Equal Standing, Different Roles

Rob Bell’s book Love Wins has begun countless conversations in the last month or so concerning myriad topics of faith: salvation, damnation, God’s love vs. God’s wrath, Christian fellowship, heresy… the list could go on and on.

But this morning I came across a blog discussing a portion of Rob’s theology that has not been nationally dissected: his use of describing God in the feminine form. On the blog for the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, Diane Montgomery addresses this portion of Rob’s work in a post entitled Our Mother Who Art in Heaven: Examining Rob Bell’s “She”.

The following paragraph is from Montgomery’s post and includes an excellent illustration of not only a classic misinterpretation of Scripture, but also a simple illustration of the biblical principle accurately portrayed in a modern comparison:
Midway through the video, Bell uses the “banner” verse of egalitarians, Gal. 3:28. Paul writes, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” He goes on to explain what he means by saying in 4:1, “What I am saying is that as long as the heir is a child, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate.” As believers in Christ we are equal, but that does not mean our roles are the same. In Christ, a CEO of a company is equal to one of his employees in a cubicle. However, they have different roles. The employee would not take charge of the CEO and the CEO would not do errands for the employee. They are equal in Christ, but carry out different tasks.

Scripture is clear that God is not into “Jim Crow” segregation of men and women. There is no “separate but equal” in the Kingdom of God. But at the same time, while there is equal standing and equal rights, there are different roles to be filled, much like the above CEO and “pencil pusher” illustration shows.

Along the same lines, in a recent episode of the television show Undercover Boss, the CEO of a shipping company attempted to go to work on one of his packing and assembly lines to see what really goes on in the warehouses he owns. He was fired from the job. Was he an employee of the company? Yes. Does he receive the same benefits of being an employee of that company? Yes. But was he able to equally perform a role for which he was neither suited nor trained? No.

Same thing in the body of Christ, whether that is the corporate body of the Universal church, the local church body where you attend, or your place within your own home. All believers have equal standing and rights before the Father. But all are equipped, gifted, trained and expected to perform different roles so that the overall work of the Kingdom is fulfilled. Like the CEO trying to pack and load shipments, when we attempt to fill a role which we were not meant to fill, something is left to be desired. There is no harmony and continuity to the overall workplace. When the owner botched his packing and loading job, the whole warehouse was affected. When we attempt to fill roles in the church and in the home that we are not meant to fill, the church and the home are negatively impacted as well.

THAT is the message of complementarianism. NOT that men are somehow better than women, nor that women inherently have less worth than men. The message is that we should find that role for which God created us and thrive in it instead of fighting against our Creator and His good plan.

A New and Living Way, Part 2

I. God has provided for us a new and living way. (10:19-21)

Verses 19-21 are a summary of the previous nine chapters. These chapters explain to the Jewish believers why the covenant of Christ was superior to the covenant God made with Moses. In these three verses we are given three descriptions and benefits of the new and living way God has provided through Jesus Christ: we have a new family, we have direct access to God, and we have a Great Priest in Jesus Christ.

A. We now have a new family. Looking at verse 19, the reader is instantly confronted with the idea that, as believers, we are family. The writer addresses his audience as “brethren,” or brothers. As family, as members of the house of God, the writer tells his audience that they can enter the holy place of God. To first century Jews, this idea was completely foreign. In the Jewish sacrificial system described in the Old Testament, only the High Priest was allowed into the presence of God, the part of the temple called the Holy of Holies. The law allowed him to enter the Holy of Holies only once a year to offer sacrifice for the sins of Israel.

In Ephesians 1:5-8, the apostle Paul told the church at Ephesus that, “In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will– to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.” The new and living way that is spoken of in this passage is the way of the new covenant that is made possible by the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. In his Gospel, John the Apostle tells us in 1:12, “But as many as received him, to them he gave the right to become children of God.”

My parents were foster parents when I was growing up. The last foster child we had, Brittany, came to live with us when she was six weeks old. After she had lived with us for three years, the state began looking for a permanent adoptive home for Brittany. Three years later, no home had been found and she had lived with us for all six years of her life. She was family. My parents filed the appropriate paperwork, made appointments with lawyers, and went before a judge to declare their intentions to adopt Brittany as an official member of the Mason family.

Once those papers were signed, Brittany became a member of our family just as if my mom had physically given birth to her. By us choosing her, she was given the right to become a Mason, and once she was a Mason, she had access to all of the legal privileges of being a member of our family that I had as a biologically born member of the family. But not only is Brittany now recognized as a legal member of our family, she is also loved and accepted as a member of our family, and is confident in the fact that she will be treated just like my biological brothers and me in matters of love, protection, and provision. Just like Brittany was chosen to be a member of the Mason family, those who have been chosen as children of God also have rights that accompany that adoption. One of those rights is direct access to God.

