Saturday, March 29, 2014

Some Saturday Musical Fun

Alright, after some pretty significant posts, I digress into some fun for Saturday, that ties together some varied themes in my life.

The organ. I grew up in churches with organs. I heard some pretty good organists, too. You probably have to develop a taste for organ music, but I actually did. Part of that was deepened because we had an organ in our home growing up, in addition to our piano. That is because of a second thread...

My Dad. Dad really loves organ music and was himself either an aspiring or frustrated organist, depending on the day. He actually was pretty good when he was playing regularly, but finding time to play and practice regularly was pretty difficult for a lot of years. I dabbled a bit on the organ, and while I only took piano lessons, I actually wound up being an "emergency organist" in one or two services in my early years--and never again! I still enjoy hearing good organ music of various kinds, from classical pipe organ to jazz organ to the grand sound of a theater pipe organ. Speaking of theaters, the third thread of this three strand cord is...

Star Wars. I am a dyed in the wool fan, who saw the originals in theaters, numerous times, and have owned the various media versions as they have emerged. My dad wasn't as much of a fan, but his name is Luke.

So, when a friend highlighted the video below, I had to watch it, and smiled the whole way through. It brought together the joy of hearing a theater pipe, thinking about my Dad, and Star Wars all at once. You can click and enjoy, too!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Riding the World Vision Roller Coaster

I was all set to post something on the issues related to World Vision's move away from its evangelical commitments to allow "legally married" gay Christians to work for the organization, when yesterday they announced that they had made a great mistake, were rescinding their decision, and returning to a position in line with their own doctrinal statement This press report from World Magazine gives the details of that reversal, and this article from Christianity Today cites the Richard Stearns, President of World Vision's U.S. branch, in explaining the reversal.

On Facebook, I had expressed my disappointment at the initial decision, and then my happiness at the reversal. In both cases a few people disagreed, thinking that WV was only doing what was consistent with compassion, and now that they have reversed course, expressing the idea that we would rather see children starve than support any endorsement of gay marriage. Christian response against WV's decision was called "sinister and anti-evangelical" by one commenter.

Just to be clear: when asked, I never told anyone to stop supporting a child, but if they wanted to register their disapproval, to let World Vision know that support in the future for new children would be directed to ministries with a high priority on gospel proclamation, scriptural fidelity, and compassionate ministry to children and families. I stand by that advice.

There are other lessons to be learned in this; here are a few.

1. Bad decisions can be reversed, but consequences likely to endure. World Vision will suffer for their decisions, in many ways. My guess is that there has not yet been a widespread evangelical abandonment of children sponsored, and that most will continue to be cared for. Liberal (or "progressive" as they prefer to be known) voices were immediately raised in support of the initial decision and encouragements to donate followed. With the reversal, I wonder how many progressives will still want to feed the children through World Vision. Evangelical leaders, like Jim Daly from Focus on the Family and Leonard Wood, president of the Assemblies of God, have urged supporters to return to supporting World Vision. However, many evangelicals will be looking for other, more gospel-centered agencies, such as Compassion International. And "progressives" will be up in arms (and rightly so from their perspective) at the reversal. But is this "sinister and anti-evangelical?" How about "effective" and "expressive of evangelical priorities"--the gospel, scriptural fidelity, and compassion for the poor must be held together by all who claim to serve in the name and spirit of Jesus Christ. Let supporters of same sex marriage join in supporting children, just as they could and perhaps did before--no one is rejecting their gifts, only keeping them from serving within an evangelical ministry. Or, if they don't like World Vision's, or Compassion's, or the Salvation Army's, or Catholic Charities' views and hiring policies, let them start new agencies and multiply the effect. Christians I know are already returning to their sponsorships. But WV's own statement on the reversal says the original change was inconsistent with their own doctrinal statement.

