Embracing diversity

It is said that truth has two wings.

There is great  diversity in the simple/organic church movement–we come from every theological and ecclesiological background. As we embrace our differences, rather than being separated by them, the effect is synergistic–we become stronger.

We can win an argument at the expense of losing our friend–it’s not worth it! We can get together with people who are “just like us.” Where’s the adventure in that?

Obviously there are a few ideas, the basics of our faith, that we would take a bullet for. But other than that, let’s celebrate our differences–after all, unity was the focus of Jesus’ longest recorded prayer.

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If God insists on male leadership, why this?

For a very patriarchal society, God used a remarkable set of women in leadership roles in the stories of the Old Testament:

  • Eve was the mother of all living (Genesis 3:20).
  • Miriam is described as a prophet (Exodus 15:20). She may have been the sister who watched over Moses in his basket when he was discovered by Pharaoh. She led the women in singing and dancing after Moses led the Children of Israel across the Red Sea (Exodus 15). She was temporarily struck down with leprosy after complaining against Moses (Numbers 12)
  • Sarah played a significant role in the story of Abraham and the formation of the Israelite people (Genesis 17-25).  The same is true of Rebecca (Genesis 24-29), and Rachel and Leah (Genesis 29-35).
  • Rahab protected the two spies Joshua sent to Jericho (Joshua 2).
  • Deborah was a prophet and judge ruling over Israel. She led the Children of Israel to victory in a battle against the Canaanites (Judges 4). Barak, the commander of the army, refused to go into battle without her, and God granted them victory.
  • Jael killed Sisera, captain of the Canaanite army by driving a peg through his temple (Judges 4).
  • The five daughters of Zelophehad faced Moses and the entire community of Israel to demand land as their inheritance (Numbers 27).
  • Ruth and Naomi are a beautiful example of God’s dealings with women
  • Hannah was barren until God answered her prayers. She gave birth to the Samuel whom she dedicated to God (1 Samuel 1)
  • Abigail saved her household by providing for David (1 Samuel 25). She later became King David’s wife.
  • young servant girl directed Naaman to go to Elisha for healing (2 Kings 5)
  • When King Josiah didn’t know what to do, his advisors consulted with Huldah, a female prophet, who spoke God’s word to them (2 Kings 22).
  • The teachings of King Lemuel’s mother are part of Scripture (Proverbs 31)
  • Shallum’s daughters helped repair the wall of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 3:12)
  • God used Queen Esther to save the Jewish people (Esther).

Not only does the history of Israel include these women, several women are described in the genealogy of Jesus: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba (Matthew 1). God has used women throughout human history.

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Is the Holy Spirit enough?

Modern wisdom would have us spend much time discipling new believers.

But consider the following:

Philip had no time with the Ethiopian eunuch after his baptism (which occurred at salvation).

The Philippian jailor became a disciple in the middle of the night, and next morning, Paul was gone.

Paul was in Philippi for “several days” (Acts 16:12) and yet the letter to the Philippians is full of praise for their faith and good works.

In other cities, (for example, Thessalonica–three weeks, Berea) Paul was there only a short time before being thrown out of town.

I became a believer at age 11 through reading a children’s book and knew no other Christians for four years. Somehow I realized that prayer and reading the Bible were important, and after a few weeks I led the girl who lived next door to Christ, but other than that I had no contact with other believers.

I’m certainly not saying discipleship is unimportant, but in situations where it doesn’t happen, is the Holy Spirit enough?

 

Roger Bannister and your dreams

In 1954, British runner Roger Bannister proved that it only took one person to break the goal of a four-minute mile. Everybody said it couldn’t be done. Athletes had been attempting to break the four-minute barrier for years, and it was said to be a physical impossibility for the human body. Enter Bannister, a British runner who was training to be a physician. When he started his running career at Oxford University in 1946 at the age of seventeen, he had never previously worn spikes or run on a track. But he showed such promise that he was selected as an Olympic possible. Skipping the 1948 Olympics because he wasn’t ready, Bannister came in fourth place in the one-mile race at the 1952 Olympics. As other athletes inched towards the four-minute goal, Bannister, too, set his sights on the record.

