Worship Ministry

Some stories we tell often. They define us. They don’t cost a lot, emotionally, because they are easily told. Some stories we tell occasionally. They reveal a great deal about us, and we demonstrate trust by sharing from the deepest, often hardest parts of our journey. And some stories we tell rarely. They are like bearing our souls. We risk a great deal when we tell those stories. This is true for you, for your family, for our church. Today I want to share a story I have only told to a handful of people and never to a large group. I believe this is the story I must tell in order to help our ministry move ahead. My hope is that your heart, mind, and soul will resonate with this story. My fear is… well, I’ll let you figure that out. I was on a spiritual retreat in 1995 called The Walk to Emmaus. Some of you have been. It changed my life in many ways– some of which I’m just now realizing. But there was, in that retreat, a moment I can only describe as a God-given vision. I was on stage with the “pilgrims” (those attending the retreat) in a worship gathering. The rest of the community–scores of people who had been on an Emmaus walk previously– gathered to celebrate Jesus and to celebrate His Bride, the church. Or at least the part of the church that was on that retreat. Like a movie scene, my vision blurred, time slowed, and I saw God’s call on my ministry. My life. It was as if, though I didn’t hear a voice, God was whispering to my soul: “This is what I want you to do: Go to the church and help every person in the room shine their light, lift up their soul, to Me in worship. Fully engaged hearts. Fully focused minds. Full throated singing. All of who they are, pouring themselves out to all of who I Am.” Although it has been more than 20 years since that moment, I can feel the tears watering my cheeks. I can hear the sound of their voices. The burden of that calling still weighs on my chest. Although it has been more than 20 years since that moment, I can feel the tears watering my cheeks. I can hear the sound of their voices. The burden of that calling still weighs on my chest.

I think this is one of the ways God called me to Woodburn. For the first time in my life, when we gathered on those Sunday mornings during my time as interim worship leader, I saw this happening. Every generation. Every pew. Families with heads reared back, singing together. Senior adults with hands lifted to heaven. Teenagers actually moving their lips as they sang. Children with tears on their cheeks. It was as if God whispered again, this time showing me: this is what I made you to do. This is what I called you to do. And this is the place where My vision for your ministry can be fulfilled. And for months and months and months, this was our weekly experience. I remember Vicki Morris telling me one Sunday that after playing “Great I Am” she went into our tech storage room and trembled with spiritual intensity. I remember sitting in the front row after the singing was over, moved to tears by the manifest Presence of the Holy Spirit. This wasn’t the exception; this was the rule. Our church has grown a lot since then. Hundreds of new people are coming. The choir is smaller, but the ministry is bigger. We have more people in tech ministry than ever. We have a whole other service in the Cafe with a band leading them and at least 130 people in there every week. We have younger people involved, more servants in their 20s than in their 50s and 60s. It is a very different day. But I don’t believe it is a different vision. It’s just harder to see it fulfilled. We have to fight for one another. As Pastor Tim reminds us often, our enemy is seeking to steal, kill, and destroy. Why bear so much of my soul? My vision? The challenge? Because the only way forward is through relationships. Restored. Refreshed. Refocused. The stakes are high. The glory of God can be mirrored and magnified or muffled and minimized. I am wholly committed to make much of Jesus with you. As Paul put it, I am sold out to, “as far as it depends on me, live at peace with everyone.” I am ALL IN to seeing the vision God gave me in the Chapel of Reynoldsburg United Methodist Church in Reynoldsburg, Ohio in the spring of 1995 come alive in ways we have yet to see. And nothing would mean more–to me, or I believe to our Father–than for you to join me. So if you’d like to sing, play, or help with technology… if you’d like to greet or be an usher… if you’d like to be part of praying strategically for the worship of our church… if you’d like to see that vision fulfilled, I would love to hear from you!

 

What’s On the Inside Matters Most

Looking for a decent watermelon is troublesome on the grounds that regardless of how great it looks outwardly, it’s difficult to tell what it’s truly similar to within. We can tap it, pound it and crush it, just to take it home and find that within is not palatable.

On one event when Jesus’ devotees did not wash their hands before eating, the Pharisees turned out to be to a great degree aggravated in light of the fact that it disregarded one of their man-made conventions (Mark 7:1-8). Jesus instantly tested them by saying:

“Great you dismiss the precept of God, that you may keep your custom” (Mark 7:9).

He went so far as to call them “wolves in sheep’s clothing” (Mark 7:6) and clarified that what originates from within an individual is the thing that “pollutes” him, not the a different way (23).

In case we’re not cautious, we can turn out to be so caught up with looking great outwardly, that we overlook what truly tallies. Actually, when we get to where we think “we’ve arrived,” we may wind up plainly glad for ourselves and judgmental toward others. Harboring intensity, sticking to basic states of mind, and having a favorable opinion of ourselves are the sort of debasing things that make us liable of Jesus’ charge of being a “scoundrel.”

The fact of the matter is this current: It’s the things within our heart — our contemplations and states of mind that truly matter to the Lord (cf. 2 Corinthians 10:5; John 4:23-24).

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Theology of the Lord’s Prayer

Written by my friend John Mark Hicks

 

Towards the end of his life, in the early 1960s, Karl Barth changed his mind about the center and heart of Christian ethics. Previously he had written that the key term for his “ethics of reconciliation” was “faithfulness.”  It is the “one total thing,” he wrote, “that is required of man as the Christian life.”[1] However, as he began to prepare his discussion of ethics for publication, he shifted the focus of what is the fundamental obligation of humanity.  Instead of faithfulness, “invocation” became the controlling theme of the Christian life — the central duty of ethics.  He writes:[2]

We thus understand the command, “Call upon me” (Ps. 50:15), to be the basic meaning of every divine command, and we regard invocation according to this command as the basic meaning of all human obedience.  What God permits man, what he expects, wills, and requires of him, is a life of calling upon him.  This life of calling upon God will be a person’s Christian life:  his life in freedom, conversion, faith, gratitude and faithfulness.

Thus, invocation is our response to God’s grace.  It is a response of joy, gratitude and commitment in the light of God’s covenant of grace through Jesus Christ.  While faithfulness remains an important aspect of the Christian life, the over-arching principle is better understood as invocation.

Interestingly, Barth intended to place his reflections on “invocation” between his discussion of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  Baptism is the “foundation of the Christian life” and the Lord’s Supper is its “renewal.”  The former is the “beginning” of God’s history with obedient man, and the latter is the “continuation” of that history through the gracious sustaining of obedient man.  Prayer stands as the ground and substance of both baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  “Invocation” is the central, controlling concept of both and the fundamental characterization of the Christian life.[3]  Between the beginning of our Christian life in baptism and the weekly renewal of that life in the Lord’s Supper, our life is a life of prayer, of invocation.  It is a life of calling on God.

Before Barth, Calvin saw the centrality of prayer as the basis and means of sanctification in the Christian life.  At the end of his discussion of justification and sanctification, and prior to his exposition of the doctrine of election, Calvin titles a chapter with these words:  “Prayer, which is the chief exercise of faith, and by which we daily receive God’s benefits.”[4]  Prayer is the mode of our Christian existence.  It is the means of our sanctification, and all our obedience must involve invocation – a calling upon God. Through prayer we claim the benefits of Christ; we claim the faithfulness of Christ in our place.  And through prayer we commit ourselves to following him; we commit ourselves to discipleship. Our faithfulness, our obedience, flows from our invocation through the covenant of grace which is grounded on the faithfulness of Christ.

Like many before him,[5] including Calvin,[6] Barth took the “Lord’s Prayer” as the clearest revelation of what that life of invocation involves.  It provides a “framework” for the discussion of the Christian life.[7]  Here God gives us “point by point the criterion of a life, action, and work that is determined by prayer” as it is prayed by the one who is “representative of all men before God.”[8]  Jesus, as God identified with man, as Immanuel, prays this prayer with us.  He unites us with himself before God, and gives us the model of approach to God.  As a result of this “kindness,” as Calvin says, we receive tremendous confidence and consolation in that “we know that we are requesting nothing absurd, nothing strange or unseemly — in short, nothing unacceptable to him –since we are asking almost in his own words.”[9]

It is from this “incomparable text,” Barth writes, that “we learn not only that we should pray, but also what we should pray and how we should pray.”[10]  This prayer, then, reflects a theology of prayer.  This prayer, as the center focus of Christian life, reflects what is the essence of theology for the Christian life. This prayer says something about who God is, who we are, what we need and what we are to be.  It is, as Bonhoeffer observed, the “quintessence of prayer.”[11]

Yet, at the same time, prayer is worship.  Unlike the other major symbols of Christianity’s catechisms, like the Apostles’ Creed and the Ten Commandments, this catechetical symbol is specifically worship; it is liturgical.[12]  It is prayer.  The Lord’s Prayer, therefore, also says something about worship.  Here theology and worship intersect.  “What takes place in worship,” Lochman writes, “is not something solemn but theologically unrewarding and irrelevant.”[13]  On the contrary, worship must be theologically rooted.  Though it transcends conceptual thought, worship cannot take place without the most elemental of theological reflection.  The unity of the two, worship and theology, is expressed in the Lord’s Prayer.  Evagrois summarized the point in this way:  “If you are a theologian you truly pray.  If you truly pray you are a theologian.”[14]

 

THE INVOCATION

“Our Father, who is in heaven.”

 

The boldness of the invocation escapes us because it is so familiar.  The Roman Mass attempts to retain the awesome nature of this address when it says audemus dicere, “we boldly say, Our Father.”  The familiarity, intimacy and fellowship of this address must never be relativized or dissolved into mere symbolism.  God invites us to call upon him as “Father.”

The invocation addresses both the proximity and the transcendence of God.  It signals his relationship with and yet his difference from his creatures.  He is “Father,” but he is “in heaven.”  This single phrase embraces both the immanence and transcendence of God, that is, divine relationalability and divine sovereignty.  It affirms that the Creator God who sovereignly rules from heaven is willing to enter into familial relationship with his creatures.  Jesus Christ as Immanuel, God who became man, is the focal point and the center of that intersection between God’s sovereignty and his parental accessibility.  He is the mediator between God and man which makes it possible to cry “Abba, Father.”

The fatherhood of God might be viewed from two standpoints. One perspective, characteristic of a social interpretation of the Lord’s Prayer,[15] is to understand God’s fatherhood in terms of creation and the identification of Jesus with humanity in general. Walter Rauschenbusch, for example, sees it as an expression of Jesus’ “consciousness of human solidarity” where “we are one with fellow-men in all our needs.”[16]  Another perspective is to understand God’s fatherhood redemptively.  The fatherhood of God reflects our oneness with Christ where he shares our humanity and we share his sonship.  God is our father because Christ is his son.[17]

Fatherhood in the Sermon on the Mount seems to reflect the redemptive understanding.  Kingdom people have God as their father. They are the people who do the will of the Father (7:21), who seek to be perfect as the Father is perfect (5:48), who love their enemies (5:44-45), whose light shines in the darkness (5:16), and who are the peacemakers (5:9).  The emphasis on “fatherhood” in the Sermon is redemptive sonship.  God is Father because he has acted in Christ to redeem.  We are sons because we have claimed Christ’s faithfulness as our own.[18]  We address God as Father because God has entered into fellowship with us through his Son.  To pray “Our Father” is to express God’s total involvement in our world for us just as a parent acts for his children.

The invocation, therefore, expresses two things:  our prayer is addressed to a “loving parent” and yet he is “beyond the sphere of our control.”[19]  God is not aloof, but neither is he comprehended.  God is present, and he is in control.  The presupposition of prayer is fundamentally this:  God cares like a parent cares, and he rules like a king.  We pray to, we worship, a Father who not only loves, but who is also able to act as the Sovereign God.  We pray to our Father who is heaven.

 

HEAVENLY TRANSCENDENCE

“May your name be sanctified;

            May your kingdom come;

                                                            May your will be done on earth as it is heaven.” 

 

These lines are both petitions and confessions.  They are petitions in that they call upon God to act.  They are confessions in that they signal our allegiance to the cause of God.

