An Apostle’s Cultural Assimilation: Reaching One More, Part 4

Let’s play a game called, “Do You Know What Song This Is?” Ready, set, go!

  1. “All right, stop! Collaborate and listen…”
  2. “Now this is a story all about how my life got flipped turned upside down…”
  3. “I got my first real six-string, Bought it at the five-and-dime…”
  4. “Just a small-town girl, living in a lonely world…”
  5. “If there’s something strange in your neighborhood, who you gonna call?… ”

How’d you do? My guess is that you got 5/5 (check the end of the article for the answers!)

The crazy thing about this list is that it covers a myriad of different areas. There is a TV show theme song, the title song to a movie soundtrack, a rap song, and classic rock hits! Yet, most of us know these songs by heart! This isn’t just a lesson to the power of music and how what we listen to sticks in our brains, but it’s more importantly a lesson into the effects of culture and its influence.

This is where things get a little interesting. Many people within the church have been raised to think that culture is evil. That culture equals the world, and that it is antithetical to the gospel. But when we pin ourselves against the things in our culture, we forget one VERY important thing.

We are trying to reach people who are living in that culture.

The moment we see culture as evil, the moment we miss the forest for the trees, is the moment we lose the people who we are trying to reach. And don’t get me wrong, there are values that the world holds dear that are rooted in greed and all sorts of evil. But there are also many things in culture that can used as a bridge to reach the lost. Let’s take an example from Scripture.

In Acts 17, Paul is in the middle of one of his missionary journeys when he stumbles upon the town of Athens. Athens was a very philosophical town, and was full of many different gods that the people and the leaders worshipped. When Paul started preaching about Jesus, the men were utterly confused as to what Paul was talking about. They thought Jesus and God were another idol they could add to their repertoire. So, Paul decided to use some of their own language as a vehicle to carry the Gospel.

Athens was full of gods, and there were so many of them that there was actually an altar made “To an Unknown God.” Paul saw the altar and realized that it could be used as an illustration to the God of the universe who was unknown to them! But Paul not only used this altar. He also knew that these men were philosophers, so in the middle of his message, Paul used quotes from two popular philosophers of the time, men named Epimenides and Aratus. These men were the furthest thing from God fearing philosophers. One was Cretan and one was a Stoic, and both quotes that Paul says were actually regarding ZEUS! Yet in this instance, Paul was inspired by God to reference these earthly men and their false thinking to show these men of Athens the truth behind the gospel of Jesus.

This isn’t the only instance of Paul assimilating to the culture and speaking to people within their own situations. When writing the church in Ephesus and Collosae, Paul falls in line with the rhetoric of the people and includes a household code – something only commonly included in this area of the world. When many people read this code today, they do it in isolation; but in the first-century, the people would have compared what Paul said about the household to Aristotle’s household code written in his book “Politics.” Theologian Ben Witherington writes that, “Non-Christian household codes almost always direct exhortations only to the subordinate members of the household. What is new about the code here then [in Colossians] is the Christian limitations placed on the head of household. That is what would stand out to an ancient person hearing Paul’s discourse for the first time.”

Paul repurposed a set of rules and roles for the household and showed a more level playing field for those who were under the care of the head of the household. Paul was aware of the freedom that we now have in Christ, and there are many parts of what he wrote that showed how he cared for women, children, those in the lower classes of society, and minorities. Paul quoted other philosophers in other books, but the theme stands clear – God can redeem things in our culture to bring him glory.

What songs can you quote, what books can you reference, what talk show host can you mention to show someone the love of Jesus. If we view culture as our enemy, we immediately make an enemy out of anyone living in that culture. Let’s speak their language, let’s show them the truth in their world instead of only pointing out only the falsehoods. All truth is God’s truth. So, let’s be like Paul and study what our peers study. But let’s use it to reach one more!

Oh! And here are the answers to the above questions!

