Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Essay 4—Men and Women in Worship—(3) Spiritual Gifts and the Body

Outline: 023-E4.3-Spiritual Gifts and the Body
Passage: 1 Corinthians 12:1-30
Discussion Audio (1h09m)

Unity of the body requires diversity of its members.

Another problem in the Corinthian church appears to have been their overvaluing of the ecstatic gifts, particularly of “tongues,” over all other gifts. So much so that it was seen as the sign of true spirituality, of having “arrived.” In the process people in the church who did not show this sign may have been told “we don’t need you.” Perhaps in not so many words, but in the attitudes toward them. In addition, the problem between the haves and have-nots from the previous section, the disorder around the Lord’s Supper, may be playing a part here. The haves may have felt they were sufficient to themselves and they did not need the have-nots.

Whatever the precise nature of the problem, Paul writes a corrective: all members are necessary to the health and building up of the body of Christ.

Christ here is not the name of an individual, Jesus, but of the community that derives its existence and identity from the individual. Just as in the Old Testament Israel could serve as the name of an individual (Gen 32:28) and of a people, so in Paul the name Christ is used both for the individual (1 Cor 2:2; Rom 5:17) and for the Christian community (1 Cor 15:22).[1]

Paul writes to the Corinthians that the gifts are not signs of anything – he reminds them that in pagan worship, there are signs of ecstasy – but are tools given by the Spirit for the common good. It is only the appropriate use of these gifts that is evidence of the type of spirituality of the person exhibiting the gift.

It is in this context that Paul introduces an extended “parable of the body.” It speaks both to those who might feel marginalized as well as those who assert self-sufficiency. All parts of the body are necessary. All are equally valuable. The head is not more valuable than the feet. The head cannot sustain itself without the mouth and the rest of the digestive system.

The center of the parable is the statement, “God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose” (v.18, ESV). There is no hierarchy of gifts. Every member is interdependent on another. One has no more authority than another. Verse 28 begins, “And God has appointed…” Ken Bailey writes:

The emphasis is again on “God has appointed.” Paul is not discussing elected church officers or natural abilities, but spiritual gifts.[2]

Bailey also writes that the principle of mutual interdependency can be applied beyond a single congregation to include all congregations:

The emphasis is on the problem of self-sufficiency. This cameo can be understood to reach beyond the status of individual Christians and apply also congregations… [Congregations] needed each other… The strong tendency then and now was and is for each tradition to become self-sufficient and say to the rest of the Christian world, “We do not need you! We have our own language, liturgy, history, theology, tradition and culture. All we need we find within ourselves.” … God’s Spirit is not promised uniquely to us in our divergent organizational structures, but in our faithfulness to the one body of Christ. The sin condemned is not pride but self-sufficiency. The deepest problem is not, “I am better than you” but rather, “I don’t need you.” … God has made us so that we will need each other. No church is an island.[4]

Human nature leads us to associate with people with whom we find much in common, i.e., people like us. We prefer uniformity. It is more comfortable. Denominations form around what is common. Denominations strive to maintain what are core and common. Large congregations feel they can minister to their communities by themselves. There is a temptation for congregations and denominations to think of themselves as “specially chosen by God” so that all other churches are “less-than” and not really necessary. Maybe not explicitly, but often subconsciously. In public we might say that all churches are valuable and fulfilling God’s purpose, but do we sometimes think “we don’t need you” in the privacy of our minds?

Paul writes that all Christians, from individuals members to distinct congregations, are all necessary. Each one has been placed there specifically according to God’s purpose. Diversity of beliefs and practices are necessary for the unity of the body of Christ and for its upbuilding.

