That’s what Families Do.

When I was a kid, I remember getting so annoyed when my mom made me come in for supper.  I’d be right in the middle of playing with some friends, and here she’d come, telling me it’s time to eat.  The last thing I wanted to do was leave my buddies in order to go sit at a table next to my sister and eat meat loaf.  I’d always whine about it, but it didn’t matter.  It was time for supper, and we were going to eat together because that’s what families do.

Or maybe I’d be sitting on the couch watching TV or playing Nintendo and she’d come in and turn the TV off, saying, “It’s time for supper!”  Of course I’d whine about it, but it didn’t matter; I wouldn’t win the argument. It was time for supper, and we were going to eat together because that’s what families do.

Today I’m married and I have a daughter, and a lot of times we’d rather sit on the couch with our plates and watch Netflix.  Luckily for me, though, I have a wife who does a great job of saying, “I haven’t talked to you all day.  Let’s eat at the table.”  And so we sit down and eat supper together, because that’s what families do.

This Sunday my church family, The Ransom, will participate in the Lord’s Supper together.  Appropriately, we’re also starting a series on marriage.  I hope that moment will be a reminder for all us married couples to turn off the TV or tell our buddies that playtime is over.  It’s time to grow up and come home and sit down with our family and eat supper together.  Because that’s what families do.

One of the unique things about being part of a family is that you don’t get to just do what you want, when you want.  As appealing as it sounds, that way of living leads to spiritual death.  When I’m with family, I know that at the end of the day, no matter how much I’d rather play Nintendo, I have a bond with these people that goes deeper than what I feel like doing.  I owe it to them to come home.

The thing that binds us as family is the very body and blood of Christ, broken and poured out for us.  As we remember His sacrifice – the greatest example of selflessness the world has ever seen – we are reminded to let ourselves be poured out for one another as well.  We don’t just remember; we participate.  In doing so we realize that life isn’t all about us.  Rather, communion compels us to love and serve each other.  Because when it comes down to it, that’s what families do.

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Phoebe.

So far I’ve discussed several women who, while they demonstrated considerable spiritual leadership and influence, came along before the establishment of the Church as we know it today.  That’s why I’m pleased to introduce you to Phoebe.

The English Standard Version renders Romans 16:1 thus:

“I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae,”

Compare this to another popular translation, the New Revised Standard Version:

“I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church at Cenchreae,”

See the difference?  In one version, Phoebe is a servant.  In another, she’s a deacon. 

Why is this important?  It is important because in 1 Timothy 3:12, Paul places deacons in a unique position of church leadership and responsibility, categorizing them in the same way that he does overseers and elders.  In this passage, Paul gives stipulations to Timothy for what these deacons ought to be like.  Among them is this stipulation: they should be the faithful husband of one wife.

This matters because many want to prohibit women from church leadership because of Paul’s exortation that elders, overseers, and deacons be the husband of one wife when he’s writing to Timothy.  They say that this demonstrates that church leaders should be men.  This timeless and universal application of the text has other problems beyond the fact that Phoebe was apparently a deacon herself (for instance, Paul himself wasn’t the husband of one wife.  He wasn’t a husband at all).

The Greek word that nearly all translations render as “deacon” in Philippians 1:1 and Timothy 3:8 and 3:12 is the very same word that Paul uses to refer to Phoebe in Romans 16:1: diakonos.  Yet some translations refuse to call her a deacon; they turn Phoebe into a “servant.”  The ESV even goes so far as to translate it “servant,” and then add a footnote which says “or deaconess,” even though the same word is not translated “deaconess” elsewhere in the same translation.  For this translating committee, there is no way that Phoebe was a plain ol’ deacon.

It’s interesting that the ESV and NRSV translations translate diakonos exactly the same way in all 29 instances of it in the New Testament – except for one.  You guessed it: when it’s applied to the woman Phoebe.

I tried to identify what textual clues might designate when the word is translated “deacon” as opposed to “minister” or “servant.”  I noticed that any time the word is used in relation to local church ministry, it’s rendered “deacon.”  For instance, in 1 Timothy 3, the word occurs twice while Paul is describing local church governance.  Both times, it is translated “deacon.”  In Philippians 1, Paul is writing to the overseers and deacons at the church in Philippi, and again our English translators consistently use the word “deacon.” Phoebe is no different.  Paul specifically assigns her a post in a local church: she’s a diakonos in the church in Cenchrea.

