Monday, 26 January 2015

Answering A Critic On Women Bishops

Facebook. From a friend. 
Can any follower of Christianity explain how the hell they accomplish the mental juggling necessary to allow a female bishop? It clearly states in your bible that women should remain quiet in church yet you lot claim to follow the bible. (Corinthians 14:34).
The mind boggles at the level of mental gymnastics going on!
Jez Field, you're usually quite good at explaining stuff like out a heathen!
So this is what I replied...

Hi Leonard.
Love your question, assuming it is a question and not just a 'here's something I don't understand - and aren't religious people stupid because of it!' - sort of question I'll have a go at answering it.
There's a lot that could be said but 2 things that I think are worth pointing out.
1) I think the Anglicans are wrong to do so. 2) The 1 Corinthians isn't prohibiting women talking in a gathered setting as you might think.

1: I love the church of England. I love a lot about it and I count many people within its tradition as friends, but I can still disagree with them on things that aren't the central tenants of the faith.
The issue is over church governance.
First: The New Testament is clear that men and women are completely equal in every respect. There are several sections of the NT that make this perfectly and emphatically clear. It's a subject for a different topic but Christians were the first true feminists and defenders of women's rights in an age when it wasn't popular to endorse such things. A reason why so many women converted to Christianity in the early centuries (and now) was because of the liberating and empowering esteem women are held in.
Second: Although they are equal in every way, the Bible also makes it clear that men and women have different roles. Men are called to take responsibility for the protection and provision of their families (I chose the words 'take responsibility for' carefully as this can be applied in a myriad of different ways). Biologically women are life carriers and nurturers and men protectors. This ought not to be controversial but in an age where even gender is under attack it unfortunately is. Men are called to be fathers to their children (obvious right) and a Father is one who, as well as protecting, takes the blame for and carries the can for the shortcomings and mistakes of his family. I believe in the significance of fathers which again shouldn't be controversial but sadly it is.
Third: The church is described in relational and familial terms. One of the prevailing metaphors is of the church being a 'family'. Men are called to be the 'dads' to this family. As such the church in the New Testament organised itself in this way: 'elders' - men of good character given the responsibility to protect and father the church, & 'deacons' - men and women of good character who lead on behalf of and in relationship with the elders.
That, again shouldn't be too controversial, but add to it stories of chauvinism, abusive leadership and a failure to understand that Jesus' model for leadership was that of someone laying their life down (on a brutal cross in his case) and it becomes explosive.
Back to your question and why I disagree with the Church of England:
The CofE created a role of church oversight in 'Bishops' that isn't found in the New Testament. A bishop oversees several churches sort of like a super-head in today's schools.
Now. Once you've traded a New Testament model of church governance (elders and deacons) I think it becomes a lot harder to remain faithful in applying the biblical system of church leadership. Among many reasons, this is one of the reasons they've (CofE) got into hot water over this issue. They've created a leadership structure that looks a lot more hierarchical than it does familial. Add the fact that what the New Testament clearly teaches about the way a church community ought to be organised is difficult for an egalitarian liberal secular society to wrap its head around and you've got a storm brewing. Especially since the CofE is so closely linked to the state it was always going to 'hit the fan' at some point.

2) 1 Corinthians. Let me answer this very briefly. The book itself is a letter written by someone in leadership over the church. It is full of statements that require us to understand the context into which he was writing the letter. It shouldn't sound like I'm doing 'mental gymnastics' to point out that every letter ever written addresses themes that are relevant to that particular audience at that particular time and might not therefore apply to everyone everywhere in all cultures and civilisations.
The author of the letter is not telling women to keep silent whenever the church gathers. How do I know? The letter is full of encouragements to speak in church: singing, prophesying, speaking in other languages, bringing words of encouragement. The statements are addressed to the 'corinthians' (recipients of the letter) and no prohibitions are made for one gender or the other. In the chapter you mention the author is very clearly addressing a particular issue that had arisen in the church and is likely written to a particular group of women (known to the church) who were causing trouble in the gathered setting.
Imagine for a moment. A woman in 1st Century Roman society becomes a Christian and for the first time in her life is told that she is equal to a man and has the same value, worth and dignity as a man. She's allowed to receive an education, listen to and engage with teaching in church and discuss things freely. In this case there were some women who needed to 'reign it in a bit' since their new found freedom had gotten out of control and had become disruptive.
I have a friend who's doing his PHD in 1 Corinthians (yes they give out doctorates for such things - I'd like to see your face right now! J).
If you've made it this far, you're a generous man.
Hope that answers things a bit.
Much love. How's the squash??

Friday, 9 January 2015

The Father's Side

Devotional studies considering the revelation of the Father in John's gospel.


This morning's full text can be found here
No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known.
John 1:18

Let's look at this verse together and walk through what it means. Keep it in front of you if you can as we go.

The statement contained in this verse is linked to the statement about grace and truth mentioned in the previous one. The law, we're told, came through Moses whereas grace and truth came through Jesus. It's interesting to note that the arrival of grace and truth, in the way it's written here, reads as though it is comparable to the promise made by God in Moses' day. The word that's often used for this promise is 'covenant' which means 'binding promise'. In the way that John introduces the idea here it seems that grace and truth is not just a nice concept it's a new covenant, a new binding promise between man and God. It's a covenant based not on the written law but on the character of God, the one abounding in grace and truth.

The Father's side.

The word used here for 'side' can also be translated as 'bosom'. Elsewhere it's used in the parable of Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:19-32). When Lazarus dies it is said that he is taken by the angels to Abraham's side, a euphemism for the place of rest and peace after death. To be at someone's side seems to have that meaning attached to it. It's an intimate place of identification and belonging after death.

Now, let's focus on the Father.

Here, in verse 18, the Father is described as one who is able to be known by and because of the Son. The Son is full of the same stuff as the Father (v14) and has come from the place of intimate nearness to him (his side), to make him known (this otherwise unseen God). So the Father, it can be said, is seen in the Son and because of the Son. This reveals a Father who is familiar and tender, allowing the Son to reside in his bosom. The image that springs to mind is of John (the writer of this gospel) reclining at the table with Jesus at the Last Supper, his head resting on his chest in an intimate expression of friendship and acceptance.

This is what God the Father is like. He is someone who, though unseen and invisible, sent his Son from the place of intimate friendship and nearness to be with us in order that we might see him and be drawn to him and his side, just like the Son is.


Do you relate to the Father like that, as one you can be affectionately familiar with? The sheer fact that the Father has a 'side' at all reveals an aspect of God we may not be too used to relating to. If you're a Christian then you can approach him confidently (Heb. 4:16) today and enjoy friendship with him.

Why not express that boldness today by jumping into random moments of praise and thankfulness at regular intervals in the day. Why not set an hourly alarm (on your watch or phone perhaps) and every time it goes off (or vibrates in your pocket!) thank the Father for something from the hour just past and ask him for something you need help with.


Father, thank you that you love me. Today I want to know you more, delight in you more and grow in friendship with you more. Help me to remember you and enjoy your company throughout the day today.