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All Things are Yours

"… whether Paul, Apollos, Cephas, the world, life, death, the present, or the future— all things are yours, but you are Christ's…" (I Cor 3)

Author

Heather G

God, Prayer, and Randomness

From a mathematical and practical standpoint, it seems that randomness and probabilities undergird the foundations of our universe.  (See here for an intro. ). Even for those things which are not TRULY random (like the outcome of a flip of the coin, which is really determined by a whole set of variables), the amount of complexity involved in seemingly random occurrences (such as the chance of a thunderstorm on a specific place and date a decade from now) is so overwhelming that these things are best described in terms of chaos theory and its probabilities and fractals.  (Our inability to exactly calculate Pi even after finding trillions of digits is an example of this complexity.)

RANDOMNESS and PRAYER

tile-193295_640As a believer in Christ, one of the things I noticed when I was younger and just beginning to really pray about things was that most often, answers to prayer just seemed like a string of really good “luck.”  Most of the time when we pray, nothing occurs that actually seems to break any natural laws (like limbs growing out, or objects materializing out of thin air.). Most of the time, it just ends up seeming like things went better than we could have expected them to go, with a line-up of freak coincidences and really impossible-to-conjecture happy occurrences just line up in.a way that leaves us in awe and praising God for how our prayers were heard.

Sometimes the string of “good luck” borders on the edge of ridiculous.   I’ll never forget the time in my teens that I decided I wanted to SEE an angel and locked myself in my room for hours doing nothing but tarrying in prayer over this, holding to Jesus’s promise that if we asked for ANYTHING in His name, it would be done for us.  While praying for so long, I had my eyes open and was staring into my aquarium as something to absent-mindedly look at while praying.   Hours into this prayer marathon, with not a soul in the world including my family having any idea what I was focused on that day and no previous discussions about it with anyone, my mom who had been gone all day long while I was doing this, uncharacteristically had a random thought to go to the pet store and buy me two new fish — angel fish — for my aquarium.

angel-fish-57060_640 It interrupted my prayers when she got home so I took a break to help her unload groceries and then put the bag floating in my tank to let the fish acclimate to the tank water, and ultimately shut my door and resumed my prayer, staring once again into my fish tank absently, until about 10 minutes in I realized I was looking right at “angels” that hadn’t been there when I started praying.  Ok, well, I certainly wasn’t expecting ANGELfish, while begging the Lord to let me see an angel.   Honestly, I was amused and angry at the same time, as I realized that for whatever reason, the joke was on me, as God demonstrated that He heard my prayer AND pretty much played with the semantics of my request to pull a joke on me which I was shocked to find out He might do.  

Again, when prayer seems to result in a ridiculous string of “good luck” – another time much later on, my husband went for a couple weeks without work and our finances were stretched, and for various reasons we also couldn’t use our kitchen so we were having to eat out.  While we prayed for the Lord to please bring him calls for work to provide for our bills, during that week our seeming “good luck” left us rejoicing in awe of the Lord’s kindness in the “ether” of the universe — a malfunctioning coupon code at one restaurant gave us our entire meal for free; at another restaurant, they mistakingly put mustard on something we asked for no mustard on, so they decided to fix the order AND give us 50% our entire meal.  And on and on, until it was literally ridiculous and happy.

These are the types of occurrences that could never be used in an apologetics debate to prove God to someone who doesn’t believe, but for those who already believe, the seeming “good fortune” that occurs when praying about stuff can be pretty amazing.  And yet accusations of “confirmation bias” might rightly be applied; which really only further underscores the point I wish to make – that overall, much of the time, God’s observed interactions with the physical universe are so subtle that they really look no different at all than the general randomness in the midst of overwhelming complexity that surrounds our existences.  And yet, answered prayer seems to put us on the “good luck” side of that incalculable, immeasurable, randomness.

evilIt should be mentioned that Curses, spiritual opposition, and general spiritual negativity seem to work like that too, though.  For instance, people are often aware that when they try to step out in some direction in life for the purpose of bringing freedom to people long held in some sort of oppressive bondage, that often they experience a string of “bad luck” and everything going wrong — as if some invisible force was pushing back at them for trying to see others get set free from things.

The apostle Paul said in 1 Thess 2:17-18:

“Brothers, although we were torn away from you for a short time (in person, not in heart), our desire to see you face to face was even more intense. For we wanted to come to you—indeed I, Paul, tried again and again—but Satan obstructed us….”  

 

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This of course leaves open all sorts of room for interpretation — while one person might see a string of negative occurrences as “satan obstructing them” from a course of action, another person might see the same type of circumstance as God trying to show them to make a different decision about what they are doing.  (The whole, “Open doors you want me to go through, God, and shut the ones you don’t,” sort of prayers that people sometimes pray, usually mean those people will take resistance not as a sign that satan is resisting them, but that God has “shut a door.”  I personally usually don’t lean towards assuming everything that happens is from God.)

worship-435108_640How can one know what is truly going on, whether general “flack” kicking up from the universe is just truly random, or perhaps a warning from God, or even a sign that one is headed in a right direction that evil forces don’t like?   That’s a long discussion for a different blog post — one about divine guidance, discernment of spirits, and hearing God.   But the short answer is that in my opinion, one can never make a decision based on circumstances alone; but must listen to the Holy Spirit to get His perspective, as different spirits (both God or evil spirits) can be responsible for things going on around us.  We can learn though that we are supposed to have some role though in making such decisions from the apostle Paul who confidently asked other believers to join with him to “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful, as you pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word [notice no prayers here for closed doors], so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may declare it clearly, as I should.…” (Colossians 4:3)

THE UNIVERSE ON AUTOMATIC

games-2025663_640All that aside, what about the kid who gets cancer, or the family killed in a freak car accident?  What about when prayer doesn’t “work” at all, and instead of a string of good luck, everything goes terribly wrong, or nothing much happens at all?  Is God (or satan) always to blame for the effects of seeming randomness?

As I learned about probability and chaos theory and brought some of those ideas into my faith, one time I felt God was inviting me to go to a casino with Him.  (I seldom go to casinos but all things are permissible — in moderation. 😃 ).   From that experience and multiple other “experiments” with randomness and probability, my opinion at the moment is this:  

Most of the time, the universe just runs on automatic, albeit with Christ holding all things together.  Most of the time, randomness is really just pretty random, with no One or ones specifically interacting with it.  

BUT — It seems as if randomness is a place that God can hide yet emerge, when He wants to exert His influence, yet in a seemingly inconspicuous way.  Most often, God’s exertion of His power is in conjunction with prayer, as God generally acts in conjunction with His human representatives, His kingdom of “kings and priests” on the Earth.  Those of us who are in the midst of developing intimacy and friendship with Him can ask and watch for these emergings, and participate with Him in seeing them happen as we dialogue with Him about His will and desires.  But most of the time even when God does do something unusual, He cloaks Himself with plausible deniability, so that only those with “eyes to see” really know that He has done something, and those whose eyes are still closed to Him can go on dismissing Him.  

explosion-123690_640Why He does that, I don’t know if anyone can be sure; we all would love every moment to be like Elijiah before the prophets of Baal, putting God on full display with fire falling from Heaven in impossible ways, in plain view of those who don’t believe so that their coming to believe would be easy.   But God doesn’t usually go for the full out, “breaking the laws of nature” power display….

(Although, sometimes, sometimes, He cracks right through the fabric of our mundane random reality with something completely out of this world, and undeniably freakish stuff happens.  Or does He?  Maybe in those cases He just operates within really, really, really good probabilities, so good that trillions of particles in the probability of quantum physics just “happen” to line up with creating a new organ or something…But whether it breaks the laws of physics or is just freakishly quantumly normal, this is really rare compared to what we’d often want it to be.).

