Reimagining Church: the debate continues

Last Saturday I posted some thoughts about the first part of Ben Witherington’s review of Frank Viola’s book Reimagining Church. Since then he has posted parts two, three and four, all long and making a total review of 26,000 words! He has graciously allowed Frank Viola to respond, this time in two parts, another 15,000 words. And he promises one more post from himself and a final word from Viola. I would have liked to comment further on this debate, but in a busy week it has been as much as I can manage to read it all.

For more about the book, see the Reimagining Church website and Frank Viola’s blog of the same name. I wish I had time to read these as well.

I do intend to write more about this in due course, but my life is getting busier at the moment so I can’t promise anything soon.

To keep you all going, an extract from part two of Frank’s response to Ben:

Subordination is mutual in the Godhead. The Father totally gives Himself in His fullness to the Son. That’s why the Son is the Logos, because He contains the Father in His fullness. The Son’s very essence is that of a gift from the Father. How, then, can that not imply some moment of mutual subordination in the Trinitarian dance of love? The Father isn’t saying to the Son, “Hey, I’m here to run your life.” That’s not the giving of a gift. The Father’s relationship to the Son is an act of love, and act of self-giving, of dispossessing Himself for the sake of the Son, who in turn, dispossesses Himself back toward the Father and surrenders Himself to the same Father who in effect surrendered Himself to Him. So there’s a mutual surrender involved. Ben’s rejection of this is at the heart of his view of the Trinity. Functional subordination, then, occurs among all the members of the Trinity, not just of the Son to the Father. It happens in a distinctive way in each case, nonetheless it really happens. The Spirit also subordinates Himself in that He comes to glorify Christ.

I am a Sage, they say

It’s a long time since I have done one of these quizzes, perhaps because I haven’t seen any links to new ones. But Sally, who not surprisingly came out as a Mystic, gave me a link to a Spiritual Types test. This one comes from a Christian, originally Methodist, group called Upper Room Ministries.

My result was also no surprise:

You are a Sage, characterized by a thinking or head spirituality. You value responsibility, logic, and order. Maybe that’s why you were voted “Most Dependable” by your high school classmates. Structure and organization are important to you. What would the world be like without you? Chaos, that’s what! Your favorite words include should, ought, and be prepared. What makes you feel warm and fuzzy? Like Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof it’s tradition! tradition! tradition!

Because you love words, written or spoken, you enjoy a good lecture, serious discussions, and theological reflection. Prayer for you usually is verbal. You thrive on activity and gatherings of people, such as study groups. Sages on retreat likely would fill every day with planned activities, leaving little time for silence or solitude.

We need Sages for your clear thinking and orderly ways. You pay attention to details that others overlook. Sages make contributions to education, publishing, and theology. You often are the ones who feel a duty to serve, give, care, and share with the rest of us.

On the other hand, sometimes you seem unfeeling, too intellectual, or dry. Can you say “dogmatic”? You may need to experience the freedom of breaking a rule or two every now and then. God’s grace covers Sages too, you know!

Well, “Sage” fits in well with the name Gentle Wisdom. But this doesn’t all fit. I’m not one for “tradition! tradition! tradition!”, at least not the really old traditions although perhaps I tend to keep to new ones. Also I value solitude more than this summary suggests, and am learning more about non-verbal prayer. As for “dogmatic”, I try not to be, and I am certainly not as much so as many Christian bloggers and commenters here, for which I thank the Lord! And I am very thankful that God’s grace covers even me.

How would Derek Prince have reacted to Todd Bentley?

FURTHER NOTE 7th January 2009: Robert Ricciardelli has denied (in comment 84 here) making comments about Todd Bentley during September 2008. It seems clear that at least some comments made in his name are in fact by an imposter. Because of this I am deleting the comments on this post in his name, and my responses to them. I have also deleted my post “Thoughts on Todd Bentley, healing, and the dead being raised” (dated 20th September 2008) which was primarily a response to the comments on this post in Ricciardelli’s name, and on which several other comments were made in his name.

