Saturday, April 8, 2017

A Golden Patina: Tribute to my Parents on their 50th Wedding Anniversary.

There are days when the miles between us and the rest of our family seem unbearably far. Today is one of those days. Today, family and friends from all over South Africa will gather to celebrate my parents' Golden Wedding anniversary on their patio that overlooks the lush Emberton Nature Reserve of Durban, South Africa. And my heart longs to be there with them.

Fifty years of steadfast covenant-keeping fueled by their covenant-keeping God, means their marriage has been refined like gold in the crucible. Theirs is not just a faithful marriage, though. It's an intimate marriage. They've cherished each other like you'd cherish a precious piece of antique jewelry. Long after their marriage lost the unblemished shine of newly-wedded bliss, it developed the  golden patina of a priceless antique because they cherished it. This doesn't just happen automatically. A marriage that has a golden patina requires elbow grease. Constant communication, tireless forgiveness, fervent prayer and a bold sense of adventure. And did I mention faithful sex? Yes, that's a thing. 
Patina is what their marriage has developed over fifty years of steadfast cherishing. 

As the Old Bard so aptly put it in his Sonnet

Love is not love 
Which alters when it alteration finds, 
Or bends with the remover to remove. 
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark 
That looks on tempests and is never shaken; 
It is the star to every wandering bark.

Mom and Dad have lived in the same house that Dad built when I was just a year old. That's forty-three years, if I'm not mistaken. Over the years, my inventive Dad has never stopped adding wings and lofts to the now sprawling brick dwelling, which bears my mom's imaginative decor touches. If ever a house was a home, it is the house at 17 Edward Drive. It's no exaggeration that literally hundreds of people have found family, wisdom and solace in that home over the years. I've heard countless people trace their Jesus-story back to some holy moment in Mom and Dad's lounge, as they dunked one of  Mom's home-made rusks into their hand-made coffee mugs. I wonder how many angels they've entertained with their extraordinary gift of hospitality? 

They've served as leaders in the same church for as long as they've lived in their home. The church behind the butcher shop, as it's affectionately called. Long after the butcher shop closed though, Mom and Dad continued to be like Priscilla and Aquila* to that church. If you want to know how to love a church faithfully through thick and thin, ask my folks. If you want to know how to speak truth to power while still remaining submitted to that power, ask my folks. My Dad has admitted that at times he may have been a pebble in the shoe of the numerous pastors at KMC, because he's such a stickler for truth. That may be the case, but I don't know if you could wish for a more supportive couple to have on your team, who fear God, tremble at His Word and love His people tirelessly. I wish they were on the team we lead!  

People are often shocked when they hear that Rynelle and I did our pre-marriage counseling with my parents. "That must have been so embarrassing!" they say. "Especially the session on sex!" they say. It's true. There were some cringe-worthy moments. But honestly, we could not think of a more worthy fixed-mark to look to as we tried to navigate our wandering bark towards faithful covenant. Their marriage has been a more influential model to us than any other. These days we're inclined to value shiny new things above vintage patina, because patina requires great patienceBut Rynelle and I are so grateful for the authentic treasure of Mom and Dad's marriage in our lives, because it reflects the steadfast grace of God for us in such tangible ways, reminding us that patina is not only preferable

It is possible

*a married couple in the book of Acts who had a tent-making business, travelled with and supported the Apostle Paul, and had a church that met in their house.  

Monday, March 27, 2017

What God has Joined: Towards a more Compelling Complementarianism part 2

Last week I posted the first in a 2 part blog here. I suggested that husbands and wives were created to complement eachother in marriage and ministry, which should liberate us because equality of dignity does not come from equality of role. Having written about the liberation that should come from this view, I want to explore the motivation that should come from this view. 

Motivation: Putting the Complementary back into Complementarian

My main concern here is not to try and convert Egalitarians into Complementarians. Kathy Keller does a much better job of that than I could ever hope to do in her book, Jesus, Justice and Gender Roles.  My real concern though,  is to motivate my Complementarian brothers and sisters to put the complementary back into Complementarian ministry. With this in mind, Gavin Ortlund writes a very insightful article entitled 4 Dangers for Complementarians, in which he warns against trying to live this view out faithfully but not beautifully, among other dangers.  

When God created male and female in His image, he envisaged that Adam and Eve would be like two complementary colors creating a more compelling and beautiful image together than apart. When God said that Eve would be Adam’s helper, (Genesis 2:18) the word is ezer, which carries no connotations of weakness or inferiority at all. In fact, God uses the same word to describe how He helps His creation when they cannot help themselves. (Psalm 46:1) The term means complementary strength. The essence of our Complementarian conviction is that Adam needed Eve’s complementary strength in order to fulfill the call to be an image bearer of God in every sphere of life.

