Why can't we make things clear:
I had a sudden realisation in the night
The Bible is neither an encyclopedia not an Argos catalogue.
We do not decide what kind of home to build by looking through the Bible and listing all the buildings and choosing which one to build.
We do not decide what clothes to buy by looking through the Bible and listing all the clothes that people are wearing.
We do not decide how to decorate our homes by looking through the Bible and listing all the different styles of decoration used.
The Bible is neither an encyclopedia not an Argos catalogue. Unless of course you can persuade the Methodist Church to decorate our bathroom in the style of King Solomon's temple!
So why would we list jobs that women do in the Bible thousands of years ago and use that to decide which jobs they should do today? It is a misuse of the Bible and it is very telling that the Bible is only being used in this way in relation to what "Women can do".
So "What can women do?"
Short answer: Anything.
Slightly longer answer.
Biblically we see in Genesis 1:27 that men and women are both created by God and in God's image. Nothing about a hierachy here.
However, I recognise that in the Bible we see a patriarchial society. Yet despite that human structure God continually calls and equips Women for a wide variety of tasks that their society frequently believed were for men only.
When we come to the New Testament we see a very different picture in Jesus. Among other things he taught women, he learned from women, he called women as evangelists and he was financially supported by women. Jesus tells us he came to bring us life in all it's fullness and he does nothing to make it appear that this is a promise for men only.
We also see early Churches led by women in their homes, we see Paul praising women in many ways and clearly he worked with them in different places. Given that the (very) few occasions when Paul restricts the role of women must be connected with specific circumstances or individuals as otherwise he would be contradicting himself. Paul recognises that in God's kingdom there are no distinctions based on gender.
In the Church and world today we see that God blesses the work of women just as much as the work of men.
In the Church the Holy Spirit is active where there are faithful women in leadership just as the Holy Spirit is active when there are faithful men in leadership.
In business writers such as Tom Peters have consistently pointed out that businesses with women in senior positions tend to do better.
So are there limits on what women can do? Yes but they are the same ethical and moral limits that apply to men and so are not connected to this post.
Got to dash now as I have a membership class of people wanting to celebrate all God is calling them to!
The Simple Pastor writes "What the Bible clearly says women can do" and sadly it is the usual mix of nonsense.
Two obvious general points.
- A better title would have been "What a MAN thinks the Bible clearly says women can do".
- If the line of logic followed in the post were applied more generally then nobody would drive a car or ride a bike (the Bible does not say we can). Of course as Simple Pastor is trying restrict women he only applies this logic to women and then is very selective about how he does it.
The detail is also based on very selectively presented arguments. They do not stand up to much scrutiny. The very first point illustrates this nicely
A helper – this is one that has been overplayed by both sides but Gen 2:18 & 20 calls women helpers. I’d say that this likely meant helping man in the increasing, subduing, ruling that God charged mankind with in Gen 1:26-28.
What of course Simple Pastor misses out is that God is also described as a "helper" using exactly the same word. So women are limited to being like God, seems a pretty limited limitation to me!
What Simple Pastor does is use every example he can find of God calling, liberating and working in women despite the patriarchial culture they lived in and then use them as reasons to restrict rather than free.
A typically sad and fearful male response to the power of God revealed in ordinary women and men.
Adrian Warnock has written a post called What is a Christian? and asked me to comment, he seemed surprised that I was not supportive – when will some people learn
More seriously I do have concerns with attempts to define exactly what a Christian is (and in the same vein Adrian is promising to do the same for an evangelical).
My concerns are in 3 areas:
- who should define?
- how should define?
Who should define
Call me a traditionalist or a pawn of a denonination. However, I do not think it is particularly helpful for a single person to feel they can define what a Christian is for everyone else.
If the definition of a Christian is to be redone (beyond traditional creeds) then this is not the role of individuals but needs to be done much more widely. There are plenty of avenues available to explore this and ways of doing so that are far less dogmatic and excluding than the way Adrian writes.
It seems to me obvious that definitions of what is a Christian require us to involve Church leadership, academic theologicans, practical theologians, liturgists, pastoral care teams, all ages, people who identify themselves as Christians and those who don't. It is a work that should be deliberately and consciously ecumenical and interconfessional.
Obviously if redefining what is a Christian should take place then individual bloggers should be welcomed just as everyone else. However, here we see another attempt to define what is a Christian by a blogger who has a long history of excluding others and pandering to extreme US conservative "celebtrities" so I feel it is unlikely to be very helpful or relevant to most people.
How should define?
I think it is potentially important for some that a definition of "What is a Christian?" be agreed, although for the reasons I give in my 3rd point it is not something I would want to commit much time to.