NOTE 1st January 2009 for those coming here from the link at this post: I wish to entirely dissociate myself from the comments made on this post by Robert Ricciardelli, in which he makes statements for which he refused to reveal his sources and so which cannot be confirmed. See my comments 105993 and 106387 below. See also my latest post about Todd.

There seems to be no real news about Todd Bentley in the last couple of weeks, although not surprisingly there are efforts to link him with the latest hot topic of discussion, Sarah Palin. But there is still plenty of largely negative discussion of Todd on various blogs and in comments on this one, and plenty of traffic coming to this blog from searches on his name – 64 hits yesterday just on “todd bentley”. So I assume some people are interested if I continue to post about him.

My previous post was an extended quotation from Derek Prince (1915-2003), one of the best known charismatic Bible teachers of the late 20th century. I’m not sure if it coincidental, but yesterday in a comment (see also this follow-up) Sheri (ForeverSet) pointed me to an online booklet Protection From Deception: Navigating Through The Minefield Of Signs And Wonders by the same Derek Prince, which she considers relevant to assessing Todd and the Lakeland outpouring. And indeed it is. I have commented twice in response, referring to the first two chapters of the booklet, and promised to comment also on the third and final chapter. But I have decided to bring these comments together as a post, starting with a revised version of the comments I have already made.

In chapter 1 of the booklet Prince, writing in 1996, is apparently referring to the Toronto Blessing, with guarded criticism and without naming it. I don’t really disagree with this chapter, although I think it focuses a bit too much on the negative. He calls what was behind the Toronto Blessing

a mixture of spirits, both the Holy Spirit and unholy spirits.

I expect he would have said something similar about Lakeland, if he was still alive.

Well, it is the nature of all human endeavours to be mixed like this, as nothing human is perfectly holy. But what do we do with such mixtures? Do we reject what the Holy Spirit is doing because there are also unholy spirits at work? No, because if we did the Holy Spirit would be unable to do anything in the world! Instead we have to keep what we do as pure as we can and trust God in prayer to minimise the damage caused by the unholy admixture. If this is not right, then of course God will withdraw his Holy Spirit from the work and it will become obviously entirely evil. I don’t think Lakeland ever got that far, but I suppose it was God’s way of purifying it, although not perfectly, to take Todd out of the way, so that what remains is much more pure.

Concerning chapter 2 of the booklet, I have strong objections to Prince’s apparent claim that it is only the MALE human who is the image of God, contradicting Genesis 1:27 which makes it clear that both males and females are his image. I am also not entirely happy with what he has to say about styles of music – doesn’t he realise that classical music, even Mozart, is also used to call up demons, and that many people sing old hymns with the attitude “Excite me. Thrill me. Satisfy me.”? But these points are irrelevant to this discussion.

But I am prepared to accept that at Lakeland there has been

soulishness: an undiscerned downward slide from a focus on God to a focus on self, from objective scriptural truth to subjective personal experience.

That is, it started well if not perfect and became less good, more man-centred. And God did something about it, removing Todd.

I can also accept Prince’s assessment of five branches of the charismatic movement (including one of which he himself was a leader) which went astray, and of the way that they did so. His insight into Branham is interesting, but note how he is clear that Branham genuinely operated in the Holy Spirit. I suspect he would think similarly of Todd Bentley: genuine powerful ministry but also serious flaws.

Concerning the “Latter Rain” movement, one of these five, Prince wrote:

one of Satan’s tactics is to discredit that which is good by its misuse.

