Archive Page 2

15
Jan
13

mclaren comes clean and promotes filth

Speaking recently to the UK magazine Christianity  Brain McLaren admitted,

‘I’m sensitive to [the silence of many Church leaders], because I struggled with that for many years myself,’ he told Christianity. ‘I was tacitly complicit in the conservative view, even though I didn’t hold it – ever, really. I never was [fully] conservative on the gay issue, but I tried to walk a pastoral road, where I would not drive either gay people away from the Church or conservatives away from the Church. So I think it’s a hard road to walk.’

Well here’s a smidgen of truth at last from someone so experienced in hiding behind fudge, contradiction or double-speak, and leading questions that stop just short of an explicit answer.  All along when asking for a five-year moratorium to consider the issue more fully he knew he disagreed with the traditional view but prevaricated..  Hardly the honest transparency we have a right to expect from our leaders.

Steve Chalke has also come out of the closet in his support for homosexual relationships.  He writes in Christianity,

One tragic outworking of the Church’s historical rejection of faithful gay relationships is our failure to provide homosexual people with any model of how to cope with their sexuality, except for those who have the gift of, or capacity for, celibacy. In this way we have left people vulnerable and isolated. When we refuse to make room for gay people to live in loving, stable relationships, we consign them to lives of loneliness, secrecy, fear and even of deceit.  It’s one thing to be critical of a promiscuous lifestyle – but shouldn’t the Church consider nurturing positive models for permanent and monogamous homosexual relationships?

In autumn 2012 I conducted a dedication and blessing service following the Civil Partnership of two wonderful gay Christians. Why? Not to challenge the traditional understanding of marriage – far from it – but to extend to these people what I would do to others – the love and support of our local church. Our service also gave them the opportunity, surrounded by their family and friends, to publicly recognise their dependence on God and their need to be part of a supportive Christ-centred community to strengthen them in fulfilling their promises to one another. [5]

Let me say it bluntly, these men are not ‘evangelical’ in any historical sense of the word.  I would go further, they are taking a stand that places them firmly in the category of false teachers.  Any who promote them and their views should be treated with great suspicion.

09
Jan
13

the righteousness of god in the gospel (1)

This is the first of an intermittent series of posts that reflect on aspects of what is involved in the righteousness of God revealed in the gospel.  The subject of God’s righteousness is large and has been the focus of fierce debate in recent years.  These short posts can only hope to be snapshots of  some aspects that I hope will stimulate reflection and worship.
When the gospel speaks of ‘the righteousness of God’ the fact we should note before anything else, before any discussion about imputed righteousness in justification, is that the righteousness in the spotlight is God’s righteousness.  In this respect, Gospel righteousness exists in direct contrast to the righteousness of the Law (or the Sinaic covenant).  In the old covenant the righteousness that was ‘revealed’ was man’s righteousness and not God’s*.  The Law promised blessing of every sort to Israel if the people lived righteously.  It’s  focus was on human righteousness.   The Law revealed what human righteousness looked like.   It was human righteousness that was under the microscope and it was human righteousness that the law, if obeyed, displayed.   Had the law been kept then human righteousness would have been the object of praise and glory for it would have been human righteousness that would have been placarded and achieved life.

Of course, human righteousness did not triumph.  The Law, far from revealing human righteousness, revealed human sin, as God both knew and intended it should (Roms 3).  It could not be otherwise.  It could not be otherwise for human sinfulness is such that even privileged Israel, given every opportunity and incentive possible, could not live righteously; the human heart is inveterately given to rebellion and evil.  It could not be otherwise for God must be God and cannot allow any to glory in his presence.  It is unthinkable that humanity should bring about regeneration and a new heavens and earth and have  occasion to boast that it had been achieved by human righteousness, ingenuity and wisdom.  We do not know God if we have not grasped this elementary fact.  None may glory of their achievement in God’s presence, God alone must be glorious.  No flesh can boast before him; it would be morally incongruous, and repugnant to all right thinking.