  • “Ice Ice Baby” by Vanilla Ice
  • “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” by DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince
  • “Summer of ‘69” by Bryan Adams
  • “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey
  • “Ghostbusters” by Ray Parker Jr
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Redefinition and Justification – Overview of Galatians 2:15-21

Galatians 2:15-21

“Well, I’ve been afraid of changing, cause I’ve built my life around you. But time makes you bolder. Even children get older, and I’m getting older too.” –Fleetwood Mac

I can’t imagine what it would be like to lose a loved one. I’m not sure what it is like for a couple to go through a divorce after being married for years. The loss of security that comes when one loses their job after being employed for decades brings no emotional response. But I am sure it is hard. For one to completely change what they once knew, who they once were, and what they used to do because of a cataclysmic event is something I can’t really relate to.

Sure I am a child of divorced parents. Yes, I went to college out of state. And I did move across country for a job opportunity. But I didn’t have a family I was bringing with me. I am relatively new to this thing called “life,” so all these changes didn’t affect me as they would someone who was more accustomed to a certain way of life. I couldn’t imagine how it would impact me having to move across the U.S. if I had a family I would have to take with me. I couldn’t imagine the fear that would come if I would lose my job having to provide for people I love.

This section is the main idea of the whole letter to the Galatians. If someone told me to explain this letter in a couple sentences, I would just point them to Galatians 2:15-21. Here Paul takes a look back at what he went through with calling Peter out on Peter’s hypocrisy. This is probably a summary of what Paul said to Peter, along with some personal testimony, theology (ideas about God), soteriology (understanding salvation), and ecclesiology (understanding what the church is).

Witherington states: “[This] argument is not basically about getting in [to heaven], nor even about how one stays in, but rather about how one goes on in Christ and with the aid of the Holy Spirit.” Here Paul develops his argument stating that to be in Christ does not mean that one follows the Law of Moses but instead the Law of Christ. Paul balances the works of the law with the faithful act of Christ’s crucifixion. This is why he says: “One is not justified by works of the law but by the faithfulness of Jesus Christ” (Gal 2:16b).

Paul is saying that God wants all people to forget who they once were and get a new identity in Christ. “I have been crucified with Christ,” Paul says, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” Paul is saying that he has to strip his identity as a Jew, and he now has to redefine who he is in Christ. He is encouraging the Galatians to also not become Jewish, get circumcised, and follow the works of the Law. Paul is encouraging them to find their identity instead in Christ.

This would be like someone getting divorced after many years. This would be like someone changing their career right before it was time for them to retire. To be a Christian one had to completely change how they once lived. For many, this would be no easy task. Many grew up being Jewish and following the Law, or they were Gentile and merely did as they pleased. To now go from doing those things to following the Law of Christ would be like completely redefining who they were.

Have you redefined yourself since becoming a Christian? Do you see yourself as your own, or do you see your life as being one in Christ? We need to be unified in Christ! We need to discover who we are as individuals and as a community through the understanding of who Jesus is as the Christ. The gospel is the good news of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. It is about how Christ has come to set a wicked world to rights. How has the gospel affected your life? Has Christ’s faithful act of dying on a cross transformed your life?

Take time to reflect on who you once were and who you are now that you are in Christ. Take time to remember what Christ has done for you through dying on the cross – the love, the sacrifice, and the implications of that event. Take a moment to remind yourself of your new identity in Christ.

Make it Reign!!!

Has someone ever invited you to go out to dinner with them? I don’t mean on a date. I mean that someone asks to take you out as an act of kindness, offering you community and potentially a free meal. Now, wouldn’t it be pretty shocking of them if the waiter asked if your meal is all on one check, and they turn around and said that you are paying for your own meal? Didn’t their inclusive invitation also include the meal?

Getting asked to go to lunch after church is like the only positive side of being a poor college kid. I think people can see a college kid’s skin become jaundice from the malnutrition brought by cafeteria food and ramen noodles. It would be a travesty if these people took advantage of the power that they knew they possessed. A college kid knows they don’t deserve a free meal, but it would be a let down and a tease to take them out with the expectation that their meal would be paid for and to not pay for it.

In the second half of the fifth chapter of Romans, Paul starts talking about Adam and the Fall. Many people like to think that Paul’s main focus here is on original sin, but really he is talking more of the result of Adam’s sin – death (Romans 5:12-21). Death is something that all people face. Blue Oyster Cult was right that we shouldn’t fear the Reaper – Death will come for us one way or another. And we just thought that they gave us the yearning for “more cowbell.”

