Saturday, November 22, 2014

Quick Thoughts on Image Bearing Fetuses and Immigration

Often, when I hear others talking about abortion, the focus is on the innocence of the fetus. Moral outrage grows because of the innocence and defenselessness of the child. But I would submit to you that the true reason that abortion is sin is not because the fetus is innocent, but because the fetus is human.

You could make an argument from Scripture that the fetus is not innocent at all. All are guilty before God. Given the opportunity to live, any fetus would eventually act out in ways consistent with the sinful nature Scripture teaches we all have. But that baby in the womb has something that gives it worth, innocent or not. It is human – unlike a dog or horse, or my beloved killer whales, humans reflect God. They bear His image. They are imprinted with something reflective of God that no other entity in creation shows.

We have a word for the actions around the inheritant dignity of being human. We call it being humane. Humane means the sense of being human. The differences in how a lion treats a wounded human and a human treats a wounded lion are pretty big. For humans living in the essence of what it means to be an elevated ruler of creation, compassionate treatment of animals is a concern. It's not that we treat the animal like it is a human. It's that we treat the animal when it is weak or wounded inherently better than another animal would treat it. We treat it humanely. We respond with dignity and care befitting an image bearer of the Creator taking care of creation. And when mob mentality in riots results in people treating others more like animals than humans, we rightfully recoil in horror.
Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him. (Proverbs 14:31)
With immigration reform in the news, I have been thinking again of what it means to be pro all of life, walking day in and day out reflecting the inherent dignity of what it means to be human, what it means to be the one part of creation who bears the image of God. Immigration is complicated because of the legal, political issues, but what is not complicated is our day in and day out obligation to treat other humans in light of their dignity simply because they are human. In my own life, my test is not treating new babies humanely but how I respond to the adult who is down and out. On the outside, they have clearly fallen short of the glory of God that He has called them to reflect. Yet, I remember that, though I look clean on the outside, I too fall short. Then, I can turn to the poor man and treat him in the dignified way God has treated me, and in so doing I call him and myself back to what God created us to be in perfection – reflections of Him.


Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Voice of the Helper

As I work through church dysfunction in Seattle with former and current Mars Hill Church elders, deacons, and members in private Facebook groups, some hard conversations have been had, particularly about the ways the culture at Mars Hill damaged women. We have had painful but beautiful discussions. Early points of the conversation involved a lot of anger and accusation. But over time, as those who have been hurt were heard and their stories validated by the leaders involved, the conversation turned to healing and growth that reflects well on the deep meaning behind the word redeem.

One thing I am processing is why so many women over the years at Mars Hill felt silenced. I think some of it is pathological – serious mental struggles due to childhood trauma by some influential leaders that resulted in over the top reactions to women who spoke up. But I also think some of it was theological, which is why I've hounded again and again the issue of Genesis 3:16. One elder referred to explicit theology – that which was taught – and implicit theology – that which was believed. There was a discrepancy between the two at times. Leadership at Mars Hill occasionally spoke explicitly about women with the assumption that our first root issue was that we would want to take over control from the men in our lives. But the implicit belief outside of what was explicitly taught was there at a fundamental, pervasive level. When that is your foundational assumption, then there is nothing that a woman can say short of complete agreement and affirmation of you in every way that will not be eventually labeled gossip, manipulation, or outright usurping of authority.

As I continue to think through a 3rd way on gender, I am burdened for the voice of the helper that God gave to the man. Was Eve designed only to help with her hands or her body? Or was there something in her words that God designed to be helpful to Adam? The great passage that is used to squelch female voices is I Peter 3, on winning a disobedient husband over without a word. Paul talks of women keeping silent in the church as well, but the context there is the authoritative teaching in the position of elder. I think Peter and Paul's instructions are good, true, and to be obeyed today. But remember that these are not the only Scripture on women speaking. While some verses on women instruct keeping silence, others affirm the use of words as a sign of wisdom and virtue, notably in the classic wisdom chapter on Image-bearing womanhood, Proverbs 31.
Proverbs 31:26 She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
There are many more verses on women speaking in the Bible, but I am not going to give a survey of them right now. The issue isn't whether a woman is or is not to speak. The issue is what she should speak and how she should speak. We are as constrained by James 3:10 as the men in our churches are.
Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. Brothers and sisters, these things ought not to be.
Going forward, I offer this encouragement first to women, and then to men.

