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Archive for the ‘Theological Questions’ Category

What is meant by “nature” or “essence”?

I am not a trained philosopher, so any input on here for this topic from a philosopher is appreciated. However, I like to take challenging concepts and explain them so that almost anyone can understand them.

In order to do that, I often find that foundational concepts have to be explained first.

This idea of essential traits and accidental traits is one of those foundations.

In the most basic sense, an essential trait can be said of something that if that trait were to change, would change what that something is.  An accidental trait is one that can change without changing what something is.

To illustrate:

I can draw an object.

What is this?  A circle.

 

 

But what if I draw one on the other side of the page?  Now what is it?

Still a circle, because LOCATION is an accidental trait of a circle.  Its location can change without changing that it is a circle.

 

Now I draw a blue one.

Now what is it?

Still a circle. Why?  Because COLOR is not an essential trait of a circle.  COLOR is an accidental trait.  Changing color does not change what it is.

 

 

Circles can have a lot of different accidental traits.

Now, I am going to draw one more circle.  This time I am going to draw it with four corners.

 

Now what do I have?

A circle with corners?

No.  Now we have a square.  Why?

Because ROUND is an essential trait of a circle.  If you change it’s ROUNDNESS, you change what a you have when you are dealing with circles.

There are other things for which shape does NOT change what they are, so shape is not an essential trait.

This is a circle.  One of the simplest concept we can tackle.

Imagine if we decided to discuss the essential traits of a chair, or a world or humankind or an individual person, or even God?

 

The compiled traits of essential traits is correctly called that thing’s “Essence” or “Nature”. Something’s “nature” is the compilation of traits that are “essential” to it.  “Nature” is another word for this concept.

 

Any of us could debate for hours the essence of God, or even something as simple as a chair.  We could also debate where essence comes from. These are questions that divide the metaphysical views of philosophy, like “postmodernism”.

 

It should be apparent that many of the conversations that we think are political are actually conversations about essence.  Is a fetus a living human being with the rights that come with being human?  What is a male or female?  What are the essential traits of “marriage”?  What is the definition of “consent”?

In theological articles, this has importance… does God even have accidental traits?  Could The Trinity have been “broken” when Jesus was on the cross?  What does it mean that “God is Love?”  Think about how this concept is vital for conversations about the nature of suffering!

I except that many of my other articles will reference back to this one.

 

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Nehemiah 4:9

And we prayed to our God and set a guard as a protection against them day and night.”

In debate, there is a focal point of debates called “burden.” I am starting this conversation with what I see to be the burden of the Christian pacifist.  I will warn you, this part isn’t short.  Neither is the rest of it.

Natural Law

(“The doctrine that human affairs should be governed by ethical principles that are part of the very nature of things and that can be understood by reason”– Dictionary.com)

First off, I think it is important to note that the fail safe or default stance on self-defense should be that all human beings have the natural freedom to defend their own life and the lives of those they are responsible for.

In other words, if there were no scripture or ethic to the contrary, humans would, by natural law, be entitled (and perhaps responsible in some cases) to harm or kill an animal or another human in defense of himself or herself.

I do not know for sure if this is agreed upon, since I have rarely seen anyone start the conversation this far back, but I believe it should be.  I don’t put a lot of emphasis on natural law typically.  Here, I am merely mentioning it to indicate that it is “natural” for created beings to defend themselves.

Children fight back; animals fight back; created beings fight back as instinct, and the right to defend one’s own life and well-being as well as the responsibility to protect the weaker, has been considered a God-given right.

So, the burden is on the pacifist to show that for some reason, humans or some subset of humans, are responsible to refuse to defend themselves or others.

God’s Instructions

One thing that a Christian has to be able to argue is that something has radically changed between the ethic of violence in the Old Covenant and the New Covenant.

God directly instructs violence, executions, and killing in warfare regularly.  Clearly, any directive against violence represents a change in the ethic that God calls His people to.  Anyone who wants to debate this topic as a Christian must concede this.