I think a problem many people have is that they are afraid of death. That is pretty rational. But I think that the problem is even more escalated in the American Christian community. We want to escape death. The problem with this is that death can’t be escaped. Even before God gave Moses the Law, people felt the affect of Adam’s sin (Rom 5:14). And Death has been personified here as real as the Grim Reaper has in our culture. It is reigning as though it is king (Rom 5:14). And all people must serve him.

At the first part of Romans, Paul also explains this problem with mankind. There has been a deviation since creation (1:18-32). And from 1:18-3:20 Paul only makes one mention of Jesus Christ (2:16 in passing). Paul has been presenting the dark backdrop of the predicament that humanity is in. In Romans 5:12-21, Paul is now driving home the solution to the problem of what was first addressed in Romans 1:18-32. God has offered us the gift of grace through a faithful, righteous, and obedient act – Jesus’ death on the cross (Rom 3:22, 5:19, 21).

These are the high notes that illuminate this dark backdrop of death. It’s as though Paul is painting a masterpiece of cosmic proportions! Death is the dark backdrop of the past, and grace is the light in the foreground! We have a free gift offered to us that is way better in every way than the consequence of Adam’s sin (5:15). One person’s actions brought about death for all people. But everyone’s actions of sin caused God to do an action that would allow them forgiveness and reconciliation (5:15-17)!

We have the opportunity to be put in a right relationship (3:22) – in reconciliation with the Creator, with whom we have numerously offended (5:11). This logic makes no sense! Why would someone offer people who continually wrong Him forgiveness? One man sinned and brought death to many, but, even though many sinned, one man died so that they all could be seen as “innocent” in the eternal court of law!

So, in the end, Death is the kind of friend that invites you out to lunch and does not pay for your meal. Grace is the kind of friend that will go out of their way to bring the meal to you.

Where Death reigns as a king, demanding everything from those all around him, Grace, through Christ, reigns in a way that leads to life. This isn’t a spiritual life. This is the defeat of Death! This is the resurrection of the dead that happens at the end times (1Cor 15). Christ not only died an obedient death that he didn’t deserve, but he defeated death by rising from the dead! This is why death has no sting!

Do you want justification or condemnation? Do you want to live with grace or in sin? Do you choose to be with Christ or with Adam? What do you choose – life or death?

[References: World Biblical Commentary (Dunn), Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Witherington), Paul for Everyone (Wright)]

Egalitarianism and the Jim Crow Laws of the Church, Part Two.

Things will never change for the better if we don’t question the norm.

That is how I ended my previous blog post. In that post, I took a view throughout Salvation History and looked at women in the Old and New Testament, and the implications of water baptism and the Baptism of the Holy Spirit to show that women deserve more recognition in the church. In this post, I will look into several women that Paul mentions in his letters, and Paul’s household codes.

If we look at how Paul treats women individually, then maybe we can make more sense of some of his more generalized statements that are made to women as a whole within certain areas. If Paul ends up having even a slightly altered view of women, we then have to consider that maybe Paul’s generalized statements were more meant for the specific cultures he was writing to at that specific time in history. This would mean that some of these writings of Paul don’t hold eternal truths within them, but again, give us a glimpse at how the early church was founded by giving us a look into their struggles during the first-century.

Paul and Women in Ministry:

In 1Corinthians Paul gives some instructions to the church on how to maintain orderly worship. Among them, Paul tells women to keep silent in the church (1Cor 14:34). However, Paul says enough things about women within the church that it (along with an extrabiblical understanding of 1st-century culture in Corinth) seems he is not stating this as an eternal truth. Dr. Craig Keener (graduate of my alma mater) states in his work, “Paul, Women, and Wives,” that he thinks that the women of Corinth were uneducated in regards to proper etiquette in Christian worship and did not know when it was appropriate to ask questions. Also, in chapter 11 of the book, Paul assumes that women were prophesying in the local assembly. For him to all of the sudden revoke this right as a whole seems to not make sense in context with the rest of the book.

