Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Taking (and Handing over) the Wheel

During the summer months when our family takes a road trip, I end up doing most of the driving. I like it that way. It gives me what I like to call a "modicum of monarchy." Somehow being behind the wheel makes me think I'm in control. In reality, lot of other factors like the weather, traffic, and (rightfully) my wife are there to remind me that I'm not a monarch. I'm really more of a chauffeur. Nevertheless, I like being behind the wheel.

There is a down side to this, of course. That means that I can't watch the movies the kids are enjoying at 70 mph. I can't catch up on email and texts like my wife, Heather, in the "shotgun" chair. I can't read the stack of books I brought along on the trip. I can't even listen to "my music" via earbuds because I only have one good ear. (Believe me, I've tried all these things and I would not recommend them.)

There seems to be a lesson here. Being in the driver's seat gives you some sense of control, but it also comes at a cost. Being in charge is limiting. It's demanding. Those who sit in the driver's seat have to dismiss unnecessary distractions. They must be disciplined to deal with the duties at hand.

Of course, there are always limits to leadership. The leader is human after all. A person can only drive for so long. Some are more capable of leading than others. Some can manage a trip to the department store. Others can lead an expedition across Antarctica. Effective leaders learn to work in tandem with others. Team leadership is usually best for the long haul. In other words, there are times to hand over the wheel to someone else. I'm not the only capable driver in the car. Although I love to drive, I also love to crawl in the back and watch a movie with the kids, catch up on email, read a chapter or two, and (of course) listen to my music in my one good ear.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Staying Local

Jim Elliot, one of the 1956 missionary martyrs to the Huaorani in Ecuador, once said, "Wherever you are be all there. Live every moment you know to be the will of God to the hilt." He was getting at the notion of "faithful presence," as put forth in To Change the World, by James Davison Hunter. We live in a world of distraction and escapism. What Jim and James are both calling us to is what could be called localized living. My grandmother would just call it living.

What for many generations was just fantasy has now become commonplace. Hundreds of thousands of people will jet to London to see the Olympic games later this month. Hundreds of millions more will watch the games on TV and online. It is as if the whole world is converging on England. The same thing will happen in Brazil for the World Cup in two years and then the next Olympic games in 2016. The digital generation can "be anywhere, anytime" via the internet--a new breed of electronic teleporters akin to David Rice (played by Hayden Christensen) in the 2008 film "Jumper." Although the film was generally panned by critics, it stands as a cautionary tale to our escapist culture. At one point in the film, Roland Cox (played by Samuel L. Jackson) tells the trapped teleporter David, "You think it could go on like this [teleporting in and out of people's lives] forever? Living like this with no consequences? There are always consequences!" Indeed there are. If we insist on being everywhere we want to be, we may lose the ability to be anywhere in particular at any given moment. 

The apostle Paul while in Athens addressed the Areopagus: "The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth...made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place" (Acts 17:24, 26). Traditionally we describe this as part of God's providence. He not only made the world, but manages it--down to the details of where we dwell. And his intent, as the apostle points out, is that we might know him and worship him aright. 

I'm convinced that one of the chief tools that Satan uses to thwart God's purposes in our lives is to distract us, to get us to live with a constant "the grass is greener" attitude toward life, to make us want to escape our present circumstances instead of find God in the midst of them. Jesus came to dwell with us. His mission has not changed. He now resides in (and among) those who love him and keep his words (John 14:15-24), and will one day return to dwell with his own forever.

Eugene Peterson closed an interview in Christianity Today a few years ago by describing his  45-year career as a pastor:
One thing that I think is characteristic of me is I stay local. I'm rooted in a pastoral life, which is an ordinary life. So while all this glitter and image of spirituality is going around, I feel quite indifferent to it, to tell you the truth. And I'm somewhat suspicious of it because it seems to be uprooted, not grounded in local conditions, which are the only conditions in which you can live a Christian life.
This is not to say that we shouldn't travel broadly, or watch world-wide sports or news. It does mean that we should stay grounded, rooted in time and space. There is no other way to live and flourish.  

