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Commentary Let Her Lead Life Ministry Theology

The Gift of Strong Women

My wife, Carly, is a strong woman. I knew this before we even started dating because we did ministry side-by-side as college students, especially with international students.

Sure, she was on the quieter side, but when she spoke, no one wondered where she stood on an issue.[1]

I was never threatened by Carly’s strength, her candor, her voice. At least I don’t think so. That all seemed quite normal to me because I’ve been surrounded by strong women my entire life.

My mom, my sister, both my grandmothers, my mom’s sister and sisters-in-law, my cousins (most of whom walk with Jesus). The women from our church in New York I mentioned in my last post.

All of them were strong.

Decisive. Fearless. Convicted. Dedicated.

Every single one of them.

So much for biblical womanhood.

This is Carly, too.

Throughout our marriage, Carly has been gracious and patient as I’ve learned to listen to her voice, understand her perspective, heed her warnings, take her advice, and yes, submit to her expertise or opinion often. (I’m still learning, of course. I wish I could say that I always do these things!)

Carly’s devoted to Jesus and incredibly gifted and capable. She’s passionate about serving the church and more than willing. We share similar interests, perspective on biblical issues, and even some spiritual gifts. But in terms of personality, style, demeanor, and how we process and act on information, we’re quite different. In fact, we’re pretty complementary in that way.

When it came to ministering as partners in a local church setting, however, it was somewhat of a mystery that plagued us both.

As a complementarian couple in a complementarian church, what does ministry look like together?

Or should that even be a thing?

We thought it should. Theologically, we were in a bind. What happens when the wife is strong and has spiritual gifts traditionally “reserved” for males?

So during the interim period when our local church was looking for its next lead pastor, Carly and I sensed that role was not for me. God seemed to be calling us to pursue a new ministry together.

As it turned out (terrible story telling, I know, but we have to keep this thing moving), God provided an opportunity for us to join the staff of the organization we were involved with in college–Cru.[2]

Cru, which is not a local church and exists outside the bounds of a particular church denomination, doesn’t take a theological stance on gender roles. Functionally, however, it does: women can lead in any capacity. Currently, the director of campus ministry in the U.S. is a woman.

Serving in a parachurch organization would not only give us both a chance to minister the gospel, but would allow Carly to exercise her gifts, teaching in particular, without violating our complementarian convictions in a local church (which, as I mentioned in my last post, were already crumbling).[3]

Strong women aren’t a problem to be managed or eliminated. They are a gift to the church, especially its men.

As we’ve navigated local church and parachurch ministry as a couple, I got glimpses of what Carly had seen and experienced in the male-dominated church world through her distinctive feminine eyes.

It was like Ben Stein showed up and gave me a drop of Clear Eyes to refresh my theological vision. Godly women aren’t simply called to be silent submitters to ego-fragile men. Seeing this led to thinking long and hard about how the gifts of women–especially leadership, wisdom, discernment, and teaching (those traditionally reserved for men!)–actually fit in most churches today.

As if all that wasn’t enough, God has given Carly and me two daughters who are nothing if not strong. One takes charge; the other will not back down. What’s more is that they love Jesus. They are increasing in their knowledge of the Bible and understanding of the gospel every single day.

I had to ask myself, What if they want to preach? teach? lead? What if they are mature, able, and willing to do so? What would I say to them?

Not only did these strong women prompt these important questions, they helped me see that their gifts, skills, maturity, and passions were necessary and essential in the church.

Strong women aren’t a problem to be managed or eliminated. They are a gift to the church, especially its men.

Having these strong women in my life–my wife being the foremost–opened my eyes to the major blind spots and inconsistencies in the complementarian framework I had failed to see for so long.

We’ll look at these in tomorrow’s post. Then (finally!), we’ll turn to the biblical text to see what it has to say about women in ministry and how we might consider making applications in our context today.


