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What is Sound Doctrine Anyway?

Recently, Jeanie Shaw published her doctoral dissertation in edited book format, “Re-Examining Our Lenses,” and I have published my book, “The Bible and Women: How Did I Miss So Much.” These books both deal with similar topics, topics which are both complex and controversial. Thus, they are sure to provoke interest and discussion. In the midst of these discussions, you are likely to hear the term, “sound doctrine.” Of course, many Bible translations use this term, but for reasons I will note in a few moments, I think the translation is misfortunate and misleading.

Throughout my years in ministry, I have heard the term “sound doctrine” assigned to a category all its own, distinguishing it from “disputable matters” (Romans 14:1, NIV), called matters of “opinion” in the NASB, and also from what we often call “salvation issues.” One may assign “sound doctrine” to its own separate category, but a closer examination will show that such cannot be substantiated logically. The implication is that items in this category are far too important to be viewed as mere opinion matters and yet, not quite certain enough to demand that they fall into the area of salvation issues which could cause you to lose your soul. However, in my decades of experience in churches with a Restoration background, areas designated as sound doctrine are often applied in ways that strongly imply that such teachings could be salvation issues.

Romans 14 Examined Contextually

Let’s start by taking a closer look at what Paul placed into the area of disputable or opinion matters in Romans 14. These are not incidental matters of their day that we might compare to matters in our day such as movies with ratings our conscience allows or disallows us to watch, or whether we feel that we can or cannot drink alcohol. Far from it.  He is discussing areas that fall within Jewish practices, notably eating meat which might have been sacrificed to idols and observing special days of the Jewish religion. That is the context of the entire book of Romans, how the Mosaic Law related to the new covenant for both Jewish and Gentile Christians. Paul is certainly not addressing nor condoning any  activities or customs in pagan religions. Romans 14 addressed issues that could have divided the first century church into two separate churches, Jew and Gentile. These issues, like some of ours, were both complex and controversial.

Acts 2 ushered in the beginning of the new covenant of Christ. The Christian Age had begun. The Law of Moses had been fulfilled and was no longer the standard of authority for anyone, Jew or Gentile. But Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians had a different relationship to the Law. It was ingrained into the Jewish culture. The moral laws of the Old Testament were restated in the New Testament. The ceremonial laws could be observed as customs by the Jews but could not be viewed as necessary for their salvation. Although that must have been a thin line to walk, passages like Acts 18 and 21 show its reality among Christian Jews. For example, Paul took a vow and cut off his hair as noted in Acts 18:18 (similar to the Nazarite vow found in Numbers 6). When he reached Jerusalem, he met with James and the elders, and rather shockingly, James had this to say:

20 When they heard this, they praised God. Then they said to Paul: “You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews have believed, and all of them are zealous for the law. 21 They have been informed that you teach all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn away from Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or live according to our customs. 22 What shall we do? They will certainly hear that you have come,

While these passages show that Jewish Christians were observing Mosiac laws as customs, many other passages could be cited showing that trusting observance of the Law for salvation or binding it on others, Jew or Gentile, was strictly forbidden. Regarding Gentiles, Acts 15 shows that they were never to be burdened with any aspect of Judaism, customs or otherwise.

This Acts 15 setting described a meeting of apostles and elders, along with the church at some points, which carried huge implications. Paul and Barnabas had done battle in Antioch with Jewish Christians who were binding the Law on Gentiles as a matter of salvation (circumcision in particular). During the discussion in the Jerusalem council, Peter could not have been clearer when he said: “Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? 11 No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are” (Acts 15:10-11).

Soon after the apostles’ testimonies, James brought the discussion to a decision regarding Gentiles with these words: “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. 20 Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood.” Any attempt in that day or ours to bind any aspect of Judaism on Gentiles necessitates a denial of the obvious. Any claim that those early Jewish Christians were to rely on keeping the OT Law for salvation is in direct conflict with the entire books of Galatians and Romans and many other passages in the epistles.

That said, Jewish Christians had the option of continuing to observe as customs certain aspects of the Law. My opinion is that a total rejection of all aspects of their historical culture would have been too much to bear all at once, and so God provided a transitionary period for continuing to practice at least some of their more entrenched cultural traditions. I believe Hebrews 8:13 refers to this transition period which was about to end. “By calling this covenant ‘new,’ he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.” The Jewish religion was at its foundation a sacrificial system. Once the temple was destroyed in AD70, forever ending those sacrifices and other temple practices, the whole obsolete and outdated system was nearing its God ordained disappearance.

However, until that happened, issues especially among Jewish Christians (which likely included proselytes and God Fearers – Gentiles who had followed the Jewish faith without becoming full proselytes, likely more men than women for obvious reasons) had differences in how they observed those continuing customs. Romans 14 addresses two issues that had come to the forefront – observance of Jewish holy days and eating meat that might have been sacrificed to idols. Paul begins by addressing the latter. Those whose faith was weak ate only vegetables, evidently fearing that meat bought in public markets may have been sacrificed to idols first. Paul addresses this issue in more detail in 1 Corinthians 8-10, which shows it was a big issue in the early church. He ends up by saying something similar to, “don’t ask, don’t tell.” If you didn’t know where the meat came from, just eat it. If you do find out its origin was from an idol sacrifice, avoid it and let the issues of example and influence on others carry the day.

My point with this rather lengthy explanation is to show that the issues addressed in Romans 14, matters of opinion, were not minor ones by any means. Yet, as serious as they were, they could not be bound as matters of salvation. Differences in consciences and choices were to be accepted without passing judgment on one another. Do you really believe that women’s role issues are more significant in our day than those issues were in Paul’s day? That is my bottom-line application here. So-called doctrinal issues don’t become salvation issues unless they affect our view of, and allegiance to, Jesus as Lord and Savior, with our lives demonstrating that devotion to him.

So where did the idea of sound doctrine come from? In short, a pattern theology approach to hermeneutics, faulty translations of two Greek terms and our traditions of having too many focuses on theological issues rather than on Jesus. If all of the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Jesus (Colossians 2:3), don’t you think most of our study and teaching should be centered on him rather than on so-called issues of “sound doctrine?” Even feeling the need to ask the question hurts my heart. Maybe the following excerpt from my recent book will help us begin to focus on a better path and free up our women to fully join us on it.

Translations of the New Testament Didn’t Help

In what we call the Pastoral Epistles (1 & 2 Timothy and Titus), Paul addresses numerous false teachings. He informed his younger proteges how to handle these teachings and those who taught them. One of the unfortunate translations of terminology found often in these three letters to evangelists paved the way to an increasing emphasis on what we often call “doctrinal matters” or “theological matters.” I refer to the term sound doctrine. This very theologically sounding term became one of the most used when debating what should and shouldn’t be a part of the pattern to follow. Debates in print and in person were in vogue as leaders argued about various aspects of the so-called “pattern,” hence the term “pattern theology.”

If one sees sound doctrine as strict adherence to all theological doctrines in the New Testament, matters of interpretation become more of a focus than Jesus or the Christian life. Here are a few passages from the Pastoral letters using this term, taken here from the New American Standard Bible, one of the most accurate translations from Greek to English (with emphases added).

1 Timothy 4:6 — In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following.

2 Timothy 4:3 — For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires,

Titus 1:9 — holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict.

Why is this translation both inaccurate and misleading? The word translated “sound,” hugiainô, is translated every time in the Pastorals this way in the NASB, and yet the word itself means “healthy.” Hence, sound teaching is teaching that makes one spiritually healthy. It is translated better in other passages. For example, here are two, also from the NASB.

Luke 5:31 — And Jesus answered and said to them, “It is not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick.”

3 John 1:2 — Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers.

The word “doctrine,” didaskalia, is translated as such 9 of 15 times in the Pastorals in the NASB. The Cambridge English Dictionary defines doctrine as “a belief or set of beliefs, especially political or religious ones, that are taught and accepted by a particular group.” When you are indoctrinated with an approach to interpretation with its foundation in pattern theology, sound doctrine will come to mean a type of important or essential theological doctrines, and much will fall into the category of salvation essentials. When doctrine is exalted to such a status, it can be shocking to see what will be included under the banner of salvation matters. It is, in fact, quite shocking when you study the history of the Restoration Movement. But this word “doctrine” in the Greek is simply the normal word for teaching. Sound doctrine is healthy teaching, no more and no less.

Matters of Opinion

I have defined this phrase for years in ways like this, for I know no other way to practically define it. “When good brothers and sisters who believe the Scriptures to be God’s inspired word and have studied a topic in detail, yet come to different conclusions and applications, that alone puts it squarely into the realm of disputable or opinion matters.” Obviously, women and their church roles (and maybe home roles) cannot fit elsewhere. Inventing a category called sound doctrine solves nothing. For those in our movement prior to 1994, sound doctrine involving women issues dictated that in church assemblies, they could sing and nothing more. Then in the mid-1990s, sound doctrine included women part-singing in front of the church, serving as ushers, sharing publicly in various settings (as long as they were accompanied and “led” by a man), and baptizing other women with whom they had studied.

Now, sound doctrine has expanded to have women speaking alone in conference classes and similar settings – as long as it isn’t in a Sunday assembly. To me, making a difference in a Sunday assembly or an assembly on another day of the week is strange. All are assembled worship gatherings. But for now, some insist we must hold on to our present sound doctrine (which will continue to change)! Trust me, most of the issues surrounding what women can do in church services on any day of the week is quite comparable to the statement made by the writer of Hebrews in 8:13 – what is outdated and obsolete will soon disappear.

A Term of Intimidation?

From my own extensive background in three segments of the Restoration Movement, sound doctrine terminology is all too familiar to me. Sound doctrine, sound preachers, and sound churches were common nomenclature, usually presented in question format. (Is he a sound preacher; is that a sound church?) In my earliest church experience, it was taught that only one cup was to be used in communion, passed around to the whole assembly to drink from. After all, the gospels say that Jesus took the “cup,” not the “cups.” This was in the minds of some of our members clearly a salvation issue, as were many other components of agreed upon sound doctrine. Though all agreed that issues like this one and the use of instrumental music in worship were in the realm of sound doctrine, not all agreed that they were salvation issues, although many did. At best, they were said to not be biblically supported and thus “might” be salvation issues, putting our souls at possible risk.

