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A Year of Biblical Womanhood

In 2010, Rachel Held Evans decided that for a whole year, she would attempt to obey all the commands given to women in the Bible. Her long-suffering husband, Dan, played along. As a result, amongst the other crazy things she did, Rachel didn’t cut her hair for a year, learned to cook, made her own (purple) dress, camped outside “at the worst time of the month,” cared for a computerized baby and sat at her city gates with a sign saying “Dan is awesome!” Her book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband “Master” is the result.

  1. Laugh-out-loud funny:  Maybe it’s my warped British sense of humor, but there are few books that cause me to chuckle aloud. I mostly read the book in bed in the evenings and  I’d periodically have to nudge Tony, (waking him in the process) to say, “You’ve got to hear this!” and we’d both laugh together at her wit and humor and the ridiculousness of what she did .
  2. Serious: Rachel examines at the good, the bad and the ugly of what the Bible says about women in a thought-provoking way, sharing the wisdom and insights she gained. It might have been tempting for her to dismiss a number of topics as being culturally applicable only to Biblical times, but each subject is researched for the principles involved, and how they can be applied today.
  3. Vulnerable: The subject matter is tackled in a disarming and compelling fashion. As Rachel shares her candid reaction to what is going on, she draws you in on her emotional journey too.
  4. Challenging: The book challenges us to rethink our what the passages about women in the Bible really mean.

Not just highly entertaining, this book is a thought-provoking look at a topic that’s gaining traction across the church spectrum–the role of women in the Kingdom of God.

3 predictions for 2014

For most of us, the New Year is marked by a sense of anticipation. The old year is done with; what will 2014 hold? Here are three of my ideas for what 2014 might bring for those of us in the simple/organic/house church movement (or those with an interest in the role of women in ministry).

  1. There will continue to be an increasing emphasis on disciple-making movements. Profoundly effective disciple-making movements are beginning to emerge in this country, with, at this stage, hundreds of new believers stretching several generations. This is an exciting development, and one that I believe will continue to gain momentum. More to come on this in future posts.
  2. The simple/organic/house church movement will maybe lose some people as those who joined it to be fashionable drop out. However, it will become a foundational platform for other things God is doing–for example, discipleship in the marketplace, Kingdom finances etc.
  3. The conversation about women in the Kingdom will increase in intensity and become a (probably controversial) focal point.

Am I right? Only time will tell. What do you think will happen in 2014?

What will 2014 hold

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Does the Bible command that men rule over women?

The other day, the excellent editor I’m working with on the book I’m compiling, The Black Swan Effect: A response to gender hierarchy in the church, asked me a question on the manuscript.

I’d written “God nowhere in Scripture commands men to rule over women.”

Her comment was, “This is a big statement. Do we know it is true?”

There was only one verse in Scripture that I was aware of that might say this. In Genesis 3,  God says to Eve that one of the consequences of the Fall was that her desire would be for her husband, and he would rule over her. I’m persuaded this is descriptive (ie God is telling what will happen) rather than prescriptive (this is the way God wants it to happen. If it is prescriptive, and knowing that God is always consistent with himself, how do you explain Deborah, Esther, Priscilla, Phoebe, let alone a host of other women God has used in positions of leadership down through the pages of history.)

I couldn’t think of any other verses. But was I totally sure without any shadow of a doubt?

So I posted the question on Facebook and had a slew of fascinating responses. I’m very thankful for all of them. Most were very thoughtful and one produced some verses I’d never thought of in this context. Nearly everyone agreed with my statement, and I was very grateful for the person who contacted some theologians on my behalf, who also agreed with me!

Assuming, then, that the statement is true, what difference does it make in our churches?

 

Some quotes from one of my heroines–Amy Carmichael

Amy Carmichael was a missionary to India who had a profound impact on my life through her writing. Even reading some of her work now, I can understand why they were so impactful (ouch!) Here are some quotes, several of which are taken from one of her  little books called If:

“You can give without loving, but you cannot love without giving.”

