Can a Rebranded United Methodist Women Become Relevant to Women in the Global Methodist Church? By Katy Kiser
On May first, the Global Methodist Church became an official church. Methodist churches are making plans to move to the GMC from the United Methodist Church. The announcement of the GMC launch was made just hours after the Commission on General Conference announced that the 2020 General Conference was postponed for the third time to 2024. Lost in the wake of these announcements was the news that United Methodist Women were rebranding to become United Women in Faith. Why did this not become a major news item? Perhaps this news was lost in the excitement over the launch of the Global Methodist Church—that represents a movement with deep Wesleyan roots. It is solidly committed to scripture, as well as the work of Christ and the Holy Spirit. It is a movement that is gaining momentum daily.
Historic Methodism will find a new home in the Global Methodist Church and its new Book of Doctrine and Discipline. The GMC already has plans to partner with Asbury Theological Seminary to plant new congregations and home churches. Truitt Seminary will join Asbury, United and other seminaries where the Wesleyan expression of Faith is training new pastors and church leaders for the today’s challenges.
Fortunately for Methodists, this movement has set before us clear goals to guide us through the troubled waters of separation and decisions that will need to be made. This movement offers all Methodists a new way forward that will balance personal and social holiness in a way that does not sacrifice one for the other. There will be an emphasis on conversion and mission based on the need of all people to know Jesus. It is out of this personal relationship that we overcome the bondage of sin and we see the social ills of society healed.
The new expression adds new voices to those that have called all Methodists to a faithful future. Together these voices are recovering all that is great about Methodism. In the words of Matthew Sichel in a recent article in Firebrand Magazine: “It takes the steadfastness of ancient orthodoxy, the truth of the Protestant Reformation, the power of the Great Awakenings, the purity of the Holiness movement, and the life of Pentecostals, and it brings them together into a wonderful and unique witness of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
As we step out of deep theological division and an unwillingness of many to abide by the UMC Book of Discipline, surprisingly, we find it is an exciting time to be a Methodist.
At the same time, the former UMW, now UWFaith, are moving away from the Methodist brand: in fact they have dropped the name “Methodist” altogether. They seems to be moving in a direction that is farther from what has made Methodism great. UWFaith acknowledges that the UMC will separate this year and face a change in the life of the church. They believe their new name will let women know they can remain even if their church leaves the UMC.
What will not change about the former UMW is their commitment to social justice. Social justice has been the guiding principle of what defined “mission” for UMW. For them, this has been best achieved through any number of political avenues. Since UMW became an independent agency of the UMC in 2012, they have continued to lobby every level of government and corporations. They have had consultative status with the UN. Their president states in her 2020 Reflection, “We are willing to urge our government or other governments to stop injustice or intervene for justice.” But whose justice—the world’s or God’s?
UWFaith make it clear that they will act for justice and transformed local and global communities. Looking over the UWFaith new website, we see a commitment to act on behalf of several justice issues including Climate Justice, Gender Inequity, Mass Incarceration, Voter rights, Voter Suppression, and LGBTQ+ full participation in the UMC. In all my many years of reporting on the UMW board meetings (20+ years), I have seen many justice priorities and political concerns come and go in UMW’s effort to transform the world. Why have their many well-intentioned efforts failed?
The UMFaith website states, “We Connect Spiritual Women to Act Boldly for Justice and Transform Communities.” Women may want to ask, with what will they impact communities—more political solutions? While their commitment to social justice remains clear, what they mean by “spiritual” and “faith” has become more vague. They state, “Our new name makes our organization more inclusive.” Judging from their mission goals as seen on the website and 2022 Assembly speakers, UWFaith will be as focused on the institutions of society as was UMW.
Meanwhile, the GMC states, “Our Mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ who worship passionately, love extravagantly, and witness boldly.” Recently Rev. Chris Ritter, who blogs at People Need Jesus reminds us that, “Methodists are conversionist. They represent a form of Christianity that calls people to a personal transformation and a deep experience of God’s grace marked by deep repentance and leading to new birth.” Mission for the new GMC will be built by Methodists who have personally experienced transformation and are ready to reach out from their encounter with Christ to, in Wesley’s words, “Spread scriptural holiness over the land.”
As we contemplate the re-branding of UMW, we should not overlook the reality that the UMW have faced for many quadrenniums, Women in the UMC have moved away from UMW. Membership has been declining at an alarming rate. According to the official numbers of the General Council on Finance and Administration, of the 3+ million female members in the UMC, less than 10% belonged to UMW in 2020. When we take into account that many vibrant independent women’s ministries continue to call themselves UMW and report to GCFA each year as UMW units, the decline is even more staggering.
We also see from the GCFA official statistics that becoming independent from the General Board of Global Ministries did not stop women from leaving UMW, nor is rebranding likely to stop their decline going forward after the separation of the United Methodist Church. The UWFaith’s mission which sidelines Christ, de-emphasizes personal conversion, and substitutes community involvement for the powerful impact of the gospel is simply not providing the spiritual formation that is necessary for real kingdom work in women’s personal lives, or their communities. And it is certainly not providing the transformation needed in the global arena.
This lack of participation in UMW does not show that women have moved away from being a powerful force in the local church. It does indicate that women are turning to more effective ways of reaching others with the love of Christ and doing the good work of the church. Grass-roots engagement is taking center stage and gaining momentum. Women are not interested in fighting for the social goals of a by-gone day. Women want to see the lives of those they love changed for Christ. They want to see real transformation in their communities, country and world. Aren’t we all tired of failed ideologies based on empty buzz-words and sound bites?
This begs the question, should the UWFaith be taken into the GMC? Renew cannot advise that it should. The UWFaith’s goals for mission and their guiding principles of mutuality, inclusivity, diversity, and theological pluralism will be at odds with the next Methodism. To take the goals that have caused irreconcilable division in the UMC would be at the least a distraction and more likely would continue to divide the church. One female pastor in North Carolina described the rebranding of UMW as just another “mask” a “nice front” to push progressive ideas on Christian women in the name of faith.
Since the official launch of The Global Methodist Church, the WCA held a Global Gathering. There women and Renew gathered together to discuss the future of women’s ministry in the new denomination that is poised ready to bring women’s ministry into a movement some are referring to as the next Methodism. A number of women’s ministries will be available that meet the needs of women in the Twenty-first Century. More will emerge as the Global Church gains momentum. Women will be growing in Christ, transforming lives and focusing ministry on making disciples of Christ through passionate worship, extravagant love and bold witness. Indeed it is an exciting time it is to be a Methodist.
Lent, which culminates in Holy Week, is such a special time for the church. It differs from Advent in that it is not accompanied by the hustle and extra activity of the Christmas season. It is a time of contemplation and fasting for some. It is an opportunity to go deeper into the love of God and what He has done for us.
The Easter story is all about Jesus. It is a story of salvation albeit one that came at a huge price. It is a story that tells us Jesus came that we might have an abundant life. This life is more than what we walk through on earth. Jesus offers us eternal life to be experienced after death.
There are many characters in the Easter story. The one detail that has stood out to me this year has been the role that women played in the story of our Savior’s passion, His death on a cross and the resurrection.
The Gospel of John tells us it was women who had the courage to stand at the foot of the cross while Jesus was crucified. And Luke reminds us, it was women who stood at a distance and went with Joseph of Arimathea and saw where Jesus was laid in the tomb. These women would leave, prepare spices and oils, and after the Sabbath, would return with other women. It was a woman who went to the site of His burial while it was still dark and discovered the boulder at the entrance had been rolled away. It was women who told the apostles that the tomb was empty. It was to a woman that an angel and the resurrected Jesus appeared. It was a woman who was the first to say, “I have seen the Lord! He lives; He lives.”
The prominent role these women played in the Easter story reminds us of the important role women play in the kingdom of God. And it reminds us of the important role we are playing in the future of the Methodist Church. It is a difficult time. It is women who uniquely understand that pain and hard work precedes new birth. The birthing of a new future for the Global Methodist Church has been delayed. It is a time that calls for patience, calm assurance and perseverance. Traits we women have in abundance. And persevere we will until we see new life – in those we love and in our beloved Methodism.
Each year we are invited to go deeper into the Easter story. It is an opportunity to experience an even fuller understanding of His love for all of Humanity and His love for the church. I hope you and your loved ones on this Resurrection Sunday will experience the thrill of proclaiming, “Christ the Lord is Risen Today, Alleluia!”
Ongoing Aftermath of General Conference 2019 by Katy Kiser
Dear Renew Network,
Ongoing Aftermath of General Conference 2019
A month after the 2019 General Conference in St Louis, where the work of the Commission on a Way Forward was received and the Traditional Plan was passed, the United Methodist Women’s annual Program Advisory Group and Board of Director’s met in Nashville, TN. I attended the meetings as a press representative.
At the opening plenary of the Program Advisory Group, Bishop William McAlilly preached from his personal experience, which has given him compassion for the marginalized LGTBQ+ community. He told the women that UMW was needed more now than they ever have been, because of the injustice done by the passage of the Traditional Plan. He asked, “How would you feel if you were told you are incompatible?” I detected a strong note of incredulity in both McAlilly and Harriett Olsen. They seemed truly shocked and grieved that the Traditional Plan had prevailed in St. Louis.
I was expecting the general tenor of disappointment expressed at the UMW meetings in March. The last day of General Conference, when the One Church Plan had not passed, UMW put out a press release that affirmed the position they announced at the Fall 2018 Board of Directors Meeting: they will be staying in relationship with all women in the Global UMC even if there is schism. They announced they are in solidarity with the LGTBQ+ community, which is in pain. Even before the 2019 General Conference, the UMW staff had put out a spiritual growth study titled, The Bible and Human Sexuality, where the marriage culture was questioned and traditional morality was explained away by the rejection of laws that came out of a society dominated by men. Can the UMW National staff expect to be in relationship with traditionalists when they have made it clear that their heart is with the progressives?
Before we consider that question, we should ask, is the passage of the Traditional Plan unjust as McAlily implied? First of all, centrist/progressives are mistaken to say that those who identify as LGTBQ+ are being called incompatible by the majority of the church who supported the Traditional Plan. No one is being labeled incompatible; but certain behavior is incompatible with clear straight forward teaching in the Bible. It is behavior that has been questioned – not people.
While all persons are of sacred worth, it is clear that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. It is in the church where we are encouraged to be in a process (sanctification) whereby we overcome sin. Somehow many in the church have bought into the idea that behavior once understood as sin is now to be understood as a right, or even employed to define who we are. Even worse, once condemned behavior has come to define how some think God made them to be. If God made sinners to be thieves, murderers, and the rest of Paul’s list in I Corinthians 6, why would Paul say “ and such were some of you?” And if God made Cain to rebel, why did He warn Cain that “sin is crouching at the door waiting to devour you!” We are not our sin; we are overcomers of sin if we accept what God says in His Word and that which He has done for us. In the words of Michael W. Hannon, “I am not my sin. I am not my temptation to sin. By the blood of Jesus Christ, I have been liberated from this bondage.”
Our society has accepted the current psychological trend to categorize individuals by sexual orientation. The idea that anyone gets their identity from their feelings of attraction to the opposite or same sex is simply a fallacy for which there is no scriptural warrant. Sadly, many in the church have bought into this thinking. They champion a warped sense of justice and work to obtain rights for the LGBTQ+ among us and the acceptance of their agendas and actions. Christian identity is not rooted in sexuality but in Christ himself.
United Methodist Women have made no secret of the fact that they accept new modern interpretations of scripture. This is particularly true in the area of sexuality but not only there. Not too long ago, a UMW woman wrote to me about a UMW spiritual life study “Embracing Wholeness: An Earth Perspective for Covenantal Living.” Actually it was a study to support the UMW policy on Climate Justice. This UMW woman was disturbed by the author’s claim that the earth and creation was being equated with God Himself. Particularly disturbing to her was the author’s comparison of the death of her cow with the sacrificial death of Christ on the cross. Unfortunately there were multiple unscriptural distortions in the study.
Recently, another woman wrote to Renew wanting to connect with other traditional evangelicals women in her area. She wrote to say that:
We have become more and more disappointed in the national UMW group. We do not agree with the social liberal agenda that is promoted in the UMW. The reading program books are becoming increasingly non-biblical and promote society’s way of viewing the world.
So to answer the question, can the National UMW stay in ministry and mission with both traditionalists and progressives? The answer is probably not. Trying to be all things to all people has failed the church, because as scripture has become reinterpreted and repurposed, that which unified us was lost. When the church was asked to change the definition of marriage and its standards for ordination, it was a step too far.
Since the passage of the Traditional Plan in St. Louis, it has become clear that many centrists and progressives do not want to stay in a church that is unwilling to change its traditional beliefs on marriage and ordination. Traditionalists have been concerned for some time. For different reasons, traditional evangelical women have been leaving UMW in a steady stream for years, and at a larger rate than the loss of denominational membership. Most give reasons similar to the ones I have cited.
We are in a time of waiting. The Traditional Plan has passed, but the dividing issue still divides; and it remains to be seen how this division will play out. Yet, we do not have to wait to see the final outcome to begin to throw off that which has become ineffective and seriously troubling. The time is now to move into deeper Christ centered ministry and mission that we may see the transformational power of our Savior and the Holy Spirit. God is at work. We should be too.
Please pray for the churches like the two examples I have shared. They represent many more who are looking to disengage from ministry that cannot deliver what is so needed. Pastors and women’s leaders have written to request a copy of the Remodel series. (Read about it here) If your women’s or men’s ministry is looking for a resource to refocus and engage members in transformational ministry, contact Renew and we will send the three booklet series to you.
A heart felt thanks to all who have made Renew’s ministry possible through your prayers and gifts. Your continued support is vital to our work in the mission of Good News to lead United Methodists to a faithful future. Because of delays and angry actions in St. Louis, much work was left undone that must be addressed at the 2020 General Conference. Work has already begun. Delegates are being chosen this spring and summer in our Annual Conferences. Pray for these elections and pray for General Conference 2020. Each of you reading this newsletter can help others to understand the division that separates us and have a part in preparing this church for what is coming.
Raising funds to attend two General Conferences within a year of one another is a challenge. Team Renew appreciates each donation however large or small. If you have not made a contribution lately, please consider making one today. But most importantly, join Team Renew as we contend for the United Methodist Church by faithfully praying for our denomination.
Stand with us by going on the Renew Website and printing the Donations Form. Or you may designate a check to Renew Network and send to:
P.O. Box 132076
The Woodlands, TX 77393-2076
In His Service,
Renew Network Team Leader
Now is the Time
“Now is the time of God’s favor, Now is the day of salvation.”
– II Corinthians 6:2
Each year, women come to the national conference of the Celebration Women’s Ministry in Houston seeking to grow in Christ and encounter God’s Spirit. Some seek the assurance of salvation; others need forgiveness or desire to be liberated from sin, past and present; still others seek spiritual, emotional, or physical healing. This past March, women experienced all this and more at the Celebration gathering.
The Celebration leadership team chose their 2018 conference theme from the above cited verses from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. They were reminded that the people of the Corinthian Church had much in common with the church in America of our day. They too were suffering disunity; sexual immorality was a problem, and difficult challenges were overwhelming the church. In the two letters to the Corinthians, we find some of Paul’s most important theological writing.
