Tuesday, May 29, 2012

When a Young Christian Woman Turns to Follow Satan and the Practical Benefits of Marriage

The Apostle Paul wrote to his apostolic emissary, Timothy, with some clear orders as to how he was to supervise the churches in Ephesus. Timothy was not a Pastor nor an Evangelist nor an Apostle or even a Prophet, rather he was an emissary commissioned by Paul, the Apostle, to carry out Apostolic duties in the authority or name of Paul. And one of the issues which needed to be addressed was that of Christian widows and which ones qualified to be cared for, with respect to their earthly needs, by the church. It is a very rare thing, today, to find a widow in prosperous countries who meet these criteria, but nonetheless this is still binding on the church if the criteria is met by a widow.

(*A side bar - have you ever noticed the foolish insistence that one may not speak with certainty regarding knowledge and insight of another gender or race unless they are part of that gender or race? Nonsense. No gender or race is that special. And here Paul speaks quite clearly about certain issues pertaining to women. Understand, you have the capacity to comprehend and speak upon such matters which do not involve you personally. Nothing requires a personal experience of a context in order to speak on it and such a posture is simply narcissism by others. It is an excuse to ignore another when someone does not wish to hear what is being said.)

But what came to my attention was the portion about younger widows and Paul’s consideration for them. Here is the passage from which I wish to point out a few things:

11 As for younger widows, do not put them on such a list. For when their sensual desires overcome their dedication to Christ, they want to marry. 12 Thus they bring judgment on themselves, because they have broken their first pledge. 13 Besides, they get into the habit of being idle and going about from house to house. And not only do they become idlers, but also busybodies who talk nonsense, saying things they ought not to.14 So I counsel younger widows to marry, to have children, to manage their homes and to give the enemy no opportunity for slander. 15 Some have in fact already turned away to follow Satan.

Paul makes it clear that younger widows are not to be put on any such list. Why? Because he resents them? Because they are a lower class? No, he directs them not to be listed because of a thoughtful consideration of the practical realities of their age and vitality.

To be on the list of widows required a widow, for one, to be exclusively committed to Christ through the work of the church. Paul states:
No widow may be put on the list of widows unless she is over sixty, has been faithful to her husband, 10 and is well known for her good deeds, such as bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the Lord’s people, helping those in trouble and devoting herself to all kinds of good deeds.
Practical as Practical Can Be

Notice what Paul, the Apostle, understands, that young women who are widows are not magically removed from their natural and legitimate impulses which are quite strong at this age, rather that to deny the reality of such impulses and place a young woman in the position of making a vow to serve Christ via exclusive service to the church all of her days is to aid her in being placed in an irreconcilable position, thus resulting in the likelihood of her breaking her vows. No such guilt of inconsideration toward a young widow is something for which we need account. There is no need to place them in almost impossible situations.

Paul fathoms the nature of humans, he is no fool and neither should we be. From time to time one can find in the church a young widow or a young woman who has committed herself to some ministry in a rather righteous manner. She is unmoved by the suggestions of others to broaden herself. She finds it best to be known as devout, which is not necessarily a bad thing but I am making a further point.

However, one day, along comes Mr. Right or Mr. Seemingly Right (time will tell) and Dr. Jekyll’s Mrs. Hyde suddenly appears with many excuses as to why life has suddenly changed so and why she is now quite fluid in her station. It is a good thing she did not take a vow (and if you ever wondered where the concept of Nuns came from, here you go). She followed what everyone knew was very likely, not because she was lacking any love for God but because she is young and this is her natural impulse. This is much like a zealous young widow might do in miscalculating her own constitution and reality in taking the vow referred to in Paul's letter but later realize its permanence is unrealistic.

Then are Sensual Desires and Marriage, Bad?

One might, in error, conclude from verse 11 that Paul is treating a woman’s sensual desires and that of marriage as a bad thing. No, he is not. What he is stating, however, is that when you make a vow (these widow vows were publicly affirmed in the early church and were not private vows, they were much like marriage vows of today with which you are familiar) at this point you do so against good reason. While there are exceptions to this rule, God is even so practical as to lead the Apostle Paul to simply forbid such idealism from being treated with  ecclesiastical sanction.