So why was sound doctrine a term of intimidation? The items that fit into this category were highly important matters to those holding these views, and they were described in ways that introduced doubt about whether they fit into the salvation issues category. Thus, when asked if a given practice did fit into that category, responses often included those like the following:

“Well, I am going to take the infallibly safe way and not risk my soul by using multiple cups (or instrumental music, or whatever else the issue was).”

“Your church can do what the leaders decide, but I could never do that and take a chance on missing heaven. It’s just not that important to me.”

“God did warn us about becoming progressive and not taking the ancient paths. I’m going to stick with the old ways that I know are safe. That’s what I read in Jeremiah 6:16 – “This is what the                             LORD  says: ‘Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.’”

“All I know for sure it that Jesus described a narrow way and a broad way, saying that most end up on the broad way that leads to destruction. Why change from what we know is right?”

I found it quite interesting that in one presentation I heard addressing women’s roles, in which sound doctrine was declared to be a separate category from opinion matters and salvation matters, this  assumed category was introduced with this passage:

“Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Timothy 4:16).

How does this describe doctrinal issues and not salvation issues, based on its very wording? Since a number of passages use the term “sound doctrine,” was the choice to use this to describe the women’s role accidental? Perhaps. Bottom line, what a female does in a church service, on a Sunday or any other day, is by my definition an opinion issue. If it is not that, then at best it puts those who allow women broader participation in the church at risk spiritually. If this is the case, then those who oppose it dogmatically and forcefully use intimidation tactics, which constitutes a type of judging. Some reminders from Romans 14 seem most appropriate.

The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.

10 You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat.

 13 Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. 14 I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean. 15 If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died.

Example, Influence, Stumbling and Grumbling

Paul does go on to elaborate on how we must be careful with our influence. It is a matter of great importance, no doubt. However, in my former background, the emphasis that we should not do anything that would cause our brothers and sisters to stumble through our example led to misapplications of these passages. The appeal to try something new or different was often met with the strong admonition that we mustn’t cause anyone to stumble. Many good ideas were thus blocked, usually by those in the older crowd more prone to keeping the traditions.

In the context of Romans 14, stumble means to fall away, to have one’s faith destroyed (Romans 14:15). He is talking about causing someone to stumble, not simply grumble. Notice also that it was the weak ones in danger of stumbling and not the strong ones, yet the latter were the ones  who were most apt to speak up strongly and often impose their will on others.

If we understand the historical and cultural contexts of Romans 14, we then realize how big these issues actually were. If we had adopted an erroneous application of Paul’s principle here to avoid causing the traditionalists to grumble, we would all still be drinking out of one cup and never hearing a guitar as we worshipped in song. As important as influence and example are, to restrict women’s participation in any way that Paul himself did not is traditionalism, pure and simple. The churches he spoke about had women exercising spiritual gifts, including speaking publicly on Sundays (1 Corinthians 11). The fact that local customs rightly affected what they wore while doing so didn’t affect the fact that they did it. Such was foretold in Joel 2 and Acts 2 and occurred as promised. Now that is what I call sound doctrine – healthy teaching indeed!

Male/Female Role Relationships in the Church – Part 2

When I wrote the first part of what is now becoming a series, I intended for it to generate discussion and responses. To some degree, it has done that. Nearly all of the responses I’ve received directly have been quite positive, by the way, with a few exceptions of course. However, from what I sense and hear about, I think one of the responses has been, not surprisingly, similar to responses generated by my articles addressing another type of systemic issue, that of unconscious racial prejudice. So, how are the responses similar? Avoidance, with the hope that the discussions will simply die down quickly and disappear. They won’t. Our younger generations (and many of their parents, by the way) simply won’t let that happen.

One of my advisors for this article is a very impressive young woman who just began her college career in an Ivy League school. She gave me this feedback: “My one suggestion would be to possibly include some of the positive reactions you received to the first article. I think many people don’t understand how big of a deal it was to so many women for you to say those things. I think it could help some of the older generation understand how deeply our hearts yearn for change and how strong our desires for validation are.” (I will let her speak for all the others – and there have been many.) What that in mind, I will do my best to keep all prejudices and biases of which we are generally unaware (unless we are the object of them) exposed on a consistent basis, at least the ones most pertinent to church life. They are hurting individuals within our fellowship and they are a hindrance to our effectiveness in reaching the lost. If we address them and change what needs changing, they can be a genuine catalyst for growth.

In this article, due to the length of material I want to ultimately include, I am going to limit my observations to the main things I am seeing, hearing and hearing about in response to addressing this topic. By far, the biggest needs to explore further fall within two basic areas. They will each be explored in two separate articles in the near future. One is the identity and relationship of leadership roles and authority. We are yet a long way from understanding this topic, and unless we understand the finer points of this one, we will not be able to make the needed progress in the realm of women leadership.

The other most pressing topic is that of understanding the importance of the cultural settings in place when the NT was written, and from there, what those cultural scenarios were and how they influenced the content we are reading 2000 years later. I made a statement in my first article that I believed was very fundamental, but I now view it as even more important to our continuing discussion. Here’s the statement: “The real estate world tells us that the three most important things in their realm are location, location and location. Similarly, the world of proper hermeneutics tells us that the three most important things in biblical interpretation are context, context and context.”

In that upcoming article on contextual considerations, I will include quotes from highly respected biblical scholars that will at least get us closer to seeing why and how these issues demand our attention. Prior to sharing those, we will have to deal with the topic of simplistic, flawed approaches to biblical interpretation that selectively choose which contextual issues to seriously consider and which to ignore. These fall within the realm of explicit and implicit sexist biases – which I will now take a moment to define more broadly.

Terminology Clarification

In my first article, I described “systemic” in this way as it related especially to racial issues: “Calling anything systemic simply means that it so stamped in our psyche that we have it without being aware of it. In that sense it is somewhat like carrying a virus or having something embedded in our DNA string that may be unseen – until it becomes seen.” My good friend and wordsmith par excellence, Tom Jones, offered an observation regarding my use of terminology. He pointed out that technically, systemic refers to something system-wide (our whole society in this case), whereas “implicit bias” more accurately describes unconscious biases, expectations, or tendencies that exist within an individual. Of course, biases accompanied by ill-will or self-aware prejudices fall into the realm of explicit (intended) bias whereas the unconscious type are implicit.

To say that racism is systemic is to say that it is found throughout our system – in business, in education, in criminal justice, basically everywhere so that a person is affected it by it wherever they turn – not simply that it is something people are doing unconsciously or without awareness.  However, I believe that we can for the sake of simplicity tie systemic and implicit bias together and legitimately say that that implicit bias is systemic in our society. It is in that sense that I have used the term systemic and will continue to do so, including in my references to gender bias and sexism. But for those who might aware of and interested in more technically accurate terminology, I include this brief explanation. With that now clarified, let’s move to the more practical examinations and applications toward which this present article is aimed.

Responses and Concerns Prompted by Our Discussion

Several things have become more obvious through the responses and questions I have received after teaching on and writing about male/female role relationships. One already mentioned is that we are indeed painfully unaware of cultural contexts of the first century in which the books of the New Testament were written. Some of that lack of awareness is simply due to not yet being exposed to its importance and its content. However, some of that lack is related to a faulty approach to hermeneutics (biblical interpretation) – and in some cases, that flawed approach is deliberately chosen to apparently avoid having our traditional interpretations questioned. Due to underlying explicit and implicit gender biases, males can be curiously disturbed by delving into this area. That issue I will address in much more detail in a later article, for it is a scary one and a dangerous one. All I can figure out is that somehow it threatens our manhood and brings the insecurities out of our carefully locked and guarded emotional closets.

Area #2

A second area of awareness based on responses that I have received is that far too many of us seem almost incapable (at this point) of considering any type of leadership role without reading a worldly concept of authority into it. In my book, “Dynamic Leadership,” my first chapter was devoted to trying to help us distinguish roles and functions from positions and offices. Whether that had much effect I don’t know, but I do know that our worldly concepts are nearly impossible to shed, no matter what Jesus said and demonstrated about them. Our years in the world, with all of our experiences therein, established and reinforced our views of leadership and authority.

Then, in our earlier history as a church movement, we were led by a Navy Admiral’s son. In his attempts to tie his work in Boston to the so-called beginning of our movement, he prided himself in establishing what he (and then we) called “ordered” discipleship partner relationships. These were purposely designed to replace those previously called “prayer partners” relationships. The latter type provided a very reasonable approach to helping implement the many “one another/each other” directives in the New Testament. The former type provided Satan with an opportunity to promote the abuse of authority through these “one-over-another” relationship pairings.

In my opinion, this authoritarian approach to discipling ended up almost being the death knell of discipling, or nearly so. To me, this is beyond sad, for the biblical concept of discipling is what drew me into this movement in the first place, and a concept without which I do not believe that the evangelism of the world can be accomplished. The decline (near-demise?) of true discipling and our falling growth rate have tracked together, say what you want. Unbiblical, damaging discipleship (and the resultant absence of the right kind) is not the only thing on the list of what has negatively affected our growth, but I would put it at the top of the list – and almost everything else on that list is inseparably tied to the sins and failures of leadership. We must develop a much better understanding of Golden Rule leadership if we are to reverse some trends that badly need reversing. When we do broaden this understanding, the women’s role is going to end up inseparably connected to it.