When it comes to the family, we know that having an absent mother or father makes the raising of children a very difficult task, and that a husband and wife who parent as a united, yet diverse team, create parenting synergy in the home that is beneficial for children. They’re better together. Yet when it comes to the family of God, we seem to downplay this principle of synergy because of our conviction that men and women play different roles. Many elder’s wives in Complementarian churches seem absent in the name of having distinct roles. It seems to me that when it comes to ministry in the family of God, we Complementarians are more prone to have conversations about what women can’t do than what they can do.

I realize that for many wives, investment in ministry with their husband is expressed in a myriad meaningful, yet invisible ways. Prayer, encouragement, hospitality and keeping the homes fires burning are all vital ways of providing complementary help. It seems that the Apostle Peter's wife was this kind of pastor's wife. We know that she traveled with Peter, which must have been very costly to their family, but we don't hear anything more of her except that Peter saw her as a 'co-heir in the gracious gift of life.' ( 1 Pet 3:7) She might have been invisible but she was certainly invested. 

However, there was another pastor's wife called Priscilla in the early church. Aquila and his wife Priscilla had a church that met in their house. (1 Cor 16:19) They also owned a business together that employed Paul during his tent-making years and were ministry companions with him on his apostolic travels. When Paul left them to care for the church in Corinth, both Priscilla and Aquila brought the young preacher Apollos into their home and taught him the way of God more adequately. (Acts 19) They were a formidable team, but Priscilla was more visible and vocal than Peter's wife. 

A spacious Complementarianism avoids gender stereo-typing, making room for both Peter's wife and Aquila's wife on a team. Some wives are happier playing a supporting role behind the scenes and they should be honored as such. Other wives may have more visible gifts of leadership, administration, speaking, worship leading or prophecy, and they should be celebrated rather than held at arms length in case their gifting makes men feel insecure. We need to avoid a patriarchal view of women that caricatures women as weak and resists their strength as un-submissive.  

The key though, is to find how husbands and wives can complement each other as a team. Again, Lewis speaks of the mutual submission and synergy between him and his wife in vivid terms. "For a good wife contains so many persons in herself. What was Joy not to me? She was my daughter and my mother, my pupil and my teacher, my subject and my sovereign; and always, holding all these in solution, my trusty comrade, friend, shipmate, fellow-soldier. My mistress; but at the same time all that any man friend (and I have good ones) has ever been to me. Perhaps more. If we had never fallen in love we should have none the less been always together, and created a scandal."

Complementary Rhythms

A shift towards greater synergy cannot be done out of obligation. It must be done out of conviction and felt need, because it is costly to all parties involved. However, if there is sufficient motivation, here is how we have pursued it as a team at Southlands. This is by no means prescriptive to any church or eldership team. It is how we function at this point in time with our wives and may be a good place for you to start.

a. Prayer together for the church. Finding a regular opportunity to share and pray for people and situations that are praise-worthy or burdensome is a great place to start for husbands and wives.  Although a wife may not necessarily feel burdened for the church in the same way as her husband, she can empathize and help with the burden in the same way that a husband can empathize with and help his pregnant wife while not carrying the baby himself. Prayer together halves our burdens and doubles our joy, honestly.   

 b. Counseling married couples together. In some ways this is obvious. An elder counseling married couples by himself may be able to offer wisdom but will not be nearly as effective as when he is with his wife. The ability to share their own personal challenges and lessons in their marriage as well as have a wife’s unique perspective will generally serve to untangle difficult marriage situations much more effectively.

c. Providing perspective on major decisions. Our elders meet together every week to discuss and pray for pastoral, operational and visionary matters in the life of the church. Every second week our wives meet together with us. This is costly, especially for those with young families or busy careers, but proves effective in maintaining team chemistry and building a culture of shared ownership within the church. Beyond this it has proved invaluable in hearing our wives perspective, often intuitive and sometimes strategic, as we seek God on significant decisions we face as elders. Our wives have never assumed the role of governing the church, but we are aware that on many occasions they have had wisdom from God that has greatly enhanced our ability to make wise decisions for the sake of the church.

d. Public Mothering moments in a meeting. At times there are moments in a gathering that seem more appropriate for a mother’s voice than a father’s voice, just like some songs are better led by a woman than a man. Giving room for an elder’s wife to speak on marriage and parenting from a women’s point of view, do a call to worship, or to share on an aspect of God’s character like selflessness, faithfulness, or kindness. This may include prayer or prophecy or a word of encouragement that causes the church to feel the wisdom and tenderness of a mother.

 The proof of the pudding is in the eating

We are in the process of adopting a church that comes from an Egalitarian denomination to become a Southlands community. Our Complementarian position was one of their sticking points until they met our elder's wives, saw how strongly invested they were in the church and observed how their voices and ministries were celebrated as an integral part of our leadership team. I was saddened to hear their impression of Complementarian churches was that women were kept as silent servants in the background, rather than empowered to be vital ministers in the life of God's family. At the end of the day, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. A Complementarian view of men and women should give dignity to both men and women and produce synergy as they work together as a team.   

