Compartmentalization

Compartmentalization is an unconscious psychological defense mechanism used to avoid cognitive dissonance, or the mental discomfort and anxiety caused by a person’s having conflicting values, cognitions, emotions, beliefs, etc. within themselves. – current Wikipedia definition

By definition, we do this unconsciously. But that is no excuse for not trying to step outside of ourselves and looking at things the way they are, rather than the way we want to perceive them.

For instance, I have a problem with the argument that Galatians 3:28 only refers to “salvation.” Galatians 3:28 is a foundational principle of God’s view toward people generally, outweighing any of the manmade rules and regulations we might wish to superimpose on other scriptures for all eternity. (Rules and regulations for all time, you see, that exclude a woman from leading in public worship or serving God’s church in certain ways.)

Here’s what the verse says:

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Simple enough.

The context in chapter 3 is the issue of faith versus works of the law in salvation.

Fair enough.

Notice, however, that the immediate context is unity and equality.

And, even more importantly, salvation cannot be categorized to include only eternal life to come nor even to eternity AND the 167 hours of each week spent  outside of the walls where worship takes place.

Salvation is as much here and now as it is hereafter and to come. When we are saved, we are bought with a price and given a purpose in life to prepare ourselves and help others prepare for a life to come. It is a lifetime of worship, not an hour on Sunday morning, and it starts now and lasts forever.

Either we are all one in Christ Jesus twenty-four hours of every day, or we are not one in Christ Jesus at all.

The whole gist of Galatians 3 and the rest of the epistle surrounding it is a plea to break the yoke of the law from which we should have graduated into a faith and a relationship with God through Christ which transcends law. We live a life that expresses our desire to worship God all the time and in every way we can. We proclaim Jesus as Lord. We go into all the world. All of the world. All of the time.

All of us.

There is no exclusion clause that says, “Except for women on Sunday morning in front of the gathered saints” or “except for females in the presence of males over the age of twelve” or “except when people of both genders are served and shepherded.” Exclusion clauses are a part of the world of laws, and we’re supposed to be over that.

Over a picture of God as damning tyrant, eager to punish the least infraction of encrypted rules and regulations because we failed to crack the code.

Over the need to behave by rules rather than walk by faith.

Over the craving to achieve our own salvation rather than working it out as a fait accompli through the grace of Jesus Christ and the empowerment of His own Holy Spirit living within us.

You can’t compartmentalize out Galatians 3:28 of leadership in the life of any follower of Christ.

You can’t minimize it as a fundamental principle of God’s expressed relationship to people by categorizing it as a rule whose exceptions prove it.

You can’t resolve your cognitive dissonance that way. If you perceive dissonance between what scripture actually says and what you are comfortable having it say, then what you are comfortable having it say must be re-examined, discredited, and discarded.

Discarding what it actually says is not an option.

And we absolutely must be honest with ourselves by asking and answering the question of ourselves:

Why do I want for scripture to exclude women from certain responsibilities of service within the Kingdom of God?

Is it only my zeal for the word?

Or do I have an agenda there that undermines what the word actually says?

 My own comfort with what I believe? My satisfaction with scripture as encrypted rulebook? My desire to be in control?

I’ve had to be honest with myself about this and come to a different conclusion than I would have reached thirty years ago. It hasn’t been easy.

But it is worth letting go of logically unjustifiable compartmentalization to get to the truth, and get a little closer to what God really wants for me; for everyone:

A life of faithful proclamation of the Story and service to others, uninhibited by race, social status or gender.

You see, that’s not just what Galatians 3:28 is all about, or what salvation is all about.

It’s what the Bible … the word … the Story is all about.

Uncompartmentalized.

Does God Really Tell Women to Sit Down and Shut Up in Church?

A gifted young woman is hired as a minister at a church within the fellowship of churches of Christ, and from some of the reactions to the event, you’d think that the Apocalypse had somehow been triggered.