Women: I encourage you to cultivate the voice that God intended for you to use when He created you as a strong helper for the man. This means recognizing what tears down and putting that off as the old man. The Bible has strong words for negative speech for men and women, along with a few choice words for women alone. Because of our particular gifting to come alongside a man in aid, the negative words we say in a moment can deeply wound a man, like the nurse you expect to administer pain medicine who instead injects you with poison. Gossip, slander, malice … these are antithetical to the role of ezer, and we must deliberately push into who we are in Christ that we may recognize these words and put them away.

But a big mistake we make as women in conservative churches is that we put off without also putting on, especially in terms of the voice of the Helper. The put off / put on process for women and their words is not to put off gossip and put on silence. It is to put off words that tear down and put on words of life that God intended you to use. The end result of transformation in Christ is that we put on words that aid our churches, aid our families, and aid our friends. 

Men: I encourage you, like the women, to cultivate the voice of women in your life. Thabiti Anyabwile wrote a great article for The Gospel-Centered Woman on the neglect of pastors to disciple and use women in their congregations. If you have women who gossip in your church, the tendency is to preach against gossip and encourage silence instead of doing the real work of cultivating life giving speech among these women. But I add a second encouragement as well – as you encourage women toward better speech, then respect that voice when she uses it! This second step has been a missing link in a lot of homes and congregations. Listen when women speak with wisdom. Respect the role of helper, and value God's image bearing role in women. What if husbands, pastors, and leaders in churches started valuing the voices of women who were speaking into their lives with wisdom?

The main problem seems that some men can't distinguish between women speaking with wisdom and women speaking with authority. They are so afraid of a woman telling them authoritatively what to do that they can't hear feedback or suggestions from them without defensiveness. To be fair, women can and should work on how to say the good things they have to contribute in a way that doesn't create hurdles for the one who needs to hear it. For both men and women, the Bible indicates the same words said in different ways can have very different results. But, men, whether a woman says it exactly right in your estimation or not, don't let yourself be deceived into thinking her tone negates the truth of what she offers you. That particular temptation seems a tool of Satan to undermine the woman as the helper God intended.

I'll end with a positive observation. I am seeing much more evidence of men in the Church respecting the voice of the helper in just the last 6 months or so than I have for many years previously. I appreciate The Village Church's current sermon series on Biblical manhood and womanhood in particular. One thing that has been clear in the series is that Matt Chandler values women in his church speaking into his life. In one particular illustration he gave about his wife, he shared the wise way she pointed out a problem area in his life to him. She spoke with wisdom in a way that was easy for him to receive.

But, in the same illustration, Matt also acknowledged that he needed to listen to her input whether she said it exactly right or not. That can be a missing link for men – discounting the wisdom of what was said because a woman didn't articulate it as softly as the man thought she should. Honestly, men, admit that sometimes you just don't want to hear it from a woman, and there is no amount of soft terms that would make her words acceptable to you. For some men, the choice for women's voices seems to be between the negative of gossip and nagging manipulation to the positive, in their heads, of women who don't say anything challenging at all. In silencing, ignoring, or shaming women for speaking, those men lose a valuable gift God has given them for their flourishing.

If you want wisdom from the women around you, and you should, I encourage you to consider the voice of the helper, the ezer, as part of the help God intended her to provide.  Then respond accordingly even if it makes you temporarily uncomfortable. May we all work toward cultivating wise, helpful speech in ourselves and others, and may we listen well when the ezer speaks wise and helpful words to us personally.

