Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Women Elders

A major discussion point in my faith community recently has been the concept of female elders. Not the actuality of female elders mind you, just the concept. Given my previous post on the proper roles of men and women, we need to ask what the purpose of elders is. Elders, rightly understood, are not institutional functionaries. This is clear because an institution is not what God is after. They are instead, sages of the People of God; mature, disciplined, faithful followers of God who grasp the faith as it was intended and can pass it along to younger generations.
To do this job, elders form a deliberative and guiding body for the People of God – not a church. As such, elders pray, meditate on Scripture, contemplate what they know of God and His purposes, and provide guidance and correction collectively and individually to the People of God. To pass on the faith – or for the purpose of maturing believers – elders counsel, advise, teach, and preach with an eye toward forming the completed economy of God on earth.
There is nothing in either the character of God (in whose image we are made) or Scripture (which describes the purposes of God) that would prevent a woman from fulfilling this role any more than a similar role in the “secular” world. For believers, there is no such thing as a secular world. Everything they do – including work – is within the economy of God.
We find then that in America, in 2011, and in keeping with the economy of God and His purposes, there is no basis to restrict women’s full participation in the life of the community of faith. Further, Paul’s prohibition on women’s activities is based on cultural considerations rather than any asserted universal desire of God to define gender roles.

Women's Roles, redux

Let’s review what God is up to and how the church fits his purposes. By church, we too often mean an institution even if we consciously make a distinction between organizations and organisms. We are familiar with the Episcopal Church, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Church of Christ. We have a penchant of arguing over the arguing over the rules for these institutions so that we get “it” right. Unfortunately, this isn’t the point of church. We confuse ourselves by using a Biblical term for a modern manifestation.
When God said He would build His church, He meant something more along the lines of “I will call my people out of the nations.” He wasn’t building a “church,” but crafting a people of His own. This people are intended to be a reflection of the originally intended economy – humans who live in the character of their Creator. This is the big disconnect – we want to build churches but God is after a people.
Our doctrinal arguments arise often from two primary areas – 1) rules for the construct and operation of “the church,” and 2) doctrinal statements of belief that often include concepts we have deduced from Scripture and cannot adequately explain. Very seldom do our disagreements arise from the sorts of people we are to be. And therein lies the rub – God is infinitely more concerned with what sorts of people he has called than the form of polity we choose or the fine details of our theology and church practice.
It is clear in Scripture that church practice arises from the definition and character of the people who align themselves with God. We are defined by his character and we join in his purposes for us and the world. Our character is to mirror His character; our economy to mirror His economy with the understanding that our economy is to be the economy for the world – not a “church.”
The implications of this line of thinking are staggering for ecclesiologists who seek to deduce and ferret out rules for church in Scripture as though church is somehow different and separate from the People of God. Scripturally, church cannot be a subset or a representation of the People of God – the two are the same in Scripture and we miss this to our peril.
The rules for church then arise not from some disciplined research for corporate situational requirements but from the very character and lives of the People of God. If it is right and proper for Christians to behave and conduct their affairs in certain ways in “non-church” settings, then those same behaviors and conduct are appropriate in “church” settings. There is not and cannot be any differences based on setting.
We regularly acknowledge this in various parts of our lives – and correctly so. Christians don’t cheat on their taxes because Christians don’t cheat. A self-aware Christian cannot cheat on their taxes. Unfortunately, we quickly lose sight of this principle when discussing rules for our corporate gatherings. For instance, many people will acknowledge congregational leaders’ responsibility to guide their “church life,” but balk if those same leaders try to interfere with their personal or business lives. The same dualistic thinking appears in many places. Church rules and Christian principles are welcome as long as I’m feeling “churchy” or pious. As soon as we enter some other aspect of our lives, or our personal interests come more directly into play, the rules and principles seem to change.
The current brouhaha in my faith community has to do with the “roles of women.” We show a remarkable ability to separate our church lives from almost every other aspect of life. Women, we are told, are not to teach or have authority over a man. In support of this, many argue that the husband is the head of the wife, and this has been true from “the beginning.”
Unfortunately, in our haste to follow Scripture, we miss the inconsistency and implications of these statements, making them concrete rules for the People of God for all time. In so doing, we further divide “church” from the “People of God.” Regarding the first – that women cannot teach or have authority over men, we miss the simple fact that any married man knows that his wife does from time to time teach him and authoritatively correct him. If any man does not recognize this, or does not recognize that it has ever happened, he approaches being the biggest boor on earth. Secondly, many Christian women are senior to men at work and many Christian men work under the authority of women at work.
If the prohibition has been from the “beginning,” it is not bounded by being “in church” because “church” didn’t exist in the beginning. Rather, the beginning described the economy of God. Any self-respecting Christian woman then, would avoid exercising authority over any man anywhere, and any self-respecting Christian man would not work in a place where women exercised authority over him. To do otherwise would violate this universal and eternal truth. This can be our only conclusion because the Christian life is a call to be transformed in all aspects of your life – not just “church.” Clearly, despite the amount of noise and smoke around this topic, we don’t really believe this universal and eternal prohibition is as universal or eternal as we want to have people believe.
The suggested prohibition on women does not arise from either the character of God as revealed in Scripture or as a natural consequence to development of the fruit of the Spirit. A woman who teaches or exercises authority over a man must do so in Christian character; not lording it over the man or acting arrogantly toward him. Of course, this same consideration applies to men to teach and exercise authority. Any restrictions on behavior arise not from gender but from a mature grasp of Godly character.

Saturday, February 05, 2011


Recently I stumbled upon a presentation by the organizational leadership training office of a major entertainment corporation. The point of the presentation was essentially how to get all your employees on board with operational priorities and standards. The priorities of the corporation were presented as:


The presenters went to great lengths to make it clear that these were not a list of values (there’s nothing here about human life, or integrity, or anything similar), but were a decision making tool. 

These are not just a list of random items, but are given in order so that the higher something is on the list, the more inviolable it is. For instance, courtesy is the second on the list and the corporation always wants to be courteous to its customers – unless safety is involved. If someone is in danger of being hurt, it is acceptable to be reasonably discourteous to a customer. Otherwise, courtesy is more important than efficiency in doing one’s job. It is OK, and expected, to take a bit more time with a customer than is otherwise required because that’s the courteous thing to do – even if efficiency suffers a bit in the process.

It isn’t that efficiency isn’t important – it is. But when employees have to make decisions about what to do during a workday, this relative ordering of priorities helps them decide what to do in any given situation.

This made a lot of sense to me and could explain a lot of problems within religious circles and even in Christian living. If we had and if we could pass on a relative ordering of priorities, our people could easily make decisions – and come to simply live – in accordance with Christian relative priorities.
Here are two lists that illustrate the difficulty and confusion that might arise in a body of believers – and in individual lives if they co-existed. List one:

Self control

List two:


In many of our congregations we seem to have a mix of priorities and standards and is it any wonder that we have congregational tension and strife? Some number of people are trying to live by one of these lists and cannot fathom what the other group is trying to do. As a result, we experience congregational turmoil and confusion in our own lives as we listen to the messages from both groups.

This tool of relative priorities could be a great tool for congregational leaders, teachers, and mentors as we seek to shape the lives of those in our congregations. What would your three to five priorities be for your life and your congregation? Remember, the specific items are all important but are in priority order. Those lower on the list can be violated for a short time in order to meet the demands of an item higher on the list. Those higher on the list cannot be violated to accommodate an item lower on the list.

Remember these are not values per se, but form a decision making tool that is useable by individuals and congregations as we together try to live the life we are made to live. Have fun.

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