It’s not like this has never happened before, for one thing, and for another … this fellowship has long promoted a concept called congregational autonomy. Which simply means that one church has no business sticking its nose in the business of another.

With all due respect to the classic interpretation of 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2 – which has been that of virtually all churches for more than a thousand years – I think there are too many other scriptures which refute Paul’s instructions there as normative throughout all time: a woman evangelist of Sychar, Samaria in John’s gospel; the women evangelists of the resurrection at the close of Luke’s; the partnership of Prisca with Aquila in instructing Apollos more perfectly regarding baptism … as well as others I’m sure we’ve all encountered.

The circumstances at Corinth were clear: what women were not to do was interrupt with questions, adding to the chaos that already existed among the gathered saints in their one-upsmanship in place of worship and edification. Can any other picture be drawn from scripture of what was happening there?

Nor can there be any question what was taking place in Ephesus where Timothy served: men were praying yet quarreling in anger; women were dressing to attract attention to themselves rather than to bring God glory. They had not yet learned how to behave as believers and were therefore not qualified to teach. As to Paul’s reminder of the order in creation, would it not be because women were attempting to exert authority over men – rather than share in it – that he tells them they must not? It’s a reminder that man and woman were created to complement and fill each other’s needs and serve side by side; it was a prophecy of God after they had sinned that this equality of purpose would no longer take place. Surely God’s desire to restore His relationship to His children would be to the original state of creation, not after sin and the fall from His grace.

We cannot conflate these two separate circumstances and places as a single scripture, nor interpret them as if they mean something now that they did not mean to those originally addressed.

If women were instructed to prophesy with their heads covered by authority in 1 Corinthians 11, then Paul cannot be forbidding their ministry entirely a scant three chapters later. That simply does not make sense.

I think we have to face the possibility that we – and generations before us – may have been wrong about our interpretation of these scriptures as normative for all time.

And that Jesus wants, desires and calls all people everywhere not only to repent and believe but also to share His gospel in whatever setting they are in, no matter what genders are present, or whether the walls of a church building surround them.

My late wife Angi never preached in a pulpit. But I’d challenge anyone to read her keynote address a year ago February at an Azusa-Pacific University conference and prove to me from scripture that no man could possibly be blessed by hearing that message by virtue of the fact that he was sitting in a church building hearing it live when it was delivered.

Then you can explain to me why God gives such gifts to both men and women, but only wants half of them to use those gifts to His glory if both are present and worshiping together.

Tell me it’s because Eve sinned first, before Adam did. And that’s why God placed a curse on all His children until the end of time.

So therefore women aren’t allowed to preach.

Bullpuckey.

God never cursed Eve nor Adam nor us. He told them the consequences of their actions. He told them it would no longer be like it was in Eden’s paradise. It was no curse to affect all people for all time, but a prophecy that sin had thwarted His wishes for us all, and yet that He would restore those intentions and reconcile His children to Himself.

Paul wouldn’t have expected his readers to stop at half the story of the fall – forgetting entirely the relationship people once had with God in the garden – and neither should we.

That reconciliation and restoration of relationship took place at the cross. We live and must act in that grace, living that reconciliation extended to ALL people. So we are ALL commissioned by the Great Commission. The Spirit is poured out on ALL, both men and women. We are ALL one in Christ Jesus; no male nor female.

Either those things are true ALL the time.

Or they are not true at all.

Women Evangelists: Unauthorized Worship, Part 5

Should women be forbidden to speak about the Christ?

Apparently Jesus Himself didn’t think so.

He stopped at a well near Sychar of Samaria and spoke to a women whose reputation was known in town, but most visiting Jews would not have known (John 4). After they had spoken, He did not forbid her from going “back to the town and [saying] to the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?” Nor was He so offended at the turnout she prodded that He immediately left town on the run; in fact, He stayed two days there.

In Samaria. Thanks to a woman.

Nor did He choose to appear first to the remaining eleven on the morning of the third day after His crucifixion. No, instead, “When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons.” (Mark 16:9).

A cured demoniac. A woman.