My sense of this is just that God is Spirit, and He desires people to know Him in Spirit, so He hides Himself much of the time so that the only way He can truly be perceived is Spirit to Spirit.   Because even if someone comes to believe in Him because of experiencing something material of Him directly with the eyes of their flesh, somehow then they still have a hurdle of getting past what they experienced in outward terms to really still apprehending Him with the gaze of their inner Spirit.  (2 Corinthians 5:16)

RANDOMNESS AND THEISTIC EVOLUTION 

shell-219665_640There are considerations involving these topics when it comes to God using the randomness inherent to evolution to create all life on Earth. While evolution is not completely truly random but is a stochastic process operating under many filters and constraints, nevertheless there is enough randomness for one to refer to it as relying on probability and chance and be fairly correct.   Often young-earth creationists will take this as a basis to object to a belief in evolutionary creation/theistic evolution, which because of randomness is in their mind being synonymous with a view that “God isn’t a Creator” or that miracles don’t happen.

But, as discussed above, God lives inside randomness and probability, and it is one of His favorite means of interacting with the material realm.   If we are happy with answers to prayer that seem like nothing more than “good luck” while we indeed perceive that the “good luck” came from Heaven, while is it so unthinkable to concede that the mechanism of God’s direct action as Creator might involve Him breathing on probabilities and chances, even creating the fabric of probability and randomness itself?

nature-1571717_640When we speak of God “sending the rain” upon a place in response to prayer, do we think the rain came deliberately through some supernatural storehouse of precipitation, or can we speak of God sending precipitation knowing that He uses the same general random and chaotic occurrences that direct the weather on any other given day?  I’d like to submit that the well-known “butterfly effect” — that a butterfly flapping its wings one day one one continent could be the tiny variable that when mixed with all the others ends up producing a hurricane in some other place — could just as easily be seen any tiny intervention from God, resulting in Homo sapiens and all other life on Earth.

God working from the hidden places of randomness is no less an act of creation than anything construed from a literal historical reading of Genesis 1 and 2; and in fact serves only to demonstrate His indescribable wisdom and power in being able to use incredibly complex and long-running processes towards His desired ends.   For this, we praise the God of all life and all Creation, of all rain and all snow, and Creator of all the beautiful fractal patterns and outliers of this universe with all its probabilities and randomness.

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~HGM

 

 

 

 

 

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That Your Prayers May Not Be Hindered

I’ve been tossing around a different reading of 1 Peter 3:7.  Traditionally 1 Peter 3:7 gets read something as if it says something along the lines as this: “Don’t be a jerk, husbands, or God won’t listen to your prayers.”

Here’s the text:

Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.

While I kinda like the idea of husbands getting warned that unkind or dishonoring behavior towards their wives will result in….something….my guess is that most husbands who would treat their wives in an unkind way are also not thinking too much about whether or not God is going to hear their prayers later.   (Heck, maybe I’m wrong on that.)  But it has occurred to me that there is another way to read this, which I’ve found particularly elegant if it turns out to be true, and because it appeals to me so much, I thought I would blog it:

This verse prefaces the concept of “your prayers not being hindered” with a concept of equality — “heirs with you of the grace of life.”  Yes, I know this verse seems to strike against any such equality by calling women “weaker,” but, at least when it comes to spiritual and eternal things it puts women on equal footing with men, as co-heirs of the grace of eternal life.

So could it be possible that the apostle is not warning that failing to live with one’s wife in an “understanding way” will result in a hindering of the HUSBAND’S prayers, but rather a hindering of the prayers of them both, together, as a team of co-heirs?   After all, two people praying in unity together is preferable to one person’s prayers alone, and marital disharmony could definitely result in a breakdown of unified prayer between the two spouses.

I can think of reasons it’s probably not the most likely reading of this text…but I still like it.  The “your” in “your prayers not being hindered” is plural in the Greek, which could be due to the fact that the apostle is addressing plural husbands, but at least it’s not an “each of you” singular “your” which would rule my interpretation out.

At any rate, even if it is just referring to the husband’s prayers not being hindered, perhaps it is not simply some mystical hindering where God no longer listens to the man, but again, the hindering of not having his coheir helping him with his prayer life.  Just an experimental thought for the day.

The Housechurch Movement Ruined My Life

Catchy title, no?   I thought about various things I could call this blog post when I started writing it — things like, “The Dark Hole of House Church” and “the Dangers of Housechurch” and the “Slough of Housechurch Despondency.”   I finally settled on “The Housechurch Movement ruined my life” because, there’s enough truth in that to be worth titling this post that, and, I bet it will make you curious — and rightfully so.

First, let me talk about what I mean by “the Housechurch Movement.”  In recent years, regular institutional-style churches have taken to calling midweek meetings that go on in homes a whole host of names, anything from “life groups” to “cell groups” but occasionally “house church” or “home church.”   At any rate, these things are generally healthy and that’s not the house church movement I am talking about.

The House Church movement is a movement about leaving behind the trappings of institutional churches — such as sermons, preaching, pastors, church buildings, and everything that goes with all that, to have simple gatherings of friends in homes meeting on a very grassroots level to discuss their journey in Jesus, teach and pray with and for one another, and be a family together.   Different “streams” of the house church movement do things similarly or differently and have different viewpoints on how meetings of believers function, but, in general, the main distinctions of the movement are no formal leadership, open participatory meetings, and no church buildings.

Now in and of itself, I don’t actually think any of that is wrong.  If this is new to you, you might be intrigued or you might have a knee-jerk negative reaction and have a lot of objections in mind, and some are pretty common objections that I’d probably disagree with, because in many ways I am still a house church person at heart.  Vast stretches of blogs on the internet are devoted to justifying and explaining the Biblical basis for doing things this way, and fending off critics that would raise an alarm at lack of leadership and/or structure.   However, I’m not going to do either of those things as they are abundantly out there to read, except to say — I still have a huge love for grassroots meetings.  In fact, I am a participant in a house church even at this point in my life, and it has been a wonderful blessing in my and my husband’s life.

Ok, so, have I confused you yet?  (She says she has no issue with the concept of house church, and she is part of one, yet she is writing a blog about how the house church movement sucks?)  Yep, even though I am part of a house church, there are so many ditches and pitfalls in the house church movement that this blog post really still needs to be written.

THE GOOD, THE BAD, and THE UGLY

The good part about house church is that if you are in a terrible, blood-sucking, depressing institutional church situation, the house church movement is one place in Christendom that will tell you God still loves you and you’re not sinning if you stop going to church.   It tells you that you don’t even need to go to church at all, that church is wherever two or three are gathered, so if you have a friend or two you can fellowship with, you are just fine.   Short-term, this is freeing and life-giving to many people who need to know they are free from religious obligations to defunct church systems and are going somewhere they hate going thinking that God requires them to attend something.  Short term, it is good to have the freedom to walk away from things that aren’t working and not be buffeted by soft-spoken condemnations such as “but you should stay and make this horrible church better” when you are totally not in a position to do so.

church-1081718_640But long-term, and by that I mean longer than the [half year to two years or so] time it takes to clear one’s head and recover from a bad church experience, it’s not good to dig in one’s heals about not going to church, because we’re all made for community with others and after a while spiritual isolation becomes really traumatic all by itself.   This is even more true if you are a single person hoping to find a Christian spouse, or, if you are a parent hoping to raise children excited about being followers of Jesus.   Hundreds if not thousands of people out there on the internet pride themselves in “being the church” instead of “going to church” and while the freedom not to be imprisoned in some religious system of things is meaningful, the tendency is to end up feeling really doctrinally correct but oh so isolated.  

Many of those thousands of out-of-church people in the house church movement, including me under the influence of house church dogma, desperately WANT fellowship, but are encouraged to hold out with occasional fellowship with a few friends while waiting for the utopian dream of a real, bonafide, healthy house church in their area — or moving to another area of the country to find one.

You wouldn’t have known how isolated I felt — or others feel — by the way we defend our out-of-church circumstance to well-meaning Christians (by whom I considered myself “attacked”) who naively seem bewildered by a brother or sister who refuses to participate in a regular church. When years roll on being alone and fellowshipping only online or occasionally with the two or three friends in an 100 mile radius one has that echo their own viewpoint becomes one’s entire experience of life in the body of Christ, it can be very bad for one’s spiritual progression.  This slowly becomes as toxic and damaging both emotionally, socially, and spiritually as any bad situation one may have left behind.