She fits the bill for a deacon, it seems.  If only she were a man.

It’s important to know that there are passages in 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2 where Paul seems to take a pretty clear stance against women in ministry.  Don’t worry.  We’ll get to those.

But before we do, we’ve got one more lady to meet.  She’s easy to miss, tucked right there in the middle of Romans 16 with Phoebe.  Her name is Junia, and her story is the one that compelled me to write on this entire issue.  It’s that good.

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Women in ministry, part 3: the women at the tomb

This is the third installment of a series on women in ministry.

Early every Sunday morning, men all across our country rise and go to work.  These men are pastors.  They come to their pulpits to present the good news that Jesus Christ was crucified, died, and came back to life.  This ritual is repeated Sunday after Sunday.

I want to go back to the very beginning, to that first Sunday where this good news was proclaimed.  Who were the first ones to tell of Jesus’ death and resurrection?

In Luke 24, we find a group of women who decided to go honor their leader, Jesus, who was crucified three days before.  Much to their surprise, the stone was rolled away and the body was gone.  They didn’t have much time to panic before two shiny men appeared and uttered those famous words: “Why do you look for the living among the dead?  He is not here; he has risen!”

These angels proceeded to remind the women of Jesus’ words.  He was to be handed over, he was to be crucified, and then on the third day, he would rise again.

Handed over….crucified….resurrected….what does all this mean?

Suddenly, things must have clicked for these women.  This is a huge moment in history.  These women were the first to start to piece together the meaning of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.  They immediately went and told these things to the men.  These women, you see, preached. 

One of those women, Mary Magdalene, gets spotlighted in the book of John.  The resurrection account in John 20 has Mary as the first to see the resurrected Christ.  After a brief interaction with him, she is commissioned: “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father.  Go instead to my brothers and tell them, I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”  She proceeds to go to the disciples and proclaims, “I have seen the Lord!”

Exactly what constitutes an “apostle” in the New Testament is not simple to nail down, but it is generally understood that an apostle is someone who meets 2 criteria: someone who has seen the risen Christ (1 Cor. 9:1) and someone who is commissioned with a message.  It’s interesting; Mary fits both of those criteria.

Maybe this is why the medieval Church began referring to Mary as apostolarum apostola – “Apostle to the apostles.”  So the next Sunday morning that you hear the phrase “he is risen!”, don’t forget who the first humans were to utter such a magnificent truth.

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Women in Ministry 2: Huldah

Have you ever heard of Huldah?  If not, don’t feel bad.

Many haven’t heard of her.  I grew up in church and I don’t think I ever heard her mentioned once.  I don’t think I’ve mentioned her once in my own ministry either.  It’s unfortunate, because this prophet’s words launched Israel’s greatest revival.[1]  I think it’s time for Huldah to get the attention she deserves.

It all started with King Josiah, who was unique among the kings of Judah and Israel because he actually wasn’t terrible.  Unlike most of the kings, he “did what was right in the sight of the Lord” (2 Kings 22:2).  The temple in Jerusalem, and for that matter almost all the religious practices of God’s people, had morphed into something almost unrecognizable from the faithful worship that had taken place in the old days.  Pagan idols and rituals had crept in to their worship and taken over their temple.  Thankfully, for a reason that only God knows, King Josiah sent his secretary to the high priest Hilkiah with the instructions to appropriate funds to repair the temple.

Apparently the renovation was a good idea, because in the process Hilkiah discovered a dusty old scroll that turned out to be the “book of the law,” which is believed to have been the first five books of the Bible.  They cracked it open for the first time in generations and proceeded to read all of God’s stern warnings about what would happen if the nation didn’t remain faithful to Him.

Oops.

Josiah knew they’d messed up bad.  Something had to be done.  They needed some guidance, and it had to be good.  They needed a prophet.

Josiah passed over prophetic heavy-hitters of the day such as Jeremiah, Zephaniah, Nahum, and Habakkuk[2] and decided to take this critical issue up with someone else: Huldah.  So in a scene that is packed with relevance for our discussion today, the King and his right hand men, along with the high priest of the Temple, rolled up to Huldah’s door and asked her what to do about this new discovery.