1Cor 1:28-31 (ESV2011) God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are,so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.  And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption,so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

Humanity’s failure in righteousness is not only a given predicated on human sinfulness but predicated also on God’s own being and purpose.  No flesh shall glory before God. It cannot, must not, shall not be.  Thus redemption, renewal, and blessing, must come through the gospel for the gospel is a revelation not of the righteousness of man but of God.  God is the actor in the gospel.  It is what he is and does and provides that is in the spotlight.  It is his wisdom, his grace, his righteousness that is on display.  Thus Paul writes of the gospel,

Rom 1:16-17ESV2011 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

In the gospel, righteousness ‘of God‘ is revealed’.   This is not in the first instance a righteousness from God (though it surely includes this) but God’s own righteous activity.  If I want to see God’s acting righteously (consistently with all he is in himself) then it is to the gospel pre-eminently I must look.  Under Law, God is seen to act righteously when he punishes disobedience (Roms 3:5) but such righteous action is not the kind of righteousness that most precisely reflects his nature.  God is righteous when he judges but judgement is his ‘strange work’.  His righteous judgments are glorious but he does not wish to be simply known as a God who punishes.  Punishment is not where his heart lies.  God has a heart of love that wishes to bless and to be gracious.  It is the glory of his righteousness in grace that reveals his righteousness most perfectly.  At the cross God acts righteously in grace and thus reveals the glory of his heart as it truly is.  He is a God who is slow to judge and quick to bless.  He is not keen to condemn rather he is keen to declare righteous.  He does not desire that any perish but that all come to him and live, thus it is his righteous saving action in the gospel that best displays his heart.  What was perhaps brief and abstract in Romans Ch 1 is unpacked and specified in ch 3

Rom 3:21-26ESV2011 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction:for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Note the last lines, ‘This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just (righteous) and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.’  Twice we are told the gospel shows (reveals/proves/exhibits/demonstrates/displays) God acting righteously.  It shows he acted righteously in passing over sin in the past.  By his sin-bearing death we now see how forgiveness was possible in the past without God’s mercy compromising his righteous need to punish sin.  We see how ceremonial animal sacrifice was not simply a moral whitewash  but was acceptable because God saw in it a preview of the real sacrifice that would deal with sin – the sacrifice of Christ.  Furthermore, if God forgives in the present and declares a man righteous we see that this is not a fiction but is God acting righteously for it is the only righteous response he can make to the one who believes in Jesus since Jesus’ obedience in death was specifically to provide a basis for God to righteously declare righteous the ungodly. Indeed, in this text the sacrifice of Jesus is God’s doing.  Undoubtedly, Jesus came of his own volition and offered himself, but that is not the point here; the point is that ‘God put Jesus forward as a propitiation by his blood’.  The action is God’s.  He takes the initiative in the provision of righteousness, a righteous initiative.

We could look elsewhere and see how the gospel reveals God acting righteously at the cross in judging sin and in overthrowing Satan.  He acts righteously when he raises Christ from the dead and places him at his right hand in glory for how else could God righteously act when Christ had so glorified him in death (Jn 13:31,32).  Again and again the gospel reveals God acting righteously in blessing.  Thus the gospel glorifies God’s righteousness for it reveals it in action. The gospel is not only God acting wisely, powerfully, graciously, mercifully, and lovingly, it is God acting righteously; the consistency of God’s character to its true nature is seen fully in the confluence of of righteous acts at the cross and the subsequent resurrection to glory of Christ and those united to him, who in turn become ‘the righteousness of God in him’ (2 Cor 5:21). Thus God’s righteousness shines in unrivalled brilliance in the gospel and the eyes of faith see, live, wonder, and worship.

*  We often hear that the Law reveals God’s righteousness.  It doesn’t.  It reveals the standard of righteousness that God demanded of man.  It does not reveal anything about what righteous behaviour in God looks like.  It would be ludicrous to apply these commandments to God (whether the Decalogue or the wider covenant stipulations).  God is not called to love his neighbour as himself.  Righteousness in God is not abstaining from committing adultery or stealing etc.   These are meaningful demands upon the responsible creature (and a sinful one at that) but not the Creator.  Thus the Law reveals the behaviour that God demands of man if he is to be righteous (live consistently with all the relationships he is placed in by God) but it does not reveal God in righteous activity (except when he punishes disobedience), the gospel, however, does.  The law shows the righteous behaviour God demands of man but not what righteousness looks like in him.

02
Jan
13

new year… new creation

The new year has arrived.  I hope you will find it a year when you prosper in body and soul.  I hope it will be a year when the righteous flourish and the wicked fall.  I hope it will be a year when nations experience God’s goodness as a faithful Creator and his saving grace in Christ. I hope most of all it will be the year when the Lord Jesus returns in power and great glory, with the voice of the archangel and trump of God, overthrows all evil and establishes his everlasting Kingdom in a new heavens and new earth.   I fervently hope it will be the year when new creation (already initiated in the hearts of those in Christ 2 Co2 5:17) is fully and finally realized.