And here’s the rub — I know too many people, myself having been one for too much of my life — who were so critical of how church should or shouldn’t Biblically function that we ended up in the wilderness for years on end, suffering needlessly in isolation while we convinced ourselves that we were loving the body of Christ while holding out for this ideal way of meeting with believers, and refusing to become involved with any group of Christians that weren’t doing it right.  I didn’t realize it but this had become a false robe of righteousness for me, my “right” ideas about how the church should function — and I was encouraged by others in the movement that I was suffering for being on the right path.   This was such a lie, and I wasted years of my life believing it…  I left one negative system to end up in a psychological nightmare worse as bad as any system out there.

(And as a single person, it may have been the single most important factor in delaying me getting married until my forties, something that some people might choose willingly but with my hopes of having children, I did not.)

TOO FOCUSED ON A TWO HOUR MEETING

Church is minimally two hours a week – yet the house church movement makes things seem like what happens in this two hour block of time is the be-all of God’s concern for His people – the “ultimate intention” he has for His bride on Earth.   When I bought into that idea, I found a great house church that did everything right — for those two hours.  We had amazing meetings under the headship of Christ, open participation and all.  But I need up scratching my head at how we could have such great meetings and yet, almost no community during the other 166 hours of the week.   I stayed way too long in a soul-killing situation, because I believed what really mattered was how great this church was at having a good meeting.

men-2425121_640I finally realized that it doesn’t matter how great or how lousy the church structure is — what really ends up mattering is the fabric of community the rest of the week.   Since then, I’ve also scratched my head at institutional churches I visited with that were horribly restrictive and exercises in sheer boredom for two hours, yet during the rest of the week people were spending time with each other, praying with each other, helping each other with life, being real friends and community.   I’ve marveled at God’s humor at juxtaposing these two situations in my life, almost to get me to ponder which is better or worse in His sight, until I realized that I was too busy trying to figure out what kind of church God approved of, and that this was a pretty legalistic way to think when the reality is that the best church is the one where I was growing the most with God and with others.

Yet, the House Church movement was all about Christ being the Head of His people but I started to realize — the Holy Spirit moves more among a group of folks who meet in a church building every week but know how to be family all week long, than a bunch of religiously prideful house churchers who have the perfect meeting for two hours on Sunday but never see each other otherwise.  Christ is interested in being the head of His people for all 168 hours of the week, not just a two hour meeting.

AND….THE VARIOUS EXPERTS OF HOUSECHURCH DON’T KNOW WHAT THEY ARE DOING

The obsession on meetings and getting them right doesn’t just detract from what goes on during the rest of the week, but it also keeps housechurches from meaningfully getting off the ground to begin with.  The internet is full of people trying to start their own housechurch that are begging someone to come teach them “how to have a meeting” with no one leading (except Christ, of course.)  This gets really paradoxical, with the ideal being to start something, but of course it can’t be you that starts something, it has to be Christ, so you constantly have to make sure you aren’t doing anything while partnering with Christ to do something, but of course that happens through you (and through others who have to make sure they aren’t doing anything either — ESPECIALLY not leading anything.).  It turns out to be a lot of work to make sure you aren’t doing anything while doing things yet not you but Christ in you.   A lot of work indeed, to the point of being confusing, which is why you might need an expert who also isn’t doing anything but is somehow also an expert at teaching you to not do anything except to let Christ do things, to come help you learn how to be better at not doing anything while doing something — yet not you, nor them.

I still see people in house church discussion groups asking “how to have a meeting without having anyone lead it” and “how do people with a teaching gift get an opportunity to use their gift without taking over the meeting” and I am realizing this movement ties people in knots, telling them to pull off paradoxical things because of being so afraid that anything a human does might replace Christ being the head of a gathering.  Christ is most fully the head of a gathering when everyone is raised up to be who they fully are — pastors, prophets, teachers, worship leaders, poem readers, intercessors, evangelists, artists… and we’re too busy crucifying each other’s gifts in the name of Christ than to really see what it means to have all the parts of the body truly functioning in Him and He in them.  Some of the teaching in the movement is so anti “doing” in the name of not being works oriented and learning to sit at Jesus’s feet that it was completely disorienting to me as a young adult trying to figure out what to “do” with my life.   Only now in my 40s am I starting to recover and too much time was wasted.

People who have written books and lead conferences will volunteer to come and teach your group how have a meeting with no one leading, but often the “model” of how to do housechurch often is restrictive and strangles things that would bring life to the group.  One model is intensely performance oriented — you join for a year and either spawn another group in that year, or you are kicked out.  Another model replaces all the songs sung in your housechurch TO Jesus with songs that emphasize who you collectively are as the bride of Christ together, so that musical worship time no longer really focuses on Christ as much as on us, who are the bride of Christ.   (I personally found this hard to get into very much — it was just too distracting for me from the One I wanted to worship.)

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Also, there are some house church experts who ban musicial instruments during singing because anyone playing a guitar would be “too much of a leader” in a fiercely leaderless movement.  As a result, singing worship songs often loses something that only an instrument can provide, and its not a small thing that gets lost.   I understand that the opposite excess is often true in the institutional church — music becomes flashy, pre-packaged, overly hyped, etc.  But when humble people with instruments play worship music from their hearts, and do so in a way that is sensitive and open to non-instrumentalists offering words and prayers, I’ve seen an amazingly beautiful thing. Yet many house churches are so afraid of someone leading they never experience how the Holy Spirit can move among people in that type of musical setting.  And while a very common way that people learn how to tune into the voice of the Spirit is through experiences they have during musical worship and prayer, this process doesn’t occur as easily in house churches that are afraid of musical instruments.

 

The irony is that while I was full of house church dogma, I still listened to recorded worship music with instruments on CD or live streaming.   I was afraid to be part of “the system” yet the music of “the system” I was drawn to in my private worship.   God would touch me deeply through the voices of my brothers and sisters singing to Him in institutional churches and institutional church conferences, yet I squelched my desire to be part of that whole scene (and my talents and desire to make music and lead others in worship) because my doctrine didn’t allow for it, even though it edified me both to play for others and to be in environments where others were playing.  I understand that there is hype, and bad music, and annoying shows, and yes, I understand that “worship is what you do with your life, it’s not music…” which people in the movement are so fond of saying, but the fact is something very edifying happens when people make music together to God, and the institutional church has led the way in this.  But some of the house church models out there actively shut people out from this.

ORGANIC AND NON-ORGANIC THINGS WERE MEANT TO HAVE A RELATIONSHIP

tomato-308855_640When I was young, I planted a garden and refused to stake the tomatoes because I wanted them to be natural.  Most of them rotted into the earth they were laying on.  I think this is a good analogy for my experience in the movement.  Organic things often work hand in hand with non-organic things and a tomato stake does not take away from the organic growth of a tomato; it only enhances it.  Some structures that people invent for church life as they gather are not harmful, they only enhance the ability of people to function together — but in the house church mindset I was infected with could only condemn those things.  I do think people need to be set free from narrow-minded leaders who want to micromanage things and don’t know how to make room for the Spirit to flow and people to function as a body.   But in my time in the movement, I believed all structure of any sort was wrong, and this kept me from being part of structures that would have been healthy and helpful to me and others.

The house church movement emphasizes listening to the Holy Spirit and being led by the Lord, but one time I had a dream where the Lord was talking to me about gatherings and boomed the word “STRUCTURE” all through me to where I still felt it burning as I woke up, but I was so blinded by my Housechurch dogma at the time that I could barely accept this.  I wish I had accepted it sooner.

