Sermon Decoding – Part 1

When one is in the market for a new church, using a church’s website is a valuable tool in which you can learn everything you need to know. Some churches are kind enough to link you directly to the denomination to which they belong, or give you massive PDF files telling you their creeds, statement of faiths, vision, distinctives, marks, what have you. Others are anybody’s guess. In such cases, the best way to see what kind of church you’re dealing with is to listen to the sermon archives – preferably for any of the passages that speak to what they believe about men and women and family and marriage – Genesis 1-3, Ephesians 5, 1 Timothy 3, 1 Corinthians 14, and if a church is feeling particularly bold – 1 Cor. 11. 1 Cor 11 is the sort of verses that for the longest times pastors just skipped. Nobody really knew what to make of them. In recent years, there’s been a rediscovery of them, and so they serve as as an excellent litmus test for churches that tend to hide behind being non-specific as they have no choice but to really lay all of their cards down on the table. What follows is a sermon that was preached about two months ago at a mega church in the south. I started taking less than complete notes, but then I realized it would be easier to transcribe large chunks of it. Now my carefully trained ears decoded a lot of Complementarian concepts and language – but churches that don’t often make it obvious that’s where they stand can often fool people who don’t know what to look out for. So it serves as an excellent example of what one is likely to find in such churches. My comments are in green:

[Paul] He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction. – 2 Peter 3:16; If it wasn’t easy for Peter and the people with whom he was writing to understand what Paul says, how much more is that true for us?

This thought is thrown away here – almost as if it’s a nod to the idea that ‘they couldn’t understand Paul, but they didn’t have the benefit of two millennium of men thinking about what he said, so we understand it totally and now you can disregard this ideas we move forward.’

On relationship – any genuine relationship should include disagreement / contradiction, otherwise it’s not really a relationship – if God can’t disagree or contradict us, then we’re probably not listening to God. Jesus is the most important thing.

What about God’s relationship with us? It’s not much of a relationship if God can’t be disagreed / contradicted, because that would mean that God’s probably not listening to us. Either way it’s sliced, it’s a one-sided relationship – a ship with no relating going on. He was saying some to the effect of that it’s important that in our relationship that we be willing to change, but this isn’t expected to be something that God does – in our relationships with us as individuals, he doesn’t change.

What’s going on in Corinth? “every woman who prays or prophesies” In a Greco-Roman context, men and women were in separate places, they didn’t participate together. The men were active, the woman were quiet and passive. The Christians are counter-cultural. Everyone is participating because that’s the fulfillment of vision. ““And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.” – Joel 2:28; It is not the problem, but from whence the problem comes. Men and women are in the same place doing the same thing – what’s the proper manner, attire, to maintain differences?

I’m usually a fan of pointing to culture in order to draw a more accurate picture of what’s going on in the church. There’s just one problem – we don’t always know what things were like. Sometimes we know what we’re looking for, and we stop when we find it, not bothering to delve deeper to see if things were different than our expectations – confirmation bias. We know that there was a church in Corinth, but we don’t know where it was, if it was a house church, what the meetings were like, or anything like that. Not in any of churches. We do know that Corinth had synagogues, and from the synagogues came the believers who formed the church. Take a look at the concept that men and women must maintain differences in worship. Elsewhere in Scripture, there doesn’t seem to be a definite listing of how men and women are to worship differently as men and women. This idea originates not from Scripture, but from the culture in which Scripture was written. According to ‘The First Letter to the Corinthians’ by Roy E. Ciampa and Brian S. Rosner: “Part of the regulation of contacts between men and women in the Roman world was reflected in the understanding that when it came to worship men and women were to occupy distinct places and/or distinct roles. Women were either excluded from public and private religious life or confined to it’s ‘alien’ and fringe aspects. … Furthermore, even in ‘mixed sanctuary places’ (where both men and women would be involved in worship at the same time), a ‘distinction between the place of men and that of women is still seen as crucial’ and ‘a fundamental notion … seems to be that some physical places are for men and some for women, or some ritual roles are for men and some for women. Often the spaces or roles for men are placed closer to the ritual center, or in other ways hierarchically placed over those for women.”Where sanctuary spaces were shared by both genders, gender differentiation tended to be by way of role differentiation.” The problem is not that women were praying, prophesying, speaking – as an alien or fringe belief system, that’s part of it’s appeal. The problem is that men and women are doing the same thing and there is no difference between them. As Christians in the Roman empire – somebody had to ask the question what’s the best way to satisfy the Roman rules about contact between men and women and maintain differences. The thing is, it’s in the letter not because the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to instate a rule that women have to wear head coverings, it’s there because somebody asked how ought differences to be maintained in keeping with Roman regulations.

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