I hope for this ‘blessed hope’ because it is in it that our destiny as ‘God’s sons’ will be consummately realized and revealed (Roms 8).  It is only in the return of Christ that wars will cease, wickedness will be overthrown, and God’s people will truly prosper in body and soul.  It is by his Coming that suffering, sorrows, tears and death will be no more; former things forgotten.  No Green utopianism will accomplish this, nor an economic formula (whether fiscal or monetary), nor social engineering, nor a political agenda, nor any other human enterprise.  Only God’s intervention in history in a final and apocalyptic salvific sense will bring renewal and new creation.

The arrival of new creation in its fulness is the arrival of final and ineffable glory, the light that dispels all darkness.  Some speak as if the coming regeneration is simply Eden restored.  This is a great mistake for the first and former is always only a shadow, a type of the fulfilment.   The fulfilment always eclipses the promise and the new always exceeds the old.  We see this in the progress between the old covenant and the new covenant.  At every point the new covenant is ‘better’.  It is based on ‘better promises’ (Hebs 8:6), has a ‘better hope’ (Hebs 7:19), has in Christ ‘better sacrifices’ (Hebs 9:23), introduces a ‘better life’ (Hebs 11:35) in ‘a better country, that is a heavenly one’ (Hebs 11:16).  Christ is the messianic prophet priest and king who surpasses Moses, Aaron and David.  At every point the realization transcends the OT expectation and promise.  This is how our God is.  He is a lavish generous God who gives in ways that ultimately ‘eyes have not seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart imagined.

What is true in the progress from old covenant to new covenant is equally true in the movement from old creation to new creation.  Adam was the acme, the zenith, of the first creation, yet he is ‘of the earth’; he was ‘a man of dust’, the second man, by contrast, is ‘of heaven’ (1Cor 15:47).  The first man, Adam, became a living soul, the second a life-giving spirit; Adam received life but Christ gives life (1 Cor 15:45).  In the old creation corruption and mortality were possible (and actual) in the new creation we have only incorruptibility and immortality (1 Cor 15:54).  Paul designates the first creation ‘natural’ and the new creation ‘spiritual’ (1 Cor 15:44).  Now we should be clear that for Paul natural/spiritual is not a Greek dualism of physical/non-physical.  Christ, in resurrection, had a physical body, but no longer a ‘natural’ body, rather it was ‘spiritual’.  This seems to mean that the resurrection life which infused and energised it was ‘of the Spirit’ and not merely biologically earth-bound.  This would seem to articulate with Paul’s distinction between ‘heavenly bodies’ and ‘earthly bodies’ (1 Cor 15:40).  Just as God has fitted sun, moon, stars for their heavenly function (and glory ) so the resurrection body is fitted for a ‘heavenly’ existence; clearly Christ’s resurrection body is fitted for the sphere in which he now lives (indeed it is fitted for heaven and earth) and so too will be all who are raised to resurrection life.

Contrast is clearly as significant as continuity between the two creations, if not more significant.  In the original creation marriage was instituted because it was not good for man to be alone; however, in the new creation there is neither marriage nor giving in marriage, all are as the angels in heaven, for the eschatologically new creation finds man in Christ crowned with glory and honour never attained (or attainable) in the first (Hebs 2:5-9).  Note too that in the first creation Adam is given stewardship of the earth but in new creation ‘all things in heaven and earth’ (a merism for the entire universe) are subject to Christ and the new humanity of which he is head (Ephs 1); all things are subject to him, that is, save God (Hebs 2:9; 1 Cor 15:27,28).  Paul insists that we should not be surprised at the radical disjunction and transformation new creation will bring.  He reminds us we see this principle in the present creation; a mere kernel of seed transforms through death into something that transcends its promise (1 Cor 15:37,38).  Thus the human body of the believer that belongs to the old order and old creation is sown in corruption, dishonour and weakness but is raised to immortality, glory and power (1 Cor 15:42,43).  That new creation means something incomparably more wonderful than merely Eden restored should be beyond dispute.

