Division

One of my former churches, Southern Baptist by denomination, offered two Sunday school classes for adults. When the class I was attending had finished one book, he showed us the topic that we would begin next week: Biblical Advice for Christian Marriages. As the unrepentant single individual that I am, I told them ‘no’ … that I was not interested and so I switched to the other class.

It was focused on personality traits and then switching to a book called Radical. One thing that was odd about this group was that the leader had begun to insist that each lesson be completed with prayer each Sunday … the men praying together toward the front of the church and the women praying together toward the back of the church. This church also had a practice of never letting women take up offering.

So I decided to look up ‘Can Men and Women pray together?’ None of the immediate results were related to Christianity, but to a religion sometimes considered it’s opposite. So I added ‘in the Christian church’ to that search and found some results. Most of them were pushing something called Complementarianism.

I’d try to explain what that is – but there’s not a lot of universally agreed explanations of what it is and who is allowed to do what where. It is, however, becoming the default teaching in Southern Baptist churches so much so that people are taught to believe it without knowing what it is. (Sort of like ‘pass this bill so we can see what’s inside it’.)

Can’t that church see what a slippery slope they are on? If they divide up for prayer and divide up for bible study, ought they divide up for worship, too? Maybe they should do what other religions do and put a barrier between the men’s and women’s sections, after all, they share the same general interpretation – might as well go all the way and carry them out the same way.

You know, it’s difficult to distinguish everybody else and Christianity when they’re exactly alike in so many ways. So much for being counter-cultural.

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A Singular Problem

(This one is on singles and the church, it’s a topic that seems to be coming up everywhere I look these days. I had planned on writing something different, but for some odd reason, this just needed to be said.)

The 2008 U.S. Religious Landscape Survey from the Pew Forum says that 44% of Christian women attend worship services weekly and 34% of Christian men attend worship services weekly. Even if all of the men are married to some of the women in the survey – that leaves about 10% of women to be single weekly attendees. If I did the math right, that’s 10 million of them.

10 million single women are told that they’re Ruths who must wait for their Boaz

10 million single women are told that they’re Esters who must wait for their Xerxes

10 million single women who are told that the Proverbs 31 wife is what they ought to strive to be like

10 million single women who are told that “women will be saved through childbearing”

So they go to church week after week, do women’s Bible studies and wonder what they’re doing wrong.

But there aren’t 10 million single men that are told they’re Boaz who must find their Ruth

But there aren’t 10 million single men that are told they’re Xerxes who must find their Ester

But there aren’t 10 million single men that are told they’re to be the husband of their Proverbs 31 wife

But there aren’t 10 million single men that are told it’s their duty to become fathers

Because they, and millions more don’t go to church.

Let’s re-write the ‘norm’ book, shall we? As long as this imbalance exists, there were always be singles (usually women, but men, too) in the church. Let’s minister to their needs without sending them mixed messages about their love lives, because it’s not their fault the imbalance exists and it’s not the Churches job to play the role of matchmaker or chaperon. And let’s find a way to teach Biblical concepts that’s not through the lens of parenthood being a goal – not everybody can have children. Let’s find a way to include them in the church without assigning them kitchen or cleaning or nursery duties – there’s lots of other ways ladies can contribute and minister to the community. Let’s stop focusing on the Ruths and Esthers and preach a little more on the Deborahs and Phoebes. Or the church can keep on doing what it’s doing and watch 10 million single women walk out of it’s door to marry all them non-churchgoing Christian men.

Paul was a fan of being single, I don’t believe he would have ever preached on Ruth telling single women to wait for their Boaz. He would have pointed out that Ruth was the equivalent of the breadwinner in her household in that day and age. Can you imagine what the Prov. 31 wife could get done in a day if she were single? She sounds like an apt description of a businesswoman to me. I’m pretty sure that there was this guy named Jesus that was single, too. Being single is usually temporary anyway, but no single person should be made to feel excluded and irrelevant in their own church for not being like everybody else. God values each and every one of us individually as we are, in Him alone do we find our true worth and the one relationship that will last forever.

Perfect Trinity, Imperfect Humanity

Image is absolutely everything to the Christian Church. When you picture the perfect Christian Church, what do you see?

As a young teenager, our youth group watched a video series during Wednesday Night services. It covered a little bit of everything and I did my best to try to take notes. Years later, I had the opportunity to take the same video series with a much more Biblical-proficient and knowledgeable individual. When we reached a particular section and talked it over, she told me about certain problems with the lesson as it was presented.

