Those veiled women of Corinth–by Gary Shogren

Sometimes the thought crosses my mind, “Are you just making all this stuff up about men and women working together as co-equals in the church? Who do you think you are? You aren’t qualified to make judgments about the Scriptures–you don’t have any training in these areas.” And it’s true. I don’t. So  I love to have the help of theologians. When Gary Shogren contacted me a while back and said, “If I may offer, I do a great deal of work in the Greek New Testament (my field – my PhD is from Aberdeen University) and I would be very happy to serve as a resource if you have any issues dealing with exegesis or early church history,” I took him at his word. Gary and his wife are missionaries in Costa Rica and professors in a Bible College and Seminary. Here’s the latest Gary sent me on the thorny question of veiled women in 1 Corinthians 11:

Part of Bible study is not just understanding what the author was teaching, but what problem the Scripture was intended to solve, and also to apply his teaching in a context today. In this case, we live in a culture that is far removed from first-century Corinth:

…every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven. For if a wife will not cover her head, then she should cut her hair short. But since it is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her cover her head. (1 Cor 11:4-6)

My interpretation of this section is:

Paul taught all his churches that in a worship service both men and women are free to pray aloud and to speak prophetically to the congregation. Men should pray and prophesy with their heads bared; women, who arrive already wearing a veil — like a shawl on their head, as dictated the local culture — should continue to wear it throughout the meeting. This rule was given for several reasons: it reflected the created order as described in Genesis; because it was “natural”; because to do otherwise would bring cultural shame. But later on, some Corinthian women wanted to shed the veil. Paul perceives that, while the veil in itself is not a fundamental issue of the faith, the motivations for rejecting the veil were questionable: to declare independence from men/husbands; to reject the relevance of cultural mores for a Christian; to act as if gender differences did not exist. For these reasons he reaffirms that women and men must maintain the status quo that he has established for Christian meetings.

Those women who wish to pray without a veil need to realize that they are obligated to glorify God in part by honoring “the men,” that is their brothers in Christ. Neither man nor woman in Christ is an individual unit; each must come to Christ through serving the other. Thus Paul also reminds the men: if you are tempted to lord it over women, remember that you came from a woman (11:8) and that you too have to answer to a head, that is Christ, and to make very sure that you are reflecting glory to another, not to yourself.

Clothing in some societies conveys strong signals about social position, self-consciousness, and gender. For example, not many generations ago, when a girl reached a certain age and started wearing her hear bound “up,”she was signaling that she was available for marriage. For boys, the purchase of their first pair of long pants was an anxiously-awaited step toward manhood. In Roman society, a respectable married woman or widow went out in public with her hair worn up and covered with a veil or shawl as a sign that she was faithful to her husband and not sexually available to men she encountered. This is not the Muslim purdah, nor is it designed to cover the face — only the top of the head and the hair and back of the neck were covered. A woman without veil and with hair unbound was “loose.”

Therefore, according to apostolic custom, a meeting of the church, though in a private home, was considered a public meeting to which people would walk. A woman would arrive with her head covered; she should stay that way. To remove her veil would embarrass all the men, and her husband, if she were married.

The idea that even in the church women should be women and men should be men may offend some modern people. But let us look positively on what Paul is saying: in the church, women and men remain women and men; husbands and wives remain such. Being in Christ, though guaranteeing equality among believers, does not mean the end of gender nor of marriage, both of which were part of God’s creation before the Fall. One implication is that there is therefore no need for women to assume that being independent or more mannish will in some way make them more Christian. A Christian woman, dressed appropriately, can pray and prophesy aloud, shoulder-to-shoulder with any male in the congregation.

Every human society has social signals, mute messages that help its members to communicate things about themselves. These change radically from culture to culture and over time and place. They can be very useful: they save billions of hours in unnecessary explanation:

  •  It used to be normal for widows to wear black. Likewise, men would wear black armbands. By this they showed their respect for the dead. It also signaled to others, I am mourning a loss; don’t interact with me as if things were normal.
  • In some cultures, a wedding ring is a signal to others that we are romantically unavailable. In North America, beginning in the 20th century, men as well as women might wear them. People who remove their rings in order to hide their married state are considered deceitful.
  • As a North American, I had to relearn certain signals when I moved to Costa Rica. For example, I had to be told that it was rude in Latin America to make eye contact with young women on the street. My own birth culture had taught me the opposite, that it is improper not to smile at and greet everyone I see.
  • There are myriad signals that we communicate via tattoos; earrings, and on which ear; hairstyle; T-shirts; our manner of speaking.