The word used for sensual desires is καταστρηνιάσωσιν (katastrēniasōsin) and it means to be restive or impatient against the restrictions of one's current conditions (here that of the vow of exclusive ecclesiastical devotion in service to Christ). And the cause of this is their normative desires toward social union which then lead them to desire marriage and all of its benefits. 

Marriage and its benefits are not against Christ but when a vow is made to serve in the unique and exclusive way of these church widows, these things, if not understood to be vanquished with confidence, are in conflict with Christ because a certain vow has been made. So a young woman, in God’s view, simply cannot rightly make such an evaluation and take such a risk.

Paul’s Counsel

Paul counsels, then, that the younger widows marry. To use a modern colloquialism or or idiom, it is a “no brainer”. The Apostle states:
14 So I counsel younger widows to marry, to have children, to manage their homes and to give the enemy no opportunity for slander.
Why is this? It is because of the surrounding verses which address what the very common course is for a woman with no responsibilities and who lacks feminine and spiritual full maturity and which I am about to get to.

When we, either men or women, are busy with work and families we are busy with just that, our business and not the business of others. Our entertainment is limited because our responsibilities are significant, thus we need not find stimulation or entertainment in concerning ourselves with the business of others.

Men have their issues but women, here, have theirs and Paul makes fundamentally clear that an idle woman is prone to certain things. And this is why, by the way, your girl friends and their busybody ways ought to be canceling themselves out when you get married or else you will find yourself wrecking your marriage at the expense of gossiping with your friends about the private affairs of your life and the lives of others. But not all young widows or single women are guilty of this and they take such honor into their marriages and excel in the most marvelous way as a wife, mother and sister in the Lord.

The Path from Following Christ to Following Satan

There are many Christians who cannot imagine going from following Christ to following Satan, but it happens, more than you imagine. And of course the Calvinists and Reformed will hand over the same old line, "well, they must not have really been saved". Sorry, but Paul is writing about those he views as saved but falling into a trap.

But to the issue at hand and following Satan as a Christian. The problem is what many Christians define as following Satan. Unless it is an obvious trap or lifestyle in which clear Satanic devices jump out at you, the believer wandering away from Christ is considered just that, wandering away but not really following Satan, at least this is the view by a sizable number of believers.

Friend, Satan has so many schemes and ways which your wormy human and finite nose cannot detect that you, yourself, might be engaged in a little of that right now whether you know it or not. Look again at what Paul says:
11 As for younger widows, do not put them on such a list. For when their sensual desires overcome their dedication to Christ, they want to marry. 12 Thus they bring judgment on themselves, because they have broken their first pledge. 13 Besides, they get into the habit of being idle and going about from house to house. And not only do they become idlers, but also busybodies who talk nonsense, saying things they ought not to. 14 So I counsel younger widows to marry, to have children, to manage their homes and to give the enemy no opportunity for slander. 15 Some have in fact already turned away to follow Satan.

An idle woman finds something to take up her time and fill her need for stimulation, particularly younger women. She can either do the right thing or the wrong thing. Here Paul addresses how it is done wrongly and rather easily. 

The first thing, outside of breaking their pledge (and let’s assume you have made no pledge but are simply single or a young widow) is going from house to house. Now we don’t do that today, instead we are on the phone talking to others about business that is none of ours. That is the equivalent to going house to house.

Secondly, they are busybodies, that is not only do they talk about business which is none of their but such women involve themselves - that is they insert themselves - into the business of others. I am confident either by experiencing this or practicing this you know what it is. Take some time. Watch the women and men around you and see who regularly inserts themselves where they do not belong. This is no benign fax pas Christian, this is Lucifer's well paved road.

Do You See the Road to Following Satan?

So Paul counsels them to live a normative life, one of responsibility. Now, you do not have to marry but marriage and family do have inherent demands which keep us busy with honest things, specifically our own concerns and our own business.

