Monday, February 16, 2015

First Timothy Two and the Gospel

Or Why Egalitarian Theology is a Matter of Life and Death

Unless you believe that the elect are destined to be saved and the reprobate are destined to be condemned no matter what any of us do then you must admit that how we cooperate with God and what we do (in his strength) makes a difference.
"The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law (Deuteronomy 29:29 NIV84)."
Amazingly, there are many that use this scripture to say that God has a secret agenda, an agenda concerning who is in and who is out. But the truth is that God's will is not hidden. God does not want anyone to perish. He wants everyone to repent (2 Peter 3:9). Not surprisingly, what the King of the universe has commanded is what he desires to take place. Right now he commands all people everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30). Not only that, but our Lord is emotionally invested in all of this. He is pleased to save those who believe. It makes him happy.

Yes, yes, I know that we are not capable of coming to Christ without the work of the Holy Spirit. But guess what? That's not the problem. The Father is always at work. The Son is always at work. The Holy Spirit is always at work.

At this point someone is perhaps thinking: "I can see where this is going. Works, works, works. It's all up to us. Guilt. Condemnation. Human strength. Get busy, y'all." Not at all. It's not up to our works, our wisdom, our strength. In John chapter fifteen Jesus told the apostles that the Holy Spirit (who proceeds from the Father) would testify to the world about Jesus, but that the apostles also would testify about Jesus. In the same way, we all have a role to play. We get to work in the family business. That also makes Jesus happy.

1 Timothy 2

That brings us to the second chapter of the first letter of Paul to Timothy, a chapter that complementarians tell us is the final word concerning women in ministry. They tell us that this chapter makes it perfectly clear that a woman must never be in a position of authority over adult men and must never teach doctrine. I beg to differ.

First Timothy chapter two begins with a call to prayer. Paul urged Timothy to make prayer his top priority for the church there at Ephesus. He talked about the government, but he wasn't calling for a culture war. He was calling for intercession, the point of which was revival. God wants all people to be saved and to know Jesus as their Savior and Lord. Jesus is the only way for us to come to God. And the Father very much wants us all to join the Community of God.

In that context Paul addressed some major stumbling blocks for the Gospel in the first century. The first stumbling block was angry men. Yes, talk radio fans, the city of Ephesus had an anger problem.

Acts chapter nineteen tells us about the amazing revival that took place. God did extraordinary miracles. People repented of their sins. They rejected their idols and turned to the living God.

They had not been irreligious, secular humanists. They were very religious, very spiritual. They gave all that up for a real relationship with the living God.

Now there were some Jewish exorcists who were so influenced by the revival that they tried casting out a demon in the name of "Jesus, whom Paul preaches." Big mistake. The demon empowered the demonic to give them such a whooping that they fled naked and bleeding. All the Jews and Gentiles in that area heard about this and were very impressed (even those who didn't see the video on You Tube). They didn't use the name of Jesus lightly after that. Many who practiced sorcery burned their books even though they were very expensive. These were not people who took their religion lightly.

Then there was the riot. Religion is good business. People who became Christians stopped buying their little silver idols. We'd call them good luck charms, but the effect is the same. This cut into the Little Silver Idol business. It affected a lot of people's incomes. The silver smiths were very angry. They had a riot and shouted a lot. Do you get the picture? Angry religious men. That was a problem in Ephesus. That's the first thing that Paul addressed after calling people to pray.

A Bunch of Angry Religious Men

When the people of Ephesus looked at the church Paul didn't want them to see a bunch of angry religious men. He wanted them to see men who lifted up their hands in prayer. That was a stunning contrast to the world around them.
"I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing (1 Timothy 2:8 NIV84)."
Do you see both sides of that equation? Like everyone else in the church men need to pray for revival and the world needs to see that we are not angry religious men but rather we are men who pray. Whatever else people think about me, I want them to know that I will pray for them and those they love.

The Gospel and Women

In the context of evangelism, Paul said that he did not allow a woman to teach or to have authority over a man. If you have studied the Gospels and the book of Acts you may recognize how that seems to contradict the way Jesus elevated women and the critical role they played in the early church:

  • Women supported Jesus and his disciples during his earthly ministry (Luke 8:1-3)
  • Jesus defended Mary's right to study theology along side the men (Luke 10:38-42)
  • Women were the first witnesses to the resurrection
  • Women had prominent ministries (Romans 16)
  • Women prophesied (1 Corinthians 11:5)
  • Women did teach doctrine (Acts 18:24-26).