The petitions are a cry that the heavenly reality will break into the earthly course of existence.  It is a prayer for the consummation and the work of God in the world that leads up to the consummation.  It is a yearning for the full manifestation of God’s glory before all the earth.  It is our prayer that God’s name will be sanctified by all the people of the earth; that God’s kingdom will be revealed to all the earth; and that God’s will will be obeyed in all the earth.  We must await the consummation for the fullness of this glory, but we also eagerly seek it’s revelation in the present.  We cry as children to the sovereign God; we ask him to act while we patiently wait.

We pray that the earth may have a “zeal for God’s honor.”[20]  We pray that the name of God will be revered, exalted and worshipped. We pray that God’s rule would be fully revealed in our world.  We pray for an end to injustice, oppression and tragedy.  We pray that the will of God will be fully implemented.  We pray for an end to sin, evil and wickedness.  The petitions “invoke a vision of God’s final triumph over his rebellious creation.”[21]  It is a vision of faith.  A confession that unequivocally affirms “I believe.”  It is the liturgical cry, “Maranatha, Come, O Lord” (1 Cor. 16:22).

We must resist the tendency to view these petitions as “a veiled form of moral instruction” or a “disguised moral injunction.”[22]  They fundamentally appeal for God to act.  The focus is on the gracious activity of God rather than on human works.  He must sanctify his name; he must unveil the kingdom; he must accomplish his will on earth.  It is our petition that God act so that we can know and experience the fullness of his presence, his kingdom and his will.  The consummation is not a “grandiose project of ours;”  it is “the sovereign action of God to restore his creation finally to his rule.”[23]

However, the petitions are an identification of our will with God’s will.  It is our investment in the cause of God.  It is our declaration that God’s designs, his purposes, and his goals are our own.  The prayer presupposes that the one who prays knows what the kingdom entails, what the will of God is, and is committed to its in-breaking.  It is the submission of our desires and priorities to that of God’s.  The heavenly city, the new Jerusalem, becomes for us a “paradigm for our earthly cities.”[24]

While the in-breaking of the heavenly realm is not the result of our own ideals or moral powers, we are the instruments of God’s actions in this present evil age.  The kingdom breaks into the world through the salt and light of God’s people.  As the Sermon on the Mount reflects, the name of the Father is glorified through their good works (5:16); they reflect the righteousness of the Father’s kingdom (5:20); and they do the will of Father (7:21). Our vertical invocation of God in this prayer for God’s healing of creation, his “normalizing of human existence,” implies a horizontal attitude of human obedience to the will of God.  It calls upon us to honor God, seek his kingdom and obey his will.[25] Our vertical prayer implies our horizontal commitment to be God’s instruments in this world.

 

FATHERLY PROXIMITY

“Give us this day our daily bread;

            “Forgive us our debts as we forgive those who areindebted to us;[26]

                        “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the Evil One.”

 

These petitions should not be disconnected from the previous ones.  While the first three petitions are our investment, our allegiance, to the cause of God, the final three petitions reflect God’s commitment, even allegiance in Jesus Christ, to our cause, our needs.  “Because in Jesus Christ God has united our cause (the major and the minor problems of our life) to his cause, we are permitted, nay commanded, to appeal now with simplicity on our behalf.”[27]  God’s cause is united to our cause, and our cause is united to his in Jesus Christ.  The first three petitions proclaim our identification with God’s purposes.  The final three petitions presuppose God’s identification with our needs.  It is Jesus who links God and man; God’s purposes and man’s needs.  We boldly approach God about our needs only because God has drawn us to himself in Jesus Christ.

As we approach these final petitions, it is important to remember the priority of the first three.  Rauschenbusch appropriately notes that:[28]

the desire for the Kingdom of God precedes and outranks everything else in religion, and forms the tacit presupposition of all our wishes for ourselves.  In fact, no one has a clear right to ask for bread for his body or strength for his soul, unless he has identified his will with this all-embracing purpose of God, and intends to use the vitality of body and soul in the attainment of that end.

This is consonant with the saying of Jesus in Matthew 6:33:  “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (the first three petitions) “and all these things will be added to you” (the final three petitions).  The fundamental goal of man is not self-exaltation, or self-promotion, but the glory of God.  “What is the chief end of man?” asks the Westminster Shorter Catechism in its first question.  Answer:  “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.”  Prayer first glorifies God and then seeks God’s faithfulness to his witness to us in Christ.  In his faithfulness, God responds to our needs.

Our needs, as expressed by the final three petitions, are bread, forgiveness and deliverance.  These needs, if they are not met, are hindrances to our commitment to the cause of God.  The need for bread, the need for food, shelter and clothing, creates worry and uncertainty in our hearts.  It threatens to overpower our trust in God and undermine our confidence in his care.  “O you of little faith,” Jesus says, “your heavenly Father knows that you need them” (Mt 6:30,32).  The need for forgiveness, the need for the assurance of God’s grace, creates a sense of guilt that is debilitating and crippling to our best efforts for happiness.  The need for deliverance, the need for spiritual power in overcoming Satan’s advances, creates a sense of helplessness and futility that undermines our resolve and commitment to God’s cause.

The final three petitions, then, are a prayer of defense.  It is a cry for help.  It expresses our utter dependency upon God. It is a hurting and helpless child’s appeal to his Father.  We are too fragile to defeat Satan; too impotent to redeem ourselves or even to feed ourselves.  Our petition is for God to act to remove these potential barriers to our commitment.  Prayer, therefore, addresses God about human needs, and this exemplifies the place of prayer.  “Its context is our need or necessity before God.”[29]

Yet, this prayer concerning our needs is not like the prayers of the pagans who rant and rave in order to insure that they will be heard.  We do not have to manipulate our God into caring about us.  He does not have to be badgered into meeting our needs.  On the contrary, our Father knows what we need before we ask him (Mt 6:8).  Just as the Father loves his creation, and feeds his birds and clothes his lilies, so the children of the Father are confident about his care for them and are assured that the Father will feed and clothe them (Mt. 6:25-32).  We know that God will give good gifts to those who ask him (Mt 7:11).

The presupposition of these final petitions is the involvement of God in our present world.  It assumes that God does give food to the needy.  It assumes that God moves to forgive.  It assumes that God delivers his children from the Tempter.  When we ask, God responds (Mt. 7:7-8).  When God responds, God acts in this world to answer our prayer.  He feeds his children just as he feeds the birds of the air (Mt 6:26).  He forgives his children just as he teaches us to forgive others (Mt 6:14-15).  He delivers us from the present evil of the day (Mt 6:34).  Prayer assumes the sustaining and providential work of God in his world.

More than that, it assumes an intimacy with the lives of his children.  God is deeply aware of and sensitive to our spiritual struggles.  He is able to keep us from being overpowered by evil; he can deliver us from the Evil One himself.  In language perhaps based upon the Lord’s Prayer, 2 Peter 2:9 assures us that God knows how to deliver the godly from trials.  We have the confidence that God knows our limitations (cf. 1 Cor. 10:13) and that he is both willing and able to supply us with the power and strength we need to overcome the Evil One.

We need food to sustain our bodily existence; we need forgiveness to remain in fellowship with God; and we need power to overcome the One who is intent on defeating us.  The Lord’s Prayer recognizes these needs; it commands that we petition God for them; and it assumes the gracious attitude of a heavenly Father who is both willing and able to supply them.

 

CONCLUSION

 

In 1952 Albert Einstein was asked a question by a Princeton doctoral student that perhaps many of you have thought about from time to time.  He asked:  “What is left in the world for original dissertation research?”  Einstein’s response is insightful.  He said, “Find out about prayer!  Somebody must find out about prayer.”[30]

The secularist in our post-modern and post-Christian society struggles with the concept of prayer, and in this regard, many in our congregations have become secularists.  Prayer for many is simply a means of self-actualization.  It is self-induced therapy; a psychological couch which emboldens us to seek change in the world.  Secularized prayer is simply a method of self-motivation and self-comfort.  It does not, as Coleman writes, “intend to move [God] to intervene or to change [an] external circumstance.  The [secularist] prays for justice, healing, comfort, peace, thinking that these things will be accomplished if he does them.”[31] Secularized prayer looks to the human achiever rather than the divine giver; it redeems by works rather than grace.

The Lord’s Prayer is rooted in the grace of a heavenly Father, and in the sovereign power of that heavenly Father.[32]  Christian prayer, as Lochman writes, “is more than an instrument and expression of the pious (or, in secular terms, the meditative) self-understanding.”[33]  It is an expression of the life of faith, “the chief exercise of faith,” as Calvin put it.  It is trusting in the redeeming love and sovereign power of the heavenly Father who has made our cause his cause.  This trust is objectively expressed in baptism and the Lord’ Supper.  There we are assured and we faithfully believe in the reality of God’s redemptive love for us in Jesus Christ.

The Lord’s Prayer expresses our yearning for the coming of God and our need for God’s involvement in our life in the here and now. As we see the pain and the suffering, the hurt and the sin of the world around us, we groan for the consummation of God’s kingdom when all pain and sorrow will be abolished.   It is a cry of trust, “I believe.”  As we see our own sinful and powerless souls, we groan for the healing and forgiving power of God’s love in our hearts.  We sense within ourselves the struggle with the flesh and the worry of materialism.  It is a cry of weakness, “Help my unbelief.”  In the Lord’s Prayer, we commit ourselves to God’s cause, to his kingdom and his righteousness, knowing that he has already committed himself to our cause in Jesus Christ.  The Lord’s Prayer, therefore, affirms God as our gracious Father and confesses our utter dependence upon him as his children so that we receive all things as from his hand.[34]

The Lord’s Prayer, then, underlines the truth of that beautiful refrain of one of our old hymns, “Its me, Its me, Its me, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer.”

In an almost anticlimactic way, I want to link theology and worship with praxis by offering two suggestions.  Both of these suggestions are grounded in Jesus’ presentation of this prayer as a model for his disciples.  The first suggestion is to center our personal, private prayers around this controlling model.  Our own prayers can self-consciously follow this pattern of God’s glory and human needs.  Invested with theological maturity, the Lord’s Prayer has a depth that will satisfy all our prayer needs.  Yet, in its simplicity, it is available to all believers of whatever age or maturity.

My second suggestion is to incorporate this prayer into the public life of the church.  The prayer is liturgical in nature. It can be used to focus our worship and the corporate prayers of the church.  Its use in repsonive readings or unison prayer can yield both a sense of corporate solidarity and transcendence in worship that is badly needed in our increasingly secularized assemblies.

As a final word, let me leave you with Simone Weil’s conclusion to her reflections on the Lord’s Prayer.[35]  It is a word that I have found true in my own personal devotions using the Lord’s Prayer.

The Our Father contains all possible petitions; we cannot conceive of any prayer not already contained in it.  It is to prayer what Christ is to humanity.  It is impossible to say it once through, giving the fullest possible attention to each word, without a change, infinitesimal perhaps but real, taking place in the soul.

[1]Karl Barth, The Doctrine of Reconciliation:  Church Dogmatics IV/4 (Edinburgh:  T. & T. Clark, 1969), p. 285.

[2]Karl Barth, The Christian Life:  Church Dogmatics IV/4, Lecture Fragments.  Translated by Geoffrey W. Bromiley.  Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans, 1981.  The significance of this adjustment by Barth is noted by Donald K. McKim, “Karl Barth on the Lord’s Prayer,” Center Journal 2 (1982), 81-99.

[3]Ibid., pp. 45-46.

[4]John Calvin, Calvin:  Institutes of the Christian Religion, LCC 21, 2 vols, ed. John T. McNeill and trans. by Ford Lewis Battles (Philadelphia:  Westminster Press, 1960), 3.20/II:850.  See Ronald S. Wallace, Calvin’s Doctrine of the Christian Life (Edinburgh:  Oliver & Boyd, Ltd., 1959), pp. 271-295.