The “parable of the body” ends with a discussion of the “unmentionables” – the genitals, the reproductive organs of the body. Ken Bailey observes that the body which cannot reproduce will die.[4] Based upon this observation he suggests that evangelism is like sex (my interpretation). He provides the following seven points in support[5]:

  1. Evangelism is primary a very private affair
  2. Evangelism involves deep personal relations
  3. Evangelism is intended to be sacred and honorable
  4. Long-term commitments are assumed
  5. Personal advantage must never be involved
  6. Evangelism must always be motivated by love, not by a will to power
  7. The fact the Paul repeats this theme four times in a row is surely indicative of its importance

In fact then, spiritual gifts is not really the main focus of this passage. Paul is trying to focus his readers away from the specifics of gifts to the mutual interdependency of actions that take place within the church. When something happens to a member of the body, the whole body is affected, for good or for bad. No one can be over another because every member has equal value and every ministry is equally necessary. No one can claim a role based on birth, social status, ethnicity, or even gender because it is God who determines where he places a person and what gift will be given to fulfill his purposes.

Spiritual gifts are not roles or abilities.
They are actions that build up the body of Christ.

[1] Reading Corinthians from Reading the New Testament Commentary Series, entry for 1 Cor. 12:12-27.

[2] Bailey, location 4089.

[3] Bailey, location 4034.

[4] Bailey, location 4067.

[5] Bailey, locations 4051-4067.

[6] Bailey, location 4094.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Essay 4—Men and Women in Worship—(2) Order in Worship—Eucharist

Outline: 022-E4.2-Order in Worship-Eucharist
Passage: 1 Corinthians 11:17-34
Discussion Audio (1h09m)

Actions and attitudes in the Christian church that abuse the poor
is the same as abusing Christ

The English Standard Version Study Bible notes gives the heading for this section of 1 Corinthians as “Social snobbery at the Lord’s Table.” Reading Corinthians from Reading the New Testament commentary series gives it the subheading “Social Significance of the Supper.” In other words, theology has direct bearing on social relationships. What, then, is Paul’s theology in this passage?

The passage is broken into three major sections:

  1. The problem statement (vv.17-22)
  2. Theology (vv.23-26)
  3. Observations and solutions (vv.27-34)

The Problem

The Corinthian letter to Paul did not mention this problem. It is entirely possible that those in leadership did not even recognize it to be a problem. Or, they were too embarrassed to bring it up to Paul. Whatever the case, Paul heard about it, quite possibly from the servants and/or slaves of the house in which the Corinthian church met.

The best reconstruction of the problem appears to be that it happened during the meals held at the Corinthian assembly (gathering, church) at which time the Last Supper of Jesus was remembered. The church consisted of members from all social strata – from nobility and the wealthy to the slaves and the poor. It appears that the church was following Roman customs in its meals; i.e., those with leisure time – the wealthy – arrived early and had access to the triclenium and the best foods and drinks offered there, while the less well-to-do arrived later, hungry, and had to make-do with what was left and had to settle for seating or standing outside in the atrium area. Instead of united fellowship the meal was an event in which social divisions were heightened in visibility.

Paul offers no commendation (praise) for allowing this divisive cultural tradition/norm to exist at a church function. The Corinthians may be repeating words from the Last Supper, but because of their present actions, Paul writes that this is not “the Lord’s Supper” but “their own supper.” Instead of fostering community and communal good, the meal is dividing and highlighting the harmful aspects of individualism.


Paul writes that “remembrance” is not merely recollection about Jesus and the events of the Last Supper, but for it to be truly remembrance the church must participate actively in what the supper means.

Paul writes that the supper is an activity in which social divisions and hierarchies of authority are erased. It is a remembrance of the act of love of Jesus that led to his death on the cross. It is a remembrance of the birth of a new community, based not on nationality, race, gender, or social status, but on adoption into God’s family as a friend and brother of Jesus.

The manner in which the Corinthian church “remembered” the Last Supper was a travesty of what it was supposed to teach. The Lord’s Supper was supposed to be a proclamation of the gospel of restoration of relationships from hierarchy and roles to egalitarianism, but the Corinthians had made it the exact opposite of that.

Observations and Solutions

Paul writes that the church must examine herself before partaking of the Lord’s Supper to see if she is worthy. This section, in particular, has been lifted out of context by much of traditional Christian interpretations. It has been made to say that individual Christians must examine themselves to determine if there is any sin that might cause them to be unworthy of partaking of the Supper, and that if done unworthily, they will incur judgment from God.