The fateful event took place at a running meet in Oxford on May 6th, 1954, watched by around 3,000 spectators. Bannister won the race. The announcer spun out the results as long as possible:

“Ladies and gentlemen, here is the result of event 9, the one mile: 1st, Number 41, R.G. Bannister, Amateur Athletic Association and formerly of Exeter and Merton Colleges, Oxford, with a time which is a new meeting and track record, and which—subject to ratification—will be a new English Native, British National, All-Comers, European, British Empire and World Record. The time was 3…”

The remainder of the announcement was impossible to hear as a roar went up from the crowd. Bannister’s time was three minutes, 59.4 seconds. The four-minute barrier had been broken. Once it had been proved that the record could be broken, many athletes attempted and broke the four-minute barrier. It has become the standard for male, professional middle distance runners. Amazingly, the record has since been lowered by almost 17 seconds.

We’ve seen many Kingdom barriers broken in our lifetime–the most rapidly growing church planting movements in history (India and China), tens of thousands becoming Christians in countries that are traditionally hostile to the gospel, the rapid spread of simple/organic church concepts here in the US. All it has taken is one or more role models to show it can be done and then many follow in their footsteps.

Can we be that one individual who dares to believe the impossible can, with God’s help, become a reality?

One of the things I long to see is the culture in this country change to accept women as co-equals alongside men in the Kingdom.

What areas are you believing for?

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Women teaching and gnosticism

Considerable light was shed on the heresy of gnosticism in 1945 when a number of ancient gnostic manuscripts were found in the Nag Hammadi Valley in Egypt. (Gnostics believe in secret or hidden knowledge and reverence women.)

It became clear from these new discoveries that gnostics believed that Adam and Eve were mythical figures and represented soul (Adam), and spirit (Eve). In gnostic teaching, the role of Eve was to awaken Adam, who was in a deep sleep.

Gnosticism was present in Asia around the time that Paul wrote to Timothy in Ephesus.

According to Richard Clark Kroeger and Catherine Clark Kroeger in their book,  I Suffer Not a Woman: Rethinking I Timothy 2:11-15 in Light of Ancient Evidence, an alternative reading to 1 Timothy 2:12, based on the Greek word authentein,  might be:

I do not allow a woman to teach nor to proclaim herself as originator of man.”

Another gnostic belief was that Satan was good and that Eve ate from the tree of gnosis (knowledge) in order to bring enlightenment to Adam.

We know that much of Paul’s letters to Timothy was written to combat wrong doctrine. If the 1 Timothy 2:12 passage were written to combat the heresy of gnosticism, what Paul writes next makes sense.

For God made Adam first, and afterward he made Eve.  And it was not Adam who was deceived by Satan. The woman was deceived, and sin was the result.

It makes sense to me…

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Information on gnosticism was found here and here.

Questioning one-on-one discipleship

One-on-one is a preferred method of discipleship within evangelicalism. I have no doubt as to its effectiveness (wish someone had been there to disciple me as a young believer). However, recently I’ve been questioning this.

Presumably we all believe that the way Jesus worked with his disciples is the best pattern to use. So I’ve been fascinated by a study I’ve recently done.

There were only two occasions I could find in the gospels where Jesus had a conversation with one of the disciples alone. One was with Peter over the paying of taxes (go and catch a fish) and the other, also with Peter, was about forgiving people seventy times seven times. As far as I can see, every other interaction that is recorded involves a group of them–of at least two or three.

There was one occasion where it specifically states Jesus was alone for a conversation with someone–the woman at the well. And we assume (although it doesn’t say so) that he was alone with Nicodemus in John 3.

Other than that, once he had chosen the twelve, Jesus worked with groups–groups of his disciples, the crowds, challenged groups of Pharisees and Sadducees. Other conversations where it appears he was talking to individuals, if you examine the context, were all within a group situation.

What does that say about one-on-one discipleship? What are the advantages of group discipleship?

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Men opening doors

What can men do to open the door for women to step out into everything God has for them?

