Monday, October 28, 2013

The Library in Pentecostalism: Three Oklahoma Institutions. Part 1

The Library in Pentecostalism: Two Oklahoma Institutions. By Marilyn A. Hudson, M.L.I.S. (2009)

[in process]

The British journalist, Holbrook Jackson, once wrote, “Your library is your portrait” and those words are indeed true. The place of the library in education is a strong barometer of the character and ability of a group to not merely exist but thrive.

As early as 1906, the Pentecostal movement had educational efforts in Oklahoma. In Beulah, Beckham County, Emmanuel Bible College was established as holiness school but became Pentecostal after 1907 and until the school closed in 1910. The annual conference of the Pentecostal Holiness Church met at the Delmar Gardens in Oklahoma in 1913 and from that, the Stratford Pentecostal Holiness School was established. The school in southern Oklahoma opened in 1914 but after a severe storm in 1915, the school closed soon due to a storm that destroyed the building. A school in Wagoner, near Seminole soon followed but also closed. In 1924, in Checotah Kings College opened, soon moved to Kingfisher, and closed in 1935 . Although, most of the institutions were elementary and high school in scope, they provide the foundation upon which later institutions would build.

Southwestern College, Enid, Oklahoma

Southwestern Pentecostal Holiness College/ Southwestern Christian University
Despite Oklahoma being one of the strongest centers of the Pentecostal doctrine west of the Mississippi, higher education for ministry meant several years in Georgia where the only denominational school existed. Several young Pentecostal men, including Oral Roberts, R.O.Corvin, C.H. Williams, Sam Greene, C.E. Neukirchner, Paul Finchum, L.E. Turpin, and many others, had a dream of a school in Oklahoma. These men had strong ties to Oklahoma and shared an entrepreneurial streak. They were representative of a new and younger brand of leadership emerging in the movement and in society.

The original Southwestern Pentecostal Holiness College opened in 1946 in Oklahoma City with a library of some eight hundred books, mostly from the private collection of the president.
For a time the books were located in a corner of the remodeled barn known affectionately as ‘McGrew Hall.” The first librarian was also the campus counselor, Noami Watts, but Marie Ellis (Mrs. Clayton Ellis) soon joined her. Mrs. Ellis would serve the campus longer than anyone else associated with the library.

As the college experienced rapid growth in the early 1950’s, the meager collection and space were sorely taxed. In 1953, Oral Roberts, evangelist, Southwestern College Board Member, occasional faculty, and one of the co-founders of the institution, arranged the donation of $70,000 for construction of a combined library and administration building.

Growth continued as the school pushed toward its original mandated target of becoming a junior college to service the denomination. Local community clubs hosted book drives and the collection grew in volumes if not in content. In 1966, following a donation of $50,000 from Mrs. Zula Light of Rolla, Kansas, the doors of the new Light Library opened. The New facility the Irwin Learning Resources Center added 15,000 square feet to create a multi-media resource center (with studio, private learning rooms, and distant learning equipment) and the much expanded library.

Oral Roberts University
The Library of ORU opened September 1965 with some 60,000 volumes and plans to add as many as 500,000. In addition, the facility would be home to a unique special collection devoted to works from around the world on the Holy Spirit. Although largely known at the time as an evangelist with his own large ministry, Oral Roberts was a member of the Pentecostal Holiness Church until he joined the Methodist Church in 1968. In 1966, the Pentecostal Holiness Church even named the ORU Graduate School of Theology as the official Pentecostal Holiness seminary, however, when Roberts left the denomination this was revoked.

At the time of its opening and first few years, the school and its library were firmly in a Pentecostal perspective. ORU was an example of planned development with results that were truly a showcase of that day and today. Implementing many innovations of the time, in both library services and education, it was a noteworthy development.