After God has destroyed much of the human race, as is His right, He declares the ethic for how mankind engages with violence against other humans.  This is not a Jewish law, or a Levitical rule.  This is not just about governments, since there were none in place. God’s ethic for violence against humans was a violent response by other humans.

Whoever sheds the blood of man,

by man shall his blood be shed,

for God made man in his own image.

Genesis 9:6

I want to make clear that this is a teaching from God to the race of mankind.  This is God’s presented ethic about the very topic of human-on-human violence.  There will need to be a teaching of Jesus that changes this ethic if it is to be argued that the new ethic for all Christians is one of non-violence.

I think there is no time needed for defenders of Christian pacifism to attempt to make case from the Hebrew Scriptures.  What is required of them is to show that God has changed His mind on this in regards to His followers at the incarnation or teaching or death or burial or resurrection of Jesus Christ.

And the argument cannot just be from silence. As mentioned above, both natural law and direct instruction from Almighty God calls for man to respond to violence with violence.

Just getting started!

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Conclusion

Perhaps a healthy thought would be to consider that like Priscilla in Acts 18:26, that the church’s best interest is served when men and women serve and even guide and lead together. Certainly, even if a team of men or a man lead a church, their wives and the women in other roles of leadership and ministry are co-ministers with them!

Perhaps if we were all healthier, we wouldn’t be as concerned as we get about who gets what role… and if women should not be in some role, or men, then we would all be happy about the roles that others get since we love them as much or more than ourselves.

Given that the instructions of Christ was that among His followers, the leader is the servant, it is vital that no one – male or female – would see leadership as their due – that they are somehow entitled to lead in Christ’s Church.

Some interpret I Timothy 2:11-15 as less about gender and more about the usurpation of authority.   I don’t necessarily agree with that conclusion, but I am confident that it is a good minimum application. That matches with Jesus’ teaching in Mark 10,

“You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”   Mark 10:42-45

So, I hope the case has been made that I intended. Our church, which is led by a team of leaders, which is chaired by the Lead Pastor, does allow women on that team and also encourages women to be deacons… and could have a woman on staff whose title included the word “pastor”.

My goal isn’t to indicate that this is the only right or even best interpretation of all of these passages – but that it is an acceptable one while staying true to scripture.

I know that the width of my understanding could be wider than Paul (or the Holy Spirit) intends – though I pray not.

However, obviously I don’t think so, and those who made this decision for our church think the same. If I created my own church from the ground up according to my own preferred interpretations and applications, perhaps I would do a few things differently – however, these are easy places to submit to those who came in authority before me here.

Also, my general tendency is to seek freedom in the application of scripture… when the application is unclear.  I admit this is my bias.  So, when there are multiple biblically sound Christ-deferring possible interpretations, I like to default to less restrictive rather than more restrictive, so I can appreciate that aspect of this understanding as well.

To learn more about the church I am referencing, check out www.southspring.org

 

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We can start with women as deacons:

The main passage that people reference in saying that women should not be in the role of deacon are found in the letters to his younger protégé’s Timothy and Titus in the criteria listed . For example:

I Timothy 3:12

Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well.”

This passage (and its sister passage in Titus) has been the main point of contention. Does the wording of this passage forbid women by saying “husband?” And remember, that the language can also mean “man of one woman”… the words in each of the passages are slightly different – but are all assigned the same word in Strong’s Concordance.  The distinctions, if of great meaning, are being missed by me.

Granted that this passage has also been interpreted to apply to single men and divorced men as well as women, but who is it meant to apply to? Who is being denied the opportunity to be a deacon?

Keep in mind that “deacon” means “servant”. Paul encouraged his young pastors to choose people as “elders” (later on that) and “servants” in the churches they led.

Could this verse be intended to reference a sex or gender or just the idea of fidelity to one spouse? People have disagreed since probably not long after Paul died and could not longer make it clear… but here are a few further factors to contribute to the uncertainty:

One is the previous verse:

I Timothy 3:11

Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things.”

