Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Not A Monolithic Movement

Like almost anywhere else in the church, the house/simple/organic church is not a monolithic movement although it is sometimes stereotyped that way. There are Arminians and Calvinists, home schoolers and public schoolers, complementarians and egalitarians.

For example, Frank Viola posted today on the topic of women in ministry, Rethinking Women in Ministry. Ironically it seems he views "ministry" in the same way that the traditional church does, namely as the person "leading" from "up front". His essay is being widely read and cited today. I found it pretty lacking in persuasion if not in volume but then again I already have a pretty firm position on this issue. While Frank's position is the majority report among simple/house church types (notably also Jon Zens, another prominent leader in the house church setting that holds to egalitarianism), it is by no means the only view.

A Facebook friend, who seemingly disagrees with me and agrees in part with Frank, sent me a great link to something written by Steve Atkerson writing for the New Testament Reformation Fellowship, has a very different and far more traditional understanding of gender relations and functions in the church. His essays, Correctly Interpreting 1 Corinthians 14:33b-35 (Part 1) and (Part 2) come to a very different conclusion than Viola. No surprise I find Steve's essay far more compelling and a lot better interaction with the text rather than appealing to external sources to override the text in favor of a culturally palatable interpretation. I especially appreciate that Steve makes the obvious point, one that is missed by many who quote 1 Cor 11: 2-16 as a defense of women teaching/speaking in the gathered church, namely that those passages in no way refer specifically or even infer that they are directed at church gatherings.

Anyway, these are great essays on both sides and they demonstrate that far from being a simplistic, lowest common denominator movement, many proponents and practitioners are in fact serious Biblical exegetes who take the Word of God and its study quite seriously. If you have a fair amount of time, give both of them a read and let me know what you think!


Arlan said...

I said in a comment in a different place that I owed you a more complete and rigorous explanation of my stance. I still count that due. I cannot adequately cover all points now.

Did you find it interesting that both authors claimed the principle of using the clear scripture to interpret the unclear?

As far as I can tell from these two examples and all the others I have seen, one's decision on the meaning of these passages comes entirely from their understanding of the larger New Covenant framework and not from the passage at hand. I do not mean that people don't look at the passage at hand, for clearly they do; but what the words "obviously" mean, or can't mean, seems always to come from another context.

This makes it even harder to say anything pertinent in a brief comment.

I have trouble following you on the irony of Viola's ministry perspective. I am not disagreeing... I just didn't see it, I need some more clues.

I did notice Atkerson's liturgical, ceremonial approach to New Covenant fellowship. Certainly with his phases of fellowship and capitalized days (Lord's Day) he found rules, orders, and regulations that reminded me of the institutional church.

'Orderly' characterizes Atkerson's whole conception of the New Covenant. I do not mean 'orderly' in the sense of not speaking over each other, but in the sense of regimented, ruled; well-defined and controlled. And in this aspect I cannot follow his ethos.

Atkerson makes much of the family order, or family foundation of the church. But I remember Jesus' promise to turn family members one against the other. I remember Paul's mention of widows and orphans and unbelieving spouses. I see the family order growing more faint in the New Covenant, not more prominent. In Christ we have a new family; the old has passed away.

On the other hand, I cannot accept Viola's postulation that Paul's injunction to Timothy was a temporary edict to control the damage. Allow the commands of the recorded scripture to expire and none of them survive to this day.

But neither do I endorse the Atkerson argument that the plainest sense of the words in Corinthians is binding. Jesus tells us quite plainly to pluck out our eye if it leads us to sin, and there is no "more clear" commandment telling us to leave our eyes be. Jesus' words are quite plainspoken there; yet we interpret them more loosely.

Both sides agree we need to consider the context. It seems to me that Atkerson imports a Presbyterian context, redecorated with a living room; I cannot see his fine distinctions about types of speech and context as anything other than ceremonial law. But Viola has contextualized some verses right out of the Bible. Something further is needed.

Arthur Sido said...

I do ageree that generally Steve and NTRF tends to be a more orderly in the sense of "liturgical in the home" but I also find that he tends to be more faithful to what Scripture says. I don't agree in total with some of his assumptions. Can a sister request a song? I don't see a problem with that. Paul seems more concerned with sisters teaching and/exerting authority over the brothers. But at least he seems to actively interact with the text.

