Thursday, March 6, 2008

Comment From Reader

I thought Jonathan put a lot of time into writing this comment that it is worth re-posting.


jonathan has left a new comment on your post "Reader Comment":

Your definition of legalism doesn't even refer to law, and it probably should. We say 'legal' about anything pertaining to laws. We say 'legalism' about the abuse of those laws.

The pharisees provide a good example. They spent a great deal of time trying to trick Jesus with their legal expertise. They were very well versed on God's law, and were able to trap the unwary listener less familiar with the law. It didn't work on Jesus, though. We could all learn a lot from Jesus.

This is not to say there is anything wrong with laws! Far from it. Laws aren't the problem, legalism is. One way we can tell that the subjugation of women, via scriptural quotes, is legalistic is the degree that one sees such a law alive in the lives of believers. An excellent metaphor, straight from the bible, can be found in 2 Corinthians. Paul declares:

"You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts."

Paul makes a pretty clear distinction between two expressions of God's word: One is written on stone, and the other written on human hearts. Are both God's word? I don't know, but Paul is pretty clear about WHO the word of God is: It's us! We are letters from Christ. We are the result of ministry, and we are words written not with ink but with the Spirit of the Living God. When we do not let women be letters of Christ, well, what does that make us?

That's why I don't believe you when you say "Yes". The Bible did not die for your sins. 66 books did not feed the five thousand. Not a single book has ever raised anyone from the dead. Books are dead. I would hope that your one true Lord and Saviour is not a book at all, but a person.

How would you help us better understand the laws about women in the bible, aside from citing them incredulously? Is citing them enough? Or is their wisdom behind these laws?


Rileysowner said...

Since my original comment disappeared with the other site, I will have to work from memory. You seem to think the problem with the law is some obscure thing. Legalism is trying to be acceptable to God by keeping the law (or by doing any good for that matter) that is why I used the definition of legalism as, "seeking to achieve forgiveness from God and achieve acceptance by God through obedience to God." The focus of legalism is seeking acceptance or forgiveness or to earn something from God by keeping his law and/or doing good.

It is not, as you seem to be says, merely keeping the injunctions found in the scripture. If legalism was keeping Biblical injunctions, why is the New Testament full of commands as to how a person who is saved by the grace of God is to live? The difference between legalism and Christian obedience is first of all one of motivation. Secondly, it is one of where the strength for obedience comes from, that is, no longer from the sinful nature or 'flesh', but no by the Spirit.

Rileysowner said...

Another short follow-up. This comment begs a question. Why, if the commands of the Bible, in particular those of the New Testament, are the mere letter of the law, and thus are not important and cannot be used as a standard which should mark the life of a Christian, then why are their any commands at all in the New Testament? Why is it that the Bible tells us that what will equip the person of God for every good work and make them wise for salvation? (2 Timothy 3:15-17)

If legalism is simply taking the Bible as the rule of faith and practice for those who are saved by the grace of God from the wrath of God they deserve through faith in Jesus Christ. Then it would seem that Christians can do anything they way regardless of whether the Bible ever said it was sinful.

Jonathan said...

I don't have any problem with laws, inside or outside the bible, but I do have a problem with legalism. Perhaps I can better explain what I mean by 'legalism' by talking about obedience. As you say, the Bible is full of commands (I will set aside, for now, the fact that you actually only speak of the New Testament, which is only that small part of the bible, at the end).

I know I was taught to live according to the bible, but I will also say there were plenty of biblical things I wasn't taught. For instance, I was never taught to kiss my fellow Christians when I came across them, and yet Paul makes this very plain in 2 Corinthians: "Greet one another with a holy kiss". It doesn't get much simpler than that. It's not a suggestion. There is no way of getting around it. Paul clearly speaks in the imperative. He is commanding you and I to live up to New Testamental laws. And do we? I am willing to bet that you haven't even kissed half your congregation yet! What's the problem? Are you too embarrassed? What's stopping you from God's holy command?

I think Bert Langedyk is a great guy. He was my cadet councilor when I was younger, and he did an exemplary job. When I see him at church, should I kiss him? Despite the fact that the bible tells me so, I can imagine better places to lay my lips. And I can imagine Bert thinks so as well, despite the fact that I am quite attractive, and muscular. Both Bert and I would happily forgo God's commands when it comes to kissing, and I doubt either of us would regard such an obvious rejection of God's law as inviting God's wrath.