You can still be single and be honest and busy but Paul knows that the temptation is intense. You are typically living with the great desire to belong and be significant and to substitute this you can easily fall prey to the temptation to gossip and involve yourself in other people’s business.

Finally Paul says why he makes such counsel, so that the enemy (Satan) does not have an opportunity to slander. He does not want your life to be a slander against Christ.

But some do not heed this call to a busy and responsible life, rather they give way, as God’s children, to idleness, gossip, inserting themselves into the lives of others where they do not belong and eventually acquiescing in full to this lifestyle. Thus they turn away from Christian values, virtues and principles (being a disciple) and toward the satisfaction of their flesh, embracing this world’s system.

They are God’s children, lost in a sea of confusion and trapped by The Evil One in carnality of their own volition. But notice the progress of how they got there. It is not immediate and direct but subtle, slow and based in certain natural tendencies.  Satanic seduction is often surreptitious. The water is cool and calm at first but slowly it comes to a boil before you ever wake up.

Heed the call of God, stay busy. This may seem like I am stating the obvious but in this day and age Lucifer has made the obvious to be treated like unsophisticated simplicity and something to eschew as unenlightened and by which to be embarrassed.  It is simply practical counsel from God for us all, women and men.

Monday, May 21, 2012

What Star Trek’s Borg Can Teach Christians about Bible Comprehension

The Borg? Yes, the Borg. The Borg and Bible comprehension? Yes, the Borg and Bible comprehension. Let me get to the illustration and then the point (and for those of you who have no idea regarding Star Trek matters, shame on you ). In an episode of Star Trek Voyager (the one with the female Captain, Janeway) a crew member named Seven of Nine, often simply called Seven, who was part of the Borg collective but now rehabilitated into much of her former self and a member of the Voyager crew, decided to download all of the ship’s data into her “core” (located in her brain and part of the few but essential cybernetic implants which could not be removed during her rehabilitation and remain permanent parts of her body).

The result of this massive download into Seven’s core was Seven formulating and concluding a series of conspiracy theories based on all of this new data in which several key senior officers were suspected of nefarious motives and activities in which Seven, believing these to be indisputable, took action, extreme action, to stop the conspiracies from taking place. Some of her theories contradicted other ones but none of this seemed to be a source of disturbance for Seven. In the end Seven of Nine was able to be reasoned with by the Captain and recognized her obsessive reaction. The episode's ending scene has Seven interacting with an adolescent on the ship named Naomi Wildman whom Seven mentors from time to time. Naomi enters Seven’s personal quarters (which is actually a storage bay) where an “Alcove” is set up for Seven to step into and regenerate her core (the thing in her brain) which is a requirement of the cybernetic device, not to mention Seven’s ability to function. So here is the dialog and then an observation/application for readers:

Naomi (speaking to Seven): “Guess who assimilated 3 books and 10 reports in 2 days?”

Seven (replying matter of factly in with mild animation): “Naomi Wildman.”

Naomi: “That’s correct”

Naomi: “Are you taking your new Alcove apart?”

Seven: “Yes.”

Naomi: “Why?”

Seven: “My attempt to download Voyager’s database failed.”

Naomi: “Maybe you can fix it.”

Seven: “The alcove functioned within expected parameters. Unfortunately I did not. Three books and ten reports is impressive but quantity is less relevant than quality. You must be able to interpret the data, and enjoy the process.”

The Damage of Information without Interpretation

When we approach the Word of God we should never be in a hurry nor should it be a contest but often this is how it is handled, particularly with Bible reading. We are like Seven or Naomi who came away impressed with the quantification of the data that was reviewed or stored in a way that might appear impressive. We, like them, can be fooled with quantified measures of bible engagement. The problem? The problem is whether we learned anything properly or not.