“If I am afraid to speak the truth lest I lose affection, or lest the one concerned should say, “You do not understand”, or because I fear to lose my reputation for kindness; if I put my own good name before the other’s highest good, then I know nothing of Calvary love.”

“There have been times of late when I have had to hold on to one text with all my might: “It is required in stewards that a man may be found faithful.” Praise God, it does not say “successful.”

“Satan is so much more in earnest than we are–he buys up the opportunity while we are wondering how much it will cost.”

“If I do not give a friend “The benefit of the doubt,” but put the worst construction instead of the best on what is said or done, then I know nothing of Calvary love.”

“If I can enjoy a joke at the expense of another; if I can in any way slight another in conversation, or even in thought, then I know nothing of Calvary love.”

Quotes from here and here.

The hemiplegic body of Christ

When I worked as a doctor, there was a diagnosis I never liked to make. “Hemiplegic” is the medical term used to describe paralysis down one side of the body that occurs, for example, after a stroke. If the condition was severe, it was potentially a devastating diagnosis for the person involved, who had to come to terms with the fact that they would be weak and unable to fully function and might have to depend on the help of others for the rest of their lives.

The body of Christ in the West is hemiplegic. Half of it–the female half–is significantly weakened, if not totally paralyzed. The whole body of Christ is suffering as a result.

Where are the women apostles? Where are the women who are prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers? Where are the female role models who dare to do great exploits for the Kingdom of God?  I’m grateful to count several like these as my friends, but in general, women in any form of strategic church leadership in the West are conspicuous by their absence.

It’s not that way in other parts of the world.

  • In China, around 80% of house churches are planted by ordinary women
  • In India there is a significant harvest being reaped by women of all castes. Two years ago, I met two women–ordinary, middle aged housewives–one of whom was responsible for starting 2,000 churches and the other, 6,000 churches.
  • In Dr. Cho’s church of more than 800,000 in Korea, two-thirds of the associate pastors are women, and 47,000 of the 50,000 cell group leaders are women too.
  • In many nations where there is restricted access for the gospel, women are planting churches–they have easy access to homes and naturally share their testimony with others, pray for the sick and demonized and find persons of peace.

If women can do it in other nations, why not here in the West?

Are there women in this country who are willing to break out of the stereotypical role assigned to them by tradition? Who will follow the Great Shepherd into the harvest? Who will dare to break out of their boxes of convention, who will color outside the lines of expectation.

If God is using women in extraordinary ways elsewhere, (and he is) then why not here too? We do not have to remain hemiplegic!

Do you have examples of what God is doing through women either here or in other nations?

Photo credit: Vici-Jane


Half the Church

I’ve read a couple of books by Carolyn Custis James. Her book,The Gospel of Ruth: Loving God Enough to Break the Rules is an unusual and inspiring look at the book of Ruth and how it communicates the truths of the gospel. It was of particular interest because it was through our church’s study of the book of Ruth that a Hindu couple committed to the Lord.

Half the Church: Recapturing God’s Global Vision for Women is another book by Carolyn. It covers two major areas:

The loss that occurs when women believe there are limits on how God will use them. This loss isn’t just to half the church whose vision of God’s purposes for their lives is stifled, but also to the men who are carrying a weight of burden they were meant to share with us. God meant us to build his Kingdom together.

A global tragedy is underway as women and girls are suffering the worst kinds of injustices. The book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas Krystof and Sheryl WuDunn graphically details some of these atrocities–sex trafficking, female genocide, genital mutilation and so on. In Half the Church, Custis James examines this further. What is the church doing about oppression and injustice to women? Apart from a few Christian organizations, most of the church is too busy and just ignores their plight.

Half the Church challenges us to search for God’s vision for his daughters. His plans for us are more far-reaching and life-expanding than we have yet experienced.  God is calling us to engage in the world, to right injustices, to stand up for truth. If the other half of the church would fully engage, we can impact the world for the King.