HYBRID CHURCH MODELS

Hierloom tomatoes are good, but hybrid tomatoes have a lot of benefits, and the same is true in my experience of organic church life. These days I am still part of a housechurch, but it’s a group that doesn’t fit most of the desciptions I have shared above.   It’s a very alive, happening group but there are two main leaders who drive it forward.  They’re not afraid to be leaders and I haven’t gone to war against them being leaders as I might have in the past when I was a house church purist.  In my experience over 20 years of house churching, the healthiest groups I have seen that didn’t fizzle out in a few months to a couple years, and that didn’t seem to grow stagnant, were groups that were hybrids between organic church and institutional church.    They were groups that didn’t shut themselves off from the institutional church — they either had healthy relationships with other churches, even institutional ones — or they were an institutional church that decided to transition into being an organic open housechurch.   All of the groups I have seen thrive over time had people in them with strong leading personalities; and they used their personalities to build up others to also be leaders and teachers in the group.   I’ve even been to house churches where our entire group together would visit an institutional church, to keep the lines of communication flowing, and to receive of whatever importation of the Lord was in their midst.   Last week, an institutional church we have a relationship with sent us a photo of their entire congregation praying for our little group.

House church claims to champion the priesthood of all believers and a passion for us all being part of the body of Christ, with Him alone as the head.  But what I got sucked into was an elitist, divisive movement that was full of pride, and I drank the full cup of that.  Instead of it helping me honor the body of Christ more, it cut me off from the body of Christ and took years of my life where I spun in circles trying to get some sense of how to connect in more meaningful ways than internet groups to others in the body.  It stole my chances to find a mate while young.  When the Lord spoke to me about doing missions work, it took at least a decade longer than it probably needed to be for me to do anything with that because I was disconnected from a support base and people who would have championed my way forward.  (In fact, many in the housechurch movement actively dissuaded and even condemned me for my interest in overseas missions as being something too religious and unnecessary in their point of view.) It took a long time to realize that I need the body of Christ and people around me who love the same Lord I love, whether they are in an institution or not, and that the institution is not all bad.

When I think back on it, the things that catapulted my growth in the Lord the most were the timesScreen Shot 2019-04-19 at 2.57.08 AM.png I went against my own house church convictions and sat momentarily under the teaching of some pastor or leader or institutional conference speaker and had the Lord give me some revelation or insight that yes, He could have given me directly because I also have the Holy Spirit, but for some reason, didn’t.   He seems to appreciate using the gift of teaching for whatever reason, and one of the reasons is probably to make us depend on each other, priesthood of believers notwithstanding.   Even so, I was so afraid of the institutional church for so long (and not because it had harmed me, but because my dogma said it was foul and unclean) that I stayed away too long from something that may very well have been a good place to plant my garden, and a good way to stake my tomatoes and bring forth a bounty of fruit in my life to the Lord.  I hope that others who read this will read it not to condemn the house church movement, but to not be sucked down by it’s blind dogma into a pit of isolation and pride that has the potential to steal meaningful years of co-laboring and fellowship from one’s life in the body of Christ.

 

 

Changing the Definition of Forgiveness

Christians generally recognize an idea that says they are commanded by God to forgive everyone who wrongs them, without any exceptions.   I believe this creates a lot of theological gymnastics on ground level, where people end up with three choices of how to walk this out in difficult situations.

Let’s say Jenny’s husband Matt has brutally beaten her, and lied to everyone making Jenny look like the bad one, and Jenny had to get a restraining order and ultimately divorced him. This is unfortunately not as rare of a situation one might hope it to be…and thousands of other similarly horrendous situations (or even worse situations) which could be used as an example.   Jenny now has a restraining order against her now ex-husband, for good reason, as he has often threatened her safety.   But Jenny reads in her Bible that Jesus said if you don’t forgive others, God won’t forgive you.

There are actually three ways this could play out:

1) Take Jesus at face value of how He is usually interpreted as demanding forgiveness at all times, regardless of any extenuating circumstance, and completely forgive, no questions ask.   (In this case, Jenny and her husband immediately make up and get back together.)

2) Pretend to take Jesus at face value, by changing the definition of forgiveness, and forgive only by using an altered, safer version of forgiveness which is completely inward, but has no practical effect on restoration of relationship with the person committing the crime, thus making one believe they have forgiven when actually they really haven’t.  (In this case, Jenny says she has forgiven Matt but keeps her restraining order against him.)

3) Just simply refuse to forgive.

Christians may often be annoyed at the suggestion that they are doing option #2, or offended that anyone would say it is fake forgiveness, but be really horrified that anyone would suggest #3.   I would propose however that option #3, “refusing to forgive”, is ACTUALLY the most honest, and also the most Biblically coherent option in many situations, even if most Christians squirm at the suggestion.

So let’s talk about what forgiveness is, and isn’t.

Just as James could say, “Show me your faith without deeds, and I’ll show you my faith BY my deeds,” forgiveness is one of those things we can also talk about as a merely inward, abstract thing (like faith) or something that has outward, immediate, solid ramifications.

The model of what forgiveness is or isn’t should be God.  Whenever in the Bible someone was forgiven by God, they were immediately brought into a place of restored, or potentially restored, relationship with Him.   We don’t ever see an example of God saying, “I forgive you, but we’re not going to have a relationship anymore.”

Forgiveness is restorative — it is the dropping of all walls in one’s heart in a way that is actually made visible and practical for the other person.  Forgiveness is not about the person DOING the forgiving, it is about the person who is BEING forgiven.   It is a gift to the person who is given a chance to be in a relationship they don’t deserve to be in, because they have formerly done damage to the other person — and yet, the debt is canceled, the offense is forgotten, and the way is clear again for the relationship to be restored.

In our very individualistic, self-focused society, we have instead concocted a version of forgiveness that is not about extending an opportunity of restoration to another person, but is a matter of restoring oneself after being wounded.   Over and over people will talk about how forgiveness is about letting go of inner turmoil (bitterness, obsessive rehashing of wrongs, etc) so that they themselves can move on to inner healing.  While letting go of bitterness is a really great thing to do for oneself, this in and of itself does not constitute Biblical forgiveness.   It IS indeed a great step towards inner healing, but it is a mistake I believe to call it forgiveness.   Forgiveness is not just about what goes on in one person, but it extends to the other person as well.   To tell another person, “I forgive you, but stay away from me” is to malign what true forgiveness is and to misrepresent the forgiveness that God showed us in Christ.

It is non-sensical and illogical to say, “I cancel your debt (forgiveness) but if you ever show up here again I’ll have you arrested (because of what you’ve done to me you still can’t be around me.)  We’re speaking out two sides of our mouth to say “I release what you’ve done wrong to me, but you still can’t have a relationship with me because of what you’ve done to me.”  When God forgave us our sins, he forgot what they were.   He didn’t say, “I forgive you but you can’t be with me in my Kingdom ever again.”

It might make us feel better about ourselves to say we’ve forgiven but won’t restore a relationship, and in some religious way make us feel religiously righteous and make us believe we’ve obeyed the command to “forgive”, but it falls short of what true forgiveness is.   Unfortunately, entire “inner healing” scripts in the christian community continue to reinforce that this version of forgiveness is true forgiveness.   (Jewish definitions of forgiveness would not agree, however — as Jewish understanding are much more holistic.)

So what, then?  So does this mean that Jenny needs to go back to her abusive husband?

No, because there is option #3…Jenny can wisely choose to simply not forgive her ex-husband, while if it helps her heal, also doing the work of letting go of bitterness (which is a side issue and not really related to the subject of whether or not she has forgiven him.)   This is actually Biblical.  But it is important to call it what it truly is and to keep our definitions coherent.

It is always dangerous to make an entire doctrine out of one verse, removed from all context of other verses on the same subject in the Bible.   While Jesus did say that if you don’t forgive others, your Father in Heaven will not forgive you, this is not the only time Jesus spoke on the matter.   It’s also not the only thing that the Bible demonstrates overall on the matter.

For instance, there is the example of 70×7 — where Jesus told Peter that if his brother ASKS for his forgiveness 490 times, he should give it to him.  Notice that Jesus didn’t say to Peter, “Your brother shouldn’t even have to ask forgiveness, Peter, you should forgive Him before he even asks.”   No, Jesus made it clear that the “asking” was part of the key to forgiving the brother.

