Thursday, 19 July 2007

There will now be a short pause...

I'm afraid you'll have to wait a while for another blog post: I'll be busy in Venezuela. We're going to be having a great time (I hope) with a couple of treks, including one up a table-top mountain. We'll also see the Angel Falls, and help to build a school.

So keep blogging, and I'll read them when I get back. My next update will be on the 19th August, plus the day or so it takes me to read Harry Potter 7 when I return...


Monday, 16 July 2007

A narrative tale

For once, I'm going to give an account of my activities, albeit briefly:

  • Thursday's Prom was excellent: my thanks to Greg for organising it at great personal effort and also great personal risk, as we all discovered.
  • The post-prom do was also superb: my thanks to Nick for hosting it, and for all those who were also there for being such great company.
  • Friday had the Head's 'leaving do' in the evening. It was an amazing honour, we discovered, to be asked to play. But it was a really, really moving event, emphasising why I love the school so much. What other school could claim so brilliant an ethos as to perform the Frampton of the Opera?
  • On Saturday, Greg, Francis and I played for my church's fund-raising concert with Southend Young Singers. It was an amazing concert, and excellent fun to play in as well. My thanks to Greg and Fran' for playing!
  • On Sunday, the Lassalian's tea was stunningly enjoyable. The best company, the best food, and a beautiful sung Evensong. The tea deserves special mention: tea, scones, crumpets, cake. I still can't fittingly describe it. So accordingly, my thanks to our hosts for a brilliant afternoon.

So why have I troubled you with a post best suited to the Oscars? Simply this: it made me really appreciate once more the pleasure of good company. We are so lucky to have companions with whom we can spend time. The last week has really brought home to me again how brilliant that is!

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

I have now prepared my arguments for the debate in which I am partaking on Sunday morning before our church's young people. The debate is on the role of women in the church - whether they should lead. I'd like to show them to you now for your scurtiny and suggestions, and purely for interest's sake.

Do bear in mind the Baptist attitude towards positions of leadership. I've avoided anything priestly, so don't expect to see the In persona Christi arguments, and the like, or the force of Sacred Tradition. Whilst I hold them to be powerful arguments, my audience would need some persuading. Accordingly, they are omitted, along with any other relevant Catholic theology (I hope). Nonetheless, much has been used from the work of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and its 1976 publication, Inter Insigniores.

Debate on the Role of Women in the Church

The arguments against women serving as church leaders are essentially divided into several parts, as follows:

· The example of Christ.
· The example of the Apostles and the early Church
· The teachings of Paul in his New Testament letters.

With each part, I have listed the key arguments and Scriptural quotations, with a brief explanation, below.

The example of Christ

1) Jesus did not call any women to become part of the Twelve. In doing this, he was not simply conforming to the standards of his time; throughout the New Testament, we see how dramatically he broke with the Jewish custom in his attitude towards women. Examples of this include:
· Talking in public with a Samaritan woman (Jn 4:27)
· Ignoring the legal impurity of the woman who had suffered from haemorrhages (Mt. 9:20-22)
· Allowing sinful women to approach him. (Lk 7:37-50)
· Pardoning the woman caught in adultery (Jn 8:11)
· Teaching of the equality of rights and duties of men and women in marriage (Mk 10:2-11; Mt 19:3-9)

2) The role of the twelve Apostles was different from those of the other disciples: they were to be the leaders of the church. Jesus’ disciples included many women very close to him: ‘Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others.’ Yet these disciples were not – and never became – apostles.

3) Contrary to Jewish custom it is women to whom Christ entrusts the message of his Resurrection. Their role in telling the Apostles of the Resurrection was against custom because the Jewish mentality did not give women the authority to witness great events.

The practice of the Apostles

1) The apostles kept faithful to Christ’s attitude. Even though Mary had a privileged place amongst the disciples, she was not invited to replace Judas as an apostle. Instead, Matthias – unmentioned in the Gospels – was chosen.

2) When they apostles went beyond the Jewish world and worked within the Greek and Roman cultures, they maintained their stance against women in leadership. In the Greek culture, women were often priestesses in the cult of Greek deities. Greek feminism was strong. Nonetheless, the Apostles maintained that women could not have authority. Thus it cannot simply be because of the Jewish culture that they took such a stance.