2. Evangelicals have every right to expect ministries that they have brought into being to adhere to policies and practices that affirm the clear teaching of Scripture, and to express displeasure when those ministries disregard the Scriptures (and in World Vision's case, their own commitment to scriptural authority) for any reason. "Feeding the children" is not the essential message of the gospel, even though it is a necessary outworking of it in the lives of believers and the church. I'm not really worried that my "gay marriage affirming" friends (yes, I have a few of those) will think that I'd rather see children starve than help an agency that endorses gay marriage. They already think that. I won't ask them how many children they support with World Vision themselves, but I will say that I'm OK with evangelicals, within evangelical circles, having a say about the direction of those ministries they have begun and funded to be gospel-representing, Scripture-believing ministries within their spheres of concern. Evangelicals pressured an organization to remain faithful to its evangelical principles, and the organization responded. Would that more groups (and governments) would be as responsive to their stakeholders. Besides, has anybody done a more effective job using public outcry, financial pressures and boycotts to make their point than those who support same sex marriage?

3. Rethinking evangelical approaches to ministries of compassion is in order. Many of us prefer direct connection with workers we know and trust in places of great need who are doing laudable work among the poor, and not forgetting the gospel in the process. If you don't have such a connection, I can help you find one. When individuals and local churches here connect with local workers and churches nearest the need, Christian compassion can be a strong testimony to the message and power of the gospel. Sadly, World Vision has regularly gone beyond the need for sensitivity in their ministry within countries where gospel witness is frowned upon. They have gone so far as to put non-Christians in charge of projects, forbid Christian witness, and alienate local Christian churches and workers. Mention World Vision to local leaders I have met in various places in South Asia, Southeast Asia, and Central Asia, and you hear two things--they don't help Christian witness and they have lots of money and spend accordingly.

4. Christians, we should expect more such controversies to come our way. The spirit of the age is one of "compassion above all" (defined as doing temporal good to others that makes you feel good about yourself), commitment to "kindness" (defined as rejecting any standard--including Scripture--that tells someone that their preferred way of thinking, believing, or acting is wrong), and the supremacy of contemporary thought (the belief that we are inherently smarter, wiser, and more perceptive than all those who have come before, meaning all "historic," "ancient," "long-standing," and worst of all, "traditional," views on a subject must fall before current beliefs and contemporary thinking and exegesis).

"Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God." Paul told this to new churches in Asia Minor during his first missionary journey. Some of those would be created by leaders who emerge within the church, according to his warnings to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20. Others would come through the hatred of the world, since they weren't crazy about Jesus and his followers. Let's do our best to endure well when faced with such trials, answer firmly, faithfully, and charitably when questioned or attacked, and realize that losing battles here isn't the final result.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Complementarian Confusion and Clarity

In the last few days I have found myself responding to many questions about a change recently made by our academic neighbor to the north regarding not admitting men into two Bible classes taught by a female instructor. This, along with a recent chapel message by the university president, Dr. White (which I was not present to hear), has been taken to mean that Cedarville University will not have women teach men in Bible classes, and is said to be a "strengthening" of the school's view on men's and women's roles. The position I take on the issue on male/female roles (called "complementarianism") has been attacked in conversation and in writing because of the decision, and find myself trying to explain to many what I think the Bible teaches, why the decision may have been made (I have no "insider knowledge" on this matter), and what I think about it.

[This article on the Christianity Today website reports on this recent decision and reactions to it. In the article, the classes in question are said to be geared toward equipping women for ministry to women. One of the classes, on scriptural understanding of gender roles, seems to include subject matter that would be helpful to both male and female students. No mention is made of whether or not women faculty would continue to teach general Bible classes open to students of both sexes. Until this year, this was accepted practice.]

I am not writing to tell C.U. what to do--it should do what its trustees and administration believe is correct. I pray and hope for the very best for the school, as a member of the community, as an alumnus, as an adjunct instructor who happily affirms their doctrinal statement, and as a pastor to so many who work and study there.

I write as a pastor for my flock because so many of you have been asking me questions that indicate you may not understand what complementarian thinking is, and how complementarians may differ on the ramifications of our view. One of you pointed me to a blog that called complementarianism "a theological position that forbids women to 'teach or have authority over' men and teaches that men stand in authority over their wives"--a definition that touches on truth but is so poorly stated it creates a caricature instead of clarity.

The two major evangelical views on this issue are complementarianism, which I will discuss below, and egalitarianism. This latter view is held by the majority among American evangelicals today, and holds that there are no essential distinctions to be kept between the roles of males and females in the church or the family--women and men both may be pastors/elders, and there is no special leadership role in the family given to husbands and fathers. There are many places you can find this position explained, expanded or defended, but I'll leave that to you if you choose.