Area #3

A third area that has become more apparent is that far too many of us are lazy – and careless as a result. We don’t like to dig into deeper issues. We don’t even like to read anything that is not quickly and easily understood. Our younger generations raised in the electronic age can be especially guilty of this, although many of them are indeed avid readers and students – in and out of classrooms. Others of their peers don’t read much unless forced to in school or jobs – they love Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and other forms of social media platforms. They can handle a reasonably short You Tube video addressing serious topics, but if the time length indicator registers more than 10 minutes, they will hit the start arrow button reluctantly, if at all. The idea of digging into more technical writing almost causes them to hyper-ventilate. Because of that widespread tendency, I have been encouraged to put more and more of my writing into those briefer and more visual formats. While I’m willing to do at least some of that, complex issues cannot be understood without deeper study, and that includes reading slowly, carefully and even somewhat extensively at the very least.

If we are not willing to do that, we will simply scan what others have said until we find something with which we agree and latch on to it without expending the intellectual and emotional energy of studying for ourselves. Trust me, some have already stopped reading this article when it spread onto a second page! But based on passages like 2 Timothy 2:15, we can’t please God without being willing to pay the price demanded for learning spiritual truths, especially the more complex ones. “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” Since we are going to be judged by God’s Word, we had better be studying it – seriously! “There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; the very words I have spoken will condemn them at the last day” (John 12:48).

One dear sister in my own age category, a very accomplished student and teacher of the Bible, said something to this effect about my article. “I agree with what you have written, but my fear is that women especially will quickly buy into it just because you have said it and not as a result of their own study.” I couldn’t agree more and that thought disturbs me greatly. We cannot just follow what others have said, no matter how much we may like them or respect them. God is calling us all to be Bereans. “Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11). Please follow that example when reading what I and others say or write.

Area #4

A fourth area brought to the surface by discussion our topic is how quickly we want to jump past principles directly to applications. This is closely related to area #3. Our attention spans are shot to pieces. If we don’t have ADD or ADDA or ADHD, we act like we do. Just give us the bottom line, Man, and let’s get on with it! What I said under Area #3 is certainly quite applicable here also.

Here is why I make this a separate, though related, category. One of the most frequent questions asked of me after my first article was published concerned specific roles that I thought women could serve in. So, Gordon, are you saying that women can be appointed as elders or evangelists; that they can lead churches? Those questions will have to be addressed in time but starting off the discussion by asking them is disturbing. We are dealing with a very sensitive area involving some interpretative complexities. The principles simply must receive our attention first, for without understanding them, how can we make applications that are biblically allowable and practically helpful?

Basically, all I said in my first article is that we needed to restudy the whole topic and that in my judgment, women were too limited and not utilized as fully as they deserved to be and as the church needed them to be. Some assumed that I was opening Pandora’s Box to anything and everything that the religious world was already practicing. Within that “some” were those saying “Amen!” and those saying “Oh, NO!” Let’s stop assuming and jumping to convulsions, and begin studying and talking. And let’s put a governor on our emotions, be they giddy excitement or red-faced anger.

Area #5

A fifth type of response demonstrated just how resistant some are to the idea of expanding (again) the involvement of our sisters in more public church participation, and how that resistance is most often age-related. We did once expand their involvement, as mentioned in my first article, but now seem even more reluctant to consider doing so again. Although I have received some surprisingly strong encouragement from those in our older generations, all of the negative responses have come from those over 50 (maybe 60). Hence, my oft-repeated statement (to the chagrin of some) that some who were once new wine, willing to break old wineskins, have unknowingly become old wineskins themselves. If you find yourself thinking “Amen” when you read that, you are not one of them; if you find yourself feeling defensive, you are. Figure it out.

As a young minister in the Mainline Churches of Christ, I was often very frustrated with some of our older ministers and our lack of direction in churches. I appreciated what they had done in their years of service and I learned many things from them. But I saw the ineffectiveness of the then-current status quo and just couldn’t act as though I were oblivious to it. I was viewed by not a few as something of a rebel, but I was not a rebel without a cause. This drive to be a part of something where great things happened led me to leave my former church association (in which I was pretty well established) and become a part of what I then called the “Discipling Movement.” There were a few others of my age and background who followed a similar path but not many. Those who did were still young inside no matter what their wrinkles may have been on the outside.

We find ourselves in a similar situation today in our movement of churches. Our younger members are not going to be content with just “doing church” in the way that many of the older generation are. They want to change the world. Our young men and young women want to change the world. They are trying hard to be appreciative of all that we older ones have done in the past and remain respectful toward us, but they are not talking very openly about what they are really feeling about our status quo. I feel for them and I’m concerned about where they are going to end up if we don’t get back to a mission aimed at changing the world far more than we are now changing it. I am loath to think that they may feel the necessity of leaving our fellowship as I left mine when I was young, but I know that some already have. Therefore, I am going to begin quoting more of the responses I receive from the those in Generations X, Y and Z. I am also going to begin publishing some of their own writing containing their honest-to-God beliefs and feelings that we need to hear and seriously consider. So, enough editorializing! I feel better – on that point at least!

A Disturbance in the Force!

I close with a great quote I just saw in a Facebook post by my dear friend, Steve Hiddleson. It strikes a great note for ending a potentially disturbing article!

“The kind of teaching that I have been giving has disturbed some people. I am not going to apologize at all, because, necessarily, if I have been traveling along thinking I am all right and there comes a man of God and tells me that there is yet much land to be possessed, it will disturb me. That is the preliminary twinge that comes to the soul that wants to know God. Whenever the Word of God hits us, it disturbs us. So don’t be disturbed by the disturbance. Remember that it is quite normal. God has to jar us loose.”

A.W. Tozer

Male/Female Role Relationships in the Church

Introduction

After I wrote three books in early 2016, I felt somewhat in a vacuum afterwards because I didn’t have any other area to pursue about which I felt passionate. Through a series of events, I discovered one and that led me to start a blog on racial issues. While I don’t think we have much overt racism in our fellowship of churches, I do think that we have far more systemic racism in our midst then we are aware of. Recently another series of events led me to delve into a similar area, that of systemic sexism. I agreed to be a sounding board and adviser to one of my sisters in Christ who was researching the subject, which started the ball rolling for me. To be honest, I was a reluctant adviser at the outset, but in time I became motivated to do a lot of my own study of male/female role relationships in the church.

Then, the region evangelist in my home region of the Dallas church, Derik Vett, asked me to teach a special series of midweek lessons on topics that he felt we really needed. One of these was on relationships in the church, and after we talked about my new area of interest, he encouraged me to make that aspect of relationships a part of the lesson. I just taught it Wednesday night. On the day before, I was finishing up my outline, which I write in some detail since we are sending them out via email after the lessons are taught. It occurred to me that such a detailed outline would be fairly easy to format into article form, which I did over the next few days.

The segment in my oral presentation Wednesday night was not too long, although the outline provided was longer. The article is even longer by quite a bit. However, it is not an exhaustive study of the topic and certainly not intended to be the “last word” on it. But it is intended to prompt some reexamination of the subject, and I believe it will. A number of individuals and groups in our fellowship of churches are currently studying the topic with renewed interest because the need is pretty obvious to many. Some may not appreciate a deeper examination of our traditionally held positions and practices, but most will welcome it. With that as a backdrop, I invite you to read the article and encourage your friends to do the same. God bless!

The Need for Discussion

Much discussion about the woman’s role is taking place in most church groups today who are identified as biblically conservative. That is certainly true of the ICOC group of churches, although most of the present discussion is taking place among the membership (especially the younger people) rather than among the leaders. Thankfully, some leaders and groups of leaders are delving into the subject. Several aspects of the discussion are much more important issues than most imagine. Although it is not the purpose of this article to dig into these issues too deeply, and certainly not to present a position paper for others to follow, I do want to prompt more dialogue on a subject that I believe is highly important right now.

Its importance is based on the fact that it involves one of the most visible current trends in our society, especially in the United States. Our young people are more influenced by trends than we older folks are, and although trends often go against biblical teaching, sometimes they prompt needed examination and re-examination of traditionally held views and practices. In my firm opinion, this area fits into the latter category. I have been thus motivated to restudy some of my own viewpoints recently, but this isn’t my first time to dig back into the topic. Quite the contrary. I have studied the role of women in the Bible for many years, although I have never been able to tie up all of the loose ends of the topic in a way that fully satisfied me – yet.

Some years back, shortly after Douglas Jacoby wrote an article entitled, “Wine, Women and Song,” I presented a similar lesson in the Boston Garden to the whole Boston church, which was followed by a presentation by Kay McKean, the congregational women’s ministry leader at the time. Doug’s lesson addressed three topics: social drinking in moderation, women’s roles and the use of instrumental music in worship. Mine addressed only the women’s role and is posted on my teaching website (gordonferguson.org). This present article will show that I have progressed in my teaching and conclusions on the topic since that original article. Continuing learning usually means changing some of our thinking. One thing about which we should totally agree is that this is a difficult subject and as such, dogmatism should be eschewed firmly.

Fear and Trepidation or Excitement and Adventure?

When we enter a discussion of these roles, I do so with at least some sense of fear and trepidation. It is a historically controversial area, and without spiritual guidelines being fully in place, one that often produces more heat than light. For whatever reasons, emotions are more likely to get hooked in contemplating this subject than in talking about most other biblical subjects. Like all such discussions that may take us in directions other than our traditional viewpoints, we need to tread carefully and spiritually. We also need to enter the learning arena with a spirit of excitement and adventure. Learning and changing are essential for us imperfect humans.

We cannot let our traditions keep us from examining and re-examining the positions that we hold currently. In our movement of churches, it took a painful re-examination before women were allowed to baptize other women, serve as ushers, and do any sharing at all in public worship services. Are we willing to be as open to discovering truth now as we were then, or have we reached the stage expressed by this somewhat humorous comment: “We have the truth in a wee small box and we have the keys to all of the locks!” May God protect us from such a mindset!

I am aware that a study of this subject has historically caused initially strong reactions and I’m sure will again. However, when we are dealing with areas that seem to fit into the “disputable matters” category (Romans 14:1), dogmatism, emotionalism and refusal to engage in such discussions are simply not spiritual responses. Although this article has been reviewed and encouraged by other respected teachers, I am speaking for no one but myself, but speak I will. Advice and input are always welcome and appreciated, but reactions aimed at stifling open discussion of potentially controversial topics are just not spiritual reactions or acceptable reactions. That being said, you are certainly invited to give me your (spiritual) reactions to this article. My best email address for responses is gordonferguson33@gmail.com. Disagreements are fine as long as we can disagree without being disagreeable. Capisce?

