This spontaneous post is written to remind all of us, myself right at the top of the list, of the need for humility in pursuing our spiritual walk. This is especially true when we put forward ideas or theories about what we believe from the Scriptures. The reason I am writing this post is because I was thinking of this possibility: that for instance with the tithing issue, you have embraced a viewpoint which you have sincerely believed to be true. However, someone comes along and absolutely demolishes your argument. But because of the sake of pride, even though deep down you realise that you are wrong, you still cannot relinquish your former position. This is especially true when the position you have held corresponds to your pre-existing prejudices anyway. So you have happily believed that God supports you and agrees with these prejudices – only to be forced to see that you are completely wrong.
As it happens, today I am not talking about tithing. Rather I am talking about the issue of female leadership in the church. No, no-one has forced me to change my position. I sincerely believe that my stance on this is utterly correct, that God Himself endorses this, for the reasons I so elaborately spelled out in my post on this subject. Earlier tonight though I found myself reading the blog of a pastor who definitely does not agree with my position. To him, the idea of a woman preaching is a shameless sin. I think that I must be growing in maturity because I resisted the temptation to write a comment on his blog. Even after reading his comments my confidence in my stance is completely unshaken. For instance, he said “it is completely clear and indisputable…” (or words to that effect) Why do people say that? We’re dealing with another language here. Even if the Bible was written in English or our own language there would still be ambiguities relating to the meaning or context of words. How much more so when we are dealing with another language, one that is thousands of years old? Moreover, the passage that he was referring to was the passage were Paul apparently says that he does not allow a woman (or wife) to have authority over a man (or husband). There is an inherent ambiguity in the Greek regarding these terms, and this pastor emphatically failed to address this issue. This ambiguity has the potential to completely change the meaning of this passage. So therefore his interpretation is definitely not “completely clear and indisputable” from the passage.
To be honest, I believe that this man sincerely loves God and sincerely follows His word. However, I don’t think that he gave a sophisticated analysis of this topic the way I did. Though I do say so myself, I do believe that my analysis is quite sophisticated, though quite simple at the same time. With all due respect to him and to his ministry and to his sincerity, I do not think that there is any contest between his analysis and my own, in that mine was more thorough, and comprehensive, and involved a more in-depth understanding of the Biblical Scriptures on the whole. I sincerely believe that in this issue, as well as in the tithing issue, I am utterly correct.
But anyway, that is not the point. This is the point: that on either side of an argument like this, where opposing sides of the argument hold strongly to one position or the other, these positions are positions that have likely been held for many years or even decades on both sides; and have been preached with ardour and conviction; positions where either party would have corroborated their stance from Bible teachings etc, positions where you would have poured in your heart and soul into your side of the argument. And yet, here is the thing, on this issue at least, we can’t both be right. So, if not on this issue, certainly on others, there is the possibility that you listen to someone, or you read a further article, and it suddenly strikes you that you have been wrong all this time, and the other side of the argument has actually been right all along. I think that that must have happened to a few people both when I wrote the article on tithing, then that on female leadership, because some people who had been arguing with me beforehand on both issues suddenly fell completely silent.
And here is another thing: these people shouting so loudly rarely acknowledge the fact that the Bible could legitimately be interpreted differently from the way that they interpret it, by people who are just as sincere and passionate for God as they are. So when you are discussing with them, it is either that you agree with them completely – or you are in sinful error. So sometimes, the lightbulb moment comes not when they are made to see that they are totally wrong, but rather when they are forced to appreciate that actually yes, someone could legitimately and honestly interpret those same Scriptures in that way that they so despise, even while their opposite interpretation could still equally be considered a valid interpretation.
So this then is why we have to be incredibly humble. It might so happen that one day, we realise that we are wrong. We might discover that the Bible does not support our prejudices quite as comprehensively as we thought. Or it might say something completely different to what we had always thought, forcing us to regard the Bible itself in a whole new light. In these cases, we have to make sure that the word of God remains pre-eminent, rather than our own egos, or our own deeply cherished beliefs. We have to have the integrity to come out and acknowledge that we are wrong and we have to renew our commitment to what the Bible actually says, not what we wished it said or expected it to say. I hope it is fair to say of myself that this is the esteem in which I hold the Bible, that I would eagerly acknowledge that I was wrong, if ever I found myself to be wrong. Yes, I have argued strongly both on tithing and women’s leadership, I have published ebooks, plan to publish further ones. And yet if I was made to see that I was wrong, by the awesome grace of God I hope it is fair to say that I would drop all of these things instantly.
And yet, I sincerely don’t think I am wrong. No, let me rephrase that. With tithing, I am definitely not wrong. That is so clear cut. People have recently suggested that I might be on my way to hell for my stance, but I am confident in my understanding of the Bible, and for God to send someone to hell for that would be completely inconsistent with everything. (For instance, failure to tithe did not warrant hell in the Old Testament, or even punishment by death – and suddenly it has become the biggest crime of the New Testament Church – in some circles, the only crime.) This is sheer scaremongering on the part of these pastors and churches and I must admit that I think that someone must be exceedingly naive to fall for these threats. With women’s leadership, hmm, there is more of a margin for error, but I am still totally sure that I am right. At any rate, it is definitely correct that women’s leadership can legitimately be justified from the Bible. All the same, for these and other issues on which I may well be wrong, I have got to acknowledge that, and build that into my understanding, even as I vociferously argue my point. (To be fair to myself though, I do try to think through issues very thoroughly before embracing or advancing arguments or viewpoints, largely because I hate being shown to be wrong!)
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