Cultural Bias And Women Clergy

 

I was going to wait until I finished this series of posts before I addressed this issue.  But the Holy Spirit won’t leave me alone, so here goes:  What does The Bible really say about women as teachers, pastors, or preachers?  As with all these posts about the influences of cultural biases and how these biases may be keeping us from seeing “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth so help me God”.  I am not expecting anyone to change their view, and especially on this one.  So let’s take a deep dive on this controversial subject.

Here is the approach I am taking.  I am using the Bible IN its contexts AND looking at the whole picture of the narrative the Bible tells, not just bits and pieces to backup my position.  Much of the Bible is written in light of its current context and culture.  I believe what some see as biblical approval and biblical disapproval of certain issues are really passages about how to navigate in a culture that does not reflect the original intention of God in creation.  For example, slavery was not a part of God’s Original Design.  So how do we live faithfully as God’s people in the midst of something He clearly never intended?  And could it be that the role of women, in a culture that clearly does not honor them as being image bearers of God, can be misinterpreted as well?

Here are some of the passages I typically hear from those who say it is unbiblical for women to be pastors and preachers, and my response from looking at the contexts:

11 Women should learn quietly and submissively. 12 I do not let women teach men or have authority over them.  Let them listen quietly. 13 For God made Adam first, and afterward he made Eve. 1 Timothy 2:11-12

Seems pretty clear, doesn’t it?  Until you look at the classical Greek and the original meaning of those words.  The Greek word Paul used is authenteō and it means one who acts on his (or her) own authority, autocratic.  Could it be that Paul is warning against women, or anyone for that matter, to do things that God has not called them to do?  The context is about order in worship.  Worship should not be chaotic and Paul chastised the church at Corinth for some of their ways of making worship more about them and thus, less about God.

And when Paul wrote this letter Timothy was leading the church at Ephesus.  Did someone just think, “So what?  What’s that got to do with anything?”  Glad you asked!  Ephesus was the home to the Temple of Artemis and was considered one of the 7 wonders of the world.  Artemis was considered, among many things, to be the goddess of fertility, and you know how fertility normally occurs–SEX!  When women went to the Temple of Artemis they would adorn themselves with signs of sexuality–beautiful, seductive dresses, jewelry, hair fixed just all, all to seduce men by exerting power over them through sex.  There’s more to say about Artemis’ Temple, you can Google that for yourself.  Suffice it to say, “Couldn’t Paul be telling Timothy that church at Ephesus shouldn’t look or act like those going to the Temple of Artemis, that celebrates sexuality?”  I’m just saying….

Well, let’s look at some more passages

21 And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.  22 For wives, this means submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 23 For a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of his body, the church. 24 As the church submits to Christ, so you wives should submit to your husbands in everything.

25 For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her 26 to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word. 27 He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault. 28 In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as they love their own bodies. For a man who loves his wife actually shows love for himself. 29 No one hates his own body but feeds and cares for it, just as Christ cares for the church.30 And we are members of his body.  Ephesians 5:21-30

I just heard someone say, “Aha, you radical liberal, you just sunk your own ship!”  In the immortal words of Sheriff Andy Taylor, “Now hold on just a minute, Barney.”  Context!  The context is verse 1, NOT verse 22:  “Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children.”  And imitating God hits the high point in verse 21, NOT verse 22:  “And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”  It is all about how we honor God by submitting to each other regardless of status or gender.  The Greek word used is hypotassō and it means to arrange under, to subordinate; to subject, put in subjection.   

If you expect women to submit to men, then men should submit to women, if Paul is correct in verse 21.  The remainder of these verse are about how do we honor each other, respect each other by showing humility to each other.  It certainly isn’t by being lords and dictators over anyone.  Now, just hold on to that thought about imitating God, OK?

Let’s look at another passage that people believe disqualifies women from being pastors and preachers.