Complementarians teach that God created humanity in his image, and created us as male and female. While equally valued human beings, males and females are distinct, and each of us is born, according to God's plan, as one or the other.  [Please visit this site of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood for the rationale and the core beliefs of biblical complementarianism--CBMW has wonderful resources explaining more fully a robust and biblical vision for men's and women's roles].

This created sexual identity carries with it obvious biological differences, and beyond biology, in God's design he has given the man the role of leader (Paul uses the term "head" in 1 Corinthians and Ephesians) within the marriage and family relationship, and the woman the role of "helper," i.e. "partner" who "completes" the relationship with her unique (and "complementary") gifts and abilities. Further, in the New Testament, the role of leader within the spiritual family of faith--the church--is also given to men as pastors/elders/overseers.

Why is this? Paul's argument in 1 Timothy 2 is that this was both God's created order (male was created first, then female as helper), and that the Fall was indicative of what happens when male leadership is abandoned (the man was not deceived but the woman was deceived by the serpent). Genesis 1 and 2 are taken as the paradigm to follow, and Genesis 3 a result of not following it.

Within the curses pronounced in Genesis 3, the balanced relationship between male and female was corrupted in keeping with the disobedience both male and female exhibited in the Fall. The woman would now desire to control her husband (as she had in leading the decision to disobey), but the man would either abandon his leadership role or use his greater powers (physical and societal) to "rule" as master--dominate--her. Instead of a partnership with a loving leader and well-suited partner, the male-female relationship would have to deal with the constant tendency toward conflict seeking control (I taught on this extensively in our Genesis series a few years back; you can go to the church website's media page and find the sermon videos there; the audio will be uploaded soon).

But why does this created order affect church order? The simple answer for me is that the New Testament says so. In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul says women are to keep silent in the church's corporate teaching times--not an absolute ban on speech, but on women filling the prophetic teaching role there. 1 Timothy 2 says women are not permitted to teach or exercise authority over men--again, in the setting of public worship, and "teachers who exercise authority" is the description of the overseer/elder/pastor role, for which the qualifications are given in the next chapter. In the qualifications for pastors/elders/overseers, only men are considered in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. But women are considered in the qualifications for deacon in 1 Timothy 3 and Phoebe is called a "deacon(ess)" in Romans 16. While Jesus demonstrated that women had equal status as people and as his followers, his choice of all men as apostles shows that even in his own ministry, he could treat people equally and yet maintain distinctions in roles. This has been the historic understanding of this passage by all major streams of Christian teaching from the first century until the eighteenth, and aside from Methodism, until the twentieth.

I hasten to add the following: other than those places where God has specified a role for men or women, I believe that men and women have freedom within their giftedness and circumstances to pursue their goals to the glory of God. Complementarianism values the unique roles of each sex, but does not require adherence to societal norms that may or may not represent biblical requirements.

For example, complementarians honor and celebrate motherhood, but this does not mean that married women who are mothers cannot work outside the home. We urge that men exercise appropriate leadership in marriage, family and the church, but we do not hold that only men can be leaders in other settings (political, economic, academic and societal).  We would deny that men may dominate their wives, homes, or in the church in an unspiritual, self-serving way--such approaches are not complementarian.

While women are not to hold the role of the authoritative teachers within the local church, many women's intellectual and teaching gifts can be used to teach men and women truth, including biblical truths, in various other settings. Mothers teach sons and daughters in the home and their instruction is to be heeded along with that of fathers, according to the Book of Proverbs. Priscilla, along with her husband Aquila, took the preacher Apollos aside and explained to him "the way of God" more clearly (Acts 18:26). Men filled the role later identified as deacons when the seven were chosen in Acts 6, but Romans 16 and 1 Timothy 3 speak of women in this major role of service, and the early church's history has women deacons (sometimes called "deaconesses") in prominent reports; while it only has men as elders/pastors/overseers. The history of missions is replete with women (single and married) who have evangelized men and women (in culturally appropriate ways) and been the founders of church planting movements, even while never serving as pastors themselves.