Inspired by Paul’s words, “Now is the time of God’s favor – the day of His salvation,” the leadership team delved into the meaning of salvation. They found it to be a comprehensive term that had a depth of meaning beyond the initial decision to believe and be saved from the consequences of sin. Salvation was a word that implied forgiveness, healing, prosperity, deliverance, safety, rescue, liberation, and restoration. It signified everything the leadership team hoped women would experience at their yearly conference.
Readers of Good News will recall the March/April 2017 cover story written by editor Steve Beard about the Spirit-filled revival in the Methodist Church of Cuba. He had visited Cuba with Dr. David Watson, the academic dean at United Theological Seminary, and a team of seminarians. During a conversation after the article came out, Beard encouraged Judy Graham, president of Celebration, to visit the Cuban church or bring the move of the Spirit in Cuba to the women of Celebration. In response, he and Watson put her in touch with Pastor Adria Nuñez Ortiz from Havana.
Pastor Nuñez is the product of a powerful move of God and His Spirit in her country. The people in her Havana community know first-hand the hardship of living with scarce resources such as food and clothing. Although for many decades, freedom to worship publically was not possible, belief in Christ survived. It brought hope and helped the Cuban people rise above their circumstances.
Salvation was the power that healed, allowed those trapped in prostitution, drugs, and other addictions to find freedom, and gave them the ability to forgive and be forgiven. Pastor Nuñez wanted the women of Celebration to know and experience the power of salvation to bring dynamic transformation that enables all women in every culture to find the way that leads to life.
Nuñez told the women to “rise up wisely like Jael, to be virtuous like Mary, to carry hope to those around them like Esther and Ruth, to be full of faith like Hannah, and to be sensible and brave like Deborah.” Each of these Bible women were given exactly what was needed to meet their challenges; each challenge was unique. Nuñez wanted each woman to be as faithful and courageous as Esther, who the Lord had raised up for the challenge of “such a time as this.”
At the close of her message, she issued a call for women who needed physical healing in their bodies and those who needed to receive the Holy Spirit in their soul to come forward. Whether in fire and power or in a sweet gentle presence, the Holy Spirit ministered deeply to the women present at each alter call.
Pastor Jennifer Cowart of Harvest Church in Georgia, the other featured speaker, taught the women how to live out their salvation as chosen women, honored by God; as women who are being made into the image of Christ and exemplifying his characteristics. That calls for honesty, and honest she was. A spirit of conviction fell upon the conference as Cowart got specific about walking in the new nature and refusing to be dominated by the old. She encouraged the women to be more sensitive to the needs of others and grow deeper in their understanding of the love of Christ, allowing his love to flow out to those around them in practical, tangible ways.
For Graham, the entire weekend was in sync with the beautiful work of the Holy Spirit. A highlight for her, however, was getting to pray with a woman for her salvation. This young woman had never received Christ as her Savior; her work had brought her to the last five Celebration conferences, but this year during the prayer time, she ventured on stage and asked Judy to pray with her.
Especially important to the conference planning team was issuing an invitation to the women and pastors of the Spanish speaking churches in the Houston area and the broader Texas Conference. The planning team knew it would be exciting for them to hear Pastor Nuñez in their own language. The first evening nine women attended. The next evening more than 35 women attended – in addition to the Rev. Arturo Cadar, the Texas Conference Coordinator of Mission Field Development. After the event, he approached Graham in order to start a Spanish-language Celebration chapter. He had the women leaders in mind to continue the blessing and the move of God’s Spirit.
Before the end of the conference, testimonies began to emerge. Women were reconnected with God, many were awakened to a closer walk with Jesus, a healing presence moved in their midst, some were called into ministry, and others were inspired for mission and service.
“I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit beginning with the time I got my name tag at the registration table,” one young woman testified after attending her first Celebration event. “National Conference has changed me forever! I am a completely new person and excited about seeing God in a new light.”
“On fire” is how Judy Graham described the conference.
As the leadership of the conference began to count the ways God had moved, they gave thanks for all the lives that had been changed. For new and seasoned believers alike, National Conference was a time for each woman to move deeper into her salvation.
The theme, “Now Is The Time,” reminds us that God is at work. He is at work in our individual lives and he is at work in our church. For those who are looking for God, he is there. He is moving all of us into a more profound understanding of our salvation, that we might apprehend all that he has for us.
Our Restoring God
Our Restoring God – by Sharon Roelke
This teaching by Sharon Roelke is taken from Ephesians 3:16-21 New Living Translation – Paul’s Prayer for Spiritual Growth.
We need GOD’S SPIRIT
In Ephesians 3, it says, “I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit.”
We serve a God who has glorious, unlimited resources. They are available to us through His Spirit. We need to avail ourselves of them so that we can be empowered.
“Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong.”
We need to TRUST HIM
God makes his home in our hearts as we trust in Him. That means we need to “Let It Go.” But how to stop running the show and start walking in faith is challenging. We women are wired from birth to control (sometimes called the bossy gene). At the root of why we over-control is that we don’t trust God. We think we know better than he does just what is best for us.
In the Amplified version, Psalm 46:10 says,
“Let be and be still, and know – recognize and understand – that I am God.”
Strong roots will be developed. We need to trust like Mary in
Luke 1:38 “Lord, let it be to me according to your word.”
We need to UNDERSTAND
“And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high and how deep his love is.”
How often when our kids were kids did we say, “How much does mommy love you?” and spread our hands out as wide as we could – God’s love is so much greater! Too often we limit God by equating His love with our love. Don’t limit Him
May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that come from God.
We need to EXPERIENCE His Love
We will never be able to grasp God’s love fully, but we need to try.
I love the New Living Translation because instead of “steadfast love” they use “unfailing love.” That speaks to my heart. Like when someone hears something sweet and goes, “Ahh!”
“The Lord delights in those who fear Him, who put their hope in His unfailing love.”
We need to focus more on His love for us than on our love for Him; on His faithfulness, not ours; on His strength, not mine. At Christ for the Nations International when I said, “Lord you know what I am like;” He said, “Yes, but what am I like.” Our completeness will come from Him. “He has come that we might have life and that more abundantly.” Why settle for less?
We need to GIVE HIM THE GLORY
“Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen!”
“He is able to do exceedingly and abundantly above what we can ask or think.”
He is able to accomplish more than we might ask or think!!! His plans are above ours; it’s not what we dream up, it’s about him doing something beyond that.
It’s all about Him getting the Glory!
Although our lives do not look the same and our cultures are very different, the God we serve and His Word are the same. He wants us to experience Him and his love that is so far beyond us. He wants us to trust Him and know that he has plans that are exceedingly and abundantly above what we can ask or think, if we will allow Him to work these things out in our lives.
Our Personal, Intimate God
Our Personal, Intimate God – By Lindy Thomas
Our mighty God loves each one of us and wants to have a relationship with us. He is not only big, but he is a personal, intimate God as well.
I would like to tell you about a very difficult time in my life, and what I learned about God through it.
After my middle daughter Abbey’s wedding a few years ago, when we had just had a wonderful time with visiting family and all the festivities, I went for a scheduled doctor’s appointment. It was discovered that a large tumor had essentially exploded in my belly. I was quickly sent into surgery, and the doctors removed about 3 kilos* of tumor matter.
As I recovered, we learned more about the extremely rare disease I had. It was a type of cancer that comes on suddenly from the appendix and does not respond to treatment. It has an almost 100% fatality rate.
There is a song that plays on Christian radio in the U.S. that has these words:
“Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.”
While I am confident that because of my faith in Jesus Christ and his resurrection I will go to heaven when I die, I also really wanted to live to see grandchildren, to see my daughters grow into women, to be with my husband and to grow old together.
So I went to God’s word. I read about Jesus healing people. I turned to the Psalms where the psalmist is not afraid to pour out his heart, including his fears, to God. God led me to Psalm 139.
“O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is high; I cannot attain it.
God who created the universe and spoke the earth into being has searched me and knows me. He knows my movements and my thoughts. He even knows my paths, including when I travel across the earth to be here with you!
He has hemmed me in behind and before, encircling me with his presence. His hand is upon me. I can’t even comprehend the ways in which he knows me.
For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.
When God knitted me together in my mother’s womb, he knew that something was eventually going to go terribly wrong in my body. But he also created a body that could heal. When you cut yourself, it is important to keep the wound clean, but nothing you can do will actually mend it. Two pieces of cloth stitched together are still 2 pieces of cloth, joined by thread. But when God heals a wound as he has made our bodies to heal, it becomes one again.
I am fearfully and wonderfully made and I am to be thankful to God for that.
The length of my life has been determined by God since before I was born. This disease did not catch God by surprise.
How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
If I would count them, they are more than the sand.
I awake, and I am still with you.
Here was my answer. I needed to dwell on, to think about, God’s thoughts. And that was plenty to keep me busy in my recovery from surgery, since his thoughts outnumber the sand.
Now, about my health, after 2 surgeries and a year and a half of uncertainty, the doctors determined that I was clear of disease. The medical people were amazed. I had been healed.
Many friends prayed for me when I was sick. They visited and brought food. But, most importantly, they prayed. You can hold each other up in the same way. I encourage you to do that.
Let’s look at the New Testament now and see what God’s thoughts are as we learn from Jesus. God knows me well, but he also wants me to be very close to him.
John 14 tells us about Jesus preparing his followers for the time when he would no longer be with them. He talked to them about:
- A place prepared for them in heaven
- That they could ask for anything in his name and he would do it
- Loving him and keeping his commandments
- A Helper, the Holy Spirit, promised twice in this chapter
John 14:23 – “
Jesus answered him, ‘If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.’”
What does it mean to make a home with someone? It means to move in, to abide or live with. We have had a student from South Korea living in our home for the last 4 years. In the beginning, she was like a guest, but as time went on, our home became more and more her home. Let’s read about what it’s like to have a “home” with God.
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.”
Jesus is the vine.
God is the vinedresser.
We are the branches.
The vine itself does not bear fruit. The branches are brought forth on the vine for the purpose of bearing fruit.
Because Jesus is not physically with us today, he counts on us to be his branches and bear his fruit.
Now there are 2 ways we see in these verses that branches are cut. A dried branch with no fruit will be cut and thrown away. A producing branch will be pruned in order to put all the sap into fruit production instead of just more branches.
Jesus told his disciples that they were already clean because of his word, so we know that they were not the branches that would be thrown away. They would, however, be pruned.
God wants to strip away the things in our lives that use up the sap, or energy, that could otherwise go into fruit production.
So he tells us to abide in him.
I love the beautiful vegetation here in Kenya. Last night I saw powpow (papaya) trees that were just bursting with beautiful fruit. If I cut a branch off of the papaya tree and took it home in my suitcase to Texas, would it grow papayas for me?
Neither can I bear fruit in my life if I do not abide in Christ Jesus.
John 15:5 –
“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”
Apart from HIM we can do nothing.
Note that he says we abide in him and his words abide in us. How do his words abide in us?
John 15:8 –
“By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”
What happens when we abide in him?
- We bear fruit
- We prove to be his disciples
- We live in the safe place of his love
- We keep his commandments
- His joy is made full and our joy as well – fullness of joy
John 15:12 –
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants,[a] for the servant[b] does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another.”
Twice we’re told to love one another. Jesus calls us friends and promises to lay down his own life. “Friends” in the Bible is a term of covenant, the most sincere and binding kind of promise. He asks us to do what he commands, but only after he has foretold that he would lay down his own life for us.
Jesus tells us that he has revealed everything from the Father that we need to know. It’s all in the Bible on your lap.
He chooses his disciples to have the privilege of bearing fruit.
He promises again to give whatever we ask. “He longs to draw you to his side and show you his dreams for your life and the lives of others around you.” (Bonnie Floyd)
My experience with cancer and healing taught me many things. My self-sufficiency (my dependence on my own strength) was pruned pretty severely. I rejoice in my healing but I also know that God would still be in control even if he had chosen not to heal me here on this earth.
Abide in him. Make your home with him. Let his words abide in you.
HOW BIG IS OUR GOD? GENESIS – In the Beginning, God….
HOW BIG IS OUR GOD? GENESIS – In the Beginning, God….
Compiled by Marion Griffin
One of my favorite ways to start the day is by reading a Psalm from the Bible. These songs of the Bible remind me of who God is, His greatness, and His special care for us.
Psalm 19 tells us:
The heavens declare the glory of God,
the skies proclaim the work of His hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they display knowledge.
There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the end of the world.
Everyone on the earth can see the works of God in the heavens and in all creation. Ever since man first looked into the night sky, he knew that he was a part of something much bigger than himself. The vastness of the heavens cannot be comprehended. The heavens speak of things eternal. And in looking at the heavens, we may imagine that perhaps we are really looking into the face of God.
So where are we in this place called the universe?
Our moon is our nearest neighbor. If the earth was the size of an orange, then the moon would be the size of a marble. One million earths would fit into the sun. Yet, our sun is tiny compared to other stars that scientists have discovered far away. We really don’t know how big the heavens are that God created.
God wrote, “I love you” in the sky and on the earth. He wrote His message everywhere for all to see! The apostle Paul in the New Testament book of Romans 1:19-20 writes that men are without excuse for failing to acknowledge and worship God. The truth about God is revealed in creation. It is plain for all to see.
For since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen by what God has made.
He wants to show us what He is like and to help us know him. We see His majesty in the mountains. We see his beauty in the flowers. We see His power in the lightning before a storm. We see His love in the smiles of others. I have seen Him this week in the beauty of your country and people.
Where do you see God’s majesty and greatness in His creation? Tell the person sitting next to you. Thank Him for that right now!
Genesis 1:1-2:3 – God Speaks Everything into Being.
Now let us explore the greatness of God and His love as revealed in the first three chapters of the Bible.
Genesis 1:1-2 tells us:
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless, and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
Although everything else had a beginning, God has always been.
Psalm 90:2 tells us:
Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting, you are God.
So in the beginning there was nothing except God. Nothing to hear. Nothing to feel. Nothing to see. Only emptiness and darkness. I would like for you to close your eyes and put your hands over your eyes. Imagine total darkness, total nothingness. One time I was in a cave that had man-made lights. Then the guide turned off the lights. I couldn’t see the hand in front of my face or the path that would keep me from falling in a deep hole. It was total darkness.
Have you ever been in a dark place? Maybe it was a dark place emotionally or spiritually where you felt God had abandoned you. Maybe you have forgotten that God loves you. Well, God has good news for you.
Day One – God Speaks Everything into Being
In Genesis 1:3, God speaks:
Let there be light, and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day”, and the darkness he called “night”. And there was evening, and there was morning — the first day.
In Psalm 27 we read:
The Lord is my light and my salvation;
Whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
Of whom shall I be afraid?
God spoke everything into being.
Hebrews 11:3 in the NT says:
By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is now seen was not made out of what was visible.
Everything was GOOD
Everything that God brought into being was good. This is repeated throughout the chapter as God continues to fashion the universe.
Light is Necessary
Light is necessary for making God’s creative works visible and for making life possible. For example, the plants will need it to grow and produce fruit. We always associate God with light. The pillar of fire was God’s presence leading the Israelites through the desert after they left slavery in Egypt. Jesus is called the “the light of the world” who leads us to the Father and who offers us new life.