Notes

[1] I certainly didn’t wonder where she stood when she called me out for basically treating her like a girlfriend even though we weren’t officially dating. But that’s a story for another day.

[2] Cru is the ministry formerly known as Campus Crusade for Christ.

[3] “Parachurch” is a term used for ministry organizations that are not a local church. Even a seminary or publishing company associated with a denomination would be considered a “parachurch.” The prefix “para” comes from the Greek word para meaning “alongside” or “beside.” A parachurch ministry, at least in theory, is designed to function alongside or in cooperation with local churches. Still, we continued to wonder: if women weren’t allowed to teach men in a church setting, why should they be able to in a parachurch/campus ministry setting? It’s interesting to note that this idea seems to be unique to Protestants, however. The Roman Catholic Church, it seems to me, considers their seminaries, schools, hospitals, humanitarian ministries, etc. part and parcel of their mission. Read more here and here.

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Life Theology

Jesus Is More Than a Marriage Ref

When we read Jesus’ teaching on divorce in Matthew 19:1-9 (or Mark 10:1-12), it’s easy to get bogged down in the details of who can get divorced for what reason. I did that extensively once—I wrote a position paper on divorce in seminary. But I think in the context of what Matthew (and Mark, of course) is doing in his Gospel, this passage goes beyond petty details. After all, the major Pharisaical schools of thought liked to quibble over details. That was their speciality.

But Jesus is more than a marriage ref. He is attacking the very heart of Pharisaism. That’s one of Matthew’s goals throughout the gospels. Look at what Jesus does.

After some Pharisees ask about what constitutes a legitimate divorce (v. 3), Jesus starts by saying, “Have you not read?” Jesus challenges them on the authority of the Scriptures. Haven’t you ever read what God said? Of course they’ve read it. They have it memorized. Every word. But Jesus isn’t looking for information. He knows they’ve read it. But do they obey it? Jesus’ question pierces through their me-centered approach to marriage and everything else for that matter. It’s one thing to affirm the Bible is God’s word. It’s another to obey it.

Then Jesus tells them the word they most certainly have read: “He who created them from the beginning made them male and female…” The climax of creation is God making humans “male and female.” It’s not one gender or the other.  God’s creative design was for a man and woman to be joined, not separated. “Can I divorce my wife for any cause?” (see v. 3) shows that the Pharisees get God, creation, image of God, and marriage all wrong.

Then Jesus goes for the jugular. The Pharisees appeal to Moses. Well, why did Moses command men to give divorce certificates to their wives? Jesus answers, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.” At the heart of Pharisee belief was not self-sacrifice and forgiveness. It was ruthless justice and self-justification through strict adherence to the law. Moses’ law never commanded divorce, but allowed it and did so to keep vulnerable women safe in a society full of sinful Pharisee-type husbands.

This me-centered theology led to me-centered practice: what is the minimum she can do to me so that I can get out of this? That’s the crux. Jesus does say that divorce is allowable in the case of sexual immorality (v. 9), but his point is not so much to preside over divorce proceedings as it is cutting to the heart of a selfless, religious people who think they are honoring God’s law when, in fact, they are breaking his heart.

What’s going on in the bigger picture? The Pharisees are a microcosm of Israel who left their true Husband, Yahweh. And Jesus is going to show them that he is that true Husband. He’s on his way to Jerusalem, after all (16:21-28; 17:22-23; 20:17-19) to die for his Bride, forgive her (even of grievous sin!), wash her clean, and work mightily for her holiness—not kick her out in the cold. This is what Paul makes clear in Ephesians 5.

To the Pharisees, marriage was not about giving yourself up for the good of your spouse. It was about demanding and taking from your spouse so that you would be served. Jesus flips this on its head and shows that the religious elite truly have hard hearts, not obedient ones. Jesus will give himself up so that we come to see what marriage is all about—one man and one woman joined together before God in a loving, harmonious union of self-giving, forbearance, and forgiveness that points to a greater marriage: God’s with his people (cf. Hosea 1-3; Rev. 21:1-4).