In fact, the eleven didn’t believe her nor her feminine friends at first (Luke 24:10-11). But they were ones He sent – and Peter and John had enough curiosity stirred to go and see for themselves (John 20:3-9).

Granted, these women were not evangelists in the sense that they wrote any of the four gospels, nor were they Protestant (or Mormon!) missionaries or ministers. But in the word’s original use in scripture, they were bringing good news.

Good news about Jesus.

In one case, news of a prophet who might be the Christ who shared news about His kingdom.

In the other, news of the Son of God miraculously raised from the dead.

Really, really good news.

They were not telling old wives’ tales (1 Timothy 4:7), nor were they disgracing an assembly by inquiring about things during worship (1 Corinthians 14:34-35). They had good news to share, and they were sharing it.

They were people who sinned who had also encountered the embodied Grace and Word of God, and there was an urgency about this good news that could not be delayed nor kept silent – and Jesus encouraged it, giving them this good news to share.

Against all of the prejudices of culture – but against no prohibitions of the Law – Jesus gave that news of Himself to women to share with men and it was enough that people came looking for the Christ.

He told one woman “… the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” and “… true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”

He told the others that He was “…returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”

Really, really, really good news.

To women who would serve as His messengers in a world that only listened to men, He gave this gospel.

He innovated.

And people responded.

“And because of his words many more became believers. They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.” ~ John 4:41-42

“Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.)” ~ John 20:8-9

They believed.

Now, you may object that neither of these situations involved gathered worship, but let’s remember that Jesus’ message to the woman at the well was that true worship was no longer a matter of time and place, but of spirit and truth. His words were “a time is coming and has now come.”

People were gathered. They heard gospel. They believed.

Just what Jesus wants – and what glorifies His Father’s name through Him (Romans 15).

Context

I believe it’s important to view scripture in context.

I think most honest folks do.

If I Corinthians 14 instructs Christians for all time not to forbid speaking in tongues; to allow two or three prophets to speak; that someone must interpret; that all are permitted to prophesy (in order to convict visitors of their sin); that all things must be done decently and in order; and that women should keep silent … how is it that some folks can isolate only the last two instructions to enforce at the neglect of the others?

If it’s because people today are not gifted to speak in tongues, then is that because we have forbidden them? Quenched the Spirit?

If it’s because tongues have “passed away” (13:8), have prophecy and knowledge also passed away? If that’s true, how can we hope to convict visitors of their sin? Especially if only half of the church is allowed to speak?

Do we still earnestly desire the spiritual gift of prophecy?

Has it ceased to be true that “everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort”?

Is it possible that by neglecting the tradition of letting two or three speak, we are undermining the credibility of God’s holy Word in the ears and eyes and minds and hearts of those who visit our assemblies?

Do we even have or care about those who visit our assemblies anymore?

Okay, don’t worry about me; I’m not going all holy-roller on you. I just want to know some things.

So I am full of questions. Like these:

What good does it do if someone listening to the one-and-only-minister actually does have a revelation while listening there in the assembly and can’t raise his or her hand to share it with the rest? Even if the minister is obviously troubled, perplexed or even misdirected in what he says on the subject? Will it simply do to mention it to him in the lobby later so that he can say, “Well, that’s interesting; I’ll have to study and consider that”?

Do we dare send our visitors away with the impression that we don’t have a clue what we’re talking about – especially if God has chosen to reveal His truth then and there (as He certainly, undeniably, scripturally has before)?

Has He changed His mind about revealing things to women and children? And men?

Didn’t His son choose to stay some extra time in Samaria because of the testimony of the woman at the well?

Did He not reveal the fact of His resurrection first to the women who came to pay homage at His temporary tomb?

Did His Spirit not pour His prophetic gifts into the four daughters of Phillip?

Does it no longer please Him to reveal things to little children?

If we are so dedicated to restoring the New Testament church of century one in the context of century twenty-one, shouldn’t we be praying to be able to do so to the fullest … rather than just by picking the easy “rules” to “enforce”?

