In a world desperate for a savior, here’s a description of Jesus that’ll fire you up and give you some hope. It comes from Christopher Wright’s book The Mission of God:
Speaking of Jewish assumptions of his day…
“Jesus dissolved some of these, abolished some, ignored others and deliberately challenged a few of them.
He turned the clean-unclean distinction inside out. He chose to heal on the sabbath day and to redefine its significance around himself. He reached out to those who were excluded by the taboos of society: women, children, the sick, the unclean, even the dead. He declared forgiveness to people on his own authority, completely bypassing the normal route for such benefit, namely, the official sacrificial cult at the temple. He ate with tax collectors, prostitutes and ‘sinners’ (by official designation). Furthermore, he told stories that gave the ‘official’ story of Israel a very different ending in its damning effect on those in power in society, and they know he was talking about them. And as he stood on trial before the highest political-religious authority in all Jewish society, he calmly took to himself the identity of the Danielic Son of Man, whose authority would ultimately overthrow the beasts of oppressive and persecuting powers (Dan 7). No wonder the chief priest tore his robes and cried blasphemy. It just won’t do when the chief priest is cast in the role of chief beast. Jesus’ radical claims and teaching were not just bursting old wineskins; they were enough to burst some political blood vessels.”
I know, you’re stoked. But I’m reading a lot of missiology, and it’s only the beginning of my four year program!
The other day, reading this book by Scottish Missiologist Andrew Walls, I came across the idea of an “Ephesian moment.” For Walls, this moment was a pivotal turning point in Christian history where the young church was confronted by the idea that the Gospel is meant to cross racial, ethnic and cultural barriers. Here’s Walls:
“When Ephesians was written, there were only two major cultures represented in the Christian church, the Jewish (reflecting a spectrum of attitudes and accommodation to Greek thought) and the Hellenistic. They could easily have formed separate churches, but that thought does not occur to the author. Two races and two cultures historically separated by the meal table now met at table to share the knowledge of Christ. The Ephesian moment–the social coming together of people of two cultures to experience Christ–was quite brief.”
Pondering the idea of an “Ephesian moment” for race and ethnicity, I formulated this question:
Where’s the “Ephesian moment” for gender in Scripture?
In other words, where was the moment when the first church was confronted by the reality that the Gospel crosses gender barriers, that in the advent of Jesus’ Kingdom equality, mutuality and interdependent partnership are the orders of the day?
My first thought was that it had to Pentecost.
After all, when in Acts 2 the Spirit falls on the community, both men and women receive the gift of the Spirit’s power. In fact, in interpreting the moment, Peter quotes Joel 2:28-32 to emphasize the intra-gender nature of the community of faith. (More about Pentecost and gender here)
It seems to me that Pentecost is a good option for an “Ephesian moment” with regard to gender, but it’s not perfect. After all, in reality Pentecost is more about the Spirit than a statement about gender partnerships in mission. In the end, Pentecost is the “Spirit’s Moment” more than anything else.
And then it dawned on me:
Perhaps the first church didn’t need an “Ephesian Moment” with regard to gender.
As in, maybe, just maybe, part of the culture of the first church was for women and men to share leadership. Perhaps crossing gender barriers in pursuit of Kingdom mission was…normal, a part of the community’s foundational DNA.
Seems like the Apostle Paul would attest to that. At a glance, Romans 16 seems like just another chapter of Paul publicly thanking those he has partnered with in his mission. But a closer look reveals the intra-gender nature of that mission. According to one scholar, out of the 27 names in the chapter, up to 10 are women.
And, further, in the tribe of Romans 16 women, we have some luminaries, every bit the equal of the men of Romans 16 and elsewhere. There’s Phoebe, the deaconess of Cenchrea, someone “worthy of honor.” There’s Priscilla, Paul’s co-worker, named before her husband Aquila, thus signifying a greater influence. And there’s Junia, “highly respected among the apostles.”
There is evidence that Paul’s practice may well have been representative. That despite being born in a culture gripped by extreme patriarchy, the first Christian church lived out a counter-cultural, intra-gender model of ministry.
Writing in her book When Women Were Priests, Claremont Graduate School Professor Karen Jo Torjesen notes:
“The last thirty years of American scholarship have produced an amazing range of evidence for women’s roles as deacons, priests, presbyters, and even bishops in Christian churches from the first through the thirteenth century.”
All of this leads to an interesting question:
What if the church didn’t need an “Ephesian Moment” for gender because every day was such a moment?!?