34 Women should be silent during the church meetings. It is not proper for them to speak. They should be submissive, just as the law says. 35 If they have any questions, they should ask their husbands at home, for it is improper for women to speak in church meetings.  1 Corinthians 14:34-35

Someone was just thinking, “Would you like for me to throw you a float.  Your ship just sank.”  Now wait a minute Barney!  Context, if you don’t mind.  There was a lot of chaos and confusion in the Corinthian worship.  Paul is speaking about order in worship, again.  That word for silent means just that–silent–to not disrupt the worship service, which was happening at Corinth.  Here is their cultural context–not that God designed it that way–it was just the way they did it.  People were segregated in meeting places, and one way was by gender. Women were placed in the area farthest from where the speaker was–just like in the Temple.  Mr. Peavy hasn’t been born yet, so could it be that the women who could not hear whoever was speaking, so they shouted from the rear of the room, “We didn’t hear that, would you mind repeating that?”

Remember context–and in the case of 1 Corinthians 14, it isn’t about women cannot speak, but it is about so many speaking that there is no chance for people to learn about Jesus.  I’ve heard several men “preachers and teachers” who spoke in unknown tongues.  Oh, they were speaking English, but I didn’t understand a word they said.  I’ve also heard several women preachers and teachers who spoke with clarity and wisdom.  What if the context was maintaining order and reducing chaos, instead of saying women can’t be preachers?  I’m only asking a question…

A couple of paragraphs ago I asked you to hold on to that thought about imitating God, and allow me to pursue it now.  The Bible opens up with life as God designed it to be–it reflects His intentionality.  But in Genesis 3 we see both Adam AND Eve moving in the opposite direction, against God’s intentionality of creation.  From this point forward in the Bible, the narrative is that God seeks to bring us back to His Intended Design.  It is also the narrative of humanity continuing to go against His Intended Design.

This resulted in the forming of cultures that God never designed or intended, but that we humans did because of our sinful nature.  Part of the narrative is our failings.  The rest of the narrative is about God moving to restore His Intended Design to His creation.  This movement of God to restore is always counter-cultural; moving in the opposite direction to what the world says is right.

When Jesus came in our humanness it was the final part of how God one day will restore His creation back to His Intended Design, where men and women together reflect His Image–to be restored to being His Image Bearers.  That plan not only included the death of Jesus, but also the Resurrection of Jesus.  But that ultimate plan included one more step:  The Coming Of The Holy Spirit into the hearts of those He is in the process of RESTORING.  The prophet Joel described to a fallen people how God would do a brand new work in His people,  It is all about restoring what had fallen because of sin–which includes us.  We read in Joel 2:28-29–

“Then, after doing all those things, I will pour out my Spirit upon all people.  Your sons and daughters will prophesy.  Your old men will dream dreams, and your young men will see visions.  In those days I will pour out my Spirit even on servants—men and women alike.

According to Strong’s Hebrew dictionary the word prophesy means to speak by inspiration, meaning inspiration of God.  Joel said both men and women would prophesy–young and old see visions.  He would pour out His spirit on servants–men and women.  Is Joel right or did he get the message from God mixed up?  Fast forward a few centuries.

The Holy Spirit came to those disciples in that upper room at the Feast of Pentecost.  It’s all in Acts 2, but I want to highland, IN CONTEXT, a portion of Peter’s message in verses 14-18–

“Listen carefully, all of you, fellow Jews and residents of Jerusalem! Make no mistake about this.  These people are not drunk, as some of you are assuming. Nine o’clock in the morning is much too early for that.  No, what you see was predicted long ago by the prophet Joel:

‘In the last days,’ God says, ‘I will pour out my Spirit upon all people.  Your sons and daughters will prophesy.  Your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams.  In those days I will pour out my Spirit even on my servants—men and women alike—and they will prophesy.

There are 2 words with a connectional word:  sons AND daughters.  Then a few lines down:  men AND women alike.  What?  They will prophesy.  Did someone just think, “Oh, that’s not really preaching.”  No wonder the North American church is in such a state of decline!  Alas, you may be correct–much preaching I have heard was not prophecy in the truest meaning of that word.  Prophesy in the Greek means “to be a prophet, speak forth by divine inspiration”.  To prophesy doesn’t mean you foretell the future!  Prophecy is FORTH-TELLING not foretelling.  It is about the present moment, not future moments that truly we do not come close to fully understanding.  Oh, it may include something about the future–but it is about the consequences if you do not apply the inspiration of God’s Truth in the here and now.

