Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Complementarianism Through the Eyes of a Six-Year-Old

My three-year-old was just chattering on about how she wants to have "TWO BABIES" (holds up two fingers for emphasis), "because that will be easy to feed", then adds, "AFTER I get married. That's what I'm gonna do." Good, I tell her; that sounds like great fun and I'll come over and babysit.

At this point, my six-year-old son comes over to me with a very serious expression and thoughtful look in his deep, brown eyes.

"Mommy, is it the boy's job to chase the girl, or the girl's job to chase the boy?" (Did he overhear something I said to the twelve year old? Ya think? )

Bearing in mind that kindergarteners think very literally, (and can get suspended for physically tackling one another on the playground), I clarified: "Well, actually, no one really CHASES anybody or grabs them. But if the boy's job to...well, say he's a young man, and he likes her, he could ask her out to dinner or something."

Stefan's eyes lit up and he grinned sheepishly. Looking at the floor, he says, "Good, that's what I thought. That's what I want to do with Kiera." Kiera was his best friend in preschool and they were inseparable. Two years later, he still remembers how much fun they had playing Superheroes.

As our pediatrician once declared, "I don't care what the Supreme Court says. Boys and girls are different, and they know that they're different from the time they're born. No one has to tell them!" Maybe this is why my three-year-old daughter, who is up daily at the crack of dawn, makes her own bed, dresses herself, and neatly folds her Curious George pajamas while my sons can't put their own socks away without forgetting where they're going and why. Let anyone mess with their sisters and they'll meet fists of fury, however.

Viva la difference.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

In Defense of Complementarianism...(Submitting to Your Husband, and Fun Things Like That)

Yesterday, our head of Women's Ministries asked me to critique an article that ran in a particular, well-known Christian magazine for a Bible study leaders' meeting we are having tomorrow. (I have to be careful about naming the magazine, since they are publishing one of my own articles this Fall). However, you can link to the original here.

Just for fun, I banged out a rebuttal while reading the article through - paragraph by paragraph. I decided to respond completely off-the-cuff; no outside commentaries and no sources except the Bible itself. So for once, you will not be reading me quote Charles Spurgeon, John Macarthur or R.C. Sproul. (Besides, I already know what each of them think on the issue at hand, and I happen to agree. Now THERE's a shocker).

The text of the article is below. My comments are in red. Enjoy.

When We Can't Agree to Disagree

The idea that men and women are created differently, in ways that complement each other, sounds okay. But often, this “equal but different” thinking results in a hierarchy that can lead to distortions of truth, or even emotional and physical abuse. The abuse (of any kind) is not caused by the complementarian position, but rather by the sin nature. Note 1 Peter 3:7, Ephesians 5:25 (which commands SACRIFICIAL love on the part of the husband) and Colossians 3:19. In no way can the clear Scriptural command for husbands to lead in the home be misconstrued as a “power trip”.

For years, I thought that as with many theological side issues, sincere Christians can agree to disagree when it comes to gender roles. Some churches let women lead and teach the whole congregation, others interpret the Bible to say that women can only lead and teach other women, and in some cases, there are limits beyond even that. (I’ve heard of one church that doesn’t allow a woman to be the head of women’s ministries.) Some churches condone homosexual behavior. Some ordain gays pastors. Some even allow notorious abortionists to be ushers and members in good standing. Does this make it right? Disobedience to Scriptural injunctions is still obedience, regardless of what semantics you use to dance around the issue. Since when are God’s commands subject to majority rule?

I disagreed with this view, known as Complementarianism, but I figured, well, if that’s how they roll, then okay. But now, I’m starting to change my mind: often, it is not okay. Because if you take Complementarianism to the extreme, it becomes destructive. Your subjective opinion of what “the extreme view” of complementarianism may lead to is irrelevant. What matters is GOD’S view, and He has clarified it nicely for us in His Word with very little wiggle-room. The biblical view does not sanction “destructive” behavior. The disciples called Jesus “Lord”. Was their relationship “destructive”? It was based on presupposed authority, which is God’s ideal for both marriage and the Church.

Last week I received an e-mail linking to a news story that alleges that Saddleback Church in California counseled a woman to stay in an abusive marriage and also scolded her for “gossiping” about her marriage when she tried to ask for help (this story was all over Twitter and Facebook this week too). Saddleback (led by Purpose-Driven pastor Rick Warren) teaches Complementarianism—the wife must submit to her husband and that divorce in this instance is not an option. An e-mail linking to a (probably biased) news story which was reported on social networking sites hardly makes for Gospel truth. How is “abuse” defined in this case? Was it physical, or did she just not like her husband’s attitude towards her? The term “abuse”, unfortunately, has become wildly subjective and can mean almost anything. Facts need to be checked before allegations are made. Saddleback endorses many unbiblical beliefs and practices. That may well be the case here. If leadership behaved inappropriately, that still doesn't nullify a biblical position.

