedly sitting on a cushion close to the feet of Jesus, gazing up at him serenely as he talks. But in reality, we’re being told that Mary was an official student of Jesus. The idea of ‘sitting at the feet’ of a rabbi or teacher meant that you were his student, that he had taken you on, and that he recognized you as one of his followers. This was outside of cultural expectations because women weren’t generally encouraged to seek learning, and certainly not in this capacity as an official student of a master.

So, in Luke 10, while Martha is functioning as a somewhat resentful servant, Mary is functioning as a student. When Martha complained to Jesus and asked that he release Mary from her studies so that she would help her, Jesus said to Martha, “Out of everything being done here, only one thing is necessary.” And then he puns on the idea of Martha’s kitchen service by saying, “Mary has chosen the good portion…the best dish on the table…and it won’t be taken away from her.”

Jesus isn’t so much devaluing Martha’s service as he is telling her where she needs to place her best efforts. By identifying Mary’s discipleship as the “good portion” Jesus is telling Martha…and by extension all women who follow him…what he calls them to. He calls you to be learners, to seek out knowledge of him and his ways, to “sit at his feet” and ask him questions. He wants you to be his students…and learn from him. He wants you to be students of him…and learn all you can about him and his ways.

Called to Nurturing

So…women are called to be learners. But learning in the New Kingdom is never merely academic. Knowledge is never given or acquired for its own sake. There’s always a purpose for the learning, an application for it, something to be done with it. If Jesus calls women to be learners, what does he expect them to do with the learning they acquire? I think a very good clue is in John 19, where Jesus speaks to his mother from the cross.

Very quickly (because we don’t have time to examine the idea in detail) let me say that Jesus’ mother, Mary, had a hard time separating Jesus’ identity as Messiah from that of his identity as her son. It’s understandable…mothers will be mothers, after all. Reading the exchanges between Mary and Jesus up to John 19 will provide ample illustration of this. In these stories Jesus makes a definite and determined effort to reduce the status of Mary’s motherhood in relation to him personally. She had no special authority over him and his destiny because she was his mother. And, he granted her no special place among his disciples…as the mother of Jesus. In fact, it’s not at all clear that Mary really was what you’d call one of Jesus’ followers in the sense that she understood and believed in his redemptive mission.

That changes in John 19. As Jesus is dying on the cross, with Mary and an unnamed disciple looking on, Jesus says to her, “Woman…behold your son.” And then to the disciple, “Behold your mother.” This was a commonly accepted legal declaration of a transfer of guardianship. Jesus is on one level providing for the care and protection of his mother after his death.

But on another level, we’re being told that something additional is happening. First, it’s important to notice that Jesus doesn’t introduce Mary as his mother…but as a woman. He doesn’t say, “Mother…behold your son,” but “Woman behold your son.” Next, notice that the disciple is left unnamed. We assume him to be John, but we’re told that Mary is becoming mother to a disciple…who could in fact be any disciple. Or, he could stand for all of the disciples. On this other level we’re being told that Mary is being brought into the body of Jesus’ disciples as a
mother…not as Jesus’ mother, but as a mother-figure to them all. Her function in the group is being assigned; Mary is to mother the disciples.

Here’s what I take from this; that women in the church are called by Jesus to be nurturers. A nurturer is someone who cares for the growth and development of another. Caring for someone’s growth and development in the context of the church certainly includes providing them with knowledge and information to aid their growth. So you can see why being a learner is so important. You are called to learn, and then you are called to impart that learning as you nurture others in the family of faith.

Called to Sharing

I have to move on now and try to wrap this up…but I can’t do that without sharing this one last item with you.

We know that the story of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus is the center of our faith. Many Biblical scholars think that the Passion Narrative was actually the first thing written down about the life of Jesus. But have you ever thought about how that story came to be known? We read about it in all four gospels, but not all four of those writers were actually personal witnesses of the Passion Event. Mark, whom we believe wrote the first Gospel as it was dictated to him by Peter, wasn’t there. For that matter, Peter wasn’t there either. Luke was a gentile convert to the Faith some time after Pentecost; he certainly wasn’t there. And neither was Matthew. In fact, none of the eleven disciples were there expect the one unnamed disciple of John 19.

Do you know who was there? You guessed it…the women who were Jesus’ followers. They were there at the cross, witnessing all of the horror and agony of the crucifixion. They were there as Jesus’ body was taken down and carried to the tomb. And, the Scriptures tell us, they were the first ones to witness and believe that Jesus was alive again.

Do you know what this means? It means that we know the Redemptive Story, the story of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus mostly because of the witness of your sisters of ancient days. It means that the first people to share this incredible story of hope and new life were likely the women who followed Jesus.

Do you know what this means? It means that women today, too, are called to share with others what they have witnessed, what they have experienced in Jesus.

Closing:

So…you see your calling, sisters. Jesus doesn’t ignore that you’re women. Instead, he calls you to follow him as women. It’s in the context of womanhood that he calls you to learn of him, to nurture others in the faith, and to share your witness with the world. Each particular and specific calling that he may have for you personally will find its foundation in these; learning, nurturing, and sharing.

Whatever the limitations or expectations of the unregenerate culture around us, you can find liberty and fulfilment as a woman in the New Culture of the New Kingdom.

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.