And even for Paul, who understands the rich extravagance of God’s grace could not fully wrap his mind around this issue of women preachers.  He grew up in a culture, actually, 2 cultures that most often demoted women to second class citizens.  But an epiphany came to Paul in Galatians 3.  The context is being under the influence of the Holy Spirit and living by faith in Jesus.  Here are the verses (26-28) that comes out of that context:

26 For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. 28 There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.

In the beginning, God chose to reflect His image in 2 unique forms–we call them male and female, men and women.  Neither form is better than the other.  Truth is, each single form comes up short in revealing the image of God.  But when you put those 2 images together, as God INTENDED, the image of God becomes clearer.  I know there are those (who shall remain nameless) point out that the responsibility for the Fall rests solely on Eve.  Clearly, this is the early Jewish belief, which culture did influence Paul.

But the sole responsibility does not rest on Eve for this tragedy.  Adam was present, too.  I have a very good friend who insists Adam wasn’t present when the serpent was deceiving Eve.  But Genesis 3:6 says:  “The woman was convinced. She saw that the tree was beautiful and its fruit looked delicious, and she wanted the wisdom it would give her. So she took some of the fruit and ate it. Then she gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it, too.”  Adam should have fought for her against the Serpent, but he didn’t.  Adam didn’t do a thing–and that was his first sin.

And when they were confronted by their Creator about what happened, Eve was honest:  “I was deceived.”  And Adam?  He takes no personal responsibility but blames Eve, and thus his second sin:  “This woman you gave me made me do it.”  Hard truth time:  Adam is blaming God.  “God, if you had not made her, I would be OK.”  So, men are the only ones who can lead in church?  If that’s so, men we have a very bad track record on leading, from the very beginning.

Now, back to my beginning.  I’m not asking anyone to change their views on this matter.  The purpose of this series has been to prod each of us into examining if we are being influenced by our culture.  If so, where at?  Remember, the Kingdom of God goes counter-cultural to everything this culture thinks is right and true.  Now excuse me, I hear a noise outside my office, people shouting something about tar and feathers and something else about a stake and fire…..

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Cultural Bias And “The Church” Conclusion

 

 

 

(Here is the rest of the conversation going on in my head about cultural bias and the church…Due to the nature of this mind, viewer discretion is advised.  The Spiritually immature, not to be confused with “new believers”, may not be able to comprehend these thoughts. Please read the first part before reading this one:  Cultural Bias And “The Church”)

Mr. Churchian:  First you’re talking about Greek and now Latin?  All of that is irrelevant.

Ms. Tenured Pew Sitter:  Besides, we speak English, American English.  I agree with Mr. Churchian, Greek/Latin–that doesn’t mean a thing!

Me:  (Fighting hard to keep my gift of sarcasm in check)  Yes, we speak American English (I’m wondering why Ms. Tenured Pew Sitter insists on the KJV) but yet there are different meanings to words now than when these wonderful letters and books were written.  I know that we cannot all be Greek and Hebrew Scholars and this is why there are so many resources that can help us to understand in a deeper way the intent of the writers by looking at the original meanings of those words.

Mr. Churchian:  Well, I know what I know!

Ms. Tenured Pew Sitter:  And I know all I need to know!

Me:  (Now I’m smiling again!)  And that, my dear brother and sister in Christ, is the problem.  What you know is what you have been taught by well-meaning people who have been enveloped in that fog of misinformation called “Church Cultural Bias”.  We have accepted, BLINDLY accepted what we have been told about what it means to be a follower of Jesus.  And at the root of this, I’m calling it what it is, this DECEPTION are these 2 diametrical words:  the original word Ekklēsia and that substitute word Circulous.

Circulous is a “circle”.  A circle is a closed system.  What ever is outside that circle must be allowed in to be a part of the circle.  The circle then supports itself.  Whatever is allowed to be a part of the circle must have 2 key attributes:

  1.   First, it must conform.  If they do not conform, then the circle is no longer symmetrical.  And God knows we can’t have circles unless they are symmetrical.  And Ms. Tenured Pew Sitter I know how important symmetry is to you. (She’s smiling now, but wait for it!)
  2.   Second, it must contribute something to the existing structure.  They must be able to reflect the current image.  God knows we cannot have people in jeans with tattoos and piercings a part of the circle that is full of suits, ties and women wearing conservative fashionable dresses.  They must be able to add to the existing and prevailing views, otherwise we would not be uniform.  And Mr. Churchian, I know how important contributing to uniformity is to you.  (Now he’s smiling, but wait for it!)

