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Commentary Let Her Lead Theology

The Difference of Pentecost

We come to Pentecost in Acts 2. It is, without a doubt, one of the most electrifying, motivating, and mystifying passages in the New Testament. 

It also helps us make sense of gender roles in the post-resurrection era of the Kingdom of God.

Think of this post as a sequel to the last two on Jesus and women. In those, we looked at how Jesus’ interactions with women changed the game on gender in the first century. Now, we’ll see how Jesus begins to carry on his work through his people, including women, by his Spirit.

What Happened at Pentecost?

Pentecost was a Jewish feast to celebrate the first-fruits of harvest. Because it was a religious observance, thousands of faithful Jews from other parts of the world made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem to worship God during the festival.

There were about 120 believers gathered together for prayer on the day of Pentecost. The group included both men and women (see Acts 1:14). Luke, the author, writes while they were praying a mighty wind rushed upon them. Something like “tongues of fire” came to rest above their heads and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.

The disciples began sharing “the wonders of God,” and everyone heard what they said in their native language. The crowd was quite confused. Some even said that they were drunk.[1]

Joel foretold of a day when God would pour out his Spirit on all who believe without regard to status, ethnicity, or gender.

But Peter stood up to explain that they weren’t drunk. (It was only 9am!) This was the fulfillment of what the prophet Joel had written centuries before. His speech is found in Acts 2:14-36. His opening words in Acts 2:17-18 (quoting Joel 2:28-30) are the most important for our discussion. Here it is in the NIV:

In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.

In the Old Testament, God poured out his Spirit for certain occasions and on particular people. No longer. Joel foretold of a day when God would pour out his Spirit on all who believe without regard to status, ethnicity, or gender (cf. Acts 2:39).

At Pentecost, that day had finally come. God now lives in and with his people–men and women–for good.

What Does Pentecost Mean?

Pentecost means a whole lot. As it relates to gender roles, I’ll mention three important take-aways:

1. Pentecost means God has come to dwell with both men and women, equally.  

This was the goal of creation all along. In the beginning, God dwelt with humanity in perfect fellowship. The story of the Old Testament is God’s pursuit of his people Israel to dwell with them in spite of their sin. Nothing is a permanent solution. 

Until Jesus. 

All who believe in him become the place where God’s presence dwells on earth. We are God’s temple—his sacred space.

Jesus is God’s sacred space—the “place” where God dwells. He calls himself the temple to prove the point (John 2:19-21). He is where heaven and earth meet. 

And through his life, death, and resurrection, he reconciles people back to God and gives them his Spirit. Now, all who believe in him become the place where God’s presence dwells on earth. We are God’s temple—his sacred space.[2] 

This is a major theme in the New Testament, and it was foundational for the early Church’s understanding of what it meant to be God’s people. (see 1 Cor 6:18; 2 Cor 6:16; Eph 2:21-22; 1 Tim 3:15; 1 Pet 2:5). 

This has nothing to do with worshiping in a building or particular liturgies or churches operating as organizations. It has everything to do with being a people-movement energized and empowered by God’s Spirit for a specific identify and function: being with God as his people and being his witnesses to the rest of the world.

2. Pentecost means men and women are both his authoritative witnesses to the world.

Because God now dwells in us, we represent him to the world. This was, again, God’s intention from the beginning. He created man and woman in his image and likeness (Gen. 1:26-28), meaning they represented God in their activity in the world.

Sin did not entirely remove God’s image from humanity. But it brought destructive effects so that we sought to rule ourselves, rather than joyfully represent God as we were created to. 

Women, along with men, are authoritative witnesses for God because they, like men, have the Spirit.

Pentecost reverses this curse. The indwelling Spirit brings redemption and restoration to whoever believes in Jesus. Revelation 1:6 and 5:10 call the Church “a kingdom…and priests to our God,” echoing the language of image and likeness from Genesis.[3] Believers in Jesus can now fulfill humanity’s original intent.

Peter’s choice of the Joel passage especially highlights the mutuality between men and women in this new era of the Spirit. To prophesy in the context of Pentecost means to speak on God’s behalf with his authority. Women, along with men, are authoritative witnesses for God because they, like men, have the Spirit.[4]

There’s no hierarchy here. There’s no male-only leadership. The Kingdom of God, through the event of Pentecost, ushers in a new ministry paradigm in which men and women labor side-by-side in the work of the gospel.

3. Pentecost means the Church previews the world to come.

Jesus’ resurrection inaugurated the new creation. But it didn’t end with him. He is called the “firstborn” of a new creation (Col 1:15-20; cf. Rev 1:5). Now, whoever has the Spirit dwelling in them is “in Christ” and is, therefore, a “new creation” (2 Cor 5:17).[5] This will take its full effect when we are with Christ and receive our resurrected bodies in the new creation. 

