Diagram for Conversing on Women’s Roles and Other Issues that Have Cultural Components

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I wanted to mention a few things we discussed in Sunday’s class on women’s roles and want to start by offering the model that I drew up to help me think through the issue.

The ultimate goal is to determine what God’s will is in a given context. The best way to determine his will is found through how he has divinely revealed himself as recorded in the Bible. The Bible communicates eternal principles, ethics and morals given a particular context (the nature of the occassional letters of the NT) and recorded by men who have their own backgrounds, understandings, personalities, and vocabularies. So while the culture changes the eternal principles, morals and ethics do not. The goal is to look at scripture and try to discern how these lenses affect what was recorded in scripture and how it still applies to us today.

Let’s use this model in a concrete pair of examples:

“Then” Example: Head Coverings (1 Cor 11:2ff)
Paul works through appropriate and inappropriate procedure for the covering of heads in worship. Again, the letter to the Corinthians was an ocassional document. In other words it was written to a particular group of people (audience) to address specific needs and problems. We are not 1st century Greeks, Romans, and Jews – all of whom covered or uncovered their heads at particular times of worship. Because they had a culture where the covering of heads was significant, these rules made sense to the Corinthians in their context. They don’t make as much sense to us because we don’t typically live in or among culture that use head coverings for propriety in worship. But continue through the model – just because a specific cultural issue was being addressed it does not mean we have nothing to learn from it. There are eternal principles, morals, and ethics that we can learn from why Paul would give them these rules. We can learn that God wants propriety in worship, we can learn that he wants us to not dishonor ourselves in worship. We might learn that God does not want us to look like the pagan world when we pray or worship Him. So the issue is cultural but the concepts extend through scripture to us today.

“Now” Example:
Let’s say Paul was alive today and he was in the congregation you worship with this Sunday. Someone walks in with a big white pointy hood on their head with eye holes cut into it and it gets the whole congregation in an uproar. This item of clothing would not have been ruled against in Paul’s day because it didn’t have the cultural connotations associated with it that it does now. They might have wondered why you wrapped your toga around your head and looked at you funny. Today it would cause major disruption. That is a “Now” example of the “Then” eternal principles, morals, and ethics we talked about with head coverings. This is an example of something specific to our culture, foreign to the biblical culture and  yet able to be addressed because the eternal principles, morals, and ethics are the same today as they were then – don’t disrupt the services, worship with propriety, etc (not to mention don’t be a racist!).

I hope you can see how the first example works through the chart from God’s will/ultimate goal (propriety in worship) being housed in a specific cultural example/context (head coverings) yet has eternal principles that still apply today. Then the second example works from the bottom up – from the Now example in a particular cultural context looking to scripture and finding the same eternal principles at work today. We work our way back to the will of God by trying to understand which lenses are cultural, which are eternal principles, and which are so much of both that they cannot be separated.

More on how this applies to women’s roles in the church coming up. Any feedback?

0 Responses

  1. I have no feedback other than to say that I like your thoughts. I look forward to seeing where you take them. I applaud your bravery for taking the bull by the horns on this one.

    BTW, “Deeper” by Delrious? just came on my internet radio station while I was typing this. Sort of funny, because that song reminds me of G-ville, 91.7, and all our good times together. Hope you’re well today, brother

  2. While a pointy hood fits more exactly under “head coverings”, a more interesting example might have been “a bikini” or “short shorts”.

    You pointed out that the head covering thing in Paul’s day was related to worship, and implied that dressing in a particular way at one time of day could be appropriate at one time of day, but inappropriate at another. I can’t really think of an appropriate time for the pointy hood with eyeholes; maybe a historical play of some kind?

    Anyway, Paul was trying to clear up a problem that was not generally obvious to all the people there, and had to do with respect for God, and probably also the connection with the temple prostitutes and that lifestyle/belief system.

    So I jumped right out there at the beginning of this with “bikini”; Obviously, there are appropriate places in our society for them. If someone walked in to your church in one, would it be appropriate? On the other hand, I might be able to imagine a time when it would be appropriate in “church”, if the church was having a picnic service by the lakeside. Whatever happened to these solid black and white principles where the answers were obvious?

    I never really did understand the head covering. Still don’t think I do. How do you know when to say “head coverings are cultural” and “xyz is eternal”?(censored to prevent further distraction) Am I doing the right thing with regard to “charging interest” or “wearing clothing of mixed fibers”? I guess that’d answer “boxers or briefs” for good, unless someone makes full rubber unders.

  3. There would be few today who would say head coverings still apply. Why? Because it doesn’t have the meanings associated with it today as it did then. Why? Because culture has changed. But the underlying principle is still there and would still apply today.

    There are many, many cultural rules and regulations in scripture that mean little today and yet they are still in scripture – eating a young goat cooked in its mother’s milk from Exodus or the examples you mentioned. Because they had cultural connotations they were ruled against in the Bible. If they Bible were written today there would be different cultural practices that would be condemned that someone from 2000+ years ago would have known nothing about. Culture does influence the content of the Bible. That shouldn’t blind us to underlying principles and miss the boat.

  4. What happened as the culture was changing? Was there resistance within the church? Was resistance appropriate? Has anyone done a historical study of this? It seems that some of our problems may come from the fact that culture is always changing. How do we know when we should change with it, and when we should resist change?

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