And all of this must happen within the confines of a specific geographic location, otherwise known as The Church Building.  Am I correct in this, Mr. Churchian and Ms. Tenured Pew Sitter?

Mr. Churchian and Ms. Tenured Pew Sitter:  (In unison) ABSOLUTELY!  Thanks for finally coming over to our side!

Me:  ‘Hold `em thar’ horses!’  What I just described is the Body of Christ as Circulous, a “circle”.  The circle exists to serve those already in the circle.  Anything that doesn’t support the circle is deemed both unnecessary and unimportant.  The focus is entirely on human activities; what WE do.  It creates that sense of entitlement, and I know how both of you feel about “the entitlement generation”.  The circle produces consumers.  As long as the pastor, staff and leadership puts out “consumables” for you, everything is great.  When they no longer put out consumables, it’s time to replace them.  This, my Sister and Brother, is the Body of Christ as a circle.  I see you nodding your heads in agreement.  But remember that Circulous is a substitute word for the original word.

The Body of Christ as the Ekklēsia focuses on the One who does the calling.  By focusing on the One who does the calling, the focus is on the life that God offers us and the foundation of that life that God offers us is about dying daily to self in order to live in unselfish ways in order to care about and for others.  Putting it another way, here are 3 things the Ekklēsia is not:

  1.   It does not look like a geometrical circle.  It looks more like coloring outside the lines.  I know how much both of you detest coloring outside the lines.  But when Jesus was in our human form He was the Master Artist of coloring outside the lines.  Jesus continues coloring outside the lines by storming the strongholds of human values and culture.
  2.   It is not being uniform.  Our Creator loves unique diversity.  Look at the animal kingdom.  You have an armadillo and you have the giraffe.  Look even at horses, varieties of sizes, shapes, colors, and purposes.  God loves diversity so He created us uniquely and loves it when we use our uniqueness to honor Him.  Think about the beauty of a rainbow.  The colors are not the same.  When the light hits those raindrops at the right angle, then the beauty shines.
  3.   It does not focus inwardly.  The One who calls us is always looking outwardly.  Thus, to respond to that call, the Body of Christ also looks outwardly.  The Ekklēsia cannot be confined to a postal or 911 address.  All that happens inside the geographical location is designed to drive us out of that location to where real people are enslaved by sin, bringing light to the dirtiest and darkest places on earth.

Ms. Tenured Pew Sitter:  Well, that’s not what I was taught!

Mr. Churchian:  Well, I earned my way to be here and everyone else should earn their way, JUST LIKE I DID!

Me:  Well, it wasn’t what I was taught either.  And I admit, I haven’t earned my way into the circle.  But I have been called out by God’s grace.  Called back to my Creator, my Father.  I have been called out to follow Jesus wherever He wants me to go in order to do whatever He wants me to do.  Now, if you two will excuse me, Jesus has left the building, so I must also leave the building….

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Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to Him!

Jesus-Left-Building-2

(Maybe Elvis had it right)

Cultural Bias And Holy Communion-Part 2

Well, this is the sixth in my series about how cultural biases may have, probably have influenced our understanding of the Bible, especially in the U.S. churches.  I had intended to do only one blog per issue, but the Spirit has prompted, well actually SHOVED me, dragged me screaming, into going deeper because there exists a deep misunderstanding about Holy Communion by some who occupy the pews.  The issue is about “who”–WHO can receive these sacred symbols?

Let’s begin with the 2 camps known as The Closed Camp and The Open Camp.  The Close Camp Rule state that only members of their Tribe are allowed to receive the sacred symbols.  No ifs, ands, buts or maybes–you have to be a full member of Their Tribe.  The Open Camp Rule state that church membership is not a requirement.  And now things become a little more complicated.  Have you ever noticed how humanity tends to make the grace of God more complicated?  Or is that just me?

Within The Open Camp there are 2 Sub-Camps.  Both agree that church membership is not a requirement, both Camps agree that this is that powerful reminder of God’s Grace.  There are some other points they agree on, but here is where it becomes a bit more complicated.  First there is The Open Camp But You Have To Be Worthy.  This Camp says, “Stay away from this Table until you are worthy of it.”  Those who hold this view have hitched their wagon to 1 Corinthians 11:26-27 (NLT)

26 For every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are announcing the Lord’s death until he comes again.  27 So anyone who eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord unworthily is guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.