Should Jenny forgive her abusive, manipulative, ex-husband simply because he asks?   Caution should be taken here.   Part of the Christian inclination towards forgiveness is that no one should ever take the stance that no matter what, someone’s sins are so great that under no circumstance whatsoever would I ever be willing to forgive them.  There should always be a willingness that somehow there is some way this person might one day be forgiven, if they have truly repented and changed.

law-40007_640However, Jesus also said we are to be wise as serpents, and I believe it is important to let that “serpent-wisdom” fit the crime that has been committed.  Letting the wisdom fit the crime might not sound Biblical but there is an idea all over scripture of using “true weights and measurements.”  We see this in the book of Genesis in how Joseph walked through the situation of forgiving his brothers, who had sold him into slavery with murder in their hearts towards him.  He weighed them according to the measure of their wrong, and put them through a test that was appropriate to their crime (the cup placed in their sacks having them arrested) and waited until the Holy Spirit revealed that they were indeed truly repentant (when they gave him the reaction he was looking for.)   Joseph wasn’t in a rush to judge them either way, he took his time, made them jump through his hoops (which is the right of the party being asked to forgive) and only when he was fully satisfied that their hearts were changed, did he forgive them.

Jenny, likewise, might require Matt to do some sort of treatment program.   She might say something like, “You hurt me and broke my trust very badly, and if you ever want a chance to be back in a relationship with me again, you need to make restitution by taking steps to show me you understand the gravity of what you have done, the fact that you need serious help, and that you are laying down your pride and doing X, Y and Z programs for the next 3 years, twice, to show me you are doing everything you need to do to make good on all the harm you have caused. And then, and only then, will we talk about possibly trying to restore this marriage.” 

When someone truly apologizes, they are saying they own what they have done wrong. Part of apologizing when one’s crimes have been particularly damaging is owning one’s responsibility for one’s actions truthfully.   Matt’s apology in this case may need to be a whole lot of steps demonstrating he is bearing the weight of his own wrong.  In a huge number of cases, people who have committed huge abusive sins against others will not be willing to truly own their responsibilities and thus make true (not fluffy, merely manipulative) apologies.

So what about the person who is not ready to own their wrongs?  Jesus makes allowance to NOT always forgive:

When He had said this, He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld.” John 20:22-23 Berean Study Bible

He did not give us authority as the church to “retain” sins for no reason, as if this power was never to be used (because after all, if we are to forgive everyone, all the time, what’s the point of this authority?)  But we are given this power to be used with discernment of men’s hearts.  It also makes no sense to apply the verse, “If you don’t forgive, your Father won’t forgive you” to every situation, otherwise it wouldn’t make any sense that Jesus gave the authority to the church to NOT forgive sins.

Yes, we should always be WILLING to forgive others — I hope my words are never used as an excuse to be hard-hearted people who refuse to restore relationships no matter how contrite and how much restitution the other party is willing to give.   And yes, it doesn’t do us any good to walk around with bitterness in our souls, and we should always pray for our enemies partially as a discipline in order to keep ourselves free from bitterness, but also because we truly want to see God help our enemies, despite whatever things we still hold to their account!  But forgiveness is not a mere release from our own inner turmoil as it if it is just a self-help therapy; forgiveness has teeth on it and is the power to extend true restoration, forgiveness turns enemies into friends.

We need to start being honest about what step in the process we are on, with no condemnation and all the freedom given to us in Christ to exercise our own discernment in these matters, owning it for what it is.  It is part of wisdom, and getting real, that we keep our definitions coherent.

For further reading, please see this excellent article HERE about forgiveness as well.

Also, for a commentary on the therapeutic culture that says healing requires someone to let go of bitterness, read here.

 

 

The Western Narrative and our Persecution Complex (reblogged)

David Schell wrote this positively brilliant post that I just had to reblog — here’s an excerpt:
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The Western Narrative

As it turns out, I wasn’t alone in feeling like the lone righteous person, or small group of people, standing strong and brave against a powerful evil. That narrative is basically the Western Meta-narrative. Consider:

  • Ulysses in The Odyssey.
  • Martin Luther’s “Here I stand and can do no other.”
  • Galileo refusing to recant.
  • The American War for Independence where a scrappy group of colonists fight off the most powerful empire on earth.
  • Star Wars Episode IV, with Luke Skywalker and a scrappy band of rebels fighting off an evil empire.
  • Braveheart.

Look at Jesus Christ himself, the stone that the builders rejected. I Timothy 3:12says all who live godly in Christ will suffer persecution, and look at Elijah. Finally, look at the biggest archetype of ’em all: a little shepherd boy standing strong with just a sling and five smooth stones against a giant clad in armor with a heavy sword: David and Goliath.

These stories are our stories. They allow us to transform our wounded sense of exclusion and isolation into a sort of vindication and righteousness, into something we can draw strength and hope from. They’re a Psalm: God how many are my foes, but I trust that you will conquer them. The persecuted few may even be defeated, as in the story of the Alamo, but if they are, they will be vindicated even after their death.

But what happens when everybody wants to claim David and Goliath for themselves?

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Read more over at http://davidmschell.com/im-david-youre-goliath/

 

 

Opposite Sex Friendship — a few thoughts

I’ve been thinking about the way that Christians, particularly singles in their late teens, 20s, 30s, think about opposite sex friendships and been wanting to write a blog post on the topic for some time.   The other night a male friend of mine (let’s call him Andrew) was telling me he was going to go hang out with a female friend of mine.   The guy is happily single, not looking for a girlfriend or wife at this point, and not interested at least not at this point in dating the woman in question.   The gal (let’s call her Samantha) is someone who has very openly talked about her desires to be married at this stage in life and her disappointment that she is still single.

guy girlAndrew and Samantha understand that Andrew’s visit with her is only for the purpose of friendship; that Andrew is not interested in Samantha as a romantic partner.  (In fact, they became friends when Samantha was “safely” dating someone else, but that relationship didn’t work out.)  But Andrew mentioned to me, “I do have to be really careful here, there is a real danger that she could develop feelings because she is looking for someone.”

Therein lies an issue.   Somewhere along the line, singles in the church have developed this idea that it is their responsibility to worry about whether or not their friends might develop feelings for them.   Often a guy won’t hang out with a girl if she wants to date him and he doesn’t, or worse yet, he won’t hang out with her (or her with him) if he’s not hoping she’d be interested in dating.  And what I have seen goes like this:

A guy thinks it is dangerous for a girl to like him if he isn’t feeling the same way.   So when he walks into a room full of new people, and a girl he doesn’t instantly feel physically attracted to comes up to talk to him, he’ll have a few standoffish small talk words in her direction and then quickly move on to talk to the gals he finds attractive, making long and sustained connection with them.

WHAT ABOUT OUR RESPONSIBILITY TO WALK AS SISTERS AND BROTHERS?

On one hand, there is nothing wrong with investing energy towards finding a spouse, and that would include spending time talking to people of the opposite sex one finds intriguing.   But the problem with this as a general way of being is that the body of Christ is more than this — whether one finds someone attractive or not the fact is that we are all sisters and brothers in Christ. 

This doesn’t get enough airtime from pulpits, and Christians don’t tend to approach other Christians on that level — they don’t tend to think about the spiritual relationship they already share with someone as being the most important aspect of any interaction they have, and then things like “mate possibility” as secondarily important.   But this is to the detriment of the body of Christ.

In “the world” — outside of the church — people who are in groups form “in-crowds” and “out-crowds.”   Many times this has a lot to do with social desirability, and mating desirability.  People cluster around charismatic, attractive, powerful, or affluent people.   Being in the “in-crowd” increases one’s odds of getting a highly attractive date.   And so on.    When Christian guys (or girls) only invest time, attention, and energy into friendships with girls (or guys) that are romantically or socially desirable, this cluster or “clique” dynamic appears in the church.    But the church isn’t supposed to reflect the value system of what flesh and blood tends to value.

The church is supposed to reflect a higher value system — that is, the worth of every individual to God, and the familial relationship that we all share in Christ of being true sisters and brothers to one another.

This familial relationship transcends even blood relationships — which is a fact that often doesn’t get taught or preached except in whacked-out cult groups that want to dissolve family bonds and reestablish the only important bonds as that of the cult group.  But while the cult groups are wrong in devaluing the importance of flesh-and-blood family as an important realm of relationship for folks, they are not wrong in recognizing that the Bible doesn’t speak of believers being “sisters and brothers” as some sort of unrealistic platitude, or just some feel-good short-hand for “members of the same Sunday morning club.”