3) Paul was assisted in his ministry by many people. Some were men, some were women. Examples of the women are found in Romans 16:3-12 and Philippians 4:3. Yet they were not leaders. This is seen in the original Greek text:
· The Greek text gives three types of ministry: episkopos, presbyteros, and diakonos, meaning overseer (or bishop), elder, and deacon, (or servant). The overseers and elders were figures of authority. The deacons – servants – had responsibility, but not authority.
· The woman described in Romans 16, Phoebe, was a deacon, not a leader. No woman was made to be an overseer or an elder.
· Similarly, Paul has two ways of referring to his colleagues. One is ‘my fellow workers’, which he uses of men and women; they are helping him in his work. Another is ‘God’s fellow workers’, used only of Apollos, Timothy and himself. This has been taken by many leading Biblical scholars to show the distinction between the ministry of leading the Church and the ministry of working in it. The leading is only done by men in the New Testament.

The teachings of Paul in his Letters

Paul’s letters are very important to the role of women. These are a few key verses from his letters:

Galatians 3:28
‘There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus’
This is the great ‘equality’ verse of the New Testament, used by many to suggest an equality of roles in the Church. But is this correct? If so, it contradicts the other teachings of Paul:

1 Corinthians 11:3
‘But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the husband is the head of the woman, and God is the head of Christ’

As well as equality, Paul talks of a hierarchy as the best way of human living. Respecting and loving each other as equals, the husband is to exercise authority over his wife? Is this compatible with Galatians 3:28? It is only compatible if ‘equal’ does not mean ‘the same’ in Paul’s teaching.
The same ideas are seen again in Ephesians:

Ephesians 5:22-24
‘Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. For the husband d is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church…Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, subject to their husbands.’

Again, men are given authority over the woman. Why is this so? The answer is given in the famous verse in 1 Timothy on the subject of women teaching in church.

1 Timothy 2: 11-14
‘Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.’

Those supporting women in leadership often take this verse as contextual, or as part of Paul’s dislike of women. To suggest that Paul is sexist is wrong, because Paul was in favour of equality – he wrote Galatians 3:28. Even so, he taught that women could not have authority over men in church. Was this contextual?

We have already seen that the Greek culture in Ephesus had female priestesses, and so were used to having women teach. It cannot therefore be that Paul banned them leading because they would not have the respect of the men. The reason Paul gives is that it is because of Eve’s actions in the Garden of Eden. This is not a contextual reason for Greece in the first century, but a reason from the dawn of time. Thus, the argument still applies today.

The point is that unless ‘equal’ mean ‘interchangeable’, equality means nothing for the role of women as church leaders.

This is a counter-cultural message, like most of the New Testament. We are called to uphold God’s Creation of male and female as a complementary partnership, not as a uniform ‘equality’.

‘The questions are delicate: it is necessary to aim for a system where both men and women contribute effectively, in order that both men and women bring their own riches and activity in building a world, not levelled and uniform, but harmonious and united according to the design of the Creator’

Thursday, 5 July 2007

An Inclusive Gospel?

THE VISION OF CHRIST that thou dost see
Is my vision’s greatest enemy.
Thine has a great hook nose like thine;
Mine has a snub nose like to mine...
Both read the Bible day and night,
But thou read’st black where I read white.

Recently, over on 'Me and My Biretta', Greg wrote very well on the question of why he shall 'remain an Anglican'. However, on 'the issue of gays and women', he wrote one thing that I'd like to question. It was this: 'it would be a bit weird to proclaim an inclusive Gospel for an inclusive Church and say "no" to half the population'. I won't go into too much depth about the specific issues to which he applies such an argument, but I do wish to question the argument itself.

An inclusive Gospel

The idea of an inclusive Gospel is a favourite of the Liberal movement, and with good reason. Christ is seen to be a very inclusive figure, in contrast to the Jewish community. He spoke with a Samaritan Woman (S. John 4), and visits the house of sinners, such as Zacchaeus, an immoral tax collector (S. Luke 19). Moreover, Christ himself says: 'the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.' (ii)

This inclusive Gospel is continued in the Epistles of the Apostles: 'There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.' (iii) The equality of gender, of race and of social status is conclusively affirmed: the Gospel of Christ is equally open to everybody.

