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.
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?