For church on Sunday, I visited two services. One was at the church that I often call the “Word of Faith” church, a label that sometimes fits and sometimes does not. The other was at a Missouri Synod Lutheran church.
Here are some items:
A. The current series at the Word of Faith church is about hot-button issues. The topic of Sunday’s sermon was gender. The pastor made clear that he had the positions that he was about to share since he first became a pastor: they are not a response to culture, and they were his positions before his daughter was born and became a leader in the church. The pastor then articulated some of the greatest egalitarian hits: I Timothy 2:12 was criticizing heretical women in Timothy’s time rather than making a blanket prohibition of women preaching and teaching in church; Romans 16:7 refers to a female apostle, Junia; and I Corinthians 11:3 means that man is the source of the woman that that women should honor men as their historical source, not that man is the authoritative head of the woman. See here for links about this issue. The pastor also played a clip of N.T. Wright defending the idea that Junia was an apostle who did more than make tea, and that women were prosphesying in the early church, since I Corinthians 11:5 implies that they should do so with their head covered.
B. Interestingly, both the pastor and N.T. Wright seemed to be making gender essentialist statements, while defending egalitarianism. N.T. Wright on the clip said that Paul’s point in I Corinthians 11:1-16 is that women should pray and prophesy while looking like women. The pastor opened his sermon by criticizing transgenderism, saying that God created us with the gender of our birth. The pastor was also saying that women, in general, have a strong work ethic and can be formidable in arguments and in defending the people they love. I could identify with what he was saying about women there, in terms of the women I have known. But is that universal? And could it be that society pressures women to do a lot of work? I think of Peggy Blumquist’s statement in Fargo, Season 2 that women are expected to do so much, with only so many hours in the day.
C. The pastor made the point that love eclipses legalism. (And he used the term “eclipses,” since, as you know, an eclipse is coming up!) He quoted I Corinthians 10:23-24, which states: “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not. Let no man seek his own, but every man another’s wealth” (KJV). The pastor said that God could have given us thirty-seven rules, but instead God gave us a general criterion: we need to love God and neighbor. “Does that mean that I am allowed to see such-and-such a movie?”, the pastor rhetorically asked. The pastor’s answer was that there was no law against it, but if seeing such a movie were to hinder our relationship with God, we should not see it. One can argue that Paul in I Corinthians 10:23-24 is quoting his libertine opponents rather than offering his own view—-his libertine opponents are the ones who are saying that all things are lawful, not Paul himself. That is probably so, yet Paul in Galatians 5:13 seems to imply that believers have a liberty, which they should take heed not to abuse: “For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another” (KJV). One can make a case that Paul does not believe that Christians have a liberty to sin, since, in both I Corinthians 6:9-10 and Galatians 5:19-21, Paul is clear that certain sins can bar a person from the Kingdom of God. Still, he does seem to maintain that believers have a liberty, which they should use for good and not for evil.
D. In making the point that love eclipses legalism, the pastor referred to the requirements for Gentiles in Acts 15. The ruling of the Jerusalem conference in Acts 15:28-29 states the following about what is required of Gentiles: “For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things;
That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well” (KJV). The pastor said that the first two requirements are cultural, whereas the last one is universal. Essentially, the pastor said, the only “rule” that Gentiles have to follow is to abstain from sex outside of marriage. (On that note, see my post here about a manuscript that has a more expansive Acts 15 list of requirements for Gentiles: it includes the Golden Rule.) I can understand the pastor’s point that the rule against eating meat offered to idols is cultural, for Paul in I Corinthians 8 seems to suggest that believers can eat meat offered to idols, but they should take heed not to use their liberty in a manner that causes other Christians to stumble. (Perhaps this kind of concept illuminates I Corinthians 10:23-24 and Galatians 5:13: Christians are free from certain requirements, such as dietary regulations, but they should not use their freedom unwisely, in a manner that causes other Christians to stumble.) Paul appears flexible on the prohibition of meats offered to idols. One can make a case, though, that the Bible regards the prohibition on eating blood as a universal prohibition. All people, Jews and Gentiles, are prohibited from eating blood in Genesis 9:4. Leviticus 17 prohibits Israelites and Gentile resident aliens to eat blood. The reason, as the pastor said, was that blood was regarded to be the life of the animal (Genesis 9:4; Leviticus 17:11, 14; Deuteronomy 12:23). His implication seemed to be that we do not believe that anymore, so this particular prohibition does not apply: it was merely cultural. Such an argument can invite debate about the authority of Scripture and whether God culturally accommodates people in giving God’s revelation. I wonder if a case can be made that Paul was flexible on the anti-blood rule, too. Paul says in I Corinthians 10:27: “If any of them that believe not bid you to a feast, and ye be disposed to go; whatsoever is set before you, eat, asking no question for conscience sake” (KJV). What was the likelihood that such meat was not slaughtered in a perfectly kosher manner?