God gives order to time by creating day and night. He is sovereign over time.
2 Peter 3:8 –
With the Lord, a day is like a thousand years,
and a thousand years are like a day.
The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise.
He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish,
but everyone to come to repentance.
The Second Day
On the second day, God continued to bring order to His creation. He separated the waters to form an expanse called the sky (or the heavens).
The Third Day
On the third day, God brought order on the earth by collecting the waters on the earth to form the seas and the dry land. Then he caused the land to produce seed-bearing plants and trees with seed-bearing fruit. And he saw that it was good.
So after three days, God changed the formless earth into one with order. Now our big God begins to fill the emptiness of the heavens and the earth. (This was demonstrated with an inflatable globe.)
The Fourth Day
On the fourth day, God spoke into existence specific lights to fill the sky: the sun for daytime light and the moon and star for nighttime light. These lights would separate day from night, mark the seasons, and give light to the earth. And it was good. (Then I had to laugh as I caught myself explaining the seasons and the temperature variations we have in Texas from hot summers to cold winters. In Kenya, they live near the equator, so EVERY day is 12 hours long. The sunrise and the sunset are at the same time all year long!)
The Fifth Day
On the fifth day, God made the fish to fill the seas and the birds to fill the skies. He blessed them to increase in number. And it was good.
The Sixth Day
On the sixth day, God had a very busy day! First He spoke into existence all the living creatures to fill the land. This included the livestock such as cattle, the wild animals that I hope to see at Samburu Wildlife Park later this week, and the creeping creatures that move along the ground such as snakes and lizards (which I don’t like!). And God saw that is was good.
But God was not finished! He saved the most special part of His creation for last.
Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image,
in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea
and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals,
and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
God blessed them and said to them,
“Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.
Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky
and over every living creature that moves on the ground.
Then God provided vegetation as food for man and the animals.
The Trinity In Creation
First of all, note that it says: Let US make man in our image. The word for God that is used here is “Elohim” which is plural. So the Trinity God that we understand as God the Father, God the Son (Jesus Christ), and God the Holy Spirit were all active in creation. We have already seen the Spirit hovering over the waters in verse 1. In the NT, we learn that Jesus is also present in creating:
In Colossians 1:15-16 –
“Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.
For by Him all things were created, things in heaven and things on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities;
all things were created by him and for him.
He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”
Humans were created in the image or likeness of God. This sets us apart from all the other creatures. Molded in the image of our Maker, we have unique abilities. These include the ability to love and be loved, to respond to our master, and to think orderly about ruling our environment. God matched a beautiful creation with a creature who could appreciate creation and who could have fellowship with Him. So at the end of the 6th day, God has completed His creation. He saw all that He had made, and it was very good.
The Seventh Day
On the 7th Day, God rested from all His work of creating. He blessed this day called the Sabbath and made it holy (or set apart for Him).
So from nothing, God spoke everything into being and it was good. He gives order and purpose to His creation.
Genesis 2:4-25 God created Man and Woman
The second chapter of Genesis gives us more details about God’s creation of man. We see that God created man and woman AND provided a perfect environment for them to live in.
First we learn that God formed man from dust and breathed life into Him.
Then God placed Adam in a prepared garden called Eden that was full of plants and trees. These provided food and were beautiful to look at. We notice in this perfect world that men and animals did not eat meat, only plants. God commanded Adam:
“You are free to eat from any tree in the Garden including the Tree of Life,
BUT you must not eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil,
or you will surely die.”
Next, He gave mankind work to do:
First, man is told to rule over all the other earthly creatures such as the fish, birds, and land animals. Man has authority over them. He must care for them and use them to in the service of God and man. EX: My dad was a farmer. We also had some animals such as chickens, pigs, cows and sheep. My dad had to be sure the animals had food, water and shelter when needed. But the sheep took special care because they would eat too much and die if they were in the pasture too long!!
Second, man is told to be fruitful and multiply. This means to fill the earth with children. Through marriage, people are called to join God in the ongoing process of creation.
Third, man is told to work in the Garden and take care of it. The world will deteriorate without proper care. EX: I grew up on a farm. We grew cotton, corn and grain. One of my jobs was to keep the weeds out of the cotton field so that the cotton could grow properly.
Finally, God makes a suitable helper and companion for Adam. When God created Adam, He quickly realized Adam was lonely. Adam named all the animals but none of them were suitable to be his companion or helpmate. So God makes woman from Adam’s rib. God’s plan was for man to be united to his wife and be one flesh. Adam and Eve had no shame in their nakedness.
So God gives man and woman life, the perfect place to live, good food, purposeful work, dominion over the earth, and each other. God also gives us life and purpose and people to share life with.
PSALM 8 declares our special place in God’s creation:
O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.
From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise
because of your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger.
When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
What is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?
You have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor.
You made him ruler over the works of your hands;
you put everything under his feet:
all flocks and herds, and the beasts of the field, the birds of the air,
and the fish in the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas.
O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
Genesis 3 – The Fall
So our story continues in Genesis 3 as we explore the greatness of our God. Unfortunately, everything changes. What happens?
Adam and Eve deliberately disobey God. The serpent tempts Eve to eat the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, which God has forbidden.
Who is the serpent? He is Satan in disguise. Even Jesus tell us in John 8:44 that Satan is a liar and the father of lies. Satan’s goal is to alienate man from God.
How does the serpent tempt Eve? First, he causes Eve to doubt God’s Word. “You will not die” if you eat the forbidden fruit. Second, he causes Eve to doubt God’s goodness. “God doesn’t want the best for you”. “You can be like God if you want to … God doesn’t want you to be wise!”
Next, he causes Eve to desire to be like God. She wanted to be her own boss instead of trusting in God’s authority and plan. Finally, Eve believes Satan’s lies instead of trusting in God and His Word.
Let’s pause and think about those times when we are tempted to believe Satan’s lies and to doubt God’s promises. Life’s hard situations cause us to feel overwhelmed, hopeless or forgotten. We doubt that God really wants His best for us.
Knowing God’s Word can give us strength and hope.
This was true for me when our baby daughter Bethany died. As I mentioned before, the Scriptures gave me an understanding of His unconditional love and His peace. Also, my husband and I experienced God’s comfort through a loving church community that surrounded us. They brought food, cleaned our house, sent cards, prayed, and listened to our story of grief as often as we needed to tell it. We need each other. Part of God’s plan is for us to be in community.
The Role of Free Will
Now-back to our story in Genesis. Eve eats the forbidden fruit and then entices Adam to do the same. God gives us free will. We either choose for God or against God. We choose our way or His way.
In 2 Corinthians 11:3 Paul warns:
But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.
After Adam and Eve deliberately disobey God, they feel guilty. They notice they are naked. They attempt to cover their shame with fig leaves. They don’t know that only God can cover our shame. They hide from God who comes for His evening walk with them. Note that God always pursues an intimate relationship with His children.
God’s Confrontation and Judgment
God confronts Adam and Eve for their disobedience. As a holy God, He cannot ignore their sin. He declares judgment on the serpent, Eve, and Adam. Fellowship with God as it was intended is broken.
Judgment on the serpent: God tells the serpent that from then on snakes would crawl in the dust. People would be afraid of the serpent and hate it. Satan would continue to lie and alienate people from God. God declared war upon Satan.
Harmony between people and animals is broken.
Judgment on Eve: God tells Eve that she will have great pain in childbirth. Also, instead of being at peace with her husband, she will struggle in her relationship with him and will desire to rule over him. Thus, harmony between humans is broken.
Judgment on Adam: God tells Adam that the ground is cursed with weeds and thorns. Adam must now work hard. Growing food will be toilsome. Thus, harmony between people and nature is broken.
Genesis 3:15 God’s Promise of Redemption and Reconciliation
In spite of the brokenness of God’s perfect plan because of man’s disobedience, God promises redemption and reconciliation.
Satan Will Be Defeated
In His judgment against the serpent, God promises that one day Satan will be defeated.
We see this in Genesis 3:15:
“I will put hatred between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers.
He will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”
The offspring of woman refers to Jesus Christ. This is the first prophecy of Jesus Christ that gives us hope. “Satan will strike Jesus’ heel” refers to Jesus’ crucifixion when nails are put into his feet. “He will crush your head” means that Jesus will be victorious over Satan. Christ’s victory was accomplished through his death and resurrection. And Satan will be destroyed forever when Jesus Christ comes again.
Christ Will Come
I John 3:8 tells us that the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.
Hebrews 2:14 tell us Jesus shared in our humanity so that by his death he might destroy the one who holds the power of death, that is the devil. Thus, Jesus frees those who all their lives are held in slavery by their fear of death.
God promises redemption and reconciliation by His mercy shown to Adam and Eve. He covers their nakedness by making clothes out of animal skins. They had tried fig leaves. But the shedding of blood from a living sacrifice was necessary to cover their sin and shame. God is the only one who can cover our shame so that we have restored fellowship with Him. God must provide the way for us to be reconciled to Him.
As promised throughout the Old Testament, God sent Jesus to be the perfect and complete sacrifice for our sin and shame. He took the punishment of death we deserve. As we trust in His death and resurrection, we are promised abundant life now and eternal life forever. Nothing can separate us from His love.
The big God who created the heavens and the earth is also the personal God who loves you and me.
Isaiah 40:25-26, 28-31 sums it up this way:
“To whom will you compare me?
Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One.
Lift your eyes and look to the heavens:
Who created all these?
He who brings out the starry host one by one,
And calls them each by name.
Because of his great power and mighty strength,
Not one of them is missing.
Do you not know? Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
The Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
And his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
And young men stumble and fall:
But those who hope in the LORD
Will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
They will run and not grow weary,
They will walk and not be faint.
Lessons from Cornwall
By Lindy Thomas
Part 1. Questions
Ever have questions for God? Wonder if it’s OK to ask them?
Even those who were Jesus’ closest friends, who had traveled with him for years, had questions. Jesus could answer a question with another question in a way that might have been maddening to some. He also knew the future, which sometimes made his answers hard to understand for those listening.
This is Maundy Thursday, the evening that commemorates the Passover meal known as The Last Supper. On that day Jesus washed his disciples’ feet. He talked a lot about love during the meal.
Judas Iscariot had just mysteriously left the room. Jesus had told him to go do what he was going to do and John 13:28 tells us that “no one at the meal understood why Jesus said this to him.”
Jesus was trying to prepare his beloved followers for the unthinkable things that were coming, and to prepare them simply for their physical separation from one another. Their understanding was limited.
Jesus had just instructed them to “love one another” and said that they would be known as his followers by their love. Understandably, questions arose as Jesus encouraged them to carry on even when he wasn’t physically with them. Let’s look at some of the questions asked by those who were the most intimate with Jesus during his time on earth.
John 13:33-14:22 (emphasis mine): “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come. A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Simon Peter asked him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus replied, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.” Peter asked, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” Then Jesus answered, “Will you really lay down your life for me? Very truly I tell you, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” (verse 11) Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. If you love me, keep my commands. (verse 19) Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.” Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?”
Do you ever have questions as a follower of Jesus?
What might you have asked if you were there?
The questions asked at that supper were questions that occur to most of us at some point in this journey we call life.
Before we tackle the questions, let’s look at salvation and what it means in a practical sense.
There’s excitement when we first decide to follow Jesus. We use the church-ese word “justification” but it simply means that our sin is pardoned. We realize that Jesus’ death provided what we could not provide for ourselves. At this point you might feel the relief of a burden of shame and guilt that has been lifted by his forgiveness. Maybe you’ve just discovered a community of believers and friends who are different from people in your past. A sense of God’s love and his presence may be almost palpable.
Others of us might have less of a sense of a particular moment when that decision was made. Instead it’s been a process of knowing him better and committing different areas of our lives to him as we grow. Now we belong to Jesus. Everything will be great. We’ll walk together and then one day be together forever. This is what salvation looks like, right? Our sins have been paid for and we can stand before God as pure and forgiven people. So what’s missing here?
The period between our beginning to follow Jesus (our justification) and our joining him in heaven for eternity (our glorification) is where we all live today. The term for this part of our salvation is sanctification. John Wesley identified sanctification as the process of change in a believer’s life from sinfulness into holiness. In the conversation we just read in John 13 and 14, Jesus was preparing his followers for that part of their lives which would soon follow. The excitement of their new relationship with him and the thrill of walking with him were to end; the waiting to be with him for eternity was to begin. He had a job for them (and us) to do.
Just like the disciples, as we carry on after coming to know Christ, sometimes we’re surprised when life throws us challenges and curves.
Paul described this part of our spiritual lives in his second letter to the Corinthians:
“For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.”
Think about the questions. Think of the patience, the understanding, the frank directness of Jesus as he answered. He knew these men well. He knew all that was coming. He talked about love above all.
Part 2. Why Can’t I Follow Now?
Jesus had resolutely proceeded to Jerusalem, knowing the danger. He had been hailed as a Savior as he entered the city, although most misunderstood what kind of Savior he would be. In a quiet moment celebrating the Passover meal with his disciples, questions arose.
Peter had asked in John 13:36 “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.” Peter asked, “Lord why can’t I follow you now?” In other words, let’s just skip this part and go on to heaven together. The rest of the story is familiar.
Peter thought he was ready to lay down everything, even his life, for Jesus, but Jesus knew he was not. Soon after this conversation, the situation got heated. Jesus was arrested, and Peter was immediately asked direct questions by people outside their circle. Peter didn’t immediately see the connection between the false answers he gave and the efforts Jesus had made to prepare him for this very moment.
Peter failed the first test. And the second, and the third. But Jesus had also known ever since he had declared “you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18) that Peter would come through the failures and the testing. He would later be the first to stand and declare what was going on when the Holy Spirit came upon them at Pentecost. Peter wanted to skip the second step illustrated below, but God had another plan for him. Now here is a point that we don’t want to miss.
WHO justifies us?
WHO will take us to heaven when we’re glorified?
WHOSE responsibility is our sanctification?
We accept that God provides our justification; he is the only one who can make us righteous. We accept that he will make our glorification happen when he takes us to heaven, but all too often we think that the sanctification part is up to us. It’s important to realize that God is the one who accomplishes ALL of our salvation. 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 tells us “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through… The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.”
Now let’s look at Thomas’s question. He was the next one to question Jesus. Jesus had answered Peter (John 14:1), “Don’t be worried! Have faith in God and have faith in me. There are many rooms in my Father’s house. I wouldn’t tell you this, unless it was true. I am going there to prepare a place for each of you. After I have done this, I will come back and take you with me. Then we will be together. You know the way to where I am going.”
“Thomas said, ‘Lord, we don’t even know where you are going! How can we know the way?’”
“I am the way, the truth, and the life!” Jesus answered. “Without me, no one can go to the Father.”
In October of 2012, my daughter and I took a long-anticipated trip to Cornwall, England. Cornwall is the county at the southwest end of England.