As “new creation” beings, we are a “sneak peak” of the “coming attraction.” We’re a preview of what it will be like when we will reign with Jesus in the new heavens and new earth.

We do this in many ways, don’t we? We fight sin, pursue Christ-centered community, give justice to the disadvantaged and oppressed, care for the environment, bring hope to the hopeless, healing to the hurting, food to the hungry, and so on.

All of these are a faint whisper of life without sin, brokenness, and death.

In other words, we fight the curse.

Why wouldn’t we do the same with gender hierarchy? 

If men and women will live together in a redeemed world serving God equally as a kingdom and priests, shouldn’t we align our beliefs and practices with that reality now? Shouldn’t our ministries reflect the equality and mutuality God gave men and women at creation and in redemption?[6]

For me, the answer is a resounding “yes!”

If men and women will live together in a redeemed world serving God equally as a kingdom and priests, shouldn’t we align our beliefs and practices with that reality now?

What’s Next?

Now, on to Paul. In the next post, we’ll look at how Paul included women in gospel ministry. We’ll also consider some of his general teaching that should help us set a “baseline” for how Paul would think about women in ministry.

After that, we’ll start to dive in to the specific, controversial texts by Paul on women’s roles in the Church.


Notes

[1] For our purposes, what this language phenomenon actually was isn’t important. I have my own take. But that’s for another post. 

[2] If the concept of “sacred space” is new to you, please read my previous posts on Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 for context. 

[3] This is a major theme in 1 Peter. I’ll also show in the next post on Paul, that it’s a significant reason for his focus on the entire body of Christ contributing to its growth through spiritual gifts. Which, as we know, are not gendered.

[4] Of course, Peter, a man, takes the lead in his Pentecost speech. But as I’ve shown previously, we can’t overlook the fact that Jesus’ closest disciples were male for cultural reasons. Jesus accommodated himself to the culture he came to live in.

[5] A literal translation of 2 Corinthians 5:17 goes something like this, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ—new creation!” (2 For 5:17). There is no gendered pronoun in the verse. When a committee translates this passage as “he is a new creation,” we may know that Paul is talking about a generic person, but the gender bias damage has already been done. The focus of the verse is not “he” but “anyone” (Gk tis). Why is this text important for gender roles? Because it’s in a section where Paul talks about the ministry of reconciliation. If anyone is in Christ and is therefore a new creation, Paul writes, they have the distinct role of being his ambassador—to preach the message of Christ to a lost world. This ministry is for men and women. The theology of Acts 2 is no doubt in the forefront of Paul’s mind as he writes these words to the Corinthians. We have to ask ourselves: why would any woman be able to have this high identity and calling of “ambassador of Christ” to the world and yet not be a local church elder/pastor?

[6] I have heard some complementarians argue that there will be gendered hierarchy in the new heavens and new earth, based on the fact that there was a hierarchy built into the original creation. I have not found an actual article or book that explains the idea of “gender roles” in the new creation, however. Still, I remain unconvinced by this argument based on my conviction that Genesis 1-2 does not teach men are inherently “over” women as leaders. If there was no hierarchy in the Garden, it doesn’t make sense to me that there would be in the new creation. See my posts on Genesis 1, 2, and 3 for more on this. Other complementarians may argue that if a gender hierarchy is the result of the fall, that’s “just the way world is” and we should live with it. I may write an interlude post soon responding to the issue of birth order and whether or not we should fight against the curse. 

Categories
Ministry Theology

Thinking About Infant Baptism

Note: I have updated the first bullet point with a few thoughts from Doug Moo’s commentary on Romans.

I often joke that I am one sprinkled baby away from becoming a Presbyterian. Aside from infant baptism and their church governance structure, I am fairly aligned with most of the theological convictions of the PCA (the conservative branch for those of you who get worried when the word “Presbyterian” comes up), the RCA, or the EPC.

I doubt I will ever baptize an infant, or have my children baptized as infants, so let me get those cards on the table now. I am a credo-baptist (“believer’s baptism”). In light of this, I have some honest questions for paedo-baptists (“infant-baptists”). These four bullets are not exhaustive (of course), or an attack on my infant-baptist brothers and sisters. I love you and appreciate your desire for gospel-saturated, Christ-centered ministry. These are just thoughts that sprung to mind this morning.