What we all understand is that 'kissing' clearly meant something very different for Paul, when he wrote that down for the people of Corinth, than it does for us in Exeter. Here in Exeter, 'kissing' is an activity that has sexual overtones. That's what kissing has become, and we all respect that new meaning. There isn't a single follower of Christ, yourself included, that worries about our clear disobedience of this command. That should tell you something about how laws work when the rubber hits the road.

For instance, it is fairly easy for you to follow God's command that women do not instruct men, or that women should be silent in a church. This is easy for you because you are not a woman. This law asks nothing of you. This law does not restrict your gifts, only your wife's gifts. You can happily be whatever you want to be in a Christian community. You have never felt the sting of being told you are less than what you are. I wonder how you would feel if you were treated that way?

Something has happened, and instead of a kiss, we Christians generally greet each other with a holy handshake, or a holy "how are you this morning, how was your week?". I think this is a perfectly acceptable re-reading of the text. It shows that, while the word 'kiss' remains the same, the meaning of that word is too different to apply. We can't be legalistic about kisses, not anymore, so we embrace the spirit of that command. I am sure this is why we have the tradition of the minister, and maybe even elders, shaking everyone's hands as they leave the sanctuary. We should probably keep it that way.

We can look at the word 'woman' in a very similar way. While the word stays the same, what that word means has become something very different. For instance, the women of Corinth, or the women that Paul was talking about with Timothy, were illiterate. They didn't know how to read. Not only that, they had never received any kind of formal education. These are women who were regarded as nothing more than property in the culture that they lived. We know this to be true, even though we cannot imagine it. All of these things would be considered terrible crimes today! To interfere with a female child's education, and to treat her like property -- so as to make her a woman that Paul would have understood -- would be considered a terrible crime in our world. We use the same word, but we mean something very different. Today, the fact that there are women far more intelligent, far more well read, and far more capable than the two of us men is hardly unusual. We both accept this state of affairs, it's simply the world we live in. And that isn't going to change.

When it comes to the bible, and its various commands, I prefer to take a more literal view. Paul clearly directs his letter to the Christians in Corinth, and I take that literally, word for word. He didn't address that letter to me - that would be an extra-biblical interpretation of the strangest sort. He addressed it to specific believers, because they had specific problems with which they struggled. The same is true for all of Paul's letters -- at least if you wish to read them literally. What we need is someone to write a letter to the Christians in Exeter. There is terrible frustration and injustice. Some of God's children are being barred from their spiritual calling. We need someone to write a letter that can help make sense of this terrible situation. That is the lesson of the bible, as far as I can tell, to this current situation.

Perhaps you could offer some help. What would be the wisdom of maintaining the status quo? Do you think it's wise to bar women from full participation in the church? Maybe you could offer some of your own wisdom on this issue, seeing as you seem to have a lower opinion of a woman's capabilities. Can you justify this opinion?

Rileysowner said...

I will have to write a longer response later, but your assumption that I see women as less capable is patently false. I never said that. Capability is not the issue, fidelity to the Scriptures is. I know many women who are gifted to be elders in the church.

I ask you this, if the command concerning women is not like the "holy kiss," that is an accepted cultural greeting that is no longer appropriate, (remember this is hypothetical) if the command that women not teach or have authority over a man is still to be taken as it is written, even today, would you be willing to follow it? Or would the pragmatics of women being gifted take priority? This is an honest question. It is a question that I ask because I am curious as to where you would stand in that case?

Jonathan said...

I am happy to read that you have such a high view of women and their capabilities. I stand corrected. And I had no idea Bethel CRC now elected female elders -- this is good news indeed.

What I should have said was that Paul seems to have had a low opinion of a small group of women that lived in a Christian community in Corinth two thousand years ago, and that when you read about those women, you are simply following orders, to the letter.

As for your hypothetical situation, I will make you a deal. If you are willing to start kissing all the Christians you encounter in your walk, I will start choosing foolish men over wise women for church governance. We will then see who starts to feel foolish first.

This would be very difficult for me, though, because the text nowhere states that Paul's commands to the Corinthians are to be followed in all places, in all times, and with every conceivable context. That is nothing but an interpretive addition to the text, that is not itself found in the text. I am pretty suspicious of those that would embellish scripture to mean more than what it actually says, especially when so many stand to be affected negatively by such an augmentation in the community of Christ.

Anonymous said...

I suppose we could banter back and forth and hypothesize whether and what Paul meant to be cultural, societal and literal. I'm often amused at what has fallen to the wayside, what has taken on a new life and what has been dropped like a lead balloon. These things will only separate, rarely join and certainly doesn't appear to ever be resolved.