The library, reflecting a new view, was imbedded in a larger learning resources center. That concept included specialized areas for using the latest technology to assist learning. As was common at the time resources, were viewed and arranged by their format. As a result, a library held only books and could therefore not hold the new technologies. A new term was needed, one that would better reflect the new, space-age, modern, and progressive developments. When ORU opened it touted an emphasis on the new “Programmed Learning” approach and included on demand film, audio, electronic tutoring. Discussion or study groups, in addition to the traditional book based library resources, made the library a mode. This would change in the subsequent information revolution as the library redefined itself but the ill-defined ‘learning resources’ concept would linger on.

They are the books, the arts, the academes,
That show, contain and nourish all the world.
- William Shakespeare, Love's Labour's Lost


Holbrook, Jackson,,
Hudson, et all. One Nightclub and a Mule Barn: The First Sixty Years of Southwestern Christian University. Tate, 2005.
Hudson, et al. One Nightclub and A Mule Barn: The First Sixty Years of Southwestern Christian University. Tate, 2005.
Yearbooks, Southwestern College and Oklahoma City Southwestern College, SCU Archives, 1946 to 1976.
“School Launches $1 Million Program of Advancement.” The Oklahoman (Jan. 8, 1963)12.
“College Gets $50,000 Gift.” The Oklahoman (March 24, 1966):29; “City College to Dedicate New Library.” The Oklahoman (Nov. 17, 1966):52. Oral Roberts University Outreach (2:2, Spring 1965): 8.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

An Order of Widows in the Early Church?rrr

The Order of Widows of Timothy

Widows in the Bible
The woman whose mate had died was encouraged to remarry, in some cases she might return to her father’s protection or come under the care of a son.  Women whose mate died having no father or children were in a more precarious situation. Repeatedly in the Old Testament prophecies among the charges of sinful conduct always included the mistreatment of the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow (see as one example Zech 7:10).  Other passages accuse sinful nations of robbing the widow of her ox (an apparent reference to her means of income). Ancient Middle East laws (Assyrian Laws especially, ‘Almattu) included a certificate of independence (the Hebrew term was almanah) given to women without husbands, fathers, or children.   This allowed them to act on their own behalf and involve themselves in legal or business dealings on an equal stance with her male counterparts. 

Old Testament texts (Gen.38:15, 19) indicate there might have been specific clothing associated with widows but what they might have been is not outlined. There is indication from this text that a widow did not wear a veil.  In this Genesis passage, it is interesting to note that a woman was assumed to be a prostitute (perhaps a cult prostitute) because her face was covered. Contrast this with the discussion of veils and head coverings in 1 Corinthians 11.  Many affirm such a cultural practice is still  demanded today for a Christian woman.  

Contrasting the two texts reveals that many cultural practices did evolve (and often radically shift!) over time. These (among others) were clearly the product of culture and not religious commands.

In the New Testament, Jesus raised the widow’s son from death early in his ministry.  Her son was her guarantee of protection and support in old age.  In one way, his funeral was symbolically the death of  himself and his mother. In another text, Jesus uses the faithful, sacrificial giving of a widow to contrast the actions of the religious legalists.  Peter raised Dorcas from death in Acts and addressed the “saints and widows” later who had gathered to mourn the passing of the generous and caring woman who did many good works. Paul stated he wished all unmarried and widows to be like him, single and committed to the work of the Gospel, but never made it a command or said it was anything but his own opinion (1 Cor.7:8).

Assumptions About Women From 2 Timothy 5:3-16
This portion of Timothy talking about elders, assumedly addresses older women who are widowed in the early churches of Paul’s day.  The selection lists many interesting and troubling assumptions about women that bring its true audience and intention into question. There is very strong and convincing internal evidence that this book was not written by Paul and this section is one of those arguments. The tone of the writing, the attitudes expressed, and the terminology all lend to a later date for the writing.
1. It is an assumption that only a woman alone is capable of trusting God and leading a committed and strong prayer life (v.5).
2. A woman will lead a life of indulgence (v.6).
3. A woman has value only as a reputable widow, a widow of one husband, someone who has raised a child, and has a reputation for good deeds (v.9,10).
4. Only a woman of 60 or more years may be entitled to support from the local church (v ).
5. A younger widow will be incapable of living a Christian life but will ‘grow wanton’ and must be condemned for breaking some undefined ‘pledge’ or ‘faith’ to remain single  (v.12).
6. Young widows will, in ‘going from house to house,’ grow idle, become a busybody, and say things she should not.  She needs a husband, children and a home to manage (v.14).