However, if this is to be done then let it be done well and robustly. Adrian's use of resources is incredibily minimal (it started with 3 sources only – his own book, the Nicene Creed and looking up the word "Christian" in a concordance). Here as just a couple of obvious sources:
So how about considering what the World Council of Churches have to say:
The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches which confess the Lord Jesus Christ as God and Saviour according to the scriptures, and therefore seek to fulfil together their common calling to the glory of the one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Or how about this one from the ReligiousTolerance website:
"We accept as Christian any individual or group who devoutly, thoughtfully, seriously, and prayerfully regards themselves to be Christian. That is, they honestly believe themselves to be attempting to follow the teachings of Yeshua of Nazareth (a.k.a. Jesus Christ) as they interpret those teachings to be."
These two examples show that work already exists that is widely accepted by Churches all over the world and that there is work being done by those who do not consider themselves to be Christian. The latter is particularly helpful as a response to cultural Christian (such as the way the BNP claims to believe in Britain as a Christian nation).
Adrian, if you want to do this then fine, but please engage a lot more widely and more sensitively.
By this I mean that tying down your definition of what is a Christian can become a millstone around your neck. I suggest that in reality we need to hold multiple defintions all time time.
I encounter and indeed expect people to have different defintions of what a Christian is. A few examples should make this obvious.
Lets start with an assembly at a local primary school where a definition such as "A Christian is someone who follows Jesus" would seem apppropriate. If, however, I am meeting someone who is exploring a call to ordained ministry within the Church I am going to expect something very different and that shows a depth of spirituality, an interest in theology and an understanding of people and Christian community.
If we think about common encounters with people then it should be obvious that we should use different defintions when engaging with a couple seeking to add a wedding blessing to make a civil ceremony more like their understandsing of a "traditional" wedding compared to a couple wanting to explore becoming Church members.
When I talked with a friend at work who was a faithful Sikh the defintions we would work with would be very different to when talking to another colleague who was of no faith and uninterested in faith.
When we use fixed defintions then we run the risk of hurting and alienating some. I have referred before to my first encounter with a Christian Union at University who at a "Welcome" event told me that I was not a Christian (I was an active, full member of the Methodist Church at the time, had previous powerful experiences of God and could quite happily have signed their doctrinal statement). Turns out I was using the "wrong" language to describe myself.
When we use fixed definitions we are unable to help people change and move deeper. Suddenly Christian faith is not a journey of discipleship but an on/off switch. Not only does that exclude people who are exploring and making steps towards faith but it hampers the journey of those who have made a faith commitment as it does not draw them deeper.
This evening I noticed the effects of earlier events today in my behaviour.
I had been at a couple of events at Methodist Church House (more on that in a minute), afterwards I stayed in my dog collar for the rest of the evening which is not really my normal practice.
I had a good time, a nice bike ride around London without getting too lost while looking for Foyles which is a lovely place to spend some time, then a nice meal at Pizza Express. It was only when I was getting off the train in Leicester with by bike to ride home that I noticed I still had the dog collar on.
No big deal even if with my rather low church background it is not what I normally do.
I realised it came from feeling inspired by what I had gone to London for. I went for two leaving "do's" as a representative of the Methodist Council.
The first was for Mark Wakelin, currently President of the Methodist Conference and it was a farewell as his "day" job of Secretary for Internal Relationships (yes we know, daftest job title ever) as that has come to an end (and at least we are getting rid of the job title).
I have known Mark for some 11 years as he was leading a team at the Guy Chester Centre (the team included Morfa Jones, Helen Muller, Liz Gamble and Sister Anne Marie Farrell) who together were a key part of the two years of foundation training the Methodist Church gave me.
Today Mark reminded us of three key themes that he focused on during the last 4 years in the Connexional Team
- Encouraging the people of the Methodist Church to be kind to each other. Building relationships and bridges across the connexion.
- Encouraging the Methodist Church to think strategically and intentionally about what we are doing, why we are doing it and what outcomes we expect/want.
- and very much at the heart of all that Mark always does. Encouraging the Methodist Church to deepen our discipleship and gain in confidence as we talk of God.
Hearing Mark speak again on those things reminded me how consistently I have been encouraged and inspired by him over the years in all those things.
Mark was one of the key people who inspired and supported me in my initial training.
After Mark's farewell it was good to have a chat with another key person from my past. Ann Leck (Vice President of the Methodist Church in 2001) leads a group in our District for under 5's (Ministers who have been ordained but have not yet completed 5 years service). Ann was also one of the leaders of the series of retreats I went on for Ministers reaching the end of their first appointment. Both those were incredibly helpful for me and Ann is always good to talk to with both wit and a tendency to powerful insights.
Then it was time for the second farewell, this time to John Ellis who has been Secretary for Connexional Team Operations. I have only got to know John during the three years I have been on Methodist Council but his integrity, commitment and determination to listen and respond has been outstanding. He is going on to be Lay Moderator of the URC a great choice by them.