One must dismiss the unimportant to make way for the important. It is unlikely that a consensus will be met when viewed through the eyes of many, with the agendas of a few.

There is not a single original transcript of the Bible. Scribes were often illiterate, very frequently made huge mistakes and often injected their own selfish agendas into the Bible as we read it today. I suspect that hanging the balance on such a controversial sentence is theological suicidal.

The Bible we read today is an agreement on some accounts of the number and consistency of transcripts. Some texts and even some books, have been "voted" off the island while others have been invited on. What we have today IS the survivor. The original inerrant Word of God is not available so we have to do a lot of thinking. Many Christians are book lazy and will readily embrace the status quo.

So then, whilst we ponder the enormous probabilities of each and every letter and word we could perhaps expand our horizons. The hypothesis that God saw it fit to equip women with gifts indecipherable from men only to keep them under raps of a family or friends is unconscionable.

Only in a patriarchal society could this fly. Yet male dominated church leadership will come up with the same answer time after time. Until we expand our horizons and get out of this game of smoke and mirrors will I expect the chimpanzee to push any other button but the banana button.

Until then why don't we focus on spreading Christ's Word, using all of the tools God has given us rather than just the tools we have in council.

A mountain of gifts shouldn't be kept under a bushel.


I'm gonna let it shine...regardless of what the men say.

I'm gonna let it shine...despite what Exeter CRC says.


I'm gonna let it shine...until the day that this church too shares in all God's gifts as the rest of our denomination has,

for this scourge, this dark hour will too pass.

Thanks for being you Jonathan and Joan.

Rileysowner said...

I should never comment quickly while trying to do several other things. What I meant to say is I know several women who would be capable of doing the task of an elder. I did not mean the Bethel RCA ordains them as elders.

My hypothetical situation was meant to ask an important question. I agree that certain things are connected to the culture when the Bible was written, ie. considering the command to not covet my neighbors ox or donkey, I have never done that, but I do realize that the command includes coveting of say a neighbors snowblower or car which would be more appropriate cultural items.

I also agree that the command to greet with a holy kiss is not appropriate in certain cultures. While on a mission trip in Mexico, greeting with a kiss was not unusual, and while I had to get past some cultural discomfort I realized that was how many of the people, at least in congregation I worked with, greeted one another. However, I agree there are other cultural ways of greeting that meet what that command is meant for. At the same time I realize that not all the commands are culturally dependent, even the example I gave of the the command to not covet, the command itself is not going to change based on culture, just the objects which one would covet.

My question was this, what if that is not the case for the command in 1 Timothy 2:12. If it is not based in the culture of the time it was written, would you be willing to keep it or not?

Please don't give me some trite statement that I can go kiss people in greeting while you will put foolish men into the roles they obviously are not capable of. Doing that makes me think you are not really interested in discussion.

Annette said...

You haven't exactly answered the question though put to you. IF not having women in office is NOT a cultural thing, would you obey the command of God?

Quite frankly, throughout the bible, men having leadership over men has been factual and God-ordained. When women have been in leadership positions its been because the men won't step up to the plate.

the Samaritan said...

As per anonymous comments, I too have a problem with the amount of energy put into keeping women in their place. The Exeter CRC has become a bloated giant that is feeding only itself. We play lip service to some of the mission trips we sponsor and come faithfully to church but we don't give a part of ourselves. On Friday nights world day of prayer, the CRC council members were conspicuously absent. Was this coincidence or was the distain of a woman minister more important than the need to pray together? When the Lord gave out the talents to his servants and one of them buried his, was he in fact burying a woman? Are we to say, but Lord, I was afraid to do what I knew was right because I didn't want to offend you....Jesus, although obviously a literate man did not leave behind a large list of instructions on how to enter the kingdom of heaven. He honoured scripture not through its don't but thru it do's. It was quite apparent his interpretation of scripture was not even close to the scribes that had studied it inside out. When at the beginning of the sermon, I see the bible raised and hear the phrase, The grass withers etc, I cringe because I see the Word of God becoming a book and not The Word itself, Jesus Christ.

Rileysowner said...

Anonymous, I want to be sure I understand your statements correctly. You bring up a whole host of different things, but basically, if I understand you correctly, you are saying that you don't think the Bible is reliable so why bother even trying to understand what it means in areas we don't agree with. Is that a correct understanding of what you were saying?