For years, my husband, Tony, opened the door for me in every conceivable way . He included me in any speaking engagement he had. He promoted my writing. He encouraged me to voice my opinions. He knew that if he “hogged the platform,” I would never have an opportunity. He laid down his giftings that I might enter mine.

Then came the day when I began being included in my own right–not just because I’m Tony’s wife. I was asked to join a national team. I had invitations to write in my own name. I was offered speaking engagements.

It’s not about becoming a “leader” or being recognized. It’s about  women having the freedom to follow the Lord in every way he leads and calls. Most women are not going to seize their rights, so it may take a man opening the door for them. Are there men who will lay down their lives in this way?

Thank you, Tony!

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Hierarchy and discipleship

Some of our deepest theological conversations occur in our hot tub.

This past weekend was no exception. Some close missionary friends of ours who work in Asia came to stay. We always have fun  debates with them, Here’s the gist of one of our conversations that took place late at night in our jacuzzi:

Missionary: In Asia, our culture is very hierarchical. This hierarchy spills over into the church and it’s an asset to discipleship because the new believer is looking to learn from someone more experienced.

Me: God loves us enough that in his mercy he uses whatever culture we give him. But Jesus spoke against hierarchy. He said, “You know how the rulers of this world function (hierarchy). But it must not be so amongst you.”

Missionary: In the West, we are so individualistic and egalitarian. But that is not Scriptural either. In Asia, we are more communally and society minded. Because in English, it’s impossible to tell the difference between you singular and you plural, we miss the fact that much of the New Testament is addressed to groups.

Me: Neither hierarchy nor egalitarianism are Scriptural. Jesus spoke about and modeled something different–closer to an upside down hierarchy, Servanthood. We lay down our lives for others that they might grow.

What is your opinion on this? How do we best disciple others–using a teacher/pupil (hierarchical) model, as peers (egalitarian), or as servants? Does it depend on the culture we live in?

A fashionable fad

Several years ago, in our book The Rabbit and the Elephant: Why Small Is the New Big for Today’s Church, I wrote a chapter on some of the potential pitfalls the house church movement might face as it became “fashionable.” Here’s what I said:

Another hazard is that of becoming fashionable, the latest phenomenon in church statistics, the trendy alternative to traditional church. There will always be people who hop onto the bandwagon because they want to be part of the latest thing, not because the Holy Spirit is leading them. But those who join the simple church movement without truly understanding and living out its DNA will soon find that what they have is only a pale substitute for the real thing.

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I believe we have seen this come to pass over the past few years. Many people started groups outside the four walls of the sacred building in response to the leading of the Holy Spirit, often working with those who didn’t know the Lord. But as “house church” became a buzz word, others became involved because they wanted to be on the cutting edge of what God is doing. Churches changed their home groups to house churches without changing anything more than the name. For some it seemed a good idea and a way to escape the tedium of the status quo. So they did what they’ve always known in terms of meetings, but exchanged the pew for a sofa.

Some of the incredible growth we have seen (The Pew Forum reckons that 9% of Protestants “attend religious services” in homes) is due to this phenomenon. That phase is coming to an end. Those groups that only changed their name will either die,  join the next fad, or, hopefully, seek the Lord to change them. House/simple/organic church is now mainstream and I don’t think that will change, but what emerges over the next few years may be a truer reflection of what God is doing through this movement.

Just my two cents worth as I look back on the incredible things God has done. What do you think?

Learning from Florence Nightingale

“I would have given her [the Church] my head, my hand, my heart. She would not have them. She did not know what to do with them. She told me to go back and do crochet in my mother’s drawing-room; or if I were tired of that, to marry and look well at the head of my
husband’s table. ‘You may go to the Sunday School if you like it,’ she said. But she gave me no training even for that. She gave me neither work to do for her, nor education for it.”  Florence Nightingale in a letter to Dean Stanley, 1852.

Florence Nightingale, “the Lady with the Lamp,” was the founder of modern nursing.

The world was the richer for her decision to devote her life to serving others through the nursing profession, but the church was undoubtedly the poorer.

The church misses out when women are not allowed to use their God-given gifts.

 

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