Questions And Answers to the Assumptions
1. It is an assumption that only a woman alone is capable of trusting God and leading a committed and strong prayer life (v.5).  The expressed bias against women is clear in this statement and does not reflect the Paul known from other letters where he expressed deep appreciation for the service of women in the local congregations.  It also does not express the attitude of Jesus about women in general demonstrated by his actions in the Gospels.  
2. A woman will lead a life of indulgence (v.6).  Here again is a highly pointed and biased view of the younger widows. They “will” lead lives of self-concern, indulgence and wantonness the writer informs with strong certainty.  The low opinion this expresses of all women, but especially young widows, seems out of character again with other Pauline literature and the example of both the Old Testament and of Jesus.
3. A woman’s value is expressed in the requirements shown here.  A reputable widow (a true widow), a widow of one husband, someone who has raised a child (perhaps in the sense of caring for orphans), and has a reputation for good deeds (v.9, 10). It is unclear if this is the prescriptive list (elements which must be part of the woman’s profile) or suggestive.  
4. Only a woman of 60 or more years, who also met the other qualifications, may be entitled to support from the local church (v ).  It must be assumed that a woman in such a situation was expected to fend for herself until reaching what was thought to be the mark of true old age in the ancient world.  This may be what is seen in the Acts account of the woman Dorcas who sewed and whose death left many grieving widows.  The text is unclear as to her status but it might be inferred she was a widow as well and these others a band of her fellow widows and businesswomen. It may also be that there was something else at play in this text
5. A younger widow will be incapable of living a Christian life but will ‘grow wanton’ and must be condemned for breaking some undefined ‘pledge’ or ‘faith’ to remain single  (v.12).  This by far the most perplexing of the texts related to widows in Timothy.  The surety of the wantonness of such women is again insulting and reflects a troubling attitude about not merely the role of women in the church but the very nature of woman herself.  In truth, these concepts seem more reflective of the later dating for the text.  A more formal and organized church that was now influenced by Aristotelian trained leaders who reflected that philosopher’s dismal view of the female sex.
6. Young widows will, in ‘going from house to house,’ grow idle, become a busybody, and say things she should not.  She needs a husband, children and a home to manage to keep her from frivolous behavior (v.14).  The history of the Orthodox Church includes awareness of an early order of widows, about late 100’s, who served the church before the more formal deaconess orders evolved . In that tradition, forbidden to these women was the addressing of matters of theology. Instead, they were to refer those to the pastor.  It is interesting how this might fit into that concept of ‘going from house to house’ in the course of their ministry as widows and participating in the informal women’s communication network.  Women who might not have felt free to ask a man a question might have asked these women who ministered in the community.  Men often dismiss this common interaction, even today in some cultures, as mere idle gossip, time wasting, or noisiness.  

The discussion in Timothy comes fast on the heels of how the elders of the church are to be treated.  This discussion does not include how men left alone and aged were to be cared for by the church and this may be a strong indication of how situational the discussion was in the text. 

It appears clear that what is not being discussed in this text is the general care of widows in the congregation. These women were used within the congregation to minister in specific and unique ways.  They were following in the footsteps of the women who followed Jesus, who were called disciples in the first travels of the book of Acts, and who appear in nearly every one of the main letters of Paul (Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, etc.).

Their role models of Phoebe, Mary, Martha, Joanna, Junia, Lois, Dorcas, and many others present a strong argument for the active role of women in the early church.  The many inferences found in the texts revealing that women were teaching, preaching, and prophesying further support the legacy of women and their place in the early church.