[5]Tertullian called it an “abridgement of the entire Gospel” (“On Prayer,” Tertullian:  Disciplinary, Moral and Ascetical Works, FOTC, 40, trans. by R. Arbesmann, E. J. Daly, and E. A. Quain [New York:  Fathers of the Church, Inc., 1959], 1.6/159); Origen, On Prayer, ACW, 19, trans. by J. J. O’Meara (New York:  Newman Press, 1954); Cyprian, On the Lord’s Prayer, ACW, 36, trans. by R. J. Deferrari (New York:  Newman Press, 1958); Gregory of Nyssa, The Lord’s Prayer, ACW, 18, trans. by H. C. Graef (New York:  Newman Press, 1954); Augustine, The Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, ACW, 5, trans. by J. J. Jepson (New York:  Newman Press, 1948); and Maximus Confessor, “Commentary on Our Father,” Maximus Confessor:  Selected Writings, CWS (New York:  Paulist, 1985); Thomas Aquinas, “Exposition of the Lord’s Prayer,” The Catechetical Instructions of St. Thomas, trans. by J. B. Collins (New York:  Wagner); Martin Luther’s “Small Catechism” and “Large Catechism,” The Book of Concord, trans. by Theodore G. Tappert (Philadelphia:  Fortress Press, 1959); John Calvin, “The Catechism of the Church of Geneva,” Calvin:  Theological Treatises, trans. by J. K. S. Reid (Philadelphia:  Westminster Press, 1954); and Balthasar Hubmaier, “A Brief “Our Father,” Balthasar Hubmaier:  Theologian of Anabaptism, trans. and ed. H. Wayne Pipkin and John H. Yoder (Scottdale, PA:  Herald Press, 1989); and for an oral exposition of the Lord’s Prayer among a nonliterate populace by an illiterate minister, see Russel Snyder-Penner, “Hans Nadler’s Oral Exposition of the Lord’s Prayer,” Mennonite Quarterly Review 65 (1991), 393-406.

[6]Calvin, Institutes, 3.20.34-49/II:897-917.

[7]Barth, Christian Life, p. 45.

[8]Ibid, p. 44.

[9]Calvin, Institutes, 3.20.34/II:897.

[10]Barth, Christian Life, p. 44.  Barth calls the Lord’s Prayer our “apprenticeship in true prayer” (Prayer According to the Catechisms of the Reformation, trans. by Sara F. Terrien [Philadelphia:  Westminster Press, 1952], p. 25).

[11]Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, trans. by R. H. Fuller (New York:  Macmillan, 1959), p. 148.

[12]The evidence of its liturgical use in the early church is scanty, but significant.  By the mid-fourth century, it is explicitly part of the liturgy of the Palestinian church; cf. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures, FOTC, 61, trans. by L. P. McCauley (New York:  Fathers of the Church, Inc., 1963), pp. 170-179.  However, the Didache (Early Christian Fathers, LCC, 1 [Philadelphia:  Westminster, 1953], pp. 171-179) evidences its use in the liturgy of the church by placing it (8:2-3) between baptism (7:1-4) and the Lord’s Supper (9:1-5), and its place in Matthew and Luke indicate a role in the teaching of church if not its Liturgy. T. W. Manson, “The Lord’s Prayer,” Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 38 (1956), 99-113, 436-448 gives a history of the liturgical use of the prayer.

[13]Jan Milic Lochman, The Lord’s Prayer, trans. by Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans, 1990), p. 2.

[14]Evagrois, On Prayer, 60, as quoted by Berthold in Maximus Confessor, p. 120, n.13.

[15]Cf. Donald W. Shriver, Jr., “The Prayer that Spans the World. An Exposition:  Social Ethics and the Lord’s Prayer,” Interpretation 21 (1967), 274-288.

[16]Walter Rauscenbusch, Prayers of the Social Awakening (Boston: Pilgrim Press, 1909), pp. 17-18.

[17]So Calvin, Institutes, 3.20.36/II:899:  “He, while he is the true Son, has of himself been given us as a brother that what he has of his own nature may become ours by benefit of adoption if we embrace this great blessing with sure faith.”

[18]This does not deny that the “fatherhood” of God as creator or the humanity of Christ in his self-identification with us does not have social implications.  Certainly Matthew 25 speaks to this dimension.  However, I do not think this is the point of the invocation in the Lord’s Prayer.

[19]Richard J. Dillon, “On the Christian Obedience of Prayer (Matthew 6:5-13),” Worship 59 (1985), 420.  I have taken the below designation of the “You-petitions” as “heavenly transcendence” and the designation of the “We-petitions” as “fatherly proximity” from Dillon who believes that “the alternation of theological motifs, heavenly transcendence and fatherly proximity, stand out plainly in the two sections of the Lord’s Prayer” (p. 421).

[20]Barth’s description of the first petition, Christian Life, p. 111.  Cf. also Lochman, p. 37.

[21]Dillon, p. 421.

[22]Krister Stendahl, “Your Kingdom Come,” Cross Currents 32 (1982), 260, 262.

[23]Dillon, p. 421.

[24]Lochman, p. 82.

[25]Barth, The Christian Life, p. 212.

[26]I translate “as we forgive” in the present tense based upon the suggestion of Joachim Jeremias, The Lord’s Prayer, translated by John Reumann (Philadelphia:  Fortress Press, 1964), p. 14.  See also J. M. Ford, “The Forgiveness Clause in the Matthean Form of the Our Father,” Zeitschrift für die Neuetestamentliche Wissenschaft 59 (1968), 127-131.

[27]Barth, Prayer, pp. 39.

[28]Rauschenbusch, p. 19.

[29]Lochman, p. 5.

[30]As told by J. Harold Ellens, “Communication Theory and Petitionary Prayer,” Journal of Pastoral Theology 5 (1977), 48.

[31]Richard J. Coleman, Issues of Theological Conflict: Evangelicals and Liberals (Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans, 1972), p. 195.

[32]This perspective is emphasized by Philip B. Harner, “Matthew 6:5-15,” Interpretation 41 (1987), 173-178.

[33]Lochman, p. 9.

[34]This summary is based on the wording of Ellens, p. 53.

[35]Simone Weil, Waiting for God, trans. by Emma Craufurd (San Francisco:  Harper & Row, Publishers, 1951), p. 226.

WOMEN IN THE ASSEMBLY

First presented at the Institute for Biblical Research, Regional Meeting, Jackson, MS in December, 1990. Originally intended to be a chapter in a Harding University Lectureship book but was never published.

 

 

WOMEN IN THE ASSEMBLY:

ISSUES AND OPTIONS (FIRST CORINTHIANS 14:34-35)

 

John Mark Hicks

Magnolia Bible College

 

The number of ordained women among Protestant clergy is growing. Many Protestant denominations now favor the ordination of women. Between eight and ten per cent of the ministers in denominations which sanction the ordination of women are female. Within the total context of Protestant churches, between five and seven per cent of all ministers are female. The most aggressive of the Protestant denominations have been the United Methodist Church, the United Presbyterian Church and the United Church of Christ. The number of women enrolled in Seminary has grown from ten per cent in 1972 to twenty-six per cent in 1985.[1]

 

There is little doubt that the role of women in the church is one of the major issues of the 1990s. Some conservative groups and the churches of Christ have been resistant to any change. But the cultural and social pressures are growing. The pressures are not only external, but internal. In a survey conducted among baby-boomers in the churches of Christ, the area where they hoped for the most change was in the role of women. Thirty-three percent also added that they were displeased with the current definition and interpretations of Scripture as they related to the roles of men and women in church leadership.[2] These pressures force us to look again at the text of Scripture in order to re- examine our traditional stances. Have we correctly interpreted these texts? Whether we have or not, re-examination is a must for those who seek to be biblical in their thinking and practice.

 

The letter of 1 Corinthians is a critical text in the discussion of the role of women in the New Testament church. 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 and 14:34-35 along with 1 Timothy 2:8-15 are the major restrictive texts in the New Testament regarding the public leadership of women. It is within the context of interpreting these texts that the major debate lies. The purpose of this chapter is to survey the various approaches that have been made to the Corinthian texts, particularly 1 Corinthians 14:34-35. It is not my intention to build a systematic, constructive case for a particular understanding of these texts. Rather, my approach is to survey the problem and possible resolutions. The reader is left to his own thinking and searching for ultimate solutions. Sufficient resources are contained in the footnotes to pursue a line of thinking introduced in the text.

 

  1. THE CONTEXT AND PROBLEM

 

The Context

 

Paul learned about the problems in Corinth from two sources. He had received a letter from them in which they had asked him some specific questions (7:1), and some personal representatives from Corinth had visited him (e.g., Chloe’s household in 1:11; Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus in 16:17). Apparently, Paul responds to the information from Chloe’s household in chapters 1- 6. When answering a specific question in the letter, he introduces a formula to indicate what he is doing (cf. 7:1,25; 8:1; 12:1; 16:1). For instance, when he answers the question about eating meats, he writes: “Now about food sacrificed to idols” (8:1).

 

When Paul raises the issue of wearing head-coverings and the problems surrounding the Lord’s Supper in chapter 11 he does not use the “letter formula.” This probably indicates that Paul is responding to something which he had heard from one of the Corinthians who had visited him in Ephesus. The two subjects are linked together by a common phraseology: “I praise you.” Concerning the head-covering, Paul praises them because they have dealt with the problem in a proper manner (11:2-16) though some appeared contentious about it (v.16). Concerning the Lord’s Supper, he rebukes them for mishandling the situation (11:17-34). The issue of head-covering is a complicated one.[3] Corinth was a place of mixed cultures — Roman, Greek and Jewish. The use of a cultural device (whether it be hairstyle or head-covering) would be a point of contention between those of differing cultural backgrounds. However, Paul compliments their handling of the difficulty.

 

Men are to uncover their head while praying and prophesying so as to honor their head who is Christ (11:4, 7). Women are to cover their head while praying and prophesying so as to honor their head who is man (11:5, 10). The issue is one of honor or dishonor. The proper cultural respect must be paid to one’s head. Man must honor Christ by how he dresses and woman must honor man by how she dresses. The principle of honor and dishonor is rooted in the act of creation itself (11:8, 9) and in the respect to be shown before the angels, God’s providential caretakers and observers of worship (11:10). However, the position of women must not be exploited. She has her rights (11:10), and man is not independent of her (11:11, 12). The point is that because of the way God created humankind as male and female (11:3, 7-8), the woman must be sure that she expresses the proper honor due to her head through the appropriate cultural customs within the ethos in which she lives. Therefore, she must cover her head, and at the same time that gives her the right to pray and prophesy (11:10).

 

The use and abuse of spiritual gifts was a primary problem in the Corinthian church. The church itself had raised the question in their letter to Paul (12:1). Chapters 12-14 discuss this problem in some detail. In particular, chapter 14 deals with the problem in the context of the public assembly of the church. It envisions a situation where the “whole church comes together” (14:23; cf. v.26) and where unbelievers (visitors) could easily walk into the assembly (14:24). It was neither secret nor private. It was where the body of believers in Corinth gathered to meet for worship and edification (14:26). Paul is concerned about who leads and how the assembly is led in their praise and worship of God.

 

Paul addresses their problem by specifically regulating the use of two spiritual gifts: tongue-speaking and prophesying (14:27-33, 39, 40). Concerning tongue-speakers, he writes that no more than two or three should speak, they should speak one at a time, and all of them should be silent if there is no interpreter (14:27-28). Concerning prophesying, he writes that no more than two or three should speak, the other prophets should evaluate their prophesying, and if one of the prophets should receive a revelation during the assembly, the others should be silent (14:29-33).

 

In 14:34 Paul regulates the speaking of women. Within the assembly, as in all the congregations of the saints (cf. NIV punctuation), the “women should remain silent.” This regulation is based upon two points. First, it is rooted in the principle of submission. They are not to speak, but they “must be in submission” according to the Law. Second, “it is disgraceful for a woman to speak” in the assembly.