It was amazing.
A couple of reflections on the experience:
First, it’s indeed a vast topic. Right off the bat, I warned the students that this was the stuff of seminary courses and that I’d be moving fast during the talk. I hit everything from Genesis to Psalms to the Gospels to about 8 texts from Paul. I was flying. Even so, the 40ish minutes that I was given morphed into–wait for it–65 minutes. I think it was the longest talk I’ve ever given!
Next, they were with me the entire time. Good eye contact, nodding heads, laughing at the right times, etc. What this tells me is that there is a thirst for teaching on this topic. Is it possible that our churches are shirking responsibility by not teaching on these things? I think so.
Third, my burden for teaching and training on these topics continues to grow. After the talk, I told one of my staff that I’d teach it again tomorrow night. To be clear, I’ll be glad for a night off tonight; still, I’m growing into a new phase of call to teach, train and lead on these things. Of course the graduate program is a part of that, as is this blog. It is a joy to sense God’s profound work in my soul.
Fourth, my convictions about the Bible’s message of gender equality continue to solidify, clarify and find a greater purchase in my understanding. I always try to preach and teach from a place of conviction, but sometimes conviction is more available than others. Last night conviction was a potent presence in my teaching. I am convinced that the Bible’s message is one of freedom for women, and that God’s desire is for men and women to together carry the good news into mission with a posture marked by equality, mutuality, interdependence and dynamic partnership.
Many have asked for my notes from last night. I think I’m going to clean them up a bit and then send them. And/or I might chop the talk up and feature it as a series of posts here on Challenging Tertullian.
For now, I’ll leave you with Paul’s words to the Galatian church in 3:26-29:
For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes.
There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.
And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you.
Praise God for the cross, which burns through the divisions of race, class and gender.
Happy Easter everyone!
What I mean is that in the same way that Jesus willingly laid down authority in becoming incarnate, when men lay down power, there’s freedom for them in the process. I’ve experienced this in my own life and leadership. In our household, it’s freeing to not have the proverbial buck stop with me. Much better to have it stop with us.
And in ministry, it’s incredibly joy-giving to watch women walk through doors that you’ve helped to open by using your power to advocate. And, it’s a joy to be able to serve the Lord with the full range of Kingdom gifts and perspectives.
In his post this week at The Junia Project, Bob Edwards captures well what I’m talking about, in his post entitled “What Equality in Christ Means for Men.” Find it here. To get you going, here are the first several paragraphs:
As a man and a Christian, I’ve been given some heavy burdens. In a society characterized by a long history of male privilege, that may sound like a strange statement. Nevertheless, it’s true.
In the first church I attended, I learned that to be a man is to be a leader, a provider, and a protector. I learned that it was my responsibility in church to discern truth from error. It was my responsibility to accurately and effectively convey this truth. I was responsible to shepherd God’s people, and even to apply biblical discipline when needed. Evidently, something about being male made me a suitable candidate for these responsibilities.
Someday, God willing, I would be married. Maybe we would have children. My wife’s spiritual health would be my responsibility. Providing spiritual leadership would be my sole responsibility as the “head” of a Christian home. I would also be the bread-winner for our family, earning enough money to provide for all of our needs. I would have the deciding vote regarding all major life decisions, regardless of my level of knowledge or experience with a given issue.
Failure to shoulder this burden was referred to as shirking God’s call on my life to be a servant-leader to my family. The Bible and the commentaries I was reading seemed to confirm that these responsibilities were God-ordained. Though I accepted what I was taught as “the infallible word of God,” and believed that it was communicated to me by godly men that I could trust, I began to have questions.
To be specific, whereas my understanding of the Scriptures compels me to the position that women and men are to share leadership, power and authority in God’s Kingdom in equal measure, this woman’s perspective was that women must not teach or have authority in the presence of men.
And as we talked more about it, it became clear that this woman’s posture was that she could hold her conviction and yet still fully participate in a gender-equal ministry context.
“How could that be?” I asked her.
“It’s like a tertiary issue.”
A tertiary issue?!?
Sadly, I didn’t have time to dig deeper into her taxonomy for how she ranks Biblical issues and theologies. Evidently, she has a developed grid, if she can rank something as “tertiary” instead of “primary,” “secondary,” or, what, “quadiary?!?”