In describing the new creation, Revelation draws some of its imagery from Eden, but Eden does not exhaust it – imagery from the New Jerusalem, the eschatological city of God  is also employed.  And indeed, the Eden and the New Jerusalem images while suggesting correspondence also suggest a fulfilment that eclipses the original; the images are morphed and exploded to create a kaleidoscopic picture of a reality that defies description.  If there is a river in the eschatological Eden then it is in Revelation ‘as bright as crystal flowing from the throne of God and the lamb’ (Rev 22).  It runs not through Eden but down the middle of the street of the New Jerusalem.  The tree of life is not merely a tree in Eden but has become a great tree that straddles the river and has fruit that heals (in Eden the tree could sustain life but could not heal).  There is no sun in this eschatological Eden for the light is the glory of God himself.  Nor is there darkness or night; the potential for evil is no more.  The ‘new Eden’ meta-morphs the original.  Of course, it is all imagery, but it is imagery intended to convey a reality more glorious than all that has preceded, more glorious than we can at present grasp in literal language.  However, we understand it, the overture (old creation) only hints at the symphony of new creation that is to follow.

Our hope is a new creation inconceivably blessed and irradiated with a glory that is indescribable. We wait patiently in 2013 for this ‘hope of righteousness’ that is, life lived in the glory of God.  While we wait, we may suffer all kinds of hardships.  Christians will be mocked and treated unjustly.  We will be hated, misunderstood and misrepresented.  We will suffer for righteousness sake, and for Christ’s sake, and we will have to stand steady in faith through the various trials of life that all men face, but all these afflictions will work for us an eternal weight of glory.  It is this glory for which we long and look and in which we hope.

My prayer in this coming year is this:

Rom 15:13  May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

18
Dec
12

a son is given…

Mark’s gospel is often said to portray Jesus as the one who comes not to be served but serve (Mk 10:45). If this is true then it is understandable that there is no account of his birth; the origin of one who serves is of little consequence; Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God (Mk 1;1) but is so as one who serves (the rest of the chapter is Jesus strenuously serving), indeed as God’s suffering servant (as the gospel goes on to demonstrate).

John too says little of his birth. He sums up the birth in the terse and pregnant words, ‘the Word became flesh’.  For John, Jesus is above all the incarnate God.  His origins are not in Bethlehem but from everlasting; in the beginning when all came into being the Word already existed.  He is not made but is the Maker of all things (Jn 1:1-5).  He is the Son who images and exposits God in the fullest sense (he that has seen me has seen the Father) for he is God (Jn 1:1).

Luke’s gospel stresses that Jesus is the Saviour of the World.  Jesus is, to be sure the  Jewish Messianic Son of God (Lk 1:35) but his deliverance is for all.  He is ‘a light to lighten the gentiles’ and proclaims a gospel that is for ‘all nations’ (Lk 13:10).  He is the mysterious Son of Man, a title that stretches his domain beyond Israel embracing the wider stream of humanity (Ps 8). Thus his genealogy stretches back to Adam; Jesus is ‘the son of Adam, the son of God’ (Lk 3:38).  Adam, God’s son, failed.  But a new son arrived, the last Adam, the second man, and in this son God finds unadulterated delight (Lk 3:22). He will bear and display the divine image, in a way that excels that of Adam.

Matthew’s concerns are more specifically Jewish.  Matthew wishes to show that Jesus, the Son, is the fulfilment of Jewish promise.  Jesus is Messiah, the son of David (Matt 1:1) and thus the son of promise, Abraham’s son (Matt 1:1).  His genealogy is traced through three sets of fourteen generations, from Abraham to David, from David, to the exile and from the exile to the Christ (Matt 1:17).  Matthew’s point is that with the coming of Jesus the Messiah who would deliver his people had arrived.  In one sense the exile had finished many years before but in another sense it hadn’t.  The people were still in bondage, not merely to Rome but to powers much more enslaving and destructive. All previous Davidic sons had failed, hence the exile. But this son of David will not fail. Messiah, David’s son, had arrived, to save ‘his people’ from their sins (Matt 1:21).  All God’s promises will find their realization (their Yes and Amen) in him.  He is Jesus, the Lord saves. He is Immanuel, God with his people in blessing and salvation, and with them in a more profound and immediate sense than had been expected.  In him, all exile is over and, in him, God’s Kingdom arrives for God, the divine King, has arrived.

