Pushing The Evangelical Envelope: Giving The Right Answer

With Michele’s discussion, internetmonk’s complaint, and the addition of a post on male Christian leadership, some thoughts are beginning to percolate.

First of all, I genuinely identify with internetmonk in his self described characteristics:

I’m an analytical person, and if someone could be paid to diagnose problems, I could probably make a good living. If you’re a reader of this blog, you’ve already noticed that. One reader recently diagnosed me as an arrogant “whiner” and I can completely understand what he’s talking about.

When I was in the pastorate, I was chomping at the bit to fix everything and everyone. It didn’t happen and God humbled me considerably in the process. But I’m a tough case to cure, and my analytical, over-diagnostic, obsessed with fixing things nature has survived and thrived on this blog. There’s been a lot of pointing out, and not enough building up.

Part of the problem is that I’m very reluctant to tell others what to do. I’m not reluctant to say “Here’s the problem,” but I’m very reluctant to be the man with the answers. That makes me annoying, and after a few years of putting up with me on this blog, some of you are probably justified in calling me a “whiner.”

And so, when picking apart something for a better look, I am not casting a negative definition of anyone- they have said something very interesting worth pursuing to see if there is more to say on the subject. In this case there is lots more.

Sometimes it is a case of what “facet” we view. In addressing the Evangelical gender dispute and the consternation over testosterone-pumping traditionalist move to restore men’s preeminence (which I think flows over into the BattleCry type meetings, BTW), internetmonk said this:

Evangelicals like the idea that gender roles recover some of the beauty of what marriage was meant to be. Remember that what marriage was meant to be wasn’t just ruined by failing in spiritual leadership and submission, but my sins against God and against one another.

Recovering spiritual leadership is fine. If we want it to mean something, let’s deal with the sins in our marriages, starting, guys, with us.

You know, that is fine and true, but it somehow overlooks the situation for women. while the guys are dealing with themselves and each other…what is supposed to happen for women? We are supposed to wait for things to get better. But something is very wrong with that picture, because we all should be quite aware that women have a lot of influence even when not given official power, and what women are doing in the background is informed by this non-event of men not taking any real action while they work on their personal sin problems.

Leadership can’t afford to wait until they achieve perfection to define policy.

So I think we have to address some of the promotion of wrong answers and get some right replacements for them. First, is to recognize how authority works.

God gave certain authority roles within life and the church. Marriage is a terrific picture of both. In marriage a woman can have a huge amount of delegated authority, lots of privilege, and decision making power; but there has to be a point where one may say “the buck stops here”, and that place is at the head of the house. And guess who holds that position? Exactly.

In the church we have this whole vague idea that men have position of authority …but the idea of women holding any position of authority might be anywhere from no decision-making power to even the extent of saying anything [be silent] to a complete rout of any place for males at all. That sounds most disorderly to me. And while it is vital that we all work on making sure we repent properly (that is one of our functions- God can’t do that for us), it doesn’t divest us of the need to be making sure proper policy is in place in the meantime.

Women have spiritual leadership, too. The ones at the head of the household just aren’t passing down the parameters of that, as given by the Head of the Body: Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Savior. They are simply discussing amongst themselves.

So, when complaining about “culture war” diversions from the gospel, isn’t that at the heart of our own real issues of what the freedom of the gospel looks like within our own churches? Aren’t we trying to work out our faith in a way that impacts our society? Just because some have foisted a “conservative” or “liberal” label on something doesn’t mean it actually applies in a way that cogently defines anything.

When we start defining the gospel, shouldn’t we understand that the gospel is just the beginning? The introduction to the Lord Jesus Christ and then the working out of the new life is what begins? That is how the bible is structured: there are the book of Acts and the Epistles of Paul, because the gospel started something and that something needs to be worked out in a continuous process of life that stretches into eternity.

The right answers are not usually negatives. Those leave us with the questions. We want to pursue this far enough that we start hitting the answers, defining what we are, what we do, how we live in Christ. Having something positive and tangible to live out.