 Hermeneutics – An Inexact Science

In order to restudy this topic, we naturally enter into the sometimes-challenging world of hermeneutics (biblical interpretation). One of the most challenging aspects of New Testament interpretation is in trying to separate what is being taught merely because of the cultural setting from what is being taught as transcendent, enduring principle.

For example, in 1 Corinthians 11, women are told to pray and prophesy only with their heads covered, which we generally take to be based on the culture of the day in Corinth. Going bareheaded in that time and location indicated that the women doing so were loose morally. However, in Genesis 38:15, it was quite the opposite – the prostitutes covered their heads and faces. A comparison of those two passages makes it pretty much mandatory to view this practice as a matter of custom that varied in time and location.

But what of other passages – like 1 Corinthians 14:35?

1 Corinthians 14:34-35 — “Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. 35 If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.”

The word “silent” here means absolute silence, and if applied generally, women could not even sing. As always, contextual considerations are essential. The word “women” here could be translated as women or wives – and contextually it has to be wives because they had husbands! In the immediate context, prophets are being addressed, so the most likely interpretation is that the wives of the prophets were interrupting them. Hence, Paul in essence says, “Don’t do it – ask them later at home.” I would never spend much time explaining this passage, given how clear the context is for those who can get past their preconceived ideas.

However, here is a similar passage with a context that isn’t so easy to interpret culturally.

1 Timothy 2:11-15 — A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. 15 But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.

Paul does use an argument based on the beginning of mankind, but does that make it transcendent in application? Could it be that he is addressing only the need in this location and not setting forth a principle for all people in all places for all times? “Quietness and submission” was a stock phrase used for any student in ancient times. Rather than limiting women in some way, Paul appears to be granting them status as equal students/disciples. Such was certainly not the norm outside Christianity, nor had it been in Judaism prior to that. Verse 12 may be laying out a limitation in which he basically uses “teach” and “authority” in a technical, capital T and capital A sense. It’s almost, in the opinion of some, as if he is putting some hedges up and saying, “I’m talking about women elders or women running the show like they do up the street at the temple of Artemis.” No, they should not be elders, but rather be “quiet” – in first century vernacular like any other student where “quiet” seems to have equaled “learner.” This fits perfectly with the word translated “authority” (authentein), for it is only used this one time in the NT and its very etymology suggests a very harsh and controlling type of authority.

Consider verses 8-10 of this same chapter in this same type of cultural light:

Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing. 9 I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, 10 but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.

Should this passage be interpreted to mean that only males should pray and that only women should be concerned about modesty and discreetness in dress? Or does it make more sense to conclude that what is addressed about men and women is based on their particular sinful tendencies in Ephesus (lack of modesty on the part of women and praying without unity on the part of men)? Surely we should conclude it is the latter option and not the former.

Similarly, in 1 Timothy 5:11-15, younger widows had specific spiritual challenges with which to deal and were advised to remarry. This principle ties in well with 1 Timothy 2:15 – the need to be content with being wives and mothers, for that was the cultural practice and expectation of women generally. Taking that verse literally would mean that only married mothers would be saved. Literalism seems very positive when trying to support concepts that we are tied to emotionally, but it is in many biblical contexts a horrendous way to interpret God’s Word. The real estate world tells us that the three most important things in their realm are location, location and location. Similarly, the world of proper hermeneutics tells us that the three most important things in biblical interpretation are context, context and context.

What Type Equality?

 Oddly, many discussions of the male/female role relationships in the church don’t pay much attention to Galatians 3:26-28, but it is indeed a very key passage in trying to understand those relationships.

Galatians 3:26-28 – So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.   28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Three examples of relationship areas are listed: Jew/Gentile; slave/free; and male/female.

All three were given biblical guidance in the NT, using principles that would help regulate these relationships in light of the then current cultural setting. Slavery was not condemned but rather regulated in passages like Ephesians 6:5-9, Colossians 3:22-4:1 and 1 Timothy 6:1-2. However, Paul’s mentions of slaves are often similar to Galatians 3:28 in that slaves and free are to be regarded as equals in Christ (1 Corinthians 7:21-23; 12:13; Ephesians 6:8; Colossians 3:11).

Surely these passages prove that Jews and Gentiles, slaves and free and males and females are equal in value before God and must be considered equal in value by each other in Christ. It doesn’t matter what our ethnicity, social status or gender is, for we are all equal in value as fellow disciples. But let’s take it a step further. Did God intend that other distinctions in these three areas continue in functional ways?

I think we can quickly agree that ethnicity or race shouldn’t have any bearing on how we relate in Christ, since we are all a part of God’s family as his children. I think we can also agree that God didn’t want slavery to continue, but only tolerated it for a time because it was so ingrained in the culture outside of Christ that it couldn’t simply be obliterated quickly by divine edict. The principles of Christ did in fact eventually overcome this cultural sin in most of our world and eliminated slavery in a return to God’s ideal will.

The real question is how much of what is said about the “place of women” in Scripture is similar to what is said about slavery, in that the customs of culture were recognized and regulated until such time as God’s original principles could be once again recognized and accepted? If God intended distinctions between slave and free to end, could he have intended distinctions between males and females to end? If so, then roles in the home and in the church should be entirely gift-based and not gender-based. More on that point will come as we continue.

Arrow and Target – God’s Provisional and Ideal Wills

The difference between God’s provisional will and his ideal will must be understood. A very helpful illustration of how the two “wills” relate was given to me through Michael Burns, one of the best exegetical teachers in our movement of churches. It involves seeing God’s provisional will as an arrow in flight toward its target, and the target represents God’s ultimate goal, or ideal will. Anywhere along its flight path, the teaching will be provisional, but when it hits God’s intended target his ideal will is then achieved. The eventual elimination of polygamy and slavery provide us with two excellent examples of the arrow/target analogy.

We know that the teachings about Jews, Gentiles and slaves fell within God’s provisional will. We have already mentioned the regulations about slavery within that provisional will, and many passages could also be listed that regulated Jew and Gentile relationships in the church. The whole of Acts 15 addresses some of those regulations, as do Acts 21, Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8-10. In time, the cultural differences between Jews and Gentiles lessened considerably, as would be logical after the temple was destroyed in AD 70.

In fact, as the writer of Hebrews described the legal replacement of the old covenant (the Old Testament covenant) by the new covenant, he predicted the practical end of the old covenant observations of customs.  Hebrews 8:13: “By calling this covenant ‘new,’ he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.” Prior to this time, Jews were welcome to follow Jewish customs as a matter of their culture as long as they didn’t bind those customs on Gentiles or view them as salvation issues. Based on the Hebrews 8 passage, I think God provided a transitionary period that lasted about forty years, from the establishment of the church to the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple.

Oddly, we now have some modern-day Gentiles in the church wanting to practice these customs, which is rather astounding to me. The Jewish Christians of the first century tended to hold on to their customs almost as firmly as to Christ, so it was Christ PLUS. Now some Gentile Christians of our day are returning to Christ-plus thinking. Strange indeed are the whims of those “Torah pursuant” folks! You would think that the Book of Hebrews, written to help Jewish Christians avoid returning to Jewish practices in the first century, might be equally effective in helping modern Gentiles avoid customs that were never meant for any Gentile in any age, ancient or modern.

But back to our topic. If God intended for distinctions between slave and free, Jew and Gentile to end, why would that not have been the case with males and females? We certainly wouldn’t argue that God-given regulations for Jews, Gentiles and slaves in the NT meant that God intended those regulations to be in force in all places for all times, would we? If no, how can we argue that the similar regulations for females are to be in force in all places for all times? I know that imagining the possible implications of such possible conclusions is causing some of my readers to generate stomach acid and elevate blood pressure right now but hang in there and keep your mind open!

Back to the Beginning

This might be a good time to go back to the beginning of all male/female relationships, to the Garden of Eden.

Genesis 3:16-19 — To the woman he said, “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” 17 To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. 18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. 19 By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”

Was this description of the consequences of sin for both males and females intended to be prescriptive (what should happen) or merely descriptive (what would happen)? If prescriptive, consistency would make it wrong for women to try to reduce their pain in giving birth and wrong for men to try to make earning a living easier. The most pressing question is whether Adam and Eve were equal before sin, and if so, would salvation in Christ provide us a return to spiritual life in a “Garden” state with God and each other in fully restored relationships? Just how powerful was the cross, in other words? Did it fully cure the curse or just partially cure it? I think Ephesians 2:6 has something to contribute in this regard: “And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.” But we still haven’t answered the question about Adam and Eve enjoying full equality prior to the Fall.

What about this passage – does it show that man is somehow superior to woman and thus to be her leader?

Genesis 2:20-25
So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals. But for Adam no suitable helper was found. 21 So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. 22 Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. 23 The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.” 24 That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. 25 Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.

For starters, it was obvious even to Adam that he needed help – indicating that he was not the complete package within himself. (Help the boy, Lord!) But does the term “suitable helper” (“help meet” in the KJV) indicate a role that is somehow inferior or subservient to the man? Since this word in Hebrew (“ezer”) is often used to describe God as our helper, it cannot possibly imply such. That may well have been the assumed implication in the minds of most folks for centuries, but it is not implied by the word itself.

My own life experience of 75 years would suggest that females are more spiritual inherently than males – superior in that way at least. We men need help, and but for our wives, would be more of a mess than we are! I call my wife an angel sent from God to help me get to heaven, because she is clearly more spiritually attuned than I and I genuinely don’t think I could have made it without her influence in my life.

And then you have the origination of man and woman, their source material. Does woman being made from a man’s rib make her inferior to man – who himself was made from dirt? As the quote from the old commentator, Matthew Henry, puts it: “Women were created from the rib of man to be beside him, not from his head to top him, nor from his feet to be trampled by him, but from under his arm to be protected by him, near to his heart to be loved by him.”