The gospels invite us to see the refracted glory of God in the Christ.  They invite not simply admiration and amazement but adoration and worship.  Mark’s gospel concerns ‘the Son of God’ (1:1) but a Son who serves as Mark indicates by the conflating of two OT texts (this is my son… in whom I delight) the former refers to the Davidic king-son and the latter to Isaiah’s servant who will not fail (Mk 1:11; Isa 42:1). Davidic kings were God’s sons (and servants).  Israel was God’s son (and servant).  Adam was God’s son (and servant). Christ is the rightful heir of all; all promised to them is inherited by him for where they failed he will triumph.  He is ‘son’ in all these senses and is ‘Son’ in a sense that eclipses all; he is Immanuel, and those with eyes to see beheld in him the Shekinah glory that dwelt in the tabernacle and temple, the glory of the Only Son with a Father, the one of whom John the Baptist said, ‘he is preferred before me for he was before me.’ As with manna and vine the anti-type surpasses the type, the fulfilment exceeds the promise; Jesus is son ‘par excellence’, the Ultimate Son, son not simply in a granted and nominated sense, but in an intrinsic and essential sense; his Sonship is not merely honorific but inherent, not titular but trinitarian.  He is not only the Ultimate Son but also the Unique Son, God-the-Son (the Only Son).  He is the image of the invisible God and divine fulness dwells in him bodily.  Failure is impossible and worship is mandatory.  And so it is said, ‘let all the angels of God worship him’ (Hebs 1). And we may say, not angels only, and wise men, and shepherds, but the whole of creation, since ‘for him are all things’ (Col 1:16).

We may add that the gospel that begins by announcing the arrival of Immanuel (God with us) ends with Immanuel himself in resurrection power and authority declaring to his disciples, ‘lo I am with you always even to the end of the age’ (Matt 28)  for to Jesus, declared to be Son of God in power in resurrection, God himself says,

‘“Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the sceptre of uprightness is the sceptre of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.”

And,

“You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands; they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment, like a robe you will roll them up, like a garment they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will have no end.” (Hebs 1)

10
Dec
12

incarnation… the word became flesh

John 1:14; And the Word became flesh…

I wonder if we grasp just how repugnant incarnation was to the Hellenized (Greek-influenced) world in which it took place.  To imagine God who is spirit becoming part of the material universe was shocking to a culture steeped in dualism.  Right-thinking and sophisticated people knew the material universe was of a lesser substance than God.  It was created by a demi-urge, an inferior being, and for God to be involved in some way with it was unthinkable.  Yet, John does not try to make palatable the unfortunate fact of the incarnation, rather he presents it in language that is as bold and uncompromising – the Word became flesh. It is not simply that the Word entered humanity, or adopted a human form, or inhabited a human body – all a little more ambiguous and less distasteful to C1 sensibilities – but John will not fudge to be fashionable, instead he will state the truth in its starkest and most objectionable vulgar reality – the word became flesh. Flesh, is humanity in all its vulnerability, weakness, and biological grubby earthiness, and it is this flesh (sin apart) that the Word who was God (Jn 1;1) took when he became a man; he gave this flesh for the sin of the world (Jn 6:51; Hebs 10:20), and in resurrection took human flesh (for a spirit, a mere phantom, has not flesh and bones as the disciples saw him to have in resurrection Lk 24:39) into heaven and the immediate presence of God.  Indeed, it is only by feeding on this flesh and blood, an idea repulsive to Jewish and Hellenistic sensibilities, that eternal life is to be found (Jn 6:54.  Cf. 1 Jn 4:2)

From the outset the story of Christianity was profoundly counter-cultural.  The gospel always confounds the wisdom of the wise.  Why therefore, in our age, do we imagine  that only if it is made culturally palatable it will be believed? Why-oh-why are we so afraid to boldly and unambiguously proclaim its counter-cultural realities today?