At the ripe old age of 21, I had an older member who refused to celebrate Holy Communion all because her father had drilled it into her head, “Don’t receive it until you feel you are worthy.”  The position of This Camp is that this Table, HIS Table, is a Reserved Table.  Your reservations for His Table are made through your performance.  They may not agree with my conclusion, but as I often say, “The truth will stand when the world’s on fire.”  Though the Table is not a “Members Only Club”, it is demeaned and devalued into “The Table For Only Those Who Perform Very Well.”

The other is The Open Camp For Those Who Need Grace.  This Camp says, “If you are hungry for God’s grace, then there’s a chair for you at this Table.”  The Communion Table becomes more of a doctor’s office for the sick, than a “Heisman Award” for the really good folks.  This Camp sees Holy Communion as a Means of Grace, a way to connect with God’s Grace.  And I am proud to say that I have a lifetime membership in this Camp.

I understand that some will say, “Look, the issue is much more in-depth (which is just another way of saying ‘complicated’) than you have presented it.”  But when I take my cultural eyeglasses off and simply read the Bible, here is what I see and understand; and it’s not all that complicated.

For those who must insist that we become worthy BEFORE we receive the Sacred Signs, and base it on 1 Corinthians 11:26-27, you’re not applying this verse in its context.  See what some of the Corinthians were doing.  They were having a private party for their own kind.  Kinda like those who say Holy Communion is only for ‘their’ kind of folks.  So you think you’re “worthy”?  You better check out verses 28. 39 and 30.

It is called The Lord’s Table for a reason, and a purpose.  The Reason it is The Lord’s Table is because He alone has set the table and provided the meal, so HE  gets to decide who receives the invitation.  Luke 14 describes the invitation sent to those on the little dusty trails, in other words, those on the fringes.  Mark 2 describes that He is looking and calling for the sick, not the allegedly healthy.  And who can forget John 3:16 and THAT powerful word WHOSOEVER.  Everyone is a WHOSOEVER.

I don’t think anyone should come to The Lord’s Table casually or out of habit.  It is a sacred moment where we can both SEE and TASTE that The Lord, He is Good!  And I certainly do not believe that it’s a performance based reward.  This, The Lord’s Tableis for anyone who needs to be reminded of these 2 eternal truths:

  1. We need God’s grace every moment of every day
  2. God freely gives us the grace we admit to needing because of the death of Jesus.

Holy Communion has this Message:  “For anyone who needs and wants My Grace, pull up a chair at My Table, and have a Feast!  Don’t worry about the cost.  I’ve taken care of that, too!”  And that, my friends, is something to celebrate!

Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to HIM!!!!

Cultural Bias And Holy Communion

 

Who is ‘authorized’ to administer (or serve) Holy Communion/The Lord’s Supper/The Eucharist/The Mass?  This was the question I asked in the beginning of this series of blogs.  As I prayed and reflected on this topic, as with the other topics I’ve already addressed, I am finding it taking me deeper than my original intent and adding additional, call them questions or angles, that may be getting in the way of understanding this powerful moment of Holy Communion.  Before I get to the others questions the Spirit has confronted me with, allow me to address this original question.

In every Tribe and Tradition of which I am familiar, in order to serve or administer or oversee (ecclesiastical requirements) this “Sacrament”, one must be a licensed, commissioned or ordained pastor.  In my Tribe, to be “qualified” you must be either “ordained” or a “licensed” local pastor.  In the case of a local pastor, you can only serve Communion in the congregation to which you are appointed.  Truthfully, from the time of my entrance into this calling, I have always had an issue with my Tribe’s rule.  But in order to be licensed and then ordained, I kept the party line in tact with my papers and what I said in my interviews.  (In one paper I had to do, I ripped apart the commentator…turned out he was the one who “graded” my paper, so I had to redo it….edited of course to fall in line with the author of the commentary I ripped apart….lesson learned!)