Equality is suggested in more than one way by this passage in Genesis 2. Marriage produces a unity of oneness, a virtual parallel to what Jesus prayed for in all of his followers and illustrated by his complete unity with the Father (John 17:20-21). Further, his teaching caused his enemies to say that he was making himself “equal” with the Father (John 10:33).

The man was incomplete, needing help and the woman provided this aid as his partner. Their mutual nakedness and all that goes with it in marriage, according to Paul in 1 Corinthians 7:2-5, makes them totally equal in both sexual desires and responsibilities. The concept that wives are designed by God simply to meet the sexual needs of their husband’s supposedly stronger sex drive is a sexist viewpoint and not a biblical one. It certainly has never been the case in my own marriage – my historically strong sex drive (though diminished by old age) has been more than matched by that of my wife (still is)! This sexist view, in my opinion, has significantly affected in a negative way the full enjoyment of the sexual relationship in marriage for many women. After all, our most important sex organ is the one between our ears!

But isn’t man the protector of woman, as Matthew Henry’s quote puts it? Often, yes – especially physically, for the male is stronger physically, and in some other areas, perhaps also stronger emotionally (more fitted for battle as one example). That being said, the woman’s emotional capabilities often provide the protection of the male’s limitations and weaknesses emotionally. We males are sometimes thought to be a bit “clueless” in some areas, and probably for good reason! In general, we are not as in touch with our emotions or the emotions of others as females are. Small children with boo-boos go first to their mothers to be comforted, understandably. Bottom line, the male is incomplete without the woman and the woman is incomplete without the male – neither of which makes one superior or inferior to the other.

Are Roles Gender-Based or Gift-Based?

A question that must be addressed in our discussion is whether roles in the church are determined by the spiritual gifts we have or merely by our gender? The gifts of Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12 are not described in any gender sense at all. I don’t see any reason to confine the gifts of leadership or teaching to men, or the gifts of encouragement and serving to women. Some years ago, our Teacher Service Team was comprised only of men. When we discussed the possibility of adding women teachers, I was one of the most vocal in supporting such additions and suggested Kay McKean as one of the first women thus recognized. Thankfully, she was asked to join as several others have been since.

Of course, the discussions at the time focused on women teaching other women, but does God allow women to also teach men? In our physical family settings, you know quite well that women teach men – their husbands, their grown sons and grandsons, their brothers, etc. What about in God’s family? Acts 2 highlighted a very vocal role for them quite clearly:

Acts 2:17-18 — In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. 18 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.

Peter quoted Joel 2, which predicted that women would prophesy, and prophesy they did, as 1 Corinthians 11 amply illustrates. Philip the evangelist had four daughters who prophesied (Acts 21:9). Of course, we can insist that they only prophesied to other women if we want, but we cannot prove it biblically. It is only an assumption. Interestingly, in my study of Restoration history (composed of groups like the Church of Christ and Christian Churches), early leaders accepted the idea of women in the first century church prophesying to mixed groups of brothers and sisters but explained it in two different ways.

One approach was to say that such practices only applied in the miraculous age and the other approach stated that the same principles would apply in any age. In the latter instance, the accepted practices were far from the apparent accepted principles. Women were generally quite silent in most of those early restoration churches, with the exception of congregational singing. That being said, there are recorded instances of women being “exhorters” in church services, which is likely surprising to many of us coming out of that background. Comments of male leaders in those settings showed that they thought one’s gift-set and not gender should determine their role.

Does Pragmatic Evidence Have a Place?

Whatever you make of the passage in its entirety, experience has taught me some valuable lessons in my marriage. One, gifts are far more important than gender in determining function. If the wife has a gift of understanding finances and the husband does not, she had better quickly become the financial leader of the family. If the woman has a much stronger gift of discernment (emotional intelligence), she had better use that gift to help her husband learn how to relate to people generally and especially to his own children. We could give other examples of giftedness, but whoever in the marriage has the best gifts in any given area, they should be encouraged to use them. My wife and I recognize our strengths and weaknesses as individuals pretty well by now, and we are submissive to the leadership of the one with the stronger gifts. We have learned that leadership in the home cannot be determined simply by gender; it must be determined by strengths in any area, “gifts” to use a biblical term.

Two, leadership is a matter of both gifts and training. It takes time (along with some sparks) to determine giftedness, but training must help develop the practical use of the gifts. The goal is to maximize the use of our combined gifts, which results in an effective leadership team. When I first started teaching about leadership in marriage, I was more gender-based in my thinking than gift-based. That has decidedly changed over the years. In a later phase, I agreed that the husband shouldn’t make the big decisions singlehandedly, but in the event of a tie regarding smaller issues (smaller in his opinion, of course!), he should break the tie by just making the decision.

Now, we make decisions as a team and if we reach a stalemate on issues that we both agree are big ones, we ask someone else in to help us decide. When we reach stalemates on issues that we both agree are small ones, we each pick a number between 1 and 10 to indicate how important our choice is to us, and whoever has the higher number thus casts the deciding vote. We heard someone say that this is how they broke ties but decided to start practicing it when we were once arguing about a restaurant in which to eat. In the midst of our disagreement, it dawned on me that if we eat three times a day, that adds up to well over 1000 meals a year. So, just how important could any one of them be? I am not going to overpower my partner about any decision, nor she me. Pragmatism in many areas is just common sense involving practical applications of the Golden Rule and the intent to obey what Paul said in Philippians 2:3-4. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”

Making changes as time passes can be evidence of losing convictions and otherwise drifting away from the Scriptures. But gradual changes can also reflect practical learning experiences under the providential leadership of God. Consider these two passages in that light:

 John 8:31-32
To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

 Philippians 3:15-16
All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. 16 Only let us live up to what we have already attained.

The first passage implies that in our following of God’s Word, truths (application of truths) dawn on us. We don’t see and understand them immediately and may never understand exactly how and why they work, but in time their effectiveness becomes clear. The second passage promises that God will continue to reveal the practical application of his truths and keep us on a maturing track if we will cooperate by doing our best with what we know in the meantime. In both cases, time is necessary to produce a better understanding of some things. Thus, an element of pragmatism is built into the Christian system by God himself.

We Have Already Accepted Pragmatism!

 I find it interesting that we as a movement of churches have continued to adapt our practices both consciously and unconsciously. Women were hired to be “in the ministry” fairly early on but limited in other ways. A couple of decades ago, we discussed and accepted the concept of women baptizing women, women serving as ushers and passers of communion trays, and as sharers along with their husbands in giving communion talks.

Gradually we began to accept more public types of participation. Married couples taught together about marriage and parenting principles. We may have prefaced such team teaching with the statements that the women were addressing women, but the men didn’t insert earplugs when the women were teaching, and I was often as convicted and inspired by what the women taught as by the men’s teaching (sometimes more so). My wife and I have taught as a team on subjects beyond those of family, and I have heard others do the same.

On at least one occasion, I was assigned a class in a leadership conference where I co-taught with a woman not my wife, my good friend Linda Brumley in this case. Our topic was forgiveness and since she had just written a book on the subject, I suggested that she take the majority of the class time, which she did. Everyone in that audience seemed pretty comfortable with the approach, and I certainly was. I didn’t see one person, male or female, blocking their ears with their hands or walking out! Linda is a great teacher and she taught a great class. Of course, the question is whether we “drifted” into these changes or gradually adapted to the culture changes around us without violating scriptures. I believe it was the latter.

Although it took me some years to learn how a husband/wife relationship works best, some are faster learners than I. One young married disciple, a husband and father to daughters, had this to say after reading similar material of another writer.

First, it brought to the forefront my personal reflection on how being a dad of daughters and no sons affects my role in God’s kingdom.  I’ve at times lamented the lesser influence I may have because the people I can most influence in this world are female.  Some Old Testament narratives and earthly culture suggest the notion I have failed in some way by not having a son.  It’s hard for me to separate from that notion, and I’ve felt that certain scriptures and how I’ve understood them only perpetuate it. I cry as I type this, tapping into this feeling that frankly I’ve suppressed unknowingly. If I feel less valuable because of this notion, I can only imagine how my daughters (wife, mothers, sisters, etc.) feel.  The transcending gospel message rejects this notion, and I need to take that thought captive and make it obedient to Christ.

I commend this young man for coming to recognize and deal with his own form of subtle sexism, because it is hurtful to others and to ourselves. I only pray that my material helps some of those who read it to see their own hang-ups and biases more clearly.

Are Women Inferior to Men?

That’s a more relevant question than you might imagine. Charles Darwin wrote that women were definitely inferior to men, falling into his evolutionary chain about halfway between children and men. I was raised in a full-blown Southern chauvinistic cultural setting in which I often heard statements like this as I was growing up: “If you let women get in the middle of this, you are going to end up with a mess!” After all, a woman’s place was in the home minding her own business, a business which consisted of taking care of the children, cooking, washing and ironing, keeping the house in order and providing sex. Such thinking was blatant and easily identified, and it laid the foundation for what has now become systemic sexism or systemic chauvinism. As such, it is embedded in our cultural thinking in much more subtle ways – at least to males, although not nearly so subtle to females.

We wouldn’t succumb to such antiquated thinking in the church, right? Ask the women. Ask especially the women under 40. They will be happy to provide examples of how they feel marginalized. Our leadership groups are typically male dominated, especially when it comes to making decisions about the direction of the church. For years, I have pushed to have the wives of leaders in leadership meetings of all types. I began asking for such as a result of my own pragmatic nature. I don’t particularly like business type meetings but have spent thousands of hours in them. Often, after spending a considerable chunk of time in a meeting of men only, I would go home and tell Theresa about our wonderful decisions. She would frequently say something like this in response: “You decided what? Have you thought about this, this, this and that regarding the women?” Nuts! Now we had to go back into another meeting and reconsider what had already been decided by us brilliant males!