I’ll say that again: the king, his men, and the high priest went and consulted a woman on an issue of utmost spiritual and political importance.  And her prophecy thundered throughout the entire land, bringing about a reform unlike any before it.  And yet, women have not been allowed to lead in ministry throughout most of history, and to a large extent this continues today.  Josiah proceeded to smash every trace of paganism to be found in the nation.  He restored the celebration of the Passover meal for the first time since the days of the Judges.  Pagan sorcerers were put away and God’s law was once again upheld.

Now that’s what I call a word of the Lord!

If God used Huldah then, then God wants to raise up more Huldahs now.  Perhaps there is a revival waiting to sweep across the land when our sisters in Christ are enabled and encouraged to open their mouths and speak.  If that’s the case, then it’s the church’s job to find ways to do it.

Don’t believe what I said?  Read it for yourself! 2 Chronicles 34:8-28, 2 Kings 22:3-30.  Next time, we’ll move into the New Testament, and learn about how the very first preachers of the gospel were women.


[1] McKnight, S. (2011). Junia is Not Alone: Breaking our Silence About Women in Ministry. Englewood: Patheos Press.

[2] Ibid.

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Women in ministry 1: Deborah

Before we get started I need to make three things clear.

First, some of you reading this might not understand what the big deal is.  The question of “women in ministry” may not even be a question in your mind, and you may not even realize that it is, in fact, something of a controversy within this faith we call Christianity.  Others may find the question, “should a woman lead a congregation?” downright silly and maybe even offensive.  Let me assure you, I wouldn’t broach the subject if there wasn’t a controversy surrounding it.  Since it’s controversial, the questions need to be addressed.  In other words, I’m not trying to stir up an argument – the argument is already there.  I’m trying to do my part to resolve it.

Second, I want to admit that I don’t think this issue is simple or easy.  My high regard for the Bible means that I approach any question of interpretation with as much care and thought as I can muster.  People who don’t think women should lead men in ministry honestly have some pretty good material to back them up.  I just think they’ve missed the point of that material.  The New Testament, when properly read, points toward a new reality that is being realized in our midst.  It’s a reality where “there is neither Jew or Greek, slave or free, male nor female,” but we are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28).  This is what the kingdom that Jesus rules looks like, and it’s the kingdom that is both “now and not yet.”  Christians should be finding ways to realize this kingdom in the here and how.

Third, I just want to say early on that my research this semester has convinced me more than ever that the Bible affirms women in every aspect of the ministry.  What’s more, it has lit a fire in my belly for this issue.  The weight of what we’ve done – that we’ve effectively silenced the voices of half the Church for two millennia – has struck me harder than ever before.  This upsets me because I’ve missed out on the words that God may have wanted share with me through women that were silenced.  It upsets me because the Church today would probably be in much better shape if we had not missed nearly 2000 years of opportunities to listen to our sisters in Christ.  It upsets me because countless women have probably felt a call to ministry-much like I did-but never followed through with it because of this.  It upsets me because the lengths that some have gone to in order to maintain a patriarchal church structure have been at times downright deceitful (wait till we get to the story of Junia!).  It should upset you too.

OK, enough of that.  Time to get down to business.  I wrote a paper on this issue for my master’s program this semester, and as such it is not very appropriate for a blog post.  So over the next few weeks I’ll be posting a series on women in ministry, including stories of women in the Bible who were ministers, as well as some insights on relevant Bible texts that have been used to both support women in ministry and to argue against it.  Today, we start in the Old Testament.  I want to introduce you to Deborah.

Deborah: Prophet, Judge, Military Strategist, Leader.

Any good investigator should seek to uncover the whole story.  When it comes to the question of women in spiritual leadership over men, we too must first uncover the whole story.  One of the earliest and most significant instances of this is found in the book of Judges.

In Judges, the nation of Israel was continually bouncing in and out of apostasy.  Periodically, they would get themselves into trouble (in the form of capture by an enemy nation) and God would graciously raise up a judge who would deliver them (2:16).  Deborah is one such judge.

If you grew up going to Sunday school, you have probably heard of the book of Judges.  You may or may not be familiar with the story of Deborah.  This is unfortunate because you’re probably very familiar with Samson, the machismo guy who got himself into all sorts of trouble through his arrogance.  Samson may have an amazing story, but he was arguably the worst judge of them all.  You may have heard of Gideon as well.  Deborah might have gotten a nod, but her story is rarely preached.