Cedarville University's leaders have decided to limit enrollment in two classes taught by a female instructor to women. They may follow the pattern of some other Christian-affiliated schools and choose to hold a "church" standard for the classroom--at least for Bible and Theology classes--believing that teaching these subjects to men is to be viewed as an extension of the local church's function and thus under the restriction that only men should teach them. Other complementarians might see the "church-university parallel" as incorrect and thus a misapplication of the biblical teaching. Both are operating from complementarian views, but their actions will differ.

So, to the people who tell me that they disagree with complementarian thinking because they disagree with a particular decision or action someone who holds this view has taken, be careful. You can have different understandings of how male/female differences may play out in areas not specifically addressed in the Bible, and still be complementarian. Only if you reject basic role distinctions between male and female are you rejecting this point of view.

I hope this helps those of you struggling with this issue and brings some clarity for your thinking. And of course you can let me know if you have questions!

Friday, March 21, 2014

A Journey East: Visiting Afghanistan

When you tell people you are going to Kabul for a visit, you get your fair share of strange looks, and more than a few questions--"why" and "is it safe" being chief among them. Well, I have now survived  nearly a week in Afghanistan's capital, and while I am no expert, I have had enough experiences to tell you that our media-driven understandings are very different from the realities I encountered.

As trips go, this one had a few hiccups getting there. A flight cancellation in Columbus meant a day's delay--not in arriving in Kabul, but in stopping in Dubai for a day to visit other friends. Two airlines (domestic and international) managed to shift responsibility long enough to require re-ticketing and associated "fees," and the loss of my original stopover. I'm thankful for trip insurance--that is, if it comes through!

Thus it was that I flew in one journey from Columbus to Washington, to Dubai, and then on to Kabul. The Kabul flight from Dubai was positioned as far from the terminal as any plane could be, making me wonder if it was coincidence or security concerns. We were delayed an hour due to problems loading luggage. But we finally took off and had an uneventful and beautiful flight over snow capped mountains into Kabul International Airport. My luggage did not fare so well, however, and after getting through the rather standard (for this part of the world) immigration formalities, I discovered that the slowness of luggage appearing on the carousel for pickup had to do with its not being here to unload in the first place. A very harried Emirates Airlines agent handed out forms as fast as he could to about 50-75 of us whose bags did not arrive. We had to fill out our address, luggage tag number, local phone, and a few other details, and then find the place to turn in the form. Fortunately, my hosts had provided all this information before I arrived so I could fill out other required paperwork (and the form was in English, so I could understand the questions). I successfully completed the form, dropped it off, and then walked the long walk to the area where guests are met--stopping a few times to wonder if I had walked too far. I hadn't. And I was glad for the walk after the hours in planes. I had been told to prepare for cold, but it was a pleasant, sunny, "early spring-like" day, and after the winter Ohio has had, it was inspiring!

One of my favorite pictures, this is a view of the new Afghan Parliament building, under construction, seen from inside
the thoroughly bombed and shelled ruins of the former Afghan Royal Palace. 
My hosts, David and Beverly, along with their children Elizabeth and James, were there, waving, and we soon were on our way to their home. David is the director of the Noor Eye Care Program, a national work under the auspices of the International Assistance Mission (IAM)--you can learn about their work here. Noor has been in Afghanistan for decades, and has eye hospitals and clinics around the country. Beverly, an M.D., serves as unofficial "expatriate doctor" for many who are here with IAM and other like-minded organizations with workers from outside Afghanistan. She also has a special work caring for mentally  ill men who have become a danger to their families, and for mentally ill children. I'm not just interested in seeing their work, I am personally connected, as Beverly grew up in Cedarville and we have invested in a partnership with the Brooks and IAM's work here in Kabul. This was my opportunity to see their work and hopefully encourage them by my presence.