Some translate this passage as actually “the women likewise…” (Remember the Greek word issue?) and that is specifically references the women who are deacons.

Most likely to have an impact on the correct interpretation of 3:12 are Paul’s warm words about a deacon in Romans 16:1-2

“I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae, that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints, and help her in whatever she may need from you, for she has been a patron of many and of myself as well.”

The word here for servant is “deacon” and there is nothing in the context to indicate that Paul doesn’t mean to honor her as a “deacon” as described in the pastoral letters. In other words, I think it is very likely that Phoebe was a deacon, and she was certainly not the husband of one wife.

I think this also possibly means that phrase is not meant to be understood that way in the other places where it is used – it is not meant to forbid women from becoming deacons or perhaps not elders either, since the same phrasing is used there:

“Therefore an overseer (elder/bishop?) must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach…” I Timothy 3:2

Again, there are different words in the Timothy and Titus passages.  One common theory is that in each, Paul is referencing a total of three offices (deacon, Presbyter, Eklesion) or that the last two or different types of the same office or that he is using the last two terms interchangeably.  My research has not taken me far enough into the offices side of this conversation yet.  I hope to have the time to in the future.

In the meantime, back to the role of women…

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Women in Ministry

Right now, I am the Lead Pastor at a church that allows and encourages women in roles that some other churches do not. Women can serve as deacons, as teachers in a co-ed Life Group, members of the Leadership Board (the main decision making board of the church), can be licensed as a minister, and could hold the title “pastor” (though not likely in the position of “lead pastor”).

Sometimes we get questions about these decisions and so I thought I would write an article to show why I believe that these are biblically acceptable options.

I want to note that language – biblically acceptable – is very intentional. I do NOT think that the decisions this church has come to are biblically necessary.

I have worked in other churches that had very different conclusions on these issues. Immediately before coming be on staff at this church, I was an elder at a church that would have said none of these were allowed, and I think that is a biblically acceptable option too!

I have no intention for this to be an in depth article about women in the church or home in general. Heck, it isn’t even a very in depth conversation in women’s roles in ministry – that takes books. This is just a simple explanation of why I think the options chosen by the church where I am are biblically within the margin of error, so to speak.

So, given so much margin in how to interpret the biblical teachings on the roles of women in the church, what are some of the complicating factors and how do I feel comfortable with the direction that our church has gone?

Here are some complicating factors:

Let me start with noting that I am not a Greek expert.  I have never been really trained in it.  I am including the insights I have taken from commentaries, notes, Strong’s Concordance, and others.  I apologize when the Greek is too simplified.  I look forward to hearing where I may be making mistakes here.

The Greek word for “man” (aner or some similar version of it) (for example, see Romans 4:8) is also the Greek word for “husband” (see Romans 7:2). There are times when this creates uncertainty in the language as to which is being emphasized (the sex or the role).

To further complicate matters, the Greek word for “woman” (gyne) is also the Greek word for “wife”. The meaning is based on the context entirely.

Go check out I Corinthians 11:3-16 and imagine how important this distinction would be.

How about the idea that women are to be silent in church from 1 Cor 14?

“…the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. 35 If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.” (ESV)

I think this passage is intended to be understood as “wife” each time.  I am not the scholar that many who disagree with me are, so take my opinion as not worth much, but to me, Paul seems to think that wives (not women as a whole sex) should be asking their questions of their husbands (verse 35) instead of their teacher… and this makes sense in the understanding that Paul thought of the husband as the spiritual leader of his wife.

But anyone can see how this can be confusing, especially given the Greek language! It is easy to see why there is a lot of room for interpretation of passages like this… and why there is great disagreement?

So, what about the roles in the church?