Those who have been reading my blog for some time will recognize how this well-written and thought-provoking book resonates with truths that I believe the Holy Spirit is bringing to the attention of the body of Christ. I highly recommend it.

Women are not allowed to teach. Really?

My last post about a female Indian church planter who  was not allowed to share in class obviously struck a chord with many. In response, someone asked me how he could answer those who use 1 Timothy 2:12 as the basis of their belief that women are not allowed to teach and shouldn’t have authority over men.

I don’t believe those who silenced my friend are deliberate misogynists. My guess is that they are genuinely trying to follow the Scriptures. The problem is, they take a legalistic viewpoint on an English version of a verse that can, with total integrity, be interpreted in a different way.

So here’s the question: is 1 Timothy 2:12 an absolute prohibition on women teaching men? Is it right for the men in her class to forbid my friend to speak?  Or are there other Scriptures that provide a balancing view, in which case, a different interpretation is acceptable.

People sometimes go to ludicrous lengths to accommodate this verse, as my Indian friend discovered.


Photo Credit: potamos.photography via Compfight cc

Consider the following in trying to understand 1 Timothy 2:12

  • 1 Timothy 2:12 is the only verse in the Bible that apparently explicitly states that women are not allowed to teach men.
  • Paul and Timothy had traveled together for some time, and Timothy would have known if Paul forbade women to teach (I Corinthians 4;17). It would have therefore been surprising if Timothy and Paul hadn’t made that clear right from the start in Ephesus. Even more surprising that Timothy allowed women to teach and the practice needed to stop.
  • Paul acknowledged the very real role that women had in teaching Timothy  (his mother and grandmother).
  • Priscilla (named first) and her husband, Aquila, taught Apollos a “more accurate way.” (Acts 18:26)
  • 1 Corinthians 14:26 gives a list of things that everyone is expected to participate in. “When you come together, each one has…” The Greek word for “each one,” hekastos, is a word that encompasses both genders. This list includes teaching. Several times in chapter 14, the word “all” is used. Verses 24 and 31 both say that all may prophesy, and we know from Paul’s teaching in chapter 11 and from Acts 2 that this includes women. If Paul really forbade women to teach, why didn’t he mention it then?
  • A number of gifts to the church, including teachers, are listed in 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4. For some of these gifts there are female examples in the Scriptures (Junia was an apostle, Philip’s daughters prophesied), but again there’s no qualification here that women are not allowed to teach. Paul asks, “Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers?” While the obvious answer to this question is “no,” there is no implication that any of these gifts are gender specific.
  • Colossians 3:16 exhorts us to teach and admonish one another.
  • In Revelation 2, the church in Thyatira is chastised for allowing “Jezebel” to lead people astray. It’s what she teaches that is the problem, not the fact that she’s a woman teaching.
  • The Great Commission, in which disciples are commanded to both baptize and teach is not limited to men.
  • 2 Timothy 2:2 is the classic passage on discipleship. It is often rendered “The things you have heard me say…  entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. The word “men” in the Greek is anthropos, a generic term for humans rather than gender specific.
Let this form the backdrop of how 1 Timothy 2:12 is interpreted.

 

A true story that makes me angry (and sad)!

It takes a lot to render me speechless. Even more to make me angry. This story happened yesterday.

We have had a delightful lady church planter from India staying with us this week. She trains other women church planters and between them they have seen 50,000 to 60,000 baptisms of women over the last few years. In the network that she and her husband run, there have been around 250,000 baptisms. They have planted thousands of house churches.

This lady is in the United States to get her doctorate in ministry–she comes over once a year to attend the course in person. The course is about missions and how to reach the world for Christ.

I was driving her back to the airport and the subject of the book I’m compiling on women came up. I told her that in some circles, in this country, women are not allowed to speak in church.