How do I reconcile this apparent contradiction? I say it like this:
If, as a general rule, the apostle Paul had allowed a woman to teach or to have authority over a man in the first century, it would have been as big a hindrance to the spread of the Gospel as it is today in the Western world if, as a general rule, we do not allow a woman to teach or to have authority over a man.
Think about it. "Are you kidding me? Are you saying that a woman could be the president of a major corporation or be the leader of the free world but can't be a head pastor? Are you serious?" That's what I'm talking about.

There are those who will accuse me of picking and choosing cultural context. I plead guilty. Further, I contend that we must all do that if we are going to make a difference in this world. If you want to stay stuck in the first century then go ahead. More power to you.

The Essentials of the Gospel

Am I caving in on the essentials of the Gospel? God forbid. Restrictions over women in ministry are not essential to the truth of the Gospel. Restricting women in ministry may affect the success of the Gospel, but not the essence of it.

When I read Revelation chapter twelve I see how the truth of the Gospel and the blood of the martyrs have created a redemptive trajectory in the Western world that can't be denied. Say what you want about Christendom. It was a disaster, but the Gospel did have an impact.

There are parts of the world where allowing a woman to teach doctrine and to have authority over a man will still be a hindrance to the Gospel, just as it was in the world of the first century. Even in that context, the power of the Gospel and God's anointing on his church (including the women) will change lives and impact those societies.

The Elephant in the Room

Someone will say, "No, Timmy Boy, you've missed the real deal breaker in First Timothy Two. Adam was not the one who was deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and so became a sinner."

When Jesus was teaching about marriage he took it back to the beginning. That is true. But I don't believe that First Timothy Two teaches that women are incapable of grasping correct doctrine and will always slip into heresy. To my twenty-first century ears that actually sounds quite absurd, but it still needs to be addressed honestly.

Honestly, the church has been dealing with heresy for a long time and we've developed a little thing I like to call theology. Just as a body develops resistance to certain diseases so also the body of Christ has developed theological frameworks to protect us from certain dangerous heresies. Sometimes, we've had autoimmune reactions as well, but that's another issue all together.

In the first century we had the apostles who established our doctrines, the prophets who confirmed them, and the elders who supported them. The gifts of the Holy Spirit were flowing in a mighty way. Everyone was encouraged to come to church to share a revelation, some inspired utterance or something the Lord had been teaching them. There was nothing settled about the church's theology. People rose up and called themselves Super Apostles. They were more eloquent than the real apostles. They were forceful speakers. Some lady decided she was a prophetess and that sexual immorality was good for you. It's amazing we came through that, but Jesus said that he would build his church and he didn't lie.

God has brought us through a lot. Today we have a well established theology. Though we don't always act like it, we have a pretty good handle on the essentials of the Gospel. What we need is the power of God, the anointing of the Holy Spirit. Let God's fire fall on all of us, young and old, men and women. That was what Peter was talking about when he quoted the prophet Joel on the day of Pentecost. This is that.

The Slippery Slope

What about other things that offend people today? What about Abortion? What about Same Sex Marriage?

Abortion is different. If life begins at conception and if human life is sacred then elective abortion is murder plain and simple. I will pay any price, bear any reproach for that issue.

I'll be honest with you. Same Sex Marriage is tougher for me. Though I believe with absolute certainty that real marriage can only be between one man and one woman, as our Savior made clear to us, as a political issue I was willing to support the legal right of a man to marry a man or a woman to marry a woman. I was encouraged by C. S. Lewis's idea that there is a difference between what God calls marriage and what the state defines as the marriage contract.

God gave me such a whooping for that. It's hard to describe. I'm not taking about other Christians. They tried to talk sense into me and they were very gracious about it. But God took me to the woodshed. That whooping purged my inmost being. I'm not claiming to speak for God on the legal issue. I'm just saying that--for me--the legal issue is settled.

Still I can see why the world would call me a bigot. Even if I did support the legal right--which I don't--the fact that I believe that Jesus settled the moral issue once and for all (when he said that marriage was established by the Creator who unified the male and the female) makes me a bigot in the eyes of many today. I get that. It's easy to call a sin a sin if you're not tempted by it. Or even if you are, calling it a sin could be seen as just plain homophobic. Either way I can be perceived as a bigot.

Sam Allberry helped me with this one. Reading "Is God Anti-Gay?" helped clarify something that God has been saying to me for a long time. Jesus doesn't give anyone a pass on either their identity or their sexuality. Yes, the church is hypocritical. We've tolerated no-fault divorce for decades. But that doesn't change the Gospel. The Gospel is all about Jesus calling each of us to give up our lives and to become true disciples.

Discipleship is the one essential of the Gospel that seems to get the most neglected and that's where I'll end this particular rant.




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