We hiked from St. Ives to Lizard, 70 miles along the very tip of the coast, over 5 days. Our guidebook was a plastic-covered folder with typewritten pages written by a guy named Russell. Here’s the introduction:
You may have figured out by now – this is one of the hardest things I have ever done. I definitely had my “What was I thinking?” moments. But something I learned years ago in a hospital bed came to mind, and it’s something I like to practice. At that time, as I struggled, I asked God to teach me in the moment, to show me something about himself. Now this trip was something I volunteered for, so don’t think I’m comparing a vacation challenge to some of the hard things life has handed you. But as I asked God to show me something about himself in the struggle, he gave me some beautiful illustrations regarding the work of the Holy Spirit and how I can “know the way,” as Thomas asked. Join me as I share a little – I hope you’ll see the lessons I learned.
Part 3. Conditions
Does the path you travel ever look something like this?
Winding, uphill, hard to see where you’re going. Or this?
Beautiful surroundings but still an upward path…
And then there are hazards and obstacles…
Sometimes the path is sheltered and safe for the moment…
… and sometimes things seem smooth and clearly laid out but the destination is still out of sight.
Sometimes life’s just a balancing act.
This is part 3 of lessons I learned on a very long hike. (Part 1, Part 2) For 5 days and 70 miles on foot along the southwest coast of England, this acorn was our guiding symbol.
The first day was 15 miles.
Instructions were not super detailed and the markers only appeared when they were absolutely needed. We found that if Russell (the author of our guidebook) didn’t tell us something, we probably didn’t need to know. Sometimes we just needed to figure it out. If the path seemed to split into 2 or 3 paths, they often converged later, so sometimes it really didn’t matter which one we took. Sometimes we failed to look at the book. Sometimes we got lost. Sometimes the book saved us. Reminds me of another book I know…
On day 1 we encountered the bogs. Tufts of grass growing in something that was sometimes dirt, sometimes mud, and sometimes calf-deep water that could appear to be fairly solid ground. You took your chances stepping on the “ground,” risking sinking, or you hopped from tuft to tuft, hoping to maintain your balance. You could follow in another person’s footsteps, which sometimes helped and sometimes got you in trouble (another life lesson?).
In the boggy areas I was always in danger of slipping (which I did & ended up covered in mud), but my biggest fear was that I always felt off-balance. As I grew more tired, I feared that I didn’t have the strength to keep my balance as I hopped on the unstable tufts of grass. I didn’t want to injure myself and create a bigger problem. Getting through it took care and balance, sometimes following each other’s footsteps and sometimes being careful not to step where the other had stepped.
Trying to figure out where to step to get across the water – can you tell by my body language just how encouraged I was at that point?
Ever been there?
This is about ENDURANCE.
Hebrews 12:1 tells us – “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”
This hike helped me to see my life as a series of paths that I walk.
Different actions and reactions are required of me.
As Jesus prepared his followers for difficult times to come, they had questions. As we further explore these questions, we’ll look at the journey we all travel between meeting Jesus and ultimately joining him for eternity.
I hope you will see that holiness and sanctification are worked in us by the Holy Spirit as we learn to act and respond in faith.
“So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.” – 1 Corinthians 3:7 NIV (emphasis mine)
Part 4. Preparation
Part 4 of lessons learned while hiking in Cornwall, UK, about my own development and sanctification as a Christ follower.
My last post was about difficulty and endurance. Sometimes difficulties and the need to endure catch us by surprise, but if we think about it, we all know that life will eventually hand us challenges. We certainly knew that our hike would not be easy. So how did we prepare?
Strength and balance training before we left.
The interesting thing was that there is no way in flat Dallas that you can truly be prepared for the terrain we encountered. We did the best we could…
In everyday life, training involves study of God’s word and fellowship with other believers with whom I can process spiritual truth. 2 Timothy 2:15 tells us “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” While no amount of walking Dallas terrain could quite prepare us, once we got there we had Russell’s book. Reminds me of another book we all have access to.
Now Russell was not extravagant with words. He gave us what we needed and no more. We had to be watchful, and at times we had to wait until the horizon matched a little picture we were given.
This was a point where we could easily have walked right by the turnoff if we had not consulted our guidebook. We had to be aware of our instructions, and to keep the picture before us as we walked.
How often do we forge ahead when God’s word might have offered a road map or illustration for a situation? We all have God’s word to strengthen us for the path we travel. Just as in life, however, on our hike we often forgot about the book and tried to figure out the path ourselves, or we didn’t think we had time to get out the book and look. A costly error a few times…
I love God’s economy of words in the Bible. He tells us all we need to know but he boiled it down to a book we can carry with us. Psalm 119:130 says, “The unfolding of your word gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.”
Another part of our preparation was to get good boots that supported your feet and stayed on when your foot sank in the bogs. Ephesians 6:15 addresses our footware: “…with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.” We’ll come back to the boots.
Recognize roadblocks. Ever ignore warning signs and live to regret it?
Love the “no bikes” sign in this particular spot. Made you wonder who might actually try that.
As our first day wore on, it started to rain. As the rain and wind increased we debated whether to leave the coast and head for the road. Then suddenly our path was blocked by ponies. It happened that a bail-out path up to the road was right in that spot on our left. We took the ponies as a sign to go no further, walked into town on the road in the rain, and literally blew into the warm pub at our inn.
Psalm 32:7 says of God, “You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.”
The best meal of my life so far was the warm potato leek soup in that pub.
The next day we heard locals exclaiming about how severe the storm had been. If the locals thought it was strong, we definitely belonged up on that road. God provides a way of escape when the storms of life blow, and sometimes he gives us the roadblocks we need if we’re only paying attention.
The storm raged all night as we nursed our sore feet and laughed about the improbability of our whole situation. I also secretly hoped that it would be too wild to head out on the trails in the morning.
Part 5. Fog
By morning the howling storm had passed, leaving thick fog. The night’s rest had been amazingly restorative, and we had no excuse to stay put. After a great English breakfast, we set out in the fog.
Ever walked in a fog? A devastating loss, a frightening diagnosis, divorce, unemployment; many of life’s events can leave us feeling like we live in a fog, just feeling our way along for the next step. I remember once offering a novel to my sister to read, just one I had enjoyed, when she was going through a divorce. She declined to take it, saying that she was having a hard time focusing on anything at the moment and it would only frustrate her to have it on her nightstand. We all have those moments. But let me tell you what we found as we groped our way along in the fog. The beauty was close at hand. The mist had settled on the foliage and on beautiful spider webs.
Much of the beauty along the way was not visible until we were right at it. Later in the day we reached a part of the coast where the cliffs rose out of the fog and it was breathtaking.
And eventually, the sun came out and the softness was transformed into brilliant color again.
1 Peter 1:3-6 says “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.”
Psalm 5:11 tells us “But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you.”
And 1 Peter 5:10 – “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.”
Day 3 brought some fun surprises. The path passed through 2 towns and was actually paved part of the way and easier walking. We sought a public restroom in Penzance and were directed to a Fishermen’s Mission.
Looking around the Mission made me aware that when people live with danger as a matter of course, they can tend to be very conscious of the possibility of meeting their maker. We were traveling in John Wesley country. We had passed boarded-up and fenced-off old buildings which used to house Sunday schools. The area has a feel of being rather post-Christian. The Mission was a quick stop for us, but it was exciting to find God in an unexpected place.
We later ran across this marker, set randomly in a stone in the middle of nowhere near the beach – “We have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens… Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty.” (2 Cor. 5:1, 3:17 KJV) I think that those who work at sea still have a sense of dependence on God. He hasn’t abandoned Cornwall. He hasn’t abandoned any of us but we sometimes need to see our own helplessness before we reach out to him.
As we neared Marazion, our destination for the night, we began to see an island rising in the fog.
It turned out to be St. Michael’s Mount, 6th Century counterpart to Mont St-Michel in France. We took a little boat to the island and initially we were too tired to even think of walking to the top. More uphill. And you had to buy a ticket. But I suddenly thought “this is probably the only chance either of us will ever have to see this” so I bought the last tickets of the day and we climbed some more.
So what was the spiritual lesson of this day?
Don’t stop short of the glory.
“For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.” (Hebrews 10:36)
“To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the Paradise of God.” (Revelation 2:7)
The excitement of our discovery that day will pale in comparison with “what is promised” when we are in God’s presence.
Part 6. Back to Questions
So let’s return to our questions.
Our first question from Peter represents our uninformed enthusiasm. Peter asked, “Lord why can’t I follow you now?” He didn’t know himself. He had no idea what was about to happen and how he would respond.
I don’t know myself. I can’t be sure how I might respond in a tough situation. I don’t yet know what else Jesus has for me to do before joining him.
Question 2 from Thomas represents decisions and crossroads that we encounter as we serve Christ and grow closer to him. “How can we know the way?”
Question 3 from Judas represents the confusion and hurt we can experience when things do not go easily or when we are opposed as we serve Christ. “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?” “But, Lord…” – how often is that our reaction to a word from him?
Jesus’ answers to the questions show a consistent message of love for one another and for the Father.
- He promises the Holy Spirit, the “Helper” to be with us forever.
John 14:16-18 says: “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever– the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.”
- He promises never to leave us as orphans.
- He promises a day when we will behold him and live because he lives.
God showed me something about his Holy Spirit on our hike through our guide Russell. Abbey and I followed Russell’s instructions in Cornwall even though he was not physically with us. We had his book of instructions. We had maps he had provided.
We often forged ahead without reading the book because we didn’t want to take time to look. Maybe the wind was high or it was raining or we just didn’t want to pause. Sometimes we actually forgot we had it. But we had the book. We had the ability to call Russell if we needed to. We trusted Russell because he knew Cornwall and we didn’t. He had walked these paths.
How often do we fail to read God’s instructions or to call on him in prayer?
Let’s finish reading what Jesus had to say in John 14, beginning with verse 25.
“All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. “You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe. I will not say much more to you, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold over me, but he comes so that the world may learn that I love the Father and do exactly what my Father has commanded me. Come now; let us leave.”
God provides a Helper.
Jesus reveals the reason we were not able to be with him immediately as Peter asked.
John 14:29-31 tells us: “I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe. I will not say much more to you, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold over me, but he comes so that the world may learn that I love the Father and do exactly what my Father has commanded me.”
The ruler of the world, who has nothing to do with Jesus, was about to wreak havoc, as he continues to do (v. 29). But Jesus overcame the evil one (“He has no hold over me.” v. 30). Until he comes back for us, here’s our purpose, our job is to let the world know of his love. (v. 31)
The “prince of the world” was allowed to come so that Jesus could show his love for his Father by going to the cross.
Jesus did exactly what his Father had commanded.
Jesus’ answer to Judas explained to the disciples their assignment of telling the world of his love for the Father and his obedience in taking care of the world’s sin. But he wasn’t going to leave them alone with this task. He promised them the Holy Spirit to teach, remind, help, and advocate for them.
Jesus charged Judas and the others with the incredible task of GETTING to tell the world about him.
Part of the armor God provides for us is “your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.” –Ephesians 6:15
“How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’” (Isaiah 52:7)
“Spiritual growth occurs in a high commitment, high challenge environment.” –Margaret Fitzwater, The Navigators
Romans 10:12-15 quotes what we just read from Isaiah – “…the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”
How do I ENDURE?
TRAIN & PREPARE
HOPE & BE GLAD
DON’T STOP SHORT
KNOW THAT OUR PURPOSE
AND OUR PRIVILEGE IS TO
LET THE WORLD KNOW GOD’S PEACE
The Bible and Human Sexuality
Introduction by Katy Kiser
Several months ago, I wrote about my experience at Mission U where the United Methodist Women’s spiritual life study, The Bible and Human Sexuality was taught. I remarked that the study was designed to help the church accept not only the practice of homosexuality, but also a sexual ethic that would eliminate any scriptural boundaries on sexual practice other than consent and safety.
This concerned me greatly because not only is this new sexual ethic unbiblical, it is particularly harmful to women and children, works counterproductively to ending sex trafficking, and encourages prostitution and pornography. Even more disturbing was my discovery that this teaching comes under a larger attack on Christian understanding of morality and sexuality known as “Sex Positivity”.
But in a day when clear moral teaching is dismissed by “new” interpretations of scripture and a “new” understanding the work of the Spirit, how are we to stake our stand? For many of us it is confusing and difficult.
That is why Renew is happy to recommend to the women of the church, Faye Short’s excellent analysis of The Bible and Human Sexuality. She takes on the revisionist’s interpretations of our day with biblical scholarship, based on a classic interpretation of the Bible. This provides the reader with the tools to uphold and defend the church’s long held understanding human sexuality and morality.
Faye Short is no stranger to the Renew Network; she founded and faithfully served as President of Renew for 20 years. Nor is Faye a stranger to UMW, having served as a local, district and conference UMW officer in North Georgia prior to founding Renew. She has a keen eye for distinguishing biblical truth from revisionist interpretations that lead to tragic consequences in the lives of us all. Renew is grateful to her for her clear analysis and strong words of warning for the women of the United Methodist Church.
THE BIBLE AND HUMAN SEXUALITY:
CLAIMING GOD’S GOOD GIFT
Prepared by: L. Faye Short
Purpose: The purpose of this overview is to capture the major themes of The Bible and Human Sexuality by Ellen A. Brubaker – a study authorized by the national office of United Methodist Women for use at the local, district and conference levels in UMW or Mission U events. This document accompanies a comprehensive analysis of the book which provides support for the Overview.
From the Introduction to the Closing, The Bible and Human Sexuality advocates for a “new sexual ethic” for our time through the technique of creating confusion and uncertainty about what the Bible teaches and what the Jewish and Christian communities embrace. This method opens readers to a revised understanding with the age-old question, “Did God say?”
The text references liberal, progressive, revisionist, womanist and feminist scholars, to advance this new sexual ethic.
By reinterpreting and questioning everything from the creation accounts to the Law codes to the Song of Solomon to the inter-testament time period, the writer sets us up for a redefined understanding of the teachings and views of Jesus Christ.
One blatantly obvious intention of this book, from the beginning, and throughout the entire text, is advocacy for the acceptance of homosexual practice, and a change in sexual ethics by the Church. For example, under the Law Codes Develop section, questions are raised: “Why should we in the twenty-first century pay so much attention to the law codes of the ancient Hebrews? Should we be for or against gay marriage; for or against the availability of abortion; for or against the submission of women to their husbands; and for or against women’s political leadership? Should we build policies assuming that our commitment to premarital virginity and abstinence can be mandated for all, or will sex education and informed consent lead young people to make healthy choices? Should we prevent gays and lesbians from serving as ordained clergy, or can God’s call include everyone, irrespective of sexual orientation or gender identity?….”
As we move into the New Testament,, the teachings about Jesus Himself are called into question as the author casts doubt on the Virgin Birth, and in essence the Divine Nature of Jesus. She writes: “Perhaps the birth narrative remains in the realm of mystery, with the doctrine of the virgin birth being a way to claim (italics mine) God’s agency or to embody Jesus’ identity as the Son of God.”
Even so, the author postulates that Jesus exemplified and taught a new understanding of love and relationship that would likely embrace the views espoused in The Bible and Human Sexuality.
A selective overview of the birth of the church is given, being careful to avoid Peter’s discourse on the need for repentance and baptism for the forgiveness of sin.
Paul is both extolled, when “he forges new paths for the growing community of faith in Jesus,” and dismissed, “on issues pertaining to the status of women and of sexuality.” The author comments: “There continues to be division within the body of Christ today, based on issues of interpretation and authority of Scripture. …Paul was not the first person in history whose writings may appear inconsistent to some of us.”