Challenging the 'inclusive' Gospel.

It can be seen, therefore, that the Gospel is open to all, without a shred of prejudice. But does this make it 'inclusive'? I contend that it does not, and rather that it is in fact a 'divisive' message. I'll take the evidence is certain sections:

The teachings of Christ

'Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the Gospel of God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the Gospel."' (iv)

The coming of Christ splits the history of the world cleanly into two parts, both in secular and theological terms. The first question is whether the 'Gospel of God' which Jesus preached is inclusive or not. The 'Kingdom of God' (or 'of Heaven') is, as I read, a complex phrase. The Greek, basileia, is an active noun, perhaps better translated to sovereignty: the active reign, rather than the monarchical institution. Origen called Christ the autobasileia - Himself a physical embodiment of the Kingdom of God.(v) Thus Christ's Incarnation is a visit to earth of a divine authority.

This authority is used quite dramatically. The first event which springs to mind is the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats: 'All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.' I would suggest that this is clearly a divisive message. The division is emphasised by the differing rewards of the righteous and the unrighteous.

'I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.' (vii)

Where there is truth, there is falsehood; where there is life, there is death. Christ claims to be 'the truth' and 'the life'. Not 'a truth', nor 'a life' but 'the truth' and 'the life': there is no other alternative. Christ is the exclusive answer. As He says: 'No one comes to the Father except through me.' As was later written in 2 John, 'Whosoever... abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God' (viii).

The apostles' teaching.

'There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.' (ix)

This verse should also be examined. It is incontrovertibly true that this verse teaches of the importance and correctness of equality. But is it 'inclusive' in the modern sense of the word? The very same Apostle wrote the verse condemned by many as sexist: 'I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.' (x) What this tells us is that - unless S. Paul contradicts himself - equal does not mean the same. The verse must be looked at in the broader context of the Apostle's writing: a text without a context is a pretext, as has often been said.

The second thing to remember is that S. Paul limits this equality to Christians. The equality only applies 'If you belong to Christ' (v. 29). This is important given many modern interpretations.


The conclusion to be drawn is that the Gospel is not inclusive, but divisive: Christ comes 'to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire' (xi), as well as to separate 'the sheep and the goats'. Whilst there is to be no discrimination as to who can come to Christ, the difference between those who have and those who have not is great.

This is not a message which is popular or comfortable in our times. But then, neither is the fact that we are all sinners. Humility is rarely the order of the day in 2007. However, C S Lewis wrote powerfully on such problems:

I wish it was possible to say something more agreeable. But I must say what I think true. of course, I quite agree that the Christian religion is, in the long run, a thing of unspeakable comfort. But it does not begin in comfort; it begins in the dismay I have been describing... In religion, as in war and everything else, comfort is the one thing you cannot get by looking for it.' (xii)

'Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita
mi ritrovia per una selva oscura
che la diritta via era smarrita'

(i) The Everlasting Gospel, William Blake.
(ii) S. Luke 19 v. 10
(iii) Galatians 3 v. 28
(iv) S. Mark 1 vv.14-15
(v) Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict XVI.
(vi) S. Matthew 25 vv. 31-36
(vii) S. John 14 v. 6
(viii) 2 John v. 9
(ix) Galatians 3 v. 28
(x) 1 Timothy 2 v. 12
(xi) S. Luke 3 v. 17
(xii) Mere Christianity, C S Lewis.

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

Gaza again

So, the captors have finally released Alan Johnston, meaning - amongst other things - that I no longer have to struggle to put the banner at the bottom of this blog. It's brilliant news, and I'm really pleased to see a positive headline for once, especially in so deserving a cause.

But what does this mean for Gaza? Well, its best journalist is free again. Will he work there still? I hope so, but I wouldn't blame him for choosing otherwise, especially given his family's concerns. But what does it mean for Hamas? It's an enormous propaganda success: one of the very highest order. It is no coincidence that Alan Johnston was taken to the home of the Hamas leader Ismail Haniya, sacked recently as PM. The propaganda message is enormously clear: that Hamas is in charge of Gaza, and that they can keep control in a respectable manner. Moreover, that in doing so, they have achieved what others cannot. So the question is this: when does a coup become a revolution?