So I left Methodist Church House feeling re-engergised, inspired and proud to be associated with these people and to have been trained and influenced by them. So much so that I realised afterwards that I had continued to wear my dog collar all evening because it is so good to be associated with people like Mark, Ann and John.
In this evenings service we went pretty deep into John 4, the woman at the well. I tacked it in three sections.
First, recognising that this is a popular and influential passage for many people I asked the congregation to share how the passage had influenced them and how they experienced it.
Secondly, we looked at some of the issues raised in Sandra Schneider's excellent book "The Revelatory Text" which helps with understanding the 5 husbands as well as challenging views of this first evangelist and the only person that John records fully theologically engaging with Jesus (for example contrast to Nicodemus). On the way we looked at the typology of the narrative in terms of Bride and Bridegroom as well as the key importance of Jesus describing himself as "I Am".
Thirdly, I explored the relevance for us today of the way this showed Jesus at work. How Jesus worked around even the newly forming structures/roles and went to people (the woman in this case) with no power or authority. How Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit still uses ordinary people to bring real change as they discover him as living water and share with their communities.
At the end of the service people wanted to carry on discussing and were asking for to do more "deeper" theology
Andrew Wilson of Newfrontiers recently wrote "I believe in women in ministry, the equality of men and women…" yet less than a week earlier he wrote Complementarianism and the Gospel in which he recomended a video to watch and some articles to read.
I am amazed that Andrew thinks that it is at all helpful to his argument to appeal to John Piper ("It's well worth a look").
John Piper has taught that a wife should endure verbal abuse for a season and that she should endure being smacked at least once (just a reminder that you can watch him saying this on youtube). [update see the comment below from Jon Bryon who corrects my paraphrase of John Piper's comments]
When I challenge Newfrontiers on Male Headship I am continually told that I am being unfair, that in fact they believe women and men are equal. They say that restricting the role of elders to only men and requiring women to submit to the leadership of their husband does not create or imply inequality. They tell me abuse is always wrong and they would never accept it. They tell me that gender roles are not about power and they do not make women vulnerable.
If that is true then why suggest that John Piper, who teaches women to accept abuse, is "well worth a look" (no warnings about his teaching). If Andrew had a teenage daughter would he want her listening to a preacher telling her to endure abuse (verbal for a season, physical at least once)?
Why isn't Andrew making it clear that Newfrontiers do not accept John Piper's teaching on abuse?
Newfrontiers are connecting themselves with people who hold extreme views and they are not saying these are wrong.
In the same post Andrew writes:
What do these people write that Andrew does not condemn?
"The rejection of biblical gender roles has dire implications for evangelical theololgy. The hermeneutics of egalitarianism are a blemish leading to theological cancer."
Oh well at least those of us who believe in equality are probably no worse at spelling "theology"!
Oh and by the way as someone whose parents both died of real cancer an expression like this is always going to be particularly welcome!
Elsewhere in the article:
"it is the potentialities of egalitarianism that make it so deadly, not its expression in any particular evangelical."
"This is not to say that every egalitarian will eventually become a heretic. Roger Nicole remained a convinced egalitarian and an evangelical stalwart all the way to the end. We can think of other individuals for whom egalitarianism has not and likely will never lead to an erosion of their fundamental evangelical commitments. Nevertheless, the issue at hand is not whether or not we can find orthodox evangelicals who are also egalitarian. The question at hand is whether or not egalitarian doctrine itself tends toward the erosion of fundamental evangelical commitments such as inerrancy, the doctrine of God, and penal substitutionary atonement. Is the egalitarian blemish benign or potentially malignant?"
Of course those quotes are from the "slightly more friendly angle" (note the assumption that the only alternative to an evangelical is a heretic and the very tight defintion of an evangelical, compare to the Evangelical Alliance).
The alternative is:
"The true gospel (the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus) calls us to a life of repentance and faith, and it is not possible to work together with men "in the gospel" when they are refusing to call people to repent of the principal corruption of our day, which is that of sexual confusion. This confusion includes homosexuality, porn, fornication, divorce, women's ordination, and so on. This is the front line of the battle, and if I decline to strike hands with a man who is confused at this point, I am not saying that he is going to Hell. I am only saying that if he cannot detect a strategic moment in history like this, then he ought not to be a general. Keep him on our side, but him back in the Red Cross tent and ask him to wind some bandages."
When Andrew Wilson says he believes in equality you need to consider the people he wants Newfrontiers to learn from. People who say that women should endure abuse; that women's ordination is to be ranked with porn and fornication; and that egaliarianism is a deadly cancer leading, most but not quite every person, to becoming a heretic.
According to Google a lot of sites think you can tell a lot about a person by the company they keep.