  • Romans 6:1-4: You would be hard pressed to fit infant baptism into this scenario Paul presents to the church in Rome. Can an infant say he has died and risen with Christ to new life? Can an infant say he can “walk in newness of life.” This is what Paul connects with Christian baptism. In saying baptism is “connected” to the newness of life, it does not mean baptism brings about new life. Rather, it is a symbol of what is true in the heart. According to Doug Moo, Paul would think it an oxymoron to meet an “unbaptized” Christian. He says, “Baptism is introduced not to explain how we were buried with Christ but to demonstrate that we were buried with Christ” (NICNT, Epistle to the Romans, 364). Moreover, it seems that a baptized unchristian (an infant) would be just as unbelievable because of the context. Moo also notes that “in the early church [they] conceived of faith, the gift of the Spirit, and water baptism as components of one unified experience, which [J. Dunn] calls ‘conversion-initiation'” (Romans, 366). If an infant has not exercised faith and received the Holy Spirit, why would they be baptized? They do not need to be “initiated” since they do not belong to God’s family yet.
  • Matthew 28:19-20: Would the disciples have assumed a connection with circumcision and baptism in this scenario, so as to baptize infants, even though they cannot be taught and thus become disciples before regeneration? Furthermore, Is not the promise of heart circumcision connected to, and what makes obsolete, flesh circumcision (Rom. 2:25-29)?
  • Though it is true Acts speaks of “household baptisms” (twice, in Acts 16:15, 31) it nowhere says that infants were, in fact, baptized. Of course, infant baptism is nowhere forbidden in the New Testament. Nevertheless, is this the case because the apostles would have thought it absurd to do such a thing? On Pentecost, the men responded to Peter’s sermon by asking, “What shall we do?” Peter answered, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:37-39). Peter indeed says the promise of the Holy Spirit is for “your children” but there is a conditional clause: it is for “everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” Not all children of Christian parents–not even all baptized infants–are effectually called and saved by God. Will a child experience the blessing of being raised by a Spirit-filled parent? Of course! Will that Spirit be imparted to them apart from God’s grace and a true belief in Christ? No. So I ask: would Peter have expected a baby to stand in line that day? Probably not. Peter connected repentance and baptism. In the same way, John’s baptism was a “baptism of repentance” (Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3), which Paul said pointed to Jesus’ coming (Acts 19:4). Jesus’ whole ministry expanded on his opening words: “Repent and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15). Again this is something a baby–not even a toddler–can do. Paul’s own testimony connects baptism with the forgiveness of sins (Acts 22:16), something that cannot be given to a baby who is unregenerate.
  • Finally, as a side note: it is interesting that the same Reformed theologians who say that “household baptisms” occurred in Acts, thus giving credibility to infant-baptism is Scripture, will be the first to say that Acts was not “normative” as it concerns spiritual gifts (i.e. the so-called “sign” gifts). In order to be consistent with the issue of what is, or is not, normative in Acts, those theologians would have to say that all gifts continue until today or say that “household baptism” are either 1) not normative for today, or 2) may not have implied infants were members of those households.

No matter what side of the debate you are on, what are your thoughts?

Categories
Theology

Psalm 16 and Jesus

Have you ever noticed how seemingly flippant the apostles quote the Old Testament in relation to Jesus? On the surface, it appears that they use the Hebrew Scriptures as a grab bag, just pulling whatever the want out of context in order to built up Jesus’ reputation. This could not be further from the truth.

In Luke 24:27 and John 5:39, Jesus said that the law and prophets bear witness to him. So in Acts 2:25-28, when Peter quotes David in Psalm 16, he is following Jesus’ most basic interpretive principal: everything in the Bible is about Jesus.

In Psalm 16, David asks God to preserve him and be a refuge for him. Peter quotes verses 8-11. In the context of David’s life, he’s making a holy argument for why God should not abandon him, and he seeks ultimate hope, joy, and pleasure in God.

Peter interprets this Psalm through the lens of the resurrection. He says in Acts 2:29-32, “Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet…he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses.”

Peter’s main point is this: Jesus is the true and better David. David’s corpse is still rotting in a grave. Jesus has risen. David prayed to avoid Sheol. Jesus abolished Sheol. Jesus will never see corruption or be abandoned to Hades because he is the only one whose life has never been corrupted. He is the only one who has perfectly set the Lord before him. He is the only one who perfectly rejoiced in the Lord. He is the only one whose pleasure in life and all things was ultimate a pleasure in the Father. Though Jesus did die, his flesh did not see corruption in the grave. Because of Jesus’ perfect life, the Father justified him by resurrecting him from the grave. Jesus therefore defeated corruption and is now seated at the right hand of the Father.

Only when we see Jesus as the fulfillment of Psalm 16 will we overcome the grave and the corruption it brings. Only then will we avoid eternal judgment and wrath. Only when we look to Jesus, who sought true joy and pleasure in his Father, will we experience pleasure forevermore.

Categories
Theology

Christian and Unbaptized? Unthinkable.