WHAT DO WE REALLY WANT TO EXPERIENCE?

Our sister and brotherhood in Christ is true, and it is every bit as “real” as the blood connection we share with our families of origin.   In this case, Jesus’s flesh being ripped apart and his blood actually flowing down to touch the Earth is the “real” blood connection that binds the family of God together.   We are all made of dust of the Earth, and as His blood dripped down to the dust we are all made of, it bound everyone who would believe in Christ into one bloodline — Christ’s bloodline.   Of course, not having his actual blood cells in our veins, it had to be made more apparent so thus we are also “adopted” into God’s family.

But these aren’t just pleasant platitudes, for eternity we will be the Lord’s family and brother/sister to one another.  Other generations and those in persecuted nations had a deeper grip on this, as so many of our brothers and sisters throughout history have mixed their blood together as they died for the Lord together in bloody shows of martyrdom.  And in those moments, no one cared whether they had the same sense of cool clothing style, or whether they liked the same authors, or whether they found each other’s hairstyle or body shape attractive.   We are one in Him in a way that goes radically beyond all that, and this becomes apparent when the same mice in a prison are nibbling on your toes together, or when our blood runs down into the dust as one together at the executioner’s sword.

In some sense, this is what we all want — not to be persecuted, but to experience this communion with one another.  At least those who truly have believed in Christ, somewhere in our souls beats this desire to see the body of Christ look like more than a nice, safe, “oh I know that person, I see them at church on Sunday” sort of relationship with one another.   Whose hearts are not moved by reading Acts about the believers selling their homes to be with one another, having all things in common, eating and praying together from house to house?  We want to share in the communion of saints in late night conversations, bearing our hearts, feeling the presence of God together and being rocked in the fear of the awe of the Lord; we want to make huge sacrifices for each other, to feel a little counter-cultural and radical and knowing that in a very real way we have each others’ backs and we would die for one another.

This doesn’t happen if our friendships are based merely on who we think we might want to have sex with one day and whose DNA seems pleasing to make children with.   If none of these lofty ideas cause one to consider being friends, real friends, with those they aren’t wanting to date, then consider this: often the person you aren’t attracted to might have friends that you would be attracted to.   Sometimes in our human weaknesses lofty ideas don’t cut it but practical down to earth ones make more sense.

Where am I going with all this?  No, it’s not good to lead someone on, to take up all their time and keep them off the dating scene because you, their opposite sex friend, want to hang out everyday and yet you’re not interested in dating them, but they have no idea.   Yes, that’s unkind and irresponsible friendship.

But while irresponsible friendship across gender lines does certainly exist, we need to get around this thing that says we wouldn’t want to be friends with someone we’re not attracted to because, gosh, they might develop FEELINGS for us and then we’re in the middle of a relationship we don’t want to be in.    I’ll ask the same question I asked above:  Where did singles get the idea that it’s a terrible thing if your opposite friend falls for you and you’re not into them?   Where did we get the idea that we need to hold each other at a distance, and run away at the first sign that someone we’re not attracted to is attracted to us?

MATURITY in FRIENDSHIP

adventure-1807524_640I want to call us up to a more mature view of friendship if I may.   A few years back I had this guy friend (we’ll call him Randall) who I developed a serious crush on.   Randall and I were fairly deep, heart to heart friends.   We had a sense of commitment to one another, that we were there for each other to walk each other through some pretty intense stuff we were both dealing with.

Eventually I told him I was seriously becoming attracted to him, and I think Randall’s attitude towards me was a gift of divine proportions.   He said, “Heather, I just don’t feel the same way towards you — though I certainly appreciate this, this, and this about you.  (Awesome when guys build their sisters up in the Lord.)   So I don’t know what you’re going to do about how you’re feeling towards me but I’m going to leave that between you and the Lord to sort out.   In the meantime, I am still 100% committed to being your brother and your friend.”

Randall gave me a gift of steadfast friendship commitment by realizing that my feelings weren’t his responsibility and they weren’t his to deal with….so while he wasn’t unmerciful like, “Don’t even talk to me about this…” he didn’t run away screaming either.   And I in turn took a bit of time away from him to get my heart somewhat clear (you don’t have to have “no feelings” to be clear enough to still be friends), and able to be around him again in a way that we could still reflect Christ to one another.

For a long time I have wished I could tell all the singles I watch running away from each other:  Guys, you don’t need to worry if someone you find unattractive finds you attractive.   You don’t need to hold them at arms length as long as you don’t deceive that person about how you are feeling and don’t take advantage of their feelings.   And gals, the same thing goes on our end – we don’t need to run away from a guy who “likes us” if we’ve been able to be honest and tell him we don’t feel the same way, and IF he is willing to respect our boundaries and not refuse to take our, “No, I just don’t see a dating relationship in our future” seriously.  The only guy I ever had to cut out of my life on this level was one who doggedly refused to take “no” for an answer, insisting God had “told him” I was his wife and that I was in rebellion to God for not listening.   I told him that no means no, and if he couldn’t respect that we couldn’t have a friendship.  But most of the guys that I have ever had a thing for, or who have ever had a thing towards me, still have an open door of friendship in my life to one degree or another.

But of course folks who have been “friend zoned” sometimes find themselves mutually falling for one another despite the fact that one or both of them originally felt that only friendship was in their future.   It’s OK to revisit a friendship conversation respectfully,  in something that might sound like this:  “Josh, I am not wanting to make you uncomfortable as I really value our friendship, I know we talked about this a year ago but I wanted to know if you still feel we are better off not pursuing a romantic relationship — but if you ever did want to date each other, I’m still open to that. But if not, I’m still going to be your friend and sister and I can’t wait to bless you and whoever you marry if it’s not me.”  And it’s also important to not keep hanging on to a friendship if you’re only secretly stalking someone waiting for them to change their mind, especially if you are getting in the way of them dating other people.   A really good test of whether or not a friendship is honest is whether or not you can introduce your friend to someone else they might want to date.   If you can do so, you might end up lifelong friends with someone you really value, married to someone else you really value — a win-win recipe for lifelong friendship that will have deep rewards for both you and the Kingdom.

This is maturity.  And it brings maturity to the body of Christ when singles — and married people who are friends with singles (another topic for another day) can still experience the richness of brother/sister communion in Christ.

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(For further reading check out Forbidden Friendships by Joshua Jones,

or Sacred Unions, Sacred Passions by Dan Brennan.)

(As a footnote I especially want to recognize Dan Brennan’s writings about how in the ancient middle east, a brother was often the most significant and close relationship of a woman’s life, a concept we don’t generally consider when reading Paul instructing Timothy to treat young women as his sisters.  Sisters and brothers were not mere distant acquaintances.  Instead our relationships with the opposite sex in the church tend to be more like the way we relate to the cashier at the grocery store — pleasant, casual, and without any shred of intimacy.  The difference is extreme and fear-based.   But that’s for another blog post.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How Evolution Works

The Book of Works

I have been asked many times to explain how so called “macro-evolution” works. There are of course many excellent books and articles online and off that cover this, but I thought it might be a good idea to have a blog post that explains it quickly and simply that I can refer to when asked. The following is adapted from a book manuscript (which might get published some day).

To see how macroevolution (the origin of new species) works, we can use a hypothetical animal, maybe one in the cat family. Let’s call it a lipard. And let’s say that there is a population of these large cat-like carnivores living on a large plain with plenty of prey animals. The lipards have gotten better and better at hunting thanks to several improvements (microevolution) in  vision, muscle strength, digestion of meat, and other traits. And all of these positive changes eventually…

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NT Gender Bias and our Mythological Justifications

One of the things I endeavor to do on this blog at times is to dismantle bad apologetics for my own cause.  Today is one of those posts.   When it comes to my understanding and leaning on gender roles, I fall somewhere between soft complementarianism and out-and-out full on egalitarianism.   And let’s face it, most of us approach scripture on the topic of gender LOOKING for our particular ideal about gender to be justified.   If we want to see women have equality and opportunity in the church and other spheres, we are constantly hoping someone will give us a Biblical interpretation that allows us to justify those viewpoints.   I also know folks that have a romanticized view of complementarian or even far right patriarchical gender roles; and they also look to scripture in ways to find reinforcement for those viewpoints.

