14 August 2012

Ninth Understanding


9. In the Lindisfarne Community gender, sexual orientation, age, race or class are not barriers to service and function. We believe that both men and women may be called by God to the offices of bishop, priest and deacon. In God’s sight we are all equal. In the story of the garden, God gave to Adam and Eve an equal dignity, an equal calling, an equal responsibility and an equal blessing. Yet, at the same time we are called to radical subordination, preferring the other above our self. In this we seek to allow the Spirit to dig deep into our unconscious to remove hidden prejudices; that our attitudes, speech, and actions may be free of discrimination.

Equality has been an issue in the church for such a long time.

And it’s sad.

Of all places that people should be treated as equals, it should be in communities who follow Christ. However, as we are all too aware, it seems that those communities are the last place where equality is seen. Even today, we have some communities that are still putting women in subordinate categories, others looking down on other races and wisdom traditions, and don’t even get me started where others stand on the homosexual issue. Sometimes, all of those unequal positions are from the same group!

Now, I will say, for the most part, people who disagree with us on this Understanding do so because of their own convictions. That is, they pray to the same god, read the same scriptures, and are earnestly seeking god regarding these issues, but have reached different conclusions. Those people should get our respect. They’re our brothers and sisters and we wouldn’t want them to go against their own conscience. To quote St. Paul, “Everything that isn’t based on faith is sin” (Romans 14.23; CEB).

The reason I uphold this Understanding is a little different (I think). As I see it, Christ restored the dignity of all people when he rose from the dead. His life exemplified what that restoration would (and should) look like for people who follow The Way. Let me explain.

God created all that is, seen and unseen. Humanity was the pinnacle of creation and reflected god’s love and mercy into creation as god’s representatives. Humanity rebelled, however, and broke themselves, their relationships with each other, and their relationships with the world. But, god set in motion a plan to fix what was broken; to rescue and reconcile creation. This plan was implemented when god chose Abraham and his family, Israel. However, Israel was also broken and in need of rescue themselves. Time and again, Israel rebelled, were exiled and placed under pagan rule, repented, and were restored to their land. The last time, however, things weren’t quite right. Even though they were restored to their land, many in Israel didn’t feel like they were restored; they still felt like they were in exile. But prophets and poets came and promised of a time when god would return to the land, overthrow the pagans, rule creation, and put things right. The Jewish Scriptures end with this anticipation.

After roughly 400 years of silence, the Gospel writers tell the story of Jesus in such a way as to say that (somehow, mysteriously, mystically) he was fulfilling that anticipation; that he was Israel’s god coming back to the land. However, it didn’t look like they thought it was supposed to look. He challenged their religious institutions and declared a reconciliation of humanity and creation by demonstrating god’s realm in their midst.

Likewise, the writers told their story as to say that Jesus was (somehow, mysteriously, mystically) fulfilling Israel’s vocation. That is, Jesus would personify Israel - he would be and do what Israel was supposed to be and do - the instrument through which god would reconcile the world. The writers declared that, in Jesus, one could see what true humanity looked like; that he embodied the truly Human One.

The writer’s stories proclaim that with the resurrection of Jesus, god’s plan for New Creation began; god’s Realm is fully established “on earth as in heaven.” We see this played out in the book of Acts as well as the rest of the New Testament. Since they had to rethink what the “Realm of God” would be like ( Jesus told stories about it beginning within history instead of the end of history), they had to figure out how to implement god’s Realm within their immediate contexts. They had to work out how various cultures were to live together in one new humanity all the while working toward a fully reconciled creation. That would include the full equality of all people.

In Galatians 3, Paul wrote, “You are all God’s children through faith in Christ Jesus. All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3.26-28; CEB).

While that is true on one hand, Paul is fully aware that on the other hand there are still issues that need to be worked out and worked through. In his day, there were still slaves. There were still cultural divisions in most of the world between Jews and Gentiles (Greeks, non-Jews). And, most certainly, women were not seen as being equal to men. But that was what they were looking toward. That’s what they were working for.

Take, for example, the inclusion of Gentiles in their communities (Acts 15). The “division” between them was removed by the cross (Ephesians 2.11-16). This was a huge step towards the full implementation of the Realm of god “on earth as in heaven.” But there were still some things that needed to be worked out. We see a really good example of that in Romans 14. There, Paul stated that some people think only certain days are holy, while others think all days are the same. Some people think they can eat whatever they want while others think only certain foods can or should be eaten. Paul goes to great lengths to bring these people together without them having to compromise their convictions. And that’s crucial. So much so, in fact, that he says at the end of the chapter, “Blessed are those who don’t feel guilty for doing something they have decided is right. But if you have doubts about whether or not you should [follow your convictions], you are sinning if you go ahead and do it. For you are not following your convictions. If you do anything you believe is not right, you are sinning” (Romans 14.22b-23; NLT1, amended).

Now, turning to the place of women in the New Creation, the apostles had seen the elevation of women to their rightful status as being equal to men. Mary Magdalene has been regarded as “The Apostle to the Apostles” because she told them what she saw. But she wasn’t the only one! Notice Luke’s account of that story. In chapter 24, Luke wrote, “It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles” (verse 10; CEB). This means that the first apostles were all women! Women were the first people to see the resurrected Jesus. Women were then given the mission to tell the others what they saw. Women were the first witnesses. “Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women” were all the “Apostles to the Apostles.” Furthermore, Paul even wrote about the positions of women in his letter to the Romans (see chapter 16). In it, he referred to them as “deacons,” “sponsors,” “coworkers,” and “prominent among the apostles.”

While being fully aware that women in regular society didn’t hold to these same positions, great care needed to be taken when dealing with this issue. I have this in mind when I read the “problem” passages in the New Testament about women “submitting” to men. It’s the same way I read the passages about slaves “obeying” their masters (even if, as one passage states, they’re cruel masters). And what’s most interesting is that the passages that state women are supposed to submit to men are the same passages that state slaves should obey their masters. I don’t hear too many people saying we should return to having slaves because “the Bible says so.”

The context of those passages about women submitting to men is one of an ancient culture that had to work out living in the Realm of god in their ancient context. That meant dealing with issues like slavery and women in subordinate roles. They spoke about how things were at that time, not how things should always be. And, therefore, they don’t speak about “god’s ordained role for women.” They speak about how ancient followers of The Way needed to blend the roles of women in society with following Jesus within their ancient cultures. However, just as we don’t use those same passages for justifying slavery, so too we mustn’t use them to justify women in subordinate roles. Since our culture, our time in history, is different, we must not use those passages to put women “in their proper place.” We must look at the over-arching story of the Bible - a reconciled creation where people submit to each other in loving service by putting others above themselves. That is where the story is heading. That is the vision we must have when moving forward. We must keep that story in mind when we read these passages. Since we are always moving forward, we can not go back to the “old ways” of doing things just because they’re in the Bible. No. We must continue pressing forward (Philippians 3.14) with our focus on the future where all creation “will be full of the knowledge of [god’s] glory, just as water covers the sea” (Habakkuk 2.14; CEB).


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In the Love of the Three in One,

Br. Jack+, LC


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1 Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

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