 

The Problem

 

It is evident that on the surface there is a major problem of consistency between 11:5 and 14:34. In 11:5 Paul assumes and approves the fact that women do sometimes pray and prophesy. He simply regulates their dress while carrying out those activities. However, in 14:34 Paul forbids women to speak in the assembly. Does Paul forbid in 14:34 what he has previously approved in 11:5? The answer is obviously, “No.” How, then, are we to understand these texts?

 

The purpose of this chapter is to survey the various options that are available to the interpreter and critically assess their value. This is a tedious and difficult process, and it is fraught with many potholes. This chapter can only tentatively and cautiously approach the difficulty.

 

  1. INTERPRETATIVE APPROACHES TO 1 CORINTHIANS 14:34-35

 

There are seven major understandings of 1 Corinthians 14:34- 35. The sheer number of the alternatives indicates that the text must be approached carefully. Each position is stated succintly with a brief response. The reader may consult sources cited in the footnotes to find full statements of the arguments on both sides. Usually each representative of an approach will respond to two or three other alternatives. As a result, I have not always felt the need to document specific responses in the footnotes.

 

Approach One. Some argue that the text is an interpolation added by an ancient scribe.[4] It is supposed that very early in the textual history of 1 Corinthians that a scribe added a marginal gloss to the text in order to harmonize it with 1 Timothy 2:8-15, and later that marginal gloss was placed in its present position. Some scribes placed the marginal gloss after verse 40. The evidence for this is that the Western manuscript tradition places verses 34 & 35 after verse 40. It is also argued that the verses interrupt the flow of the context, they contradict 11:5, and some phraseology (e.g., “as the Law says”) appears foreign to Paul.

 

However, there is no textual tradition for the omission of these verses. Every known manuscript contains them. While the Western text moves the verses to the end of the chapter, they do not omit them. Their transposition is best explained by the difficulty of the text itself. Because it does seem to interrupt the context, an early scribe in the Western church moved it to the end of verse 40.[5]

 

Approach Two. Some argue that Paul is quoting traditionalist opponents in Corinth.[6] In 11:5, 10 Paul approves the action of women praying and prophesying in the assembly. However, this was not acceptable to all the Corinthians, especially the Jewish Christians there. Just as he had done earlier in the letter (cf. punctuation in NIV at 1:12; 6:12, 13; 7:1 [note]; 8:1 [note]), Paul quotes his opponents and responds to them. His response comes in 14:36 and is indicated by a Greek particle which signifies rejection of 14:34-35. This understanding of 14:36 would be: “Nonsense! You men (masculine gender) did not originate the Word of God, and, nonsense! you men (masculine gender) are not the only ones to receive it.” Consequently, Paul rejects the Jewish restrictions and authorizes women to speak in the assembly.

 

However, there is no explicit indication in the text that verse 36 is addressed only to men. The Greek masculine gender may include women. The Greek particle is disjunctive, but it may be a response to Corinthian independence in the face of the universal practice of the church given in verses 33 & 34. Are the Corinthians the only ones to receive revelation? They are acting contrary to the practice of the whole church itself. Further, this would be the longest quotation from Paul’s opponents in the letter with the shortest response. There is no precedent for a quotation with such detailed argumentation (note all the “for’s”). As Carson argues Paul’s quotations of his opponents are short, “followed by sustained qualification,” and Paul’s response is unambiguous in the context.[7] The argument here does not meet any three of these criteria.

 

Approach Three. Some argue that the text is a cultural accommodation based upon rabbinic practices in the synagogue or cultural mores.[8] In order to accommodate the sensibilities of Jewish Christians in the congregations, Paul followed the practice of the synagogue by not permitting women to speak. Women did not take an active part in the synagogue. But apparently the reason was not based upon divine prohibition as much as culture and propriety.[9] Paul does not regard speaking by women as sinful, but as “disgraceful” or “shameful”. It is argued that Paul sees the issue in terms of culture much like 11:6 where it is disgraceful for a woman to have her head shaved.

 

However, this understanding of “the Law” is unknown in Paul. “Law” here has the definite article; it is “the Law”. In 14:21, the only other reference to “Law” in the chapter, Paul quotes Isaiah 28:11, 12 and refers to the fact that “it is written in the Law.” It is difficult to believe that Paul would have referred to a rabbinic tradition with such definiteness and authority in order to reject a practice he had just approved in chapter 11. Further, “shameful” does not necessarily imply sinfulness, but neither does it necessarily exclude it. Paul’s reference to the Law is not in support of the silence of women, but in reference to their submission. The Old Testament, according to 1 Peter 3:5, 6, does teach submission. It is that principle which Paul applies to the Corinthian situation.

 

Approach Four. Some argue that Paul prohibits the babbling and disorderly conduct of women who were interrupting and disturbing the service. Catherine Kroeger has argued that the constant shouting and wailing of women known to be part of some of the Greco-Roman cults was the problem in Corinth.[10] The influence of pagan cults in the Corinthian church indicates that this is a potential problem. Where complete silence is enjoined, and where an assembly is gathered where no meaningless noise is permitted (14:9, 11-13, 28), Paul’s prohibition against the babblings of women makes sense. In addition, it is argued that the Greek term for “speak” (laleo), may simply refer to unintelligible speech or babbling.

 

However, the contextual usage of the verb laleo indicates that meaningful speech is in view. While it may refer to babbling in some contexts, this is not its normal meaning. There is no indication that the women were being disruptive to the assembly except in the asking of questions. It is simply assumed that there are babbling women. Further, why prohibit all women from speaking if it is only the babbling of a few women who are the problem? Even more, the prohibition is in line with what is practiced in all the congregations of the saints. Are we to believe that cultic babbling was a problem in other congregations as well? Any explanation which limits the prohibition to the Corinthian church is suspect since Paul apparently draws upon the universal practice of the church for his argument.

 

Approach Five. Some argue that the text specifically relates to the wives of the prophets.[11] Since the term “women” may be translated “wives,” it is argued that Paul is regulating the role of the prophet’s wives. Verse 35 may indicate that the wives were interrupting their husband’s prophecies by asking questions. They are specifically told to wait till they get home to ask those questions.

 

However, this relativizes Paul’s injunction to a narrow concern. Is it true that “in all the congregations of the saints” the prophet’s wives cannot ask questions in the assembly? May single women ask questions? The argument rests upon the assumption that Paul is forbidding disorderly speaking.

 

Approach Six. Some argue that Paul prohibits all public speaking by women where they exercise leadership over the assembly (including both inspired and uninspired speech).[12] Some would extend the prohibition to total silence on the part of the women so that they could not even ask any question during the assembly, say “Amen” at the appropriate time, or make any sound. It is argued that the term laleo refers to public leadership in the assembly throughout the context of chapter 14, and that Paul is prohibiting female leadership in the public assembly of the church. This leadership includes leading singing, leading in prayer, reading Scripture and exercising any spiritual gift in the assembly.

 

The most obvious difficulty with this interpretation is Paul’s discussion in chapter 11. Does Paul condemn in 14:34 what he approved in 11:5? This seems to set up an explicit contradiction in Paul. The value of this approach to 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 will depend on how well it can be reconciled with 1 Corinthians 11.

 

Approach Seven. Some argue that Paul is explicitly prohibiting women from participating in the judging of the prophets.[13] It is argued that the context is specific. He is regulating the use of tongue-speaking and prophesying. Indeed, verse 39 uses a closure device that involves tongue-speaking and prophesying specifically. This indicates that those two activities were Paul’s main concern. The issue of women must be subordinated to either one or both of those issues. Verses 34-35, it is argued, relate to his regulation of prophesying. There are two parts to the prophetic task in these verses: (1) the prophesying itself (v. 29a); and (2) the judging or evaluation of what other prophets said (v. 29b). He regulates the prophesying itself in verses 30-33, but in verses 34-35 he regulates the judging of the prophets. Women are permitted to prophesy as they are empowered by the Spirit, but they are not permitted to evaluate the prophecies of others since this would involve them in a teaching function within in the church. Women are not permitted to teach men in an authoritative context or manner (cf. 1 Tim. 2:12). Women are not to ask questions during this time because it might be perceived as judging.

 

However, verse 34 is considerably removed from the topic of “judging” in verse 29. Verse 33a might be considered a closure for the topic of tongue-speaking and prophecy, and verse 33b might be considered a new topic sentence. Further, this seems to limit the verb laleo in a way that is inconsistent with the rest of the chapter.

 

III. HARMONIZING 1 CORINTHIANS 11 & 14

 

Proffered Resolutions

 

Any of the interpretative options for 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 which permit women to pray and prophesy will resolve the tension between chapters 11 and 14. In fact, only Approach Six prohibits women from leading the assembly through prayer and prophecy. It appears to me that Approach Six is the best alternative if a satisfactory explanation can be given to the apparent contradiction between 11:5 and 14:35. The potential resolutions are offered here, and the principles for their criticism are set forth in the next section.

 

Resolution One. Some argue that the meeting described in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 is not a mixed assembly.[14] Since 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 forbids the public leadership of women over men (in mixed assemblies), 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 must describe a situation where women prayed and prophesied without men present.

 

Resolution Two. Some argue that 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 depicts a private, informal meeting whereas 1 Corinthians 14 depicts a public, open meeting of the whole church.[15] In this understanding, Paul would permit the exercise of spiritual gifts and leadership roles for women in private meetings, but in the public assembly of the church these activities are prohibited because of the nature of public leadership.

 

Resolution Three. Some argue that Paul does not condone the public praying and prophesying of women in 1 Corinthians 11 even though he mentions it. While Paul is dealing with the mixed, public assembly of the church, he only deals with one issue at a time. In chapter 11 he concentrates on the issue of head- covering, but in chapter 14 addresses the issue of speaking. This parallels the way Paul handled the controversy over the eating of meats sacrificed to idols in chapters 8 and 10. Just as he seemingly permits the eating of those meats in chapter 8, he explicitly forbids it in chapter 10. In same way, just as he seemingly permits the praying and prophesying of women in the assembly in chapter 11, he explicitly forbids it in chapter 14.[16]

 

Resolution Four. Some argue that Paul implicitly forbids women from praying and prophesying since they would have to remove the head-covering to do so.[17] It would be inconsistent for women to lead the public assembly while covered since they would be exercising authority and symbolizing submission at one and the same time. Thus, when Paul forbids them to pray and prophesy uncovered, he implicitly forbids them to pray and prophesy at all.

 

Key Principles for Interpreting the Texts

 

The resolution of the apparent contradiction between 14:34 and 11:5 is difficult. None of the four resolutions discussed above are completely satisfactory. Are we left at an impasse? Is there no viable understanding of these texts? The purpose of this section is to lay down four key interpretative principles by which these texts should be understood and the above “resolutions” might be critiqued.

 

First, any interpretation which is based upon the premise that Paul does not authorize women to pray and prophesy in 1 Corinthians 11 is misguided. It must be admitted that there is no hint of disapproval in what Paul says. In fact, Paul heads this section with a note of praise about how the Corinthians had conducted themselves on the issue of head-covering. The praise that Paul offers indicates approval of the practices cited.

 

In addition, 1 Corinthians 11:10 provides sufficient ground for this interpretative key. This is a difficult text for two reasons: (1) its reference to the angels is ambiguous; and (2) its reference to “authority” (“sign of authority”, NIV) is perplexing. The second issue is the important one for the present. Verse 10 stands in contrast to verse 7. According to the verse 7, “a man ought not to cover his (physical) head”. Verse 10, using the same language, says, “the woman ought to have authority over (or, ‘on’) her (physical) head.” Clearly, the text is referring to that fact that the man is to be uncovered while praying and prophesying and the woman is to be covered while praying and prophesying. Yet, when he refers to the male, Paul uses the term “cover,” but when he refers to the female, Paul uses the term “authority.”