Upon arrival, I delivered a few things I had in my carry ons that were for my hosts, from some medicine to a computer that was needed but not able to be shipped. More deliveries were waiting in my luggage, wherever it was (more on that later).  The family lived in their house for over 10 years--a rarity among expats, I discovered. Their children have never lived anywhere else, and while she doesn't show it off, Elizabeth is fluent in Dari (one of the major languages here). James is fluent in more practical stuff, like emptying the ashes out of the stoves used to heat the rooms.  Beverly prepared a welcoming supper of chicken in a coconut milk curry, which was wonderful, and we fell into lots of conversation as they worked hard to help me stay "up" until an appropriate bed time--that's my strategy for jet lag: don't allow it to win. I managed to stay up until 9:30, stoked my stove's fire, and slept a solid 5 hours before awakening. I had a 2 1/2  hour time of reading and emailing, then managed to fall asleep again right after the call to prayer first sounded at first light (a reminder of one of the realities of visiting or living in a Muslim culture).

James looks out a "wall" of the Royal Palace toward
the mountains. Don't know that you could do this in the USA
Friday was my first full day and it was a "full" day. After breakfast together, the family loaded me into their car and we were off for a morning of sightseeing. As we drove David and Beverly pointed out locations of Noor works, co-workers homes, places of interest or significance along the road, as we headed to our first stop, the former Afghan Royal Palace. This structure had been built in the 1920s and was once the home of the king. After his overthrow it became the home of whoever was in charge, or claimed to be in charge in Kabul.  During the fight against the Russian occupation it was the seat of power, but that made it a target for the mujaheddin who were fighting them. Then, successive warlords held and lost it, until the Taliban moved in. They stayed there until the US led invasion in late 2001. Now it sits as a bombed out ruin, which we got to walk through, for the price of a tree. That's right, the army's guards let us in and guided us around, asking that we pay the equivalent of what planting a tree there would cost--about $10. It was a bargain, although I'm sure that no US agency would let us wander through a building with gaping holes in walls and floors.

We then drove a steep, narrow, muddy, winding road to the "Towp," an old fort with cannons on a hill overlooking the Lion's Gate pass that separates Kabul into two sections. They used to fire the cannon every day at noon, but since 2001 they've had enough explosive sounds, so the unmounted cannons just sit there. From this vantage point you could see the city, look down into the Babur Gardens (the first Muhgal Emperor Babur is buried there--read about that Empire here), the mountains, and the pollution which centered over an area mainly populated by an ethnic minority.

In the afternoon we went to a very encouraging meeting of likeminded people, and then had dinner together with the Brooks' local colleagues. They come from various countries, but have one shared passion, and that is serving the people of this nation. IAM has been here for 50 years, and they have tirelessly served, as their motto states, "in the name and spirit of Jesus Christ." They have been honored by the government and given great responsibility in various areas of service. They've paid a price, too. Four years ago ten members of an IAM sponsored team were ambushed and killed by militants, shocking the nation and people around the world. They take security seriously here, but they will not let concerns for safety or ease deter them from higher purposes. And this is not a place of either safety or ease.

But it is a place where people live, serve, and thrive. That night and afterward, workers with a passion and vision to see this nation helped urged me to let people know that there were great opportunities for service and a rewarding life here. I believe them.

Dirk and David
Noor Eye Hospital, Kabul
My luggage did not arrive on Friday, so overnight laundry and clothes hanging next to my fire were the next best answer. Beverly had a medical clinic day at the house as David and I left for some exploration. I visited the IAM offices, met Dirk, the director, and Shelagh, the personnel office manager, and Mr. Tamim, who was tasked with tracking down my suitcase. I made my first visit to the Noor Eye Hospital, and was amazed to see so many people, so much work going on, and so much to be excited about. I met Rahim, David's associate in leading Noor, and we went over details of the talk I was to do on Monday. We also visited ALEF, IAM's adult education program--another major opportunity for service being undertaken. Western and local workers in both places are passionate, committed, and humble, even as they work to make radical improvements in Afghan life in the most important ways imaginable. We went back to the office in the afternoon and were greeted suitcase! We traveled quickly back to the Brooks' home where I delivered a few dozen letters and other items I had for them. It was great fun to be the bearer of good news, and candy, too.

Noor Eye Clinic, Dushte Barchi neighborhood
Sunday was a day to see more of the work of Noor, as Beverly took me to see an Eye Clinic on the grounds of a government hospital in Dushte Barchi, a large community on the outskirts of Kabul that is home to the Hazara ethnic minority (featured in The Kite Runner, and described here). The Hazara have been oppressed for centuries by the majority Pashtuns and the Tajiks, and while they now have legal equality, it is not borne out in reality. This "clinic" was made out of three shipping containers, but inside it had functioning exam rooms, pharmacy, and surgery.