As a judge, she exercises legal authority as she administers justice to the whole nation of Israel from her home base under the “palm of Deborah.”  It was here that the whole nation of Israel “came to her to have their disputes decided” (Judg. 4:5).  She exercises militaristic authority over Barak son of Abinoam (and therefore an entire army) as she gives him the marching orders to take his men to Mount Tabor in order to conquer Sisera.  Barak responds by pleading for her presence with him (4:6-8).  Most significantly, Deborah exercises significant spiritual leadership over the men of Israel through her designation as a prophet (4:4), which is demonstrated in her pronouncement over Balak (v. 9), not to mention the prophetic nature of the “Song of Deborah” which takes up all of chapter 5.  However, it is also quite significant to note that the ancient Israelites would not have understood the distinctions between types of leadership that I just imposed.  “The notion of the separation of civil and religious authority makes no sense in the theocratic life of Israel at this time” (Davis, 2009).  However, it is helpful for the modern reader to understand the full depth and breadth of her leadership, which was indeed instituted by God, who “raised up judges” (2:16).

That’s not all that’s significant about Deborah.  She has some uncanny parallels to another prophetic figure you may have heard of: Moses.  Here’s what John Davis has to say:

“Both Moses and Deborah functioned  as judges (Exod. 18:13, Judg. 4:4); both sat for judgment, and the  people  came  to  them  (Exod.  18:13,  Judg.  4:5);  both  proclaimed  the  word  of  the  Lord  (Exod.  7:16,  Judg.  4:6);  both  were  proph- ets  (Deut.  18:15,  Judg.  4:4);  both  pronounced  blessings  (Exod.  39:43,  Judg.  5:_4);  both  pronounced  curses  in  the  name  of  the  Lord (Deut. _7:15, Judg. 5:_3); both had military generals (Joshua,  Barak); both gave instructions to the people as to how the Lord  would defeat the enemies (Exod. 14:14, Judg. 4:6); in both cases,  the  Lord  caused  the  enemy  in  chariots  to  panic  and  flee  (Exod.  14:_4,  Judg.  4:15);  God’s  victory  is  told  first  in  prose  (Exod.  14,  Judg. 4), then in poetry (Exod. 15, Judg. 5); Moses (and Miriam,  Exod. 15:1) and Deborah (and Barak, Judg. 5:1) led the people in  worshipping God after their great deliverance.12 In Judges, Debo- rah  appears  as  a  “second  Moses”  figure  whose  authority  derives  from the God of Sinai.”[1]

Some have argued that God used Deborah because there just weren’t any men who were obedient at the time.  If there had, then surely God would have preferred to have a man be in charge.  This view ignores the commendation of the many obedient male leaders in Israel at the time (Judges 5:2, 5:9).  Deborah, it seems, was God’s choice for Israel in a dire moment in their history.

Others may point out that Deborah’s leadership is a far cry from the New Testament description of local church ministry.  The Church as we know it had not yet begun, so how can she be used to demonstrate the validity of women in ministry?  A lot could go into this discussion, but for me it boils down to this.  God’s redemptive purposes can be seen all throughout the Old Testament.  I believe they are more fully realized in the New, but we can’t discount clear examples of God breaking social barriers in the Old.  This happens all over in the OT and this is no small example.

Deborah is a dynamic example of a woman leading men in judicial, militaristic, and spiritual ways.  If I could go back in time, I would ask my Sunday School teachers to not only teach me about those male Judges who messed plenty of things up.  I’d want to hear about Deborah, too – and the many other women that have that weren’t talked about, such as Huldah.

Who is Huldah, you say?  I’m glad you asked.  We’ll find out next time.



[1] Davis, J. (2009). First Timothy 2:12, the Ordination of Women, and Paul’s Use of Creation Narratives. Retrieved April 22, 2012 from CBE International: http://www.cbeinternational.org/?q=content/free-articles

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Are you disillusioned with your church?

Do the people at your church ever annoy you?

Maybe it’s gone beyond annoyance.  Maybe you’ve been hurt by your local church.

