C.S. Lewis on complementarianism

C.S. Lewis didn’t have anything to say about the kind of complementarianism that is being promoted by CBMW among others, according to which men and women are allocated complementary, but allegedly equal roles in the family and in the church – and it is men who decide which these roles are. That is because the concept had not been invented when he died.

But Lewis did have an idea of what it meant to speak of complementary roles where the allocation of these roles is all done by one side. In the first chapter of The Last Battle he writes of how the ape Shift, a clear figure of evil in his story, and the donkey Puzzle

both said they were friends, but from the way things went on you might have thought that Puzzle was more like Shift’s servant than his friend. He did all the work. … Puzzle never complained, because he knew that Shift was far cleverer than himself and he thought it was very kind of Shift to be friends with him at all. (p.7 of my Puffin edition)

After getting the reluctant Puzzle to fish a lion’s skin out of Caldron Pool, Shift says:

You know you’re no good at thinking, Puzzle, so why don’t you let me do your thinking for you? Why don’t you treat me as I treat you? I don’t think I can do everything. I know you’re better at some things than I am. That’s why I let you go into the Pool; I knew you’d do it better than me. But why can’t I have my turn when it comes to something I can do and you can’t? Am I never allowed to do anything? Do be fair. Turn and turn about. (p.12, emphasis as in the original)

With arguments like these Shift asserts his leadership over the poor Puzzle and exploits him as his servant, to do all the dirty jobs while Shift reserves for himself all the nice ones. These arguments sound remarkably like the ones which complementarians use to justify men getting all the desirable roles in church and in family, while all the ones which the men don’t want end up being given to women.

Now Shift probably was cleverer than Puzzle, so he could justify being the one who did the thinking – although not the evil he brought from it. But there is plenty of proof that men are no better at thinking or at leading than women are, and so no justification for men allocating to themselves all the leadership roles and any other tasks that they take a fancy to.

A blog is not an excuse for lying

The BBC website has a page today reporting that

Spectator columnist Rod Liddle has become the first blogger to be censured by the Press Complaints Commission.

Liddle was censured for a very good reason. He wrote, in December 2009, that

the overwhelming majority of street crime, knife crime, gun crime, robbery and crimes of sexual violence in London is carried out by young men from the African-Caribbean community.

But apparently that was not true. So the director of the Press Complaints Commission, the body which oversees UK newspapers, was right to say that

the PCC expects the same standards in newspaper and magazine blogs that it would expect in comment pieces that appear in print editions.

There is plenty of room for robust opinions, views and commentary, but statements of fact must still be substantiated if and when they are disputed.

And if substantiation isn’t possible, there should be proper correction by the newspaper or magazine in question.

Liddle responded that the PCC had

got it wrong … a blog is different because it has to be a conversation, otherwise there’s no point in having a blog.

So he seems to be claiming that it is OK to tell lies in a blog because it is “different” from a printed newspaper or magazine. But there can be no excuse for lying in this way, for deliberately deceiving readers whether of print or of websites. In this case the issue was compounded in that the effect and probable intent of this lie would have been to stir up negative feelings towards the African-Caribbean community in London.

As bloggers we don’t want censorship. But we do need to exercise restraint in writing only what is true and responsible – and in quickly correcting any errors we might make by mistake. If we fail to do this we are only inviting the authorities to take action against us. The Press Complaints Commission probably has no authority over ordinary bloggers not linked to newspapers or magazines. But we don’t want to encourage the government to extend its competence to cover everything on the Internet. So, as bloggers, let’s write responsibly.

Well done, John Piper, for taking a break

As T.C. Robinson among others reports, the well-known preacher John Piper is taking an eight month break from public ministry, from 1st May until the end of the year. In his own article about this break Piper writes (Robinson quoted part of this):

… my soul, my marriage, my family, and my ministry-pattern need a reality check from the Holy Spirit. On the one hand, I love my Lord, my wife, my five children and their families first and foremost; and I love my work of preaching and writing and leading Bethlehem. …

… I see several species of pride in my soul that, while they may not rise to the level of disqualifying me for ministry, grieve me, and have taken a toll on my relationship with Noël and others who are dear to me. …

Noël and I are rock solid in our commitment to each other, and there is no whiff of unfaithfulness on either side. But, as I told the elders, “rock solid” is not always an emotionally satisfying metaphor, especially to a woman. A rock is not the best image of a woman’s tender companion. In other words, the precious garden of my home needs tending. I want to say to Noël that she is precious to me in a way that, at this point in our 41-year pilgrimage, can be said best by stepping back for a season from virtually all public commitments.