(And to be fair, there are also those noble people, few though they may be, who approach scripture ready to lay aside every preference and bias they can identify and just do whatever they believe the most honest and plain interpretation is that they can identify; the problem is, this may not be quite as safe or noble of a course of action as these folks may initially think it to be.  But that’s a topic for another blog post.)

But as I said before, I’m on team egalitarian, for the most part (except when I play for team soft complementarian, which is rare but sometimes happens.)   Which means I also need to stick to my usual disposition to point out where my own team (in this case, either one) seems to be getting it wrong.

So with no further ado, here are my two pet peeve, “Do I have to read about this really bad attempt to deal with the female clobber verses in Scripture again?” apologetic arguments.

 

#1 —  JUNIA

Screenshot 2018-01-31 at 2.56.56 AM

Oh yes, I did, I went there.   Junia is the darling poster girl of the internet and books on Christian gender equality.   Yet we might really need to stop holding Junia up as the ultimate “proof” that in the first century church, women were equal with men, or at least stop pretending that Junia is even any type of settled argument for the cause.

Here’s the verse in question: “Salute Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen, and my fellowprisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.” Romans 16:7 KJV

First, it is highly likely, but not by any means settled that Junia was actually a female.  The later one goes in history, the louder the voices become that declare her to be a woman; and there are reasons to think this probably is the case.   But it’s not SETTLED, not by a longshot.
But more importantly (as if anything can be more important than that) the claim that Junia was an apostle is overblown.   The best that we can safely assert is that he or she was “well-known” or even “well-respected” by the apostles….AKA, known “among” them….but some translations have worded this ambiguously enough to make it seem like Junia actually IS an apostle, which, while possible, isn’t really likely from the actual wording.
The final analysis?  There’s nothing certain about Junia (or Junias.)   It’s highly likely Junia was a woman, but not completely definite, and it’s highly probably that he or she was highly honored among the apostles, but not an apostle his or herself.
Again, it all could be just as everyone says it, but there’s no way to be certain.  And that’s the problem: taking something that could be looked at as “hey, that’s an interesting possibility” and magically transforming it to a proven certainty that we use to assert Biblical egalitarianism is just downright dishonest.

#2 — Our Completely Made-up, Damage-Control Narrative about Corinth.

ancient-corinth-archaiaMy other pet peeve is that the women of Corinth have become legendary, mythological even, and not in a good way.   Somewhere along the line people started hypothesizing about the “situation that existed in Corinth” among women as a rationale for Paul saying in Chapter 14 that women needed to be silent – and these theories got repeated so often that most of the evangelical church seems to now accepts these ideas as substantiated fact – when they are anything but that.

When I talked about this on my Facebook wall, comments came in from all over the spectrum of this speculative narrative, while not a single commentator seemed to be able to acknowledge that there wasn’t any historical evidence that this narrative was in fact, true, or historically based in any explicit way anywhere, and moreover these narratives remain at best inherently illogical and yet at worst still extremely derogatory to the female gender.   It seems that the evangelical church’s attempt to create explanations for why Paul instructed what he did about women being silent in Corinth has resulted in a sort of corporate-level inability to remember that these explanations were “created” rather than attested in some historical source.   There isn’t just one narrative, either, but the main ones I am talking about and view as mostly Christian urban legend are as follows:

a) Women in Corinth were unlearned, aggressive, “out-of-order” women who needed to be silenced from asking all sorts of unlearned questions. 

b) Corinth had a female diety and temple prostitutes and because of this, the women in Corinth had to be silent because if they spoke, it might lead people falling back into goddess worship or somehow associate Christian meetings with idolatry.

c) The first century Corinthian church meetings were based on the format of the synagogue, and as such women sat divided from men on an opposite side of the room, and thus asking questions had the women yelling across an aisle at the men which was very unseemly and disorderly and needed to be stopped.

At any rate, there is always this attempt to make it sound as if there was a particular “issue” in Corinth that necessitated the silencing of women on a level that would not be viewed as normative to the body of Christ as a whole, and certainly not today, but was an isolated issue for Corinth in view of the particular crisis being created there.

Here are some of the very real problems with this:

— Many of the first believers in any city in the Roman Empire were slaves.   Even among those who weren’t, there would be little to no reason to assume average men in the church had any higher level of education than women, so the “unlearned women” argument falls flat.   Moreover, if the issue is discussing the Hebrew Scriptures, gentile men could be expected to be just as ignorant as gentile women about matters of Hebrew scripture.

— There is no basis, either in the Biblical text of 1 Corinthians, or in any other testimony of history, to think that women in Corinth had any “aggressive demeanor” that needed aggressive remedy.   Paul does not say that the women of Corinth were unruly, aggressive, or in any way out of order other than implying that their mere voice qualified as such.   Paul in fact writes simply that women speaking in church, irrespective of any other explanation, is “shameful” or “disgraceful” assumeably merely because it is a woman who is speaking.   (See 1 Cor 14:35)

7005113_orig— Meetings in Corinth, based on chapters 11 through 14, were entirely different from synagogue meetings.  For one, they were home meetings, structured around a shared meal (see 1 Cor 11.)   It is hard to imagine that an “aisle” was present in a home going through the dinner table.  The meetings also allowed women to speak if the woman was “praying” or “prophesying” so, for some reason this was not an issue to the orderliness of the meeting despite whatever setup was present — but a woman “speaking [on a topic]” or “asking questions” was suddenly going to create a problem of order in the room?

— Many other cities were much more known for their temples and female deities than Corinth.  (See this excellent write-up on temple prostitution in Ephesus and Corinth here.) Ephesus is one; yet Paul does not include instructions for women to be silent in Ephesus.   Moreover, many cities in the Roman empire had temples to male deities, and where temple prostitution did exist (however rarely), prostitutes sometimes were male as well.   Yet there is never a “situation” conjectured about a city that Paul needed to silence the men in order to protect from the appearance of pagan worship practices.

All of this is a side issue to the main reason I’m writing this blog post anyway.   That is, that, if women are to be silenced for any of the many varied reasons above – whether it be because they are considered “unlearned” or because there was female prostitution in their city or because there was an aisle that separated them from the men or they were considered in some other way “out of order”— if the answer is to silence an entire gender for one of these supposed justifications, we really haven’t gotten around the basic gender inequality we’re trying to rationalize Paul out of to begin with.

You can’t justify Paul’s instructions with any of these explanations and still come out of it considering yourself to have upheld women as equal to men.  Instead, you’ve simply participated in some more complex version of sidelining women, a more smooth and supposedly palatable version of gender disempowerment and disgrace, so why not just skip the gymnastics and simply agreeing with Paul on face value that women are a disgrace when they speak in church to begin with?  After all, not one of these explanations keeps us from getting back to that same basic level of inequality by the time we’re really done defending one of them.

1147px-Pompeii_family_feast_painting_NaplesReal egalitarianism just can’t support any reasoning Paul might have had here to tell women to go “ask their husbands at home.”  And it can’t justify his solution to whatever Corinth’s “problem” was — if indeed Corinth even had a problem specifically about women to begin with — other than to say that Paul might be excused as a product not of whatever issues one might find in Corinthian culture, but as a product of his own patriarchical Jewish culture or even his culture as a Roman citizen.   After all, Paul does fall back on what the “law” also says, appealing to the basic code of some culture of his (whether he is talking about Jewish law or maybe even Roman law, no one seems to definitively know.)   One can scour the entire corpus of the Jewish Bible and never find a law that forbids women from speaking, but rabbinical law written down a few centuries later is full of that mindset.   So what gives, what exactly was Paul falling back on anyway?