Encouraging the wives of leaders to be included in leadership groups is not the whole story. We have single women who have the gift of leadership who would provide great insights from their perspectives. We have women in other situations who have such gifts and are exercising them in the world but are not invited to do so in the church. Although I favor our normal approach of having married leaders serve together in leadership roles, that is not always possible. Some have the gift whereas their mates do not. Should the mate with the gift always be excluded because their mate’s gifts don’t coincide with theirs? And then we have another loose end hanging out on this subject. What about when a leader’s mate dies or is otherwise incapacitated – what then? The male may often stay in leadership but the female who loses her mate usually doesn’t. Where is the logic of that, and more importantly, where is the biblical foundation for such? If you can’t identify that customary practice of ours as pure tradition, please keep thinking about it. We have many aspects of male/female role relationships in the church with which to wrestle, do we not?

If over half the church is comprised of women, how can we make decisions about them without them having a voice? The movie title, “Dumb and Dumber” is pretty apropos in describing our modus operandi when we don’t have women in leadership groups consistently. That basic pragmatism put me on the track of trying to promote female inclusion in leadership meetings. Then in time, another type of pragmatism found its mark in my head and heart. Women are just flat-out smart, and often smart in ways that males are not.

In the mid-1990s, I was asked to head up a committee to develop a curriculum for our movement’s Children’s Ministry. How I ended up in that role is still a mystery, for although I was a recognized teacher in our churches, I had no experience with the children’s ministry. Thankfully, my wife had quite a bit of experience and quite a bit of interest in it. Knowing that the best leaders are those who seek assistance from others who are more qualified than they, beginning with the advice asking stage, I started putting together our Kingdom Kids Curriculum Committee. We ended up with some couples, giving us some males (who were really good in this field), but the majority of the group were females (who also really knew their stuff).

We spent hundreds of hours together over the next several years, and it was one of the highlights of my ministry career. I knew less than anybody in the group about what we were doing, but I was a pretty effective facilitator. However, near the end of the project, I hit my own wall, and persuaded Sheila Jones of Discipleship Publications (DPI) to take over my role. She very expertly brought the project to a conclusion. By the time we had a conference in Los Angeles to roll out the curriculum, any remnants of chauvinism that would make me question the abilities of women in any fashion, subtle or otherwise, were gone.

Of course, some males reading this may be thinking to themselves that if women are so talented, why are they not in more high-powered positions of leadership in the world? Ask a black person that question. They know the answer. From their perspective, they will say, “It’s a white man’s world,” meaning a white person’s world. But the black women know that it is also a white male’s world. The reason those of color know the answer is because they have to deal with the same question about why more people of color aren’t in those high-powered positions either. Bottom line, our systemic racism and systemic sexism produces in the majority a mistrust, however subtle it may be. These systemic issues are as real as raindrops in a hurricane, but often so incredibly subtle that only the ones affected realize their presence.

Going back to my early chauvinistic roots and the idea that women in the middle of things will somehow mess it up, I have a big question. As I look at the history of our male dominant leadership movement, do you really think that including women in much more prevalent ways could have messed up things more than we males did? (Yes, of course I include myself – I’m a male leader!) Our military style leadership put us in a place that a single letter in the early part of this century set off a timebomb that had been ticking for years. Although we have recovered pretty remarkably in some ways since that explosion, our growth rate as a whole has all but stalled out. So, I repeat: do you really think that including women in a much greater way in our leadership would have done worse than we males have done? I rest my case! (Smile…)

 Systemic Issues Abound

For the past year and a half, I have been posting articles on my blogsite about racial issues (blacktaxandwhitebenefits.com). One of the biggest challenges I have faced is in helping white folks who are not conscious of having racial prejudices understand that they still have views and reactions coming out of the systemic racism ingrained into our American society. Calling anything systemic simply means that it so stamped in our psyche that we have it without being aware of it. In that sense it is somewhat like carrying a virus or having something embedded in our DNA string that may be unseen – until it becomes seen. Thus, we get “woke,” to use a common term in the racial discussion realm, and then see what we have been missing without having realized it prior.

Systemically present ills are not reserved for systemic racism. We also have systemic nationalism, systemic politicalism, and systemic sexism. The latter is what this article is addressing. It can be found in various aspects of systemic ageism as well – a topic we will address shortly. Here is how one sister helped me to see my chauvinism (which I very much appreciated, by the way). She quoted a section from my book on Romans as follows:

The differences here are in the realm of opinion, to be sure, but how can you tell if an area is an opinion area?  Good question, but not an easy one. When good brothers [and sisters…I asked Gordon if I could add “and sisters,” while lovingly chiding him, “See what I mean?”] who love God and his word have consistent differences on a given subject, we had better guard ourselves from having dogmatic attitudes. To one, a given issue may seem quite clear, but the issue may be not at all clear to another.  In such areas, abide by your own personal conscience, but avoid dogmatism.

Another evidence of systemic sexism in our churches is the very resistance of some males to the idea of women teaching about their own role as a woman. The resistance sometimes takes the form of suggesting that our sisters don’t have the formal training necessary to write about deeper doctrinal or academic subjects. However, we seem to recognize that the validity of one’s training doesn’t have to be tied inseparably to one’s time spent in an academically accredited institution of higher learning – at least in the case of males. I don’t recall Jesus or his apostles having such credentials, Paul being the exception, but I do recall both Jesus and his original Twelve being discredited for lack of same. Some of the most educated people I have ever known were self-educated or educated in ways other than in the ivy halls of academia. That’s about the only way that we have in years past encouraged our women leaders to be trained. Are you starting to understand what the term “systemic” means? I hope so, for we cannot change what we do not see.

Who Should Have a Voice?

Speaking of comments about the role of women in the home or church, most lessons (whether oral or written) are given by men and not women, at least in our movement. Does that not strike you as being a bit strange? Imagine an audience of blacks and whites in which only whites addressed racial issues? Honestly, that is too close to what we have practiced regarding the women’s role to leave me feeling comfortable. Our US Diversity Group is more black than white, and in a recent presentation to a group of leaders, a few of the presenters were white but most were black. In an upcoming leadership conference, two of our US presenters will likely be black (one male and one female) and the only white presenter is married to an African American. Isn’t it obvious that this should be the case? Then why in the name of common sense should it always be the role of men to examine and explain the role of women?

Ephesians 5 – Proof Positive?

Ephesians 5 is a passage that has received much attention in arguing for male leadership in the home. Verses 22-24 do say that the wife is to be submissive to her husband and that he is her head. But are the issues really as simple as that? Not to me, and I speak from the position of having taught male dominance in my early marriage and ministry, but I now speak from the position of having been married for 53 years. In those decades, I have learned quite a lot about leadership in the marriage relationship, many of those lessons coming from my own mistakes and stupidity.

 Here are some considerations that should totally eliminate any idea that Ephesians 5 supports the husband being anything like the “boss” of the relationship. For starters, verse 21 states that we should “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Submission goes both ways in any form of true spiritual leadership. Then, verses 25-28 require that the husband love his wife in a Christ-like, sacrificial manner that helps her be holy – loving her as much as he loves himself. If you can get anything akin to “boss-man” out of that, you must have used a crowbar!

Also keep in mind that Jesus was using the marriage relationship to illustrate his relationship to the church, not vice-versa. Ephesians 5:32-33 – “This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.” Then you have to ask the question of this passage that we have asked of others. Is this one based on the then-current cultural viewpoints (in which women were often viewed as possessions – much like slaves were), offering the best regulations possible for that era, or is what was said intended to be understood as containing transcendent, enduring principles? I’m not settled out one way or another on this one – yet.

Many arguments pro and con have been offered in answer to my question. Two things I am pretty sure of is that Jesus’ relationship to the apostles fits into the equation and my 53 years of marital experience also fits into it. Regarding the former, Jesus was the Master, as God in the flesh, but he led his relationships with the apostles in a clearly discernable direction. His example shows us that all roles and relationships in God’s family are designed to move toward deeper friendships, shared responsibilities and equality through common purposes.

What Jesus taught about leadership is essential to understanding all roles and relationships in the church. Leadership is essential and followership is equally essential – no organization of any type can flourish well without both. But do we really understand the difference between spiritual leadership and worldly leadership? Given the fact that our movement was led in many of its early years by a military style leader, that question must be asked and answered. Listen to Jesus:

Mark 10:42-45 — Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Broadly speaking, authority is of two basic types: position only authority (as in “I’m the boss around here!”) and influence authority. Influence authority can be divided into two parts also, that of knowledge (expertise) and relational influence. We go to the doctor and do just about anything they (I wrote “he” at first!) say, not because they have any positional authority over us at all, but because we trust their knowledge, training and experience. Outside of professional fields, we are more likely to trust the advice of a close friend than the advice of someone we just met at a bus stop.

In the church, authority should never be positional only, although sometimes positional authority is needed in combination with influence authority. For example, someone has to set our schedules for spiritual group activities, but even those decisions are best made by a leadership team rather than one individual. My books, “Golden Rule Leadership” (co-authored with Wyndham Shaw) and “Dynamic Leadership” give ample attention to team leadership principles.

In the church, authority in leadership is mainly influence authority and as such, moves toward those deepened relationships, shared responsibilities and equality as family members working together for shared purposes. Jesus modeled this kind of leadership perfectly. Note his words and actions in John 13 and John 15.

John 13:13 – “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am.” (note that he said this right after washing the disciples’ feet)

 John 15:15 – “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.”

No Stumbling Blocks Allowed!

If the cultural setting of the first century helped determine the role of women, should the cultural setting of the 21st century do the same? In other words, if some are disturbed by a re-examination of the women’s role and the idea of change in our practices, should not that cause us to back off of the subject and let well enough alone? While the answer to questions like this one may be “yes” at times, the answer is not a simple one.

Generational differences have to be considered, and how the younger generations view women’s roles is far different than how those of the older generations generally do. Holding on to traditions is another consideration, and it is a fact that those who tend to be traditionalists are the older ones who don’t see their traditionalism clearly, if at all. A related sad fact is that aging all too often (not always) ends up with those who were once new wine, breaking old wineskins, now having become old wineskins themselves – but they don’t see it.