08
Dec
12

evangelicalism

David Robertson of St Peter’s Free Church Dundee has a good article on Evangelicalism, especially in the present Scottish context.  One paragraph of a more general nature that I found particularly to resonate is the following:

‘Lack of Maturity – This astounds me. I have always assumed that Christians should be able to disagree passionately, openly and freely without personalising everything and taking everything personally. But that does take a certain degree of maturity. I have lost count of the number of people who have written, phoned, and even visited to warn me that lots of ‘evangelicals’ were hurt by my remarks. I can understand that people disagree. I can understand that people are angry, disappointed or surprised at my ignorance. But hurt? What was there to hurt? The language of hurt is increasingly being used to stifle debate and to prevent discussion. It allows the one who is hurt, or even better the person who wants to be the nice guy and speak on behalf of those who are hurt, to dismiss the arguments of the person who does the ‘hurting’, because anyone who hurts is nasty. It is the immaturity of the child crying ‘I don’t like you, you’re not nice’. It is the evangelical equivalent of Section 5 – the British law that makes it a potential crime to say anything that could possibly offend someone. Yes – sometimes we all (myself especially) use language that is at times too robust. And yes we can all be wrong (again especially yours truly). But please don’t try to kill of any discussion by playing the hurt card. It is a sign of childish immaturity and we should be beyond that.’

Amen.

27
Nov
12

the word, and women in ministry

Women in church leadership is the church issue in the public domain in the UK at the moment, and serendipitously the focus of a short series of sermons in my local church, hence my posts on the topic. The role of women in church is not a topic about which I relish posting for by their nature such posts are polemical rather than edifying.  Also, I am not insensitive to the fact that my views find little resonance with many Christians today and none with the liberal establishment.  However, engaging in the polemic and unpalatable is often what loyalty to God involves.  Specifically, loyalty to God and his revealed will in Scripture means, in my view, defending male leadership in the church and opposing egalitarian voices (that is those who contend for both male and female leadership in the church).

I say ‘defending’ for complementarianism or patriarchy (male leadership) has been the overwhelmingly orthodox and established form of leadership in the Christian Church since post-apostolic times.  It was the basis of organized religious life in God’s OT people, whether of the patriarchs or the national Covenant Community,Israel.  And I would argue, despite egalitarian protests, it is the pattern of life in God’s New Covenant Community, the Church.  It is not simply that God’s people (OT and NT) lived in a patriarchal culture and tolerated it but that patriarchy (male-leadership) is affirmed, in both OT and NT, as God’s revealed order in this present world.  The NT (as the old) , I contend, teaches both implicitly and explicitly male leadership in the church, the new creation people of God who are one in Christ.

Now as Dylan said in the 60′s ‘the times they are a-changing’, however, that we shouldn’t criticize these changes (as Dylan insists) is simply chronological hubris.  And the C21, like every preceding century, is not free from hubris. NT Wright has written a piece criticising the notion that the church should simply ‘get with the programme’ of modern society. He writes,

‘It won’t do to say, then, as David Cameron did, that the Church of England should “get with the programme” over women bishops… The Church that forgets to say “we must obey God rather than human authorities” has forgotten what it means to be the Church. The spirit of the age is in any case notoriously fickle. You might as well, walking in the mist, take a compass bearing on a mountain goat.’

He points out too the chronological snobbery that assumes what society now applauds must necessarily be right and good, the ‘but surely you can’t still believe that in the C21?’ mantra.  Citing C S Lewis, he writes,

“But that would be putting the clock back,” gasps a feckless official in one of C. S. Lewis’s stories. “Have you no idea of progress, of development?”

“I have seen them both in an egg,” replies the young hero. “We call it Going bad in Narnia.”

Lewis nails a lie at the heart of our culture. As long as we repeat it, we shall never understand our world, let alone the Church’s calling. And until proponents of women bishops stop using it, the biblical arguments for women’s ordination will never appear in full strength’

Wright goes on to observe,

‘If the Church had allowed prime ministers to tell them what the “programme” was it would have sunk without trace in fifty years. If Jesus had allowed Caiaphas or Pontius Pilate to dictate their “programme” to him there wouldn’t have been a Church in the first place.’

Lewis and Wright are surely correct and Wright is equally correct in asserting that for Christians, only biblical arguments can make the case for women’s ordination.  Only when these are made will the case for women’s ordination ‘appear in full strength‘.  The trouble is Wright’s ‘biblical arguments’ are far from imposing.  Granted, he is writing a blog post, however, having just asserted the need for solid biblical arguments revealing the ‘full strength’ of the egalitarian position, one assumes his sharpest and most compelling evidence will be marshalled, yet the arguments proposed are so weak they pixelate.

Wright’s case is constructed around three women.

mary

Wright posits,

‘All Christian ministry begins with the announcement that Jesus has been raised from the dead. And Jesus entrusted that task, first of all, not to Peter, James, or John, but to Mary Magdalene. Part of the point of the new creation launched at Easter was the transformation of roles and vocations: from Jews-only to worldwide, from monoglot to multilingual (think of Pentecost), and from male-only leadership to male and female together.’