Let's ask God for his help to move us from together alone to better together. 

Saturday, March 25, 2017

What God has Joined: Towards a More Compelling Complementarianism Part 1

Together Alone

While I still have much to learn as a leader, one of the joys of my current role is coaching and caring for other pastors. I schedule monthly calls on Wednesdays to connect with them. Sometimes my wife and I speak to the couples together. Other times husbands and wives will talk separately, but suffice to say that Rynelle is very engaged with this coaching privilege and responsibility. Yesterday, I spoke to four pastors. One was in England, one in Thailand, and two were in the USA. My wife followed up with two of their wives. Skype and face-time are amazing coaching technologies, no matter what your line of work.

Two of the four husbands spoke of their wives hitting the wall physically and emotionally. They were finding the burden of mothering young kids, home making, pastoring women in the church and carrying out practical duties in the church overwhelming. To make matters worse, they felt disconnected from their husbands as they worked side-by-side in isolation. Together Alone. The stats tell a dreadful story. In a recent Barna Group study of pastors and their wives in the USA, 90% of pastors' wives wished their husbands had a different occupation.

When the Pharisees asked Jesus about valid grounds for divorce, he replied, "What God has joined let no man separate."(Matt 19:6) I know the context here is the breaking of the actual marriage covenant. However, Jesus’ teaching on the sanctity of the marriage covenant rests on the Biblical mystery that a husband and wife are 'no longer two, but one flesh.In the first marriage in Eden, Adam and Eve’s one flesh intimacy extended beyond the bedroom into the garden. Eve was a suitable helper, not just as companion, lover and mother, but also as a worker. It was not good for Adam to be alone in the garden, and it is still not good for a man to be alone as he cultivates the field of the church.

PJ Smyth in his book, The World needs more Elders, suggests that "Complementarian theology should liberate us because we do not equate equal value with equal role. However, It should also motivate us towards team because the Bible sees a husband and wife as one flesh." (2017:146) 

So what does it mean for pastors and wives to be both liberated by and motivated toward complementary ministry?

1. Liberation: "Let us wear equality but let us undress at night." 

Many believe the fundamental problem is that wives need equal roles to their husbands in ministry in order to feel equally valued. This is a hotly debated issue for which I feel real empathy. It is tragic that for many centuries, the Church did not let the Scripture lead it away from the general oppression of women conducted by society. The church should have seen that the Bible does not teach the inferiority of women. Equality in terms of dignity, freedom and exercise of gifting are Biblical values. The gospel brought about a democratization of the Spirit to the church. “In the last days will pour our my Spirit on all people. Your sons and your daughters will prophesy.” (Acts 2:17) “In Christ there is neither Greek nor Jew, slave not free, male nor female.” (Gal 3: 28)  I believe every church should be intentional in empowering women to be active ministers in every sphere of the life of the church, save that of an elder. (1 Tim 3) However, when we make equality our highest value, we begin to tamper with God’s created order of government in marriage and ministry and get confused between gifting and government.

C.S. Lewis wrote a collection of essays in 1943 called "Present Concerns', in which he spoke of the need on the one hand to address the historic oppression of women, and yet maintain a Biblical pattern of government in the home and the church on the other. 

 “Husbands have so horribly abused their power over women that to women, of all people, equality is in danger of appearing as an absolute ideal. This whole question is of immense practical importance. Every intrusion of the spirit that says, ‘I’m as good as you’ into our family and spiritual life is to be resisted as jealously as every intrusion of bureaucracy or privilege into our politics. Let us wear equality, but let us undress at night.”  (1943:192)

When we reduce equality of value to mean equality of role, we miss the very mystery of the united diversity that lies at the heart of the Trinity. Unity is less compelling when it is reduced to uniformity, in the same way that two people singing exactly the same melody is less compelling than two people singing different melodies together in harmony.   

Tapping into the Mystery

At it’s best, a Complementarian understanding of marriage and ministry taps into the mystery of the Trinity. Men and Women are created as image bearers of the Godhead; united in their diversity, recognizing authority, yet living in constant mutual honor towards one another. It celebrates the distinct roles of men and women in ministry as necessary and beautiful rather than being demeaning. It evokes a more compelling picture of the Godhead with  complementary colors rather than competing ones.  If the Biblical distinctions between husbands and wives, or elders and elder's wives are viewed as demeaning to women, then surely Jesus’ submission to His Father should demean Him? There is also fluidity in the Trinity. Christ submits to the Father and yet He has been honored with a Name above every name. Husbands and elders lead through sacrifice and through honoring others, not through seeking their own honor. Let’s tap into the beautiful Trinitarian mystery of diverse unity rather than uniformity.

Let us wear equality, but let us undress at night. (to be continued)