Monday, July 9, 2012

Women in Church Leadership

The role of women in the Church is crucial for its health and growth. Just as women were active during Jesus’ ministry and in the early church, so women are actively ministering in the church today. Without their efforts the work of the church would be severely hampered. That being said, when we address the role of women in the church we need to remember that Scripture is our sole and sufficient guide in this matter, as in all others. The creation account in Genesis 1 and 2 shows that the Lord determined that man should be head of the woman, who was made from man in order to be his glory and helper. Basing his teachings on the order of creation and the example set by the Son in freely submitting to the Father’s headship, Paul requires a woman to submit voluntarily to her husband’s leadership and to the leadership established by Christ for the church which is limited to men (1 Tim. 2:11-13). Women can serve in any capacity in the church along side men, except in the role as officers (1 Tim. 3:2, 12; Titus 1:6).

The following is taken from Introduction to Redlands Community Church, the course people at our church go though when they are interested in membership. I post it here because several people have asked about my (our) position on the issue of women in church leadership.

A. The question of having women serve in various leadership positions in the church is a controversial, but important issue that needs to be addressed in each church congregation.

1. We recognize that it is possible for Christians equally committed to the authority of Scripture to disagree on this issue (as is the case on election, the sacraments, etc.). We are committed to working together with all those who believe and proclaim the gospel, even when we disagree.

2. The issue is complicated by the fact that, in many churches that do not ordain women to the pastoral office, there are often limited opportunities for women to exercise gifts in the areas of public teaching, theology, etc.

B. Scripture strongly affirm the fundamental equality of men and women—both men and women are (and this was an astounding proclamation in the Ancient Near East) fully the very image and likeness of God. While strongly affirming this personal equality, the Scriptures, however, do not teach that men and women are simply interchangeable. Men and women, the Scriptures teach, while clearly equal, are also different in many ways. (See Genesis 1:27; Galatians 3:26-29.)

1. Traditionally the church has seen a difference in the role of men and women. The Bible teaches that, in the family, the husband/father has the role as the spiritual leader of the household (Ephesians 5:22ff). It is important to remember, of course, that the Bible teaches a unique, gospel-centered view of leadership—leaders are, first of all, servants.

2. Scripture often draw a parallel between the family and the church. This is why those who lead the church—as the “fathers” of God’s household—are to be men. (Key text: 1 Timothy 2:12.)
In the context of Paul’s apostolic instructions to the church for the ordering of church practice when the church is assembled together, two things are prohibited: 1) women are not permitted to publicly “teach” Scripture and/or Christian doctrine to men in church (the context implies these topics), and 2) women are not permitted to “exercise authority” over men in the church. Women teaching other women, and women teaching children, are not in view here, and both are encouraged elsewhere (Titus 2:4; 2 Tim. 1:5). Nor does this passage have in view the role of women in leadership situations outside the church (e.g., business or government)… Since the role of pastor/elder/overseer is rooted in the task of teaching and exercising authority over the church, this verse would also exclude women from serving in this office (cf. 1 Tim. 3:2). Thus when Paul calls for the women to be “quiet,” he means with respect to the teaching responsibility that is limited in the assembled church. Paul elsewhere indicates that women do speak in other ways in the church assembly (1 Cor. 11:5, 13; Acts 2:17; 21:8-9).
(ESV Study Bible notes)
C. What about deacons?

1. Redlands Community Church (and the PCA) believe that deacons are to be ordained and are only to be men. There are those in our denomination, however, who believe there is strong evidence in the Bible for women serving as deacons (or deaconesses).

a. In Romans 16:1, Phoebe is referred to as a “servant” (NIV and ESV), or in Greek, a diakonos. Since the Greek term can mean either “servant” (13:4; 15:8; 1 Cor. 3:5; 1 Tim. 4:6) or “deacon” (referring to the church office; Philemon 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:8, 12), scholars debate whether Phoebe was a servant in the general sense, or whether she served as a deacon.

b. In 1 Timothy 3:11, in the middle of describing the qualifications for deacons, the apostle Paul gives qualifications for “their wives.” Who were these women? The Greek word gyne can mean either “women” or “wives.” The ambiguity results in at least three interpretations: 1) the wives of deacons, 2) women deacons, or 3) women who assist the deacons but who are distinct from the deacons.

c. Evidence for women deacons (sometimes called deaconesses) can also be found in the history of the early church.

2. Again, Redlands Community Church (and the PCA) do not allow women to be “ordained” as deacons. However, the PCA’s Book of Church Order (BCO) allows Sessions to appoint women for non-ordained diaconal ministry. Consequently, our practice at Redlands is to have men and women serve together in diaconal ministry without ordination.