Jonathan said...

Reverend Vellinga, and Annette,

Your hypothetical situation is impossible to comprehend, because we would need some method for separating what is cultural from what isn't. We don't have any such method. As far as I can tell, the only responsible method would to either treat all of God's New Testament commandments exactly as we have received them (this would mean we would reinstate the kiss, just in case), or we would look at all of the New Testament commands as solutions to problems affecting the early church as it struggled to be a community of faith, and so see them as cultural events not necessarily tied to our own in an A=A kind of way.

What I could do for you is suppose a hypothetical 'Jonathan' who, somehow, receives a vision, and in that vision he is informed -- amidst a blinding light -- that the verse in Timothy is indeed as true as the sky is blue, and that it was actually intended -- although Paul doesn't make this clear -- to be true in all times and in all places, irrespective of context and culture. If I did receive such a vision, I would undoubtedly have to re-adjust my understanding of scripture. My first problem would lie in the verse that follows the now-true one, that "she will be saved through childbearing...". I would have to fundamentally alter my understanding of salvation, and sadly inform my Tante Annie that she is going to hell -- how can she be saved? She didn't have any children!. I would also have to inform my Tante Afien the same thing. I would have to explain to her the power of my vision, and tell her that, even though she adopted two wonderful children, the bible is quite clear on this issue: figuring adoption would be to "culturalize" this universal truth, something hypothetical 'Jonathan' would be unwilling to do. I would also warn my sisters Hannelle and Rachel that they better get cracking, because their very souls may be at risk. Fortunately, my sister Sarah has salvation covered. In addition to bearing four beautiful children, she "continues in faith and love and holiness, with modesty". She will be okay.

I would also struggle with this new truth in relation to Paul's words in 2 Corinthians, where he describes "the ministry of death, chiseled in letters on stone tablets". To my mind, the truth in my vision would more closely resemble something chiseled in a stone -- permanent, fixed and unchanging -- than it would something written on human hearts. I would very much struggle with these words from 2 Corinthians, and I would probably try to ignore them.

I would also worry that I am treating the New Testament very much like the pharisees treated the Old Testament. Just as the pharisees questioned Jesus on the fine details of the law, accusing him of sin when he touched the sick, the prostitutes, and harvested grain on a Sunday, I would be accusing my fellow Christians of all kinds of things, like braiding their hair, or failing to greet with kisses, or allowing women to teach them in school. I would feel like I am doing the same thing as those pharisees in the gospel -- except with New Testament laws instead of Old Testament ones! I would be like a new pharisee, and I would have turned the New Testament into a "New Old Testament". Nothing much different there...

And Annette, I would probably be the kind of guy that would wonder why you are interrupting a conversation between two men. I would probably be the sort of person who would hold up your comment to the universal truth revealed in 1 Timothy 12 -- and chide for you for not remaining silent. You are a woman after all, and you are defying God's holy word. I might even suggest that you let your husband speak for you in matters of faith.

Fortunately for you I am not that hypothetical Jonathan. And fortunately I haven't received such a strange vision! I gladly welcome your comment, Annette, and thank you for reminding me that I hadn't addressed the hypothetical scenario above. I am also glad to see that, with your comment, you demonstrate what I fully support -- the voice of women in matters of Spirit and of faith.

And now I wonder if a question I have been asking could be clarified. I am hearing from you that women are just as capable as men at being elders, and yet Bethel RCA doesn't elect women to this office. Is there any reason for this, other than a verse in Timothy? Is this the only reason for this exclusion, or is there wisdom in this commandment that I am somehow missing? Can you give me a good reason why women should be barred from office, or do you just have this verse, that you treat like it's carved in stone on a tablet?

Anonymous said...

No, I'm not saying that at all. I too, need to review how people are reading what I am thinking. They don't necessarily end up in print the same way.

I AM saying there are well documented errors in transcripts of the Bible. Therefore if even the specific words or sentences could be debatable, how much greater the likelihood that an interpretation could be made in error. I would rue the day that we don't discuss, learn and evolve as a church. Yes, evolve because without refining, we would have no Reformation and still use the pay as you go form of penance. I am saying that you have to look at the big picture that Jesus painted. It certainly doesn't say the same thing as Paul. I wouldn't want to discount the vast benefit that comes from having women in positions of elder, minister or deacon based on the interpretation of any one blatantly controversial text.