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? (Romans 6:3)

How could someone, Paul argues, who has died with Christ through the public display of baptism (the external display of an internal reality; the symbolic representation of our death and resurrection with Christ) still continue to obey sin as a master?  Baptism is a display of what Paul spoke of in 2:29, “But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter.”  Baptism is an outward act that one has been circumcised in the heart and wants to display it to the world.  Baptism is what signifies our death and resurrection with Christ.  It is not the instrument through which we die and rise with Christ.  John Piper gives the analogy of a marriage and the wedding ring:

All of us who have put on the ring of marriage have, by putting on this ring, forsaken all others to cleave only to our wives. Therefore by this ring I am united to my wife alone and dead to all others.

Now you could press the language and say, “Aha, it was the actual putting on the ring that caused your forsaking all others and your cleaving to Noel alone. You said it explicitly: ‘By this ring, I am united to my wife alone.’ What could be plainer? The ring does it all.

But that is not what I would mean by these words. I would mean that putting on the ring is a sign of my forsaking all others and cleaving only to her. The decisive leaving and cleaving is in the promise, the covenant, the vows. “I plight thee my troth.” “I promise you my faithfulness.” Then comes the ring, the symbol.

The vows stand for faith in Christ, and the ring stands for baptism. And the point is that we often talk this way. We often speak of the symbol as though it brings about what it only signifies.

But is baptism just a symbol? In Galatians 3:27, Paul says, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”  This, and Romans 6:3, does not mean baptism saves you.  Grace through faith alone justifies a person before God (Rom. 3:24-26, 28; 5:1; Gal. 3:5-6; Eph. 2:5, 8-9).

However, baptism in Paul’s day has a much more significant meaning than it does today.  We have cheapened the meaning of baptism in the Christian church. In his commentary on Romans, Doug Moo writes, “J. Dunn…points out that the early church conceived of faith, the gift of the Spirit, and water baptism as components of one unified experience, which he calls ‘conversion-initiation’” (Moo, Romans, 366).

In Acts 10, when Peter is preaching Jesus to the Gentiles, in the middle of his message, the Holy Spirit came upon them and immediately.  Peter did not wait and have them complete a spiritual gift survey or go through a membership class or a doctrine class.  He said, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people?” (v. 47).  In Acts 8, when Philip preaches to the Ethiopian eunuch, the Ethiopian believed and immediately asked Philip if he could be baptized (v. 36).  In Acts 16, Lydia and her whole household were saved and on that same day they were baptized (v. 15).  The point is that when people believed in the NT, they were immediately baptized as a public declaration that they identified with and were saved by the death and resurrection of Jesus. To these new believers, and the New Testament writers, it was unthinkable, even inconceivable, that a person would believe in Jesus yet not be baptized with water.

Would Paul have a category in his mind for a Christian who believed in Jesus as Lord and Savior and repented of their sin, yet was not baptized? No. There are many reasons that baptism isn’t done immediately today, but I won’t discuss that here. The point is this: if you are a Christian and are not baptized, what is holding you back? Don’t disobey. Believe and obey, and get baptized today!

Categories
Life

Try to be absolutely clear when you say, “I am a Christian”

I don’t really like labels in Christianity, because on the surface, they seem to divide people who are Christians.  That can be true.  But it is also true that labels can be helpful when talking to people who are not Christian, but say they are.  In today’s pluralistic, postmodern, theological buffet-type culture, we must be able to distinguish our beliefs from other false ideas about Christianity.

To say to someone, “I’m a Christian,” is biblically correct, and should be sufficient (it would have been in the first century).  At the same time a friend might say to me, “I’m a Christian,” but it’s evident that they are no more a Christian than I am an oak tree.  How can I make sure that my misguided friend understands the difference  in our beliefs?

Consider this analogy.  I ask my friend what being Christian means to him.  He says, “I go to church.  I pray before meals.  I try to be a good person.”  Then he asks me what being Christian means to me.  I say, “I am a born-again, Evangelical.  That means I believe the Bible is the infallible, authoritative word of God and that the only way to be forgiven of sin, escape the wrath of God, and have eternal life is justification by grace through faith in Jesus Christ , who died on the cross and rose from the dead.”

When I defined being a Christian for myself, I put a label on myself (I use the word “label” here kind of loosely).  I labeled myself as an Evangelical (I could have even included the word “Protestant” in there too).  But the important thing is that I gave the label a precise definition.  The term “Evangelical” was practically synonymous with “Protestant” during the Reformation era.  The two main issues during this time were authority and justification.  The Catholic Church believed authority belonged to the Pope, and that justification could be purchased through indulgences.  The Reformers believed that authority was in the Word of God, and that justification was by grace and faith alone in Jesus.  This mean they protested (Protestant) against the false doctrines of the Catholic church, and identified themselves with the evangel (the true gospel of Scripture).

Because some people believe that Jesus is no more than a great moral teacher, and that the Bible is just a grab-bag story book with some good insights, we must be crystal clear in communicating what being “Christian” really means.  And sometimes, whether we want to or not, lableing ourselves might be helpful.