B. We now have direct access to God. For the Hebrew believers hearing this for the first time, the notion of entering the holy place of God only brought thoughts of death and condemnation, for no one but the high priest was allowed to enter the holy place in the temple. But here the writer tells us that Jesus made a way for us to confidently approach God. When a young child is confident of the love and acceptance of her father, she has no worries about approaching her father with any request. The writer is telling us here in verse 20 that because of the work of Christ on the cross, the veil that previously separated us from God was torn open and we now have the right to boldly approach the throne of grace with confidence.

The idea that Jesus is superior to both Moses and to the line of levitical priests is key to understanding what is meant here when the author says that Christ is the new and living way. The old covenant, which is also called the covenant of Moses and the law, was designed to show the Israelites their sinful inability to save themselves. Paul declared in chapter three, verse twenty of his letter to the church in Rome that, “No one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.” This verse tells us the law brings awareness of sin and death. Jesus Christ, through His willing sacrifice, brings a new and living way of salvation for all who repent of their sins and believe on His name.

This new and living way is now the only way to gain access to God. In the original language, the word we translate as “new” has a meaning of freshly slaughtered and not previously available. It seems odd to consider something as both freshly slaughtered and living at the same time, but this is just the point the author is trying to make. John MacArthur observed in his commentary on Hebrews, “The blood of animals allowed only the high priest to enter the veil briefly. Jesus’ blood allows everyone who believes in Him to enter the veil permanently.”

C. We now have a Great Priest in Jesus. Not only are believers now members of the family of God who have permanent access to the Father, we can see in the passage above that we also have a mediator in our Great Priest, Jesus Christ. The author of Hebrews explained this in chapter 9:11-14 when he wrote:
When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!

So it is only through the sacrifice of Christ, our Great Priest, that we are able to confidently gain access to God as his children. Paul further explains this in Galatians 3:22-26:
But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe. Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law. You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.”

We are told in Romans 3:23 that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We are also told that this sin separates us from God because He is perfect and holy and cannot be in the presence of sin. But to show His glory and His merciful love, God made a way for our sins to be forgiven by sacrificing his son, Jesus, who took our punishment for sin and gave his blood for us. He took our punishment and died in our place. That is why Jesus is referred to in this passage as the new and living way. Jesus himself declared in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but through me.”

The only way that you can be forgiven of your sins and become a part of the family of God is to recognize two things about yourself. First you must realize that your sin separates you from God. Second, you must acknowledge that there is nothing you can do on your own to connect you to God. Only by turning from your sin and believing that Jesus died as a sacrifice for your sins and then rose from the dead three days later, proving his victory over death, can you be called a child of God. Have you ever done that? Have you ever realized that because you are a sinner separated from God, you will spend eternity separated from Him unless you turn from your sin and believe in Christ as your Savior? Only that will allow you to be a part of God’s new and living way. If you have never had that moment in your life, I pray that you will consider your position in the family of God and will make the decision today to turn from your sins and believe that Jesus, our Great Priest, is the way God provided for you to be His child.

A New Sexual Ethic? Part 2

This is part 2 in a 5 part series of a response to Carter Heyward’s essay “Notes on Historical Grounding: Beyond Sexual Essentialism,” which can be found in Sexuality and the Sacred:Sources for Theological Reflection, edited by James B. Nelson and Sandra P. Longfellow. Part One can be found here.

First, Heyward correctly points out that there is an abuse of power often evident between people in relationship with one another. Throughout the article, Heyward describes the relationships between men and women as being dominated by men through the power they hold over women in the sexual relationship. She observes that “advanced capitalism literally feeds off of men’s control of women’s bodyselves…. Sex pays, and… coercive sex—involving pain and humiliation—pays best” (Heyward, 15). There is an evident power struggle between the genders that can be seen even today as women continue to struggle to prove that they are just as capable as men in fields ranging from the military to business to athletics. It seems to be assumed that women can only achieve empowerment and wholeness through fulfillment in areas in which men have traditionally excelled and dominated. Heyward contends that this domination is fulfilled only because of man’s control over women through sex.