To sum up the worth (and yes, from a womens perspective it is) of half our congregation on a couple of sentences from Paul flies in the face of what Jesus example while on earth. Jesus' actions contradict how we as a Christian Reformed Church have treated this entire issue. To hinge such an important part of your faith to something that is not a salvation issue is so meaningless and counter productive. Do you actually think that God will hold you accountable because of this??? Really??? If not, STOP. God is not some sort of trickster laying out talents to be shucked away like this. There are people that need women in leadership roles as elders and ministers for real life problems.

This issue sadly continues to be the ministry focus of CRC life in Exeter and in and of itself shows a lack of empathy for women. Council's boycott of the Day of Prayer was equally as insulting and can only be construed as a blatant slap in the face of Pastor Wilemina Zwart. Why set up a prayer service only to boycott the service. It is akin to aggrieved parishioners of bygone days loudly standing up during a service and walking out in protest.

Our denomination urges us to use women in all offices including elders and ministers. The denomination has and continues to move forward. It will so regardless of what our church council believes.

We have tried to bandage the wounds for years through gradual succession. This has left us with two options. Both are biblically sound according to our Synod. A choice if you will, both honouring God.

So, at the end of the day it appears that it CAN honour God hence the statement, it's not a salvation issue. I understand that this may be inconsistent with your denomination or your belief but you are in a CRC blog.

Rileysowner said...

Anonymous, I speak for myself, not for my denomination.

The reason I wondered if you were saying what you were saying is that you kept pointing to things like the formation of the Canon and the errors in various transcripts. Neither are areas that lend themselves easily to discussion in a forum such as this. As for errors in copying the vast majority of Biblical textual scholars be they very conservative or extremely liberal theologically would agree that what we have in the Greek transcripts are accurate to the originals. Again textual criticism is beyond dealing with in a setting like this, nor am I an expert in it. I have real problems with playing Jesus against Paul as if they disagree. If you want to take that approach I am sorry that you do, but there is little I can do about it.

Jonathan, saying we have absolutely no way to know what is cultural based seems like an approach that could lead to various major problems. If all the commands are culturally based, then I guess we can all do whatever we want under the rubric of well that was just dealing with a problem back then.

Going back to an earlier comment you made about me pointing primarily to the New Testament commands, I did that because the easy answer to discount the Old Testament used by many people I have encountered is that the Old Testament law is completely removed. Thus, I went to the New Testament to avoid that line of discussion as I am already finding that I am responding to a whole host of issues from textual criticism, formation of the canon, and hermeutical approaches. Trying to keep all that in line and provide reasonable answers is frankly taking more time than I have.

Since our discussion here seems to be going no where, as you seem to believe radically different things concerning the scriptures, I don't know if it is even possible to continue a discussion. I wish I could deal with every single issue that has been raise, but I simply cannot.

One thing I have appreciated here since the change, although it could be improved by all of us myself included, is the reduction of ad hominem arguments and incendiary language. Such attacks on persons is against our Christian witness.

I will check in again. I may comment some more as well. I just am finding this particular conversation spinning out of control.

Lastly a personal note. I think I am understanding your position. I simply disagree. I do believe the scripture is understandable, that it is clear and that it is in getting back to it that the church will be pointed to Christ more and more. From my study of Church history what has done more to harm the Church than anything else has been a neglect of the written word of God. It was that which led to things like the practice of Penance and the other deformations in the church that required the reformation. The same is true with the rise of higher critical theory and theological liberalism. My hope is that this will not be the case today with those who claim Christ as Lord and Saviour.

Jon of Arcadia said...

Reverend Vellinga, I must say that I am supremely disappointed in hearing that you are leaving, and especially your reasons in doing so.

You and Annette chastised Jonathan for not responding to your question, and when he did so, and asks you a question, you decide to pack up and leave, citing "incendiary language" that is "against our Christian witness." It would indeed have been a different gospel if Jesus himself had never used "incendiary language" against his fellow Jews, language that was quite "against a Jewish witness." In fact, Jesus had quite a repertoire of insults for his opponents and, judging by that standard, I think that Jonathan has been quite civil.

Reverend Vellinga, for all intents and purposes it appears to me (and I am sure to many other readers) that you are losing this debate and, finding yourself in too deep, deciding to go home. If so, I say that is too bad, as many of us have been quite intrigued by this debate (if only the comments pages could have visitor counters), and though we might disagree with what you have to say, are very interested to hear it. Rarely has this debate been held in so open, public, and personal a manner.

I beg you to continue as, though they may be silent, I am sure your supporters are watching as well...