Wow!  What a lot of freight this meeting with Mary is asked to bear.  I can hear it creaking ominously. Jesus inaugurates in this meeting with Mary, according to Wright, egalitarianism in the church (a point missed it would seem for some twenty centuries).

We must ask if egalitarianism is indeed established by this event?  To be sure, it is shrewd of Wright to regard egalitarianism as a post-resurrection and new creation phenomenon thus neatly dismissing any patriarchy in the creation narrative and the OT at large.  More significantly, it effectively neutralises (by placing in a past and now redundant era) the very awkward fact (for egalitarians) that Jesus chose twelve apostles, all male.  It is new creation inaugurated in Christ’s resurrection, says Wright, that introduces egalitarianism and this is signalled and symbolised by the first witness to the resurrection being a woman who is entrusted with the task announcing this momentous fact to the disciples.

Is Wright right?  Can the text bear the freight it is asked to carry?  A few questions demonstrate it cannot.

Does the text hint in any way that it is signalling and defining a new order in gender roles?  Does the subsequent NT refer to this event as the basis for an egalitarian ecclesiology?   Does the rest of the NT lead us to believe that this incident may have even implicitly signalled a game-changing egalitarianism?  The answer is uniform, self-evident and negative.

Mary’s meeting with Jesus in the garden was private not public, unofficial and not official. Interestingly when Paul cites witnesses to the resurrection to the Corinthian believers he does not include the appearance to Mary.  He says that Jesus was seen by Cephas (Peter), then by the twelve and then by over 500 brothers at the same time (1 Cor 15:1-5).    Likewise in Acts, it is the resurrection appearances to the apostles that Luke flags up as verifying the resurrection (Acts 1:1-3).  The public and official witness is exclusively male. Telling the others she had seen Jesus is likely to have been informal and certainly not something we can readily equate with authoritative teaching or leadership far less with inaugurating a new structuring of gender roles in the home, church and society. Nor is there later NT reference to this incident as signalling egalitarianism that one may expect if it were such a game-changing sociological event.

Given Wright’s premise (that new creation introduced egalitarianism) we may expect leaders in the early church to be fairly evenly balanced between male and female but this is not the case.  Indeed, when in post-resurrection the apostles choose someone who was with Jesus during his ministry to replace Judas, we may expect, if Wright is correct in his premise, a female disciple to be chosen (perhaps Mary Magdalene herself) to help ‘right’ the imbalance; a case for positive discrimination if ever one existed.  But no, the chosen replacement is male and not by accident rather masculinity is a required criterion (Acts 1:21-26). Throughout Acts the leadership of the Church continues to be male.  The deacons chosen in Acts 6 were all male.  Church elders were male (1 Tim 2).  In fact, the church, male and female, does not have a gender-neutral  name but is given the male generic title ‘brothers’(hardly an appropriate title for a new self-consciously egalitarian body in a patriarchal culture, as Wright would have us believe).  No, Wright, in his quest to find female leaders, is obliged to resort to two names that appear but once in Scripture, in Romans – an implicit confession his case is weak.

Does Mary’s witness to the resurrection signal a radically altered role for women in God’s new society?  Do the NT writers (all male) develop from this incident an egalitarian theology? Far from it. Instead we find them asserting that gender roles in the church find their origin not in new creation but in the original creation.  It is to the garden of Eden that the writers turn not to the garden where Jesus met Mary.  Far from the NT championing egalitarianism, female leadership in church is explicitly outlawed  (for some did try to introduce it) based on the creational order of Adam and Eve, an event that the NT writers do invest with sociological significance (1 Cor 11:1-16; 14:33-35; 1 Tim 2:11-15).  Wright tries to negate the force of these explicit texts by claiming that ‘serious scholars’ disagree about their meaning.  Well there’s a surprise. Scholars always disagree over that which they do not wish to obey, in this they are ‘men of like passions’ with the rest of us.  For thousands of years ‘serious scholars’ understood these texts but now, just when society embraces egalitarianism, they are found to be a morass of exegetical difficulty – forgive my skepticism.

