Saturday, October 8, 2011

I Timothy 2 - The Whole Counsel of God

15 short verses on life and worship, today’s blog post will be a breeze…..

Pray for kings and rulers, so that we can be left in peace – check.

As the rabbi in Fiddler on the Roof said, “A blessing for the Czar? Hmmm, let me think. Ah – May the Lord Bless and Keep the Czar – Far Away From Us!” Paul doesn’t want to be or even advise the Caezar, but he does value his Pax Romana as an unwitting enabler of the spreading of the gospel. But he hastens to add that there is one mediator between God and man, and it is not the GodKing Caesar – it is Jesus Christ. There is room in Paul’s pecking order for Caesar, but not at the top.

Men, lift holy hands in prayer – check. Testosterone makes ungodly men lift hands balled in fists or holding rocks. The Spirit turns these aggressive impulses into humble prayers for strength, protection and whole-armor-of-God unity. All men must have a deadly enemy to fight. In Christ we no longer wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the devil in the world and inside us.

Women, adorn yourselves with good deeds not beautiful jewels – check. Men like this verse because our women’s good deeds are usually not very expensive! But seriously – from my perspective, a woman’s adorning beauty may create attraction, but her good deeds create the trust and the soul-ties. Diane was a knockout blond but it was her dogged loyalty to her troubled son and her depth of character that really drew me to her.

“I do not permit a woman to tech or to have authority over a man; she must be silent… was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner…..but women will be saved through childbearing….” – NOT check. Not-even-CLOSE-check.

I am forever preaching to a woman pastor friend of mine that evangelicals, unlike religious liberals, are empowered for life and doctrine because they follow the whole counsel of God. Unlike Thomas Jefferson and his famous scissored gospel, we do not pick and choose. It is precisely verses such as this that “test” me, and I mean that in a positive, gold-purified-by-fire way.

I am reminded of a story by the great WWII war correspondent, Alan Moorehead, in his book about the North African campaign, “The Road to Tunis.” A group of Afrika Corps captives are marching in file past their British captors, defiantly singing the Nazi version of “Yankee Doodle”, called “the Horst Wessel Song”. The rank and file soldiers, among them many cockneys from London, jeer and gesture. “Bugger off ye sodding wankers…..” and the like. Their officers, on the other hand, are upper-class gentlemen. They just turn their backs.  The seeming misogyny of this verse is the song; the cockneys are mocking religious liberals; I am the officer, politely, discretely turning my back, saying nothing.

In defense of Paul, I could argue that history shows that male-only preaching has done pretty well over the last 20 centuries, and churches that have embraced women preachers are in decline. But this argument fails for two reasons: first, there are many third world mission fields where women are preaching the gospel quite effectively. We just don’t see them here in America. And second, history is written by the winners and is at best a subjective “proof” for a teaching.  The horrific, respectable 19th century obsession with Aryanism and Manifest Destiny is reason enough to avoid the “obvious lessons of history,” which may illustrate, but do not convincingly confirm  or persuade. Only the whole counsel of the rest of scripture can do that.  Truth has its pecking order, too.  As the Lord Jesus is over Caesar in authority, so His Scripture has authority over the interpretations of the history of the kingdoms of this earth.

So here is what I think: Under the inspiration of the Spirit that loves and redeems and empowers men and women without distinction, Paul commands male servant leadership in the area of teaching scripture. His reason: Adam was formed first, and Eve sinned first. He hearkens back to the Garden, before the potential for sin inside us and the world outside us had warped our minds and loyalties. Men are to be like the first Adam, redeemed, giving names and bestowing knowledge and order as stewards of creation. Like Eve, women are to join with and help men in this work. In its application it is a hard teaching, hard both to understand and accept in its many permutations. I think it is part of the narrow way, the cross, reviled by the world, countintuitive to our own understanding. The Romans embraced the cross as a tool of domination. The Christians embraced the cross as a tool of humble service. No doubt the Word of God has been and will be used in the same way, until its Author returns.

Does that mean women cannot preach the gospel to men in Africa? I think it does mean that when those men receive the gospel, they should find those among them with the pastoral and teaching gifts. Even closer to home, does this mean that women who teach men should altogether cease doing so? I think it does mean they should recognize this principle of Paul’s and seek to transition to it, in an orderly way, encouraging the men among their students to develop their gifts. And above all I think this verse needs to be understood and if necessary clarified in the context of other scripture. As I said above, neither the world nor history can tell the church what scripture means; that job belongs to other scripture.

Well, like I said, 15 verses, a breeze. A stiff, 90 knot, capsize-your-sailboat breeze. Enough for today of trying to rightly divide the word of truth – the sun is shining, the mercury is dropping, I gotta go split some wood.

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