50 years later, here in comments on this blog, people are still using the words “Latter Rain” as a tactic “to discredit that which is good” at Lakeland and elsewhere. Among these people are commenter here Julie Steadman, who wrote just yesterday:

I know because of Todd Bentleys alignment with Branham, Paul Cain who are all into false Latter Rain theology that there is something wrong

– in other words she simply presupposes that Latter Rain theology is entirely false and a touchstone of evil. Now I accept, as Prince does, that some of this theology is wrong, but not all of it – see my response to Julie. But by using “Latter Rain” as a pejorative term in this way these people are, I’m sorry to say, serving Satan. Julie is doing this unwittingly, I have good reason to believe. But I am not so sure about the motives of the people who operate “discernment” websites; some of these sites seem to be dedicated to undermining the work of the Holy Spirit through the charismatic movement, and are prepared to disseminate deliberate misinformation on the basis (which I have seen more or less explicitly stated) that the end justifies the means.

Concerning chapter 3, there is of course a need for all of us, including Todd and his critics, to humble ourselves, love truth, fear the Lord, and keep the cross central. But surely those who “did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved” (2 Thessalonians 2:10 as quoted by Prince) are not Christians at all? The ones of whom Paul writes “God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie” (2 Thessalonians 2:11) are those who “did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thessalonians 2:12), not Spirit-filled Christians who “have an anointing from the Holy One, and … know the truth” (1 John 2:20, TNIV). I’m sorry to say that what Prince is doing here is putting into his Christian readers a fear, not of the Lord but an unhealthy fear, that anything they listen to may delude them “that they all may be condemned” (2 Thessalonians 2:12). This goes totally against the teaching of Paul that “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”, that nothing in all creation “will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1,39, TNIV).

So let us indeed discern carefully what is “soulish” and what is spiritual about charismatic and other movements, manifestations and personalities. But we should not do this in fear that if we soil our hands with any taint of their false teaching we may receive “strong delusion” and lose our salvation. Instead we should recognise and affirm “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy” (Philippians 4:8) about such things or people, while being careful not to share in or endorse anything which is wrong. That way, as we Christians build one another up in love, the wrong or “soulish” things will be weakened and the true work of the Holy Spirit will be strengthened, to the glory of God.

The Exchange Made at the Cross

There is one, and only one all-sufficient basis for every provision of God’s mercy: the exchange that took place on the Cross.

Jesus was punished
that we might be forgiven.

Jesus was wounded
that we might be healed.

Jesus was made sin with our sinfulness
that we might be made righteous with His righteousness.

Jesus died our death
that we might receive His life.

Jesus endured our poverty
that we might share His abundance.

Jesus bore our shame
that we might share His glory.

Jesus endured our rejection
that we might have His acceptance with the Father.

Jesus was made a curse
that we might enter into the blessing.

This list is not complete. There are other aspects of the exchange that could be added. But all of them are different facets of the provision which God has made through the sacrifice of Jesus. The Bible sums them up in one grand, all-inclusive word: salvation. Christians often limit salvation to the experience of having one’s sins forgiven and being born again. Wonderful though this is, however, it is only the first part of the total salvation revealed in the New Testament.

From “The Divine Exchange” by Derek Prince (1995), p.19 – posted here partly in response to this.

The End of the World Tomorrow?

Usually mainstream scientists and journalists treat predictions that the world will end on any particular day with utter contempt, as coming from religious nutcases. And indeed they are generally right to do so, for the Bible clearly states that Jesus will come again on a day when he is not expected (Matthew 24:44). Indeed I remember the day in 1975 when Jehovah’s Witnesses were predicting the end of the world (actually I can’t find any mentions now of a specific day, only a year, but there were certainly days being predicted at the time), and reasoning as a young Christian, but not very seriously, that Jesus could not possibly come on that day as there were people expecting him, and so it was OK for me to get drunk that night!

So it comes as quite a shock to find posted on the BBC blog a post entitled The end of the world is not nigh, in which science correspondent Tom Feilden reports that “Some scientists have voiced fears” that something which will happen tomorrow, Wednesday 10th September, “could trigger a black hole that would swallow the planet (and the rest of the solar system for good measure) in a matter of minutes.” Tom has to reassure his readers with:

The world is not going to end … on Wednesday. That’s the verdict of an exhaustive safety assessment.