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Here are some key passages that reference some of God’s traits that clearly have a maternal feel to them:

Isaiah 66:13

For thus says the Lord:

       “Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river, and the glory of the nations like an overflowing stream; and you shall nurse, you shall be carried upon her hip, and bounced upon her knees.  As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you;

 

Isaiah 49:15

Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;

When I was young, we raised birds. One of the things that some mother birds do, like turkeys for example, is to protect their young by covering them with their wings. They do this in storms, in particular. It is a particularly maternal thing. God refers to Himself in these:

Deuteronomy 32:11 (as well as Ps 17:8, Ps 57:1, Ps 91:4)

Like an eagle that stirs up its nest, that flutters over its young, spreading out its wings, catching them, bearing them on its pinions, the Lord alone guided him,

 

Luke 13:34, Jesus puts Himself in that same role, too.

 

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets

 

and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!

 

or perhaps a more ferocious animal?

Hosea 13:8

I will fall upon them like a bear robbed of her cubs;

I will tear open their breast,

       and there I will devour them like a lion,

as a wild beast would rip them open.

Luke 15:8-10, Jesus tells a parable in which the God-figure is a woman:

Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Ps 22:9-10, Ps 71:6, and Isa 66:9 all put God in the role of a midwife. Though it says “he”, the midwife in Israel was apparently a female role.

Yet you are he who took me from the womb;

you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts.

 Upon you I have leaned from before my birth;

you are he who took me from my mother’s womb.

 My praise is continually of you.

Bless our God, O peoples;

let the sound of his praise be heard,

who has kept our soul among the living

and has not let our feet slip.

 Shall I bring to the point of birth and not cause to bring forth?”

says the Lord; “shall I, who cause to bring forth, shut the womb?” says your God.

Our concepts of gender, though cultural and society, are connected to sex – which is biological. Honestly, we cannot know what role gender or sex will play in the new imperishable bodies that humans will have someday forever. Much less, the role of gender in God – but how could what we know as sex have anything to do with a self-existent Spirit being as God is with no need of sex or biological reproduction?

So, it is completely error to think that God being “He” somehow is a tipped hat to human sex or gender except as being in language that we would understand. God has reveled Himself somehow as “He” and therefore that is the correct pronoun for Him, but be

The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo at the Sistine chapel, Vatican city, Rome, Italy

very careful about ascribing any meaning there – it is very easy to make big mistakes.

Remember that God so loved the world – all men and women – perhaps all of creation – that He sent His Son. God’s love extends to everyone and whether you are male or female, He treasures you.

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Maternal Traits of God

Sometimes when someone reads that God I referenced as “He” in the Bible, they think that implies a sex prioritization or and sex hierarchy in the mind of God.

Somehow God being “He” also makes Him more like a male human than like a female human (or a male human more like Him than a female human)…

But I think that is a misunderstanding, mistake or in some cases, abuse.

What does it mean that I am male? It means that I have an X chromosome and a Y chromosome. It also probably means that I have certain sex organs and plumbing. It probably means that I choose, as a preference or daily, between boxers and briefs.

So, obviously (I pray it is obvious) God being a “He” doesn’t mean the same things as those. Either there is something about His essence that links to something that all males (not just humans?)

That seems to be the case, but that is also quite a mystery, as revealed in Gen 1:27

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

Something about being created in God’s own image is linked to us being create male and female, but what exactly is open to great speculation… but a clear implication is that man and woman are BOTH created in God’s image.

Woman are not a lesser version of God’s image, so God being a “He” must not be meant to imply that men are somehow closer to God’s image.

In fact, the main focus for this little article is to draw attention to the maternal traits of God.

I do not think that masculinity or femininity are biblically founded concepts. Male and female clearly are, but gender traits are entirely culturally based. (not man or woman – that is genetic, but “manly” or “lady-like” for example.) More on that in another article.

I have long said that though there are many biblical roles that can only be held by men (father, son, brother, husband, for example) and there are roles that can only be held by women (wife, mother, sister, daughter, etc.), but with very few directions for men or women outside of roles like this.

There are clearly passages that indicate paternal traits of God – and being referred to as “Father” and “He” are certainly examples that we are used to – but what about God’s maternal traits?

We are called to the roles in people’s lives as parents… for our children and other people’s children.

How would that be possible for women if God’s traits were only masculine?  Next we look at God’s maternal traits.

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