Anonymous said...

i agree. he's getting out because the heat in the kitchen is a tad too hot.

crc waterloo

Rileysowner said...

JofA and others, I did not say I am leaving because of incindary language. In fact, Jonathan has been quite amiable, although I see you and the commenter after you seem to think slinging stones is an appropriate response. I said I am leaving because I simply do not have time to answer the same questions. Jonathan did not actually answer my question, he simply stated that he finds it impossible to do so. I get the feeling you are trying to taunt me into coming back. Frankly, I don't see the point. So far I have been told that we cannot ever possibly know what commands of scripture are for today and which are not. If that is where your discussion is coming from, then I have no common ground to discuss with you as I believe we can determine those sort of thing as well at the contemporary application of the commands of scripture in the setting of being saved by the grace of God through faith in Jesus. Your view of scripture is so radically different than mine, that what will happen every time is what has happened every time, you will simply say, "So you better go around kissing other Christians in greeting and avoid cotton/poly blend fabrics." I find that frustrating because it simply shows that our respective views of scripture are so far apart that their is little value in even having the discussion. If you want to interact with the complimentarian approach in depth I suggest you read and respond to articles at

Jonathan said...

Reverend Vellinga,

A post ago you said something that, in my opinion, was probably the most significant thing uttered on this blog thus far. This is what you said:

"Lastly a personal note. I think I am understanding your position."

I think it is easy to underestimate the profoundness of this statement, especially in the context of this debate -- within Exeter CRC and Reformed churches all around us. To say such a thing is to acknowledge the other side. Despite the fact that you see ruin in this direction, you tell us that you can understand. It is to give a nod, and to say that you have been listening.

I understand that you simply disagree. I am fine with that. But what I really appreciate, what I really am grateful for, is that sentence you wrote above. So thank you. Perhaps you cannot understand what a sentence like that can mean for people almost ready to give up hope -- people who feel they are just banging their heads against a wall. You prove there are ears out there.

You've been saying some things about culture, and what the suggestion of culture can mean for the scriptures. I thought it worth saying a couple of things about that.

In a couple of your posts above, you give the suggestion that to credit some of Paul's commands to 'culture' would be to take us on a slippery slope to oblivion. As if to say: If we write that off, what's to stop us from writing the whole thing off? Why have a bible, if that's how it's going to be? I want to say something about why the bible is so important, despite my interest in its culture.

What I first bump up against is: how can we not consider this culture? This is the culture that we all came from! This is the culture that Jesus walked and talked; this gives Jesus his very context. This really came to mind for me when I saw that one writer on this blog calls him/herself "Samaritan'. One of the first things a Sunday school teacher has to do, when teaching this story to children, is explain what a Samaritan is. What is a Samaritan? Without an understanding of the particular spite directed at Samaritans by the Jews, the whole parable would lose its thrust. Culture makes Jesus' parable legible to us -- a legibility that would not otherwise be obvious in the text.

Culture is us. It's what we do. It's the means by which we look at the world, and the sum of all our thinking about the world. For instance, not every culture writes things down. The culture that produced Paul produced a person who writes things down. This is something we take for granted, but it defines us culturally. The very fact that Paul 'wrote' tells us that his writing is a cultural activity. What did 'writing' mean at that time? The same thing it means for us?

Paul wrote in a specific language, and spoke to a whole array of different and varied audiences. They all had very different struggles, and it was a difficult juggle for Paul to both correct and upbuild. A very careful line. It gets very complicated, that's for sure. But acknowledging this complexity certainly doesn't mean we can "do whatever we want". It just means answers to difficult questions are not going to be as simple as treating the bible as a "Christianity for Dummies". We have to get at the heart of this text, in order to understand its depth and its fullness. Shallow readings of 1 Tim 2:12 aren't going to cut it. It insults the text to read it like that.

This may be where you and I drift somewhat in our respective approaches to scripture, although I don't think they are as different as you think. If you believe that 1 Timothy 2: 11-12 somehow escapes "cultural write-off", why do you write off the very introduction to this letter? It begins:

"To Timothy, my loyal child in faith..."

At what point do you think it is okay to scratch out Timothy's name, and add your own? And expect everyone to do the same. What gives you permission to do that? Is this address any less the word of God? I ask you: Is this verse (1 Timothy 1:2) any less relevant than 1 Timothy 2:12? It's a tough one. Are we not "editing" the bible when we simply replace Timothy's name with our own? That sounds to me like a walk away from the text, not toward it.