1 Timothy 2:11-12 is another popular example where Paul says that a woman should not teach or be in a place above a man. But again, by looking throughout biblical theology as a whole and also looking at outside sources, such as the Church Fathers (below), makes it seem like Paul was not speaking an eternal truth. These verses should be taken the same way that 1 Corinthians is taken – that Paul was addressing something specific that Timothy had to deal with within the church in Ephesus. Some try to use the word “submit” and relate it to how Paul talks to wives in Colossians and Ephesians, but that was a household code written for wives whereas this was directed to women – they can’t be clumped together as concerning the same cause. In verse 12 the word that is used as “to use authority over” is a hapax legomenon, meaning that this is the only time that this word is used in all the New Testament. To try and understand what this word fully means within the context of Timothy or to Paul would leave the text wanting for more. This text is probably the strongest argument for the complementarian cause, but with the rest of the New Testament to consider, it does shift the burden of proof into the complementarian’s hands.

Since both of these texts which are against women being in ministry remain unclear at best, we now need to look at some of the other things Paul says concerning women in general and also women in ministry. If immediate context seems unclear, one then needs to move to general context, and from there to all the author’s works, until looking at the Testaments, and finally the Bible as a whole. In some of the cases I am about to present, the original manuscripts were altered because male scribes didn’t understand how Paul could say some of these things about women (which I will discuss below). However, if Paul had such a high view of women and assumed them to be in places of prominence in ministry,  then some of these passages which might lack clarity or don’t harmonize with the rest of Pauline thought were merely cultural to the places that Paul was writing to at that time.

The book of Romans is the most important book to look at when discussing the role of women in ministry. In Paul’s conclusion in Romans 16, Paul speaks of nine women specifically among the 26 people that are mentioned. Not only so, but he gives notable praise to seven of these women, which is more than the men! There is a group of four people that Paul gives praise to for working hard, among three of whom are women. Also, among the group Paul gave praise and recognition to, was possibly two married couples who appeared to be doing ministry together – Prisca and Aquila, and Andronicus and Junia. Chrysostom, who is one of the most well attested Church Fathers, says in regards to this section of Romans: “The women of those days were more spirited than lions, sharing with the Apostles their labors for the Gospel’s sake. In this way they went traveling with them and also performed all other ministries.”

Phoebe (16:1-2) is mentioned as being a “servant” of the church. The word in the Greek (here: “ousan diakonon”) literally means “servant,” but in Christian circles and to Paul here it obviously meant “deacon” (Phil 1:1; 1Tim 3:8, 12). Some people call Phoebe a, “ deaconess,” to give light to her role, but that term was not popular until the second to third century. She is the first recorded Church deacon in the bible actually! The first deacon ever mentioned is a woman. And though this might mean that she was in a lower position in the church under an elder or overseer, it should be noted that for some reason she was the only one mentioned in Paul’s final words to the church.

Phoebe is also mentioned as a woman who is a “patron.” This could point back to her in the role of deacon or could even mean that she owned or possessed some kind of property and hosted people at her home. Some believe she might have even gave Paul a place to stay during one of his missionary journeys (Acts 18:18). Though some find this hard to believe, there are other women in the bible who are mentioned as having possession of land (Nympha in Colossians 4, who arguably also might have been a pastor or overseer), and again, some scholars claim that women in Rome actually had more rights than women in the Eastern empire (Witherington, Balsdon). Caesar Augustus actually tried to put restrictions on women in Rome during his reign, which could mean that women might have been not following what we think to be the cultural norms of the time. Regardless, Phoebe is seen as both a deacon and a patron and as the person with whom Paul is sending his most attested letter. That says a lot for a woman.

Junia (16:7) is another highly-esteemed woman mentioned in Romans as being noted among the apostles and recognized as being imprisoned for her faith. Though some manuscripts disagree to whether Junia should be read as the obscure masculine name Junias, it is easier to explain why someone would change the text from a woman to a man rather than vice versa. NT Wright says in regards to this: “Don’t be put off by some translations which call her ‘Junias’, as if she were a man. There is no reason for this except the anxiety of some about recognizing that women could be apostles too.” Junia is mentioned along with her potential husband as being “among the apostles.”

Junia was not just well noticed in the eyes of the apostles as though she were outside the apostles, as some read or translate it. As Church Fathers Chrysostom and Origen attest, she was considered to be among the apostles, and not only so, but notable among them! She was an apostle. And being related to Paul, this would make sense because that would mean that she would also be Jewish – as all the Twelve Apostles were.

