Minister's Study

Ministering, writing, and wrestling in a land flowing with sweet tea and deep-fried food

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Still Stumping the Chump

August 28th, 2005

Questioning the Assistant Pastor has turned out to be a popular sport at our church. I had halfway expected to spend just one week answering a few simple and hesitant questions before moving into our study of the book of Acts. However, the questions just keep popping up, often triggered by the answers to other questions.

For the last two weeks, it's mostly been pretty tame -- with one fun exception, nothing terribly difficult. This week, however, after the usual easy one or two (e.g., "What's up with the three heavens mentioned in the Bible?" and "Why does the same guy sometimes have different names in the Old and New Testaments?"), someone hit me with a question about the role of women in the church. Since the person who asked is from a Pentecostal/Charismatic background, it made the question even more loaded. I'd forgotten my concordance this morning (and hadn't really expected to need it; the questions people gave me in advance weren't too bad, and I had prepared answers for all of them), so I had to work from the top of my head.

I think I muddled through okay, but it's a tough subject to apply today. People tend to stumble on the fact that equality of value and sameness of role aren't the same thing -- two individuals can be of equal value in the eyes of God, and even in the ministry of a church, while playing radically different roles. The Bible transcends culture, and it's never really in step with popular culture through the ages. Back when popular culture valued women below men (as some places and cultures still do), the Bible still asserted their importance in the eyes of God, and even in society, permitting women to own property, be active members of the church, and do things that popular culture would not. And today, while popular culture tries to make women and men not only equal in value, but identical in role, the Bible still stands out, proclaiming that men and women play different roles in both the family and the church. But since the Bible is an absolute and unchanging record from an absolute and unchanging God, it's no surprise that it rarely lines up with the constantly shifting values of any culture.

The sticky subject that came up last week was the matter of judgment. Is it okay for Christians to judge other people? If so, when and how? That one is culturally loaded too -- we're supposed to be all accepting, never condemning the behavior or beliefs of others. "Judge not, that ye be not judged," is the watchword in contemporary Christianity, as in contemporary culture.

Ironically, that passage is not a commandment not to judge -- it is a warning about how we go about passing judgment. The Bible actually tells Christians to judge ("He that is spiritual judgeth all things," and "Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.") It also places boundaries upon our judgment, rather like the Lord's warning not to judge others until we have first judged ourselves -- we'll be judged in the same manner that we judge others. One boundary is Paul's warning not to judge the convictions of others ("Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him. Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth.") or the motives, faithfulness, and probably effectiveness of another's ministry ("Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you....Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts.") We are, however, encouraged to rigorously judge ourselves ("For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world.")

In short, it seems that the Scriptures command us to evaluate whether what others proclaim is the truth, determining carefullly whom we will follow, and from whom we must separate (and separation is something a little different from judgment, a distinction that few are careful enough to make). We are responsible for judging issues ("judgeth all things" -- not people, but things: not individuals, but issues and ideas. While separation is from people and organizations, judgment is made upon things.) We must constantly judge our own actions, striving to walk in purity of heart and life. But we ought not to judge another person's motivations, convictions, approach to ministry (aside from the determinations of whether they are truly a spirit from God and to what degree we can fellowship with them), or in any area until we have first examined our own lives. Other people will stand before the Lord for judgment for these things. And finally, I would always recommend giving the benefit of the doubt whenever possible -- we'll be judged in the same way we judge others, and it's what I'd want others to do for me, anyhow.

Whew. I've already been handed a couple for next week, but I don't know that there will be any as touchy in our church as those two. Can't we get back to easy ones, like "Where'd Cain get his wife, anyhow?" Ya'll pray for me. And you'd probably better pray for my students that they don't leave any more confused than they come in.

Hopefully I'm just kidding about that. But there's been a lot of interest in this series of question and answer weeks. The mother of the autistic boy from the picnic came this morning to the service and says she's going to try to come to my session next week, and my regulars have been as nearly fanatical about making these sessions as I've seen them about anything. Apparently there aren't a lot of preachers willing to put themselves in front of anyone who shows up and try to field any question they might ask about the Bible (although I reserve the right to tell people "I don't know today" and get back to them the next week!). Most of us gave that up right after our ordination council -- and we got to help pick the people that were asking the questions then!


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