For instance, when Jesus instructs his mother to take Peter as his son, we don't cross out Peter's name, put our own there, and try to understand how that applies. We can see that Jesus was talking to Peter, not to every human on the earth. It's strange that we have these different little rules for different parts of the bible. What arouses suspicion is when a certain little rule followed in a dogmatic fashion causes so much heart-ache and suffering. And then that pain is called "the will of God". That can't be right.

So it makes me wonder: All these different interpretive rules for the bible, how can that NOT be a cultural whim of our own creation? Is there some divine wisdom in treating Levitical law as intrinsic to a story, but not intrinsic to our lives? But a different rule for the Psalms, which are intrinsic expressions of our faith? And then the minor prophets can be read as addressing the Hebrews -- not us -- but the epistles of Paul, addressed to specific churches explicitly by Paul, the issues contained within directly pertaining to their specific issues, members of these congregations even being referenced by their very names (Colossians 4:15) are somehow supposed to "obviously" refer to all of humankind without exception or compromise, lest we descend into a world of "anything goes"?

That is going to take some more explaining, Reverend Vellinga, is you are going to insist that a deeper look at the scriptures, as I am suggesting, is a descent into chaos.

As someone far better versed in scriptures, and as someone who has educated himself rigorously in the scriptures for some time, maybe you can explain why it is okay to have such different rules for different parts of the bible. And if you have time after that, maybe you can explain what could possibly be so wrong in reading Paul's epistles like we read the minor prophets? How does that lead us to "anything goes"?

Big questions. Stated by frustrated people at the end of their rope. I understand you may not have the time for these questions, but they are worth being asked. And I know that you will listen.

Anonymous said...

Paul's thorn in his side?

Perhaps he had issues with his mother.


the Samaritan said...

Well spoken Jonathan. What appears to be in contention so many times is the infallibility of the scriptures. Is what is said to be taken word for word, or is scripture a whole blended symphony leading us to the revelation of Christ as our Savior?
Although I certainly do not see the lay preacher, Hank DenHollander as my most appropriate example, he did have a sermon a while back that made a lot of sense. He asked why we as Christians were here on the earth and not just carried up to heaven (Can't remember the exact sermon Hank so please bear with my inconsistency) Anyway, he stated we were not here to praise him not here to worship him, not here to lead quiet obedient lives etc as that can all be done while "in heaven" No, we're here to further the kingdom of God. To be witnesses, to proclaim, to encourage, to allow the Spirit to use us and our gifts. We in Exeter have many churches. All have the signs outside that say "Welcome" or "Come worship with us" . Do we really expect people to come in with these signs? Each church seems to have its own brand of interpretation of scripture and its own form of proper worship. Each one is determined that THEY are right and the others are wayward or just plain wrong. We have members bouncing from church to church looking for the congregation that makes them feel right while others sit still in a sense of loyalty and or indifference. One church grows slightly while another dwindles.
One has a Scottish flavour, one an Engish, a Dutch, one gifts of the Spirit, another a form of baptism and so forth. Every so often these churches get together in the form of the Ministerial Association and debate only God knows what. Maybe they all agree to disagree and not to entice each others flocks.
The sad part is this, why can't they as our "leaders" encourage us to be one body for the Lord and work at true evangelism in the Exeter community? Why does the hand say to the head, I don't need you?
Why do we argue over the details of scripture and forget what scripture is there for. Its for us to use as a gift.
Women in office is a mute point. Its about acknowledging that the Spirit was poured out to all believers according to Gods will and not our own interpretation thereof. Can't we just get on with God's work and further the kingdom.Will God judge us on how well we interpreted the Bible or how well we used our talents?
The one reason I'm using the Samaritan penname is because one of my favorite parables speaks of the act of compassion in the face of the supposed contempt by the religious status quo. The real story is that those scribes and pharisees were probably nice guys and would have loved to help. No, they were doing good by staying away from the stricken man. Gods law was that anyone near death would make them unclean and they wanted to ensure they adhered to scripture. The reject Samaritan was the one Jesus used to point out that compassion and "doing the right thing" are more important than being scripturally sound.
Now I'm sure that in all my ramblings there have been points where there are loopholes and "yea, but's". I just want us as a Christian community to focus on the coming and get into action. The women of history have had a bad rap. Its inherent in the male genes to put her in her place.From the most primitive tribe to the most advanced society, they've always been second class. Why even the original curse (yes its a curse) was that "he will rule over you." Does that mean thats the way it should be? Of course not, its a curse. The same way that weeds were a curse doesn't mean we can't apply roundup!
If we have trouble treating our fellow Christians with equality how can we reach out to half the world (women) and say "come be one in Christ".
Pastors, its time to stand up and hold hands with each other and march with one congregation into the rising sun. We can be judged for what we didn't do as well as what we do.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jonathan said...

