Monday, January 08, 2007

My Education in Hindsight

My friend laughed at me recently when I told her that while I had appreciated the book she had lent to me and been moved to tears numerous times and had recognized the profundity of the truths so clearly laid out, I had resisted the way they were quoting Scriptures without references to original context. I explained that there were several steps to take before applying the passage to women in the church today, since the passage was using feminine imagery to speak of the nation of Israel. "Yes, she said, "But what is said of Israel applies to the church today and so to women in the church." I insisted that the original context and these steps in between should be acknowledged by the authors, as responsible biblical interpretation. I could make the leap, I knew the original context and the steps in between (moving from Israel to the church to women today) but what about other readers? I still think this is a valid point, although it would have interrupted the flow of the argument quite a bit and diminished the beauty of the book. But I got to thinking that along with the knowledge I gleaned from my professors, I also picked up quite a few prejudices. Some of them may be more like convictions, but others are definite prejudices. I picked them up because I respect my professors and their opinions. From my upper level seminar course in Christian worship, taught by a long-time Doctor in Music, I picked up a complete aversion and disgust with the name for God Jehovah. He explained that this was an ignorant translation from the Hebrew name YHWH (written ofcourse in Hebrew characters without vowels). This name was not even pronounced by the Jews, it was so sacred and holy. So this name was badly phonetically mangled with vowels placed in and became the name Jehovah. Now any song, whether contemporary or an old version of a hymn, that uses the name Jehovah, sets my teeth on edge, even if I like the other words or messages in the song.
A short list of some other prejudices (or perhaps convictions, as some may be valid) some gleaned from my Church History classes and others from my Philosophy of Religion course include:
1) A firm belief that the national anthem should not be sung in a church service unless it follows the benediction, hence technically not being in the service.
2) A belief Canada's, the United State's, and/or Israel's flag should not be in a church sanctuary. A grudging permission for the nations of the world's flags to be all displayed.
3) A sense of anger at the sight of Canada's flag drapped over the cross, all but obscuring the religious symbol. A vague feeling these symbols should not mix.
4) A belief that baptism should only happen once. I have since let this one go a little. Most in my immediate family have been rebaptized. When pressured by a pastor as a young adult, I refused on the principle that my baptism as an infant was equally valid, I had professed my faith already, and no other baptism was needed.
5) A sense that worship, if not completely orderly, should at least be dignified. I guess I wouldn't get along with King David too well.

I recognize that most of these are minor things, not worth getting upset over and really it would be better to not let these things annoy me, particularly if it hinders my unity with other brothers and sisters in Christ. None of them are things I would nail on a church door to demand reformation. What is important is a heart of worship, to worship in spirit and in truth, and this can be done in a sanctuary with a flag of Canada or the US in it as well as in a church bare of national symbols.

One belief, held by some of my professors, that women should not be ordained, I never did pick up. Some may call it rebellion, which is probably one of the reasons I said as a young girl that I would some day like to be a pastor (an ordained one). (This was not then possible in my denomination, hence its attraction.) Now I think a lot of it is simply respect for some women who I know through personal connections or by books or magazines I've read or speakers I've heard, who personally feel a call to pastoral or preaching ministry. Anne Graham Lotz at a conference I recently attended something like that if people have a problem with a women (in preaching or pastoral role or spiritual leadership role), then they need to take it up with Jesus, because he called them. At university I did a paper on the difficult passage in II Timothy, often cited as evidence of a universal prohibitation against women teaching or having authority over a man in the church. At the time I concluded that I hadn't found compelling evidence in the sources I had come across that the passage could be responsibly interpreted in a way to support my rather faint belief that some women are called to spiritual authority in a church along with men, though all Christians are called to both submission to the spiritual authorities God has placed over them and to mutual submission as believers. In my mind, the spiritual headship of a husband, clearly taught in the Bible, was distinct from the relationship of men and women in the church; that is simply because a person was male he was not qualified to command and control a woman in the church; he needed to be in a position of authority himself and that authority should never be exercised in a domineering way regardless of anyone's gender. My friend recently wrote a paper on the same topic, and found different, more scholarly and convincing sources, and came to the conclusion that this could be responsibly and faithfully argued.

I also lost some prejudices, most notably my sense of outrage at the apostle Paul who I was convinced was a sexist apostle, rather full of himself even. I based this on three passages in particular that angered me. I guess they angered me more because of how they have been used and interpreted by others. My Church History and History of Eastern Orthodoxy courses took away a lot of my prejudices, opened my eyes to the beauty of other traditions and the wisdom of the Church Fathers, and instilled in me a passion for ecumenicalism and unity among brothers and sisters in Christ from all traditions and varieties holding to the essential creeds we share. Thanks to my church history professor, I started distrusting the NIV slightly, though I have always enjoyed its beautiful cadences and clear translation, and have since decided that in some cases the translators were hindered by evangelical or male prejudice that coloured their translation. In fact any translation must necessarily be an interpretation as well, because often the ambiguity that may be in the Greek cannot remain in the English translation.

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