Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Simplicity and Mystery

I would not give a fig for the simplicity on this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.  Oliver Wendell Holmes

I dont' know about you, but I long for simplicity.  One gander at my calendar, one cursory glance at the complex issues that we face today; just trying to survive life- and I find myself longing for simplicity.

I'm not talking about simplistic living on this side of complexity.  I'm not talking about a way of life that avoids the issues of the day by burying one's head in the sand.  I'm not talking about an approach to faith that is pre-rational.  I'm not talking about religion that mocks science without fully engaging it.  I'm not talking about a church where people leave their brains at the door lest the discussion grow complicated.  I'm not talking about claiming mystery as a substitute for critical thought.  I'm not talking about simplistic answers that haven't taken the time to bother with the questions.

The simplicity I long for is on the OTHER side of complexity.  It's the simplicity of realizing that every age has its issues, and yet the faithful persist.  It's the simplicity that reorients one's busyness without trivializing life's realities.  It's the simplicity of a post-rational faith, a faith that has become more content amidst the forests of questions than the deserts of answers.  It's the simplicity of knowing that mystery isn't the replacement of thought, but the humble admission that after we've done our best thinking, there is still more mystery beyond us.  I'm talking about religion which befriends science, but also realizes that many ultimate realities simply do not fit in test tubes.  I'm talking about a faith where head and heart are joined, and the soul remains open to the miraculous and inexplicable.  I want a faith that relentlessly pursues truth but also realizes that a greater Mystery is relentlessly pursuing me.  I want to love God with every neuron in my brain without succombing to the illusion that God is somehow entrapped there.  I want to wrestle with the questions, but I also wonder if faith isn't shaped more in wrestling with the questions than answering them.         

I don't want an irrational faith; I want a superrational faith.  Today, I concur with Holmes:  I would not give a fig for the simplicity on this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.    

What do you think?  

Friday, October 5, 2012

The Bible and Women

I pastor a church where women are free to be and do all God calls them to be and to do.  In the last few years, we have ordained women to be deacons, elders, and ministers of the gospel.  Today, we no longer talk much about women in ministry at Spring Creek for the same reason we don't talk much about men in ministry.  It's just part of our DNA, part and parcel to who we are.  For us, Christian leadership has nothing to do with gender.

Some people, especially some of our other Baptist brothers and sisters, believe this practice to be unbiblical, referencing texts like 1 Tim. 2.9-15, 1 Tim. 3.2, and 1 Cor. 14.34-36 as clear biblical prohibitions against women in leadership roles in the church.  Given our last two posts, however, I would like to reconsider the "biblical" view of women in the church.

First of all, because Jesus is the interpretive lens through which we interpret Scripture, we must begin with him.   When compared with all the other common views of women in his day, the way Jesus treated women was somewhat revolutionary.  Jesus elevated women to a status they had never enjoyed before.  While most people saw women as something like possessions, Jesus treated them as something like people!  He included them amongst his disciples and commended them as examples.  He equalized their marriage status with the men of his day in his teachings on marriage and divorce.  Women were the first witnesses to the resurrection in all four gospels.  Furthermore, Jesus' announcement of a Kingdom where people live in mutual love and support becomes strained when one group of those people is a priori relegated to secondary status simply because of their gender.  Unfortunately, the place where women are most restricted in our day is the place where people gather in the name of the one who most liberated them in his day.  From the beginning, I must ask myself:  do our views of women pass the Jesus test?  Do our views of women pass the love test?

Secondly, most of the issues concerning women in the church stem from the Apostle Paul (as evidenced by the three texts mentioned above).  Today, many people view Paul as suppressive at best and a misogynist at worst.  However, several issues must be addressed here:
     1) Is Paul being descriptive or prescriptive?  If prescriptive, is he prescribing decrees for all places at all times or for that particular time and place?  Would our views of women in the church be congruent with our views of the length of women's hair, which he also addresses?
     2) These aren't the only texts in which Paul addresses women.  Paul speaks of Phoebe who is a deacon in Rome (16.1-2), and he addresses how women should dress when they prophecy, which means PREACH (1 Cor. 11.5)!  In several letters, Paul says something like, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3.28).  In other words, the boundaries and categories which typically define us have been destroyed in the light of the one who gives us a new identity.  Most of us would be appalled at the idea of racism in the church or classism- and yet many of us institutionalize sexism.  Why would the church want to tear down these other walls and perpetuate the other at all costs?  Would the "equal in status but different in roles" argument work for race and class as well?  I sure hope not!
     3) Furthermore, we must address how literal we intend to take the "prohibitions" mentioned above.  For example, 1 Tim. 3.2 states, "An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife...."  It's the "husband of one wife clause" that forbids women from serving in that capacity, some argue.  However, many of those same people would have no problem with a single minister.  At the most literal level, you can't be the husband of one wife if you are single.  Yet, many of the churches who argue so vehemently about gender never mention marital status.  Why is this?

Finally, the overall biblical witness testifies to the irreplaceable importance of women in the history of God's people.  Women saturate the Bible in ways unique to most other ancient literature.  Joel dreams of a day when "sons and daughters will prophecy (again preach)," and this text is remembered by Peter at Pentecost as a sign of the presence of the Spirit.  Miriam aided Moses, and subversive midwives overcame Pharaoh.  Deborah was one of the greatest judges, and Hannah gave birth to more than just Samuel.  Mary is the paradigmatic disciple in Luke, and the Philippian church would have been drastically different if not for Lydia.  Stories like this frequent the Bible from cover to cover. They also frequent every church I've ever been a part of.

Again, when we ponder all this, are we sure we ascribe to THE biblical view of women in the church?