… No one in the orbit of our family and friends remains unaffected by our flaws. My prayer is that this leave will prove to be healing from the inside of my soul, through Noël’s heart, and out to our children and their families, and beyond to anyone who may have been hurt by my failures. …

Personally, I view these months as a kind of relaunch of what I hope will be the most humble, happy, fruitful five years of our 35 years at Bethlehem and 46 years of marriage.

In other words, reading between the lines, John and Noël Piper’s marriage was in trouble, not through any kind of unfaithfulness but because John’s heavy ministry workload, compounded by his international fame, was pulling him away from his wife and not allowing him to fulfil his role properly as “a woman’s tender companion”. These are the same kinds of strains which have ended Todd Bentley’s and Benny Hinn‘s marriages, to mention two high profile examples.

I have my differences with John Piper on a number of issues. But on this one I am right with him. He has done what he apparently needed to do for the sake of his marriage. Would that others had done something similar before it was too late, before their marriage and potentially also their ministry was destroyed.

The last act for the Anglican Communion?

Since the busy summer of GAFCON and the Lambeth Conference, nearly two years ago now, there have not been so many stories around about the imminent break-up of the Anglican Communion. It was beginning to look as if a typical Anglican fudge had worked, with only a few Anglicans actually leaving their troubled church.

That is not to say nothing has happened for nearly two years. The Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (FCA), which arose from the GAFCON conference in 2008, doesn’t seem to have had much of an impact. More significant was the formation of the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA), bringing together conservative Anglicans in the USA and Canada who had left the official national Anglican churches. ACNA has become so significant that even the General Synod of the Church of England recently gave it some kind of official recognition, although formally it remains outside the Anglican Communion.

But the process which led to the crisis is continuing, and the papered over cracks are gaping open again. Some people had hoped, and perhaps even believed, that The Episcopal Church (TEC), the official Anglican church in the USA, would abide by the moratorium on consecrating practising homosexuals as bishops, as it had reportedly agreed. But, as I noted at the time, in July last year the bishops and other General Convention members of TEC in effect voted against this moratorium. The Communion survived this vote because, as everyone realises, such a decision is meaningless unless put into practice.

Now, however, things are about to change. A little over a week ago the leaders of TEC officially confirmed the election of the lesbian Mary Glasspool to be a bishop in Los Angeles. If TEC ignores, as is to be expected, some last minute pleas which will no doubt be sent from various directions including Lambeth Palace, and the consecration of Glasspool actually goes ahead on 15th May, then something clearly new will have happened. No longer can people say that the election of the gay bishop Gene Robinson was a one off aberration, and no longer can they claim that TEC is at least more or less abiding by the various moratoria it had supposedly accepted.

Another thing that is different this time is that this move by TEC is being condemned only by those groups in the Church of England which can be written off as extreme. As John Richardson has noted, strong words are also coming from the generally moderate Open Evangelical group Fulcrum. The Fulcrum leadership team has published an important paper about the issue, in which they write:

We are now indisputably in a radically new situation. TEC as a body has determinedly, perhaps irrevocably, chosen autonomy over “communion with autonomy and accountability”.

It is important that this is not simply a matter of disagreement about biblical interpretation and sexual ethics although these are central and important. It is now very clearly also a fundamental matter of truth-telling and trust.  In September 2007, at the Primates’ request and after meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury, TEC bishops confirmed they would “exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion”. They made clear that “non-celibate gay and lesbian persons” were among such candidates.

When asked recently how they could therefore now proceed to confirm Mary Glasspool in the light of that assurance, one TEC bishop said this simply expressed where the bishops were in 2007 and they may be somewhere different now. At least where they are now is crystal clear.  Both moratoria have been rejected. In addition, TEC is pursuing legal actions, with widespread concern its leadership intends aggressive action against the diocese of South Carolina which upholds the Communion’s teaching.

The key question is ‘what happens next?’…

They go on to call for “clear and decisive action by the Archbishop of Canterbury”, and conclude:

Although decisive action is necessary, Archbishop Rowan’s limited powers within the Communion and his laudable desire to keep on going the extra mile to enable dialogue mean many think it unlikely. Some long ago gave up on him. Many, however, both within the Church of England and the wider Communion (particularly in the Global South which meets next month) have been patient and sought to work with him by supporting the Windsor and covenant processes. They need now to make clear that unless he gives a clear lead then all that he and others have worked for since the Windsor Report and all that is promised by the covenant is at risk because of the new situation in which TEC has placed us.