Imagine giving your forth grade son or daughter a math book and telling them to read a chapter a day. At the end of one year he or she might be all the way through that book as well as many more books all the way to advanced calculus, but have they learned anything? Probably not much because math must be taught by a master of the subject and its basic principles must be learned and then mastered by the student and this entails repetition and very modest progress. And so even if they read all these books fifty times, they still would not understand much of what it was they should understand because it has not been taught to them.

But suppose they do pick up some of these intermediate and advanced concepts, at least in some part, form or fashion. What is the problem now? Clearly they will be tempted to engage with this partially understood mathematics. The result will be wrong answers which, itself, will result in frustration for the student. They have data but cannot fully interpret it.

And this is true of anything. As children watch their parents drive a car at somewhere around ages five to seven years old, they imagine that its operation is not that difficult since they have learned to ride a bike and the fundamentals appear quite similar with a car. And in truth, they recognize correctly that steering is fundamentally the same. However, it is the data right before their very eyes which they are not able to interpret which leads to their faulty conclusion that it is very likely that they can, indeed, appropriately operate an automobile. They simply do not recognize the other elements of operating an automobile that are quite unlike riding a bike because they “must be able to interpret all the data” and they cannot at this point.

Theological Development

The best and most modeled way of learning God’s Word is to be taught it by one who has mastered it. This is not phenomenal but normal for any subject. What is phenomenal, of course, is the enlightenment of God’s Spirit and those gifted to teach at various levels. But even the most basic of doctrines can and should be taught by those who have mastered it to students who are learning. However,  this will never occur if you are in a hurry or if you skip elementary levels.

When I meet charismatics or their sympathizers I am always amazed of how consistently they are like Seven from Voyager. They have data but cannot interpret it correctly. They have amassed information but have failed to understand its correlation. However, it is not only charismatics, it is far beyond them and well into much of Evangelicalism, conservative and of course liberal brands.

When we develop our theological understanding it must be done interpretively. That is, when we come across a passage or a concept we must understand it properly and thoroughly. We cannot jump to conclusions because something “seems” one way or the other. This is precisely where charismatics come from in their theology about the temporary spiritual gifts. They see data reflecting its existence at some point in time but are ignorant of its interpretation.

Unlike Seven who, in a television script, could be reasoned with charismatics have gone to great lengths to prop up their conspiracy theology of these temporary gifts still operating. That is, in the face of practical realities (like the fact that temporary gifts and their operation in the Gospels or Acts cannot be found existing anywhere though the permanent gifts can be found operating just as they were from the beginning, but don’t let that bother a good old charismatic) and theological failures (their arguments being based on lesser texts and imprecise exegesis or texts which are not determinative) they aren’t interested in seeing the error of their way. So they persist in the conspiracy theology.

But again, and even beyond the charismatics, Evangelicalism is filled with Teachers and students who have missed many elementary and intermediate doctrines as they attempt to address nuanced and sophisticated topics. I read the TGC (The Gospel Coalition) blog now and then and place comments there. I am astonished to discover the high degree of topics being written about and discussed by men who are blatantly ignorant of some essential elementary and intermediate mastery before they should speak on certain topics.

One recent topic was on immigration. The writer had the impression that the directive in Leviticus to the Theocracy of Israel on how to treat an alien, sojourner or as was creatively translated, illegal-immigrant, was now applicable to Christians in the United States. The display of ignorance regarding the distinction between contexts and then the inability to recognize, even a principled application, was stunning. But even more eye-popping was the celebration of this ignorance by others. This person has biblical data but is unable to interpret it.

What about You?

Never mind the charismatics and their error, what about you? Are you taking the time to be sure you have interpreted the data correctly? Are you open to even being corrected? Did you race far ahead trying to master theological trigonometry before you mastered theological fractions? Is this possibly why you lose in debating exercises so often and are reduced to philosophical and moralizing arguments?

Maybe you have been busy quantifying instead of qualifying. The Word of God is a life-long process and then an eternal one on the other side. When someone tells you they have read the entire Bible fifty times that is good, I suppose. But then ask them how many times they have interpreted the entire Bible and you might have a better understanding as to the point of this principle.