Beverly has to function as a doctor who is a woman in a Muslim culture, which means proper dress and limited movement. At times my presence gave her greater freedom than she would otherwise have. After our clinic visit, Beverly needed to visit a patient, so we made our way to the home of a young family where we had tea, I waited with the husband of the family, and Beverly went next door to care for her patient.

My Hazara hosts
In the conversation that followed (he spoke English), I heard what could be repeated over and over again--dreams of a future that seems impossible, realities of life that make such dreams a frustration, and lack of any real hope in life. He had secured a job to be a translator in another place, but as the oldest son of a widow, his responsibilities were clear. He had to turn down the job, get married to a cousin (commonly done here as a means of keeping family property in the family and because it is easy for a family to arrange), and start working to support them all. Uncertainties abound, whether it was the availability of electrical power any given day, or health (which is always precarious), or safety, or political turmoil--and the list goes on. Life ahead will not be easy, and it won't be what he had hoped for.

We visited the children's school at the lunch hour (yes, Sunday was a school day) and once again I was impressed with the those serving here. They have created a wonderful school environment that gives families the educational opportunities their children need and time with other kids under loving and skilled supervision and instruction. Teachers are needed there for next year, though--I'm hoping to recruit a few for them. Interested?

On Monday, we went back to the main hospital, where I had been asked to speak to the medical staff on the subject of developing personal ethics as professional skills. In conversation with David and Rahim, they discussed the hard reality of trained professionals whose lack of ethics harm both patients and employers. We used the six core values of IAM as the basis for my talk; which start with value #1--"Dependence Upon God." I spoke of the need to approach character development as we approach the development of the rest of a person--we don't just do what comes "naturally." I also touched on the great dilemma we face when we know what is right but are drawn to that which is wrong. David and Rahim were pleased with the turnout and results, and believe this will provide a basis for future talks and training with the staff.

Afterward, Beverly took me to the markets of Kabul for some souvenir shopping and the experience of the markets. Third world markets may feature unique items in each country, but the overall feel of the experience is one that seems the same no matter where I go.

In the market
Finally, it was time to leave. My final morning involved some last stops, visits, and then lunch together before Dave took me to the airport. Leaving Kabul was much more "secured' that arriving, as we were stopped before the airport, at the drop off for the airport, and three times as I walked to the the terminal to have my bags x-rayed and to be patted down and screened. Even as the door to the plane, my carry ons were opened, I was patted down again, and only then allowed to enter. You aren't allowed to forget where you are, even as you leave.

Am I glad I went? Absolutely. Would I go back? Yes. Was it safe? As safe as you can be in a place where conflict has been part of life for decades. All precautions that could be taken were in place. More than that, there is meaningful, life-changing, work to be done, and such work is not always the safe option. As one writer put it, we must "give up our small ambitions" if great things are to be done.

David, Beverly, James, and Elizabeth at the Towp

Is the KJV Really the Bible People Read the Most?

I just read an article on the Christianity Today website that shows results of a survey on Bible reading. The article says that despite the NIV being the bookstore bestseller, the majority of people who read the Bible, do searches online for the Bible, or otherwise look at the Bible choose the King James Version. The number of those choosing the KJV is actually increasing, according to this survey.

What doth this mean? Well, at face value it speaks to the staying power of an English translation that has been around over four hundred years and shaped the English language. But I'm not sure it means that people are really reading it (or the Bible) more. If this survey is including web searches, the KJV, by virtue of its free access and availability as the primary search version of various freeware searches online, will get more hits than anything else. And there are probably more houses than we'd care to know that own a King James Bible that was given to them or came to them in childhood or is a family or marriage Bible, and that is the only Bible they ever look at, when they look.

Maybe I'm wrong, and if so, we can expect a rising generation of King James speakers. But this survey may actually indicate less serious reading of the Word by younger people, for whom the King James is not just unfamiliar, but in many cases incomprehensible.

Read the full article and its links here.