“I understand what you mean when you say that ,” she said. “I am the only woman in the group taking this course, and I don’t say anything.”

“Why not?” I asked.

“I’m not allowed to speak because I am a woman.”

“Do the people in the course have any idea what you are involved in?” I asked. “Do they know how many churches you have and how many people have become Christians through what you are doing?”

“Oh no,” she replied, “I haven’t been able to tell them. I’m not allowed to take part in any of the discussions that the men have.”

I asked her several questions to make sure I was really understanding her correctly. The men are allowed to speak during the course but she has to keep silent. They teach from theory but do not benefit from her experience. They have no idea what a treasure they have in their midst.

Here’s a woman who has seen what these men long to see–a move of God–and she’s muzzled.

It’s the men’s loss, but oh, what a tragedy!

 

 

Heroines of the faith: Harriet Tubman

Araminta Harriet Ross was born into slavery in Maryland in 1820.  As a child, she was hired out as a baby minder (whipped if the baby cried) and later worked in the fields and forests, plowing and hauling logs. She was severely beaten by her masters, and early on, suffered a head wound when hit by a metal weight, leaving  her with seizures and headaches for the rest of her life. Harriet had a deep faith and experienced frequent dreams and visions from God. She married John Tubman in 1844.

In 1849, Harriet Tubman escaped to Philadelphia. She later recalled, “When I found I had crossed that line, I looked at my hands to see if I was the same person. There was such a glory over everything; the sun came like gold through the trees, and over the fields, and I felt like I was in Heaven.”  The following year, she learned that her niece, Kessiah, was about to be sold with her two young children. She helped the family escape, and returned to rescue other family members from the plantations. Slowly, she brought all her relatives out of Maryland and subsequently made more than 19 rescue mission guiding more than 300 to freedom. Called “Moses,” she traveled by night and used the network of  safe houses known as the Underground Railroad to bring them out, never losing a “passenger.”

Although large rewards were offered for the return of the fugitive slaves, no one realized that Harriet Tubman was the one responsible  their escape. When Congress passed an act requiring law officials in free states to recapture slaves, she helped the rescued slaves travel further north into Canada where slavery was already abolished.

During the Civil War, Harriet worked for the Union Army, first as a cook and nurse, but then as a scout and spy.  She was the first woman to lead an armed expedition during the war. She helped lead the Combahee River Raid in South Carolina which rescued more than 700 slaves.

After the war, she went home to look after her aging parents, and was active in the women’s suffrage movement. She died of pneumonia in 1913.

“I freed a thousand slaves. I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.”  Harriet Tubman


Photo credit: pbs.org

Information for this post came from here and here

Women cannot…

A recent fascinating article describes an advertising campaign put out by UN Women (a branch of the U.N.) that demonstrates that sexism and gender bias flourish in today’s world. The ad shows four faces of women with some of the most popular Google search terms. For example, on the search term,  “women cannot…” the most popular search terms were “drive, be bishops, be trusted, speak in church.”

So I thought I’d check this out. Scarily, it’s true. When I Googled “women cannot,” the popular searches (each search page has eight of the most popular searches for each term towards the bottom of the page) include “be priests, speak in church, teach the Bible, be pastors.” In this search, 50 percent of the issues mentioned were church related. In contrast, the corresponding search for “men cannot” had only one that is church related–man cannot live on bread alone;  that is hardly gender specific.

What’s with this?

I find myself almost without words to express my indignation that the church, the beautiful feminine bride of Christ, portrays herself to the world at large in this way.

What a turn-off for not-yet-believing women thinking about Christianity.

Jesus came to set people free. The one place above all, where people should fight against injustice is the church. And yet gender bias is accepted there. (And yes, I know some of you will point to the two Scriptures that apparently limit women, but they not only stand against the trend of the Bible as a whole, they can, with integrity, be interpreted differently.)

How can we change the world’s perception of the role of women in the church?

What do you think?

Photo Credit: J.Ōta via Compfight cc

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