And so in Jesus we see both sides. And in the book ‘Meaning of Marriage’ Kathy Keller puts it this way and this is great: “In Jesus we see all the authoritarianism of authority laid to rest, and all the humility of submission glorified.” We all get to play the Jesus role. Whether it’s in the nuclear family or in the church family, all of us get to live out this calling that Jesus models for us. So how do we do that? What does it look like to live as a servant-leader or as a strong helper?
Again, this is the split-in-two Jesus. Men lead like Jesus, women submit like Jesus. Men are sort of supposed to submit to God but not to their wives, women aren’t supposed to lead their men, but the can kind of sort of lead other women or children. We see both sides, but are the interdependent? Do they connect? We all get to play half of Jesus’ role. And that’s if we have a nuclear family – not everyone does. There’s nothing here that helps non-traditional families, which are on the rise. And the consistent use of ‘men and women’ means that it can be stretched to apply kind of sort of in the lives of singles, both men and women because maleness and femaleness are still true even of the not-marrieds. As to Church families – that depends on the church. Some churches allow women lots of leeway to exercise their callings and gifting, other churches deny practically everything.
Well the first place to look at it is to precisely think about it where 1 Cor. 11 is … what does it look like here? And in corporate public worship? Do we participate together, men and women speaking to God, speaking God’s Word to each other? Are we careful about how we carry ourselves including how we dress when we’re here so that we don’t do anything to detract from the attention going to God? Are we unwittingly bringing signs of our status or are we lacking self-control in some way that calls attention to us and doesn’t help people focus on God and God first?
I remember being told that Sunday Morning was the most segregated hour of the week. For many churches are overwhelmingly white. It’s also true of gender relations, many churches having overwhelmingly male leadership. Women are allowed to ‘lead’ only under the authority of men, they serve in the women’s or children’s ministries mostly, sometimes the soup kitchen or donation/charity ministries. But for the most part, men alone are the pastors, the teachers, the leaders of the church. In this way, it’s not men and women speaking God’s word to each other. It’s men speaking God’s word to other men and their women. Modesty teachings are often unfairly focused on women as if the only problem men have in that department are the women and are under no obligation to be modest themselves and certainly are not to be modest in the same way that women are. Being prominent in the church, having status is often closely tied with maleness. The elders and deacons, the men of good standing, the men of good reputation … let me put it another way. In some churches, the worship service involves a man leading the order of worship. A worship dude might strum his guitar and lead the songs, or just indicate which hymn we will all sing. A group of men might come up to collect offering or serve communion. Another man will preach out of the Bible. Finally, a guy will give a closing prayer. In one of my churches, the (male) pastor and (male) musicians would meet upstairs with the (male) elders and (male) deacons to pray for the service before it even began, not once were women invited to join them to pray for the service, for the singing, for the sound board, for the children’s moment or anything; every Sunday I’d look up and see a circle of men praying and a room full of women being excluded. For many churches, the exercise of worship is lead by men. Some churches don’t even let women read the scripture. This calls attention on something ‘proper’ in men that makes them fit to lead and officiate worship, whereas women are not ‘proper’ helpers suitable for this role. Men are alone and it is not good. It takes my attention away from God when I wonder what flaw he must have created women with that women can’t visibly participate, officiate, lead, pray for/over or interact in the worship space.
Well there’s a much wider circle, obviously, how do we live together as men and women? And if you go to the Bible and you want to find “o.k. I need concrete, I need specifics, give me A, B, and C so that I know what to do.” Well you’re going to find surprisingly the Bible doesn’t tell us that. The Bible is conspicuously quiet when it comes to giving us the details in the concrete. It gives us the pattern and it gives us the attitude and there are patterns of exhortations that are particularly for men and particularly for women but there’s not a lot of specifics. And I think it’s precisely to account for human diversity. To recognize that all of us are different and across time and space that we’re different. That what would be true for an ancient agrarian culture isn’t necessarily it doesn’t look the same today in the post-industrial west. The principles are true but the way we work it out can be different.
Did you ever read that story about the black kid who drew a black Jesus because he was taught that he was made in God’s image and so God had to look like him? I think that’s true of whatever principle we try to distill from the Bible and force it to apply across time and space. Whatever was originally said, we’re willing to draw it in our own context so that it applies and is like us and we are like it enough to make it apply. If we had concrete specifics about manhood and womanhood, than we’d go around policing everything to make sure it was Biblical. To that end, we would focus on nothing but being the most Biblically biblical men and women we could be, we’d write books, visit conferences, and raise our sons and daughters to be Biblically biblical men and women from the very beginning – making sure their toys and their clothes were sufficiently biblically masculine or feminine. There is diversity – but we have to account for the diversity being the opposite of what the Bible commands and be willing to accept it. Some people should not be placed in positions of authority because they lack the ability to not abuse the authority given to them even though they’re the correct gender. Some people need to be given permission to disregard authority because they have a higher authority who demands that they do the right thing even if it means saying “no” to the other authority. Women need permission to tell men “no.” Men need to respect women enough to take “no” seriously. After all, men aren’t the head, both men and women have a head in Christ.
One thought on “Sermon Decoding – Part 7”
Your thoughts on this are awesome. And I agree 100%!
I was reading 1 Corinthians 7 yesterday, and was struck by how this entire chapter has been ‘overlooked’ by complementarians and those ascribing to Christian Patriarchy. Here, Paul is very clear that it is better to be single. In all the years I spent in fundamentalist churches, I never once heard a Pastor preach on 1 Corinthians 7. Why is that?
“I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord; but the married man is anxious about the affairs of the world, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried woman and the virgin are anxious about the affairs of the Lord, so that they may be holy in body and spirit; but the married woman is anxious about the affairs of the world, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to put any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and unhindered devotion to the Lord.” (1 Cor. 7:32-35, NRSV)
[note: see how the roles husbands and wives each play in marriage are the SAME here– to please the other? Never heard a sermon on that either…]
I think that Christian Patriarchy requires that people enter into marriage relationships in order for men to truly wield power over women. Which is why the institution of marriage is held in such high esteem. Clearly, Paul holds celibate singlehood in high esteem. So, how did this happen that Christian sects so vocal about ‘Biblical’ manhood and womanhood, fail to preach the holiness of remaining single? Is it not the teachings of men being used to seek power over others that has led them this way?
1 Cor. 7 is a great chapter for those of us in egalitarian marriages. In verse four, the ‘one flesh’ concept of marriage is explained by Paul thusly: “For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.”
Taken at face value, this could be seen as offensive in the face of the importance of consent, but what I think Paul is getting at is that marriage is a giving up of ourselves as much as it is a being given to, and BOTH parties are indebted to each other in the same fashion– one is not given the right to lead over nor usurp the authority of the other.
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