I’ve been reading one of the more amazing books I’ve encountered in years by Baylor sociologist Rodney Stark with the rather aggressive title “The Triumph of Christianity”. I will give you a review of the book a little later but today I want to talk about the issue of women as he describes it in the early church. The role of women in the scriptures are fairly clear and obvious, people of amazing influence, Phoebe and Priscilla, Mary the Mother of our Lord, Mary Magdalene and many more. There were far more women in the early church than men. There were three reasons to this, the first one is that more women become believers than men historically in the faith it has always been true. The other two reasons are a little bit more unusual…the first of these is that was a common practice in many 1st century cultures to engage in female infanticide by exposing girls to the elements, therefore causing death and creating a disproportionate number of boys to girls. The other unusual factor according to Stark was that women in Christian communities were not pressured to go through life threatening abortions. Women continued to disproportionally be represented in the early church for several centuries. The other outstanding piece and apparently shocking news to those who are yet again disrespecting women as leaders is that there were many prominent women involved in roles in the early church.
As Stark continues…
“Prominent historians now agree that women held positions of honor and authority in early Christianity. Thus, Peter Brown noted that Christians differed in this respect not only from pagans, but from Jews: “The Christian clergy…took a step that separated them from the rabbis of Palestine…[T]hey welcomed women as patrons and even offered women roles in which they could act as collaborators.” As Wayne Meeks summed up: “Women…are Paul’s fellow workers as evangelists and teachers. Both in terms of their position in the larger society and in terms of their participation in the Christian communities, then, a number of women broke through the normal expectations of female roles.””
The role of women in the early church was countercultural because God through his Holy Spirit wished to affirm the gifts of women. It was not an issue then biblically and theologically, it should not be an issue now. For those who still disrespect God’s intended role for women in his body, the irony is they are reflecting a misogynistic culture, not as they ironically think supporting a Christian one.
The city of Vancouver declared Monday, June 10th Meatless Monday. A friend of mine’s kids came home form school to inform their mom that it was meatless Monday and they expected her to comply with both the city and the school. Her reply was, and I’ve edited this, “we are eating salmon tonight, that’s what’s on offer”. I can genuinely see the advantages of lowering the intake of our protein and working out a more responsible treatment of animals and a more responsible treatment of ourselves but I had a hilarious similar reaction to legislated food rules. A friend of mine from a very catholic country said “Meatless Mondays…if you change the day to Friday and make it medieval Europe, it feels like the Catholic Church is telling us what to eat again”. Most of this is in jest, some of it is not.
The more I think about this blog, the more dangerous the territory and the more foolish the idea of undertaking it…but here it goes. I have no great patience, affection, nor admiration for Rob Ford, the Mayor of Toronto. I have the same kinds of feelings for the self-described, so-called elites who have derided him from the beginning of his term. Neither camp is worthy of much attention, respect, or engagement, so why am I writing this piece? I was talking to someone I’ve known for almost 40 years and we were describing, or remembering, bullying in the playground when we were kids. It struck us both that Rob Ford, whatever he has done…and even in the realm of good taste and civil discourse, he has done enough to his office…Rob Ford in the media scrums that we had seen him in look more and more like the bullied, sweaty fat kid from the days of our playground. Disagree with someone politically (and I do) decry their lack of manners and their crassness (and I do) but lay off the vigilantism that goes along vilifying…it carries with it its own momentum which lacks civility, is disproportionally angry and leaves us all; ordinary politicians, good public servants, real or imagined elites and even politicians that serve themselves and others poorly in a bad light.
I am fascinated with the very real, visceral and strenuous indignation generated citizen surveillance by some of the major democracies; Canada, Britain and the United States. What on earth did people think was happening…if you have ever walked through London then you could expect to be filmed by over 300 cameras on over thirty separate CCTV systems.
What scares people is that they thought there was a kind of covenant or understanding between governments and their citizens that there would be a preservation of privacy. That understanding is clearly a myth.
In the 1960’s in Edmonton when a Soviet scientist defected from the Soviet Union and the Mounties didn’t believe he was the genuine article, a man with a dog stood surveillance at our family home every time the Russian defector was a guest.
Do we have a privacy agreement with God? Sometimes I wish we did. Sometimes I want to hide from God. Often I want to cover over what I have been about like Adam, Caine or Peter. On balance and in my better spiritual place I am deeply, profoundly grateful that God knows where I am, how I am, what’s happening in me, with me and around me every moment of every day of my life.
God knows the “hairs of my head” (Luke 12:7) which on balance is a lot better than whether Canadian or American Intelligence Services happen to know so much about me that they know what shampoo I use to wash those numbered hairs.
P.S. I know someone in military intelligence…yup, a real spook, who says the term “military intelligence” is an oxymoron…he said that, not me.
You’ve heard of the organization called The Full Gospel, please now forget that because that is what I want to talk about right now. This year’s Assembly is about the Full Gospel of God, community, conversion, mercy and justice. It is balanced, stimulating, productive, and a great opportunity to network around some essential themes in our personal lives and in the life of the church.
Today we have an important note for me personally and for many of you who have experienced the friendship, care or ministry of Roy and Elizabeth Bell at Strathcona Baptist, Edmonton, First Baptist, Calgary, First Baptist, Vancouver and also Carey Centre…Roy and Elizabeth celebrate their 60th anniversary of marriage on May 9th. They were married in Watford, England where Roy was the minister of St. James Road Baptist Church and Elizabeth was a podiatrist (incidentally Elizabeth’s father…my grandfather, Percy Eyers, was the first professor of Ethics and Greek at London Bible College, later known as the London School of Theology). Roy and Elizabeth have settled in Duncan, BC, where their daughters Gillian and Rosemary, along with most of their families reside. They are in appropriate health for their age and would be both appalled (they are not keen on the attention) and pleased (they’d be thankful for your prayers) that you knew. Their other children are Joanne (Yukon) and Jennifer (Quebec). I sign off today as being grateful to God for them as their son.
I get tremendously sad for the fear, pain and death caused around the world in terrorists attacks, not simple and not solely by the perpetrators of the attack at the Boston Marathon. The uncertainty, anxiety, fear and inevitable religious, racial, and ethnic profiling that occurs when these horrific things happen in the midst of civilian population are too difficult at times to really grasp.
That’s all for today.