Or is it just possible that the entire set of instructions in I Corinthians 14 was directed toward a set of circumstances unique to the church in that time and place and context?

A church where chaos prevailed and women spoke out because what went on was unintelligible and would not submit to their husbands who shushed them because in their church, God was not perceived as a God of order and peace – as in all the other churches?

Have we applied the specific instructions of a church in trouble during century one to a church relatively untroubled by such chaos for the next twenty centuries?

Why have we not been praying earnestly, unceasingly, forcefully and together for the discernment to know what eternal principles are revealed by this and other scriptures, and what instructions were intended as remedies for specific infractions of good manners and others’ rights to hear, understand and, yes, speak the truth of His Story?

Worship, Gifts and Women

It’s okay if you disagree with me, but I think there may be something seriously wrong with the way my fellowship underutilizes the gifts of women, especially in public worship.

I’m not keen on using the term “women’s role” as I find it pretty much extra-scriptural.

“Gifts,” however, is a perfectly scriptural term and I’m quite comfortable using it.

Many writers with far keener scholarship than I can point out to you that in the New Testament, women served as prophets, fellow workers, deaconesses (female servant-ministers), instructors, encouragers, and hosts of church assemblies in their homes. You can look them up in your own Bible, and I won’t bother to proof-text the citations for you.

All that evidence notwithstanding, we find ourselves setting all the precedent for our fellowship policy by a couple of New Testament scriptures. One is a single verse in the first of two personal letters from the fatherly mentor Paul to his young protege Timothy:

A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. 

Well, it says what it says, doesn’t it?

(Except maybe the “silent” part. Surely it’s okay for women to sing, isn’t it?)

Yes, it does say what it says. But to say that it applies universally in all situations, in all churches, in all eras, with all women and men, requires what I like to call “skinchwise logic.”

First of all, there’s nothing wrong with advising women to learn in quietness and full submission. Men should, too. Women may be the recipients of this advice from Paul to Ephesus through Timothy (and Corinth by letter) because they were disrupting the assemblies, possibly with questions they should have waited to ask later. (Just as men, a few verses earlier in I Timothy, were the target of Paul’s wish that they lift holy hands in prayer without arguments and disagreements … evidently because they were praying while holding grudges, possibly even “praying against” each other.)

Think about what has happened in both of these cities.

Corinth, a center of pagan worship that involved many female priestesses engaging in (maybe riotous) sexual activity with male “worshipers,” and Ephesus – where Artemis/Diana was the primary goddess of choice – were cities where Christians were being converted from among such belief systems.

Both men and women of these Gentile milieus were being drawn into the very gender-stratified and conservative surround of a synagogue-like church. The earliest Christian churches comprised mostly Jewish men and some women who were not perhaps even used to sitting with men in the same room while worship and teaching was going on, though probably on a different side of the room or in the back. (In Corinth, the church originally met in a synagogue – until evicted, when it moved next door to the home of Titius Justus. In Ephesus, Paul originally taught in a synagogue – until he was evicted and moved to the lecture hall of Tyrannus.)

So it’s rowdy Gentile meets contemplative Jew in these houses of worship.

We have something of a clash of cultures.

The pagans have absolutely no background in scripture, and scripture reading is almost certainly an important part of the assembly. (The Bereans, remember, were checking the prophecies daily to see if what was being taught among them about Jesus was true.)

So questions will arise.

And in the Greco-Roman culture, where dialogue is encouraged (see Paul’s address on Mars Hill in Acts), the questions are likely to be asked on the spot. In the new church with the synagogue heritage, scripture was read and explained and everybody listened (pretty much like our churches today; you disagree with the preacher afterward in the foyer).

There were no Roberts’ Rules of Order for the early church, so the Holy Spirit moved Paul to write some.

Second, the pagan religion involved a multiplicity of gods and goddesses. In the Jewish faith, there was and is one-and-only-one God. Storytelling was an intrinsic part of both cultures, but in paganism, embellishment and creativity and outright originality in adding to the richness of the Mount Olympus saga was encouraged. In Jewish belief, storytelling was done with scrupulous regard to accuracy.