Paul then says that Junia and her husband actually knew the Lord before Paul – meaning that they were apostles before Paul (Paul calls himself the “last of the apostles” in 1Corinthians 15). For this and other reasons, some scholars, R. Bauckham notably, think that Junia might be the Latin name for Joanna mentioned in Luke 8. Joanna would be the Greek name for the Jewish name Yohanna. This was common in first-century Rome and is why Paul (Greek) goes by Saul (Hebrew) when he is among the Jews after he is saved, but then when he goes on his first missionary journey to the Gentiles he then goes by his Greek name Paul. If Junia is Joanna from Luke 8, this would make sense with how Junia came to the Lord before Paul and how she could be an apostle, and it also means that she would have been part of the group to have actually seen the risen Lord! She and her husband are given higher praise than any other people mentioned in the conclusion of Romans!

“The conclusion then follows that Paul has no problem with women as teachers (Priscilla) or leaders, proclaimers, or missionaries of the Good News. Indeed, it is hardly likely that a woman would be incarcerated in Paul’s world without having made some significant public remark or action. Junia said or did something that led to a judicial action.” – Ben Witherington

Paul and Women at Home:

Paul only references or talks about household codes in Ephesians (5:22-6:9) and Colossians (3:18-4:1). 1Corinthians 7 has a portion on marriage, but this was more generalized, cultural, and not in the form of a “code” like Ephesians and Colossians. Since both of these books are so alike (the two closest books in Pauline literature if not the whole New Testament), I will only focus on one – Colossians.

The first thing to note is that this is a household code specifically talking about husbands and wives – not men and women in general. If Paul was making a distinction that this was for men and women in general, he would have said so. This is specifically a “household” code. Another thing to remember is that Paul wrote with the assumption that these people (Wives/Husbands, Children/Fathers, Slaves/Masters) were living according to an already understood Christian ethic. Something to ask is, “who is the code intended for?” Is it intended for everyone, or did Paul have someone specifically in mind when he included this code in his letter?

Paul was obviously accepting norms and standards that were not arguable in that day, but even with that considered, Paul altered the way people perceived their household code of ethics. Notice that of the three pairs mentioned, the superordinate in all three would be considered one and the same person – the head of the household. The head of the household would not only be the husband, but he would also be father and slave master. With this in mind, it seems like Paul intended to limit the role of the superordinate – giving less restrictions and more rights to women, children, and slaves. This makes sense with the Pauline thought in Colossians, Ephesians, and elsewhere that all people are now equal because they are “in Christ” (Col 3:11; Gal 3:28). Should we today accept these roles as they are and even still allow slaves, or should we keep Paul’s spirit and lessen restrictions as the culture and time allows it?

With further context it makes sense now why women are told to “submit themselves” instead of the husband forcing the wife to submit. The verb (present/middle/imperative) is clearly in the middle voice and, according to James Dunn the words that are used are less harsh in the Greek than when Paul instructs children to “obey” their Fathers in the verses that follow (harsher word and a  present/active/imperative verb). Women were not expected to follow their husbands blindly as the children were more instructed to. And again, note that Paul expected that all of these people mentioned were to act Godly, in the way Paul instructed earlier in the letter. Consider that by husbands and wives each obeying their end of the instruction, the other one prospered: “From being loved, the wife too becomes loving; and from her being submissive, the husband learns to yield” (Chrysostom).

A friend told me the other day that he did not want to make a rule to allow women to lead and serve places in ministry because of an “exception” to the rule that seemed to permeate the New Testament – that only men should be in places of leadership. By looking at the New Testament, it seems that women were not an exception at all, but that they were an assumed and integral part of the growing church and had an equally active role within their homes.

It might be that I was saved because of the preaching and ministry of a female pastor. It could be that I like to be controversial. But with all the evidence considered, this is the conclusion I came up with; that women are equal – no separation of rank or submission. The Bible, along with an acute psychological and sociological understanding, has led me to this conclusion. If you are not sure where you stand on this situation or disagree, I challenge you to study it for yourselves and to ask yourselves the questions that people try to ignore. Again, things will never change for the better if we don’t question the norm.

To women,
Those who stand up for what they believe in,
Those through which churches meet and are grounded,
Those who are among the apostles and are seen well-noted,
This is for you.