By A voice on 07/09/2012 at 08:56
As a woman within a newfrontiers church, but not brought up with the same DNA, and having been a part of a number of different Christian streams I have to be honest and say that I do not feel free to be all that God has called me to be within my newfrontiers church. I find blogs like this unhelpful as they make me feel even more uneasy about being in a newfrontiers church. Sometimes I wish the men would concentrate on discussing what the big says about there role and being a “prohistami” man, and leave us ladies to be free to be all that God has called us to be. I read this thread last night and it disturbed my peace. This morning my bible reading was judges 3 about Deborah and Jael. Thankyou Jesus!
The most recent comment on the blog is now more than 24 hours later:
By Adam Voke on 08/09/2012 at 10:28
In that time I think 7 people from Newfrontiers have commented on the post. Not one of them has responded to "A voice". In that time I have referred to the comment by "A voice" 3 times and asked Newfrontiers why they have ignored the woman who wrote it, they have responded to other points I have made but ignored "A voice".
Maybe someone can explain how ignoring a comment on the Newfrontiers theology blog (called "What You Think Matters"), from a woman who goes to a Newfrontiers Church, demonstrates that Newfrontiers considers men and women to be equal.
I have been engaging with the Newfrontiers Church again on the issue of equality. See The Pink Pamphlet: Soul Survivor’s Position on Women in Leadership | Theology Matters | Newfrontiers UK.
I suspect that my approach to the issue is probably as frustrating to Newfrontiers people. I get repeated requests from them to jump straight into biblical exegesis. However, I feel that is unhelpful and for several reasons.
Firstly, there is the problem of the hermeneutic circle.
Simplistically that recognises that there is no independent starting point when we approach Scripture. We come to Scripture and have interpret it from where we are now and that influences how we understand Scripture – if you like we are not and cannot be bias free. However, we would hope and expect that engaging with Scripture will change us and our views somewhat so that next time we come to Scripture we do so from a slightly different viewpoint.
This process has no end (hence Hermeneutic Circle).
When Newfrontiers and I approach the Bible on a issue such as equality we do so from very different positions and with very different experiences. These change the way we then understand what we read just as all that we have read of Scripture in the past has already changed who we are as we approach this time.
In a situation where we know our views differ so greatly and where neither Newfrontiers nor I can come to Scripture bias free it seems to me that it is best to spend some effort exploring the issues before approaching Scripture so that when we do so we can have a little more understanding of these biases and where we are each coming from.
Secondly, (and of course this is related to the first) I am deeply unhappy with approaching Scripture looking for verses and interpretations of verses to support a particular point. At it's worst these becomes a proof text battle where each side hits the other over the head with individual "clobber" verses and in the process the Bible is reduced to a club rather than the word of God. I find this irreverent and ineffective. Sadly, it is very hard to avoid this in discussions such as this where Andrew Wilson has already responded using a verse based approach to a paper written elsewhere.
Thirdly, I much prefer a wider view and approach to Scripture. As I read Scripture I want to be explicitly reflecting on how this relates to my whole model (understanding) of God. Too often you can work at the detail level and then when you look up suddenly realise that what you have ended up with is in conflict with your understanding of who God is and how God works. Sadly, very often people do not evaluate their conclusions in this way and sometimes this leads them to make some very odd claims.
Related to this is my great concern about taking verses from Scripture out of context. The phrase "a text without a context is a pretext" is rightly a popular one. Yet the danger is that if you that start with individual verses the context becomes a bolt on and molds to your purposes. At that point the pretext is shaping the context.
Fourthly, I am unashamedly a follower of Jesus. That aligns me with what some describe as a "red letter Christian". In other words when I am reflecting on Scripture I give more weight, more priority to the words of Jesus than anything else. It does not mean I restrict the Bible to only the words of Jesus but it does mean that everything is tested against the teaching, life, death and resurrection of Jesus. I again find this puts me into conflict with the Newfrontiers approach which tends to put more focus on the writing of Paul.
So what is my approach?
The most important individual tool for me in using the Bible is the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. That means I explore an issue using 4 sources which in priority order are
So the highest authority is given to Scripture but my understanding is explored by relating it to all the others. A key element of this approach that was assumed in the past but with our society needs to be handled explicitly is that this process is not individualistic but done as and in community. My understanding needs to be mediated by the Christian Community that I am a part of (and the more that is connected into wider Christian Communities the better).
In a way the Wesleyan Quadrilateral fits well with my understanding of the Hermeneutic Circle. Using the elements of tradition, reason and experience allows me to explore in a deliberate way what affects the way I approach Scripture. Far better to be be aware of these than ignore them.
However, the Wesleyan Quadrilateral is not the only approach I take to Scripture. It can easily be too intellectual and so it is important to me to balance this with other ways of approaching Scripture such as through worship or meditation.
Hopefully this first post sets the scene for why I appear to Newfrontiers to be slow to use Scripture when I want to challenge a their views on gender and equality.