In regard to Pauline and other writings in the New Testament, cause is found to discredit or discount much that is part of the Biblical text. The claim is made that that some of the letters attributed to Paul and other apostles were in actuality written by others, “Deutero.” Theologian L. William Countryman contributes: “This brings me to the other and greater barrier which modern readers must overcome in accepting the New Testament witness on the subject of purity—our own traditional preconceptions. Sex is not a primary concept in the New Testament writings nor is physical purity an accepted principle there.” Both of these statements are blatantly false.
Chapter 4 goes to great lengths to discount the process of the canonization of Scripture and the teachings of the church fathers, while giving far too much credence to the aberrant theology of Gnosticism. Inaccurate timelines and misrepresentations of Church history are used to call the foundations of the Christian Church into question. The concept is, if you can pull down existing structures, you have reason to construct new ones.
Another theme throughout this book is the promotion of the right of individuals to interpret the Scriptures for themselves—to “take authority” for their own faith and practice. While a full-fledged call is not given to totally disregard the innate authority of Scripture, or the role of the Holy Spirit, or the place for church leaders, or the significance of Church history; with these already called into question, this step seems natural.
The author encourages use of the “tools of interpretation,” particularly Albert Outler’s “Wesley’s Quadrilateral,” which consists of Scripture, tradition, reason and experience. However, these tools are used in a way neither Outler nor Wesley would approve.
The Bible and Human Sexuality challenges traditional Judeo/Christian, Biblical views on male/female relationships, the family, abortion, homosexual practice, and even righteousness. The new sexual ethic this book advocates looks like what the author described in the final chapter: “At present, there are many couples that make the decision to become intimate before marriage. People are waiting longer to marry, and some deny the need for marriage at all. What will determine a sexual ethic or covenant for such couples? How can the church minister to them? At the same time faithful same-sex couples seek the blessing of marriage for their covenant. How do we in the church respond to their desire to affirm their covenant?”
How does the Church answer? We answer as the Church has since its inception. We affirm that all persons are of sacred worth, but that homosexual practice is incompatible with Christian teaching. We maintain that marriage is between one man and one woman. We call our youth, and the single, to sexual purity until marriage. We cannot affirm what God does not affirm. We are not judgmental, but we make right judgments. To do otherwise would be to harm not bless God’s people.
THE BIBLE AND HUMAN SEXUALITY:
CLAIMING GOD’S GOOD GIFT
Author: Ellen A. Brubaker
Analysis By: L. Faye Short
For decades at every General Conference the church’s stand on human sexuality has been challenged. In fact the United Methodist Church has been brought to a crisis over this issue. It is not the only issue that divides us, but it is the main issue. Much is at stake including our understanding of scripture as well as the future of the UMC.
As a former local, district and conference officer for United Methodist Women, and as the former president of the Renew Network, UMW mission resources are not new to me. Over a thirty-year timeframe, I have read the studies, reviewed the studies, taught the studies and assigned the studies to experts for review.
Of all the UMW studies I have read and reviewed, this study, “The Bible and Human Sexuality” has the clearest agenda. Its purpose is to change the church’s biblical teaching on human sexuality and replace it with a new sexual ethic that is more inline with our culture’s full acceptance of the sexual revolution of the 60’s. I have reviewed this book prayerfully and offer my analysis to guide the reader to seriously consider just what the Bible actually says about human sexuality. ___Faye Short
In the introduction and throughout the entire text, the Biblical, Christian understanding of human sexuality is held up for examination, and doubt is cast upon the traditional view. Instead of holding fast to established truth, the reader is invited to realize, “As this study is being written, we are encountering deep differences in society and within the church over issues related to divorce, gender, abortion, and homosexuality.”
The “good news of the gospel” is appealed to, yet is not identified by repentance, redemption and restoration, but instead seen as a gospel in flux, changing with the times and shaped by cultural norms.
The Introduction begins by stating, “Over the centuries, there have been many interpretations of what the Bible says about sexuality.” The Jewish and Christian community, worldwide, has held unswervingly to the Biblical understanding of marriage, family and sexual practice over the centuries. This Biblical understanding has formed the moral and ethical fiber of the nation and the worldwide Christian community, spilling over into the culture. Only a small percentage of liberal theologians and secularists have advocated for a change in clear biblical perspectives.
An attack is leveled against supposed “literalists” who are really Christians who believe the Word of God to be inerrant (without error in its teachings on faith and practice), or infallible (totally reliable in content).
Yet another inaccuracy, “The Protestant Reformation was in part about the freedom and responsibility of Christians to read, pray and seek the meaning of Scripture.” In fact, the Reformation was a return to the Apostolic Faith of the early church, and the understanding that Scripture, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, speaks the Word of God clearly and understandably to believers. It was not an invitation to unbridled, uninformed personal opinion. The Bible admonishes us to “rightly divide the Word of Truth.”
Chapter 1: It Was Very Good: The Creation Stories
In the first paragraph, the author shares about her beloved granddaughter’s newly-forming “love relationship” with a special young man in her life. The granddaughter finds the word “partner” as an apt descriptor for their relationship. The author is quick to say this is the word “used often by same-sex couples.” The reader is drawn in this first paragraph to question several things about human sexuality and love relationships—premarital sex, cohabitation and homosexual practice.
In a warm story-telling atmosphere, the author lifts up the creation story, which she indicates is much like other centuries-old oral traditions. According to the author, Biblical scholars are able to determine when these “story traditions” became written accounts, with editors who put the stories together, and “…redactors who added their own interpretations to the material.”
This shot across the bow takes a swipe at biblical authority, divine revelation and God-directed process, so the reader is a bit stunned regarding the formation of Scripture. The author’s explanation places Scripture in the same category as other ancient texts, religious myths or oral histories. To the author’s credit, the “unique relationship of God and humanity” is acknowledged.
The Creation Accounts
Next, the author deals with the creation “accounts” in chapter one and two of Genesis. Most Biblical scholars see the creation accounts as ongoing, the first description in Chapter 1 fitting humankind into the total creative process, and the second narrative in Chapter 2 zoning in on Adam and Eve and their unique, individual placement and roles. The author struggles with male headship (servant leadership) even though the biblical account clearly shows, prior to the fall, a difference in role between the sexes. No doubt, something shifted when sin entered the picture, warping God’s original intention that the man lead in a partnership of equality between the two differing sexes. A hateful hierarchy was no more intended by God than a radical feminism.
The author speaks of how God… “created us as sexual beings for relationship with other human beings.” One must add, ”of the opposite sex,” and “within the context of marriage,” as affirmed by Jesus in Matthew 9:3-8.
Human Sexuality and the Development of Israel
Numerous stories and customs from Israel’s history are recounted. Our observation would be that the authenticity of the Bible is borne out by the honesty of accounts that do not reflect well on Israel, showing their failure to understand God’s intentions and the sinfulness of the human heart after the fall. The author tries to recast the sin of Sodom, claiming it was the failure to show hospitality, rather than sexual perversion and homosexual practice, that brought judgment upon the city. However, the Old Testament account and the New Testament book of Jude make it clear that sexual immorality and perversion was the cause for judgment.
Law Codes Develop
This section begins by rightly defining the heart of the conflict between the Israelites and the Canaanites when stating, “The spiritual warfare was over the Canaanite religious beliefs and practices. Leviticus 18 covers unlawful sexual practices, including child sacrifice, homosexuality and beastiality, concluding with God’s warning, “Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, because this is how the nations that I am going to drive out before you became defiled.”
God speaking His Law directly to the people is acknowledged with the statement, “They were God’s word for God’s people. They served to form the identity of Israel as a nation.” Early on the codes of behavior entailed the punishing of some conduct and the rewarding of other conduct. Let me add, since God is God, the Law was not based on whim or preference—but on God’s judgment of what was best for not only Israel—but for all who would embrace God’s Law. God had told Abraham that in him all the nations of the earth would be blessed.
The author then cites yet another theologian who is critical of the “patriarchal framework” that in his mind denigrates women, daughters, wives, mothers, sisters to a subordinate position. Several biblical accounts are shared that cause concern about how the code of law impacts behavior in negative ways for some, and positive ways for others. Jumping from this critical analysis of the code, there is a section in the middle of page 14 that strikes at the heart of the Judeo-Christian understanding of the significance of the Law in the formation of moral, ethical and relational standards. The quotation below is italicized for emphasis.
“Why should we in the twenty-first century pay so much attention to the law codes of the ancient Hebrews? Literal interpretations of the biblical laws are still practiced in many parts of the world. They may well be taught to our children as they mature as sexual persons. Some of the laws reflect solidarity and a sense of justice for the community, while others cause shame or hardship for individuals without voice or power. At the moment, sexuality is the central biblical background as interpreters everywhere are asked to take sides on a whole host of sexual political questions:
Should we be for or against gay marriage; for or against the availability of abortion; for or against the submission of women to their husbands; and for or against women’s political leadership? Should we build policies assuming that our commitment to premarital virginity and abstinence can be mandated for all, or will sex education and informed consent lead young people to make healthy choices? Should we prevent gays and lesbians from serving as ordained clergy, or can God’s call include everyone, irrespective of sexual orientation or gender identity? If women play the submissive role in relationships, what does that mean for men? How do we define sexual freedom or choice, for women, for men? What side is the Bible on? These questions and others arise from our contemporary views of sexuality and the challenges of a changing world with regard to sexual behavior.”
Having dropped this bombshell on the reader, the author then shifts yet again to the biblical accounts of women in the bible and their stories, Although these accounts were not built upon sexual issues, the author asks, “How are we to interpret these Scriptures for our sexuality in the twenty-first century?
At this point our eyes should be wide open to the actual purpose of this “mission” study on human sexuality. The author goes back and forth regarding the biblical witness, yet, in the final analysis, what the God who created and sustains all things spoke is up for questioning and reinterpretation to fit our contemporary views of sexuality. This is not being applied to the culture, which we know places little value on God’s opinion; but this is written for the Church, and specifically for the women of the church! For Christians, do not the matters of faith and practice in all areas of our lives come under the authority of God’s Word?
The Song of Songs/The Song of Solomon
We are aware that the Song of Solomon faced much discussion before being included in the Canon. Once again, the integrity of its inclusion shows that Biblical scholars were not afraid of the sexuality of humankind, but as God declared at the time of creation, found it “good.” In fact, the Song of Solomon fully epitomizes the depth of love that can be realized between a man and a woman. Many felt the book showed the depth of love Christ has for the Church. Suffice it to say it is a part of the Holy Bible.
Despite the absolute clarity that the love expressed in this text is between a man and a woman, the author pulls from the text some far-reaching assertions. She writes:
“Above all else, Song of Songs argues for love that endures all the impediments and frustrations that may exist in the face of love at its deepest levels. …Song of Songs celebrates love relationships in the human community. There is no indication that the lovers are married; it is more likely that they are not….” Then, quoting liberal theologian Renita Weems, “The poet is apparently sympathetic to the lovers desire to plead for their right to love whom they choose, irrespective of norms and prejudices, and to their desire to explore their love….”
This didactic method of interpretation reads into the text what the reader wants to be there, rather than reading out of the text what is there. In this instance, it is yet another way to attempt to find Biblical license for sex outside of marriage, homosexual/lesbian practices, or, the “right to love whom they choose, irrespective of norms and prejudices” (or, apparently, Biblical prohibitions).
The author concludes, “It is important for us to see in Song of Songs how some Scriptures flow from the concept of God’s love, goodness, and grace, just as it is important for us to recognize when other Scripture passages (or particular interpretations of passages) are not helpful to individuals or to the community as each seeks to grow in Christ.” In other words, we pay attention to only those passages that make us comfortable and affirm our lifestyles and sexual preferences. Is it not true that both God’s promises and God’s prohibitions are intended for our good?
Chapter 2: The Human Face of God: Jesus the Christ
Between the Testaments
In this chapter, the author begins by recounting Jewish history following the return of the Hebrew people from Babylonian captivity. She aptly describes the effort by the Jews to maintain their religious purity and traditional practices in the midst of ongoing foreign invasion and rule. Mention is made of the antagonism of the Jews toward the people who had been allowed to remain in the land, such as the Samaritans. The author makes the accurate statement that, “The resulting community practiced a faith that was considered a syncretism that diluted the pure Judaism of Israel.” She concludes this section by speaking of the time of unrest and turmoil into which Jesus was born; a time when Jewish tradition continued to reflect a patriarchal system which placed women in subservient roles.
The Birth Narratives
Not comfortable to refer to God’s gift of His Son, the author begins by saying, “The incarnation is God’s gift of the Son entering into human history that we might know God more fully in human experience.” She is careful in the first paragraph to remind the reader that the virgin birth is only mentioned in Matthew and Luke, and is not mentioned by Paul or the later epistles.
The author’s presentation regarding the Virgin Birth is so mistaken that one must read her own words to realize how incredulous her assumptions and arguments are. Sections from pages 27-31 of the text are cited below interspersed with comment. The reader would do well to read these pages in their entirety.
It is important to ask why a virgin birth is essential for Matthew and later Luke. The word ‘bethulab’ in Hebrew means either ‘virgin’ or ‘young girl or woman.’ Usually the Hebrew Scriptures make clear the virginal state by adding phrases such a ‘had never slept with a man’ (Genesis 24:16, Judges 11:39, 21:12).
The author does not acknowledge that this is exactly what Mary said when she asked the angel how she could be pregnant since, “I am a virgin.” (NIV); “I do not know a man.” (NKJV).
In cultures in and around Palestine, there were frequent references to miraculous births. There were male gods who impregnated mortal females, given birth to heroes…both mythical and real. There may have been an intention (italics mine) to highlight the birth of Jesus, Son of God, in a notable way. ‘Also, the numerous reports of virginal conceptions of mythological figures…could have motivated (italics mine) Jesus’ followers to have him recognized as the offspring of a god.’”
The author acknowledges that Mary’s case is not that of a male god impregnating a human female, but rather that she becomes pregnant by the power of God through the Holy Spirit. Matthew’s linkage of the Old Testament prophecy to the birth event is, according to the author, “…always a topic for interpretation and discussion.” In other words, not necessarily an accurate interpretation.
In the next part of this consideration of Jesus’ virgin birth, the author conjectures that perhaps the reason the virgin birth was construed as necessary is the “…perceived negative aspects of human sexuality.” She concludes, “There would have been then, as there is now, a sense that God’s divine Son would not be born in such an impure human process.”
Does the author intend to mislead, or does she know nothing of the theology of the Incarnation—when, through a divine act of the Holy Spirit Mary was impregnated with the Son of God—who was born into this world through the natural human process, to become the incarnate Son of God—very God and very Man; human yet divine? She goes on to recite a Catholic theology of Mariology which is not embraced by other Christian denominations. Yet, right in the middle of it she throws in the Biblical, Christian understanding of the Virgin Birth when she writes,
In some Christian traditions, Mary, a virgin, becomes pregnant by the power of the Holy Spirit. She gives birth to the Son of God. Such mythological language (italics mine) would not have seemed exceptional to men and women of the first-century Mediterranean world.
It must be said, nor does it seem exceptional to Christians of the twenty-first century!