That is not what Paul intended. The entire context is in the framework of social justice. The Corinthian church, as a whole, was allowing and even promoting social divisions and inequality through her actions. Paul is writing against this “sin.” It is a sin committed by the entire church, not specifically individuals. Paul is calling on the church to examine herself.

In the context of this letter and in the light of the discussion he has offered the Corinthians up to this point, one should see that, for Paul, to eat the bread and to drink the cup of the Lord in an unworthy way is eating and drinking with an attitude of self- centeredness, of individualism or arrogance.[1]

This is not a call for deep personal introspection to determine whether one is worthy of the Table… [It is] a call to truly Christian behavior at the Table. It is in this sense that the Corinthians are urged to examine themselves. Their behavior has belied the gospel they claim to embrace. Before they participate in the meal, they should examine themselves in terms of their attitudes toward the body, how they are treating others, since the meal itself is a place of proclaiming the gospel.[2]

When the church allows traditional and cultural social divisions into her life, she becomes unworthy and guilty of abusing Christ himself.

Such an abuse of the "body" is an abuse of Christ himself. The bread represents his crucified body, which, along with his poured out blood, effected the death that ratified the New Covenant. By their abuse of one another, they were also abusing the One through whose death and resurrection they had been brought to life and formed into this new eschatological fellowship, his body the church.[3]

Paul perceives that all is not well with the church and places fault on how the church is treating the poor. He attributes this to “judgment from the Lord.” But that should not be read as God causing or punishing, but as allowing consequences of their poor behavior to bear its fruits. It is also vital to note that Paul never writes that individuals will be the direct recipient of judgment but rather the church.

The solutions Paul proposes are twofold. First – his recommended solution – is that the church correct her abuses and welcome everyone to the Table so that she will become a worthy participant in the Lord’s Supper. The second suggestion that Paul makes is that if there are groups or factions that cannot accept the theological significance of the Lord’s Supper and want to continue traditional Roman banquets that they do so in their own homes before coming to meet with the rest of the church. That way judgment will not fall upon the church.

Throughout this passage Paul never directly attacks social and cultural customs. He never commands the wealthy to share with the poor. He never writes that social inequities are wrong. But what he does by introducing a theology of equality and egalitarianism is to quietly chip away at the foundations of human priorities of wealth and privilege, and the status and security those things can afford. What Paul does write is that within the church assembly, such things must not become sources of division and factions. When the church gathers, no individual or group must be allowed to feel shame and dishonor because of what they don’t have or who they are not.

As noted throughout, this paragraph has had an unfortunate history of understanding in the church. The very Table that is God's reminder, and therefore his repeated gift, of grace, the Table where we affirm again who and whose we are, has been allowed to become a table of condemnation for the very people who most truly need the assurance of acceptance that this table affords—the sinful, the weak, the weary. One does not have to "get rid of the sin in one's life" in order to partake. Here by faith one may once again receive the assurance that "Christ receiveth sinners."

On the other hand, any magical view of the sacrament that allows the unrepentant to partake without "discerning the body" makes the offer of grace a place of judgment. Grace "received" that is not recognized as such is not grace at all; and grace "received" that does not recognize the need to be gracious to others is to miss the point of the Table altogether.[4]

[1] Understanding the Bible Commentary: 1 Corinthians, entry for 1 Cor. 11:27.

[2] New International Commentary on the New Testament: The First Epistle, entry for 1 Cor. 11:28.

[3] NICNT, introduction entry on 1 Cor. 11:17-34 (D. Abuse of the Lord’s Supper).

[4] NICNT, entry for 1 Cor. 11:31-32.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Essay 4—Men and Women in Worship—(1) Leading in Worship

Outline: 021-E4.1-Leading in Worship
Passage: 1 Corinthians 11:2-16
Discussion Audio (1h13m)

Paul could have easily solved the controversy
by commanding the women, “Stop leading in worship.”
But he didn’t.

Women (and men) were leading worship in the Corinthian (and all other) churches. They were leading prayers and proclaiming the word of God to the church through the spiritual gift of prophecy.

What then, was the problem?

The problem wasn’t with women preaching and leading in church.