Saturday, November 01, 2014

On the Dissolving of Mars Hill Church

Mars Hill is dissolving. There will be no more video preaching broadcast throughout all the campuses, no more consolidating of tithes to be redistributed by central office. Individual campuses will become autonomous churches, merge with another church, or close. Reading the news the last few days, I am reminded again and again of my very first day volunteering in the Mars Hill office back in 2002 when the only church building they occupied was the tiny one on Earl Street. As I walked in, the first thing I saw was an elder packing up his office to move out. I asked around, and it turned out that he was going with founding pastor Mike Gunn to plant a new location south of Seattle. That was my first impression of Mars Hill, a church plant planting other churches. We were learning about Acts 29 at the time and wanted to plant an Acts 29 church in Seattle too. We had read up on all the material about Mars Hill before moving to Seattle. We believed in church planting, and my first experience inside the doors of the Mars Hill building validated that belief.

The rumblings of fundamental change (for me) started in 2006 when Mars Hill Shoreline was “planted” but not with its own preaching pastor. It had a “lead pastor,” but the preaching each week would be done by Mark Driscoll, piped in via satellite. I was uncomfortable with that because I knew that had never been the plan. Mark in the early years we were there had railed against megachurches. Mars Hill informally marketed itself as the anti-megachurch. But here were glimpses of decision making more characteristic of megachurches and empire building than the organic church planting vision we had originally bought into. But the Mars Hill saga is a good mix of various moral fables, like The Tortoise and the Hare and The Emperor's New Clothes. There were many individually who saw something wrong with the desire to grow quickly without taking the time to build supporting infrastructure, but so many were gung ho about the changes that those with concerns often second guessed themselves and didn't speak up.

Then in 2007, as more video campuses were added, Mark and Jamie Munson initiated a rewriting of the church bylaws that would consolidate decision making power among 5 executive elders, which eventually became 3. After teaching us in 2002 about church polity using Alexander Strauch's Biblical Eldership, Mark and Jamie moved in a totally different direction, using words like “triperspectivalism” (which is a really bad teaching that one day I may address) to keep true shepherding pastors out of leadership decisions and “first among equals” to set up an elder hierarchy that completely undermined the point of a plurality of elders. Mark and Jamie fired older elders Bent Meyer and Paul Petry who recognized much earlier than the rest of us naive members did the significance of this change. These changes were justified with the argument that the elders needed to simplify decision making to continue the incredible growth Mars Hill was experiencing. But instead, Mark, Jamie, and the elders who supported them sowed the seeds that would eventually undo the whole thing.

I wonder what would have happened if Mars Hill had expanded as it originally intended – planting new congregations with their own teaching pastors. What if we had grown at a sustainable pace? What if we hadn't allowed the teaching to become entirely Mark-centric? What if we had held to a pure plurality of elders even if it slowed down decision making?

God has disciplined Mars Hill and the end result is that it will continue as it started, a church that planted other churches. Except that the mothership that planted the others will no longer exist. Like Lucy in Prince Caspian, I wonder what would have happened if we had made the right decisions in 2006 and 2007. But I am comforted by Aslan's response to her.
To know what would have happened, child?" said Aslan. "No. Nobody is ever told that." 
"Oh dear," said Lucy. 
"But anyone can find out what will happen," said Aslan. "If you go back to the others now, and wake them up; and tell them you have seen me again; and that you must all get up at once and follow me – what will happen? There is only one way of finding out.” 
― C.S. Lewis, Prince Caspian
I don't know what would have happened if Mars Hill had chosen to plant churches in 2006 as they had started in 2002. I don't know what would have happened if they had kept a plurality of elders that slowed down decision making but gave them stable untiy on which to build. We will never know, because it did not happen. But God has disciplined His church, and this is what is happening now. I write this today with hope. The repentance snowball effect is continuing on, and two more current Mars Hill elders in the last few days said deeply healing things as they repented specifically of the ways they contributed to the problems. God has disciplined His church, and He did it because He loves His church. He did it to make her glorious, and I am curious in a good way for what the next years hold for these church plants around the Pacific Northwest.

“There is only one way of finding out.”

Monday, October 27, 2014

Introducing the Gospel-Centered Woman Website

Of late, this blog has been characterized by reactions to things I am against. As I have navigated conflict and negativity in my immediate context, I've thought a lot about Philippians 4:8. What are the good, lovely things worthy of praise on which I need to think? Where is God's kingdom coming? What are the good works He's prepared in advance for me? The bottom line I've been asking myself is what am I FOR?