I must say that I am quite flattered that I've been googled. I mean, we've all googled ourselves, but to be googled by others? Surely a sign of success!

Concerned anonymous person, you mention in your post that you are concerned about 'Jonathan', but you don't explain what concerns you so much. You just quote him. Perhaps you feel your concerns are self-evident, and plain to see. I think you are reading me too literally, because I myself don't see them. In fact, I am happy to report I quite agree with "Jonathan-from-three-years-ago", and I almost blush at his enthusiasm. That guy has love to share!

I think the least you could do is explain what *concerns* you, and especially in the context of a blog about the role of women in church governance. I am not seeing the connection.

I get the impression that you are directing your critique at me personally, while my arguments are left unscathed. Perhaps you would have more success in convincing others if you challenged my arguments instead of me. Am I an easier target than what I have to say? Ad hominem is a sign of desperation, ( and I'm sure you don't want to do my work for me.

On a different issue, if anyone wishes to discuss with me a completely different topic, that of gays and lesbians in the Christian community, and the sanctity of their marriages, feel free to email me at Even your concerns would be most welcome.

Anonymous said...

If we are merely being legalistic, then we are in trouble. Jesus pointed out the problems and hypocrisy with that. But our own undivertable stand in favor of women in office, is also an accusation of hyprocrisy on the part of Jesus - what I mean is, are we accusing Jesus of hyprocrisy? Jesus chose to be anti-traditional in many ways, especially when it came to sabbath observance, his attention to children, and to proclaiming judgement on the priests and pharisees. (and he said his kingdom was not of this world, which was unusual). Yet, he did not choose women, not even one, as apostles.

When it comes to capabilities, and thinking that gifts and capabilities are what qualifies one for office, we seem to be out of sync with Jesus as well, who chose unlettered fishermen, "evil" tax collecters, and other assorted misfits to be his apostles.

This is not to say that Jesus neglected or abused women, since He spent much time and attention on the spiritual welfare of women such as Mary and Martha, the woman at the well, the adulterous woman, and many others.

Concentrating only on Paul and his letters to Timothy and Galatians, misses the points that Jesus made. Jesus did not choose women, I believe, for two reasons. One is that Jesus understood men and women better than we understand ourselves. And he created them. So he had a right to create one before the other, and God had/has a right to distinguish responsibilities and roles between them.

This right extends to the fact that he could choose unlettered fishermen as apostles who were leaders of the church. and it extends to the right to indicate, as Paul has, that men were to be given the responsibility of leadership, not because they were so smart, or educated, or even "spiritual", but merely because God in Christ so chose. This sounds pretty arbitrary, but it is a symbol and indication of God's authority and love for us, so much that He would both demand obedience, and yet die for us to fulfill all righteousness.

Our own natural inclination is to rebel, to think we can earn our own way to heaven by our own smarts, or by our own goodness, or by our own power. We can convince ourselves pretty quickly, that God is unjust, arbitrary, unfair, etc. and that we could do better.

As far as actually using your gifts is concerned, I would say that we certainly don't use our gifts for God's glory when we insist on our own rights. God asks us to maintain justice for the widow and the orphan and we worry as Christians about providing equality of power for talented women? It is a diversion that Satan is happy to see us spend time on.

Women have millions of opportunities to use their gifts, if they but open their eyes. Christian men are not going to deny them those opportunities. But Christian men and women (and there are many women against women in office) do not have some devine right to overrule God's purposes, guidelines and indications, just because the ungodly world seems to make it popular to do so.

If women in office was being proposed at a time when it was unpopular in society, then I might believe or trust that the argument had some biblical basis. But since it is a mere following of the present customs of society, then to me it is very difficult to give any christian credibility of biblical basis for such a proposal.

However, I hope the pain and suffering of Joan of Arc can lead to a healing of the mind and spirit that only Christ can give. Power and authority will never provide that happiness; it is similar to the desire for money - the more you have, the more you want. And God has given you the power, ability, and authority to lead your neighbor to Christ; you don't need to be in any special office to perform this more glorious task.

Candie said...

Interesting to know.