Spirit, Grace, Love

I have been thinking about the nature of theology. In deference to my last post, let me make clear this is with the posture of a learner rather than the posture of an expert!

“Hermeneutics 101” (biblical interpretation) tells us the bible is not “even” but “weighted”. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus keeps noting: “You have heard that it was said… but I say to you”. The teaching of Jesus carries more weight than the law of Moses. When Jesus is asked about the greatest commandments, he notes (or affirms) that loving the Lord your God with your heart, mind, soul and strength, and loving your neighbour as yourself, are the most important commandments… indeed, everything else hangs on these. In Acts, the early church was faced with the issue of whether Gentile believers in Christ were to follow all of the laws of Moses. The church leaders in Jerusalem made the decision the life of the Spirit and faith was the most important thing… that they would simply provide a few guidelines to avoid excessive offence to Jews (Acts 15).

If we are to locate what is stressed as of primary importance for Christian living, it is the life of the Spirit, received through faith.

One of my favourite books in the bible is Galatians, where Paul is practically frothing at the mouth over false teachers who say the life of the Holy Spirit is all very well, but not enough. The false teachers proclaimed that for faithful Christian living, all the Jewish laws must be obeyed also. To this false teaching Paul responds:

"Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?" (3:2 -3) Even more bluntly, he goes on to note: “You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.” (5:4) “If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” (5:18)

Paul's claim is radical, dynamic, and at the very heart of the gospel. We cannot achieve salvation by anything we do, but by grace. We cannot be transformed by following law, but by being indwelt and led by the Holy Spirit. Christian communities are not bound by Jewish law, but are animated by love and grace through the Spirit. This is absolutely central.

Because this life of the Spirit, and this freedom from the law it brings, are at the epicentre of Christian faith, we can be immediately suspicious of any teaching that sounds like "law" for Christians.

And I would say this is my central objection to Complementarianism. It feels an awful lot like “law” to me. Sure, God pours out his gifts on all flesh, sure sons and daughters will prophesy, sure the body of Christ is built up as we all exercise the gifts of the Spirit. What Complementarians seems to say is, yes “But let’s be careful to keep women in their place. When God gives WOMEN gifts of teaching or prophesy, they are only allowed to exercise these if they find a group of women. Or children. In a mixed gender setting, men must be in charge and women must be silent, no matter how the Spirit leads”. Surely this is "law"?

The passage we egalitarians like to rave on about is Paul’s claim at the end of Galatians 3:

26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

I have heard Complementarians say this is not about the life of faith at all, but about salvation. They say women are clearly saved, but that does not mean they can exercise speaking gifts under the leadership of the Spirit. In my mind this overly restricts the meaning and implications of Galatians. Paul is writing to a group of Christians urging them to continue to be led by the Spirit, and to reject those teachers who are trying to impose legalism upon the church. This is not just about salvation, but about the practices of the church. It is a different kind of community; a new kind of family in Christ.

Not only so… this attempt by Complementarians to introduce a legalism that quenches the work of the Spirit through the body of Christ, strikes a blow at one of the key themes of the gospel. The abundant life, and freedom, and grace, that we have in Christ as the Holy Spirit works in and through us to the glory of God... this isn't enough. "Actually, we need to keep this under control, especially among those pesky women".

So, what do YOU think of a law that stops women from exercising spiritual gifts of speaking/teaching/prophesy etc. if there are men present? Do you judge it as harshly as I do? And what do you think of "church legalism" in general?


Popular posts from this blog

Study at Manchild!

Rebranding Hierarchy

The World According to Complementarians