October 26, 2008

Women's Ministry: Why Ethics Matters

At the risk of being misunderstood, it seems to me that Christians often needlessly spiritualize how we fulfill the call to glorify God.(1) Let me explain. There are times when we say that we are praying about matters when what we are really doing is avoiding a reasoned decision because that might be less than spiritual, or too human. And sometimes when we talk about matters of right and wrong, we avoid injecting any sound ethical principles and, instead, tell our brother or sister that their situation is between them and God. To be fair, there are times that these might be the most appropriate statements to make, but it goes against the teachings of scripture to de-legitimize the role of the mind or the pursuit of the holy life. Our Christian walk cannot be reduced to a Holy Spirit intuition or a lack of ethical reasoning.

The theologian L. H. Marshall puts forth this idea that for Christian living, the Holy Spirit functions as a spontaneous power that mystically causes people to know right from wrong. He said,

The Spirit of God in action in a man’s heart was an adequate ethical guide, and that a man under the sway of the Spirit knew from within what the will of God was and was enabled both to will and to do… (2)
This view not only confuses the entity referred to as the heart (the mind), but it under-estimates the impact of unconscious and conscious beliefs we retain. As well, it ignores the deceitful nature of the heart (Jer 17:9). But the New Testament theologian G.E. Ladd writes,

It is striking that Paul does not appeal to the Spirit as a direct source of moral enlightenment. Paul is conscious that the Holy Spirit reveals the things of God (1 Cor 2:10), but this does not mean that Paul feels himself to be independent of the Old Testament and the teaching of Jesus.(3)
Ladd shows how Paul’s letters communicate the reality, that new life comes from the Spirit, but that we are commanded to actually participate in this by walking by the Spirit (Gal 5:25).

To bring more clarification to this topic, consider the distinction that is made between law and grace. Paul never insisted that principles of conduct went away with the Law and that the Holy Spirit would provide an answer for every dilemma we face. For redemptive purposes, Christ fulfilled the requirements of the Law yet he also provided a summary for it’s ethical requirements in Matt 22:37-29 in the Great Commandment. Ethical reflection toward a life that pleases God was never replaced with a mystical, abstract approach to living. We are always expected to obey, though our salvation doesn’t depend upon our always succeeding. Yet any ability to obey—to please God—is found in our new nature accounted for through the regenerative work of the Spirit.

For men and women, many of the decisions we face in today’s world are not to be answered with specifics contained in Scripture. Technology, economics, and entertainment leave us wringing our hands sometimes, not entirely clear on how to think Christianly about these areas. But Ephesians 5:10 calls each of us to discern what is pleasing to God—not to guess, hope, or feel….but to discern. Chapters 2-5 in Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus focus largely on how we participate—ethical reflection—in pursuit of the holy life. This is a very practical, tangible section of scripture rooted in solid teachings on salvation and God in contrast to our sinfulness. The letter concludes with application in marriage and family. But this is hardly exhaustive in content, and many other areas of our every day living call us to reflect on our walk.

In considering the many perspectives that women in particular face in today’s world, decisions from reproductive technologies and birth control to careers, relationships and matters of the family, room needs to exist for deliberate ethical reflection, grounded in a firm foundation the acknowledges the supremacy of God. The ability to move from Scripture into the specific areas of life that are in question is the process of doing theology. Knowing what the Bible says in its context is the first step, but bringing it to bear on every square inch of your life is where it all becomes real.

1. If you are confused after reading this essay, please contact me for clarification. sarahflashing@gmail.com

2. L.H. Marshall, The Challenge of NT Ethics (1947), p. 220.

3. G.E. Ladd, A New Testament Theology (2002), p. 563.

October 24, 2008

The Sexually-Desensitized Western World

A conversation with my friend Katie yesterday re-opened my eyes to the philosophical and ideological components of prime time tv. Its not that I don't know what Hollywood is up to, but I have been watching for entertainment purposes. I've been so lazy...wanting to sift through the bad to find some nugget of humor or goodness. In fact, I'm fully satisfied simply seeing Amy Pohler's goofy grin, but the second she starts talking, I have to turn on the filter. But now the monster is awakened.