For the record, Saddleback pastor Tom Holladay told GFL he could not reveal specifics of confidential pastoral counseling, but that Saddleback always counsel a woman (or man) in an abusive situation to leave and find a place of safety. They would, however, urge couples to get counseling and try to reconcile. Sounds biblical to me so far. Biblical grounds for divorce = abuse, abandonment, or adultery.

In the family, Complementarianism plays out like this: the man is the head of the household, and the ultimate authority. They cite Ephesians 5:22, which says that a wife must submit to her husband, and the husband should love his wife. The woman must submit to that authority, which comes with the man’s protection and provision. There are plenty of women who obviously want protection and provision.

They conclude that the husband is the head of the family. I cannot find a verse in scripture that says a man is supposed to be the head of the family. 1 Corinthians 11:3-11. What the Bible says is that the relationship between a man and his wife is like a head and a body. It also says that women are supposed to honor, love and submit to their husbands – Titus 2:4; Eph. 5:28; etc.

Egalitarians (the opposite of Complementarian) like myself see the head and body analogy is an illustration of the unity, or oneness that God intended in creation. You may see it that way, but the pattern of male headship was unilaterally established in Genesis 3:16. Reading one’s own agenda into the text is called iesogesis. A husband and wife need to be a team, like a head and a body. A body needs the head, the head needs the body. “Team” within the context of familial and Church authority is a man-made concept rooted in Humanism,not biblical teaching. God makes the rules; not us. Even Christ, in His humanity, submitted to the Father: not out of a condition of inferiority, but of role. (Hebrews 5:8). Are we allowed to invent our own preferred rendering of that verse, whilst the Second Person of the Trinity voluntarily took on a submissive role? We cite the same biblical passage, but we look at the wider context, starting with verse 21: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (emphasis mine).

Whoa. Now you’re deliberately taking it out of context. The “one another” comes just AFTER Paul is clearly addressing the collective Body, and is talking about relationships WITHIN THE CHURCH. He exhorts those in the Church to speak to one another with psalms and spiritual songs, to resist evil, etc. He hasn’t yet touched on the family unit, nor each person’s role in it. By that logic, you could claim he was telling parents to submit to their children!

While someone (likely not a female translator) put a subhead right after verse 21, in the original text there were no subheads. So the next verses explain mutual submission—wives, submit to your husbands, and husbands, love your wives. Nice try, but notice he doesn’t mention husbands and wives until AFTER verse 21. Context clearly shows Paul is switching gears – from relationships and appropriate behavior within the collective Body at large, to the relationship between spouses at home. Paul is talking about unity and oneness. He concludes his teaching with a reminder of the oneness theme, and mutual nature of submission: “each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband” (Eph. 5:33). Which destroys your original argument: that complementarianism is inherently abusive. The command to love (and elsewhere to “rejoice in”) the wife does not negate the divinely-given order of authority (1 Cor. 11:10; 1 Timothy 2:12). The author really needs to study hermeneutics before making such a claim.

In churches that embrace Complementarianism, women rarely have the right to exercise their leadership gifts fully. Completely untrue. Half the people on earth are female – there’s plenty for us to do. When a church says that the man has more authority, can use his gifts more freely, it communicates a value (intended or not) that men are of greater value. I disagree. If the issue in wanting to serve is that one has a lower platform because of gender discrimination, I would question one’s motivation to actually want to serve. Is it to have a greater voice? Be more visible/influential? These are the wrong motives. If one has a true desire to serve, one will do what needs doing (and there are always people who need encouraging; meals to be brought to the sick; vacancies in the nurseries and Sunday School classrooms needing to be filled). A woman CAN find a way to use her gifts just as fully amongst other women as she would be able to in the population at large.

And so if a woman (who has less value) complains of abuse, it is easy in that system to discount what she says, or blame her. So in addition to being abused by her husband, the woman is also abused by her church. That’s quite a stretch, and a hypothetical situation at best. However, even if a legitimate scenario of true mistreatment, the injustice done does not negate the Bible’s clear teaching on gender roles. Cases of child abuse do not render the Bible’s command to discipline our children obsolete. Just because sinful people will twist, misconstrue or use God’s law to their own advantage does not make that law any less valid.

Think that doesn’t happen? In 2008, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary professor Bruce Ware said that when women, “as sinners” try to usurp their husband’s authority and “do what they would like to do,” their husbands--also as sinners--might “respond to that threat to their authority” by being abusive (http://equalitycentral.com/blog/?p=14). Key word here being “sin”. By no means is that scenario being condoned.