What changed? As the church evolved, it became more finely structured with layers of leadership or administration.  The early books of Paul (Ephesians 4:11) reveal God gave to the church certain gifting to build the community of faith. These gifts were pastor, teacher, evangelist, prophets and apostles. Then were added ‘overseers’ (or bishops) in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and a formal order of ‘deacons’ in 1 Timothy 3:8-12.

Despite the frequent translations that use male pronouns in defining bishop and deacon, the actual text uses few of them and to use them is an interpretative decision. Such decisions often reflect the biases of the person doing the interpretation. So it can be inferred the text might refer to ‘anyone’ who aspires to the office of bishop. If this is so, it removes bias in interpretation and it adds greater weight to the idea of an order of widows.  This later first century text, rife with so many odd attitudes and expectations, springs into greater clarity.

Monday, September 23, 2013

WOMEN :Lessons from the Bible

A Study by Marilyn A. Hudson (
Women play vital roles in the storyline of the Bible. Like men, they are included as role models, villains, and heroes. Women as the latter, however, seldom find themselves highlighted in sermons, lectures, or lessons. This limitation is linked to tradition, culture and misunderstanding of various Biblical texts. Since so many are unfamiliar with some of the noble women of the Bible, here is a sampling of some women who played vital roles in scripture.

EVE - Made in the Image of God, Genesis 1.27; 2.18; 3.
Her name means life and as the first women is our prototype. Scripture says she was made in the image of God and as such she is clearly a full child of God. Over the years, many myths have arisen about her. Such things as the myth that she was "cursed", that she "caused" sin, and that she is eternally and forever subordinate (less than) the human male because she was called "helper."
The truth is that she was created first in the image of God as human (Gen.1.27) and then as "woman" (gen. 2.18). She is apparently the only complete story of the creation of woman in the entire Middle Eastern creation corpus. The fact is that the bible contains two creation accounts, but strangely it only the second one that people usually mention because it has the story of the rib, the temptation, and the expulsion. The hierarchy is there with Man firmly in first place and Woman a dim second. Yet, the first account says "male and female" God created humans in the "image of God". The truth is that the first account answers the question "How did we get here?"
The second story illustrates an answer to "What did we break our relationship with God?" The story is so familiar to us that we do not really hear it anymore. The Serpent (the symbol of evil) tempts the Woman to Sin, the Woman then tempts the Man and the Man willingly participates. When God finds that they have broken the rules, the Man points the finger at the Woman and said "the Woman made me do it!" Thus, woman was cursed with things like childbirth, sex, and menstruation, etc. for her wanton sinfulness. Her days were forever to be under the heel of the Man and she will pay for her sin into the millionth x10 generation of females....
The truth will set you free...woman was created as a "helper" but was not subordinate. The Hebrew word there is the same word used to describe God in Ps. 30.10 and 54.4. The meaning is more clearly that of "partner". Woman was not cursed. Cursed were only the ground and the serpent (Gen.3.14). Both the man and the woman received penalties for disobedience but not a curse. She is not in a perpetual state of subordination or doomed because of the error of the Garden.

SHEERAH, the City Builder (1 Chron. 7.24)
This little known figure was a daughter of Ephraim and the grand-daughter of Joseph. It is thought her name may mean "ear" and thus her parents may have prayed she would always listen to God. She was responsible for building Upper and Lower Horan (Beit-Ur) and Uzzen-Sherah. The first two cities were known to have played vital roles in the military, transportation, and economic activities of the region from ancient times. The Beth Horan sites were the location of the famous "Long Day" of Joshua 10.10. Consider what is being said here that a from these ancient times "built cities". This infers someone who had the financial resources to establish, support, or maintain a community. This infers perhaps someone who had the knowledge and ability to arrange construction according to her own plans. This infers someone who had the respect of others and who was recognized as someone who should not be forgotten in chronicling the history of the region. Her name might have meant "ear" but plainly she was someone that others heard and responded to themselves.

