In a quick updated I posted a week ago, I mentioned that I read the book, “A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband “Master,” The book covers a multitude of issues regarding women’s roles in society and church as understood by the evangelical church. Better still, she compares those viewpoints of scripture, as a whole and blows a number of our assertions out of the water. I hope to take the time to dive into a number of the finer points in future blog posts.
However, in discussing this book further with my wife, after reading it, a major theme popped out. It seems that as a culture, evangelicalism really cherry picks those pieces of scripture that supports its setup. In doing so, it completely ignores other passages and, more importantly, misses the most excellent way of love.
For nearly half a decade, I have studied the epistles, to learn more about how they structured their church organizations back then, and how they conducted their gatherings. Pastors use numerous passages from this section of the Bible to justify a number of church elements including the pastoral leadership system, elder oversight, and programs designed to assist the poor. Interestingly enough, different domination and different religions (such as Catholicism and Mormonism) also draw much of the inspiration for their current setup from this section of the Bible. For example, Mormons cite 1 Cor 15: 29 to support their current process of performing baptisms for the dead.
I always felt that most of these denominations and religions ignore huge parts of the New Testament. For example, Paul gives us fascinating insight into how worship gatherings worked in those early times, with numerous people participating in the discussions. Furthermore, in addressing a concern with disorderly conduct in the services, Paul makes it clear that if one is talking, and another wishes to say something, the first person should stop talking and allow the second to express what God has laid on their heart. The idea of one, qualified speaker (a pastor) dominating the entire gathering with a long monologue seems out of place in the context of this passage. When I have discussed this with Pastors, many feel that this would not work in churches today. Our gatherings are too large! It would be chaotic!
This continued to confuse me during my studies. In questioning about other, ignored passages, I received answers ranging from practicality concerns to “that was limited to the culture of their time”. Who decides which passages we ignore in the name of culture? Our church leaders instruct us to read the Bible to learn more about God and important spiritual matters (such as how to conduct church), but how can it mean anything to me if I have to have a PhD in history to understand these passages properly in context of their history so I can decide which ones no longer hold any weight? If the epistles prescribe to us (or at the very least, give us glimpses) how to run church, then why do we ignore whole parts of it?
Reading this book, I began to understand the evangelical approach to cherry picking certain parts of the bible and turning those into a list of rules patterned the Pharisee’s approach to interpreting Old Testament scripture. More importantly, I began to see the problem in my own approach of the last five years. Perhaps the Epistles were never designed to be a prescriptive list of how to run church (or boiled down into such a list). Perhaps, just perhaps, Jesus said all there was to say on that in the Gospels. “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, mind and soul” and “Love your brother as you love yourself.” And, then, the epistles are examples of Peter and Paul putting those principles into real life context with the Christian groups of their time. In other words, what if we looked at the Epistles as descriptive instead of prescriptive?
When I began to consider this possibility, so many things started to make sense to me, and missing pieces of this five year old puzzle started falling into place. The implications blow my mind. That would mean, among many other things, that the way we, or any denomination/religion, structure church gatherings is no longer a sacred cow. I had to work hard to view this ideal outside the context of our culture, which embeds itself deeply into each one of us.
Ultimately, this approach fits scripture best, as well. God could have written out church organization step by step. After all, He wrote Leviticus which details the Old Testament temples and ceremonies. Yet, we get nothing close to that in the New Testament. And, the reality is, if you want to cherry pick, you can find scripture to support any way you want to live your life and/or structure your church gatherings. Rachael Evans makes this point wonderfully clear in her book. If you want to teach people that tithing 10% is a rule, there’s scripture to support that. If you want to teach people should, instead, give as the Spirit dictates, you can find that. If you want to keep women from teaching men, you can find that scripture. And, if you want to teach that the spirit gives all gifts, including teaching, to all people in the body regardless of gender, you can find that as well. And, yes, if you want to preach that God approves of slavery, you can find passages that support that, too!
Again, the implications are staggering, and you can expect for me to write more about them in future entries, but I’m very close to my 1,000 word limit on blogs, so I’ll save those for later. In the mean time, consider what Jesus said regarding eternal life and how to best serve God. You will see little or no mention of church structure or list of rules. Instead, you see a simple message repeated over and over again. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”