You've reached the shared blog of Michael Mckay and Todd Frederick. Two friends who have worked together in ministry and labored in similar educational endeavors. Please join us as we consider the interaction of Christianity with modern culture...

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Women's ministry in the church

To be honest this is not a topic of which I have done much thinking. In the last few weeks, however, I have been reading several books on early church order which discuss this topic. In the past when I have looked into this topic, the arguments seemed to revolve around whether or not Paul's commands for women to be silent were culturally limited to the ancient world and, therefore, should be "upgraded" because of our more progressive understanding. This line of discussion was not very persuasive to me personally.
One of the books I have been reading is from conservative theologian and former (he is deceased) Southern Baptist professor Dr. Earl Ellis. He has brought to light some new thoughts (at least new to me) in this discussion. It seems there are three Scriptural areas which need to be explained/discussed: 1) Paul's positive statements regarding women's ministry in his letters, 2) I Cor. 14:33-35 which commands women/wives to be silent, and 3) I Tim 2:11-12 which states that women/wives are to learn in quietness and submission while not usurping authority or teaching over men/husbands.
Just to clarify the discussion: no one that I know of explains these passages in terms of women being inferior to men. The issue is one of roles in the church, at least that is how most conservative thinkers explain it. Both men and women are equal in their salvation and unified in Christ (Gal 3:28), however, roles may be distinct as between husband and wife or between the Father and Jesus Christ.
In this post, I want to present Dr. Ellis' arguments regarding the positive role of women in Paul's ministry. In another blog post I will present his exegesis of the I Cor and I Tim passages. All of this information can be found in his book Pauline Theology pages 53-86 which is very readable.
Paul mentions many women who are involved in ministry with him: Prisca (Priscilla), Junia, Euodia, Syntyche, Nympha (not mentioned by Ellis), and Phoebe. In fact, when we look at the biblical evidence nearly 1/4 of the names mentioned in regards to Paul's ministry are women (not from Ellis). Significantly, Phoebe (Rom 16:2) is called a "minister" or possibly "deaconess" in the church of Cenchreae. The other ladies, exluding Nympha, are called "coworkers" which is a term Paul uses elsewhere of those involved in various ministries including teaching, preaching, and prophecy. Junia was imprisoned (Rom 16:7) most likely because she was involved in some ministry which drew the ire of the Roman government: preaching and evangelism. Ellis does not mention Nympha (Col 4:15), but she needs to be added to the list as well in that her house was used for a church meeting. When we realize that only wealthy people owned homes large enough to accommodate 30-50 people for a church meeting, then we realize that Nympha was probably wealthy. Also, if the church met in her home, then there is no reason to assert that she did not administrate some aspects of the meeting. Lastly, Paul mentions that women can have the gift of prophecy (I Cor 11:5). Since prophecy is exhortation, encouragement, consolation and probably has significant overlap with what might be defined as teaching this becomes a significant point. It also creates tremendous tension with I Cor 14 where Paul tells women/wives to be silent.
Obviously Paul has a high regard for women in ministry. In fact if it were not for I Cor 14 and I Tim 2 this would most likely be a non-issue. So how does Ellis handle/explain these other passages? Does he give priority to this evidence or does he give priority to I Cor 14/1 Tim 2? Tune in next time to find out (and hopefully "next time" will be relatively soon).

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Pants on fire

I’m reading through Augustine’s take on lying for a seminary class. So far, I’ve concluded that he’s pretty much against it. It’s a tough read on a couple of different levels, as a piece of literature it features long sentences and obscure pronoun referents. It also seems that he uses reductio ad absurdum, where an argument is reduced to the absurd, without a really clear explanation to bring it home. On another level, it causes you to really think through how you view integrity. 

In our world, public figures offer explanations and caveats for controversial statements and we consider this a normal course of events. When a crime occurs in our neighborhoods, nobody sees anything to help the police catch the criminal. In Augustine’s thought, and in our own minds, these events raise the question of the speaker’s integrity. Since we cannot see the heart, we must rely on someone’s words to truly represent his thinking on a matter. When the words and the heart do not match, the person is lying. There’s a difference, however, between a person who loves the truth but tells a lie and the true liar who speaks falsehood for the love of lying. 

I wonder what happens to the world when the liars outweigh honest people? In Augustine’s thought the liar was sent to Hell and the true follower of God should rather forfeit bodily comfort and even suffer death rather than lie. What a contrast to our world of political spin and intentional ignorance! We should be able to assume truth and be shocked at a lie, we often must assume untruth and look for verification. Wouldn’t it be great if a liar’s pants really did catch fire?

Monday, March 5, 2012

Attempted Communion Without Consent

I caught an interesting article in USA Today about a week ago. They reported on a Catholic priest’s refusal to grant communion to a lesbian woman at her mother’s funeral and the consequent uproar. But think about it for a minute: who’s the ‘bad guy’ in this situation? Which of the characters is making a political statement? Don’t we automatically believe that the priest was unreasonable? Have some compassion for crying out loud! 

The Catholic Church has to deal with the denial of communion to its parishioners for violations of various moral standards and they have a procedure to deal with such things. From my understanding of communion in the Catholic Church, the parishioners get up from their seats, and move to the front of the church to receive communion from the priest. Parishioners who are guilty of various moral infractions simply remain seated and do not receive communion. So it’s sort of like being the religious guy at the family gathering when all the uncles are going to the bar. We know you’re not going, so we’re not going to ask you if you want to come along. (Notice how I’m playing both sides of that equation?)

With regard to this lesbian woman at her mother’s funeral, we all feel compassion for her loss. But we must also realize that she was the one who initiated the confrontation over communion. She forced the priest to make a decision about serving communion which clearly violated his conscience, requiring him to refuse the cup and wafer. You might even call this a rape of conscience…

Her political statement and the priest’s response is interesting, but it brings to mind something deeper. In society's quest for ‘tolerance’ we see conflicting tensions about ‘social control.’ What’s social control you might ask? In a nutshell, social control is that aspect of a culture which identifies and attempts to correct deviant behavior. In this situation, the woman wanted to publicly call out the man’s deviance, with his crime being that of intolerance. His response was to exercise social control by denying communion. In this situation, (and many others) social control gets applied against ‘older’ societal norms, and particularly matters of Christian conscience, without thinking critically or Biblically about the situation. Without a standard against which to judge our actions, we remain subject to the whims of society, and Christians will become the object of an extreme form of social control: persecution.