So what is happening tomorrow which has worried not just religious extremists but some serious scientists, and prompted even the BBC to issue this kind of reassurance?

It is an event which is being covered by BBC radio as The Big Bang. They seem to have taken that title from the worst fears of some scientists, that what happens tomorrow will be something like a replay of the original Big Bang. We can hope that whoever thought up this title doesn’t have the gift of prophecy!

The event is of course the one I already reported in advance in June, the official switch-on of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), a new particle accelerator which has been built at CERN near Geneva, Switzerland. The huge cost of this has been justified because, it is hoped, it will be able to smash sub-atomic particles into one another with so much energy that completely new particles are formed, providing profound insights into the fundamental nature of the universe. It seems perverse, even a big boys’ toys method as a friend of mine suggested, to investigate such things by smashing things up as hard as we can, but this does seem to be the only experimental approach.

The potential problems have been summarised in this report from CERN, with links to more comprehensive discussions. There seem to be two possible dangers. One is that the new types of matter or energy produced (“strangelets”, “vacuum bubbles” or “magnetic monopoles”) just might react with ordinary matter in some kind of chain reaction, which could immediately turn the whole world into something far more explosive than an H-bomb. The other is that the LHC may be able to produce microscopic black holes which could grow and swallow up the earth.

The basic safety argument here is that the earth has always been bombarded with cosmic ray particles, some of which are far more energetic than anything the LHC can produce, and has survived for billions of years. The CERN scientists note that

Over the past billions of years, Nature has already generated on Earth as many collisions as about a million LHC experiments – and the planet still exists

Well, maybe we have just been lucky so far, or protected by God. Would we know if other planets had disappeared into black holes? Probably not if they were outside our Solar System. So is it responsible for us to launch thousands if not millions of LHC experiments to increase the risk? Anyway, cosmic ray collisions are not directly comparable because any dangerous particles resulting from such collisions of fast moving particles with stationary matter would be shot out of our earth at very nearly the speed of light, so perhaps before they could be dangerous, whereas ones produced by the LHC from head on collisions may be much less energetic and so remain within the earth for long enough to be dangerous.

As I reported in June, if by any chance the earth is swallowed up in this way tomorrow, or later, the way it happens will be well in line with biblical prophecy, especially in 2 Peter.

Will the world end tomorrow? I don’t think so. But, following the apostle Peter’s advice, I won’t take the opportunity to get drunk!

A Missionary Elephant

I found the following interesting paragraph in an article Myanmar:a hidden harvest by Tim Houghton, grandson of pioneer missionaries in the north of what was then Burma. I received this as publicity for the mission society Crosslinks, formerly BCMS. In fact I found the full article online.

In 1942 invasion by the Japanese meant that the missionaries had to escape from Burma by sea, air or, most remarkably, by foot across the northern ranges in what has become known as ‘The Muddy Exodus’. At the heart of this legendary trek was Maggie, the faithful BCMS elephant, who for years had kept communication open through the Hukawng valley in both monsoon and dry seasons. In her finest hour, Maggie helped both missionaries and soldiers through the Naga hills to safety in India.

It is interesting to see some of the different ways which have been used to spread the gospel, and in this case to save the lives of God’s servants.

Reimagining church without worldly hierarchy

Usually I greatly appreciate what the well known Methodist Bible commentator Ben Witherington III (BW3) writes on his blog – although I don’t always have time to read his longer posts. But I have some serious issues with what he writes in his latest post, the first part of a review of Reimagining Church by Frank Viola.

I haven’t read Viola’s book, and more or less all I know about it comes from BW3’s review. Here BW3 writes quoting a key pasaage:

[Viola] describes very straightforwardly how he reimagines how the church ought to be– “organic in its construction; relational in its functioning; scriptural in its form (aha! it has a form); Christocentric in its operation; Trinitarian in its shape; communitarian in its lifestyle; nonelitist in its attitude; and nonsectarian in its expression.” (p. 26). Now that’s a tall order. Let’s see how he develops these ideas and blueprints for the 21rst century church.