“Perhaps the birth narrative remains in the realm of mystery, with the doctrine of the virgin birth being a way to claim (italics mine) God’s agency or to embody Jesus’ identity as the Son of God.”
That is the claim of God’s Word, believed by Christians throughout the ages. Not to believe in the Virgin Birth is to deny the Incarnation.
The Life and Ministry of Jesus—The Misfits
Under this title, the author begins to examine the life of Jesus to determine just how He impacted the Mosaic Law and how He interfaced with people, particularly women. The language and conclusions in this section are difficult to follow for they attempt to formulate a theology of partnership relating to human sexuality which is not inherent in the biblical text.
In actuality, many of Jesus’ actions cut away the practices and requirements that were added by well-meaning, or in some cases, self-seeking, leaders. As God’s Son (very God of very God), He revealed God’s true understanding of and intentions toward humankind.
Brubaker attempts to lead the reader to conclude that human sexuality was not a priority for Jesus but instead He prioritized human wholeness. The author observes on page 31:
While Jesus directly said little about human sexuality and how to live with integrity as a sexual being. It is still fair to conclude that he honored the wholeness of persons, he understood that wholeness to include sexuality.
Jesus did, in fact, address a number of sexuality issues as they came before Him, including the topics of adultery, fornication and marriage. Matthew 19:3-8 is probably the strongest passage showing Jesus’ understanding of divorce, marriage and adultery. In this passage, Jesus affirms that God’s plan is for marriage between a man and a woman and that this relationship is sacred and meant by God to be undefiled and life-long.
The author misstates that “Jesus challenged the family institution in several ways.” What Jesus challenged was that which differed from God’s original intentions. On the other hand, the author uses the Matthew and Mark (10:11&12) passages to affirm that “…women as well as men should not enter into divorce, as the marriage bond is sacred.” A bit confusing as to the author’s standing on these issues.
Our text relates, “Jesus also questions the rigid rules regarding family when he blesses children.” Yet, the Old Testament clearly taught the value of children and the importance of passing the faith on to them. Jesus acted within that understanding, and exemplified the value God places on children by doing so. Other New Testament passages address the significance of children within the family context.
From this point, the text shares biblical accounts in the New Testament relating to Jesus and various women: the woman caught in adultery; the woman who was hemorrhaging; the Samaritan woman, the woman at the well, the Canaanite woman and others who were a part of Jesus’ followers. Some of the conjectures from these accounts are off base and stretched to include progressive thinking. In the middle paragraph on page 39, beginning with “Jesus spoke….,” the evaluation of Jesus reads as if He is only human, not divine, hearkening back to the questioning of the virgin birth, and the implication that this doctrine was an attempt to “claim God’s agency or to embody Jesus’ identity as the Son of God” (page 31). Instead, ought not we to see the exchanges Jesus had with women as a demonstration of how Jesus, the Son of God, has broken down the dividing wall between us and God, and between one another.
Chapter 3: The Early Church, St. Paul and Beyond
This chapter begins by stating, “Jesus returned the essence of faith to the original vision of creation that was called good.” The author does not speak of the fall and the entering in of sin which was the catalyst of Jesus’ coming—to redeem people from their sin. Instead, our text says, “Through the incarnation of God in Christ, Jesus lived and died so that all people (italics mine) might live lives of wholeness….” In actuality, those who acknowledge their sin, ask for forgiveness and accept Jesus Christ as both Savior and Lord are the ones who experience redemption and wholeness. “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him” (John 3:36).
The author asserts that, even after the resurrection, Jesus’ disciples did not fully understand his ministry…and that we still have the same difficulty. While there was much the disciples did not understand prior to Pentecost and the infilling of the Holy Spirit—Peter’s sermon in Acts 2 showed total clarity regarding redemption through Jesus’ death and resurrection. As post crucifixion, post resurrection, post Pentecost believers, we too understand Jesus’ ministry and mission.
The Birth of the Church – Pentecost
The author fully acknowledges the coming of the Holy Spirit as paramount to the birth of the church. Even so, the part of Peter’s Pentecost message calling for repentance and baptism for the forgiveness of sins is not mentioned. Peter made it clear that repentance was essential before they could receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, thus becoming a part of the church body.
The Expanding Ministry to the Gentiles
In this short section, the author rightly describes the process the early church went through to determine the requirements that should be placed on Gentile believers. The Holy Spirit was operating at God’s pace.
The Emerging Ministry of Saul/Paul
The conversion story of Paul is recounted, acknowledging that the Book of Acts is in large part, his story. However, in paragraph 2 on page 44, the author begins to be selective in Paul’s teachings and authority. She indicates that some take Paul’s writings literally while, “Other contemporary Christians dismiss Paul as not authoritative for faith formation, especially as the faith addresses the status of women and of sexuality.” Brubaker writes:
“There continues to be division within the body of Christ today, based on issues of interpretation and authority of Scripture. Perhaps it is important to see Paul as an intense man, caught at times in a battle for a faith that changed not only his life, but also the lives of Gentiles and Jews throughout the world of his day. There are times when he may be inconsistent, falling back on the culture from which he came, and other times when he forges new paths for the growing community of faith in Jesus.”
In plain speak, the author is saying that the church is in conflict regarding the interpretation and authority of Scripture—which is not an accurate statement. While some segments of the church may be conflicted regarding the interpretation and authority of Scripture—most are not. As John Wesley said in Catholic Spirit regarding the core doctrines of the Christian faith, “…we are as fixed as the sun.” Can we then pick and choose where we think Paul is accurate and where he is not, particularly as it pertains to the status of women and human sexuality? If we truly believe in Paul’s conversion and in the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit in his ministry, we must accept his teaching as inspired and applicable for today on all of the topics he addressed. Yes, we look at them in the context of Paul’s cultural setting, even as we apply the core principles of those teachings to our own culture.
Contrary to Brubaker’s text, neither Jesus nor Paul sublimated the Law, but rather saw its fulfillment and the continued application of the core principles of the law under grace. The Gentiles were not exempted from keeping the basic moral code of the Ten Commandments, as evidenced in Paul’s writings to them, but from the peculiarly Jewish regulations that did not apply to them. Paul rightly did not insist on Jewish cultural norms as authoritative for all cultures of his day or ours, but that in no way negates his writings on God’s plan for human sexuality. Neither Jesus nor Paul ignored the moral and ethical teaching found in the Old Testament. In fact, Jesus expanded the Law’s moral prohibitions to include not just actions but even the thoughts in our heart.
On page 45 we read: “There are other facets of Paul’s views on sexuality that have long been under discussion in Christian communities.” Reference is then made to Paul’s writings in 1 Corinthians 6 where he states:
“Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers, nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders, not thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the Kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
A shorter listing is referenced in Chapter 5 of I Corinthians, including incest.
The author appears to convey to the reader that a statement Paul uses, apart from these specific passages, applies as a “maxim”—a saying that gets at the heart of the matter—“All things are lawful for me, but not all things are beneficial.” It is obvious within the scriptural context, that Paul is not saying it is lawful for him to do the things listed, but not beneficial for him to do so. It is a huge jump to imply that Paul found “all things lawful.” His statement about “all things lawful” but not necessarily beneficial is made within the context of what we eat and drink. Furthermore, Paul concludes chapter six by saying: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.”
In the final paragraph in this section, the author makes the statement, “At times, Paul seems to fall back on his old interpretations. Paul was human and like all of us was a person of his culture and context.” She then proceeds to say Paul is able to “…forge ahead with new understandings as God is revealed to him,” and suggests it may have been the women Paul mentions in his letters who had this positive influence upon him. Are we then to surmise that Paul’s theology was unsound, personal and inaccurate when it does not fit a progressive, theological interpretation? Where is the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and the Apostolic position Paul holds under Christ? Thus again, Brubaker causes the reader to doubt the authority of scripture, in this case Paul’s writing. This opens the door for her to invite a new interpretation, which contradicts the original clear meaning.
Influences in Paul’s Teaching
The author begins this section with the statement, “Paul was not the first person in history whose writings may appear inconsistent to some of us.” The first half is spent recounting the plight of women who have entered ministry—finding it difficult to gain full acceptance partly because of some of the biblical writings of Paul and others regarding the “position” of women within the family and cultural setting. Rather than appealing to the opportunity for women to proclaim the saving grace of Jesus Christ for all, she appeals to the new role of “strong, talented, creative” women to partner with men, “…in working to make God’s vision of justice, peace, and equality a more present reality.” Sadly this has in large part been the case, taking away from those women called into ministry to “preach the Word” without finding it necessary to attack and modify its’ inspired content.
In the second half of this section, the author both accepts and rejects Paul’s teaching, according to her interpretation of those teachings. She refers to Paul’s teaching on the “flesh” and the “spirit” as dualistic like that of many religions of the day. Yet, she fails to see that Paul separates the acts of the flesh from the acts of the Spirit, claiming that they are contrary to one another. By flesh, the author rightly says that Paul includes under the term “flesh,” both sexual and other sins of the mind and body. At the same time, she mentions 1 Corinthians 6:15a and Romans 8, but not I Corinthians 6:9-11 or Romans 1:20-27 which categorizes numerous sexual sins along with other sins of the flesh. The writer concludes that, “…for Paul, life in Christ was the harmony of the body and the spirit. Life in the flesh was made whole by the Spirit, and the Spirit was God’s presence in every aspect (italics mine) of the life of the one who was in Christ.” This is true as long as the flesh is subject to the Spirit and not the Spirit to the flesh…for Paul says, “They are contrary one to the other.”
Deutero-Pauline and Other Writings in the New Testament
This is a “loaded” section, with many claims and interpretations that do not hold to historic, Biblical teachings or the doctrines of the Christian church over the centuries. The opening statement stirs the controversy so evident in this study book.
“It has become clear to many biblical scholars that some of the letters attributed to Paul were letters that bore his name, but were crafted by those who knew and honored Paul’s work. A term for such work…is ‘Deutero.’”
Then Brubaker proceeds to identify at least six of the books bearing Paul’s claim to authorship as likely written by another. This is liberal, progressive, revisionist scholarship—not authentic Biblical scholarship. If these books bear false witness as to the author, then can they be reliable, or “given by inspiration of God” as scripture self-claims? Paul’s authorship is questioned even in the writing of 1 and 2 Timothy. Paul claims a unique relationship to Timothy as his “true son in the faith” and then warns Timothy against false teachers who, “promote controversies rather than God’s work.” Is this not what we find in this UMWN study?
Just as several radical statements were dropped into the text earlier, we find another on page 50. It is set apart below in bold print.
“Before we go further in our exploration of the New Testament and sexuality, a word of caution may be in order. L. William Countryman puts it this way, ‘This brings me to the other and greater barrier which modern readers must overcome in accepting the New Testament witness on the subject of purity—our own traditional preconceptions. Sex is not a primary concept in the New Testament writings nor is physical purity an accepted principle there. To those who read the New Testament in the light of modern Western Christianity this will always be difficult to comprehend or accept, for a long history of pietism, both Protestant and Catholic, has made physical purity a major principle and sex a primary concern among us.’ This puts a discussion of the Bible and sexuality in a wider context with the growing church at the center. It is in this light that we examine the latter letters and writings of the New Testament.”
In the above quotation, Countryman is simply wrong to say that the New Testament has little to say about sex. In fact, the Gospels and much of other New Testament writings have much to say about purity and sexual morality. The long history of pietism is based on this clear teaching. Holiness was an integral component of John Wesley’s writing. Thus the reader and the church should reject and not embrace Countryman’s call to reexamine the writings of the New Testament.
Our author next claims that the Epistles of 1, 2 and 3 John, “…reframe family altogether as those who are living in the love of Christ.” While claiming that the New Testament says little about sexual matters, in this case, the author reads sexual matters into a text that is not about sex at all. In regard to 1 John 3:18, “Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but with truth and action.” Brubaker states, “The author (John) addresses the church members as children who are righteous and cannot sin if they are filled with the love of Jesus Christ.” The sexual aspect is added in when the author says, “One could do well to build a sexual ethic based on 1 John 4.” One could truly do well to build a sexual ethic based on the comprehensive teaching of Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation.
The latter part of this section skims through various New Testament books, all the way to Revelation, looking at each through the lens of progressive, revisionist, womanist theology. Dating is questioned, authorship is questioned, interpretation is questioned. Statements in these Biblical books regarding sexual practice or male/female relationships are critically examined and discounted. To the author’s credit, a statement at the top of page 53 is a reasonable one, and one that most Christians and orthodox biblical scholars would agree with. “It is essential, perhaps especially when we disagree with certain ideas in some passages of Scripture, that we try to understand the context in which they were written and the point of view of the writer.” A step beyond this statement would be to say how important it is to look at the intent behind some statements about hierarchy, submission, sublimation of passion, silence for women—and to consider what consistent Biblical value might be inherent in these teachings. By removing some cultural baggage from them, we might find kernels of truth for our present circumstances.
In examining sexual imagery, the author concludes, “Revelation is not about sexuality per se; sexual imagery is used to get at John’s meaning. There are those who would interpret that imagery in ways that harm the image of the whole person, created by God as both flesh and spirit, held together by the love of Jesus Christ.” Here is a theological concept that was earlier reflected in the review of 1 John, an understanding that there is no sin in flesh or spirit if we are in the love of Christ. Yet in 1 John 2:15-17 we are reminded that love is grounded in obedience: “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.”
This section concludes with another astonishing quote from L. William Countryman who wrote,
“…modern Christians find it hard to believe that the New Testament writers were, in fact, ethically indifferent to what we would call ‘dirty’ behavior and that they adopted this stance of indifference in response to the demands of the gospel itself. If the gospel is indeed ‘God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes’ (Romans 1:16), then it must welcome the leper, the menstruant, the uncircumcised Gentile, indeed all the unclean without exception.”
Again, we are offered a gross misrepresentation of the gospel! The proclamation of the gospel is indeed for all—welcoming them to come to repentance, to acceptance of the sacrificial death of Jesus for their sins and to a transformed life, just as Peter proclaimed at Pentecost, and Paul reiterated in I Corinthians 6 after listing various sinful practices, “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ by the Spirit of our God.”
We must also disagree with our author’s claim that many of the New Testament teachings led later to theology that denigrated the sexual aspects of humanity. The New Testament places great regard upon human sexuality within the context of marriage and within the boundaries God established for humankind. It speaks clearly of God’s purpose in Jesus to redeem us from all manner of sin and selfish rebellion—both sexual and otherwise. Additionally, we should not forget that the New Testament makes clear God intended a deep commitment between man and woman that was exclusive to themselves, pure and holy. Because the natural fruit of such a relationship is the birth of children. Fornication and adultery were not permitted. There is no question that the young benefit and are more likely to thrive when raised in a home with both a father and a mother. He sent His only begotten Son to no less than this ideal.
Chapter 4: The Church Interprets the Bible (Chapter analysis by Dennis Short)
“The process of canonization of the New Testament was a long one that continued into the fourth and fifth centuries” is the opening statement of this chapter. In major respects that statement is not true. The major part of the New Testament was accepted, with only minor and occasional disputes, by the end of the first and second centuries. The vast number of the books of the New Testament were agreed upon by usage, authorship and references by the Apostolic Fathers. The church leaders did not “decide” which books to include, but by common acceptance of their value and authority and inspiration they were accorded what later came to be called part of the “canon.”