 

The exact phrase is “has authority.” Many interpret this in a passive sense, that is, while wearing the covering, she wears the sign of her husband’s authority. She “has authority” in the sense that she honors her husband through the covering. But this cannot be read into the term “authority.” The text is an active voice — it is the woman who possesses or has the authority. “Authority” is not the term that is used in reference to male/female relationships elsewhere in the New Testament. Rather, the key to understanding this is found in the use of the phrase elsewhere in 1 Corinthians itself. In every other instance the phrase “has authority” refers to the right of the individual to exercise his/her prerogative. For example, “Don’t we have the right to food and drink? Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us?” (1 Cor. 9:4,5). The phrase is used five times in 1 Corinthians 9:1-12. It refers to the right of the apostle to exercise his options. In same way, the same phrase in 1 Corinthians 11:10 means that the woman who is covered has the right to pray and prophesy in the assembly.[18]

 

Consequently, any interpretation which ignores the right of women to pray and prophesy in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 is misguided. The parallel drawn between this and the eating of meats is mistaken at this point (as well as others).[19] Paul does not simply leave his view unstated in chapter 11, and then states in chapter 14. Rather, he explicitly approves the activities of the women in chapter 11. This point nullifies attempts to resolve the difficulty through Resolutions Three and Four.

 

Second, any interpretation which separates the assembly of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 from the assembly of 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 is flawed. Resolutions One and Two attempt to alleviate the tension by resorting to a “Ladies’ Only” meeting or by relegating the meeting in chapter 11 to a private assembly. If the case for connecting the assembly which involved the Lord’s Supper in 11:17- 34 with the assembly in 11:2-16 can be established, then neither of these resolutions would be viable. In the context of 1 Corinthians, the placement of the discussion of the head-coverings and the Lord’s Supper is topical. Neither of these subjects were contained in the letter the Corinthians had written, and both arose from Paul’s visitors from Corinth. In 11:2 Paul praises them for keeping the “traditions” and then in 11:17, 23 refuses to praise them for not keeping a particular tradition well. The use of the term “traditions” in 11:2 and 11:23 connects the two sections together under a single topic. After discussing why Christians should avoid pagan worship (10:14-22), Paul turns his attention to Christian worship (11:2- 14:40). The parallel structures of 11:2-16 and 11:17-34 indicate that they are talking about the same assembly. There is no break in the thought or context. Indeed, the similar phraseology of “praise over traditions kept or not kept” links the two together. In addition, the word “assembly” or “church” in 1 Corinthians 11:16 links the assembly in 11:2-16 with the gathering of the church (assembly) in 11:17-34.

 

Further, 11:2-16 assumes: (1) a public assembly; and (2) a mixed assembly. Both of these are indicated by the nature of the problem. It focuses on male/female relationships (mixed nature) in the context of praying and prophesying (worship). Prophesying, as Carson notes, is something that happens “through believers in the context of the church where prophecy may be evaluated” (14:23-29).[20] It is intended for the gathered church; it is not a private experience (unlike tongues may be), but a public one. Further, 11:16 deems the entire discussion a “church” (assembly!) concern, and not merely a private one. The church in Ephesus (from where Paul was writing) apparently followed the same practices as Paul was recommending to the Corinthians. This universalizing of a practice, like that in 14:33-34, indicates that he is talking about the assembly.

 

The main topic of discussion indicates that the assembly was mixed, public one. The issue of head-covering immediately becomes nonsensical when the meeting is regarded as private or unmixed (women only). Why do women need to wear the head-covering when no men are present, or when they are in the privacy of their homes? The issue of head-covering has to do with public decorum and public appearance. To remove the “public” aspect of the discussion is to remove the problem altogether. As Carson states, “the restriction (about head-covering, JMH) is coherent only in a public setting.”[21]

 

The postulation of a “Ladies’ Bible Class” for prophetesses is a good example of Biblical gymnastics. Acts 2:17 states clearly that women will prophesy in the kingdom of God, and Acts 21:9 specifies that Philip’s four daughters were prophetesses. Further, it is clear that prophetesses could exercise their function when men were present. This was certainly the case with Anna (Luke 2:36-38). It is unnecessary to postulate an assembly with an unmixed audience when Scripture points us to the functioning of a prophetess in the Temple itself as well as prophetesses in ancient Israel (e.g., Miriam, Huldah, Deborah).

 

Third, any interpretation which interprets the “praying and prophesying” of 1 Corinthians 11 in a different sense than that used in 1 Corinthians 14 is flawed. Some have argued that “praying” in 1 Corinthians 14 is inaudible, but this certainly cannot be the case with “prophesying.” Prophesying is an audible activity which leads and edifies an assembly. When “praying and prophesying” is used in chapter 11, it anticipates Paul’s discussion in chapter 14. Prayer in chapter 11 may be identified with the speaking in tongues in 14:14-15, but it is probably broader. As such prayer in chapter 11 ought to be considered audible since one thing it anticipates is praying in tongues before the assembled church (14:17). However, the key term for Paul is prohesying, and that is for the express benefit of the assembled church (14:4-5, 22). The use of these terms also binds the two contexts together.

 

Fourth, any interpretation which results in 1 Corinthians 14 forbidding what is permitted in 1 Corinthians 11 is flawed. It is not reasonable to supposed that Paul flatly contradicts himself with such a short space on such a significant question. As much as Approach Six appears to be most reasonable (though not without its own contextual problems), it should be rejected because it cannot find a reasonable solution to the tension between chapters 11 and 14. It seems to prohibit in chapter 14 what Paul permits in chapter 11. However, if it is clear that Paul permits women to audibly pray and prophesy in the public, mixed assemblies of the church, what is it that Paul is prohibiting in chapter 14? Of the approaches discussed in this chapter, it is probably best to understand the text along the lines of Approach Seven. Yet, it too is not without its difficulties.

 

CONCLUSION

 

Paul authorizes women to “pray and prophesy” in the mixed, public assemblies of the church. Since 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 and 11:17-34 are discussing the same assembly, it is apparent that Paul is giving his approval to a situation where men and women “pray and prophesy” together. It is the assembly where the Lord’s Supper could be observed. It is an assembly where men and women are both present. It is an assembly where men and women both “prayed and prophesied.”

 

Paul prohibits women from involving themselves in the teaching functions of the mixed, public assemblies of the church. Paul does prohibit something significant in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35. It is a universal rule among the churches. It is rooted in the principle of submission that is taught in the Old Testament. It is probably best to understand his prohibition in the light of the evaluating or judging the prophets. Women are not to take upon themselves a teaching role in the mixed, public assemblies of the church gathered for worship.

 

What is the contemporary application? There are basically two options if the above two paragraphs are accepted.

 

First, the Corinthian letter yields a picture of mixed, public assemblies where women as well as men prayed and prophesied without violating the biblical principle of submission. They were only prohibited from taking on independent teaching functions in the assembly. This would be in harmony with the teaching of 1 Timothy 2:11, 12. Thus, this application draws a distinction between the nature of authority exercised through praying and prophesying and the nature of authority exercised through teaching (the kind of teaching described in Paul’s epistles to Timothy and Titus).[22]

 

However, this application is problematic because it assumes that prophesying was less an authoritative function than teaching. Women may prophesy to a mixed assembly, but they cannot teach a mixed assembly. The studies of Grudem and Carson may help this difficulty but their conclusions have not yet been tested fully. They argue that the prophets of the New Testament were not the same as the authoritative revealers of the Old Testament. The apostles are the only appropriate parallels to the Old Testament prophets. New Testament prophecy, understood in the social and religious context of the Greco-Roman world, refers to human representations of divine impressions. Thus, Old Testament prophets and apostles spoke the very word of God, but New Testament prophets were not on that level. They spoke with less authority than an apostle; their words needed to be judged or evaluated; and they did not always speak by revelation. The distinction that Grudem draws between prophesying and teaching is the distinction of office. The office of elder has the duty of authoritative teaching (as well as the evangelist), and a woman may not hold that office.

 

Second, the Corinthian letter expects women to fully participate in the praying and prophesying of the church where they are specifically empowered by the Spirit. The Spirit, through the sovereign work of God, gave the gifts of prophecy and speaking in tongues (nature of prayer in chapter 11) to some women who exercised them in the  mixed, public assembly of the church without condemnation. Yet, when they were not under the direct empowerment of the Spirit, they were to remain silent. Since there is no promise of miraculous ability for the modern church as there was in the New Testament (i.e., there are no prophets today), women are not to take on leadership roles in the mixed, public assembly of the church. In other words, prophetesses and praying under the direct leadership of the Spirit were the exception to the rule in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35.[23]

 

However, this application is also problematic because it assumes that God, through direct empowerment, could violate the principle of submission which he instituted in the created order (1 Cor.11:3). If leading a prayer is a function of authority (i.e., the one being led is in submission to the leader), then when God empowered women to lead men in prayer, he empowered women to function in authority over men. He violated the headship of man. If, on the other hand, leading in prayer is not a function of authority or the function of prophecy in Corinth is not a function of authority, then there is no problem. Perhaps it is best to understand that when a woman leads a man in prayer that act does not violate his headship and then when a woman shares a testimony about her relationship with God (analogous to New Testament prophecy), Paul has shown us in 1 Corinthians 11 that it is possible for a woman to lead a man in prayer and prophesy, and at the same time show him the honor due to his headship through the head covering. This approach combined with a renewed understanding of the role of teaching in the epistles to Timothy and Titus can help us rethink Approach Six. Maybe this is where we need to begin re-examining our thinking and practices, but we must do so within the total context of Scripture.

 

At the same time no study of “women’s issues” would be complete without understanding the function, role and meaning of other key texts of Scripture such as 1 Timothy 2:8-15 and Galatians 3:28. How do they bear upon our understanding of the Corinthian texts? Conclusions based upon 1 Corinthians 11 & 14 alone must remain tentative until tested against the teaching of the rest of Scripture. This study is only a beginning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Statistics cited from Bonnidell Clouse, “Afterword,” in Women in Ministry: Four Views, ed. Bonnidell & Robert G. Clouse (Downer’s Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 1989), pp. 232-233.

[2] “Thirty-Something in the Pews: What Every Church Should Know About Baby Boom Christians, A Questionnaire,” The Southern Cross Company and Thomas H. Norton, Statesboro, Georgia, 1989.

[3] See Richard Oster’s article in this lectureship book for a good discussion based upon his recent article in “When Men Wore Veils to Worship: The Context of  1 Corinthians 11.4,” New Testament Studies, 34 (1988) 481-505. Cf. also Cynthia Thompson, “Hairstyles, Head- Coverings and St. Paul,” Biblical Archaeologist 51 (1988) 99- 115). In the following discussion I will briefly summarize the standpoint from which I approach the text without attempting a detailed explanation of my reasons.

[4] The best statement of the case is found in Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), pp. 699-708; but see also F.X. Cleary, “Women in the New Testament: St. Paul and the Early Pauline Tradition,” Biblical Theology Bulletin 10 (1980), pp. 78- 82; D.J. Doughty, “Women and Liberation in the Churches of Paul and the Pauline Tradition,” DrewGateway 50 (1979), pp. 1-21; W.O. Walker, “The ‘Theology of Women’s Place’ and the ‘Paulinist’ Tradition,” Semeia 28 (1983), pp. 101-12; G.W. Trompf, “On Attitudes Toward Women in Paul and Paulinist Literature: 1 Corinthians 11:3-16 and Context,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 42 (1980), pp. 196-215; and Hans Conzelmann, First Corinthians: A Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible, Hermeneia Series (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1974).

[5] See Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (London: United Bible Society, 1971), p. 565; G. Zuntz, The Text of the Epistles: A Disquistion upon the Pauline Corpus (London: British Academy, 1953), p. 17; and E. Earle Ellis, “The Silenced Wives of Corinth (1 Cor. 14:34-35),” in New Testament Textual Criticism: Its Significance for Exegesis:  Studies in Honor of Bruce M. Metzger, ed. Eldon J. Epp and Gordon D. Fee (Oxford: Claredon, 1981), pp. 213-30.