Culture clash.

Pagans would have found the Jewish stories a delightful addition to their panoply of pantheist story culture. Fallen angels and their gods and goddesses could easily live in the same story together. And pagans would have begun integrating them right in. Jewish Christians would not have appreciated this, and would have discouraged it.

So the creation of pagan stories would go underground, become secret; become secret knowledge; become gnosis.

Pagan stories, some emphasizing the superiority of feminine gods over masculine ones, would rewrite interesting Jewish stories such as the creation narrative. So goddesses Pistis and Sophia and others would empower Eve over Adam, sometimes even giving life to Adam through Eve. To a pagan used to idolizing (literally) Diana, it made a better story than the rather male-heavy Jewish version.

I’m not making this up. Read a few of the narratives of the Hypostasis of the Archons or On the Origin of the World or The Apocryphon of John or other Gnostic works. I know scholars say these works came later than the time of Timothy or Paul, but there is no proof of that assertion – and the fact is, many writings come a long time after the origin of stories’ verbal traditions, even in the Old Testament.

I’m suggesting that the verbal versions of these stories may well have originated in the time of Paul and Timothy.

And if so, they would definitely help explain the mysterious verses which immediately follow the two cited above from that first letter between them:

For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women (literally, she) will be saved through childbearing – if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety. 

I think it’s quite possible that Paul was refuting what he calls in the first chapter “endless genealogies” and would later in the letter call and “godless myths,” “chatter” and even “old wives’ tales” – refuting it by retelling the simple truth. If bold converted-pagan Christian women were teaching these stories that they had made up and preferred, their audience needed to be reminded that it didn’t require generations of goddesses to create man; that gods did not immediately ravish an image of Eve created by the goddesses to protect her; that Eve was not superior to Adam in intellect and courage because she craved the secret knowledge of the forbidden fruit and was bold enough to gobble it down – or any of that other goofy pagan stuff.

God made Adam, then Eve.

She was deceived by the serpent, because Adam didn’t speak up to assert the truth.

Eve sinned as surely as Adam.

And anyone who taught otherwise, Paul says, should shut up and sit quietly and listen and learn the truth. You have to learn before you can teach. As nearly as I can tell, in Ephesus, some of those who were teaching before they learned were very likely the mostly younger single/widowed women who were supported by the church to do good works but who had become “gossips and busybodies, saying things they ought not to” (later in the letter) – some of whom, “… have in fact already turned away to follow Satan.” That’s a harsh reproof, indicating a serious offense – like false teaching; not just idleness or gossip. So Paul directs the advice quoted above to Timothy about these women specifically.

Paul doesn’t permit them to teach falsehood or to teach in a way that usurps authority over the men, claiming that women are better rather than equal to them. The truth is, God created them male and female; side-by-side (though, yes, one was first). I wouldn’t permit women to teach otherwise, either. Nor would I permit men to teach such tripe.

Neither gender has an edge in God’s sight.

When Adam and Eve disobeyed, God never cursed one over the other. In fact, He didn’t curse either one.

He cursed the ground, to make Adam labor. And since neither of them had chosen to eat of the tree of life, they would have to perpetuate their species through childbirth, and that would be the labor of Eve. It’s not a curse. It’s a consequence.

Just like death itself, about which He forewarned them.

But He put an end to death through the Offspring of heaven and earth, Who has brought the kingdom of heaven down to earth.

That is the gift He gave us all. That should bring gratitude and worship to the lips of each person. That’s good news that everyone should tell.

Even the Samaritan playgirl who has encountered Someone extraordinary at a well.

Even Mary of Magdala at the sight of her beloved, risen Lord.

Even Priscilla, when explaining baptism more fully to Apollos.

Even the head of a household of believers like Lydia.

Even Junia and Euodia and Syntyche and all the others.

Even me.

Even you.