The rationale behind such views is that a properly credentialed person is necessary in order to protect the sacredness of this powerful moment.  It is as if Holy Communion (notice the use of caps) loses both the “Holy” and the “caps” if someone administers or oversees it who is not “properly credentialed”, thus becoming only “communion” (lower case ‘c’) which in turn, the powers that be, believe diminishes its effect.  Really?  It loses its purpose and power when someone administers it who isn’t ecclesiastically qualified?  That the sacredness of God’s grace is not present?  Wow!  I never realized that God could not move in a moment UNLESS He has someone ecclesiastically qualified like me!

My long-standing “disagreement” on this issue is based on this passage from 1 Peter 2:5-9

And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple.  What’s more, you are his holy priests.  Through the mediation of Jesus Christ, you offer spiritual sacrifices that please God. As the Scriptures say,  “I am placing a cornerstone in Jerusalem, chosen for great honor, and anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.”  Yes, you who trust him recognize the honor God has given him.  But for those who reject him, “The stone that the builders rejected has now become the cornerstone.”  And, “He is the stone that makes people stumble, the rock that makes them fall.”   They stumble because they do not obey God’s word, and so they meet the fate that was planned for them.  But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people.  You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession.  As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.

We call this The Priesthood Of All Believers.  Unless Pete’s first letter was limited to only ecclesiastically qualified people, then I believe that “proper” Holy Communion (again, notice the caps) can be administered by anyone who has turned away from sin, accepted the Gift of God expressed on The Cross, and is growing in that Grace.  Either we who seriously follow Jesus (meaning being a Christian is more than a name, but a life-long commitment of heart, mind and will) are ALL Priests or NONE of us are to be considered Priests.  Ecclesiastical Authority does NOT make one a priest.  Only the authority of the One who Created us, Redeemed us, and Transforms us has such authority!!!! (Notice the use of multiple “exclamation marks”; that means I’m passionately serious about this!!!!)

Jesus revealed and modeled the new work of Priests, this Priesthood of All Believers. (See Hebrews 9:11-12 and Hebrews 4:14-16).  The mission of Priests in the Old Testament were to presents the needs of the people to God and to reveal God’s mind and heart to the people.  Jesus did this perfectly by becoming both the Priest who stands before God to represent the needs of the people, and the perfect sacrifice that meets all the needs of all people.  Picture this:  Jesus REPRESENTING us BEFORE God, and then PRESENTING the heart and mind God TO us.

And there is no clearer picture of the Heart and Mind of God than in the Holy Moment of Holy Communion.  We present and re-present to each other the perfect Sacrifice through Holy Communion.  And who better to “preside” over that moment than anyone who has been touched, redeemed and now being transformed by this marvelous Grace?  Certainly it doesn’t take ecclesiastical credentials to “preside” over this Sacred Meal.  Maybe I’m missing something, but I do not see ecclesiastical credentials as a requirement in the first century Body of Christ.  So why now is it necessary?

Enough for now…there are some more cultural biases I see around the Sacred Meal…and as hard as it may be to believe….I have something to say about them, too….later!

Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure ALL the glory goes to HIM!!!!

Cultural Bias-The Bible And The Role Of Elders And Deacons

(This is the third post in a series around this question:  Are we reading our own Cultural Biases into the Bible?)

In examining the issue of cultural bias influencing one’s understanding of the Bible, nothing is protected from examination–even the practices of my own Tribe, the United Methodist Church.  Here is today’s question:  Are ‘deacons’ and ‘elders’ to be considered clergy (pastors/preachers) or laity (the person in the pew)?  Who’s right?

In case you may be unaware of this, but in my Tribe the offices of Elder and Deacon have traditionally been restricted to clergy or those engaging in specialized ministries–us folks who go through extensive education and even more extensive inquisitions from what we call the Board of Ordained Ministry (the Board of Ordained Ministry prefers the term “interview”, though it often looks more like an inquisition).

In other Tribes, the offices of elder and deacon are given to the laity; from among the rank and file membership.  Though my knowledge of these Tribes is limited, my experiences with members and pastors is that the deacons and especially the elders, carry great authority, even to having pastors and other staff fired, and of course, choosing who will be “hired”.