Indeed. The time for “going the extra mile” is past, or will be on 15th May. If Archbishop Rowan continues to take no action, he will now lose the respect not just of extreme conservatives but also of those in the centre, like Fulcrum, whose concern is not so much with homosexuality as with “a fundamental matter of truth-telling and trust”. How can TEC remain within the Anglican Communion while continuing to deceive its communion partners? Rowan Williams’ position will be untenable without the support of the centre of his own church. So he needs to act – or depart and leave his successor to act.

It is not yet quite the end for the Anglican Communion. But we are past the end of the beginning. This is surely the beginning of the end, at least of the Communion as we have known it.

First know the Lord, then obey

Thanks to Henry Neufeld for this lovely little quotation from the 4th century Christian leader Athanasius:

[Paul] deemed it necessary to teach first about Christ and the mystery of the incarnation.  Only then did he point to things in their lives that needed to be corrected.  He wanted them first to know the Lord and then to want to do what he told them.  For if you don’t know the one who leads the people in observing God’s commands, you are not very likely to obey them.

Indeed. So how sad that so many Christians seem to focus on telling people they should obey God’s law, especially on issues of sexual morality including abortion, without even telling them how through Jesus Christ they can know him, have a personal relationship with him.

How not to abuse the Bible against Jews and homosexuals

I thank John Richardson for giving me, in a comment on my post on the new bishop of Chelmsford, a link to a fascinating paper “But the Bible says…”? A Catholic reading of Romans 1, by James Alison, a Roman Catholic scholar. I am all the more grateful to John because he sent this link even though he disagrees with the conclusions of the paper.

This paper was given in 2004 at Mount Saint Agnes Theological Center for Women, Baltimore, which was at least in its origin a community of nuns. So it was rather bold of a man to address these women about anal intercourse and lesbianism!

The part of the paper which I want to focus on here is this:

According to the official teaching body of the Catholic Church, Catholic readers of the Scripture have a positive duty to avoid certain sorts of what the authorities call “actualization” of the texts, by which they mean reading ancient texts as referring in a straightforward way to modern realities. I will read you what they say, and please remember that this is rather more than an opinion. This is the official teaching of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, at the very least an authorized Catholic source of guidance for how to read the Scriptures, in their 1993 Document “The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church”:

“Clearly to be rejected also is every attempt at actualization set in a direction contrary to evangelical justice and charity, such as, for example, the use of the Bible to justify racial segregation, anti-Semitism or sexism whether on the part of men or of women. Particular attention is necessary… to avoid absolutely any actualization of certain texts of the New Testament which could provoke or reinforce unfavourable attitudes to the Jewish people”. (The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church, IV.3)

The list which the Commission gives is deliberately not exhaustive, but it has the advantage of taking on vastly the most important of any possible improper actualization, which is that related to the translation of the words ‘οι ’Ιουδαιοι, especially where they are used in St John’s Gospel. I ask you to consider quite clearly what this instruction means. It means that anyone who translates the words ‘οι ’Ιουδαιοι literally as “the Jews” and interprets this to refer to the whole Jewish people, now or at any time in the past, is translating it and interpreting it less accurately, and certainly less in communion with the Church, than someone who translates it less literally as something like “the Jewish authorities”, or “the local authorities” who were of course, like almost everyone in St John’s Gospel, Jewish.

What does this teaching look like from an evangelical Protestant perspective? Of course “the official teaching of the Pontifical Biblical Commission” has no binding authority for non-Catholics. Nevertheless this passage is surely good teaching on how not to abuse the Bible by using it as a weapon against, for example, the Jewish people as a whole.

Also it is indeed exegetically correct to note that when biblical authors used the words hoi Ioudaioi they were referring in many cases not to the Jewish people as a whole but to the Jewish or Judean authorities who opposed Jesus and the apostles. It is therefore good translation to render this term, as for example TNIV does, as “the Jewish leaders”. But this TNIV rendering brought condemnation from Wayne Grudem, among others, on the grounds of “obscuring larger corporate responsibility” – does this mean that Grudem considers the Jewish people as a whole to be corporately responsible for the death of Jesus?

Alison notes that the passage he quoted uses the Jews only as an example, and so derives a broader principle from it:

given the possibility of a restricted ancient meaning in a [Bible] text which does not transfer readily into modern categories, or the possibility of one which leaps straight and expansively into modern categories and has had effects contrary to charity on the modern people so categorized, one should prefer the ancient reading to the actualized one.

And he then applies this principle to Romans 1. I appreciate the way that he has discarded the unhelpful chapter and verse divisions here (I have used them only so I don’t have to quote at length), and sees 1:18-32 as the build-up to 2:1. He understands 1:26-27 as a description of

the sort of things that went on in and around pagan temples throughout the Mediterranean world in Paul’s time.