[6] Probably the best case is stated by Gilbert Bilezekian, Beyond Sex Roles: A Guide for the Study of Female Roles in the Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1985), pp. 144- 53, 245-50; but see also Neil M. Flanagan, “Did Paul Put Down Women in 1 Cor. 14:34-36?,” Biblical Theology Bulletin 11 (1981), 10-12; Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Toward an Exegetical Theology:  Biblical Exegesis for Preaching and Teaching (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1981), pp. 76-77, 118-119; D.W. Odell-Scott, “Let Women Speak in Church: An Egalitarian Interpretation of 1 Cor. 14:33b- 36,” Biblical Theology Bulletin 13 (1983), 90-93 and “In Defense of an Egalitarian Interpretation of 1 Cor. 14:34-36: A Reply to Murphy-O’Connor’s Critique,” Biblical Theology Bulletin 17 (1987), 100-103; Robert W. Allison, “Let Women Be Silent in the Churches (1 Cor. 14:33b-36): What Did Paul Really Say, and What Did It Mean?,” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 32 (1988), 27- 60; and Chris R. Bullard, “May Women Ever Address the Assembly?: A Second Look at 1 Cor. 14:33-36,” Image (July 1989), 27+; (August 1989), 25+.

[7] D. A. Carson, Showing the Spirit: A Theological Exposition of 1 Corinthians 12-14 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1987), p. 55. See also Carson’s response to this view in his small work Exegetical Fallacies (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1984, pp. 38-40

[8] Ralph P. Martin, The Spirit and the Congregation: Studies in 1 Corinthians 12-15 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1984), p. 87; Paul K. Jewett, Man as Male and Female (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975), p. 114; and Walter L. Liefeld, “Women, Submission and Ministry in 1 Corinthians,” in Women, Authority & the Bible, edited by Alvera Mickelsen (Downer’s Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 1986), pp. 151-152).

[9] Geogre F. Moore, Judaism (Cambridge: University Press, 1932), II, p. 131. Cf. Megillah 2.4: “All are eligible to read the Scroll excepting one that is deaf or an imbecile or a minor” (from Herbert Danby, The Mishnah [Oxford: University Press, 1933], p.203). Women, in fact, could not have an official service without ten men present. Cf. Megillah 4.3. However, according to Mary J. Evans, Woman in the Bible (Downer’s Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 1983), p. 35, there are examples of “women giving extempore prayer.”

[10] Catherine Kroeger, “The Apostle Paul and the Greco-Roman Cults of Women,” The Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 30 (1987), pp. 29-30 and with Richard Kroeger, “Pandemonium and Silence at Corinth,” Reformed Journal 28 (June 1978), pp. 11-15; see also J. Keir Howard, “Neither Male nor Female: An Examination of the Status of Women in the New Testament,” Evangelical Quarterly 55 (1983), pp. 31-42; Letha Scanzoni and Nancy Hardesty, All We’re Meant to Be (Waco: Word, 1974), p. 68; and P. Feine, J. Behm, and W. Kummel, Introduction to the New Testament, trans. A. J. Mattill, Jr. (Nashville: Abingdon, 1968), p. 203.

[11] Cf. Ellis, “Silenced Wives;” N.J. Hommes, “Let Women Be Silent in the Church: A Message Concerning the Worship Service and the Decorum to be Observed by Women,” Calvin Theological Journal 4 (1969), pp. 13ff; Guy N. Woods, Questions and Answers: Open Forum, Freed-Hardeman College Lectures (Henderson, TN: Freed-Hardeman College, 1976), p. 106.

[12] Probably the best statement of the case is H. Wayne House, “The Speaking of Women and the Prohibition of the Law,” Bibliotheca Sacra 145 (1988), p. 309; see also Robert D. Culver, “Let Your Women Keep Silence,” in Women in Ministry, p. 33; Neil Lightfoot, The Role of Women: New Testament Perspectives (Memphis: Student Association Press, 1978), p. 31; G.G. Blum, “The Office of Woman in the New Testament,” The Churchman 85 (1971), pp. 176ff; George W. Knight, III, The Role Relationship of Men & Women: New Testament Teaching, 2nd ed (Chicago: Moody Press, 1985), p. 25; Jim McGuiggan, The Book of 1 Corinthians (Lubbock, TX: Montex Publishing Co., 1984), pp. 221-240; Howard Winters, Commentary on First Corinthians: Practical and Explanatory (Greenville, SC: Carolian Christian, 1987), pp. 199-202; and John Mark Hicks, “Worship in 1 Corinthians 14:26-40: The Injunction of Silence,” Image 5 (August 1989), pp. 24+.

[13] The best presentation of this argument is found in Wayne Grudem, The Gift of Prophecy in 1 Corinthians (Washington, D.C.: University of America Press, 1982), pp. 239-255, “Prophecy — Yes, But Teaching — No: Paul’s Consistent Advocacy of Women’s Participation Without Governing Authority,” The Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 30 (1987), pp. 11-24 and The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today (Westchester, Ill: Crossway Books, 1988), pp. 217-225; see also James B. Hurley, Man and Women in Biblical Perspective (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), pp. 188-193; James Moffatt, The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians, MNTC (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1938), pp. 232-33; F.F. Bruce, I and II Corinthians, NCB (Greenwood, SC: Attic Press, 1971), p. 135; D.A. Carson, Showing the Spirit, pp. 121-131; James G. Sigountos and Myron Shank, “Public Roles for Women in the Pauline Church: A Reappraisal of the Evidence,” The Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 26 (1983), pp. 284- 85; and F. LaGard Smith, Men of Strength for Women of God: Has the Time Come for Shared Spiritual Leadership? (Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 1989), pp. 251-52. Susan Foh, “A Male Leadership View: The Head of the Woman is the Man,” in Women in Ministry, p. 85 and Women & the Word of God: A Response to Biblical Feminisms (Philipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Pub. Co., 1979), p. 121 believes that Paul prohibits the interrupting of the preaching during the assembly by asking questions because this would appear to be participating in the act of dialogic preaching and teaching.

[14] McGuiggan, pp. 231ff and B.B. James, “In What Sort of Assembly May a Woman Pray or Prophesy (11:5; 14:34-35),” in Studies in 1 Corinthians, ed. by Dub McClish (Denton, TX: Pearl Street Church of Christ, 1982), pp. 361-62.

[15] Hermann Olshausen, A Commentary on Paul’s First and Second Epistles to the Corinthians (Minneapolis: Klock & Klock, 1984), sv. 1 Cor. 11:5; John W. Robbins, Scripture Twisting in the Seminaries. Part I: Feminism (Jefferson, MD: The Trinity Foundation, 1985); F. W. Grosheide, Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1955)k, pp. 251-52; Charles Hodge, An Exposition of the First Epistle to the Corinthians (New York: Cater, 1857), p. 305; and Gordon Clark, “The Ordination of Women,” The Trinity Review 17 (1981), pp. 3-4. Some regard 1 Corinthians 11 as a closed, private meeting in which the Lord’s Supper is observed, but 1 Corinthians 14 as a public, open meeting including unbelievers; cf. Russell C. Prohl, Woman in the Church (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1957) and Gerald L. Almlie, “Woman’s Church and Communion Participation: Apostolic Practice or Innovative Twist?”, Christian Brethren Review 33 (1982), pp. 41-55.

[16] James McKnight, The Apostolic Epistles (Grand Rapids: Baker, reprinted 1969), II, pp. 121-23; R. St. John Parry, The First Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians (Cambridge: University Press, 1916), pp. 158-59; John Calvin, Commentary on the First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1948), p. 231; Blum, p. 178; Archibald Robertson and Alfred Plummer, I Corinthians, ICC, 2nd ed. (Edinburgh: Clark, 1914), pp. 324-25; John Mark Hicks and Bruce L. Morton, Woman’s Role in the Church (Shreveport, LA: Lambert Book House, 1978), pp. 66-68; Lightfoot, p. 35and J.J. Lias, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Cambridge: University Press, 1882), p. 107.

[17] Hicks and Morton, pp. 64-66; Noel Weeks, “On Silence and Head-Covering,” Westminster Theological Journal 35 (1972), pp. 21-27; and Rubel Shelly, “Women in Positions of Authority,” Gospel Advocate 119 (1977), 561, 596, 615 & The Imperfect Church (Nashville: 20th Century Christian, 1983), p. 95.

[18] Cf. Liefeld, pp. 145-46 and Morna D. Hooker, “Authority on Her Head: An Examination of 1 Cor 11:10,” New Testament Studies 10 (1963/64), pp. 410-16. See also W.R. Ramsay, The Cities of Paul (New York: Hooder & Stoughton, 1907), p. 203, who writes that a passive sense to “authority” in 1 Corinthians 11:10 is a “preposterous idea which a Greek scholar would laugh at anywhere except in the New Testament, where (as they seem to think) Greek words may mean anything that commentators choose.”

[19]  An excellent study of the relationship between chapters 8 and 10 is Bruce N. Fisk, “Eathing Meat Offered to Idols: Corinthian Behavior and Pauline Response in 1 Corinthians 8-10 (A Response to Gordon Fee), Trinity Journal 10 (1989), 49-70.

[20] Carson, Showing the Spirit, 123.

[21] Carson, Showing the Spirit, p. 123.

[22] See Grudem, “Prophecy — Yes, But Teaching — No” and Carson, Showing the Spirit.

[23] Jean Danielou, The Ministry of Women in the Early Church. 2nd ed. Translated by G. Simon (Leighton Buzzard: The Faith Press, 1974), p. 10; Macknight, III, p. 34; F. LaGard Smith, pp. 245-46; and Lightfoot, p. 35. House argues that the direct leadership of the Spirit is not the only issue. He believes that praying is not an issue of authority, and consequently is not prohibited by 14:34-35 (p. 310).

The Holy Spirit and Unity

The Holy Spirit and Unity John Mark Hicks Stone-Campbell Dialogue November 2011 Introduction Pentecostals are “anonymous ecumenicists.”1 The origins of Pentecostalism are ecumenical in character. It started as a revival movement that transcended denominational boundaries as it conceived itself as the answer to Jesus’ prayer in John 17.2 The root of this ecumenical approach is the work of the Spirit as evidenced in the praxis of the church. It is a unity expressed in the life of Spirit-filled Christians. However, what happened among Pentecostals is a lesson for us, and they are perhaps an analogue of our own history in some quarters.

As they aligned themselves with Fundamentalism and organized into institutions, they lost their sense of “Spirit ecumenicism.” Their Fundamentalist understanding of Scripture, the hostility of other Christian traditions to Pentecostalism, and a kind of institutionalized spiritual elitism fostered an exclusivistic stance among them.3 The Spirited-ecumenical heart collided with the Fundamentalist head. Later, however, the second and third waves of the Holy Spirit—as they are commonly called—renewed an ecumenical life within Pentecostalism as the life of the Spirit reached across denominational and traditional boundaries. From the Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship to the Vineyard Movement, the experience of the Spirit has united believers from various traditions in such a way that their denominational heritages recede into the background. The Spirit-filled life trumped those boundaries even though many remained in their traditions. But what they experienced in the Spirit gave them eyes to see beyond their own traditions and recognize a more fundamental unity in the Spirit. This is part the reason they are, according to Philip Jenkins, “the most successful social movement of the past century.”4

By 2025, it is estimated that one billion will live in the Global South.5 I have been tasked with reflecting on the role the Holy Spirit in the unity of the church with a particular focus on what resources exist in our common tradition for communal reflection on this topic. Is there anything that might parallel what we find in Pentecostalism’s heritage? 1 Veli-Matti Karkkainen, “’Anonymous Eccumenists?’ Pentecostals and the Struggle for Christianity Identity,” Journal of Ecumenical Studies 37 (Winter 2000) 13-27; Cf. Veli-Matti Karkkainen, Toward a Pentecostal Theology: Pentecostal and Ecumenical Perspectives on Ecclesiology, Soteriology, and Theology of Mission (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2002). 2 Cecil M. Robeck, Jr., “Taking Stock of Pentecostalism: The Personal Reflections of a Retiring Editor,” Pneuma 15.1 (1993) 37. 3 On the Fundamentalist point, see Walter J. Hollenweger, The Pentecostals: The Charismatic Movement in the Churches, tr. By R. A. Wilson (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson and Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1972). 4 Philip Jenkins, The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity (3rd ed.; New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 10. 5 Grant McClung, “Pentecostals: The Sequel,” Christianity Today, available at http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2006/april/7.30.html Stone-Campbell