HULDA, Prophet and Woman of the Word (2 Kings 22.2; 2 Chron. 34)
Prophets in the world of the Old Testament functioned as a link between the human and the divine. They were given special visions, proclamation, they acted as messengers, and the called to repentance. In Judges 6:34 they are seen to be "clothed" with the spirit of God. In the reign of Josiah (in the mid 600's B.C.E.) as the temple was being rebuilt, a scroll was found and the scroll was taken by the priest to the prophet Hulda. The NIV Study Bible notes here that they did not know "why they did not seek out Jeremiah or Zephaniah" without ever seeming to ask if that was even necessary. It was obvious that here was a prophet who was seen to be just as capable as those better known prophets. She was not a "prophetess" but a Prophet who lived in the area where the faithful had returned to live close to the house of God (the Temple). For centuries the southern gate was known as the "Hulda gate" and hosts of the faithful would have passed through it over the years.

PHOEBE, A Church leader from Conchrea (Rom. 16:1-2)
Paul called her a "sister", a "deacon" , and a supporter of the work. Many versions translate the word "diakonos" and "diakona" as servant, refusing to give her the title "Deacon." Deacons all began as "servants" and when they term is used of a man it is translated "Deacon" and as a "servant" if a woman. The same word, however, is used in Phil.1:1 (the only book dedicated to church leaders " all the saints...the bishops...the deacons"). John of Chrystrom in his Homily on 1 Tim. 3.11 wrote: " he is speaking of those women who hold the rank of deacon "(cited in Ordained Women of the Early Church: A documentary History, pg. 19). Origin (185-253) wrote"...this passage teaches two things...women are to be considered the church, and that such ought to be received into the ministry." Some translations interject the term "deaconess" even though this is totally inappropriate and not the form of the word used. It is not until the 6th century that wide spread gendered ministry emerges and a special class called "deaconess" develops in response to the Church's making the role of clergy and the priesthood for men only.

JUNIA - Chief among the Apostles (Rom 16.7)
Through the first seven centuries of the church the word "Junia" was clearly understood to be referring to a woman. Not until much later is this ever questioned. In the mid-to-late 1800's scholars begin to translate the scriptures and write commentaries and label this as a masculine name which they translate as "Junias" because if this person is an "apostle" than it must be a man! This translation anomaly continues into the mid-1900's and than scholars such as Epp, and others, begin to rediscover this forgotten woman of the New Testament and leader in the early Church. The name is not found anywhere in the masculine "Junias" form - but the female name Junia is found in many, many places. Some new scholars, intent on keeping women in their "place", do a fancy side-step by claiming the term "apostle" here is not the same term as applied to people like Paul and other men. Yet Zodhiates, in his Complete Word Study Dictionary of the New Testament, and other similar sources, indicates the term used here is the same used by Paul in many other places, including 1 Cor. 9:1 when he says "I am an apostle..."

Other women are the better known: the Wise Women of Tekoa, Abel, Abigail the Mediator, Hannah, Ruth, Noami, Esther the Every Woman, Deborah the Judge, Mary the Mother, Mary the Student, Mary the Witness, and Rhoda, Lydia, Dorcas. Women of every style, interest, and skill who are shown clearly in the scripture but are made invisible in most sermons or teachings.

Further Reading:
Ackerman, Susan. Warrior, dancer, seductress, queen: Women in Judges and Biblical Israel (1998)
Epp, Eldon Jay. Junia: The First Woman Apostle (2005)
Madigan, Kevin and Caroly Oslek. Ordained Women in the Early Church: a documentary history (2005)
Torjesen, karen Jo. When women were priests (1993)
Hudson, Marilyn A. "The Three Faces of Eve." The International Pentecostal Holiness Advocate (October 1991):3-4.
Moore, Michaels. "Wise women" or Wisdom Woman?: A Biblical study of Women's roles. Restoration Quarterly. 35.3 (1993)1147-58.
Synan, Vinson. "Women in Ministry: a history of women's roles in the Pentecostal and Charismatic movement." Ministries Today (January/February 1993)44-49.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Spiritual Obedience: Part 2. Dr. Marvin J. Hudson

Part 2: All Alone
With the Garden experience behind them, the descendents of Adam and Eve spread out to the far corners of the ancient world to find a place for themselves.  The humans were now on their own searching to recapture the sanity, the justice and the peace of that Garden sanctuary.