E. The pastor said that people love to criticize: they criticize the past, they criticize the present, etc. He said that it would be wonderful if someone were to proclaim by faith that God is going to do a great thing. Criticism and historical retrospective are essential. The pastor himself offered his own historical retrospective when he shared his belief that racial problems are rooted in gender problems: men treated women as slaves, and that desensitized men to treating others as slaves, too. (Whether there is anything to that, I do not know.) Still, it is also important to have faith and hope.
F. Moving on to the Missouri Synod Lutheran service, the youth pastor was talking about having differences of opinion. He asked the kids to take sides on questions, and to justify their positions: Which are better, cats or dogs? Which do you prefer, tacos or hamburgers? (He then said that their answer may determine where they eat after church: McDonalds or Taco Bell. When he said that, I thought, “Well, I prefer tacos, but not Taco Bell tacos! Offer the best examples of each choice, please!) Do you like animal crackers or goldfish crackers more? The youth pastor’s point was that we can still be friends, even when we disagree. Maybe. Of course, there are unpleasant ways of sharing differences that can muddy the waters and hinder positive relationships.
G. The youth pastor also said that we should keep talking to God, even when we disagree with God, for that can open us up to God’s wisdom. The youth pastor was talking primarily about times when God does not answer prayer as we like: we want a person to be healed, but the person is still sick. I personally applied that to the need for me to keep praying, even when I recoil from God’s commands, or a certain understanding of God’s commands. I am reading a book about forgiveness, which stresses the importance of confronting people and restoring relationships. Yikes!
H. The pastor made the case that the Wizard of Oz is about the salvation of Toto. Toto was saved from being put to sleep for biting Elvira Gulch. Dorothy ran away from home to protect Toto. When Dorothy wanted to go home, she asked, “And Toto, too?” As an animal lover (though I am more of a cat person), I appreciated that observation.
I. The pastor preached about Matthew 18:21-28, in which Jesus casts a demon out of a Canaanite woman’s daughter. Jesus praises the Canaanite woman’s faith, even though, previously, he told her that his mission was to the Israelites. The pastor was saying that the Canaanites were condemned to death in the Torah (see, for example, Deuteronomy 20:17). Yet, Jesus was including a Canaanite woman, as a result of her faith. In Lutheran fashion, the pastor related this to a Gospel: we are condemned to death because of our sins, but God has forgiven and included us by grace, which we receive by faith. But many scholars contend that the Canaanites that the Torah discusses did not exist in Israel’s post-exilic period. When Ezra 9:1 mentions the Canaanites, they argue, it is comparing the non-Jewish (and even some of the Jewish) people of the land with the Canaanites rather than positing that they were directly descended from the Canaanites. The woman in Matthew 18:21-28 was not related to the Torah Canaanites, according to this view. Why, then, is she called a Canaanite? Was that what Phoenicians were called then, even if they were not literal Canaanites? Or was Matthew 18:21-28 calling her a Canaanite for homiletical or religious purposes, as Ezra 9:1, in a sense, was? Ezra 9:1 was tarring the people of the land by likening them to the Canaanites, but perhaps Matthew 18:21-28 is making the point that God includes the previously excluded. This is just speculation. There are scholars who have argued that the Gospel of Matthew is rather hostile towards Gentiles.
J. In listing the Canaanites, the pastor mentioned the “Mizriamim.” Mitzraim is the Hebrew word for Egypt. Ezra 9:1 refers to the Egyptians among the nations of Canaan. I wonder where the pastor got “Mizriamim.” Was it from a literalistic (if that is the correct word) translation of Ezra 9:1?
I’ll stop here.