“The place of women in this chaotic world” is one of toil and trouble, scapegoating and violence, hatred and trivialization, poverty and despair. Economically, under global structures of late capitalism, women are kept in poverty. It is the way profit is maximized. Women’s bodies are kept in the service of heterosexist patriarchy–as wives, whores, fantasy objects, and as a vast, deep pool of cheap labor (Heyward, 14; emphasis mine).

Heyward implies in this statement that women who are married and work in the home, those women who have espoused traditional gender roles as wife and mother, have been enslaved by this tradition, or are nothing more than hired help who exchange sex and housekeeping for room and board.

This view of marriage and the arrangement held in such disdain by Heyward is justifiably detested by liberation and feminist theologians. It is indeed an incorrect and sinful model of marriage and family. The fallibility of Heyward’s argument lies not in an incorrect assessment of the problem but instead in an incorrect solution. It is true that for centuries, women have been used and abused by men. They have been treated as property, relegated to second class citizenry, and even treated as the source of man’s sin. This treatment has occurred even within the very church that claims “there is neither… male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Gal 3.28). Early church fathers taught that, like Eve, women especially carried within them “the degradation of the first sin and the hatefulness of human perdition.” Women have been blamed for the fall of man since the fall of man (Gen 3.12), and this has led to a deeply ingrained tradition within the church as well.

According to Heyward, this dynamic between men and women is bound up in the relationality of mankind. In speaking of relationality, Heyward observes, “…relationality… presupposes relativity: all of us, and all of everything, is relative to everything else—changing, becoming, living, and dying in relation. There can be nothing static in a personal identity or relationship formed in such a matrix” (Heyward, 11). Because people change due to their interactions with one another and with the world around them, it is concluded that one’s sexuality must also be open to such change. Heyward declares, “Sexuality is socially constructed” (Heyward, 11). Therefore, it is through one’s environment, life experiences, and interpersonal relationships that a person ultimately finds the center and sexuality of her “bodyself.”

This first major premise of her article, that the interrelatedness of male and female is ultimately sexual and that this relationship has been demeaned and undignified throughout history, leaving women without dignity and self-worth, can in some cases be legitimately supported. From Scripture to early church writings, to popular work such as plays and poetry, all the way through modern days, women have indeed been mistreated and used as sexual toys by men. But to say that this occurs only in heterosexual relationships, or that it occurs in all heterosexual relationships, is very far from the truth. To claim that such behavior is actually the biblical mandate for the relationships between men and women would be grossly incorrect and indeed heretical. Yet, throughout this article, Heyward draws a nearly indistinguishable line between church history and biblical doctrine.

A cursory look at Scripture shows that God’s plan for the relationship between man and woman is to be something other than domineering and abusive. While there is a set standard of man as the head of the relationship, this is not a directive for man to rule over woman in a domineering, militaristic manner. Nor does this somehow declare man to be of more intrinsic worth than woman. At the consummation of the first marriage, it was explained that “a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Gen 2.24). The study notes for the ESV Study Bible further explain that “the term ‘hold fast’ is used elsewhere for practicing covenant faithfulness (e.g. Deut. 10.20; see how Paul brings these texts together in 1 Cor. 6.16-17). The idea of covenant faithfulness implies love, protection, loyalty, unity; nothing of overpowering abuse and forced labor as Heyward would have her readers believe.

While the above passage in Genesis is a prescription for how marriage should function, the curses passed down by God following the fall of man in Genesis 3 give an accurate description of how relationships between men and women are adversely affected by sin. Part of the curse placed upon woman states, “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you” (Gen 3.16). This statement accurately describes the role reversal Heyward is proposing as the solution to man’s ruling over woman. Before the fall, God appointed Adam as the head and leader of the human relationship. Eve was created to be a complementary helper for Adam, not a lesser being created to be ruled over. Each was equal in the sight of God and both were fully created in the image of God.

But after the fall, sin deeply affected the relationship between Adam and Eve. Their fellowship with God was destroyed as well as their fellowship with one another. The sin of Adam and Eve was a desire to reverse roles with God so that they would become like God. The relationship between Adam and Eve was likewise reversed through sin. Eve now would taint her helpmate role by having a desire to take leadership away from Adam, and Adam would pervert his leadership role by dominating and ruling over Eve. According to Scripture, both of these are sinful responses to equally sinful choices. Heyward is not proposing anything near a Christian solution to the sinful issue of men wrongly dominating women. Instead of exposing and correcting wrong behavior in the light of the Word, Heyward is suggesting that women should respond to the sin of men by sinning in return, and completely reversing God’s intended relationship between man and woman. This rebellion against men is a physical, external symptom of a deeper issue which ultimately is a sin of the heart—rebellion against God.