I am for the gospel – not the trendy word that gets flippantly thrown around right now but the word with deep meaning that should center us daily.

The good news that Jesus is King.

The good news of all He has accomplished for us by His life, death, resurrection, and ascension to sit with the Father in heaven. 

These are the things I am FOR. The cool thing is that I know a lot of other women and men who are also for these things. They too are burdened that each of us understand the depth and breadth of what Jesus' has done for us. And, like me, they are particularly burdened for women to understand these things. Over the last few months, I have been talking with these men and women about a vision I had for a new website, a clearinghouse for resources for discipling women with the gospel in constant focus. The Gospel-Centered Woman launches today. We still have some kinks to work out and much more content to load, but here is what we hope you will find.

1. No pink, fluffy bunnies. We believe women are longing for serious resources, and we respect that sober desire.

2. No controversy. This website may accidentally contribute an article that reflects on the latest internet controversy, but it will never deliberately do so.

3. Useful to men and women. Though the focus of the website is on resources particularly helpful in women's discipleship, we want the website to feel welcoming and helpful to both men and women. Several pastors have agreed to write articles, each also concerned for sober gospel-centered resources for women in their congregations.

Thabiti Anyabwile wrote a wonderful opening article for the site on what he believes is the most often neglected part of a pastor's ministry – discipling older women. Though times are changing, suspicion of older women has characterized many conservative evangelical ministries over the last years. Thabiti shows that for the sin it is and exhorts pastors to engage and disciple this God-given resource in their churches.

The website will have general articles like Thabiti's. We are also gathering reviews for Bible studies and topical studies that leaders can access when considering what to study in their groups. Some reviews will be original while others will be gathered from outside resources. I am particularly excited about the ongoing series The Gospel and the Old Testament which will start later this week. Each week will present a book of the Old Testament in light of the gospel. How does the gospel inform Genesis? How does Genesis inform the gospel? Each author aims to give an overview of the book in light of the good news of Jesus that whets the appetite of anyone preparing to lead a group of women through that particular Old Testamennt book.

I hope you will check out the new site and subscribe to it. Most of all, I hope you will consider it a resource for yourself, your women's ministry if you organize one, or your church in general if you are a pastor. Please share this news with those you think are similarly burdened.

Twitter: @GospelforWomen
Facebook: GospelforWomen

Monday, October 06, 2014

Submission and the Mutual Lust for Autonomy

In last week's sermon in the series on gender from The Village Church, the pastor commented on Adam and Eve's mutual desire for autonomy exhibited in those moments leading to the fall in the garden. When talking about men and women in the Church, we sometimes talk about mutual submission. Sometimes we talk about a woman's desire to usurp authority over the man. But whatever you think about those two subjects, I would like to talk instead about the mutual lust for autonomy that both male and female exhibited in the garden, a mutual lust for independence that is still evident today. The problem with interpreting Genesis 3:16 to teach that women more than men have a desire to control is not that women don't often act independently of God, but that, first, that's not what this verse is saying, and two, men struggle with such lust for autonomy as much if not more than women. But who gets rebuked for rebellion in most modern Christian dialogue? Who gets instructed to obey their authorities? Have you heard an argument for submission lately that doesn't focus on wives to husbands, kids to parents, or church members to elders? In my little neck of the woods, discussions on submission get aimed at these groups. Period. Today, I want to talk about our mutual lust for autonomy and the widespread need in the Body of Christ for submission that transcends gender. Who, oh husband, parent, pastor, or judge, are YOU submitted to? Who can tell you NO?
Ephesians 5:21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
If I use the words mutual submission, most think of an egalitarian approach to marriage. Mutual indicates that something is done between two parties in equivalent ways. What I want to explore is not exactly mutual submission, though it's clear in Scripture that authorities are to serve those under their care, which does look a lot like mutual submission. But there are distinctions. The similarities between submission and service are good to recognize, but the distinctions are every bit as important. The Greek for submit (hupotasso) is a term that is used of military/government authority and indicates lining up behind someone in authority. Note that Jesus “was subject” to His parents according to Luke 2:51, using this same word from Ephesians 5. Jesus' example sets our notions of submission on its side and demands of us a thorough examination of any teaching on Biblical submission.