The first mention of Elders in a church is found in Acts 11:30 when Paul and Barnabas delivered a love offering from the churches in Antioch to the church in Jerusalem.  The word that has been translated as “elder” is the Greek word presbýteros, (pronounced pres-boo’-ter-os) and is comparative to the Greek word présbys ( which means elderly).  It refers to someone who is older;, a senior.  It is the same word used to describe key leaders in the Sanhedrin as well as local community leaders.  In other words, the church “borrowed” this word from the Jewish tradition.

First mention of “deacon” is in Romans 16:1, a letter Paul wrote around 57 A.D.  The Greek word used is diákonos, (pronounced dee-ak’-on-os) probably came from an obsolete word diákō (pronounced dee-ak’-o), which means to run on errands, an attendant, a waiter at table or in other menial duties, and one who executes the commands of another such as a master; one who is a servant, or attendant.  Now this doesn’t sound like someone with great authority or who carries around a big stick.

As I did my due diligence in this research there’s another word or “office” described by Paul–bishop!  It’s mentioned only twice in reference to people:  1 Timothy 3:1-2 and Titus 1:7.  It’s the Greek word episkopḗ, (pronounced ep-is-kop-ay’) and means  inspection, examine, and to visit.  It comes from the word episképtomai (pronounced ep-ee-skep’-tom-ahee) and means to go to see, relieve:—look out, visit.  By the way, it’s the same word found in Matthew 25:36 when Jesus said, “I was sick and you visited me.”  This “office of bishop” is seen only in a limited number of Tribes, mine included.

From these passages I see nothing about these offices (deacon, elder, bishop) being limited to clergy/preachers.  Furthermore, I do not see nor hear that idea of wielding great power or authority, especially the offices of deacon and bishop.  So how did these offices of the early church become what they are today?  In other words, “Where does this show signs of cultural bias?”

What I see is the influence of the Roman Catholic Tribe.  Now to my Roman Catholic friends, please understand I am NOT picking on you or putting your Tribe and Traditions down.  I’m simply stating a historical fact.  The first major organizing of the church resulted in the formation of what we know as the Roman Catholic Church/Tribe.

The first significant reorganization of the church happened in 1517 when Martin Luther posted his “95 Theses” (FYI, use of drums and guitars in a sanctuary were not listed in this document).  This led to what we now call the Protestant Reformation.  As bodies of believers, churches reorganized and new Tribes formed.  Over the decades and centuries these newly formed Tribes either copied the formal clerical structure of the Roman Catholic Tribe, or in an effort to distance themselves, went in the opposite direction of putting major leadership among laypersons rather than preachers.

This was influenced by Western Civilization of creating a hierarchy of authority and power.  Tribes such as mine, used the term “elder” and “bishop” to create that sense of authority and power.  These offices and roles were a far cry from the very first churches.  The influence of Western Europe and England are seen in how the Greek words are translated, in particular, the office of Bishop.  The word most commonly used in the English language is OVERSEER.  That sounds like an office filled with great authority, when in reality it is a word about visiting the sick, examining and looking at what happens.  OVERSEER also was used to describe an office in the ancient Feudal System.

At least to me it seems we have brought cultural biases when it comes to the offices of deacon, elder, and bishop/overseer.  And I find myself at odds with my own Tribe in the use of these offices.  I am also at odds with other Tribes that use these offices as forms of power and authority rather than offices of serving, caring for and caring about people.

Again, I am not asking or expecting anyone or everyone to agree with my thesis that these offices are another way that we have added cultural bias to our understanding of the Holy Writ.  But if we have added our cultural bias to even one part of the Holy Writ, then there is a high probability that we are adding our cultural biases into other parts.  What if, mind you, I’m only asking What If, What If we spend our time in the Holy Writ without the teachings and commentaries of our Tribes and listened to what was written?  What If we sought the Giver of all Wisdom to guide us in the struggle of understanding it for ourselves?  What If we looked back to the original languages as to the meaning of those words without adding cultural influences on those words?  What If we sought the Holy Spirit to be our Guide, instead of primarily resting upon our cultural biases?

A very good friend, mentor and spiritual guide in my life came out of a Tribe with a very strict legalistic background.  But now Tim embraces Grace and the understanding that the body of Christ is more than one Tribe, than God longs for Relationship over Rules.  I asked him once what led to his personal transformation.  He told me it happened as he was reading the Bible and the Holy Spirit began to challenge his personal cultural biases.  Maybe this is what we all need.