Resources: At the origins of the Stone-Campbell Movement are at least two themes that resonate for many in the Stone-Campbell tradition and create an ecumenical trajectory. One is clearly more associated with Stone while the other is strongly present in both. 1. Revivalism. If Cane Ridge is America’s Pentecost, then the resources for reflection may parallel what happened at the beginning of the twentieth century in the birth of Pentecostalism. There are some important similarities. As Stone learned in the Great Western Revivals, the work of the Spirit is not bounded by creedal confessions. Stone’s early experiences at the sacramental meetings in 1801 encouraged the perspective that the Spirit works through the hearing of the gospel despite the creedal differences between preachers. He saw this in the revivals. “Many old and young, even little children, professed religion, and all declared the same simple gospel of Jesus. I knew the voice and felt the power.”6 Stone recognized the work of God in the spiritual exercises of the Spring 1801 Logan County revivals. The activity of the Spirit was not limited by creedal commitments. 2. Transformation. The true Christian is the transformed one who confesses Christ. The importance of Christian character in the early Stone-Campbell Movement cannot be underestimated. It is the supreme value after the confession of Christ, and it is more valued than baptism itself. Campbell wrote: “And while I would not lead the most excellent professor of any sect to disparage the least of all of the commandments of Jesus, I would say to my immersed brother as Paul said to his Jewish brother who gloried in a system which he did not adorn: ‘Sir, will not his uncircumcision, or unbaptism, be counted to him for baptism?’”7 The text of the Lunenburg letter reveals the point: “I cannot, therefore, make any one duty the standard of Christian state or character, not even immersion into the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and in my heart regard all that have been sprinkled in infancy without their own knowledge and consent, as aliens from Christ and the well-grounded hope of heaven…. “Should I find a Paedobaptist more giving the preference of my heart is to him that loveth most. Still I will be asked, How do I know that any one loves my Master but by his obedience to his commandments?

I answer, In no other way. But mark, I do not substitute obedience to one commandment, for universal or even for general obedience. And should I see a sectarian Baptist or a more spiritually-minded, more generally conformed to the requisitions of the Messiah, than one who precisely acquiesces with me in the theory or practice of immersion as I teach, doubtless the former rather than the latter, would have my cordial approbation and love as a Christian. So I judge, and so I feel. It is the image of Christ the Christian looks for and loves and this does not consist in being exact in a few items, but in general devotion to the whole truth as far as known.”8 6 Barton W. Stone, A Reply to John P. Campbell’s Strictures on Atonement (Lexington: Joseph Charles, 1805), 6. Newell Williams, Barton Stone: A Spiritual Biography (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2000), 49-64, details this experience and Stone’s shift in a chapter entitled “I Knew the Voice…” 7 Alexander Campbell, “Any Christians Among the Sects?” Millennial Harbinger (1837) 565. 8Alexander Campbell, “Any Christians Among Protestant Parties,” Millennial Harbinger (1837) 412. Unity, according to Barton W. Stone, is not located in creeds (head), book (Bible), or water (baptism), but in fire (Holy Spirit). This is a transformative experience of the Holy Spirit who leads us “to love God and his children—to love and pray for all mankind.” He writes: “How vain are all human attempts to unite a bundle of things together, so as to make them grow together, and bear fruit!

They must first be united with the living stock, and receive its sap, and spirit, before they can ever be united with each other. So must we be first united with Christ, receive his spirit, before we can ever be in spirit united with one another.”9 Stone’s language recognizes that there is someone more fundamental than creed, Bible or water. There is a spiritual dynamic, a spiritual unity, which gives rise to more visible forms of unity. The Holy Spirit is the root dynamic. And the first expression of this unity is a transforming faith through which all believers might find themselves already united. The Theological Root of Unity: Participation in the Divine Life The classical way of framing God’s relationship to humanity (the economic Trinity) is that the Father works through the Son in the Spirit. The Father, for example, indwells humanity through the Son in the Spirit. By the Spirit we are the habitation of God (Ephesians 2:18-22). More specifically, our experience of the Father and Son is mediated through the presence and “communion of the Holy Spirit” (2 Corinthians 13:13). Through the communion of the Spirit we participate in the mutual love or perichoretic unity (mutual indwelling) of the Triune God. Generally, three theses summarize the significance of this statement for the purpose of this paper. Each of these deserves extensive attention but is only minimally stated here. 1. Unity among believers is a divine initiative, created by and located in the divine life. 2. Unity among believers is enabled and empowered by divine agency. 3. Unity among believers is the experience of the divine life.

This unity is a “unity of the Spirit”—created and empowered by the Spirit and the Spirit is the one in whom we experience that unity. The Spirit is the creative power of God who breathes life into both the present age and the age to come (new creation). The Spirit empowers our relationships so that we might embody the Spirited-life of Jesus in our lives. The Spirit deepens our grasp and “knowledge” (experience) of the love of God through presence (Ephesians 4:14-20). The Spirit is the very means of our communion with each other and with God. The Visible Practice of Unity—A Praxis Orientation My purpose in this section is to offer five (yes, count them, five) modes of visible unity that give expression to the underlying unity of the Spirit among believers. These are maters of praxis that not only exhibit the unity of the Spirit but are also means by which the Spirit dynamically works among believers for unity. These practices have an instrumental 9 Barton W. Stone, “The Retrospective,” Christian Messenger 7 (October 1833) 314-16. function in relation to the Spirit. The Spirit acts through them to manifest the unity that the Spirit has already achieved.

At the same time these practices are also transformative as they move us not only into a deeper experience and recognition of that unity but also function to transform us as exhibits of that unity. At the same time, I hope to also drawn on some Stone-Campbell resources in my articulation of these five means of Spirit-enacted unity. It is, therefore, quite appropriate to limit them to “five.” 1. Confession – we confess Jesus is Lord by the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3). Paul provides the ground of this point: “No one is able to say “Jesus is Lord” except by (in) the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3). Contextually, this stands in contrast with those who say “Jesus is cursed” or who serve idols. This is an orienting confession. It is a centered-set confession, that is, we confess Jesus at the center of our faith journey. It is a directional confession, that is, we have turned our face toward Jesus and we walk toward him. But none of this is possible except by the work of the Spirit. The confession arises out of the Spirit’s work, operates within the life of the Spirit, and lives because we have all drunk of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13). From the beginning, the Stone-Campbell Movement has insisted that the prerequisite for baptism is the simple confession of Peter in Matthew 16:16. “Jesus is Lord” or “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” has been a sufficient baptismal confession for entrance into the community of faith. Alexander Campbell’s clearest articulation of this is his essay, published in the Christian System, “Foundation of Christian Union.” He calls “Jesus is the Christ” the “fundamental fact.” The one who “believes the testimony that Jesus is the Christ is begotten by God, may overcome the world, has eternal life, and is, on the veracity of God, saved from his sins.”10 This confession is the foundation of Christian unity. There is no other foundation.

This confession is, however, made in a context. I believe this context is essentially what is called the Apostle’s Creed or the developing Regula Fidei of the early church. It gives shape to the confession of the lordship of Jesus and locates believers in the flow of the history of God’s people. We recognize the work of the Spirit in the development of that confession that is both rooted in the witness of Scripture and the witness of the early church. We confess the Father as creator, Jesus as the Son of God, and the Holy Spirit as the communion of believers. Theologically, we acknowledge that whoever confesses “Jesus is Lord” does so “in (or by) the Spirit.” We recognize the work of the Spirit in the confession itself. Whenever we hear Jesus confessed, or the Triune faith articulated, we confess that the Spirit is at work. We may embrace the unity of believers through this confession that is the result of the Spirit’s enabling presence. 2. Transformation – we are sanctified by the Spirit (1 Thessalonians 4:3-8). We all know Jesus’ saying “by their fruits you will know them” (Matthew 7:16). Sanctification is a work that belongs to the Holy Spirit who indwells, empowers and gifts us for new life in Christ. 10 Alexander Campbell, “Foundation of Christian Union,” Christian System (1839), 101. Both Stone and Campbell stressed the importance of transformation in the life of the believer and as the particular evidence of one’s relationship to God—as the previous quotations from both Stone and Campbell demonstrate. They both recognized transformation as the work of the Spirit. Campbell’s theology, perhaps, is not as well known on this point as Stone’s. Stone quotes Matthew 7:16 as evidence of this statement: “All were admitted to fellowship that believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, and obeyed him; and their obedience was considered the best evidence of their faith.” This is the “term of fellowship.”11 In his essay entitled “Christian System,” Campbell articulates a vision of the work of the Spirit in transformation (sanctification) in his section entitled “Gift of the Holy Spirit.” This comes in the section of the “Christian System” that is still dealing with the “facts” of the Christian story. In other words, it is the work of God. “The Holy Spirit,” he writes, “is, then, the author of all our holiness” as the believers are “quickened, animated, encouraged, and sanctified by the power and influence of the Spirit of God, working in” us.12 Stone combines our first and second points nicely in this statement: “We are neither Pedo-Baptists, Arians nor Socianians; yet God forbid that we should reject or despise any of these little ones that believe in Jesus as an all-sufficient Saviour, and who proves the sincerity of is faith by a holy walk and conversation.”13 Theologically, transformation is the goal of God’s agenda. Transformation is an effect of communion. Through mutual indwelling, we are transformed by the presence of the Spirit in our lives. The fruit of the Spirit, then, is evidence of our union with God. The fruit of the Spirit is the life of the Spirit already present in us. We may embrace the unity of believers through shared sanctification or mutually experienced transformation that is the result of the enabling presence of the Spirit. 3. Liturgy – we worship in the Spirit (John 4:24; Philippians 3:3). Liturgy seems like the last thing to put on the table in unity dialogues. Liturgy is where “disunity becomes explicit and the sense of separation most acute” in ecumenical discussions. 14 Perhaps we should avoid this point like the plague, but I think that would be a mistake. The foundation of liturgy—not necessarily the foundation of liturgical forms—is the work of the Spirit. Our liturgical acts—not necessarily our liturgical forms—are deeply rooted in the work of the Spirit.

Assembly, as communal praise and worship, is mediated by 11 Barton W. Stone, “Objections to Christian Union Calmly Considered,” Christian Messenger 1 (December 25 1826) 27. 12 Campbell, “Christian System,” Christian System, 49. 13 Barton W. Stone, “To the Editors of the Baptist Recorder,” Christian Messenger 1 (August 25 1827) 225. Cf. Stone, “The Christian Expositor,” Christian Messenger 1 (July 25 1827) 203: “The sinner by faith is represented as grafted into Christ, the living vine—by this he becomes united to Christ and by this union he receives the life, the spirit, and support of Christ, as the branch does from the vine with which it is united. The believer is as dependent upon Christ for support, for life, for the spirit and the fruits of the spirit, as the branch is on the vine. ‘For by faith they stand,’ ‘and without me ye can do nothing.’ Let it be well remembered that before faith there is no ingrafting into Christ, no union with him, no divine life, no holy spirit received, no fruits of the spirit borne.” 14 Faith and Order (Lund, 1952), quoted by Teresa Berger, “Worship in the Ecumenical Movement,” in Dictionary of the Ecumenical Movement, ed. by Nicholas Lossky, et. al. (Geneva: WCC, 1991), 1107. the Spirit. We worship the Father through the Son in the Spirit.15 Assembly, as an eschatological, transforming and sacramental encounter with God, happens in the Spirit; it is a pneumatic event.