I have taught in churches where women had to wear veils during the church service. My own take is that no Christian women today in cultures where veils do not convey the same message — for example, in Muslin lands — is obligated to wear the veil; but all Christians, although citizens of heaven, still live in the world, and we must pay attention to our social signals so that they reinforce the gospel we want to honor. Our Lord himself was famous for breaking some conventional rules, and sometimes we should as well (see Mark 7:2, 5; Luke 15:2; John 4:27; even John 2:10). But he always did so for a purpose: to serve the Father better, not to prove that he was “free” and that society could not rein him in. Like him, let us send a clear message to those around us, whether it is by word, action or mute signal.


Photo by Richard Mortel

Workplace chaplains

We try to make our company an easy place for people to meet Jesus.  

Mike used to be an Anglican minister. His church morphed into a network of house churches and he and his wife now also work as chaplains for several companies. Mike and Carol come to our company on a regular basis as workplace chaplains. They teach the principles of teamwork as well as being available to our staff  to talk over any issues they might have.  We believe their impact has been to increase productivity and promote company loyalty. They provide support to our employees in times of difficulty. We have won several awards for being one of the best small companies to work for in our city, or for “innovative health and wellness,” and I know that workplace chaplaincy has been a big part of that. 

I’m often asked what a pastor can do if he no longer has a church. So it was with interest that I saw this post from a different Mike–Mike Tummillo. Mike has been a workplace chaplain for some time. Here’s what he says:

Is your church utilizing the services of Chaplains as part of their ministry?

The best thing about Chaplains is they can serve all day long and in places where the local church usually can’t go. I’m sure you’re familiar with the work of Chaplains in the military, law enforcement and in prisons. You’re probably familiar with Chaplains going into nursing homes, jails, and hospitals, too. But did you know Chaplains are in workplaces and at disaster sites, too? Fact is, Chaplains are often officiating weddings and funerals, baptisms and baby dedications so the local church ministers won’t have to.

As Founder of The Church @ Work (TCAW), I received a word of prophesy stating that hundreds of Chaplains would be certified through this ministry. Since then, we have certified more than 50 Chaplains from all over the nation. Many of these Chaplains have been trained in Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM), CERT, CPR and, like myself, have used this training in crisis situations including the 2013 Moore, Oklahoma F-5 tornado and the West, Texas, fertilizer plant explosion.

Disasters are on the increase! Jesus said there’d be days like these. A disaster doesn’t have to be a tornado touching down or an active shooter. For many individuals, it’s a marriage falling apart, a pregnant teen, a son killed in a motorcycle crash, or a spouse incarcerated for selling meth, or a bad doctor’s report.

Do you know anyone who would appreciate the opportunity to serve in this way? They do not have to possess a seminary or Bible College background. All they need to be is available. These should be individuals who know God has ordained them and they desire to do more to build His Kingdom… more than tithing and spectating, that is. These are folks with so much to give and, within the church structure, have simply run out of opportunities there. Becoming certified through TCAW will reduce the chances they’ll become dissatisfied with their current church and may reduce chances they’ll look into a larger ministry with more opportunities for them.

Serving as a Chaplain has been the most satisfying ministry I’ve ever imagined. Chances are, someone you know would feel the same way. Pass this message along to them right now. They’ll be very grateful you did!

Every blessing,

Michael Tummillo

Founder, The Church @ Work (TCAW)


Photo Credit: International Information Program (IIP) via Compfight cc

Lessons from my vegetable garden

I enjoy gardening–especially when the weather is cooler. Usually I don’t have too much difficulty getting a reasonable crop from my vegetable garden. This year, however, was different:

  • I’ve had a great supply all year of chard.
  • I can’t keep up with the peppers and okra.
  • Tomatoes, not so good this year. Lack of water, perhaps?
  • Fig tree–barren. It gets one more year and then I’ll chop it down!
  • Lemon tree–was doing great until the grandkids picked about 20 baby lemons for a game they were playing.
  • Peaches–squirrels got them over a weekend when I was away 😦
  • Squash of all kinds–zero!
  • Melons canteloupe and water melons–two!
  • Eggplants–one!

These last three vegetables are a little different. They all have distinguishable male and female flowers, and it takes cross-pollination of a female flower to produce fruit. Usually, if I’m having a poor harvest, I’ll cross pollinate the flowers with a brush.

This year, however, that was not possible.

None of my plants had any female flowers! So no harvest.

Makes you think.