Now the application for us becomes a bit more obvious—even for those of us with good marriages. I have never asked what’s the minimum Carly can do to me so I can send her away. But there’s a slice (sometimes a big one) of Pharisaism in my heart—and probably in yours. I too often make my marriage about me and what I can get out of it rather than about us and what I can give to my wife. I confess that my heart (which is Jesus’ point, after all) is all too ready to “send her away.” Not with divorce papers. But in the subtle, mini-divorces of angered silence, frustrated tones, sarcastic comments, and blame shifting.

If you think Jesus’ teaching about divorce is only for those with a marriage on the rocks you are fooling yourself. While we are asking what’s the minimum our spouse can do so we are justified in our literal divorces or metaphorical mini-ones, Jesus goes the distance to love his Bride by giving himself up for her. He’s saying, “It’s your hard heart that moves you send your spouse away when they wrong you. But I’m moved to run toward you and lay down my life for you, though you have wronged me.”

From the beginning, marriage was meant to be a living drama of God’s love for his people. His “never stopping, never giving up, unbreaking, always, and forever love,” as someone once wrote. That’s the kind of love he has for us. That’s the kind of love he wants in our marriages.

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Theology

Monday Miscellanies: The Love of Christ

A guest post by Jonathan Edwards

189. The Love of Christ

We see how great love the human nature is capable of, not only to God but fellow creatures. How greatly are we inclined to the other sex! Nor doth an exalted and fervent love to God hinder this, but only refines and purifies it. God has created the human nature to love fellow creatures, which he wisely has principally turned to the other sex; and the more exalted the nature is, the greater love of that kind that is laudable [commendable] is it susceptive [receptive] of; and the purer and better natured, the more is it inclined to it.

Christ has an human nature as well as we, and has an inclination to love those that partake of the human [nature] as well as we. That inclination which in us is turned to the other sex, [but] in him is [it] turned to the church, which is his spouse. He is as much of a purer and better and more benevolent nature than we, whereby [by which] he is inclined to a higher degree of love, as he is of a greater capacity, whereby [by which] he is capable of a more exalted, ardent and sweet love. Nor is his love to God, in him more than in us (nor half so much), an hindrance or diversion to this love; because his love to God and his love to the saints are an hundred times nearer akin than our love to God and our love to the other sex. Therefore when we feel love to anyone of the other sex, ’tis a good way to think of the love of Christ to an holy and beautiful soul.

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Theology

Jesus, Paul, Homosexuality, and Identity

You have heard the argument before—or maybe you have argued this way: “Jesus never talked about homosexuality. So, he doesn’t condemn it.”

It’s an old argument and a tired one. It’s tired because ancient Jewish culture did not celebrate homosexuality like Western culture does today. How do we know? Though people probably engaged in homosexual activity, it was simply known to be wrongIt was labeled as an abomination in the Hebrew Scriptures (Lev. 18:22; cf. 20:13). That did not change between the Testaments. Even today, rabbis do not condone the practice. We can be confident there was no Jewish effort in Jesus’ day to get so-called “gay marriage” enacted as law. In the Gentile pagan culture, however, people were more apt to practice homosexuality (as is evidenced by Paul’s letters, one of which I will address below).

When Jesus had the chance to talk about marriage (and thus God’s design for covenant, sexual relationships), how did he talk? Fielding a question about divorce, Jesus said this:

And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart [Moses] wrote you this commandment [i.e. allowance for divorce]. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Mark 10:5-9)

The context is about divorce, but the point is clear enough: marriage was instituted by God from the beginning of creation to be a life-long union between man and woman. For those still waiting to hear the words “homosexuality” out of Jesus’ lips, you won’t hear it. You won’t hear it because, according to Jesus, there’s not a debate to be had. Marriage is for one man and one woman. Case closed.