Here are principles I don't hear emphasized on this subject:

1. Everyone submits to someone. Note that everyone doesn't submit to everyone, which gets into an egalitarian understanding and application of submission. But everyone does submit to someone. And everyone submits to someone ON EARTH. Even Jesus, perfect Savior and now our King, submitted not just to His Father in heaven but also to His parents on earth (Luke 2:51). Instead of mutual submission, I call this global submission.

2. The line of submission to authority is actually not a line! Jesus circled around and submitted to His parents even as He was becoming King of the universe. God's authority structure is more like a complicated Venn diagram than a straight line from general to lieutenant to soldier in the field.

As someone who values submission, I now understand how missing these principles sets us up for failure. Consider the particular example of submission to parents. We can look at parents and children and extrapolate for other relationships involving hupotasso.

Jesus' submission to His parents is telling. If Jesus had to submit to His parents, we should be cautious around any leader who makes an argument for dismissing his. Jesus was greater than His parents, more righteous than His parents, and wiser than His parents. AND He was subject to His parents. There are all kinds of thought-provoking issues here. Now, every parent who also is submitted to Scripture knows that parental authority changes when children become adults. We see this in Jesus' life as well. Yet, there is no expiration date on the command to honor our parents. Again, Jesus' example reinforces this.

But when does submission to parents break down? For Jesus, it broke down when His parents didn't understand properly the authority (God) that they and Jesus were both under (Luke 2:49). If it was a choice between doing what His parents expected and being about the work of His ultimate authority, God the Father, Jesus did what the ultimate authority asked. However, immediately after this moment of discrepancy between His earthly authorities and His heavenly One, Jesus stepped right back into hupotasso with His parents (Luke 2:51).

Submission breaks down most clearly when immediate authorities aren't submitted to anyone themselves. In terms of hupotasso, the implication of the word is a linking of authorities – not always a straight line, but one entity deriving authority from another.  A parent's authority breaks down when they break the law. Parents' authority breaks down when they won't submit to their own church authorities. Parents' authority breaks down when they won't submit to the Word. Parents' authority breaks down when they don't honor their own parents. We need to understand WHY authority and submission breaks down. And then we need to understand what to do in response.

In the case of a parent who breaks the law with their children, we usually agree that the parent has lost their authority over that child. Authorities rightly stand in place of the parents in that case. The brother who sees his sister beaten by his dad and intervenes is making the right choice. He is submitted to an ultimate authority greater than his parent that says abuse must be stopped -- who says it is wrong to look away. The state that takes those kids away from the abusive parent is doing right as well. This too is hupotasso (Romans 13:1).

Extrapolate these principles to pastoral authority, family authority, work authority, or government authority. In any scenario, submission breaks down when an authority demands submission that they do not practice themselves -- when an authority demands submission to themselves but autonomy for themselves.  Submission breaks down when there is not a higher authority to which one can appeal when an authority misuses their influence. In church history, this truth has been embraced in the form of presbyteries. Many believers today are returning to denominations with historic accountability structures not because they don't value submission but because they realize that submission fails without authorities who are also in submission.

Scripture gives us sober warnings about our global desire for autonomy and its ugly outworkings. Authorities who lust for their own autonomy rebel against God by the very act of lording their authority over those in their care. God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble, and that applies to both parent and child, boss and employee, husband and wife, and pastor and church member. God's universal instruction is to “listen to counsel and accept discipline, that you may be wise the rest of your days” (Proverbs 19:20). Beware the authority that submits to no authority, and understand in that moment that your Venn Diagram of godly authority structures gives you options. The answer to ungodly use of authority is not to dismiss all authority. If Proverbs is to be believed, we all need authoritative voices speaking into our lives, and it is wisdom for us to put away our lust for autonomy and embrace instruction from those God has given in His graciousness to guide us. No, the answer to ungodly authority is godly authority. Autonomous authorities are tools of Satan, but those who are submitted themselves are gifts from God for the good of the Church.