Peppers and okra

10 things I enjoy about international travel

Tony and I have had the privilege of visiting many different countries (30+), many of them in a ministry/teaching context. Here’s what I love about international travel:

  1. Hearing incredible stories of how God is at work in different nations. Many of them cannot be publicly spoken of, but they help to raise my faith level and challenge me to believe that yes, God can do it here, too, as well as elsewhere around the world.
  2. Meeting indigenous people and learning about their lifestyles–including spending time in some of their homes.
  3. Having to depend on the Lord for many different things that I take for granted here–like is the water safe or should I brush my teeth with bottled water? (If in doubt, use bottled water!)
  4. Understanding a little more of the culture, politics, economics, etc of different nations.
  5. The sense of adventure–especially when some risk is involved. I guess the Lord created me this way– I don’t mind the insecurity of international travel. And I often find that God teaches me more during those times than when I’m comfortable at home.
  6. Learning how some believers live with persecution–they are among the most joy-filled people I’ve ever met.
  7. Eating what is set before me–sometimes delicious, other times, a little harder to cope with. I remember being taken out to breakfast where my choice was between pig’s intestine, pig’s trotter or chicken feet. (I chose the chicken feet–lots of flavor but kind of chewy!)
  8. Seeing the hunger to learn more that many believers in these nations have. They willingly sit through many hours of teaching per day. And we have to speak in a way that translates across cultures.
  9. Being challenged by the extreme poverty of developing nations.  We have so much wealth in our Western nations. What can we do to help our brothers and sisters in these nations? (The answer may not lie in giving money!)
  10. It’s a huge privilege to see something of the countryside as well as the cities as we travel by car or taxi. Many countries (and their people) are breathtakingly beautiful. Is the country flat or mountainous? How do the people make a living? What can we learn from them? What obvious problems do they face? I love the the opportunity to visit the occasional tourist attraction too, like the Eiffel Tower and Champs Elysee in Paris, or some of the temples in India.

Tony and me outside a Buddhist temple, Taiwan

Tony and me outside a Buddhist temple in Taiwan

To be, or not to be, a feminist

I love Sarah Bessey’s book, Jesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible’s View of Women. In it, she says, “Jesus loves us on our own terms. He treats us as equals to the men around him; he listens, he does not belittle; he honors us; he challenges us; he teaches us; he includes us–calls us beloved….  Scripture affirms and celebrates women.” She writes a compelling argument for being a Christian feminist.

I agree with Sarah Bessey! And in a secular sense, I agree with equal pay, equal rights, freedom from sexual harassment and abuse, freedom from gender discrimination, the abolition of sex trafficking etc. I especially believe women are equal in the Kingdom and that they are not limited in the role they can play in the body of Christ.

But there’s something about the word “feminist” that has always bothered me. The term “feminism,” especially in a secular sense, can represent things I don’t particularly want to be associated with–like abortion and the whole gender/marriage debate. Feminists are often portrayed as putting down men, or at the very least, not needing them.

So it was with great interest that I learned during a lengthy car journey, that the highly talented musician/singer, Laurie Thornton, who was driving the car, had studied Arab feminist (an oxymoron?) literature in college. We had a fascinating conversation, and she expounded on an idea that made great sense of what makes me cautious about feminism.

Here’s what she said: the problem is that most people believe there’s a finite amount of authority available. (I’m not sure about the word authority here, but I don’t know what other word to use. Bear with me–it will make sense.) The only way that one gender can have more authority is if the other gender has less. So if men are the ones to have authority, then women, by definition, have to have less. In feminism, often the reverse is seen to be true. If women have authority, it comes at the expense of men. There’s only one pie–the question is how is it shared?

But our God isn’t like that. There isn’t a finite supply of authority. He can create more.  The pie is infinite. If women are to have authority, it doesn’t need to be at the expense of men. God will give them an authority of their own without diminishing that of men.

It’s the difference between having a bucket of water and a hose. We treat authority as though there’s only a bucket of water available. In reality, God has a hose and there’s plenty for everyone.


Photo Credit: AP Photographie  via Compfight cc

My apologies that the link to the printable version of A Simple Guide to the Challenging Scriptures for Women didn’t work in the last post. That is now fixed.

An update and an invitation

I’m back!!