If marriage is understood as a hierarchy, then the person at the top of that structure can easily conclude that he has permission to do what is necessary to maintain power. Not if he is following the example of Christ, which is the whole point of Ephesians chapter 5. Verse 25 sums it up nicely: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” NOWHERE is abuse of authority rationalized in Scripture. We cannot simply say, “Well-intentioned Christians can agree to disagree” if those Christians argue that abuse is the husband’s prerogative, or worse, the wife’s fault. A Christian cannot biblically make that claim, because God Himself is described as a protector and defender of the innocent (Psalm 68:5). It is where we must stand up for true Christianity, which does not condone violence in any form, and which teaches mutual submission, not hierarchy. First part of that sentence is true – Christianity does not condone violence. However, she sets up a false dichotomy in the second clause, because authority does NOT presuppose violence. Again, Christ is the model and the ideal. Even in the authority of the Church, where discipline is sanctioned, it is never punitive but always restorative – the goal is reconciliation; not vengeance. Would the author argue that Church discipline is unchristian, because “taken to an extreme”, it can lead to abuses? Any God-given command or principle can be twisted or abused. That does not make the teaching running throughout all of Scripture, and the plain meaning of the text, any less valid.

"Jesus Christ opened the privileges of religious faith equally to men and women. He gave His message publicly and privately to women as well as men. The frequent and prominent mention of women in the Gospels is in itself noteworthy by contrast with their status in Judaism. Christ gladly received their public testimony. There can be no doubt as that regards to spiritual privilege, Jesus considered the two sexes equal. As regards to spiritual activity, there is a difference between that of men and women." ["Role of Women in the Church," Dr. Charles Ryrie]

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

His Mighty Warrior: A Treasure Map from Your King

If you are the parent of a small boy (ages 3-7, or thereabouts), buy him this sweet devotional book by Sheri Rose Shepherd. Children's prayer lives start early, and an age-appropriate two-way "conversation" that really speak to their hearts will enliven their devotion to God and encourage curiosity about spiritual matters.

My younger son (6) chose this book himself from hundreds on a bookstore shelf. Stefan selected "His Mighty Warrior: A Treasure Map from Your King", his prize for memorizing the most Scripture verses at AWANA, because it had a pirate map inside the front cover.

Stefan likes pirate-themed things.

More importantly, Stefan loves God - and it's clear from the very first "Letter" that Mrs. Shepherd does, too. The author has an unusual gift for "getting inside" a child's head and knowing how to impress spiritual truths upon their hearts. Sheri knows what makes children smile, what makes them hurt, and what makes them afraid - and wants them to know their Creator does, too. She has also authored "His Little Princess: Treasured Letters from Your King" for little girls (which I have not read).

Each day features a brief, one-paragraph "letter" to the little boy from God, with principles drawn entirely from Scripture. A related verse is included, as well as a 2-3 sentence responsorial prayer (which my boys love reciting in unison). Subjects addressed in the style of a father's tender rhetoric include being faithful in the little things, forgiveness, respecting parents, telling the truth, and handling anger in a God-honoring way. An entry entitled "Conquer Conflict" reads:
My Warrior,

Sometimes your greatest fight will be with your friends or family. I want you to remember that no one is perfect and that people will say things that hurt you or make you mad. When this happens, I want you to come to me and pray. I will heal your heart if you ask Me to, and I will give you the strength to forgive others. I know how hard it is to forgive those who have hurt you. But remember, my son, I always forgive you when you make mistakes. A warrior of mine does not let anyone stop him from being kind and strong in faith.


Your perfect King

The child's prayer then reads:

Dear Father in heaven,

Sometimes it is so hard to forgive my friends and family when they hurt me. So please help me, because I can't do it on my own.
In Jesus' name, amen.
Young kids have, in my experience, very short attention spans (especially boys!), so this devo cuts right to the chase. No need to mess around with babbling vain repetitions; our God appreciates clarity of thought and kids who get right to the point. Stefan unfailingly asks me to read to him from "His Mighty Warrior" when he's ready to go to bed, and if I forget a night, he's sure to remind me! He thinks about heaven as a very real place, and is beginning - thanks to quality juvenile literature like this - to think with an eternal perspective. Occasionally, the book prompts Stefan to ask intriguing questions, such as what types of toys there will be in heaven; but on the whole, it stokes his young heart with a growing desire to know his Heavenly Father better.

Interestingly enough, around the time we purchased the book, I was experiencing a bit of a dry season in my prayer life. Sometimes as adults, we make prayer into such a discipline that the joy and spontaneity we once knew is elusive. Trying to pray when I just don't know what to say is like trying to squeeze the last bit of toothpaste out of the empty tube - it just isn't happening. While cleaning my son's room, I opened the book and found the messages and prayers in "His Mighty Warrior" speak to my adult heart, too.

"Dear God, thank you for not getting mad at me for how I feel. I like having a Father in heaven who understands my heart. When I feel angry help me to still do the right thing. In Jesus' name I pray, amen."

