Results tagged “Social Constructs” from Reformation21 Blog

When Everything is a Gender Question

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Recently, I was having a discussion with a friend (who happens to be in pastoral ministry) about the gender debates that are raging in our culture and in our churches. In the course of our conversation, my friend said, "I think that part of the difficulty with this discussion is that far too many reduce everything down to a matter of gender, whereas --more often than not--Scripture speaks in terms of social rather than biological constructs." Not fully grasping what my friend was getting at, I asked him for further explanation. He said, "Scripture speaks of fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, friends, politicians, pastors, teachers, elders and deacons, rather than simply answering the questions, "What can a man do?" and "What can a woman do?'" Since that discussion, I've been ruminating over my friend's observations. I believe that he's onto something important. 

So many of the conversations about leadership in the church seems to be framed around the following questions: "What can a man do?" and "What can a woman do?" Instead, we should be asking, "What social constructs has God established in the home, the world and the church," "To what authoritative standards should we look to understand who is to fill the social roles that God has established," and "How are those who are called and qualified by God to carry out these roles once they are given the office?" When we fail to ask the later questions--and we substitute them with the former questions--we do a great disservice to ourselves and to the church. In many respects, both conservative Christians and progressive Christians have erred in replacing the later questions with the former, thereby making almost all leadership questions about gender, rather than about understanding the nature of God-ordained social constructs. Let me explain. 

In socially conservative churches, male only ordination is prized, defended and promoted. The problem? Many of the men who are placed in the office of either elder or deacon are not biblically qualified. How did they manage to get into these offices? It may have had to do with their bank accounts, or their successful business practices, or their heritage as a member of a particularly important family in the church. Whatever the reasons that lay behind biblically unqualified men holding these offices, of this much we can be sure--the church and its leadership put them forward largely because they were men. Gender is the leading qualification for quite a considerable number of conservative churches. To be sure, such men must appear to have their lives together. They obviously couldn't be notorious womanizers, drug addicts or scandalous; but, they also don't have to meet the qualifications set out in Scripture (which is often apparent based on their lack of teaching gifts or spiritual mindedness). The Bible does not teach that just any "good ol' boy" may hold the office of elder or deacon because he happens to be a man. It teaches that only those men whom God has called, gifted and set apart for the work may hold office--which means that there will be plenty of men who are not qualified or gifted to hold office and should not, therefore, hold office. 

Clearly, gender differentiation occurs in the process of identifying and electing church officials according to God's revelation. However, when progressive churches give women the functional role of elders (i.e. shepherds), they too are leading with the assumption that leadership in the church is primarily a gender issue rather than a God-ordained and God-defined social construct. When challenged as to why they allow women to teach men in various parts of the worship service, many pastors now commonly respond by saying, "A woman can do anything that a non-ordained man can do." Therein lies our problem. When conservative churches start to give "non-ordained" men the functional leadership roles that God has reserved for ordained officers of the church, they have made leadership a gender issue rather than a God-defined social construct. When progressive churches put non-ordained women into functional leadership roles that God has reserved for ordained officers, they defend their action on the idea that all of this is simply a gender issue. 

Perhaps what the church needs more than anything today is a reassessment of the doctrine of church offices--a revisiting of the great works of ecclesiology that the church has in its historico-theological repository. We need a reconsideration of what arguments we are employing--in order to know whether or not we are asking the right questions. As we go to Scripture (e.g., 1 Timothy 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9; 1 Tim. 2:12) and to the great ecclesiastical works of church history in order to understand why the stalwarts of the faith believed that God had uniquely entrusted the Keys of the Kingdom to ordained elders--and that they, and only they, are called by God to exercise a faithful and diligent use of them--we might free ourselves of the reductionistic notion that gender equality means equal outcomes in the Church's God-ordained social constitution. 

Identity, Affinity and Christ

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So many of the controversies surrounding the church at present center on concepts related to identity and affinity. Whether these issues are sexual, ethnic, biological or political in nature, one cannot escape the seemingly ubiquitous existential clamor with which we are daily inundated. Bombarded by a steady stream of headlines about scandal, social injustice, political policy and manufactured pandemonium, the Christian is ever in danger of losing a sense of who he or she is in Christ. When we enter into debates in which emotional hijacking tends to be par for the course, we must guard against the temptation to abandon the center of gravity of the Gospel and to trade our identity and affinity for something other than Christ and His people.

This danger is not foreign to the pages of the New Testament. Many of the pervasive issues that the Apostles tackled in the foundational days of the New Covenant church were those having to do with identity and affinity. Whether it was the Judaizers tempting Jewish converts to forfeit their fellowship with their Gentile brothers and sisters in Christ or the Corinthian error of picking and choosing which of the teachers in the church would represent their particular affinity group, the fledgling churches were constantly in danger of departing from Christ in order to settle in with another identity or affinity group. The potency of the Judaizing heresy lay in the fact that false brethren appealed to the heritage of a select portion of the believers in the body. These false teachers baited the newly converted Jewish believers with their past, saying, "This is your heritage. Don't abandon your heritage. Don't betray us." In Corinth, members of the church were vying for particular teachers to lead their affinity groups. The deleterious subtlety of this error was seen in the fact that the teachers with whom they aligned themselves were men who had been appointed by God to be ministers in the church. New forms of these pernicious errors can and will most certainly surface in the church today. When they do, they inevitably threaten our Gospel identity in Christ and affinity with His people.   

For the Christian, nothing short of knowing Christ and who we are in Christ will suffice. When we remember that Jesus stood in our place, for our sin, and took the wrath that we deserve in order to forgive us, cleanse us and reconcile us to God (as well as to unite us to all of His blood bought people), we come to understand that our past doesn't identify us any longer. In turn, we start to recognize that we don't have to search for a particular affinity group--we've already been placed in one, namely, the Church. The Apostle Paul labored tirelessly to establish this principle in the minds of God's people. He gave the Galatians the remedy to their misplaced identity when he explained, "You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:26-29). 

A tangible loss of real spiritual joy will always accompany our misplaced quests for identity and affinity. There is a deep seated joy that flows from realizing the newness of life that we have in Christ in the Gospel. So much of what we read or hear online today lacks this sense of Gospel joy. When we allow psychological constructs, social agendas, party spirits and cultural identities to take the place of the good news of Christ crucified for sinners, we invariably forfeit the benefit and implications of the good news. When I was a new convert, many in the church would tell me, "Nick, you've got to remind yourself that you'll always be a drug addict." I'll never forget the inner freedom and joy that I finally came to experience when I realized that I was a new creation in Christ. The Apostle reminded the Corinthians of this very thing when he wrote, "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new" (2 Cor. 5:17). A new name, a new identity, a new experience, a new community, a new life in Christ--these were the truths that caused joy inexpressible and full of glory to well up deep within in my heart. 

These are the truths which are meant to shape our minds so that we will be able to navigate our way through a world that tells us our past, our desires or our preferences are what ultimately define us. Then, and only then, will we be able to speak helpfully to the issues of the day without derailing or disenfranchising our brothers and sisters in Christ. Our union with Christ in His death and resurrection means that we are defined by who He is, what He has done and what we have become in Him (1 Cor. 6:9-11). As this truth grips our hearts, we will find that our affinity group consists of all those who--no matter their moral, socio-economic, ethnic or political background--have also been raised to newness of life together with us in Him.