The lesson talked about how God built in the trinity into every relationship. For instance, the trinity consists of the father, the son, and the holy spirit. The ‘Church’ trinity consists of Christ, leaders, and the flock. The ‘Family’ trinity consists of Husbands, wives, and their children. The same relationship that exists between the Father and the Son is how Christ and the Leaders and the Husbands and Their Wives ought to have. The same relationship that exists between the Son the Holy Spirit is how the leaders and the flock and the wives and their children ought to have. The problem with this is that it has too narrow a definition of Church and Family. It also brings up awkward questions regarding the nature of the Trinity and equates people with (as) God in a way that’s bordering on idolatry. The trinity of family has been pushed as the ‘biblical’ way. For the same reason, the trinity concept of the church is flawed, as if there is one ‘right’ way to do family and one ‘right’ way to do church makes it seem that every other possible way is ‘wrong.’

But what about the non-traditional families? Individuals who are single, widows, or widowers? What about families that went through divorces and re-marriage? What about children who have just one or no parents at all or run-away teenagers? What about the husband or wife whose wife or husband isn’t Christian and refuses to go to Church? What about the children who are Christian who have parents that aren’t? What about married families with children who don’t follow the Christian rule book on family/marriage? In all of these cases the ‘trinity’ doesn’t exist.

So, do we take these square pegs and bash them with the Bible until they fit down the round hole of the Church? Do we cut at their corners until they do fit (sort-of?) Or does the church realize that they have it wrong and decide to make room for everybody, treating them with equal respect, attention, and kindness?

A Servant’s Status

‘What’s your status?’ Is usually asked to find out what a person is doing and where they are right now. ‘Status’ comes from the Latin word ‘Stare’ meaning ‘to stand’. It was often used as a legal term in the 18th century.

There was a time a person’s status, or station, in life was fairly simple: either wealthy enough to own servants, or poor enough to be the servants of wealthy masters. Even the wealthy masters were usually servants (in a different way) of the authority over them – usually royalty. In essence, few people had truly free status.

Even in the churches, there was a time when people had to go through the priest to get to God. Their status was secondary, the priests were primary – set apart, made holy and above them. Even the music – it was sung to the people, never would they be allowed to sing along.

Then one day, a guy did the equivalent of posting his complaints about the church online. This was the beginning of the Protestant Reformation and many ideas were rethought. One of which was to put the regular people on the same status as the priests and allowing them to sing along with hymns in their own language.

Sadly, over the centuries, status has crept back into the church. It says who can do what and who can’t. It’s so not what Jesus wanted: “25 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”” – Matt 20:25-28

Instead of trying to be a big name author / pastor with a following of tens of thousands why not try to be the best servant? Instead of perpetuating a cycle of status – “me first” – thinking, why not give up the first place in the line and let the person at the end of the line go first? Instead of using your authority to keep things ‘the same’, why not make changes that make things more equal for everybody? After all, aren’t we to be the opposite of the world – and not just like it?

Discredited

Some people say that Christians discredit Christianity by not taking the Bible literally. Other say that taking the Bible literally turns people from decent individuals into religious nuts who care more about rules than people.

So let’s start with the Bible. It’s a book with a bit of poetry, a bit of advice, and lots of stories. Sure, there are rules and regulations – but seeing as how the vast majority of Americans had ancestors who were not born in Israel thousands of years ago – most of the ancient rules don’t really apply. Even the New Testament clarification on the Ten Commandments made them so much more difficult, it’s impossible for people to keep them.

So why make rules that are impossible to keep? Simply, to point out the need of us to throw in our lot with the one individual who was made to follow the rules: Jesus.

Case and point: Circumcision. Early Christianity consisted entirely of Jewish men and women. When Gentiles started believing, some people though that they had to be circumcised – or made fully Jewish – to be fully Christian. This problem was resolved by calling in all the leaders to meet and decide on the issue. The result: Christians weren’t bound by Jewish tradition.

Over the next few hundred years, Christianity worked very hard to put behind it their Jewish roots. The further they distanced themselves, the more difficult they made following the bible literally.

So here we are two millennium later, the Bible has survived century after century – but it is not unchanged. Think about how quickly the meaning of a word can change in a few decades. Now add to that century after century, translation from language to language, and some major theological division. There are so many versions of the Bible that it’s difficult to say which one is right. Do we chose one that’s a literal match for the text? Do we choose one that’s a match for the ideas and concepts?

A friend of mine once pointed out that Jesus specifically chose twelve men to be his disciples, they were from Galilee, Israel. So to be biblical, only men from Galilee (preferably Jewish) should be Christian teachers. Taking the ‘literalness’ to that extreme is something that just wouldn’t work in modern America. Yet, some of the larger religious institutions are using similar logic to disqualify people that God called to serve.

So we can’t take the Bible literally because we’re not the people who were commanded to build a tabernacle and a temple and worship there-in. But we can take it’s concepts to heart because we’re the people that God adopted into his family. When Jesus was asked what is the most important commandments, he said: “Love God and love everybody else.” That’s the one thing we can take literally.