It is important to note that the church grew not because of the allure of the church to “marginalized” or “disrespected” persons, but because they believed the good news and were born again by the work of the Holy Spirit through faith in Jesus Christ. The disparate backgrounds of various believers was transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit. Many of the belief systems that plagued the early church were not because adherents of the Christian faith brought them with them in the beginning. Many of them grew out of the ever-changing mix of belief systems that grew up during the time of the church’s growth.
Gnosticism was one of those. Gnosticism was not a “Christian” stream of thought and never has been. It is better interpreted as one of those competing heresies that Christians as early as John the Apostle battled even from the beginning. Gnosticism, unfortunately, grew alongside Christianity and competed with it as a complete system and attempted to subvert true Christian doctrine and teaching as to the nature of absolute reality and the working out of salvation according to the Scriptures.
To refer to Marcion as a theologian is to accord him a respect that most do not give him. “Heretic” would be a more accurate description as the word means “one who causes divisions or factions” among the body of believers. Derived meaning is “one who strays from orthodox teaching.” A more accurate statement than that made in the text is “Gnosticism produced writings that were thought of as Scripture by “Gnostics.” There is a continued attempt to mainline the spurious “Gnostic Scriptures” by many revisionists who seem to expect to personally profit in some personal moral or financial way from promoting the idea that the “canon” was open until the fifth century. Such is not the case. The traditional way of referring to these writings was “pseudipigrapha” or “false writings.” Many of these attributed their authorship to one of the Apostles or other well-known church leaders when such was clearly not the case. Many of them were composed in the 300 A.D. to 500 A.D. timeframe that the author of the text mentions. They did not carry with them “divine authority” and the leaders of that time knew it.
The author rightly attributes authority to those who were closest to Jesus and the Apostles. Such is the case in many human (and divine) endeavors whether political, military or economic. The author states “Despite the unity of authority in Scripture and church leadership, varieties of interpretation of truth persisted.” It would be more accurate and truthful to say “heresies and unscriptural teachings persisted in spite of faithful teaching by church leaders.” The author mentions the “gradual denigration of women” and “the openness that had existed earlier.” Neither was the case! The scriptures are linear in their teaching about the roles of men and women in the church and in society. Difficulties in applying these teachings in various cultural settings have always been present and should bring no great surprise or outrage in our current setting.
Elaine Pagels has done much to popularize the gnostic writings without presenting a balanced and truly scholarly approach to the historical questions they present. There are many much more credible sources that offer reliable scholarship regarding these topics. No recent “discoveries” have really “reopened fundamental questions concerning scripture.” Later comments about the “female aspects to the divine presence” point to the Davinci Code and the perversion of sexuality that belief system presents. Other allusions to such writings are equally flawed. These are spurious writings with internally obvious deficiencies apparent to a person who is conversant with truly “inspired” Scriptures.
Augustine of Hippo
A tour through Christian History is usually thought of as being concerned with Systematic Theology, Salvation, Pneumatology (work of the Holy Spirit) and maybe Eschatology (end things or times) as being questions addressed by individuals in previous times in the church. This section is really a “Sex Tour Through Church History” which emphasizes minor topics (to most people) but of paramount interest to the “gay” church historian, Diarmaid MacCulloch, who (fortunately) abstained from receiving ordination because he realized his lifestyle was objectionable to most in the Christian community. A few points will highlight the problems with this section.
*Augustine never condemned the sexual act by itself – he offered reflections on some implications.
*There was no “general early Christian prudishness about sexuality” – topics were addressed in an open and frank manner.
*Augustine did not “set in motion beliefs that have continued to equate sex with sin and shame concerning our bodies and our God-created sexuality.” Augustine rather equates the grace of the sacrament of Christian marriage as a remedy for concupiscence (lust).
*As regards Thomas Aquinas – what viewpoint do you expect from a medieval priest who has pledged himself to a celibate life? That marriage is preferable?
*Confirming or agreeing with scriptural statements regarding sex or sexuality is not “negative” unless the author disagrees with the basic premises and statements of Scripture.
*The author is guilty of already determining what the outcome of the study should be when she writes
“However, in the area of biblical insight into human sexuality, it is difficult to see much change in the understanding of sexuality as a God-given gift, emphasized in the Genesis creation stories, a source of joy (which only describes a man-woman relationship), only becoming harmful through willful action to possess, oppress, or hurt another human person. Is every carnal act a sin?” Such concepts were not even remotely addressed in the creation stories!
Arminius and Reformation Theology
The theology of Jacobus Arminius is set over against that of theologian, John Calvin. While Calvin emphasized unconditional election and irresistible grace, Arminius advocated for free-will, salvation available to all and resistible grace. John Wesley was a proponent of free-will. The author speaks of “prevenient grace,” which means the “grace that goes before.” The grace is characterized by the drawing of hearts to God by the Holy Spirit, before they accept Christ as Savior. Contrary to the author’s assumption, “prevenient grace” has nothing to do with the doctrine that denies innate human sin due to the fall. That is called pelagianism, a doctrine from the theologian Pelagius, and considered by the Church as heresy. Wesley believed in what is called “original sin” as a result of the Fall.
Contemporary Interpretations of Scripture
The final section of the chapter, continues to be a problem for the student of scripture and history. There seems to be a current of thought that says since there have been some deficient historical teachings about race, now we can call into question every church and clear scriptural teaching regarding sexual activity. Such an attitude can do just as much harm as the previous misinterpretation! There is no connection between race and a valid examination of Biblical teachings regarding sexual activity. The promotion of “liberation theology” as a valid way to interpret Scripture has and will continue to be problematic, especially in view of the assertion by members of the KGB that they developed it to aid in the destabilization of Latin America. Our salvation is not found by “standing in solidarity with the poor,” but rather in trusting the atoning work of Jesus Christ for our sin. Liberation Theology was rejected by the Catholic Church and should be by all Christians.
The statement is made that “traditional biblical teachings also arise from interpretation.” The author needs to keep in mind that it is necessary to maintain the distinction between teachings about sexuality and clear scriptural statements regarding the proper expression of human sexuality. Confusing this fact, or pretending to do so, will cause great harm to questioning individuals. The author concludes by pointing out the tremendous changes in culture, politics, technology and philosophy that the church has experienced. It is important to remember that the culture does not tell the church how to interpret the scriptures, the scriptures tell the church how to interpret the culture and how to impact it by Godly living through faith in Jesus Christ.
Chapter 5: Take Authority
This chapter deals with discerning the meaning of Scripture. The author rightly speaks of the need for every believer to study the Bible and discern the application of its teachings to our daily lives. Even so, there are principles that apply to interpreting Scripture. These include: the inherent authority of the Word of God as its own witness (Hebrews 4:12, 2 Timothy 3:16, 1 Peter 1:20); the role of the Holy Spirit in understanding Scripture (John 14:16a, John 14:26, John 16:7-15, 1 Corinthians 2:10-13); the transformation of the believer which enables biblical understanding, (John 7:37-39; John 14:16b; 1 Corinthians 2:14-16); the guidance of leaders (apostles, pastors, deacons, teachers) and the tested witness of the Church through the ages (Acts 2:42; 1 Corinthians 12:28-30; 1 Timothy 3:1-15). Add to this the church fathers, the church councils and the body of beliefs that comprise the historic doctrines of the Christian faith since the Church’s inception.
As in all other chapters, the author takes issue with long-held Christian understandings on human sexuality. At the bottom of page 78, and top of page 79, the author states: “Different interpretations of the Bible over the years have both affirmed sexuality as a part of God’s gracious creation and regarded sexuality as the very nature of original sin.” She may be referencing some Catholic doctrine in this statement, but regarding sexuality as the very nature of original sin is not a Protestant doctrine. Original sin was rooted in disobedience, not in sexuality.
The reader is introduced to what has been called “The Wesleyan Quadrilateral”—Scripture, tradition, reason and experience. Actually this four-point way of interpreting Scripture is not a formula of John Wesley’s, but one extracted from the teachings of Wesley by Albert Outler, a well-recognized United Methodist scholar. While these four tools can be helpful as we study Scripture, we need to remember that John Wesley claimed to be, “a man of one book.” And anyone who reads Wesley’s sermons will find them to be held together by scripture passages, quoted one after another.
Our author does quote from The Book of Discipline regarding the significance of the Bible as “…both a source of our faith and as the basic criterion by which the truth and fidelity of any interpretation of faith is measured.” An excellent statement.
While seeming to acknowledge the statement from the Discipline, the text goes on to say that “These statements indicate that there are many ways to approach the Scriptures…” The author tells the reader to allow the authors of the Bible to, “be as human as we are.” She indicated that, “We draw our interpretation upon the long tradition of those who were inspired by the Holy Spirit and who wrote what they believed to be the truth.” (Italics mine.)
The author goes on to make application of the components of the quadrilateral in ways that take license with that formula for understanding Scripture. She writes:
We are at the same time encouraged to bring reason to the task. Humanity continues to explore and to learn. Science continues to discover new truth about creation and the universe. Reason aids us in new understandings of ourselves, including our sexuality. Experience shapes us as it has shaped our forebears in new ways. All of these affect our own experience of the Holy Spirit speaking to us and through us, sometimes with a new voice in our contemporary world.
Her last statement seems to indicate that she embraces the notion that the Holy Spirit can lead us to reinterpret scripture to accommodate the culturally accepted behavior of our time – most notably sex outside of marriage including homosexual practice. In this view, the work of the Holy Spirit is revealing new truth, which may contradict truth in the original scriptures. This view rejects Jesus’ own words that the Holy Spirit will “teach us all things, and bring to your remembrance all things” which Jesus has said and taught. (John 14:26).
Most of Christendom differs with this understanding of “new truth” and a “new voice.” The teachings of the Word of God have stood the test of centuries and we still find it to be “…the power of God unto salvation”; and we yet find, as stated in The Book of Discipline, and quoted by our author, “Thus, the Bible serves both as a source of our faith and as the basic criterion by which the truth and fidelity of any interpretation of faith is measured.”
Our author mentions the value of the spiritual lives of individuals and communities of Christians over the years in shaping our understanding of Scripture. There is significance in knowing the history, style of writing and authorship as we expand our knowledge of the Biblical text. However, it is equally important to know the source of those study helps. Are they orthodox, conservative, evangelical, liberal, progressive, womanist, feminist or liberationist? This will determine the viewpoint under which you are studying. The theology of the writers must be examined in order to know the outcome that is determined.
The final three pages of this chapter swings back to the same conversation this book revisits over and over…a new ethic for a new day. The determination to alter biblical teaching regarding human sexuality and practices is obviously the intent of this study. Here are quotes from several sources that show this to be so. From the bottom of page 84:
With these tools of interpretation and the desire to grow in understanding of what God is saying to us in the twenty-first century, we need to examine the issues of human sexuality using the Bible as a primary guide in seeking insight for ourselves and for our witness in the world. Given the differing views of sexuality among the many writers and interpreters of Scripture over the centuries, it is difficult to write a rule book for sexual conduct that takes into account that historical diversity and also speaks to the reality most of us experience today.
For followers of Jesus Christ who accept the teaching of Scripture as authoritative for faith and practice, no new sexual ethic is needed. The Scripture informs our experience, not the other way around.
From the top of page 85, quoting Maxine Beach from The Bible: The Book that Bridges the Millennia: Part 2: Interpretation & Authority:
In spite of the long history of diverse interpretations of Holy Scriptures, Christians agree that the Bible was inspired by God. But what does ‘inspired’ mean? The word comes from the Latin for ‘breathe,’ the root of the word ‘spirit,’ and literally means ‘breathed into.’ If we agree the Bible is divinely inspired, does that mean that God dictated every word? Breathed it into the minds and hearts of the writers? Gave it to them in visions? Might it mean that each writer interpreted God based on the inspiration of an experience of the divine? Do we understand that angry, vengeful, or sexist passages are also divinely inspired? Can something divinely inspired be less than perfect? Is Scripture ‘holy’ because it is perfect, or because it contains the faith and practices necessary for salvation?
Ms. Beach both affirms and denies the inspiration of Scripture in her rambling questions. Her suggestions almost ridicule the process used by God (whatever the means) to transmit the Word of God to His people. If we believe the Scriptures are “God-breathed,” and authoritative for faith and practice, then can we not accept the teachings of the Bible and cease looking for ways to falsify or change what God has said?
At the bottom of page 85, Brubaker makes very clear her purpose in calling for the development of a “new sexual ethic.” She quotes from the work of Barbara Lee, a Lutheran who speaks and writes concerning attitudes toward human sexuality in contemporary culture
To relate to each other as whole human beings, we need to develop and live by a Sexual Ethic that celebrates sex while treating it with moral integrity. An ethic that begins by recognizing that people of all sexual orientations and gender identities, or all marital status and of all physical capacities (italics mine), have the right to experience sex as a healthy and life giving part of their existence.
There is nothing ethical or moral in this statement. It totally ignores scripture passages where God states what is immoral and unethical. Lee’s remarks quoted here by Brubaker would have us totally dismiss clear biblical teaching about human sexuality.
Page 86 infers that asking “What would Jesus do?” might bring us to a clearer and differing understanding than that which has been embraced by Christendom since the formation of the early church. Drawing Jesus Christ into the equation at this point somehow suggests that the One who died for the sins of the world would have a view of human sexuality and sexual practices that differ from that which is modeled in creation, defined in Scripture and witnessed by the Spirit of God. In the next chapter our author indicates we will be “seeking to form a sexual ethic for our time.”
Chapter 6: Developing a Sexual Ethic for Our Time
This chapter begins in the same spirit of earlier ones with the declaration, “We are aware of conflicting views….” The first segment of the chapter repeatedly asserts that we need to find, “…a sexual ethic for our time.” Why are we in conflict? Why do we need a “new” sexual ethic for our time? Because of rejection of God’s moral and ethical standard and His clearly revealed plan regarding human sexuality?
The author speaks of people who are “marginalized because of their sexual orientation.” All have equal rights under the law. And, religious freedom allows the Church to maintain its Biblical positions on sexual conduct within the body of believers…applied to such practices as adultery, fornication, homosexuality or other related areas. The author asks, regarding sexual orientation, “What does the Bible say to help us navigate these issues of modern-day sexuality?” We would respond that there is no “olden day” or “modern day” sexuality—only human sexuality as created by God and ordered by His Word.
Gender Issues in the Bible and Contemporary Times
The focus in this section is on the roles and relationships between men and women. The author presents her egalitarian perspective, with no distinction in roles, as the superior position. She infers that the Biblical, traditionally held perspective is outdated with comments like, “Some continue to believe that a husband is head of the household.” And, with seeming incredulity, “I attended a wedding where the bride promised to obey her husband in this manner.”
A note from The Woman’s Study Bible (written by women for women), gives insight into egalitarianism:
The dictionary defines an egalitarian as one who believes in the equality of all people. However, in contemporary society many insist that “equality” means that no distinction in roles can exist. The Bible presents equality and role distinction as different but compatible aspects of human existence. There is a difference in who a person is and what a person does…. Each individual stands before God created in His image, yet, at the same time, a sinner in need of salvation (Gen. 1:27; Rom. 3:23). Therefore each person has at the same time both an infinite equality of worth before God and in the midst of others and a total equality of need for Jesus Christ as Savior. Yet, out of the same “lump of clay” called humanity, the Creator has chosen to make vessels of various kinds and for various purposes according to His will (Is. 29:16). Therefore, in contrast to the world’s view, biblical egalitarians should not only recognize the equality of all people but also recognize God’s right to assign to those people different functions and roles (Ezek. 33:17).
