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.