The discussion with Katie entailed the influence of same-sex experimentation being communicated to young girls via Grey's Anatomy, a bit more subtle than what was portrayed this week on House. As girls and young women struggle with a lack of self-confidence while possessing a highly relational nature, they can easily be persuaded to experiment with what 2 adult women on Grey's are portrayed as trying for the first time. Acting like school girls who are completely clueless about the ways of the world, this story line replaces the usual confident/militant lesbian story line with a softer, more feminine version that seeks to remove the contrast between unnatural & inappropriate sexual relationships and those which are viewed to be healthy female relationships. Removing what little stigma that is left in our society toward same-sex relationships seems to be the goal of prime time television this season. But I should be fair; Grey's Anatomy, House, ER--these have never been shows that were meant to tap into our medical curiosity. These are meant to indulge our wildest sexual fantasies by portraying them as the norm of our society. They are accomplishing their goal, I fear, by desensitizing the youngest generations to any sense of right or wrong in the context of sexuality.

October 23, 2008

The Walk of Life

Paul begins his discourse on ethics earlier in his letter to Ephesians, noting the way in which each of us walked when we were spiritually dead, following the course of this world (Eph 2:1-2). The word walked is from the Greek peripateo, referring to the way in which we conduct our lives. It has to do with the principle way in which we choose to live.

Seven more times throughout the rest of the letter, walked is used to contrast the former way of living with the way that is found to be pleasing to the Lord...a way of conducting one's life as a child of God. This needs to be understood in distinction from the fact that as believers we still sin--and pursue a life of repentance. Walking or living in sin is not the same as being a sinner saved by grace.

As followers of Jesus, we need to be aware of our commitment, manifest in obedience. Because the Holy Spirit has sealed us in Christ and has created in us a new heart, we are able not only to obey, but to desire it as well.

So how in this world does it look to walk in ways that are pleasing to the Lord? We've got to be willing to examine the ideas and beliefs we hold and the issues and decisions we are confronted with on a daily basis. And as women serving God, we must be prepared to mentor young women in these times. The way this looks is to examine the latest trends, understand the ideas of the age, and evaluate the ways of the world. Trying to discern what is pleasing to the Lord is not as easy of a task as it once was, in my opinion. The many questions and choices that constantly bombard us require more than 'that's good for me' or 'God created me this way.' Daytime and primetime television is selling women the idea that the good life is merely what you determine it to be, and the politicians will simply agree with the popular opinion--that's the nature of politics

We are called to a faith that is both thoughtful and practical, but the two can never be separated. Historic Christianity requires that we avoid ritual and really understand what we believe, and live it. So walking in a way worthy of our calling demands more than just a casual devotional life or a spirituality that has no effect on our every day decisions. To walk in the way God expects requires that we consider how our faith impacts every corner of our lives, recognizing that there is nothing that God does not have his hand upon.

The Hidden Trick of Liberal Treats


October 22, 2008

Ephesians, the Holy Spirit, and the Redeemed Mind

I am trying to master Paul's letter to the Ephesians, per the recommendation of David Powlison in his journal article Counsel Ephesians. The letter is truly fascinating in that it provides the reader a theological basis for the ethics to follow in chapters 3, 4, and 5. Ephesians 1:4 states, ...even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. So as followers of Jesus in a fallen world, we are challenged to live a life worthy of the calling, pursuing according to the Spirit the holiness each of us has been called to (Eph 4:1) and realized in eternity.

In 1 Cor 2:14, Paul alludes to the condition of humanity, noting that the natural man cannot understand the things of the Spirit. From this, we can gather that the "unnatural" man, or the man indwelled by the Holy Spirit, can indeed understand spiritual things. This reflects a change in his nature before the Lord, yet still stuck in a fallen world.

Redeemed humanity is changed by virtue of the Spirit's indwelling, which is why Paul can ask each of us to no longer walk in the futility of the Gentile mind (Eph 4:17) or for the thief to no longer steal (Eph 4:28) and people in general to avoid corrupted communications (Eph 4:29). I'm struck by the fact that some things are easily discernable, that we don't ask thieves to "pray about it" in terms of whether they will be obedient to God and avoid the sin of theft. We just expect obedience. We do the same thing with language. We teach that the use of certain profanities is inappropriate and so the practice should just simply be avoided. Obedience is something that we desire and can do because the Spirit lives within us. However, there are still those matters that are a bit more complicated, that scripture does not speak to directly. Those matters require that we try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord (Eph 4:10) and work a bit harder at figuring things out. The role of the mind cannot go unmentioned in our quest for holiness, and at the same time, it is not unspiritual to tap into our intellect--it, too, is part of God's creation.

