a non-linear story, biblical authority, by grace, Christian community, Christian Humility, Christian Misogyny, Christian Submission, N. T. Wright, Phyllis Tickle, Redemption of Creation, Spirit Power, the Christian story, The Great Emergence, the story of God
Stephanie F. Asked a great question in a comment. Boiling it down, it was essentially, how can we just now be dealing with mutuality in marriage and the church in the 21st century if Jesus wanted us to abolish human patriarchy when he showed up in history even before he was established as the lord of all heaven and earth almost 2000 years ago? She asked, “Was there a less dramatic ʻ2nd fall?ʼ”
I answered her at length but decided it might be worthwhile to boil the long answer down if I could. So, I have re-printed the long answer after my attempt at a shorter, more modest one. Does either make sense to you? Let me know.
The Shorter Answer: We’re the Kids
I believe we are still dealing with issues as fundamental as mutuality in marriage and church because God has not chosen to redeem all creation – pull down all strongholds of evil – without our efforts. I remember learning a quote from St. Augustine:
“Without God, we cannot. Without us, God will not”
(I had it, “sort-of.” Don got the quote right.) If that is so, then God was victorious in the first battle, the decisive one, through the work of his faithful human son, King Jesus, who is the first division of Godʼs army. Now, and for two millennia through the second division, which is what we sometimes call the Body of Christ, there has been a lot of mopping up to do, much of which still must be done. And God is very patient with his people who have sometimes seemed to do next to nothing about their mopping up operation, just like ancient Israel:
But I said, “I have toiled in vain, I have spent My strength for nothing and vanity; Yet surely the justice due to Me is with the Lord, And My reward with My God.”
Then, again, we westerners have tended to think Christianity is what’s happening in the U. S and Europe. The gospel message is actually making huge strides right now in India among the Hindu Untouchables as well as in Indonesia…
If Jesus reigns then we, by faith, should be able to claim creation for him. Sure, some things as well as some places may need to be reclaimed more than once: ours is not a linear story.
So, how long will the ebb and flow, the faithful claiming and living and loving and “laxing” and losing and reclaiming go on?
Joan of Arcadia once demanded that God give her “the big picture” because she could handle it. God said she couldn’t; she said she could, then God said, “All right, Joan; you asked for it…” And Joan woke up on the floor with her worried mother bending over her. We cannot handle it the big picture; we can handle our own part, our own story, by faith.
Jesus said, essentially, “You guys leave the strategy to my dad. Your job is to be my witnesses wherever you find yourselves, in whatever you are doing” (Acts 1:6-8). And Paul rightly saw that Jesusʼ Father magnifies and accomplishes through and for us, vastly more than we could ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20).
So how do we change the world? We show up. And it seems that the more of us do that, the greater the exponential change is accomplished. Or maybe I am wrong about that; maybe sometimes God does more through one faithful child than through all the rest of us together. Again, we’re the kids and Dad is driving.
So, there has been no second fall yet many good things, including gender mutuality have fallen into disuse and must be raised up again and faithfully practiced. Because, as much as we would like to know whether we are close to “being there yet,” only the Father knows when the last stronghold can be broken and the whole community of saints will be brought together for a glorious supper on a restored earth.
The Longer Answer: This Is Our Moment!
King Jesus reigns in heaven not far away at all and heaven is open to the prayers of the saints. As Jesus put it, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me” (Matt. 28:19). In this passage the king is not prophesying nor speaking by faith as he does throughout the gospels. He is speaking from his immediate experience.
He is also referring to what we see elsewhere in the frame of apocalyptic prophecy in Daniel 7:
- first, the beastly empires, again (vs. 1-8; also seen in Dan. 2, etc.)
- this time we see God (the “Ancient of Days”) sit down to read judgment books against those empires (vs. 9). Context: all the beastly empires are condemned.
- Then, verse 13, one who looks to the Babylonian bureaucrat (Daniel) “like a young man,” or “…an adolescent” or literally, “…a son of man,” comes to the throne of God to receive “a kingdom which shall have no end.”
Jesus refers prophetically to this scene in Daniel frequently in the gospels: the son of man, surrounded by clouds (myriads) of angels and saints, receiving his kingdom and judging the nations.
However, in Matthew 28, when Jesus refers back a week or so to his having actually received this “all power and authority” from his father, he is in a unique position in every way to tell the clods (his disciples) what has happened because it has just happened. He has just appeared at the throne of God and he has just been glorified, that is, given his kingdom (which, according to Daniel 2, will grow and grow until it covers the whole earth).
So, experientially, Jesus can tell the guys and gals on the mountain exactly what’s what. He has just been put utterly in charge and they are therefore free to go into all the nations and bless them, that is, show all the nations how to follow God, as Tom Wright likes to say it, “in every department of their lives.”
That is our context, Stephanie. We stand under the authority of the one who sits at the Archimedean Point who places all authority and power at our disposal. And sometimes we believe that and the kingdom advances here or there. Often we do not believe in the power we have and it seems like we are losing ground. I think if we could see it all from the view of the throne of God, the building exceeds the tearing down, to use a phrase from Isaiah.
The building will always exceed the destroying! Paul tells the Corinthians that eventually God will break every stronghold, the last one being death. And then King Jesus will return to earth and restore the kingdom to his father (I Corinthians 15).
In the meantime, we know that the coming of the kingdom is no linear story. At times we have taken great swaths of physical territory, temporarily. We know that parts of China became (Syriac) Christian over a millennia ago. I met a man in Switzerland – he was my roommate for about a week – whose last name was Thomas. He claimed his family went all the way back to the apostle who brought the gospel to India. All North Africa was Christian for about two centuries before the Muslims swept the Christians into a tiny minority status (about 10% of Egypt today is Coptic Christian). In their day, before African Christianity fell, missionaries from the North African teaching order, the Augustinians, brought the gospel to England. And much later a mission began in England (in the 19th century) to bring the gospel to North Africa…
Ebb and flow, but always more flow than ebb.
Now in the above illustrations I am just looking at physical territory. Where the stronghold/powers of slavery and oppression hold sway is harder to see on a map. I suspect evils like paternalism have ebbed and flowed as well. There is every indication that mutuality flowed; that women were nearly full partners with men in the early Christian centuries. (I am still trying to find a picture I saw years ago of a mosaic in which a 5th century western bishop in Rome named “Episcopa Theodora” was serving the Eucharist to two or three men.) During the Pentecostal revivals of the late 19th century, the Spirit again fell on both females and males and so the Pentecostal leadership was mutual.
And then, ebb. The forces of paternalism, reinforced by new interpretations of Paul, restricted church offices, or perhaps just stopped ordaining and consecrating female presbyters and bishops. Soon, males dominated the offices, the sacraments and the scriptures again. In the same way, in recent decades the Charismatic Christian community has become more paternalistic as it has moved toward respectability within evangelicalism.
If Jesus truly wants creation restored by us and has truly delegated all power and authority to us to move such mountains by faith, then we have only our own fears and our own fat holding us back from reclaiming what is ours through the gracious gift of creation and through the saving power of Messiah Yeshua.
And if Phyllis Tickle is right, then this is our moment. It is time to reclaim the creation/new creation heritage of mutuality as well as many other creation/new creation blessings. I believe nothing holds us back but fear, discouragement and a failure to have faithful imaginations. I believe this is our moment in the story and what we leave on the sand when the wave of our time recedes will imprint the Christian community for a half a thousand years.
What do you think, people?
What other “creation/new creation” blessings should we be claiming during our brief wave of time?