Nothing there about the intricacies of pre-millenial dispensationalism, or the mysteries of Calvinism.

Sheri Rose Shepherd is a former Mrs. United States who overcame an eating disorder, depression and a broken home before becoming a writer and founding "His Princess Ministries".

More recently, she has written "Preparing Him for the Other Woman", a book on raising boys to be godly men and leaders of their families.

"His Mighty Warrior" is, to date, the best publication of its kind that I have found for boys in the preschool - Grade 2 age bracket. Shepherd portrays God as the Father Who loves them and cares about what they care about. This book edifies young hearts and encourages them to develop intimacy, trust and reverential love for the King of Kings.

Besides, it has piracy-inspired artwork. Way cool.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Well, Burst My Bubble: the Molokans Were Heretics!

Bummer for them.

I have always been fascinated by the obscure Eastern European sects of antiquity that broke off from the mainstream Orthodox Church in days gone by, if only for learning where they were correct in confronting the unbiblical practices of the dominant Church (such as the use of icons; the priesthood). Similarly, it's a lesson in the importance of orthodoxy (small "o") when examining where these groups went off the rails theologically. (The First Council of Nicea was kinda important, but might not have ever happened if Constantine had towed the line!)

Some years ago, I was reading an historical Christian fiction series set in 19th century Georgia and Armenia. The series cast the breakaway sect of the Molokans (in Russian, "молокане") as the spiritual protagonists, against the backdrop of the Big Bad Orthodox Cossack soldiers. I was intrigued by the group, who appeared to be a Slavic version of the Amish. The book claimed they were called "Milk Drinkers" because they drank no alcohol (I recently learned it was because they deliberately drank milk on the Orthodox fasting days, just to rile the clergy up).

Whatever the reason, they seemed like upstanding biblical Christian folks (and besides, milk builds strong bones and teeth).

There is not too much information written on the Molokans, although my Bulgarian pastor has an aquaintence in academia who is listed as the formost expert on the Molokans in the world. There are several thousand living in the San Fransisco area, and a few more thousand spread around the West Coast. Recently, I found a tiny group on Facebook (which I joined, just for fun) and found an extremely informative blog written by a former Molokan....who is now a born-again Christian.

Come again??

Turns out, (and there is some debate about this), this group of in-your-face Bible thumpers rejects the Trinity. Oops. That's a big one right there. Old Testament dietary restrictions are in full effect -- as are the "sign gifts" believed to be bestowed in a select few. Those with the "gift" are supposed to jump up and spontaneously prophecy at their meetings. "The Book of Spirit and Life", written by a 19th century Molokan "prophet", is given pre-eminence along with the Bible. Outside Christians are not welcomed as part of the Body, and the Molokans reject both baptism and Communion. While they are pacifists like the Mennonites, their roots are not Anabaptist as I had previously assumed. Evidently, they themselves claim descent from the "Paulician" sect of Armenia.

This is not a spiritual pedigree one would want to flaunt, I'm afraid. The "Paul" was not the Apostle Paul; rather, an Armenian bishop combined dualistic and Christian doctrines and thought he was re-inventing "the doctrines of Paul". According to Gregory Magistos, writing in 1058 AD, the Paulicians did not recognize persons of other communions as belonging to the churches. "We do not belong to these," they said. "They have long ago broken connection with the church and have been excluded." There you have it - a medieval cult. (The history is a long and fascinating one, but the bottom line is that it was a heretical group.)

The Bogomils, the other group which descended from this early sect, is one with which I am much more familiar. They were a formidible cult in Bulgaria between the 10th and 14th century - a neo-gnostic sect which had a dualistic belief in God, also rejected the Trinity, as well as the Creed and a good portion of the Bible. Although they rejected the mandatory Orthodox fasts, they were ascetics and had some other strange stuff going on. Some, tracing the Protestant movement in Bulgaria, have linked John Wycliffe and Jan Hus (early Protestant Reformers) to the movement, although historically and doctrinally there is no connection whatsoever. (When editing Pastor Hristo's book last winter, I added a paragraph explaining the Bogomil belief system and why it was heretical - as I explained to him, the average English speaker has never heard of the Bogomils and might erroneously assume they were proto-protestants). Much like the Cathars of medieval France, these sects grew and splintered - tossed to and fro without the benefit of solid, biblical teaching.

Unfortunately, it turns out the Molokans - for all their noble and godly outward appearances - are essentially in the same category as the Cathars, the Bogomils, and their spiritual ancestors. Satan isn't particularly creative with inventing new heresies - he just keeps repackaging the same old ones in a new form every few centuries.

I'm sure no-one else cares about obscure Russian psuedo-Christian splinter groups, but I'm kind of disappointed. I wonder if Tolstoy was a Molokan....