On families. While Jesus does describe the Gospel as something that could divide families, Paul is speaking primarily of families where both husband and wife are believers. The adopted family of the church absolutely trumps the biological family in some respects but then again Paul wrote everything under the umbrella of the New Covenant. In other words I think Paul has more standing to apply the New Covenant to the church and the famil than Frank Viola. I certainly try to examine the gender role passages in the light of the New Covenant and I think that what Paul is explicitly teaching is in no way contradictory.

On the other hand, Viola and Zens and company seem to have decided what the Bible should say in this case and then creating cultural or extra-biblical excuses to override what the Bible actually says. If we are going to advocate for a participatory meeting based on a literal, for all time reading of 1 Cor 14:26 (something I agree with) we cannot toss aside 1 Cor 14: 33-35, a few verses later and part of one continous thought, on the basis of some trumped up charges.

As far as the irony inherent in Viola's view of ministry, it seems that he and other egalitarians view gender through the lens of the institution. In other words, the one teaching or the one recognized as the elder or other areas that are restricted to men are seen as somehow more important than the ways that women minister.

Arlan said...

Ah! I think I follow you now. Insisting that women can be elders/teachers presumes that they should want to be. That such positions are good/better. To use a crude analogy, it may be compared to a man insisting on his right to bear children. Certainly bearing children IS a good thing, but asking for it petulantly and childishly disregards the expressed will of God.

I don't know that I agree with that comparison but I think I understand what you mean by an "institutional view" (of the preeminence of leadership).

Arlan said...

With respect to family: I am unhappy with any theology that normalizes the idea. A trite example would be the health of children: I'll agree that a normal child is a healthy child. However, a theology that teaches (directly or more often indirectly) that healthy children are evidence of God's blessing relegates the family with an unhealthy child into the theological darkness. A more scriptural theology, however, expects the disruption of the "healthy normal" all throughout nature (the groaning of creation). A sick child points to creation's need of redemption and ultimately to God's promise of redemption. That which is unwell is transformed from a curse to a promise (as was first done in Eden).

Likewise, a theology which assumes every woman has "a man in her life" is repellent to me--not because this is not "normal" but because we are not specially enjoined to bring the gospel to "normal" people. "Widows and orphans" could be paraphrased "people with no man in their life." I know many people assume that one of the first priorities for the organized church is to assign a duly elected deacon to be the man for the manless, but I see this as reading their assumption of manfulness back into the text. God didn't tell Hagar or the woman at the well that they needed a man. Neither does Paul ever say that every widow and orphan needs a designated man. In fact the message of the Bible is the failure of a man, Adam, and the failure of every single man like him (Abram, David, etc) to be a right man. None of the Biblical men could be counted on. Obviously the exception here is Jesus; and we all should say "we have no man but Jesus."

I do not mean to rule out the healthy function of a man in a family, but I see this healthy function as a facade propped up by grace. It is not the functioning of the man that makes healthy; it is the life of God which makes healthy, and the Christian man is allowed to play his little part in homage to God.

What is so chilling to me about the endorsement of women that Atkerson uses at the end of his article is the impression I get that these women have accepted men or a man as a kind of surety, as an earnest that confirms them to be "in" the will of God and therefore sure to be "blessed." No man provides this surety but Jesus! It is a dangerously toxic theology that allows any man to become a guarantee. I would be far happier and more comfortable (theologically speaking) if the women had said "It is hard and unpleasant and sacrificial to submit to men; and I am not at all sure that what I consider 'good' will come of it. But it is right so I will do it."

Arthur Sido said...

Arlan, I think the whole point of widows and orphans and why they receive special mention so many times in Scripture is precisely because they are outside of the normal family structure. A widow by definition has lost her husband and an orphan their father. As the father is the primary provider and instructor for wives and children when they are absent it falls to the church to step up.

Certainly we live in a world where not every child has a father and not every mother has a husband but that is all the more reason to encourage that within the church and to stand for it being the normative state unless someone is specifically called to be single.