The problem was with “clerical garb.”[1] Or, the problem was with “eschatological women,” believing that they had already become “like angels,” were casting off all symbols of gender distinctions.[2]

Many English translations of this passage are interpretations based on preconceived traditions of patriarchy and complementarianism. They fail to render words consistently. As a result they end up with biases with which many readers take as the “word of God” when in fact they are interpretations of men (literally!).

When Paul writes “head” (κεφαλή kephale) it is not ever meant to imply authority or establishment of hierarchy but simply “origin of life.” Fee writes, “Paul’s understanding of the metaphor, therefore, and almost certainly the only one the Corinthians would have grasped, is ‘head’ as ‘source,’ especially ‘source of life.’”[3]

Many translations mix “man” and “husband” when it should be rendered as “man” (ἀνήρ anēr) each time. Likewise with “woman” and “wife” (γυνή gyne). Paul did indeed speak to single and marital relationships in chapter 7 but in this passage he is broadening the discussion to relationships of “every man” and “every woman” to the church. It is inappropriate and out-of-context to read any kind of marriage relationships into this passage.

Another major translation issue involves how to translate διά (dia) in verses 9-10. Many translations translate this as “for” in verse 9 and “because of” in verse 10. As a result English readers get the idea that Paul writes in verse 9 that “woman [was created] for man,” i.e., woman/wife as a servant/subordinate role to man/husband. When dia is rendered consistently what is seen is,

For man was not created because of {dia} woman, but woman because of {dia} the man. Because of {dia} this the woman should have authority {exousia} on the head, because of {dia} the angels.

This rendering removes any kind of role or subordination and what is seen is simply the creation account of Genesis 2 in which the man is formed first and then the woman from [because of] the man.

Just in case the reader might be tempted to think that creation order matters, Paul counters that in verses 11-12 that the order, in fact, does not matter. Even more, if one thinks thinks that being first means priority in importance, the first creation account of Genesis 1 shows that later is better. Bailey writes,

The difficulty with this conclusion [that created first means more important] is that the creation stories begin with the lesser forms of life and move on to the more advanced forms. If created earlier equals more important, then animals are more important than people, the plants are more important than the animals and the primitive earth “without form and void” is the most important of all![4]

The creation account forms the center of Paul’s argument in regards to women’s right and authority to lead churches and worship. In Genesis 2 the woman is created as a helper (‘ezera) for the man.[5] The God of Israel is often referred to as ‘Ezer when he comes to save his people. Helper then refers to a being or a person who holds superior powers to the one being helped. In other words, if one is to read the Genesis account literally, woman is superior to man, who was found to be helpless. Lest women think they are superior to men Paul’s words in verses 11-12 apply just as equally to women as well as men. Bailey writes in regard to Paul’s argument in this passage,

Seen in this light, our understanding of the text and of Paul’s view of women are transformed. Women, for Paul, are not created “for men” … Rather women, as descendants of Eve, are placed by God in the human scene as the strong who come to help/save the needy (the men)… Paul emerges as a compassionate figure who boldly affirms the equality and mutual interdependency of men and women in the new covenant.[6]

The climax in the center affirms women in worship leadership and gives them a
sign of their authority… A part of this new creation is the restoration of the
equality and mutual interdependence between men and women in Christ.[7]

It appears that the women thought that part of their new freedom in Christ was to cast off traditional garbs of women, that they could (or should, even must?) appear as men when leading worship. For some in the congregation this was seen as unacceptable and even sexually enticing. Paul was apparently trying to find a compromise in a congregation of mixed cultural traditions. He tells the women, “I commend you for leading in worship, but please, keep your head covered so as not to be distracting to some in your congregation.”

Later in this essay (chapter 12 and 14) Paul will discuss spiritual gifts more fully. But he is foreshadowing the topic by writing that spiritual gifts are not distributed based on gender but on need, to build up the church.

To define ministry roles based on gender is
tantamount to destroying the church.

[1] Bailey, Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes, locations 3484-3498.

[2] Fee, New International Commentary on the New Testament: The First Epistle, entry for 1 Cor. 11:3.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Bailey, location 3522.

[5] Bailey, location 3620.

[6] Bailey, location 3623.

[7] Bailey, locations 3655, 3659.