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Church History

When you think of Jesus, who do you imagine? Does an image of a kind, blonde-haired young man in a white robe surrounded by little children come to mind? Do you view Jesus as a tough, commanding, radical who spoke truth to power? Has your vision of Jesus, like mine, been shaped by the soft-focused picture of our Savior which hung in your grandma's house? The church and Christian culture offer a dizzying array of images of Jesus. Most of which look nothing like the first century Jew Jesus was, in reality. A stroll through your local Christian bookstore will prove my point. Before we commence an iconoclastic crusade to purge Christendom of its Americanized Christs, let's consider the significance of our representations of Jesus. These images or interpretations of Jesus are impo... Read more
Kindness, gentleness, love, peace, joy. Would you be more likely to describe these character traits as "masculine" or "feminine"? If you answered "feminine," you would not be alone—but you would be wrong. These are human traits—neither exclusively feminine nor masculine. Yet, our society and the church seem overly comfortable associating these attributes as feminine. When is the last time you encountered a Christian book for men that exalted gentleness and joy as defining marks of masculinity? On the other hand, most Christian resources for women emphasize patience and peace as necessary marks of a believing wife and mother. When patience, kindness, gentleness, love, peace, joy—the "fruits of the Spirit" (Gal. 3:22-26)... Read more
How many of us come from traditions where we have been told that women cannot serve in positions of leadership because Jesus was male? And, as denominations consider where women may hold positions of service, inevitably the gender of Jesus becomes a consideration. Previous generations of Christians have also asked important questions about the gender of Jesus. Here is one example: Gregory of Nazianzus, who lived at the end of the fourth century stated, "To gar aprosleptom atherapeuton," which in English means, "What is not assumed is not redeemed." His words remind us that Christ came to represent all of humanity on the Cross. Thus, if we absolutize one aspect of Christ, such as his gender, ethnicity, or class, we run the risk of excluding people without those char... Read more
Though she was only in her mid-twenties, her journalistic achievements were impressive. An award-winning writer, her passion to make known the challenges Christian women face in using their gifts had won national acclaim. To acquire additional skills, she attended a conference for Christian writers. Passionate to learn from her colleagues, she was delighted to find herself seated next to a leader in journalism. He was gracious and kind, and he was interested in her writing pursuits. When he learned of her focus, he seemed to question whether the gender debate was irrelevant to Christians today. What is more, he wondered out loud whether married couples like himself think through gender roles, at a theoretical level. For him, the gender conversation had little impact on everyday life. In ma... Read more
One of the instruments God used to convince me that holding office in the church ought to follow calling rather than gender was an article written when I was four years old. I’m grateful for the pastor who gave me a copy of John Jefferson Davis’s insightful piece entitled, “Ordination of Women Reconsidered: Discussion of 1 Timothy 2:8-15.” Davis gives three arguments in favor of the ordination of women to office in the church. The first has to do with the nature of ordination as understood in the Reformed tradition. Davis argues that the prohibition of women’s teaching contained here is not normative because of the historical context. In other words, Paul writes as the apostolic age is closing and the church is about to move to a period of time prior to t... Read more
How often women lament that their lives were blocked from answering God's call to ministry. So many obstructions were put in their way because of their gender. They could not receive theological education, ordination, or employment in a church setting, and many have experienced a lifelong heartbreak that they were not permitted to fulfill the mission to which they had felt God's leading. But a new wind is blowing. We live in a time of ecclesiastical upheaval. In my office I see a procession of students who have become disillusioned with the failures of their denominational affiliation and are seeking new forms of Christian community. Daily, the Boston Globe brings news not only of distressing developments within the Catholic Church, but within many other faith communit... Read more
"So God created human beings in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them" (Genesis 1:27, TNIV). A noted church historian once observed that the great error of history is presumption—presuming that one has grasped the necessary facts related to a person, a group or situation when in reality one is largely uninformed. Perhaps you can recall a time in your own life when presumption led you into deep waters. I certainly can. Some of the deepest waters in American history are the result of acting on presumptions rather than facts. Consider the presumption that created and legitimized American slavery. Slavery in the US was based on the mistaken belief that Africans as an ethnic group were inferior. In his towering book, ... Read more
“All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16 NRSV). Have you ever pondered the dangers of reading the Bible? Perhaps booksellers should provide consumer warning labels that read: “Be careful, reading this book may change you and your worldview forever.” If Christians are correct, we encounter God’s infinite power every time we read Scripture. Should we be surprised then that as we ask difficult questions, God’s Spirit gives us new ideas and new direction? And, should it astonish us that Christians often arrive at different conclusions on matters considered “orthodox” by previous generations? There are many examples of this, but here are a few.... Read more
“. . .The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things” (Gal. 5:22-23, NRSV). In examining the biblical qualities of a leader, last week we considered the similarity between the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23) and the qualities Paul requires for elders and overseers (1 Tim. 3:2-3), deacons (1 Tim. 3:8), and widows who also held leadership (1 Tim. 3:11). While many churches today have specific gender requirements for leadership, Scripture is far more concerned with character than gender. Shortly after making this point, a reader wrote in to say that while gender should not be the primary issue, to “leave gender out of 1 Timothy” is not a fair... Read more
“Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation” (Gal. 6:15, TNIV). Does it seem curious to you that when the issue of leadership in the church is discussed, gender is frequently cited as a primary element to consider? In fact, when determining who may or may not serve as an elder, deacon, pastor, or church board member, gender rises to the foreground so quickly and so often that some churches are reluctant to discuss the issue for fear their churches will divide as a result. What are the most important qualities leaders should possess, according to Scripture? Is it education, wealth, experiences, or a person’s capacity to influence others? Is it a certain gender, age or ethnicity? No! The “must have” qualities in a... Read more

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