Perhaps it’s the leadership.  Maybe the pastor seems to be more interested in politics than he does the Bible.  Or perhaps you’ve heard too many one sided, thoughtless, or even bigoted opinions espoused by those who think they speak for God.  Or the church’s programs don’t match your idea of what a church should be.  Who knows, maybe there’s been a serious sin issue within the leadership.  Let’s face it, all these things happen in churches all across the country…and it probably happens every day.  No wonder people get disillusioned with the Church.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was not oblivious to the fact that Christians sometimes fail to live out their claims.  He watched as many of his Lutheran countrymen supported Hitler, even while he stood in resistance to him – which would eventually cost him his life.  His words about Christian community, then, are very pertinent:

“The serious Christian…is likely to bring with him a very definite idea of what Christian life together should be and to try to realize it.  But God’s grace speedily shatters such dreams.”[1]

In other words, God, in his grace, doesn’t let us stay in our idealistic dreams of Christian community for very long.  He goes on:

“Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by a great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves.”[2]

He has much to say about the importance of disillusionment in genuine Christian community.  It’s important because “A community…which insists upon keeping its illusion when it should be shattered, permanently loses in that moment the promise of Christian community.”[3]

Bottom line: the Church is a mess, but there is grace to be found in wading through that mess.  To quote Bonhoeffer one last time: “Christian community is not an ideal, but a divine reality.”[4]

In John 6:53, Jesus tells the people that “unless you eat the flesh of the son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.”  This bizarre statement was more than many of them could handle.  In fact, it says that afterward “many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.” (v. 66).  What’s fascinating is that Jesus used Greek word sarx for his “body.”  Sarx is not the only Greek word he could have used, but it is the one that connotes the negative aspects of the body – with it’s sickness, it’s smelliness, and it’s limitations.[5]  It seems that for Jesus, life is available in the very act of bearing with the hardships that are sure to be found when we follow him.

The Church is a mess.  It’s true, sometimes evil works its way into the life of a church in such a way that people really should leave.  However I suspect that the majority of people leave not only a church, but the very mold that God wants to form them with.

Pastors are the worst offenders.  We pastors can talk all day about the importance of the local church.  We get upset when people leave for the bigger, better ministry down the street.  Yet we are constantly looking for the next step in our careers.  It’s to the point that for many pastors, a 5 year stint at a church would be considered long.  We go to conferences that teach us how to lead our churches to the “next level,” and now we are obsessed with obtaining something that does not yet exist to the point that we cannot appreciate the ministry happening under our noses.  The slightest whiff of a dissenting church leader, insubordinate volunteer, or even a legitimate concern over a sermon we preached can cause us to be dismissive toward the very people we are called not to dismiss.

This is a message to the pastor who cannot appreciate his or her congregation for who they are, and it’s a message to the young idealist who has it all figured out, and it’s a message to the church-hopper who just “felt led” to leave.  Be careful, because you might be cutting yourself off from the very thing you need: disillusionment.

Because sometimes our dreams have to be shattered before we can see God’s grace.


[1] Bonhoeffer, D. (1954). Life Together. (p. 26).  New York: Harper & Row.

[2] Ibid., p. 27

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] See Ronald Rolheiser, The Holy Longing.

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My dilemma…

“In an article published in Christian Century, Jackson Carroll reports that a survey of the reading habits of evangelical clergy reveals that no theologian is among their favorite authors, no theology is among their most recently read books, and no theological journal is among their frequent reading.”  

This captures the predicament I often deliberate over: what happened to the pastor scholar?  Is education even useful in ministry anymore?  Does my desire to pursue more education simply guarantee that I will slowly fade into irrelevance as a pastor?  How can we bring together the abstract and the concrete?  Is the ability to think theologically even useful anymore in ministry?

It’s like we’ve casted our unique voice aside in favor of poor attempts to mimic the voices of others.

I like depth.  I have two books on ecclesiology sitting next to me now, plus one on my Kindle I just bought.  I guess I have been holding onto hope that the likes of Gilbert Bilezikian and Stanley Grenz might be at least as useful to me as Craig Groeschel and Steven Furtick.  But in a climate that predominantly measures a pastor’s success with words like “relevant” and “strategic,” things are not looking good for the usefulness of the former two names I mentioned.

I want to be a pastor who doesn’t stop believing that deep cries out to deep.  I want to be an artist that blurs the lines between heaven and earth.  

I believe that to do this, we must learn to think theologically again.

 

Wilson, J. R. (2005). Practicing Church. In M. Husbands, & D. J. Treier (Eds.), The Community of the Word: Toward an Evangelical Ecclesiology. Downers Grove: InterVarsity.

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