The simple fact is that in this inaugurated stage of new creation (which happened as Wright says, at the resurrection), living as it does in the midst of the old creation, all that belongs to the Pre-Fall order of creation is honoured by it.  In fact, the order of the original creation should be upheld and revered in this world by God’s new creation most particularly; while the world may overthrow it, the church will extol it and exemplify it.  It is worth noting that many who insist on creation ethics as the basis for ecological concerns and even marriage squirm embarrassingly to extricate themselves from its patriarchal order.  There is a patent dishonesty here.

Wright is wrong, Mary does not signal a new egalitarian ethic in God’s new society, what she does demonstrate is that a heart devoted to Christ, as Mary’s was, will receive blessings that the less devoted heart will miss.  It was love for her Lord that held Mary at the cross while most fled.  It was this same love that brought her to the tomb on the first day of the week before all others and kept her there when others had gone.  Devotion is gender-free.  But the rewards of a devoted heart and the order God has placed in his new society are two different things and not to be confused.

junia

To support his contention that Mary signals an egalitarian church order Wright offers two NT examples of women in leadership.  To all but the most jaundiced eye these examples must appear weak in the extreme, even faintly ridiculous.  If this is the best egalitarians can put in the window to prove women’s leading role in the early church then they should shut shop.  Wright’s examples have a whiff of desperation about them. His first is Junia.

Junia(s), Wright informs us, is female and an apostle.  In fact, the sum total of information we have about Junia(s) in the NT is contained in these words found in Romans 16,

Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners. They are well known to/among the apostles, and they were in Christ before me. (Roms 16:7)

Junia has become an egalitarian cause célèbre carrying on her shoulders as she does the responsibility for providing a clear example of female leadership in the NT.  I say ‘her’ with some diffidence for while it is probable, it is by no means certain that Junia(s) is a woman.   Further, it is certainly not clear that ‘well known to/among the apostles’ implies Junia(s) is herself/himself an apostle.  It may be just as readily, and more plausibly, understood that the apostles knew of Andronicus and Junia (a husband and wife team?) and held them in high regard.   Given the explicit texts supporting patriarchy we are obliged to understand the more ambiguous reference to Junia(s) in a way which harmonizes with these which makes Junia someone well-known to the apostles the likely interpretation. However, even if the text is understood as Junia being an apostle, she is clearly not one of the twelve and we must remember the noun ‘apostle’ has also an non-technical ordinary sense, simply meaning ‘messenger’ or ‘envoy’ and saying nothing about church leadership (Phil 2:12; Cf. 2 Cor 8:23; Jn 13:16); Andronicus and Junia may simply be messengers or envoys sent from one church to another, or a husband and wife missionary team each functioning within their God-given gender roles.   If the proof for active female leadership in the early church depends on Junia’s credentials as an apostle it is thin indeed.

phoebe

Wright, to my mind, scrabbles around even more desperately in his second example.  The sum total of what we know of Phoebe is again found in Romans 16 where we read,

Rom 16:1-2 (ESV2011)
I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae,that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints, and help her in whatever she may need from you, for she has been a patron of many and of myself as well.

Wright exposits,

‘Within a few decades, Paul was sending greetings to friends including an “apostle” called Junia (Romans xvi, 7). He entrusted that letter to a “deacon” called Phoebe whose work was taking her to Rome. The letter-bearer would normally be the one to read it out to the recipients and explain its contents. The first expositor of Paul’s greatest letter was an ordained travelling businesswoman.’

I think he hopes the flourish of rhetoric will mask the audacity of his claim.  The conclusion of his last sentence leaves one flabbergasted.  Wright makes theological quantum leaps larger than many secular evolutionists do in their discipline though like them he seems unfazed and unabashed.  We are not told Phoebe is the letter-bearer?  Where is the proof that the letter-bearer read it out to the church?  And more insistent still, where is the evidence that the letter-bearer exposited it to the church?   Wright’s sweeping assertions and leaps of logic beggar belief.  Let’s not be swept along by his rhetoric; let’s not mistake rhetoric for what is actually revealed, for the rather more prosaic truth is that Phoebe was a servant of her home church and was visiting Rome.  We are not told that she carried the letter to Rome; Wright extrapolates from a conjecture and creates a mythology, ‘ The first expositor of Paul’s greatest letter was an ordained travelling businesswoman.’.  Can we trust biblical scholarship like this?

If this case presents the strongest plank egalitarians stand on then it is not merely ominously creaky but collapses under them.




the cavekeeper

The Cave promotes the Christian Gospel by interacting with Christian faith and practice from a conservative evangelical perspective.

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