Don’t suppose that the younger generations in our churches don’t see this clearly in us, and don’t suppose that it doesn’t present a real challenge to them! Those of us who have traveled a lot and are prone to ask probing questions of the younger generations will tell you the same things. Some of their peers are leaving the church, feeling that they don’t have a voice. Even those on the ministry staff often share similar feelings but are reluctant to voice their real concerns. They do seem comfortable voicing them to me, perhaps because they know I am gung-ho about changing anything personally that will help me be more like Jesus and that will help others do the same. They will also tell you that some young men and young women are refusing to become a part of our fellowship because they think we are out of touch, and the women’s role is one of the main issues behind their conclusions.

So the End Justifies the Means?

Some of you are thinking about now that I am suggesting that being open to changing our ideas and practices to attract more people to our churches justifies compromising the Scriptures. I have zero intention of changing the Bible’s teaching to fit our society, but I have every intention of changing our traditions to fit the Bible’s teaching. At present, I am teaching a five lesson midweek series in my home region in Dallas on “hot topics.” One is about relationships and includes some of what I have in this article regarding male/female role relationships. Another lesson is about alcohol, drugs (with marijuana being legalized in more and more places) and sex. What I will teach will be clear (and thus offensive) to some, particularly when using Romans 1 to address sex outside marriage and homosexuality. The final lesson will be about conversion, and yes, there will be water in the plan – taught strongly and unapologetically.

That being said, I am advocating what Paul said (and practiced) about adapting to save as many as possible, for that principle fits all generations, times and places.

1 Corinthians 9:19-22
Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.

Adaptations to cultural changes should be calculated carefully and knee-jerk reactions avoided. We shouldn’t be the first to institute changes that might be disturbing to the older generations, but we certainly should not be the last. Above all, we should be open to reconsidering anything from a biblical perspective that might make us more relatable to those we are trying to win for Christ.

Yes, I know that this subject and this article are disturbing to some. And I know that through Paul, Jesus taught that we shouldn’t cause the weak to stumble (lose their faith). But both Jesus and Paul caused many to grumble (and the difference between the two is huge)! Traditions and truths may or may not coincide, and when they don’t, viewing them as though they do was strongly denounced by Jesus in his earthly ministry. Some of our traditions are based on Scripture and some are not. Some are helpful and some are not. Whatever else may be said, a continuing pursuit of truth is at the very heart of the definition of a disciple – a learner!

A Final Plea

As I said near the beginning of the article, when I enter a discussion of the male/female roles in the church, I do so with some sense of fear and trepidation. Therefore, I humbly request of you several things. One, please understand that my critiques of us all (me included) are aimed at helping us become more like Jesus and like Paul, who did all they could to relate to and influence the masses for God. I am a fellow sinner, in need of much patience and grace from both God and my spiritual family. Two, please understand that I am not offering this article as the final word on the subject. Far from it. This is a complex topic and a controversial one. I am just requesting that we take it out of the closet and expose it to the invigorating light of renewed biblical investigation. Three, please understand that we are a family and that we must view and treat each other as dearly loved family members. All members of any family do not always agree on everything that affects them. We simply must be able to disagree without becoming disagreeable.

For sure I’m not implying that anyone who holds a different position or conviction on this topic than I do is a chauvinist or an oppressor of women, but those elements can be present to an appreciable degree in the church without our even realizing it. I keep using the term “systemic” because it best describes having some sexist underpinnings in our thinking without being conscious of it. I’m talking about all of us males, including me. When I wrote the section about influence authority via expertise, I used the example of our near certainty to follow a doctor’s orders in spite of the fact that they have neither positional nor relational authority in our lives. When describing that example, I used the male pronoun four times without even thinking about it (until I re-read it). I just used it again in writing this very paragraph but caught it and changed it! And yet in the past year, I’ve been treated by several female doctors, one of whom I trusted enough to cut me open and do hernia repair surgery. Even though our unconscious sexism is absent of evil intent, we may still make our sisters feel disrespected and marginalized. Regardless of where our deeper studies about these roles lead us in practice (which will vary as it does already), we are still brothers and sisters trying to be the best kids to our Father and each other that we can be. So, let the digging deeper process begin. That is all I am pleading for here.

The best closing verse that came to my mind is the following one, and it encapsulates the elements of my final plea quite well. “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). God, please be our “Ezer,” for we need much help as your feeble children! We know that you describe yourself as both mother and father at times, and we long for all of your loving care and guidance, especially when our spirituality might be tested!

Eternity’s Brink – Episode 20 — Stop Black Tax!

Black Tax and White Benefits—Stop Black Tax!

So, what should we do about God’s obvious love of great variety and the fact that no scientific or biblical evidence is to be found for the common view of race? The answer to this question is a simple one but far from being easy to put into practice. We who are white must start getting educated about the world the Black person is living in and then act upon what we are learning, especially as it relates to our relationships in the church. The world is broken and will never be fixed, since it under Satan’s control, but Christ is the head of the church and can fix us if we will allow him to do it. One thing is for sure, he wants us to love our fellow brothers and sisters in his family and to demonstrate that love in every way possible.

Scores if not hundreds of verses could be quoted which show us the ways our love should be expressed in our spiritual family, but here are two. “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15). I cannot help carry another’s burdens without first knowing what they are. I cannot mourn with those who mourn without knowing the source of their grief and its depth. When I was a kid growing up in the Jim Crow days of Louisiana, America was totally controlled by white people. Honestly, it still mostly is. Our Black brothers and sisters (and others of color) have learned to adapt to our world. They have a very difficult time letting us know what that world is really like to them—unless we start asking.

When I almost died in the hospital earlier this year (2022), large numbers of people were asking about how I was doing and praying for me. They were asking my wife and other family members how they were feeling. When someone we know has a severe financial crisis, like having their house burn down, we want to know what they are feeling and facing. We want to help. When a fellow disciple loses a loved one, we want to find out how they are feeling and comfort them. We want to feel their pain with them and help bear their burdens in any way possible. You get the point, right? In many areas of emotional or physical or financial pain, we want to discover what others are experiencing and feeling about those experiences. Why do we not have the same concern for those who live in a world that stereotypes them very negatively in both obvious and subtle ways without even thinking about it?

Back in 2016, I started a blog entitled, “Black Tax and White Benefits,” to start trying to help educate my fellow white disciples and to encourage disciples of color to handle their challenges in the racial realm spiritually. The genesis of my efforts traces back to ten days after a tragedy occurred in Dallas on July 7, 2016. Two black men had recently been killed by white policemen, one in Minnesota and another in Louisiana. A protest march was taking place in Dallas when a heavily armed Black man, Micah Xavier Johnson, opened fire on police officers, killing five and wounding nine other officers and two civilians.

On July 17, I was asked to speak in the SW Region of the DFW church, a Region composed of a half white and half non-white membership and served by a ministry staff of the same racial ratio. Mark Mancini, the leader of the Region, asked me to come and speak to the group on the subject of racism and the Bible. Although I had addressed the subject many times in sermons for decades, it was the first time I had preached an entire sermon on the topic. As others heard about the sermon or listened to a recording of it online, I received requests to preach the same lesson in a number of places, inside and outside Dallas. I began to get educated quickly and deliberately from that point and decided to start my blog soon afterwards.

The term “Black Tax” came from a movie I watched in which a Black woman described it as having to do her job twice as well as a white person to be given the same credit, and her role in the show demonstrated the point quite well. Amazingly, Delta airlines helped me explain the issue very clearly just prior to starting the blog. Here’s a quote from the second post on my blog.

Two blatant examples took place within days of each other last month (October) involving black female doctors flying on Delta Airlines. Two medical emergencies occurred, prompting flight attendants to ask for help from medically trained passengers. In both cases, the black doctors reportedly tried to answer the call to help, only to be rebuffed by the flight attendants because they couldn’t picture black women being doctors.

In a talk with my African American neighbor just last week, she added that the term “black tax” is also commonly used within the Black community to describe the stresses that black people feel in most settings, knowing that they are being stereotyped negatively by white people any time they are out in public settings. These stresses are not only real; they are dangerous to the health of Black people. The statistics are undeniable. Being Black in America means that your health and longevity may well be affected. A brief examination of pregnancy complications or heart disease of the Black population makes the point, in addition to other maladies. Black people don’t say much about this type of black tax they are paying because they know they have to fit in or suffer consequences that they are trying hard to avoid.

The term “White Benefits” started off in the title of my blog as “White Privilege,” but one of my advisors recommended avoiding that term in the title because of the political environment and reactions to the term. That said, I didn’t avoid using the term as a title for one of my blog posts, explaining it like this:

White privilege is not so much what you have; it is what you don’t have – stereotypical treatment of the worst kind. A fairly recent segment of “Dr. Phil” was devoted to showing what white privilege is. He is quite in tune with the topic, as were his panelists. As Michael Burns puts it: “White privilege does not mean that you did not have obstacles and challenges in life; it means that your skin color or culture wasn’t one of them.” That’s the bottom-line issue.

As a white person deeply concerned for the “world” in which my Black brothers and sisters live, I have talked to hundreds of Black people inside and outside the church about their experiences, challenges and feelings. I have read extensively from materials about the topic from those who know more than I do about it. I have watched many video podcasts on YouTube especially and also a number of documentaries on TV. Very recently, I asked to meet with one of my Black brothers from my ministry group and gave him the following questions to think about in advance and then to address when we met.

  1. As a black person, what would you like your white friends to know about what hurts you? Please break these down into deep hurts and those less hurtful but still painful. Maybe number them by depth of pain, starting with the worst to you personally.
  2. Second, by prioritizing again, what things would you most like to see change in your white disciple friends? Break this one down into their attitudes and their actions.
  3. Those are WPQs (white person questions). Is there a better way to come at this from a black person’s perspective?
  4. What do I (Gordon) do that does or could hit a Black person the wrong way. Since I am trying to learn, Black people appreciate that and likely cut me some slack. Those of us who are trying to learn are the ones who shouldn’t be given slack. I don’t want a free pass. I want to learn.