While BW3 appreciates many of Viola’s ideas, he offers sharp criticism of some aspects of them, and especially of Viola’s suggestion that the church should not be hierarchical. BW3 writes:

I also have a problem with those who have a problem inherently with the notion of hierarchial leadership structures, because in fact such structures are Biblical not merely in the OT, but in the NT as well, as documents like the Pastoral Epistles and Acts make clear.

Much later in the review he returns to this issue, and roots it in the doctrine of the Trinity:

the blueprint Godhead provides us with a reason to expect that in the church there will be a hierarchial pattern of ordering things. … it will involve a leader and follower, shepherd and sheep, pastor and congregation, apostle and co-workers hierarchy— something Frank wants to avoid at all costs, seeing it as either inorganic or simply fallen human structures.

But surely BW3 gets this wrong. The Bible, in the Old Testament as well as the New, offers stinging criticism of worldly models of hierarchy. When the Israelites asked for a king, this was God’s response through Samuel:

Samuel told all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking him for a king. 11 He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will claim as his rights: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. 12 Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plough his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. 15 He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. 16 Your male and female servants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. 17 He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. 18 When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the LORD will not answer you in that day.”

1 Samuel 8:10-18 (TNIV)

But, despite “you yourselves will become his slaves”, the people insisted on having a king, so God granted their request (8:19-22), not because hierarchical leadership was his plan but because he respected his people’s wishes. Even then, God had special requirements for the king of Israel, to keep him humble and not like the kings of the surrounding nations,

so that he may learn to revere the LORD his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees 20 and not consider himself better than his fellow Israelites and turn from the law to the right or to the left.

Deuteronomy 17:19-20 (TNIV)

So it was really nothing new when Jesus gave his own teaching which effectively outlaws hierarchical structures among his disciples:

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.”

Mark 10:42-45 (TNIV)

A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. 25 Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. 26 But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. 27 For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. …”

Luke 22:24-27 (TNIV)

Indeed Jesus didn’t just teach this, he also modelled it, in his life as well as in his death:

When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. …”

John 13:12-17 (TNIV)

So, in the light of this fundamental teaching from God spoken out by Moses, Samuel and Jesus, what do we make of the evidence BW3 has in mind, that “hierarchial leadership structures … are Biblical … as documents like the Pastoral Epistles and Acts make clear”?

First, as always we have to be very careful about taking what we read about what happened in the New Testament church as normative. The early believers sometimes got things wrong, and were corrected for it. This means that we should always give priority to specific teaching of Jesus and the apostles over following examples recorded without explicit teaching to commend them.

Nevertheless, we must accept that the apostles did arrange (here I deliberately use a very generic word) that certain people would have leadership positions, such as being elders, in local churches, and Paul explicitly taught Titus to make similar arrangements (Titus 1:5). Since Paul called himself “a slave of Christ Jesus” (Romans 1:1, literally, Greek doulos), it is easy to infer here a hierarchy: Jesus > Paul > Titus > elders > ordinary church members.

But is this what the Bible really teaches? No, because Paul’s instructions must be understood in the light of the teaching of Jesus which I already quoted. And this was Paul’s understanding; in accordance with Jesus’ words “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant” Paul called himself a slave of Jesus but a servant (diakonos) of the church (Colossians 1:24-25, compare 1 Corinthians 3:5, also 2 Corinthians 4:5 which uses doulos), and he notes that even Jesus took the very nature of a slave (doulos) (Philippians 2:7). Peter appealed to elders to be “not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:3, TNIV).