October 17, 2008

The Feminist Majority Prefers Women Kept Stupid

Yesterday, the Feminist Majority put out a statement against Colorado's Amendment 48. Apparently, Amendment 48 would recognize the personhood of embyos. This is what the Feminist Majority had to say about that:
we want to make sure that women have more rights than an egg!
Well, either their statement reflects a profound ignorance--because those of us who are prolife do not equate eggs with embryos-- or this is what they have been wanting to say all along. With smoke and mirrors, they speak of the embryo in its pre-fertilized state so as to avoid the scientific truth we know about all embryos...that they are living human organisms. Eggs are not. Why do they do they insist on ignoring this scientifically obvious difference? Because the Feminist Majority really does believe that grown women have more rights than smaller humans, and that this goes against the conscience of the majority of Americans. It is necessary to their agenda to obfuscate this issue because an egg with moral worth is not an egg, its an embryo. Young women in their reproductive years are being psychologically primed to donate their eggs for research purposes, but these eggs never remain eggs, they become embryos. If they are persuaded to believe falsely that their eggs forever remain eggs, then they don't have to consider that the eggs they give up actually become their embryonic offspring. What woman is not repulsed by the notion if giving up her offspring for research? For the Feminist Majority to speak of fertilized eggs as simply eggs is scientifically false and a deliberate attempt to confuse the same women they believe have more rights than these much smaller humans. How can they, the Feminist Majority, claim to respect the rights of women if they can't respect our basic intelligence?

October 13, 2008

Women's Leadership Conference

If you're in the Chicago area, you don't want to miss this event. The MidAmerica Baptist Conference is hosting a conference for Christian women who are leaders in church and in culture. I'll be speaking briefly at this event, but I don't want you to come hear me. It's the awesome line-up of speakers that we have that you just can't miss!

Created in Him for Good Works will direct our attention to the work of ministry and how it is conducted. Ephesians is especially important to the lives of every Christian, as the letter from Paul begins with the doctrines of the gospel and concludes with the Christian life, living a life worthy of the calling.

If you're in the area, check out the link for the conference and contact me about attending. Here are the details!

Session 1
The 3rd Voice: Creating a Transformational Culture
Angie Weszley, Caris Pregnancy Clinics

Session 2

From Dial Ups to Smart Phones: Women's Ministry Then & Now
Felecia Thompson, Trinity Christian College

Session 3
Kingdom Writing: How Your Words Serve Heavenly Purposes
Caryn Rivadeneira, Christianity Today: Gifted for Leadership

Saturday, October 18th, 10:00am - 3:30pm
Bethany Baptist Church

6700 W Gunnison, Harwood Heights, IL 60656
Registration fee: $40 (includes lunch)
To register: sarah@convergemidamerica.org

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October 9, 2008

AUL Annual Gala

I'm at the annual gala for AUL. Its exciting to see the vast support for a culture of life, of which AUL is a major player. Ramesh Ponnuru is giving the keynote, He is Senior Editor for National Review and author of "The Party of Death." He cites an interesting article from Glamour magazine on the "mysterious disappearance of prochoice women," an article worth looking up! Ramesh gives tribute to the prolife Democrats in the ballroom. Yep, prolife Dems. The prolife position really is non-partisan.

For more info on AUL go to www.aul.org

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October 2, 2008

Distinguishing Between the Natural & Supernatural...And How Do You Know You Can?

Becoming a Christian is certainly an act of God as any good Christian would believe. Our regeration can be understood as the Holy Spirit's wondrous act of making us alive in Christ, resurrecting us from our spiritual deadness.

We know that regeneration is a one time event and that we are then sealed by the Spirit. We belong forever to God. Is this the end of the Holy Spirit's involvement in our life? Certainly not! But what is our role in our sanctification? While salvation is monergistic, we must hold to a synergistic view of holiness. Man and God work together in this regard as man is called to be obedient.

The spirit enabled our ability to please God at the instance of our salvation. But because of man's new nature, are we permitted to differentiate between what he do naturally vs supernaturally? For example, is having thorough knowledge about something "natural" because it was learned, and "supernatural" because it might have been received in a way that appears to be "beyond nature?" I wonder if the latter potentially does a disservice to the former in its basic assumption that we can clearly make the distinction between the supernatural and the natural.
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