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Words of a Fether

Opinions on Faith and Life

Boundaries

Any of us who grew up with siblings know all about that inviolable invisible line separating a shared bedroom into two domains. Touching the “line” was a capital offense and crossing it was an act of war.

We can laugh about that now, but in some respects Christianity never outgrew this childish concept. Many believe that there is in fact a sharply-defined boundary marking the difference between being “in church” and being outside of it. That is, while being a Christian is affirmed to be a life, there are different rules and structures for the “church”, and these differences are etched in stone and anointed with divine oil.

This issue comes up often on the topic of women in Christianity. I have been volunteering for the past five months at a “Christian answers” organization that had given me high marks for my answers, but today I told them that I would no longer volunteer because of their stand against women in ministry. The curt response I received included the justification for them letting women teach men in this venue: it isn’t “church” and the Bible denies women teaching men only in a “church” setting.

But Jesus said that the “church” is meeting even when “two or three” gather in His name (Mt. 18:20); no mention of clergy or officers or rituals or buildings. While all would agree that the Body of Christ is composed of true believers everywhere, there is still this cognitive dissonance over what’s “official” and what isn’t. Even within these alleged church spaces (whether dedicated buildings or even house churches), there are areas of increasing “sacredness” such as building --> sanctuary --> stage --> pulpit, much like the outer court, inner court, and holiest place in the Jewish Temple. I’ve heard of some people taking this to the extreme that a woman standing too close to the “sacred pulpit” while singing would be guilty of “usurping authority”!

This sort of demarcation of domains or sacred zones lacks support from even a superficial reading of the New Testament. It is the hierarchy of the world, the elitism of culture and society, but put Christian terminology on it and somehow it doesn’t violate the kingdom model Jesus gave us (Mt. 20:20-28, Luke 22:24-27). Jesus is the new High Priest (Heb. 7) and we are the new Temple (1 Cor. 3:16, 1 Peter 2:5), such that the old religious models of sacred spaces and furniture and offices no longer apply. So if a woman teaches or preaches scripture in mixed company, she is doing so “in church”.

The argument for “sacred zones” also ignores the fact that by their own definition a Christian marriage/family is outside of that zone. So why do they insist that this authority issue applies there as well? If “church” only exists when there’s a clergyman and congregation, then marriage and family aren’t it. Yet male supremacists routinely mix the two indiscriminately, with their interpretation of Eph. 5 being a prime example. But somehow a woman teaching men at a seminar for Christians doesn’t fall under the “sacred space” rule, because it isn’t a “church service” led by an ordained clergyman.

This is exactly what the Pharisees did with the Mosaic Law. Exactly. And like those Pharisees, today’s male supremacists obsess over the tiniest legalistic details but ignore “the weightier matters” (Mt. 23:23); they stress a few debatable proof-texts but ignore all the passages about the nature of the Body of Christ, as I’ve written many times before. And just as even these male supremacists shake their heads at the blind Pharisees of old, we “mutualists” shake our heads at today’s male supremacists and wonder how they can read scripture’s message of freedom from old laws and religious rules and fail to see how their defense of a chain of command so thoroughly clashes with it.

Jesus came to remove such fleshly boundaries and free us from these legalistic chains. Those who would elevate themselves (or put one who does so between themselves and Christ) know nothing of the kingdom of God, a kingdom whose only boundary is between saved and lost.

Posted 2011-02-11 under assembly, church, legalism, women, religion, hierarchy, egalitarian, male supremacism