So what are the models of leadership which are commended in the Bible? As we have seen, clearly not the hierarchical model as understood by “the kings of the Gentiles”, in which each person is in effect the slave of the one in authority over them. I find the following models (I don’t claim that this list is exhaustive):

  • Leader as steward or manager (oikonomos): This important model is obscured in many modern Bible translations, but the idea goes right back to the creation (Genesis 2:15) and is found in Jesus’ parables (Luke 12:42-46, 16:1-8) and in Paul’s instructions for overseers (Titus 1:7; also 1 Corinthians 4:1-2, 9:17, Ephesians 3:2,9, Colossians 1:25, 1 Timothy 1:4, 1 Peter 4:10). The point here is that leaders are commissioned by God to do his will, and have no independent authority to impose on the people entrusted to their care.
  • Leader as shepherd or pastor: This image also goes back to the Old Testament, with God as the shepherd of his people (Psalm 23:1) and human leaders also as shepherds who are held accountable by God (Ezekiel 34). In the New Testament Jesus is the chief shepherd (1 Peter 5:4, John 10:14) and elders in the church are shepherds (or “pastors”, the same word in Greek) of the flock that has been entrusted to them (1 Peter 5:2-3). This model is similar to that of the steward.
  • Leader as father or mother: This is a significant biblical model of leadership, and one which goes back to all eternity in that it is a Father and Son relationship, not one of master and slave, which is found in the Trinity. (This is the answer to BW3’s attempt to root hierarchical subordination in the Trinity; a son is not just in submission but he is also the heir to his father and so is or should be treated with respect and love by the father.) In the Old Testament authority was primarily through extended families known literally as “fathers’ houses” (Exodus 6:14, Numbers 1:2 etc, see KJV). The judge Deborah was called “a mother in Israel” (Judges 5:7). Paul made use of both of these metaphors: “Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you … For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children …” (1 Thessalonians 2:7-8,11), and he called Timothy and Titus not his servants but “my true son” (1 Timothy 1:2, Titus 1:4). Paul also saw the church as a family (patria) under one Father (pater), God (Ephesians 3:14-15) Nevertheless Jesus cautioned against human use of the title “Father”, along with “Rabbi” and “Teacher”, because of the way such titles are abused by “those who exalt themselves” (Matthew 23:8-12).
  • Leader as servant or slave: We have already looked at this one, so I will reiterate it simply by quoting Paul’s instructions for relationships between Christians which must include those between leaders and those they lead:

In your relationships with one another, have the same attitude of mind Christ Jesus had:
6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a human being,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

Philippians 2:5-8 (TNIV)

Banning the Bible in modern Hebrew

Iyov reproduces an article from the Israeli newspaper Haaretz which reports that Israel’s Education Ministry has decided to ban versions of the Bible (presumably meaning only what we Christians call the Old Testament) in modern Hebrew. A government official has said:

The idea of translating the Bible into simple contemporary language is ‘scandalous’.

I’m not quite sure what the scope of the ban is to be, perhaps only on the use of these versions in state school classrooms – which needs to be put in the perspective that use of any kind of Bible in US state school classrooms is effectively banned.

Here I could get into questions of inappropriate intrusion of the state into religious matters, but then I realise that Israel is something of a special case in such matters. Instead I would like to look at the implications for translation.

John Hobbins has brought out these implications in his wonderful spoof on the article, in which he transculturares it to America. Of course this spoof doesn’t quite fit the American scene. But it does remind us of the real issue, that whereas for decades there have been good translations of the whole Bible into modern English, there are still national languages into which there is no easily understood translation, and that modern Hebrew is one of them.

Hebrew as spoken in Israel today is not the same language as the Hebrew of the Bible. There is probably at least as much difference between biblical and modern Hebrew as between the English of Shakespeare and that of today. (Iyov and John Hobbins, would you agree?) There are many obscurities in the text which even scholars don’t understand with any certainty, which means that ordinary Israelis don’t have a chance. And even when they think they understand the original text, they can completely misunderstand it if they read it as if it was in their contemporary language.