Maybe it’s not Paul at all.   Adding this to equalize the “unproven but possible” theories on this matter, there is a lot of discussion to be had about Paul’s silencing verses in 1 Corinthians 14 and whether or not they belong where they are positioned in the text (thus slightly changing the overall meaning) or whether they are original to the text at all.   (Start your research here.) This would help make sense out of how Paul could give instructions for women praying and prophesying (which, after all, is a form of speaking) in 1 Corinthians 11 and then suddenly be commanding total silence three chapters later.

Perhaps.

My final conclusion?   Surprise! — I don’t know!  I lean this way or that, expressing my sentiments almost as a statistician in terms of probabilities and possibilities, and heck, potentialities.  But I’d rather admit I don’t know than make up an explanation with little to no actual historical basis or something that just sinks women in a backhanded way anyway.   It’s ok not to be certain of everything or have an answer to everything.  It’s enough for me to know that both the Old and the New Testaments have examples (Deborah, Huldah, Priscilla, the women at the tomb)  that women can minister in the Spirit and minister to men.   My egalitarianism hangs out there.   And of course, in Christ there is no male nor female.

But as long as I’m rooting any of my justifications on Biblical text, I must grapple one way or another with the honest fact that in both 1 Corinthians and 2nd Timothy, women are placed subserviently to men — and for me this also means that I’m not completely certain of egalitarianism in all ways at all times.   If anything seems reasonable to me, it is that there is a rich symbolism in the dance of male and female motifs and figures in scripture and if nothing else, there are spiritual counterparts (such as the subservience of the Bride of Christ to her Head, Jesus) that need some sort of enacting at times.  Thus my sometimes “soft complementarianism”.

But a nice, neat, dismissable, “wrapping it all up with an easy explanation” I can not give you or myself.  I don’t need others to manufacture weird explanations justification to give me that either.  Let’s be honest scholars friends.

–Heather, All Things Are Yours

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Danger of Israel Utopianism

As a Jew, I love Israel.   There’s no way around that.  In fourth grade I remember being assigned to write a report on any country in the world, and it was a complete no-brainer as to which country my report would be about.   With great pride I decorated the blue-and-white report cover with the Israeli flag.   Although seemingly irrelevant, I sprinkled some family recipes for things like matzo ball soup into the report, although now I see that the ethnic pride in recipes and that nationalistic pride in my peoples’ country really are not that far apart.

Years later, I’d get to take my first trip to Israel, and tour dozens of ancient Biblical archaeological sites.   And where our Israeli tour guide could not take our group, but instead handed us off to a Palestinian tour guide, we also got to tour the ancient sites of the West Bank.    As I came to realize how many places in my peoples’ history and my Bible were not under Jewish ownership but instead Palestinian, I started to realize that this did not sit well with my fantasies of what the “Jewish homeland” should be.    My inner child wanted a complete restoration of what once was – I was living a fantasy of having walked back through the pages of the Bible, into the land of my Fathers and Mothers and into the “Kingdom of Israel” — with King David or Solomon, take your pick, ruling from Jerusalem, the Shekinah glory of God sitting on the Temple Mount in the Jewish temple, and every ancient parcel of land firmly a land for me, for us, the Jews.

It would be so neat and tidy if it were like this.   Dare I admit that while I wouldn’t have let myself think such a thought with conscious intentionality — I started having a secret wish that the whole thing would blow up, and that Israel would have an excuse to destroy the Dome of the Rock, and that some war would break out allowing armies to wipe away the Palestinians by the millions, allowing there to finally be peace in the region because, well, there’d only be Israel and no more Palestine to wrangle with.

Of course, the Palestinians have their own fantasy that works a lot like this, but in reverse.   In their daydream, they rise up and push Israel into the sea.   Thus there is peace in the region because there’d be no more Israel.   It’s funny how dreams for peace tend to take on a tone of ethnic cleansing and ethnic Utopianism.

Of course all of this comes from a dream of what once was – the dream of returning to a time when one ethnic group had a golden era in the land.   I want to have my peoples’ golden era back.   I want to walk into the pages of my ancient storybook and have that world again.   The Palestinians are an uncomfortable inconvenience.

But this is my fourth grade Utopian dreamer self musing.   My adult self can dream of peace that doesn’t put my collective ethnic self quite as much in the center of it all.   My people don’t need to have a land that has the exact same borders they had 3000 years ago.   I can dream of Isaac and Ishmael dwelling together again as one family, or at least learning how to have their respective tents side by side, even as much as Martin Luther King, Jr. could have a dream of black and white kids holding hands in America.

 In that day Israel will be the third, along with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing on the earth.  The Lord Almighty will bless them, saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people,Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance.”  – Isaiah 19, ESV

The first time I ever read Isaiah 19, tears went streaming unbidden down my face as I realized that God didn’t just love Israel and He didn’t just love Jews.   He didn’t even always have Jews first – so much for all that I thought being the “chosen people” was about.   It was not an affront to see this – it was a relief.   It meant I could have new fantasies – fantasies where loving Palestinians, Arabs, Egyptians, Syrians, Jordanians, Iraqis – was somehow in the center of God’s plan, not peripheral to it.   It meant I could care about what it meant to be a Palestinian, and what it meant to be Arab, and what it meant to be living as the unwanted party in the middle of the Jewish hopes for a restored homeland.

My adult fantasy might have about as much realism as my fourth grade Utopian fantasy.   The Palestinians, Arabs, and the Jews might never get along, but at least this dream of finding a way to share the land doesn’t inflame tensions in the region and make things worse.    My fourth grade ethnic pride admittedly got really excited to know that Trump proclaimed Jerusalem to be the capital of Israel; some part of me hoped as many of my evangelical friends proclaimed that, “God was working something out here despite how insane Trump is to do this.”   It’s a dark fantasy – the fantasy that diplomacy is unneeded, that Jerusalem is the Jews’ merely by history and divine right, despite any developments or changes that may have occurred over the past 2000 years, and despite the history of any other people that could now also have a stake in the matter.

We can brush away those “other people” with a mere return to what once was, we wish inwardly. By reading history from 3 and 4 thousand years ago in a sacred book, we can brush those people away by pointing to prophesies about the Jews’ return from Babylonian exile and rework them so they are talking about today.   We can brush away the Palestinians because there’s no room for them in our narrative, they aren’t in our Utopian dreams, they don’t get us excited about the Bible coming to life in front of us the way a conquering, abiding, reigning Jewish presence in the Holy land does.   They don’t fit in our ideas of God’s covenant with Abraham, so we can brush these people away theologically. And if we brush them away enough in our fantasies and musings, we can brush them away in the types of political solutions we applaud and get excited about.   To the point where our dark fantasy selves will even applaud at brutal, blood-filled military efforts to brush them away should any sort of provocation or incident give us room to happily justify it.

What then is eschatology?   Eschatology becomes the working out of our Utopian desires to walk into the Biblical world from the past in some promise of the past becoming the future – but even better.   In clinging to eschatology, we give ourselves permission to rejoice in other people being marginalized, removed, or destroyed for our personal fantasy of what the future should hold.   It’s a glorious future, no doubt, one in which we imagine God and His Messiah receiving all sorts of glory for elevating people who come from the storybook fantasy and return it to that storybook ideal – while destroying all the people who weren’t written into the story we want to see enacted.

Or we can dream different dreams, and hold to different goals.   If we want to walk into the pages of Scripture, we can dream of God once again showing up differently than religious expectations cast Him, as He always does when He shows up.  We can dream of Arab muslims adoring Isa (their word for Jesus), of Jews being excited over Yeshua (Jesus again) and of the Christian Arabs who are already there (or need to be more) being reawakened – and supernatural love flowing among all of them – and all of us, whoever we are – in new, non-politically defined ways.   We can even revisit our eschatology and see if there might be room in it for the past 2000 years of Palestinian history and life in the region to be included as a God-thing.   Maybe.

All this to say – if your fantasy is for a perfect Israeli gestalt end to all this, I get it.  I really do.  I just know how dangerous it is for me to live in that mindset, and how impossible it is to be able to love this other tribe of Abraham and value them while my fantasies for a perfect Jewish world would be held out as some idyllic dream on God’s heart – and I hope to warn you too.

 

For further reading:

http://krisvallotton.com/my-8-eschatological-core-values/

 

 

 

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