In her Junia Project post from last week, Gail Wallace captures a bit of this sentiment:
“Some frame the debate about women sharing authority in the church and home as a “secondary” or “women’s” issue. Women advocating for shared leadership may be accused of wanting to be like men, of being selfish, or of fighting for their rights when there are more important things for the church to address. But it’s a mistake to assume that this is a minor issue or something that only impacts women.” (emphasis mine)
And in the rest of Gail’s piece, she shares three reasons why this is true, from the writings of Dallas Willard. I highly recommend the whole post.
Here’s what this has me musing about this morning:
I think it’s time for the “women in leadership” or “women in ministry” labels to go.
For two reasons.
One, as Willard rightly notes, the conversation has to do with men and women alike. If women cannot lead, or do ministry, in the presence of men, then the implication is that it’s all for men to do. And the converse is also true. So, both genders are impacted by the question of what the Bible has to say about gender roles in the church.
Secondly, we need a new vocabulary because the “women in leadership” label is inaccurate. After all, almost no one fully restricts women from “leadership” or “ministry.” Even in the most conservative complementation churches, women are exercising leadership in plenty of capacities and contexts, from coordinating the weddings to directing the children’s ministry to running the office. Instead, the precise issue is more like “authoritative leadership in the presence of men.” In other words, opponents of “women in leadership” are really talking about a narrow slice of the leadership function of the church.
So, perhaps it’s time we reframed this conversation?
In about a month, I’m going to be teaching on this topic. The leadership team who is bringing me has asked me to speak about “women in leadership.” So let me test drive a new way to describe or label the conversation. What if I started the talk like this:
“Tonight we’re not going to examine ‘women in leadership.’ That’s too narrow of a topic. Instead, we’re going to look at what the Bible has to say about how power works in the community of faith with regard to gender.”
I think that language is broader. And more accurate.
Let me close with a nod to Willard, again from Gail’s post:
“So the issue of women in leadership is not a minor or marginal one. It profoundly affects the sense of identity and worth on both sides of the gender line; and, if wrongly grasped, it restricts the resources for blessing, through the church, upon an appallingly needy world.”
Central and primary? Yes.
Here’s how the verse reads, in the NLT: “And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
Some translators put Ephesians 5:21 at the end of the passage above it, where it serves as a final, summary statement to Paul’s thinking about how life should work in the overall faith community. For instance, the NKJV, NASB and ESV put verse 21 above the translator’s paragraph break.
On the other hand, some translators put the verse on the front end of the passage below it, where it serves as an introductory remark about how husbands and wives ought to live out their marriages. For example, the NLT, NIV and RSV put it below the break.
So which is it?
Or…what if it’s both?
Yesterday morning, our church marked a leadership transition. After two years of serving as co-lead pastors, our founding pastor willingly and joyfully laid down authority and passed off leadership to his apprentice. For me it was a holy moment. After all, you don’t see leadership transitions go well all that often. So, could it possible for leadership transitions to be healthy and even worshipful?
It is if Ephesians 5:21 is a guiding text.
In expositing the passage yesterday, our pastors described Ephesians 5:21 as a “hinge” text, meaning that it serves as both a summary of Paul’s thoughts in 5:1-20 and a governing principle for 5:22-33. It’s as if Paul is saying:
“In sum, as you live out your corporate mission in the world, be the kind of community that seeks to submit to one another. Hey, come to think of it, your marriages should be marked by the same thing. If you practice lives of mutual submission, if you basically try to outdo each other in serving, you will see fruit in your relationships and through you in ministry.”
Sounds pretty good, yes?
When it comes to living out our mission as an intra-gender community, Ephesians 5:21 directly challenges our attitudes. That is, if we’re going to create a world where male privilege is a thing of the past, where power-grabbing and resource-hording is no more, we will need attitudes marked by humble and mutual submission.
Here’s how theologian Walter Liefeld puts it, in his exposition of Ephesians 5:21:
“Certainly not every Christian is inferior to every other, but in humility one can esteem all others higher than oneself. Likewise it is possible on one occasion to defer to another, submitting to that person’s will, with the situation being reversed at another time. There is nothing illogical about mutual submission. Whether in the context of verses 18-20 or of verses 22-33, the idea of submitting is not on the surface as appealing as being joyful, but the result of this attitude can have a wonderful effect in the life of believers together. It has practical as well as spiritual benefits.”
May it be so, in greater measure, both in our churches and in our marriages.
And, wow, it was terrific. First of all, it never ceases to amaze me how novel topics around gender and faith are for people. Truly, it exposes the lack of intentional conversations about these things, both in the culture and, particularly, in the church.