First, an update. It’s been nearly two months since I last posted–an eventful two months. During that time, Tony and I settled his mom into a rehab facility following a serious fall where she shattered her wrist, and then we closed out her apartment. We’ve  traveled to Kathmandu (Nepal), Yangon (Myanmar) and Bangkok (Thailand). I can’t disclose what we were doing there, but it was an amazing time. I’ve spoken at workshops at the Luke 10 conference and attended  an awesome Captivating conference (my oldest son, Jon, works for Ransomed Heart) in Colorado. I’ve spent time with my grandkids…

Knowing that my time for writing was going to be limited and that in some places access to the Internet would be either limited or nonexistent, I decided to take a break from blogging–the first in about four years. My apologies that I didn’t even respond to your comments during that time. I will slowly get round to replying to them.

Now I’m ready to blog again! But first some practical details.

A while ago I wrote a short e-book called “A Simple Guide to the Challenging Scriptures for Women.” Over the years I have read dozens of books about the role of women, some of them complex theology books.  In the e-book, I examine some of the Scriptures that apparently limit the role of women, and look at some alternative ways those verses can, with great integrity, be interpreted in a different way. That e-book is now available, either via the “challenging scriptures for women” tab at the top of this blog, or a printable version can be found here.

It’s been several months since The Black Swan Effect: A response to gender hierarchy in the church was released. It’s been wonderful to be able give away all the proceeds to helping female church planters in developing nations, and to victims of sex trafficking.

One of the outcomes of the book has been a series of round tables for both men and women to equip them for the conversation about men and women working together as co-equals in the Kingdom. For some, these have been life-changing as we’ve listened to God and engaged in discussion around the topic.

We have two more of these round tables scheduled for the remainder of this year. The first, here at our home in Austin, Texas, will be on Friday, October 31st and Saturday November 1st. The second will be in Dallas, Texas, the following weekend, November 7th and 8th. If you are interested in attending, leave a comment and I’ll get information to you. We’d love to see you there.


Sometimes life throws you a curveball

Our curveball?


Photo Credit: Brady Withers via Compfight cc

About two weeks ago, at 3am, we were woken by a phone call we’ve been dreading.

Tony’s mom had fallen in the middle of the night. Would Tony go at once to the ER.

Sure enough, Penelope, a strong Christian who has served the Lord faithfully all her life in China, Taiwan and Hong Kong, had fractured her wrist in several places. So, of course, after they had set her arm, we brought her back home with us.

After a few days of looking after her 24 hours a day, it became apparent that we are not able to give her the care she needs. Her doctors also advised us that she should no longer live independently–it was her second fall in two weeks.

What to do? It’s the problem many people face with their elderly parents. It’s a tough decision. Would she do best at our home if we brought in extra nursing care? Would she do better in a facility that could care for her where there were people around all day.  (She loves talking with people and sharing the Lord with them).

In the end, Penelope made the decision for us. She and Tony had passed a skilled nursing facility about 5 minutes from our home while returning from a doctor visit. They both felt they should investigate it. Not only can the facility handle all the rehab Penelope needs for her arm, they had a bed available. She was quite sure this was the Lord’s provision for her. So a couple of days ago she moved in.

Why do I tell you all this?

I’ve been blogging two to three times a week for several years. You may (or may not) have noticed I’ve not blogged in a couple of weeks. It was precipitated by the lack of time because of the situation with Tony’s mom, but I’ve decided to take a break from blogging for a month or so. We not only have to clear Penelope’s apartment in the next few days, we are shortly going to some developing nations in Asia to speak about simple/organic church. Other members of the family will stay here to look after her.

But before I “sign off” for a few weeks, I’d like to share something else with you. My last post was a brilliant poem (Mary Go Round) about the sex trade by Anita Scott. Anita wrote telling me how she came to create the poem. The post garnered a lot of views, so I thought you might be interested in this email from her.

Felicity, My friend asked me a specific question. She asked what did I want people’s response to be when they watch or read the poem. 
I told her: When I wrote the poem, it was a few hours after studying sex trafficking online for hours. Right after that, I put on some music and let myself imagine what it would be like to be in a dark room hour after hour.  That’s probably a really crazy imagination, but I did.
I couldn’t write the poem until I was actually in the poem.  I had been trying for months to think of ways to write this poem.  I was trying to become inspired.  I don’t think the Holy Spirit wanted me to become inspired.  It was more like He wanted me to become Mary so I could write for her.  
That being said, I want people’s response to be whatever God asks of them.  If He asks them to raise awareness, then so be it. If He asks them to speak out against from a pulpit, so be it. If He asks them to sponsor a woman to find safety, then so be it.  I want the words from the poem to convict and let people see the reality of what happens to women who are treated like sex slaves.  I want areas of their hearts to become awakened with passion to help set “Mary’s” all around the world free.