For example, a few years ago I got into discussion on an Internet forum with a scholarly modern Hebrew reader who insisted that God’s words in Exodus 3:14 mean “I will be what I will be”. And indeed that is what ‘ehyeh ‘asher ‘ehyeh means in modern Hebrew, in which the verb ‘ehyeh is in the future tense. But God was not speaking modern Hebrew, he was speaking (or at least his words were recorded in) an ancient form in which this verb form is timeless and continuous, best translated “I am” on the understanding that that also means “I always have been and always will be”. The educated person I was discussing this with thought she understood the Hebrew Bible, but she didn’t.

So, despite Keith’s comment, there is no fundamental distinction between the situation in Hebrew and in English. Just as today’s English readers don’t understand the King James Version and so there is a need for the good translations which exist into modern English (I don’t want to get sidetracked here into which of them is best), in the same way modern Hebrew readers don’t understand the original Hebrew Bible and so there is a need for a good translation into modern Hebrew. I don’t know if the versions which are now being banned are in fact good translations, but I hope that they are and that the current controversy serves to increase rather than reduce their circulation.

In the late 19th and early 20th century there was a similar controversy over translation of the New Testament into modern Greek. (Sadly the only reference to this which I can find with Google is from a Jehovah’s Witnesses site.) In 1901 there was rioting in Athens about this, but by 1924 the need for a modern translation was recognised even by the religious authorities. I hope that similarly over time the people, government and religious leaders of Israel will come to recognise the need for a modern Hebrew Bible, and that as a result the word of God will be much more widely read in the land where it was written down.

There really are people who don't allow women in secular authority

In the discussion on my first post on Sarah Palin, some scepticism was expressed, especially by Jeremy Pierce, about whether John Piper actually holds the position that women should not be in authority over men in the secular sphere. I must admit that he is not completely explicit about this in the extract I quoted. But he certainly seems to be leaning strongly that way when it comes to matters of major authority such as a President would have.

After a couple of days when I had little time for blogging (and confused by Commentful’s failures to pick up comments on Complegalitarian, a problem with Blogger) I came back to the first post I made on this subject on Complegalitarian. This has now attracted 87 comments, most of which I have just read or skimmed. Among them the best answers to my original question have come from Molly Aley, formerly herself a rather extreme complementarian and now egalitarian – and also an Alaskan mother of five who has written Sarah Palin Rocks!

This comment by Molly links to a 2004 article from the influential Christian patriarchalist group Vision Forum which explicitly states, in a section heading, “The Biblical Doctrine of the Headship of Man Disqualifies a Woman for Civil Office”. Here is an extract:

Could it be that the man has headship only in the family and the church but not in the state? No, this could not be, lest you make God the author of confusion, and have Him violate in the state the very order He established at creation and has revealed in Holy Scripture! If one is going to argue for the acceptability of women bearing rule in the civil sphere, then to be consistent, he or she also needs to argue for the acceptability of women bearing rule in the family and the church.

Molly adds, and I agree:

I guess the one thing I do appreciate is that at least the patriarchy folks are consistant. If it’s not okay for women to rule in the home or in the church, why is it okay for them to rule in the government?

I think it’s a really fair question. I, for one, don’t understand how it is wrong for females to lead in the home or in the church, but okay in the civil sphere. I disagree (hotly) with Piper’s take, and with Vision Forum’s take, and yet I do appreciate the consistancy in the argument.

In another comment Molly quotes Voddie Baucham, who, according to Molly, is “featured on Focus on the Family and other fairly mainline ministries and a much lauded pastor/speaker in the SBC (and also works with Vision Forum)”. Lin also links to the same post. Baucham writes:

I believe Paul’s admonition should lead us to reject any notion of a wife and mother taking on the level of responsibility that Mrs. Palin is seeking. …

Mrs. Palin is not even supposed to be the head of her own household (Eph. 5:22ff; Col. 3:18; Titus 2:5; 1 Peter 3:1-7), let alone the State of Alaska, or the United States Senate (The VP oversees the Senate). …

In an effort to win the pro-family political argument, we are sacrificing the pro-family biblical argument. In essence, the message being sent to women by conservative Christians backing McCain/Palin is, “It’s ok to sacrifice your family on the altar of your career; just don’t have an abortion.” How pro-family is that?