Next, in large part because of that novelty, it strikes me that people are hungry for teaching and training on these topics. We could have gone for hours the other night, because once I had raised the issues, people wanted to both process them and share their stories.
Finally, it was a great experience for me personally. When I got home I said to Amy, “that’s what I want to do when I grow up.” It feels great to share the thinking I’ve been doing and to see it benefit, bless and challenge people. I was a very satisfied teacher the other night!
I’ll share some of the content with you over time, but here’s a quote that I’ve really been chewing on, about Jesus, gender and faith. It’s from a book entitled After Eden by a team of writers. Read this and chew along with me!
“The life and teachings of Jesus as revealed in the Gospels and the account of his continuing work through the Holy Spirit in the New Testament church display God’s will for gender relations. It is God’s desire to oppose societal patterns that elevate some persons over others and that harm, demean, subordinate, and oppress various women and men. It is God’s will to restore gender relations to the mutuality and equality that characterized the covenant partnership of woman and man in creation. Christ was sent by God the Father and anointed with the Spirit to initiate, among other things, this redemption of gender relations.”
There’s Mary. Unwed mother-to-be, at the very center of the messy drama of the Incarnation. I love Mary’s faithfulness. Don’t get me started on her beautiful worship hymn (here). Come to think of it, perhaps Mary is the first in a long line of gifted women worship leaders?!? Or, with a nod to Miriam, maybe Mary is one more link in a glorious chain that extends to today.
But as with much of the Christmas story, Mary is a strange choice as the protagonist. After all, shouldn’t the Messiah come through a couple–through a woman–blessed with power and means?!?
Like perhaps a Roman big wig? Luke mentions Tiberius the emperor and Pilate the governor. What about them? Wouldn’t it be wise to have the savior born as a citizen of the occupying nation? Heck, wouldn’t it be better just from a PR standpoint? I mean, really, shouldn’t the Messiah be born in a palace instead of a manger?
Or how about Herod, King of Judah? Surely, having Jesus born into the Judean king’s household makes far more sense. He’d be safe. He’d have resources. And, ultimately, he’d have a platform from which to influence, for as we know from Mathew’s Gospel (here), Herod’s son Archelaus succeeded his father to the throne.
Or the Jewish high priests would be sensible candidates. Luke identifies these men as Annas and Caiaphas (here). Most scholars think that Caiaphas was Annas’ son-in-law. What if that was Jesus instead?!? To rule the Temple was to have spiritual, judicial, economic and cultural influence. Surely having the baby Jesus born into the Temple elite would communicate the right message about his messianic mission?
Or, come to think of it, even Mary’s cousin makes more sense than Mary herself, married as she was to the priest Zechariah. What if Jesus had been born in place of John, with access to the religious establishment through his father?
Sensible? Wise? Strategic?
Instead, we have the manger, marginalization…..and Mary.
On Christmas, heaven was made manifest in the nitty gritty. And in choosing to have Jesus born unto a poor, unwed mother, the message of Christmas seems to be that:
Privilege is powerless in the economy of the incarnate God.
On Christmas Eve, our pastor quoted Luke 2:19, an interesting verse right in the middle of Jesus’ birth narrative:
“Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often.”
I wonder if one of the things Mary pondered was why her, and what did that tell her about her God?!?
This week, Tertullian and I are taking our show on the road. Together with a good friend and co-worker, I’m teaching a week long seminar on the topic of “Women in the Bible.” 14 college students will be taking the plunge with us.
So this week we’ll be opening the Scriptures, watching some videos and reading some articles. Along the way we’ll have some intense conversations I’m sure. All with the goal of helping these students think through what the Bible has to say about women in general, and the relationship between men and women in particular.
Last night we started by having a time to articulate our questions. And after listening to their questions, let there be no doubt:
This stuff matters.
Here’s the list of the questions that our students are bringing into the seminar this week:
Is there a hierarchy of gender in God’s eyes?
Why are men represented more than women in the Bible?
What exactly are the roles that each gender has in the church, in ministry and in the home?
Why is there God the Father only, if both men and women are made in God’s image?
How do men and women work together peacefully?
What are some common problems between men and women in ministry?
How do we figure out what is from God and what is influenced by culture?
Why don’t churches discuss this topic?
Simple, huh? Now to seek some answers! If you’re the praying type, we’d appreciate them! And I’ll give an update in the Thursday post.