Friday, September 08, 2006

The More Things Change, the More Things Stay the Same

It's strange to look back and reflect on how one has changed over time. After discussing "Top Ten" lists with a friend yesterday, I remembered a message I had given at my college chapel over 10 years ago. I quickly found that I still have the draft of my message on file, and so pulled it out to look at it. It's an interesting demonstration of how my thoughts and writing style have changed over time (as well, perhaps, as some ways in which they haven't).

My message ten years ago opened with a sketch that I had picked up at a Youth Conference a few years previously. The intention of that sketch was to show that a church wasn't doing its job correctly if it forgot that a church needs to be a "family" that cares for its members. Although I agreed (in my message 10 years ago) with that assessment, I criticized the message of the sketch for forgetting about God in its desire to push this message about "family":
But where is God? The third church may say how great it is to have a church family, but they don't even mention God. This could prove very dangerous. The news lately has been talking a lot about the cult in Japan and even bringing up the Branch Davidians led by David Koresh two years ago. A major selling point that cults use to draw people in to them is a sense of "family."
Of course, readers today have largely forgotten all about the Koresh cult in Waco, TX all those years ago, so here's a quick Wikipedia link. I don't even recall myself what cult in Japan I was talking about!

After getting close to accusing the church in the sketch of being in danger of becoming a cult (despite my own protests to the contrary), I also tried to talk about the dangers of following God's will for your life, since God seems to have a habit of telling people to do things that are rather dangerous for their own well-being:
A friend of mine points out the example of Moses: Here's a guy who is called by God to lead his people out of Egypt. In exchange, he gets to tell Pharaoh exactly what God thinks of him, to his face, getting [Pharaoh] really mad at him. When Pharaoh, in his rage, sends the Israelites out of the country, Moses gets a group of followers who prove to be a bunch of stubborn, whining children, complaining every time something goes wrong. Then Pharaoh changes his mind, and chases after them again, making the Israelites even more panicky. After about 40 years of dealing with the impudent brats, Moses doesn't even get to go into the promised land.
In an effort to demonstrate how Moses was different from Koresh (despite probable appearances to outsiders that they were both crazy people, at which point I pulled out the aforementioned "Top Ten" list: "The Top Ten Signs that Your Chapel Speaker is Nuts"), I got to the main point of my message, which was to suggest that any attempt to follow God must be done in accordance with the Bible. The Bible is the "standard" (to use the language I used then), by which we can assess whether or not we are following God rightly. Of course, it apparently didn't occur to me at the time that this argument wouldn't work very well for practical purposes, since the Bible hadn't been written yet for Moses to follow the standard I was suggesting! What was I thinking?

However, even back then, some of my concerns to show that churches can reach differing opinions while using the same Bible were present:
Unfortunately, the Standard has to be filtered through our fallen, human understanding. Some of the disputes that have arisen regarding true interpretation of Scripture have become a great dividing point between many denominations. For example, the position that Christian women should take. Some churches accord women virtually no privileges at all, citing Paul's first letter to Timothy, 2:12; "I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over men; she is to keep silent." Not only are women not to be ordained for ANY office, but they are not to speak or pray, and are to blindly do whatever their husbands tell them. There are other groups that contend that women should be allowed to do everything that men can do, citing Phoebe as a deacon in Romans 16:1, where Paul tells the Romans to "help her in whatever she may require of you." Is Paul contradicting himself? Isn't all Scripture God-breathed? Clearly, these two opinions that churches have must be at fault, rather than Scripture.
Besides being too quick to condemn both sides of that argument for being at fault, I find it impossible to imagine that I would say the following today, since it places too much emphasis on the differences between men and women, lending credence to the "complementarian" argument:
I think that what Paul is trying to say is that men and women ARE different, and are suited for different tasks. These tasks are not any more or less important, and many of the tasks that women have are quite prominent.
And I must have totally forgotten that I actually had heard the theory mentioned in this section before I blogged about it as if it were some new revelation to me a few months ago:
I've heard one theory based upon the fact that the letter Paul writes to Timothy was written at a time when Timothy lived in Ephesus. Ephesus had a reputation as being the city of the goddess Diana. As a result, the warning against women speaking in the church may have been a precaution to those in that city, to further illustrate the difference between Christians and followers of Diana. That's one theory.
Despite my insistence that we read the Bible through fallen, human, lenses, I ended this message with the advice to cultivate a habit of reading the Bible regularly. As good as that is, I somehow completely missed the opportunity to encourage people to attend regular worship services. This is a major evolution in how I personally think about Christianity today. We need each other! God helps us to interpret God's Word through the Church! The fact that I apparently either missed or ignored this obvious (at least, it seems to me now) point is amazing. Rather than criticizing that sketch I opened with, I should have been agreeing with its message, and used that as the major thrust of the message. It is through the "family" of God that we learn about how God is revealed to us through Scripture. But then, I guess it always has been my point that we humans are fallible. That certainly means me, too....

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