Another quote taken by Molly from The Backwater Report:

Sarah Palin seemingly has many of the right convictions but according to God’s word she is not the man for the job of Vice President and Christians who take Scripture seriously would be hard pressed to justify a vote for her.

First, Scripture teaches that God’s created order disallows a woman as civil magistrate. …

Second, Scripture explicitly teaches that one qualification for civil magistrate is maleness. …

So even if Piper is not quite explicit on this issue, some significant Christians are explicit, and consistent, in their “complementarianism”, which, as ASBO Jesus suggests, is sometimes a nice way of saying misogyny.

Clarifying Sarah Palin's church affiliation

There continues to be confusion and misinformation about vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s church affiliation. I stand by what I wrote in my previous post about Palin, and I now have additional information to confirm it. In a comment on his own post Brian Fulthorp questioned what I wrote; the following is adapted and expanded from my reply to Brian.

Brian is wrong to suggest that Wasilla Bible Church is part of the Assemblies of God. That would have been surprising since there was already Wasilla Assembly of God in a city of less than 5,000 in the 1970s. The Assemblies of God Directory confirms what I thought by listing only Wasilla Assembly of God within a five mile radius of zip code 99654 – and also confirms that Juneau Christian Centre is Assemblies of God.

Wikipedia currently says the following, but it keeps changing:

Palin was originally baptized as a Roman Catholic, but her parents switched to the Wasilla Assembly of God, a Pentecostal church, where she was rebaptized at age 12 or 13.[123] When she is in the capital, she attends Juneau Christian Center,[124] another Assemblies of God church. Her current home church in Wasilla is The Church on the Rock,[125] an independent congregation.[126] Although initial reports described her as the first Pentecostal ever named to a major party’s presidential ticket, Palin describes herself as a non-denominational Christian.[127] The National Catholic Reporter described her as a “post-denominational” Christian.[128]

But in fact this statement from The Church on the Rock shows that Wikipedia is wrong about her current home church, and I was right:

In regards to Governor Palin being a member or attending Church on the Rock, this is a statement about her church involvement. Before running for Governor of Alaska she frequently attended Church on the Rock for approximately one year. Since that time she has visited on occasion and now attends Wasilla Bible Church with her family. Wasilla Bible Church is a life giving church that has blessed our community. Governor Palin is a wonderful Christian woman with outstanding leadership qualities. Our prayers are with the Governor and her family.

In Christ,

Pastor David Pepper

Wasilla Assembly of God has also made a statement about Palin, of which the following is an extract:

Governor Sarah Palin did attend Wasilla Assembly of God since the time she was a teen ager. She and her family were a part of the church up until 2002. Since that time she has maintained a friendship with Wasilla Assembly of God and has attended various conferences and special meetings here. This June, the Governor spoke at the graduation service of our School of Ministry, Master’s Commission Wasilla Alaska.

I can’t find any statement about Palin from Wasilla Bible Church. But I did find the following from the Boston Herald, which also confirms that stray moose are a problem in the town:

“I’m elated,” said Larry Kroon, pastor of Wasilla Bible Church, where the Palins worship. “Her heart for her friends and her heart for God is powerful.”

Meanwhile Time Magazine confirms my information and puts an interesting perspective on the church scene in Wasilla:

“We like to call this the Bible Belt of Alaska,” says Cheryl Metiva, head of the local chamber of commerce. Churches proliferate in Wasilla today, and among the largest and most influential is the Wasilla Bible Church, where the Palins worship.