Paul, on the other hand, speaking and writing authoritatively as an apostle of Jesus did talk about homosexuality:

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Cor. 6:9-10, et al.)

What this means is that homosexuality (and a host of other sins!) are contrary to the gospel. Each sin is contrary to the gospel in its own way. Homosexuality is contrary to the gospel because marriage is designed to be a picture of Christ and his Church (Eph. 5:32). When marriage is altered to serve sinful desire, it not only communicates, “Marriage doesn’t matter,” but it essentially tries to falsify the gospel by saying, “The gospel doesn’t matter.” This is why Christians get fired up in the marriage debate. It’s not that marriage in and of itself is the end goal (though, I admit, some Christians come across that way). Rather, marriage is a picture of something far greater: the gospel! It is a live-action dramatization of the gospel: the husband (illustrating Christ) loves and self-sacrifices; the wife (illustrating the church) respects and defers ultimate leadership to her husband. This is the gospel in action. A Christ-centered marriage will be the best sermon a Christian couple can preach.

What this passage (1 Cor. 6:9-10 above) does not mean is that people who identify as gays and lesbians are “worse sinners” than anyone else. Let me put it simply: a person can be a Christian and have same-sex urges, temptations, and even behaviors just like a person can be a Christian and desire to lie (and engage in lying behaviors) to gain approval from her friends. Why can this be? Both people are fighting. Both people are continually repenting of and confessing the root cause of their sin and seeking to cling to Christ by faith. Both of these people fight to believe daily the gospel promises that Christ is their new identity, he is their righteousness, and his death provided their forgiveness. No one is immune to sexual temptation and sin, so Christians should cease acting as if same-sex attraction is in the “God-could-never-deal-with-that-sin” category. If the heterosexuals reading this are honest (along with me), we have sexual baggage, too. Christ deals with us in his kindness and calls us away from the lie of our (fill-in-the-blank) sexual temptation toward  the fullness he offers us in the gospel. The way Jesus introduced his ministry is what the Christian life is about: “The kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).

So in this “vice list” in 1 Corinthians 6 (cf. 1 Tim.1:10; Rev. 21:8), Paul is talking about people who find their identity in sin: sexual immorality, idolatry, homosexuality, greed, alcohol, swindling, etc. A 20-something who claims to be a Christian but sleeps with his girlfriend and wastes his days and nights on the XBox and shows no signs of repentance does not find his identity in Christ. He is in the same precarious position as an openly gay or lesbian person who professes faith in Jesus yet fails to acknowledge that homosexuality is contrary to a gospel-shaped life. Both find their identity in something other than Jesus. Both people are suppressing the truth and exchanging the glory of God for created things (Rom. 1:18-23). They may not be true Christians, therefore they should examine themselves to see whether or not they are truly in the faith (2 Cor. 13:5).

A person who finds their identity in Jesus, however, will listen to Jesus’ words.. And listening to Jesus’ words means repenting and going to him by grace through faith, rejecting the lies of sin and fighting to continually believe the promises of the gospel.

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Life

My Top 10 Posts of 2011

Top ten lists. That is what the last week of December is for, right? I should probably get in on the action before it’s too late. Without further adieu, here are the top ten posts from this small corner of the blogosphere. Thank you all for reading. I am truly humbled.

10. Your Words Have the Power of Life and Death
9. The Result of a Depraved Mind: Practicing and Approving of Evil Deeds
8. Gospel-Centered Devotions
7. I Want to Love Jesus, Not Just Know Stuff About Him
6. Long Snapping Amazement
5. Happy Anniversary to My Wife
4. Biggest Out of Context Pet Peeve: Matthew 18:20
3. The Rob Bell Saga
2. Thoughts on Erwin McManus’s Talk at the Global Leadership Summit
1. Should We Rejoice Over Osama Bin Laden’s Death?

If you read this blog often, what was your favorite post of 2011?