This is what gives significance and meaning to Assembly, and it is also the root of the unity we experience through Assembly as the whole church—throughout time and space—are gathered before the throne of the Father in the Spirit. Liturgy was important for both Stone and Campbell. They both recognized the value of assembly for transformation, education and community. While Campbell stressed the “ancient order” as a means—not a test of fellowship—for enriching the happiness of Christians, social/communal praise of God in the presence of God was a focal point of Christian identity for both Stone and Campbell. Campbell, for example, confessed a “deep and solemn conviction that the [assembly] is the house of God—the temple of the Holy Spirit—and that we are, especially and emphatically, in the presence of the Lord while we are engaged in his worship.”16

But have not the heirs of Stone-Campbell divided over liturgical practices? It would seem this would be the last place to start and, in fact, the very item on the agenda to avoid. Yet this very point arose in Campbell’s earliest discussions of the “ancient order.” This was implicitly raised in the Christian Baptist by one of Campbell’s critics. Spencer Clack, the editor of the Baptist Recorder, wondered whether Campbell’s “ancient order” functioned similarly to the written creeds to which Campbell mightily objected.17 Campbell’s response is illuminating. He maintained that his “ancient order” was no creed precisely because he had “never made them, hinted that they should be, or used them as a test of christian character or terms of christian communion.”18 Despite Campbell’s caveat, this might not appear to be a very fruitful approach to ecumenical dialogue given the Stone-Campbell historic emphases on biblical liturgical practices. The point will turn on whether or not we are able to discern the role of the Spirit in liturgy that transcends the specific forms.

If we take seriously the point—made in the Gospel of John—that the Spirit vivifies all life, sacrament and worship in such a way that the reality is rooted in the work of the Spirit rather than in the specific form, then we can move beyond binding the Spirit to that form. There are no fixed forms that bind the Spirit. Rather there are gracious gifts—even specific forms—through which the Spirit offers communion and grace (e.g., sacraments). We may have preferred forms or even think some forms more biblical or more theologically coherent, but the forms are not boundaries for the Spirit. To recognize that the Spirit is the means by whom we commune with and experience God, and that this means is not dependent upon perfectionistic obedience to specified forms, and that the Spirit is not limited by forms, enables us to affirm the presence of the Spirit among those communities who do not share the forms that we think are most biblical. We may embrace the unity of believers (worshippers) through our eschatological and sacramental encounter with God in assembly by the enabling presence of the Spirit. 15 I have defended this point in A Gathered People: Revisioning the Assembly as Transforming Encounter, coauthored with Bobby Valentine and Johnny Melton (Abilene: Leafwood Publishers, 2007), 129-150. 16 Campbell, “Worshipping Assemblies—No. I,” Millennial Harbinger, New Series 3 (October 1839) 441. 17 Spencer Clack, Christian Baptist 5 (6 August 1827) 359-360. 18 Alexander Campbell, Christian Baptist 5 (3 September 1827) 369-370, emphasis mine. 4. Practicing the Kingdom of God – we minister in the power of the Spirit (Luke 4:18-19). Spirit Christology is particularly important in Luke. The Spirit anoints Jesus, leads him into the wilderness and empowers him for ministry in Luke 3-4. This is the ministry of the kingdom of God in which Jesus practices the kingdom of God by heralding the good news of the kingdom, exercising authority over the principalities and powers, and healing brokenness.

Jesus is sent, and he sends a people. This is the missional ministry into which believers are called. This praxis is an expression of the life of the Spirit within the community, and the community of Jesus empowered by the Spirit continues the teaching and doing of Jesus, that is, they continue to practice the kingdom of God. When believers practice the kingdom of God, the Spirit is present. Where the Spirit is present, Jesus is present. This manifests the unity of the Spirit through praxis. It is a missional ecumenicism. We may embrace the unity of believers through shared ministry (shared participation in the good news of the kingdom of God) by the enabling presence of the Spirit. 5. Spiritual Formation Practices – we pray in the Spirit (Jude 20). In Luke’s Gospel “the kingdom comes as the Spirit works in response to prayer.”19 This connects points four and five, but it also calls us deeper into the experience of prayer itself. The unity of believers through the presence of the Spirit in prayer is a common theme in the history of spirituality.

Throughout that history we see evidence of the presence of the Spirit in communal and individual experiences. This is where an acquaintance, if not a full immersion in, the history of spirituality might open doors for ecumenical conversations. Barton W. Stone, though perhaps unacquainted with the history of spirituality, was not unacquainted with the reality of the Spirit in prayer. He regarded prayer as a means that offers a “habitual sense of the presence and inspection of God, and of our entire dependence upon him, which is the foundation of a holy life.” This presence is “direct and immediate.”20 He writes: The denial of the direct operation of the Spirit cuts the very nerves of prayer…Such a doctrine stands opposed to the spirit and practice of Jesus, our pattern, to the doctrines and example of the apostles and primitive saints, and to the experience of every living Christian.

We can conceive of no doctrine more dangerous to the souls of men, than that, which tends to check and destroy the spirit of prayer. Prayer is the means by which we receive the grace of God, and enjoy sacred communion with the Father and the son. Enjoying this we have communion one with another, and grow up into Christ our living head in all tings.21 19 Michael W. Goheen, A Light to the Nations: The Missional Church and the Biblical Story (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2011), 96-100. Cf. Stephen S. Smalley, “Spirit, Kingdom and Prayer in Luke-Acts,” Novum Testamentum 15 (January 1973) 59-71. 20 Barton W. Stone, “On Prayer,” Christian Messenger 1 (25 August 1827) 235 21 Barton W. Stone, “On Prayer,” 236.

Theologically, we recognize that the practice of prayer (as well as other disciplines) is rooted in the work of the Spirit. The Spirit is present to listen and speak in these moments. When a community practices them together, or each member of a community practices them in their own walk with God, the Spirit works to unite through shared experiences and shared communion. We may embrace the unity of believers through the shared experience and communion in prayer by the enabling presence of the Spirit. Conclusion: Unity, Eschatology and the Church The full mutual indwelling of believers in the life of God is God’s goal (telos) for humanity. It is, however, an eschatological goal effected by the eschatological reality of the fully realized kingdom of God. Unity is already realized in the communion of the Holy Spirit but the full experience of that unity awaits the fullness of the kingdom of God. Unity in the present age is always flawed and marred, and it never fully reflects the reality of God’s communion with us. The present experience of visible unity, however, is progressive (though not always evident). The present is not a “perfect” manifestation of the eschatological telos. Consequently, we pursue unity, just as we pursue sanctification.

The church is constantly undergoing a process of communal sanctification parallel to the process of individual sanctification. It should not surprise us that the church is not united in experience since we all acknowledge our own progressive sanctification. At the same time, however, we are not left with nothing. Though we have not yet experienced the fullness of our unity with God and with each other—and we will not until the eschaton, we do—even now—experience that future when we give space to the presence of the Spirit. We are already united, and we progressively experience that reality the more the Spirit sanctifies our communities and our lives.

The present practice of visible unity though marred by brokenness is healed by mercy; it is hindered by human brokenness but empowered by the gifts the Spirit offers to the church, which include the five gifts listed above. Through the practice of these gifts, the Spirit mediates a proleptic experience of that unity. Together, we confess Jesus is Lord; together, we seek transformation; together, we participate in the eschatological assembly; together, we practice the kingdom of God; and together, we pray in the Spirit. Yes, you counted correctly. The number is five.

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Jonah and Jesus

The story of Jonah is so neat. Obviously, this is just a snapshot of his life. It doesn’t tell us everything about him. But, it’s what God chose to tell us. What’s so neat to me is the way that Jonah is described as essentially the direct antithesis of Jesus. Everything about Jonah’s perception of man and God and the relationship between man and God is the exact opposite of Christ. Thank God for that!

Here are the top five theological markers for Jonah and the “response” from Jesus.

Jonah: God can’t be bothered with this extreme type of evil that the Ninevites were consistently displaying.

Jesus: God can’t be bothered with any evil, including yours. But I’ll take care of it for everyone.

Jonah: Justice means people get what they deserve.

Jesus: You’re right. But I can’t live with that.

Jonah: The Ninevites are too bad for to receive forgiveness.

Jesus: If you knew how badly I wanted for you to be forgiven, then you wouldn’t think this way.

Jonah: It’s not fair to all the good people that they receive forgiveness.

Jesus: What good people? I only see forgiven people.

Jonah: It’s not fair to all the people that they have hurt.

Jesus: You might right. But I want you to see something.

 

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TORN

Do you have any passages that you just don’t like reading? It’s almost like whenever the opportunity comes up to watch The Passion of the Christ, I try to check out on that one. I’ve seen it once – at the obligatory church showing when it first came out on DVD. I know it’s powerful, and convicting and so needed in my life . . . but, I just struggle with dealing with the emotions that it brings out of me. It’s kind of a similar thing with some passages; and maybe it’s just me and my heathen nature, but I get real uncomfortable with Romans 7, really the last ten or so verses.

Check out this passage from The Message (don’t skip this and then starting reading my thoughts again, trust me).

14-16 I can anticipate the response that is coming: “I know that all God’s commands are spiritual, but I’m not. Isn’t this also your experience?”

Yes. I’m full of myself—after all, I’ve spent a long time in sin’s prison. What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can’t be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God’s command is necessary.17-20 But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.21-23 It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.

24 I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question?

25 The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.

The Idol of Nationalism

“We shall be as a City upon a Hill, the eyes of all people are upon us…,” the Puritan John Winthrop wrote. The Puritans who disembarked in Massachusetts in 1620 believed they were establishing the New Israel. Indeed, the whole colonial enterprise was believed to have been guided by God. “God hath opened this passage unto us,” Alexander Whitaker preached from Virginia in 1613, “and led us by the hand unto this work.”

Promised land imagery figured prominently in shaping English colonial thought. The pilgrims identified themselves with the ancient Hebrews. They viewed the New World as the New Canaan. They were God’s chosen people headed for the Promised Land. Other colonists believed they, too, had been divinely called. The settlers in Virginia were, John Rolf said, “a peculiar people, marked and chosen by the finger of God.”

This self-image of being God’s Chosen People called to establish the New Israel became an integral theme in America’s self-interpretation. During the revolutionary period, it emerged with new force. “We cannot but acknowledge that God hath graciously patronized our cause and taken us under his special care, as he did his ancient covenant people,” Samuel Langdon preached at Concord, New Hampshire in 1788. George Washington was the “American Joshua,” and “Never was the possession of arms used with more glory, or in a better cause, since the days of Joshua, the son of Nun,” Ezra Stiles urged in Connecticut in 1783. In 1776, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson wanted Promised Land images for the new nation’s Great Seal. Franklin proposed Moses dividing the Red (Reed) Sea with Pharaoh’s army being overwhelmed by the closing waters. Jefferson urged a representation of the Israelites being led in the wilderness by the pillar of fire by night and the cloud by day. Later, in his second inaugural address (1805), Jefferson again recalled the Promised Land. “I shall need…the favor of that Being in whose hands we are, who led our fathers, as Israel of old, from their native land and planted them in a country flowing with all the necessities and comforts of life.”

The sense of divine election and the identification of the Americas with ancient Canaan were likely used to justify much of the dealings with Native Americans. And the experiences of multiple wars (and the great communal sacrifices during them) served to cement this nationalistic fervor in the psyche of the more recent generations.

I can’t help but wonder how this strong sense of nationalistic pride has affected the Christians in the United States?  As I reflect on my childhood and the strong relationships that did much to form me, I recognize an odd phenomenon that existed in my subconscious – to be an American was to be a Christian. What have I taken from this as it relates to how I treat people who are different from me, people who have different values or different cultural norms?

A short answer is that my sense of nationalism may have become an idol.

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Democracy and the Corruption of the CHurch

Vote on everything
Western churches vote on everything
not biblical
do parents take a poll with their children to decide if the would rather have green beans or french fries?
The Holy Spirit has gifted people with the spiritual giftedness. Part of that is shepherding the sheep. That means they should have the biblical discernment, wisdom to determine the best way to feed the sheep. And the fortitude to tell the sheep no – even when they whine or throw fits.

There was no voting in the bible – God lead the leader and the leader(s) lead the people.

Romans 12:1-2 isn’t just talking about girls wearing short shorts. It’s also speaks to this problem of nationalized forms of government invading the Church. When democracy invades the Church then people become their own shepherds and there really isn’t a need for any others.

 

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