As it turned out, he didn’t address each of the questions. But they stirred his thinking and feelings enough to take advantage of the opportunity to express what was really on his heart. I made sure he did address #4, which was very helpful to me as I continue to learn more about myself. Just yesterday at church, I talked to a sister about doing the same thing with her and her husband. I yet have much to learn despite how much I have already learned. The starting place is the decision to get started, don’t you think?

For us white people, we are long past the point of being able to claim innocence through ignorance. It is way past time to face the facts, stop accepting the “spin” given on the topic by white people, especially politically oriented ones, and start obeying God’s directions given in verses like I quoted earlier. I’m simply asking you, in the name of Christ, to get involved in caring, learning, conversing and loving. We cannot love in generalities, so let’s start showing our love in the specifics—the ones described in this lesson. God bless us all to demonstrate his love to all of our fellow disciples in every realm, the racial one for sure. In his name, let’s eradicate every vestige of black tax in the family of God. Amen! I love you!

Eternity’s Brink – Episode 19 — God’s Love of Variety

I am simply awestruck with God’s creation. When we are at our cottage in the countryside of East Texas, I have my quiet times journaling on my laptop, sitting on the porch with the lake across the street in full view. That is what I see. But what I hear are birds, lots and lots of birds. I received a call recently while sitting outside on the porch journaling on my computer. My friend, Walter Parrish, the caller, asked where I was. He said it sounded like I was in some kind of bird sanctuary. He was hearing slightly what I was hearing loudly. I also was enjoying a hummingbird who was taking advantage of the sugar water in our hummingbird feeders just a few feet from where I was sitting. Occasionally, one little guy would come towards me and just hover while watching me from about two feet away. God’s creation is wonderful and absolutely amazing. He obviously loves diversity, since he created it as he did.

Speaking of diversity, here are a few interesting facts showing just how diverse God’s creation really is. Although determining the total number of species of living organisms on earth is a challenge and the estimates vary widely among scientists, over two million species have been identified and described. However, total estimates of the true number of species varies. The most widely cited estimate is 8.7 million species, but many believe there are far more than that. Since we were just speaking about birds, know that there are more than 11,000 bird species that have been identified. Estimates of dog breeds are between 195 and 500. Cat breeds are harder to distinguish, but the experts in that field vary between 40 and 70 in their estimates.

But then we get into the big numbers. Scientists estimate that the total number of fish species in the world is approximately 33,600 and more than 3,000 species of snakes exist on the planet. Scientists believe that there are about 435,000 unique land plant species on earth, with tree species numbering 73,300. In the world, some 900 thousand different kinds of living insects are known, by far the largest group within the various types of God’s creatures. That’s almost a billion—nearly impossible to grasp. Even more impossible to fathom are the varieties of colors. It has been determined by people who determine such things that there are somewhere around 18 decillion varieties of colors available for your viewing pleasure. That’s an 18 followed by 33 zeros. Many more facts and figures could be included here, but you get the point—God is the Creator of unfathomable amounts of diversity, showing his obvious love for it.

United Nations?

Why am I including this topic in writing primarily about insights I gained from a challenging three weeks in the hospital? I had scores of different medical caretakers during those seemingly endless days and nights. The diversity among them was a bit shocking at first and certainly fascinating. From a racial or ethnic standpoint, it was like entering a meeting of the United Nations. I met people whose countries of family origin numbered in the dozens. As we talked, I found that many of them were second generation and had never been to the country from which their parents came. Since I had been to most of those countries, it was exciting to describe them and my experiences there. As would be expected, the physical characteristics of those serving me varied greatly, including their various shades of color. Some had very light skin and some had very dark skin. The majority fell into categories that we would call people of color. All of them were caring, sensitive, serving human beings, made in the image of a God who loves diversity.

To be very candid, being served by them caused me to think about those of my country who have views that in one way or another could be classified as white superiority or white supremacy. They might not tout it or even realize it, but these thinking patterns are embedded somewhere in their psyche. There are few views of one’s fellow human beings in how they value other people that I disdain more. The concept of white superiority in any form is not only indicative of gross ignorance, it is an affront to God as Creator. It is also the result, as I said, of incredible ignorance.

In the first place, the word “race” itself is a misnomer. There is no such thing as race as most think of it from either scientific or biblical viewpoints. Regarding the scientific viewpoint, I wrote an article several years ago explaining why people are different colors. Although I am not a scientist nor an expert in the field of racial origins, the facts are quite available for anyone willing to do some research. And many of these facts are not recent ones. A well-known anthropologist, Ashley Montagu, who in the same year I was born (1942) published a book entitled, “Man’s Most Dangerous Myth: the Fallacy of Race.” This stuck with me not only because the book was written in my birth year, but Ashley was my mother’s maiden name. Further, the topic of the book was absolutely intriguing to me. Montagu was quite the interesting character, a Jewish atheist, who surprisingly didn’t subscribe to Darwin’s views on race (described in his writings during the latter half of the 1800’s).

Darwin believed that black people were much less evolved than white people, and as a result, less intelligent. Darwin also believed something similar about females generally, regardless of color. But Ashley rejected that part of Darwinism and along with Albert Einstein, spoke out strongly against the views and ill treatment of black Americans by white Americans. A part of that action no doubt came from their common Jewish backgrounds and the racism they had endured personally. But it was far more than that to Montagu – it was a matter of science. His views ended up pretty much carrying the day with his fellow anthropologists in rejecting any supposed scientific basis for race. Experts in that field by and large agree with Montagu’s conclusion that race is a fallacy.

Sunlight and Vitamins

Most living organisms have an incredible capacity to adapt to their environment. Humans obviously share that adaptability. My good friend James Williams, a black brother in our church, spent his entire career teaching Social Studies to 8th grade students in his home state of Mississippi. He has said to me a number of times that our skin color and other physical characteristics trace directly back to the proximity of our ancient ancestors to the equator. The closer they were to the equator, the darker their skin. Not only is that a simple answer, it is absolutely accurate. But why is it accurate? Primarily it is an issue of sunlight and vitamins, of two types.

The melanin in the outer layer of our skin worked over long time periods to allow one type to be absorbed into the body and the other type to avoid being taken out of the body. Vitamin D must be absorbed in sufficient amounts to build calcium. In northern climates where the sunlight is less available, the skin must remain lighter in tone to make sure that enough vitamin D is available. The other vitamin, called folate, a vitamin B complex, is significantly affected by the ultraviolet light from the sun, and dispersed from the body rather quickly if the skin is light. The body’s folate reserves can be reduced significantly in a brief time if the sunlight is intense and the skin is very light colored. Hence, those in the tropics must have darker skin and the melanin takes care of that. Bottom line, if your ancient ancestors lived in low sunlight areas, they developed light skin; if they lived in high sunlight areas, they developed dark skin. You can read the details and find the information sources in my article on my blogsite, “blacktaxandwhitebenefits.com.”

I also have a segment in that article showing that DNA suggests nothing of the presence of different biological races. I read an interesting article online from Harvard’s Graduate School of Arts of Science website. It was written April 17, 2017 by Vivian Chou and entitled, “How Science and Genetics are Reshaping the Race Debate of the 21st Century.” Under the subheading, “New findings in genetics tear down old ideas about race,” the following statement was made: “Ultimately, there is so much ambiguity between the races, and so much variation within them, that two people of European descent may be more genetically similar to an Asian person than they are to each other.” What Montague wrote 80 years ago as an anthropologist aligns perfectly with what geneticists are saying right now. Race is a fallacy.

The Bible and Human Nature

From a biblical standpoint, Acts 17:26 could not be clearer: “From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.” Although the earth’s one solitary race, the human race, began with Adam, Noah and his family of eight people were the progenitors of all to follow them, as Genesis 10:32 states: “These are the clans of Noah’s sons, according to their lines of descent, within their nations. From these the nations spread out over the earth after the flood.” Bible believers need to start accepting what their Bibles say, namely that we are all of one race. If we accept that obvious truth, then we will learn to not only accept our human differences but to rejoice in them. The multitude of different cultures and ethnicities contribute so much of value to those of other cultures and ethnicities. Think food, clothes, music, dances, inventions—and the list could go on. In our global age, the societies in virtually all nations have more of a mixture in them than most would imagine. Why not admit it, embrace it and enjoy it? It is an undeniable fact—and an irreversible fact.

My own country, the United States, is more wacked out on racial issues than one can imagine. The political quagmire we are in presently has contributed greatly to the problem. While I deeply regret what is happening in our society, I am not at all surprised by it. In my fairly lengthy article on this topic mentioned above, I have this subtitle for one section: “Haters Gonna Hate!” Without Christ and a commitment to imitate him and thus follow his principles, hating is inevitable. It always has been. “At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another” (Titus 3:3). What Paul wrote two millennia ago describes our present age perfectly, as do more lengthy passages like Romans 1:18-32. I have another lengthy article on another website of mine asking the question of whether Covid-19 is a discipline of God or not, and in it, I go through the Romans 1 passage in some detail. (See it on gordonferguson.org) The world is the world is the world, and without Christ, it always will be.

Why? Easy answer. “We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). As children of God, followers of Christ, how do we avoid Satan’s control? Once again, easy answer, but challenging to apply given the effectiveness of Satan’s deception. “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. 16 For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. 17 The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.”

One evidence of loving the world is found in a rejection of the beauty of God’s diverse creation, especially the human part of his creation. Any view, however subtle, found in our heart of hearts, that places a higher value on one skin color over another is Satanic. It cannot be godly no matter how impressively it might be explained. Knowing enough about how racism of all types works and how it makes people of color feel, I cannot see any evidence of white superiority attitudes without it breaking my heart. Such attitudes are an afront to God and call into question his very design of us human beings as his image bearers. God is love; Satan is hate. Where do you fall on that scale in your views of your fellow humans? Thus you have my perspective on racism developed even more intensely from a hospital bed, sitting with God on the brink of eternity while being served by those of many colors and ethnicities. God bless them!