Best Person for the Task

When you think about it, God could have saved Himself a lot of trouble by making all men look exactly alike and all women look exactly alike. He could have made it so they would have never disobeyed his commands in the first place. He could have done anything really, but He chose not to. He chose us, as we are – on our best days and on our worst ones.

When my grandparents went to church, they understood that the ministry was the task of pastor and missionaries. They were the ones out there, preaching the word to lost souls and un-reached people groups. My grandparent’s only obligation to the Church was to continue to show up, pay tithes, sing hymns, and listen to sermons.

But now this youngest generation isn’t content to show up and shut up. They … we … want more. We ask ourselves: Who better to reach out to a drunk than a recovering alcoholic? Who better to understand an addict than the guy that’s been clean for the better part of the year? Who better to comfort a young lady going through a crisis than the older woman who went through the same thing? Now I know there are some pastors and ministers out there that might have been drunks or addicts or went through a crisis – but in the majority of traditional churches, such a ‘history’ would disqualify you from service.

So why then, does God let such bad things happen to you? John 9 tells this story:
As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

3 “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. 4 As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. 5 While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

6 After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. 7 “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means “Sent”). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.””

Admittedly, ‘it’s not your fault but you’re going through this so that God can be glorified’ isn’t the most comforting statement you can tell somebody going through a crisis – but it is time that the Church realized that by not accepting change, they’re effectively tying up God’s hands and feet. A generation of people want to go, be, do, help, act, comfort, feed, share, encourage, build, etc. … they … them and their histories is exactly what God needs to seek and save the lost. Pastors and Missionaries are too few and far away to be the best person for the task, but the good news is that there are hundreds of men and women ready and willing to do something. My advice: let them.

Tent-Maker

“12 So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have. 13 I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, 14 because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. 15 And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things.” – 2 Peter 1:12-15

2 Corinthians 5:1-10 also talks about our bodies as being tents, a temporary housing for our spirits.

Paul was a tent-maker (Acts 18:3) he understood the metaphor better than most. When he wasn’t preaching, he was support his ministry by making tents – trying to be a good example to the new believers. Paul understood that God was a tent-maker, too.

Today, pretty much all tents are mass-produced by a handful of companies, they’re all pretty similar in style, design, or color. Can you imagine going to a campground and being told that your tent is the wrong color, it’s too big, too small, looks shabby, or the wrong kind? You probably can’t because it would never happen. But churches tend to do that to people – they tell them that they need to change: act better and look better. Why? Because they care much too much about appearances and what they think that all Christians ought to act like and wear.Some churches can’t see that God designed each tent to be unique and often tries to dress them up to be what they think is right, in ways God didn’t intend.

I remember when the man in the row behind me and my friend tried correct him on the proper prayer – apparently it didn’t look right that my friend prayed the ‘wrong’ way. Instead, he should pray facing upward … to God. I remember hearing more than once about how an unspoken dress code had made my relatives feel out of place at church because they didn’t look like everyone else. From time to time I see stories online, about how churches that televise their services will instruct their members to go forward at specific times so that they look better. Other churches are said to instruct well-dressed members to sit at the front so that the cameras will show how nice they look. The people that are ‘dressed-down’ get to sit in the back. Appearance is everything to people, but it’s not something that will prevent God from doing something amazing. He sees past the ‘tent’ (Body) and into the spirit that dwells within.

Spirits don’t have colors, don’t have genders, don’t have height, don’t have weight, they don’t have anything that people can judge. What some people might not realize is that by judging each other so critically, we can wound a person’s spirit and erode their confidence. As Christians, we’re supposed to build each other up, not say “I’m sorry, you can’t do that. It just hasn’t been done. It wouldn’t look right. It’s not in the Bible.”

I remember looking around Goodwill, there was a tall African-american lady who was a bit older than me, she was having a little trouble reading a scripture verse – she said it mostly correctly, with a bit of stammering here and there. It must have been odd to see me standing next to her – a short young white girl – but God reminded of a quote I had seen somewhere. I don’t remember exactly what it was now, but the idea of it is this:

We are all made in the image of God. All of us look exactly like Him. But, we’re only able to reflect the qualities that He made us to be – it’s not possible for any one of us to reflect all the qualities of God. So if I can reflect God by being sincere and kind, then that’s what I’m supposed to do. If she can reflect God by being courageous and resilient, that’s what she’s supposed to do. Whatever your most prominent traits are – that’s what you are to use and who you are to be to reflect God. That’s the tent that he made just for you. As wonderful as that is … it’s temporary. Your house will be everything that your tent can’t be – and it’ll be better than you can imagine.