Alison goes on to describe these disgusting practices in some detail. As he points out, up to this point

the [original] listeners will have been able to say “Right on, Brother!”

But the sting is in the tail, where Paul brings the argument home to his listeners, as in 1:29-31 he lists the kinds of non-sexual sins which they must have realised that they too were guilty of. Thus, according to Alison, Paul’s focus is not really on these pagan religious practices, but on the ordinary non-sexual sins of every ordinary person.

One clear direction of Alison’s argument, although he only hints at it, is that modern homosexuality and lesbianism is so different from the pagan orgies described by Paul that it should not be understood as being the same thing that the apostle speaks negatively about. But he gives more prominence to the argument that these orgies are mentioned only

as illustrations for an argument of this sort: “Yes, yes, we know that there are these people who do these silly things, but that is completely irrelevant besides the hugely significant fact that these are simply different symptoms of a profound distortion of desire which is identical in you as it is in them, and it is you who I am trying to get through to, so don’t judge them.”

In other words, Paul is not so much teaching that homosexual practise is wrong as teaching that his readers’ ordinary sins are just as wrong as they consider pagan orgies to be.

Now this is certainly not to say that the Bible approves of homosexual practice. There do seem to be much clearer, if briefer, condemnations of male homosexual intercourse in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and 1 Timothy 1:9-11.

This argument also does not cover Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13. Joel Hoffman is correct to point out that these verses do not use the language of sin. But it is clear from them that God strongly disapproved of homosexual practice among the Israelites. The only question then is whether this, like blood sacrifices, circumcision and food laws, can be understood as a law for Israel which does not apply to Christians today – this  needs detailed study.

James Alison has made an important point. Most would agree that great care should be taken in using biblical texts about specific Jewish people against the Jews in general. Similarly, great care should be taken in using biblical texts about specific homosexual groups “in a direction contrary to evangelical justice and charity” against today’s LGBT community. I would still consider, on the basis of 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and 1 Timothy 1:9-11, that homosexual practice is wrong. But a proper reading of the Bible certainly does not justify the kind of condemnatory language against gays and lesbians used by many Christians.

Authority, power and rights in the New Testament, part 3

This post continues (after rather too long a delay) and concludes the series in part 1 and part 2, in which I looked at the New Testament use of exousia and related words concerning authority and rights. I included “power” in the series title, but in fact this would seem to be a good rendering only in a few cases in Revelation (6:8, 9:3,10,19), and perhaps also in references to Roman authority (e.g. John 19:10,11), as only here does the word have any real connotations of physical ability or coercive power.

I will continue by looking at the “authority” given to believers in Jesus.

First we note that the most basic exousia given to believers is to become the children of God (John 1:12).

Then we see that Jesus, while he was still alive on earth, gave exousia to his disciples, not just the Twelve, and that this authority was to cast out evil spirits (Matthew 10:1; Mark 3:15, 6:7; Luke 9:1, 10:19). In two of these places, in fact referring only to the Twelve, this is linked with the exousia to heal (Matthew 10:1; Luke 9:1). In parables this was likened to the exousia of servants to do the work assigned to them (Mark 13:34; Luke 19:17).

In the post-Resurrection parts of the New Testament it is rare for exousia to be attributed to believers, apart from the sense “right” found mainly in 1 Corinthians (also Acts 5:4; 2 Thessalonians 3:9; Hebrews 13:10; Revelation 22:14). Simon the magician desires the exousia which he sees in Peter and John, referring to how they could confer the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:19). Faithful believers at Thyatira are promised exousia over the nations (Revelation 2:26). The two witnesses have exousia to shut the sky and over the waters (Revelation 11:6). And besides these three we have only the two cases where Paul claims exousia concerning the Corinthian church (2 Corinthians 10:8, 13:10), which are the only cases in the New Testament of one believer having any kind of exousia relating to specific other believers.

So what is this exousia which Paul had? It was not authority over the Corinthians, but it was authority “for building you up, not for tearing you down” (13:10, TNIV). In fact in Greek the phrase is almost the same in 10:8 and 13:10, literally “for building and not for destroying”, with “of you” added only in 10:8, so perhaps Paul’s exousia here is to be understood as more general, to build up the church as a whole.. Paul does not claim any absolute authority over the Corinthians, to choose for himself whether to build them up or tear them down, but only the specific authority or commission which God gave him to build them up. Even so he is reluctant to invoke this authority, choosing to encourage or beg (parakaleo) his listeners to do what is right and refraining from ordering them to do anything.