This is applicable to men and women.
The author fails to give a clear understanding of the more traditional view which holds to the equality of men and women, both created in the image and likeness of God, yet bearing God’s image in different ways. The excerpt below from The Woman’s Study Bible sheds insight on the traditional, biblical, Christian understanding of the term complementarity—equal but different:
Male and female were created as equal and complementary expressions of the image of God. Both bear His image fully, though in different ways. Their different roles in relationship to each other provide a picture of who God is and how He relates to His people.
Christ Jesus is equal with God the Father, yet submissive and responsive to Him (Phi. 2:6-8). God the Father loves the Son and exalts Him. The pattern is repeated in the relationship between Christ and the Church. Christ provides loving, servant leadership; the church responds with respect and submission as Christ’s “Bride” (Eph. 5:22-33). Another counterpart to the picture is the relationship between church leaders and local bodies of believers (Heb. 13:7, 17).
Sin has distorted the relationship between man and woman at every level, but believers are called to relate according to the Creator’s plan instituted in the Garden of Eden before sin entered the world (Gen. 2-15-25).
While much more could be said on the topic of the relationship and roles of men and women, hopefully the information provided helps the reader see the validity of the traditional, Biblical understanding of men and women and how they are instructed in Scripture to relate to one another. There is no demeaning of women, or men, in this model, and, as Paul indicated, there is a holy mystery within it that we may not always understand—or even want to embrace—yet, it creates a remarkable, undeniable bond.
Body Image and Health
Regardless of your theological viewpoint (conservative/liberal, traditionalist/progressive) all would likely agree that Psalm 139:13-14, opening this section, is appreciated by all, “For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.” All would probably concur that our bodies are a gift from God who created us and called us good.
Even so, we would differ with the author’s point of view that there are no distinctions, other than obvious physical characteristics, between male and female. And we would disagree with her perspective that certain characteristics, endemic to the two sexes, should not be taught to children. The author identifies them as stereotypes, while others see them an innate, God-given traits.
There is mention of the secular, worldly standards by which men and women are judged. Yet, while the church may fall prey to these portrayals, they do not represent a Christian worldview and should be rejected.
The author states, “Both ends of the female continuum suggest a sense of sexual shame.” She claims the virgin may be ashamed of her sexual desires while the loose woman may have a sense of shame in regard to her sexual behavior. The difference between shame and guilt is identified, “Guilt is the conscience telling us that we have done something wrong.” While it is said, “With shame, actions are not the whole story. Our very beings are at fault.”
This all seems to be circular reasoning and quite invalid. In truth, if we commit sinful actions, we are guilty and should experience a sense of shame—unless we are beyond feeling shame or guilt. Guilt produces a sense of shame because our sin is against God. Repentance and forgiveness remove our sense of guilt and takes away our shame.
In the final paragraph, a statement from one of the Social Principles is referenced. “We therefore urge that every effort be made to eliminate sex-role stereotypes in activity and portrayal of family life and in all aspects of voluntary and compensatory participation in the church and society.” The Social Principles are not binding upon United Methodists, and often express diverse viewpoints. It is improbable that most United Methodists would support this social principle.
Relationships and Intimacy
The center point of this section rests in the statement: “Christian faith is about loving relationships with those near to us, with all persons and all of creation.” I found that many statements in this section required an addendum to give the authenticity and truth needed. I will put these additions or modifications in italics for easy identification. For the statement above, a biblically balanced statement would read: Christian faith is about forgiveness of sin and transformation that puts us in right relationship with God, humankind and all creation.
Another statement reads: “We may have differing interpretations of some of the things Jesus said, but the New Testament seems very clear that Jesus put relationships first.” Jesus gives clarity as to what those relationships would entail in John 15 when He said, “As the father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. …My command is this; Love each other as I have loved you”
Although it seems unrelated to sexuality, the text speaks of the need to “…become as humble as little children who know nothing more than to be true to themselves (Matthew 18:1-5). This teaching encourages us to accept the good gift of our sexuality.” To which we need to add, “as defined in God’s Word.”
Our author writes: “Righteousness has to do with the quality of our relationships—the identity we carry with us into relationship and the new identity that becomes ours in relationship.” To which we respond: “Righteousness is imputed by God to those who are in Christ and who love Him and keep His commandments. ‘If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!’ 2 Corinthians 5:17”
Covenant is lifted up as another way to speak of relationships. “The notion of relationship as grounded in covenant and commitment has come to be a part of a Christian understanding of sexuality and the intimacy shared by two persons, families, and communities.” And to the “two persons” we add, “a man and a woman.” The author references the statement on marriage in the Social Principles and acknowledges that it states that marriage is between a man and a woman. With that said, we move to the next section.
Changing Views of Marriage
Four and a half pages are devoted to this segment, which is a major section of the book advocating for changing the Biblical understanding of marriage, pre-marital sex and homosexual practice.
Our author begins by citing that the weight of sexual purity falls more upon the woman than upon the man. God’s righteous requirements regarding sex apply equally to both sexes. It is the sinful, fallen nature that equates more responsibility to the woman. The man’s abdication of responsibility makes him less than God’s intention for him. It places the woman in the place of having power to say “yes” or “no.” It is the Christian woman’s commitment to sexual purity that calls the man back to his God-given responsibility to a wife and children.
A couple of paragraphs on page 95 merit italics to emphasize their development of a new social ethic on human sexuality.
In the 1960s and 1970s, times changed. Gender and racial equality brought about new opportunities for women and minorities. At the same time what some called the ‘sexual revolution’ changed sexual expectations. More people seemed to opt for living together before marriage. Many people of faith who continued to seek guidance from the Scriptures began to ask new questions. …Marriage for many women and men became more of an equal partnership, each sharing their gifts for building up the other.
The concept of partnership and mutual respect was a concept among Christian couples despite the sexual revolution of which they chose not to be a part. The confused thinking about sexual practices that permeated the rebellious culture as a whole, did not devastate the faithful Christian community. Our author writes:
At present, there are many couples that make the decision to become intimate before marriage. People are waiting longer to marry, and some deny the need for marriage at all. What will determine a sexual ethic or covenant for such couples? How can the church minister to them? At the same time faithful same-sex couples seek the blessing of marriage for their covenant. How do we in the church respond to their desire to affirm their covenant?
The answer is what the majority of people within the United Methodist Church have given for the past 40 years. We affirm that all persons are of sacred worth, but that homosexual practice is incompatible with Christian teaching. We maintain that marriage is between one man and one woman. We call our youth to sexual purity until marriage. We cannot affirm what God does not affirm. We are not judgmental, but we make right judgments. To do otherwise would be to harm not bless God’s people.
An appeal is made again to the actions of Jesus in various occasions where He encountered sinful behavior. He never condoned the sin, but moved to deliver people from their sins—often telling them to “go and sin no more.” Robert Gagnon, in his book The Bible and Homosexual Practice, writes,
Jesus did not overturn any prohibitions against immoral sexual behavior in Leviticus or anywhere else in the Mosaic law. He did not regard sexual ethics as having diminished importance in relation to other demands of the kingdom. …Clearly, he did not adopt more liberal positions on other matters of sexual ethics such as divorce and adultery. Instead, he was more demanding than the Torah, not less. …The portrayal of a Jesus as a first-century Palestinian Jew who was open to homosexual practice is simply ahistorical. All the evidence leads in the opposite direction.
There is an appeal to baptism as being a sealed deal for those living in sexual sin. We are not saved by baptism, but by the blood of Jesus Christ that “cleanses us from all sin.” Baptism is a sign of that covenant relationship in Christ.
Next, the author quotes revisionist theologians Walter Wink and Daniel Helminiak who attempts to discredit and reinterpret Old and New Testament passages that clearly prohibit homosexual acts.
Their arguments are farfetched and hollow and fly in the face of the clear biblical prohibitions against same sex acts. This section ends with the sentence, “Helminiak’s ultimate conclusion is that the Bible does not prioritize a view of same-sex relationships as negative per se.”
In answer to these two revisionist theologians, let us consider a few conclusions drawn from the Scriptures by Dr.Robert Gagnon, who offers a comprehensive analysis of the biblical texts relating to homosexuality in The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics. Contrary to Helminiak’s conclusion that “the Bible does not prioritize a view of same-sex relationships as negative per se,” Gagnon points out that in the Leviticus 18 and 20 listings of condemned sexual practices, only the act of sexual intercourse between males is designated as “an abomination.” Gagnon writes:
Homosexual conduct was not merely prohibited but also regarded as a supreme offense, a penalty consistent with its description as an ‘abomination.’” Leviticus 18 states that this, along with other forbidden sexual practices, if not dealt with, “…would result in the expulsion of the whole community from the land of Canaan, just as the previous inhabitants had been expelled for such practices.
Gagnon rightly concludes:
“Christians do not have the option of simply dismissing an injunction because it belongs to the Holiness Code (a designation for the O.T. prohibitions against things deemed harmful). The same God who gave the laws of the Mosaic dispensation continues to regulate conduct through the Spirit in believers. …Paul himself, the very apostle who proclaimed salvation in Christ ‘apart from the law,’ clearly believed that there was considerable continuity in the divine will across the two covenants in matters of sexual ethics.”
The commands of God, and not the consensus of the surrounding culture, must shape the behavior of God’s people. The relation of church/synagogue to culture is at least in part, supposed to be reforming rather than conforming. …The position adopted by Paul in the New Testament is not an aberration but is consistent with the heritage present in his Scriptures. The two covenants are in agreement.
On page 89 of the textbook, the section on “Body Image and Health” began with quotations from Psalm 139. As we look at the topic of reproductive health, it would serve us well to quote more extensively from this Psalm.
For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. Psalm 139:11-16
As in previous sections, the author jumps from one assumption to another—some are viable options—others are not. There is a sense of being snatched back and forth between truth and error. By all means, both husbands and wives have a say in family planning, and family planning is an important component in the well-being of children. Studies have shown that the best environment for raising children is the two-parent home. Yet there are times when single parents are either left to raise children alone or opt to do so. This is a viable, and often necessary, option. God, one’s friends and certainly a Christian community can come alongside a single parent and help make their task easier and more effective. Most Christians (and non-Christians) would concur that raising a child in a two-parent home headed by a father and a mother is the best option. Studies regarding the psychological, spiritual and emotional well-being of children support this viewpoint.
The author speaks of contraception, primarily from a Catholic viewpoint, but concludes that family planning is by-in-large a choice belonging to individuals and couples. A Social Principles statement is drawn upon to advocate for “access to comprehensive reproductive health/family planning information.” It is important to understand that “comprehensive” means including the option to obtain an abortion.
The claim is made that “United Methodist Women and other church entities have addressed the issue of reproductive health for many years.” Sadly, the advocacy of the UMWN (formerly Women’s Division) in this area has been entirely Pro-Choice, never Pro-Life. The WD helped to form the RCAR (Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights), later renamed RCRC (Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice). This agency advocates for abortion rights into the 9th month of pregnancy, for non-parental notification for abortions for minors and for the distribution of contraceptives to children and teens without parental consent or notification. After years of effort, the United Methodist Church voted at General Conference 2016 for all boards and agencies to disassociate from RCRC. The UMWN did so with great reluctance and a letter of apology to RCRC.
While our author continues through a few additional paragraphs with the struggle to address the pro-life, pro-choice issue, would it not be best, in light of Psalm 139 and similar passages, and given the value Jesus placed upon children, to err on the side of Life?
Rape and Abuse
In this section, the author identifies various sexually-related concerns we have in today’s culture, just as were present in past cultures. Rape and child molestation in various settings is reprehensible, destroying the lives of children, youth, women and men. Sex-trafficking is spiraling, as is sexual exploitation of children, women, boys and men through pornography, prostitution and other deviate practices. The Church has not had the impact upon the culture it should have. Nor will we if we continue to wrestle with human sexuality issues as if God’s Word has not provided us with clear answers for ourselves and our culture.
Right down to the end, this study book continues to advocate for a new sexual ethic for our time. It refuses to accept the clear Biblical plan for human sexuality and the family. It seeks to construct something better than what God created, and what is upheld in Scripture from Genesis to Revelation.
The answer to the sexual ills of our society will not be found in the Church’s accommodation of the sexual revolution, but in the Church’s proclamation of the Gospel. The scripture passage referenced in the “Closing,” regarding God’s love has encapsulated within it this passage, “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that God loves us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” We must deal with the sin issue—far beyond the social justice issue.
If we believe, as our author states, “…that God has created each of us, loves us unconditionally, and desires that we love others as God in Christ loves us,” will we not hold one another accountable to the truth? Our wholeness and full personhood is not in the sanctioning of sinful practices contrary to the teaching of God’s Word. It is realized through transforming faith in Jesus’ atoning death.
Through the years, I have shed tears over some UMW studies, because of the radical theological content, the secular/progressive worldview and the biased social and political perspectives reflected in materials prepared by UMW National (formerly Women’s Division) for the organization of United Methodist Women.
Reading this study provides a clear witness as to why so many women have abandoned their mother’s and grandmother’s organization. Countless United Methodist Women have called for reform and accountability of UMW National over a 40-year timeframe, to no avail. Consequently, the UMW has been losing members at a rate three times faster than the decline of the United Methodist Church overall in the U.S. How sad that UMW National forges on with its radical theological, political and social agenda with the funds these women trustingly send in for “missions.” Yet, at General Conference 2016, UMW staff and committee members rallied to defeat a petition to, “Encourage United Methodist Women in efforts to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to their local communities.” This petition was defeated, despite the fact that the theological task for the UMC is, “To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” The failure to adopt the petition at General Conference 2016 to make evangelism a part of our mission goal spoke volumes!
I retired from Renew/Good News in 2008. Yet, I am drawn in once again to address the egregious nature of this book, The Bible and Human Sexuality, because of its bold, audacious attempt to influence United Methodist Women with its revisionist, progressive, radical views on such topics as the authority of Scripture, the virgin birth, abortion, the nuclear family and homosexual practice. It is hitting a most significant part of the church—its’ women—broadside, in an attempt to sink their faith, “once for all delivered to the saints.” It is my hope that God has enabled me to sound an effective alarm.
It was challenging for me to prepare this analysis of The Bible and Human Sexuality. After spending over 30 prime years of my life challenging the radical perspectives of UMWN on political, social and theological issues, I was so done with it. Yet, the impetus that compelled me to get involved in the first place, was the same that compelled me to prepare an analysis of this study—love and appreciation for the women of the United Methodist Church. They deserve better than this attempt to undermine their faith, values and commitment to truth! My prayer is that in some way, this gift of my time to them will enlighten them and provide a resource to help them evaluate the content of this destructive book.
Christian apologist Ravi Zachariah says that Truth is what unifies our diversity. And he concludes, “When the Bible is presented in its beauty and its cogency, it is compelling.” Can I get an “Amen”? –Faye Short