The right answers are hard not because they are complex, but because they must be lived. The difficult things for men in the Church is that they must allow for freedom and grace, live in such a way that women are given place to blossom with all their potential…including the abilities to teach and lead in their areas of expertise. And that isn’t just Bake Sales. Sometimes that is organization and vision… and other things that pioneer Churches and create a direction for the rest of the camp.

I know how easy it is to obsess and sit with our analysis and theological pontifications, but we must move forward in allowing others more grace in their attempts to be obedient to the gospel. Such things as “prosperity” are not all taken out of context and exaggerated. There are real concepts there that free Believers. We must learn to take the precious from the vile… and stop pointing at the vile with rejection of everything. we have to start doing that with everything, and in our relationships as well as our doctrine.

Because the questions are :”What then, must we do?” “How should we then live?”
These are questions that ask for a positive set of directives, they are not seeking a negative outline. The right answers are not what is wrong with us- that is an infinite in nature, but what will make us right? Once we hit upon the answer of Jesus Christ and His gospel we have to exhibit what makes us right, not keep looking at what made us wrong. The epistles of Paul always turn us back to that- what do have in Christ? What is the “better way”? Always the signpost to the standard of Christ Jesus.

Take the precious from the vile. Find the good and true and capitalize on that, do the hard work of living out relationships of grace and example. I learned a lesson quite some time ago- a lesson taught to me by a “pagan”, of all people. This is the lesson of the proverbial soft answer. It breaks the bone, brothers and sisters. It turns away wrath. May we learn the power of the soft answer – it is often the right way to give the right answer.

4 thoughts on “Pushing The Evangelical Envelope: Giving The Right Answer”

  1. Yes, that’s it exactly. Some women are almost forced to become leaders in faith. The commands given by Jesus are such that in fulfilling them, such will occur. It’s rather clear that women were integral parts of the early church, so it is hardly a matter of some revelation. And what of Galatians “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”?

    I have always felt that there are different calls in the life of faith, and that God sends those calls to meet the needs of the time and place and people, and he sends these calls to those who will answer them. So I cannot see that women are even justified in sitting on the sidelines and waiting; not in their families, not in their churches, and not in such situations in the world which demand action.

  2. I feel as you do, and believe that there is theological justification for this. The debate often creates a self-doubting in women, and a confusion. You can’t sound the trumpet properly if you’ve lost your breath and that is what happens. So this really needs to be hammered out in the theology.

    I do believe there is a ceiling for women, however. I see it in scriptures and I sense it intuitively- I just don’t have a fully developed answer on the rationale of it.

    If we didn’t have “culture war” wrestlings how far would we go in addressing these things and changing? I am not for a return to pietism. I’m for an advance in mature spirituality ( whatever it may look like!)

  3. Let me think on this a bit, Ilona. I am among the self-doubting and perplexed, to be honest.

    I find some direction in your reference to “mature spirituality”. Whatever that may be, I am sure a mature spirituality is grounded in and continually infused with the awareness that the purpose of the church is to serve and that our purpose in the church and the world is to serve. So rhetoric about “rights” and “equality” is just at right angles to the issue. I also think there is clear scriptural authority and precedent for common sense in addressing this question.

  4. I appreciate the “working-out” you’re doing here, Ilona.

    There are control issues, and fear issues too, on both sides (men and women).

    One thing I appreciate about our new pastor (a retired police sergeant, no less) is that he listens to input from everybody, considering the input itself without “genderizing” it according to who said it. Not that he ignores someone’s gender as it may relate to their input, but he listens without “filters.”

    I also think that women, or anyone, must be careful not to “step in” when someone’s not doing their job (unless someone’s life is in danger, or something!), because that takes responsibility away from the one to whom it belongs. (This doesn’t mean don’t speak up, though.) I think it applies to both marriages and churches.

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