Thus Paul’s attitude to authority in the church is entirely consistent with that of Jesus, who told his disciples not to be like the rulers of the Gentiles who exercise authority (exousiazo) but to lead by serving (Luke 22:25-26).

To summarise, in the New Testament we see a hierarchy of authority only among secular leaders. Gentile rulers like Pilate have exousia over their subjects, given to them by the emperor (and ultimately by God); military officers are under their ruler’s exousia and have others under them. But there is no trace of this kind of hierarchy of authority in the New Testament picture of how Christian believers should relate to one another.

Certain Christians, complementarians, try to teach some kind of hierarchy for the church: God the Father > God the Son > the Church > church leaders > husbands > wives > children. But there is hardly a trace of this picture in the Bible. The only places where words in the exousia group are used in this connection are when Jesus explains how he is turning this picture upside down:

You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority (katexousiazo) 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)

New bishop is "an Evangelism nut" – a fellow bishop

A follow-up to my piece yesterday on the new Bishop of Chelmsford:

The blogging bishop Alan Wilson has given his ringing endorsement to Bishop Stephen Cottrell, who is currently his colleague as an area bishop in the Diocese of Oxford. Bishop Alan writes of the soon to be bishop of Chelmsford:

Well, like the Church of England is supposed to, he runs Gospel (or Evangelical) software on Catholic hardware. He is clearly focussed on the kingdom, and has a real knack for drawing people into Bible passages reflectively at a level you can take away and think about. He is an Evangelism nut. He’s shrewd, but far more interested in holiness than politics. …

This looks like a great match. Stephen’s proud of Essex and coming from Essex … O people of Essex (and the bits of East London that some people think are Essex really), you are blessed. You have got yourselves the right man.

Thank you, Bishop Alan. We need a man like this (at the moment it has to be a man). So we look forward to welcoming Bishop Stephen to this diocese.

New Bishop of Chelmsford announced

As the Church Times blog and Sam Norton report, Stephen Cottrell will be the new Bishop of Chelmsford. This was officially announced by Number 10 Downing Street.

(Why is it up to the Prime Minister’s office to make these announcements? I thought Gordon Brown had given up any part in deciding on bishops. Anyway I find it offensive that secular authorities have any part in choosing leaders in the church – but that’s another issue.)

In many ways Stephen Cottrell seems a good choice for this job – except that unlike the last five of the nine holders of the post he is not called John! He has been well regarded as Area Bishop of Reading since 2004. He is only 51 and so should be able to serve Chelmsford for many years – unlike recent post holders: only one of the five Johns served more than ten years. He received several positive mentions in comments in a post at the Ugley Vicar last September about possible candidates. Cottrell was brought up in Essex, and writes (as reported by the Church Times blog):

For me coming to Essex and East London feels like coming home.

But this appointment is bound to be controversial in some quarters. Only last week John Richardson, a vicar who will be serving under Cottrell, wrote in a post Erroneous and Strange Bishops:

When Jeffery John was forced to stand down as Bishop of Reading, the appointment of Stephen Cottrell as his successor was greeted with enthusiasm by evangelicals within the Diocese of Oxford. Yet John and Cottrell are both members of the liberal group, Affirming Catholicism, and a glance at the cover of this book (published in 1998) is a salutory warning that the two men may differ little in underlying theology. For what reason, then, was Cottrell welcomed in place of John, other than that he was not a homosexual?

Indeed as I write John Richardson has just posted his own announcement of this appointment, with a link to his earlier post and the text of a press release – but no personal comment as yet.

Congratulations, USA, on healthcare reform

I would like to congratulate the people of the USA on the passing of the healthcare reform bill, as reported by the BBC. At last that great country is proving its greatness by ensuring that a small portion of its riches are spent on providing proper access to health services to even its poorest citizens. No longer will we see the scandal of the poor dying uncared for at the rich man’s gate, like Lazarus in Jesus’ parable (Luke 16:19-22).

I am glad also to see that President Obama will continue to ensure that federal money is not used to fund abortion, so removing a weakness in the bill which Michael Barber was right to object to.

But I was sad to see the following in the BBC report:

The Republicans say they will seek to repeal the measure, challenge its constitutionality and co-ordinate efforts in state legislatures to block its implementation.

Do they call this democracy? The elected legislature has made its decision, and do they want to block it? I trust no one who calls themselves Christian will have any part in these continuing efforts to deny to the poor and to sick children (who couldn’t get insurance because of pre-existing conditions) the very most basic of Christian compassion, proper health care.