It would be convenient to state absolutely what early humanity understood obedience to be, but harder to prove. What we do know is that from the earliest written records there was a searching to reestablish the order of the Garden, the peace, and the stability through standardized  written legal codes .  These set the limits for “right” and “wrong” and listed the consequences of doing what was unacceptable in the society they represented.

In about 2050 B.C.E. one of the earliest such “ law books “ was written. Today, only fragments of The Codex of Ur-Nammu exists but it reveals clearly an early attempt to follow some higher course than humanity’s own basic, and often base, instincts.  These laws consisted of social justice that addressed issues of taxation, standardized measurements, legal recourse, and the rights of the widows and orphans. (The World of The Bible. Eerdmans, 1986, p.223).

Like its predecessors, The Code of Hammurabi attempted to set up a standard of ethical conduct for the people of Babylonia and the regions which adopted the code for their own use.  The Code was written about 1700 B.C.E. and was inscribed on a stone slab (stele) of black diorite eight feet tall discovered in Susa in 1902 (The Pictorial Bible Dictionary. Merrill C. Tenney, ed. Southwestern Company. Nashville. 1972, p.332).

Some of these laws have a familiar ring to them : 196, “If an awilum has put out the eye of a mar-awiliam (lit.’son of an awilum’), they shall put out his eye.”  (Babylon, Joan Otes. Thames and Hudson, 1979, pg. 75). Others are quite harsh: 195, “If a son has struck his father, they shall cut off his hand.” Consider laws 229-30 stating a builder whose work was shoddy, causing the death of the owner, the builder was put to death.” (Babylon, Joan Otes. Thames and Hudson, 1979, pg. 75).

Both laws, and the later Law of Moses, are examples of what scholars call the “casuistic” style.  Each law or code shows how a wrong action “causes” an opposite reaction as society deals with the lawbreaker.  Each attempted to correct the imbalances in society by saying what was right and what was wrong. Humanity was learning that limitations on conduct  were needed so that the rights of another were not trampled.

No matter how far away humanity might roam from the garden, the instinctive urge and innate need for obedience to a standard of conduct dogged their steps. In all cases, the ingredients do not match, but the basic formula was there: the recognition that humanity need to be obedient to something in order to achieve a small portion of the harmony known in the Garden setting.

Why was there one set of laws in 2050 B.C.E., another in 1700 B.C.E., and yet another around 1280 B.C.E. (The Hittite Code)?   If humanity realized the need to a obey a higher standard of life, why was there a constant move to rewrite and reiterate the laws?  Without a doubt, even the earliest human found it impossible to respond effectively to the sense of “moral oughtness” existing within.

In his book, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society, Eugene H. Peterson tells of being in a hospital room with a man who swung between rational thought and harsh hallucinations of death, which caused him to scream out “I’m going to die!”   He would then beg his pastor, Peterson, to pray for him.  Later, in moments of lucidness, the man would recant any such prayer.  “The parabolic force of the incident is this”, Peterson noted. “When the man was scared, he wanted me to pray for him, but in between…he didn’t want anything to do with a pastor.” (Peterson. A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society. Inter-Varsity, 1980, g. 17-158).

Early humanity was in this condition. There was a need to obey that sense of moral oughtness when the individual was violated, when his property was stolen, or her burdens were intolerable.  Sometimes, a person might rise to altruistic heights and cry out for the rights of others. Yet, those urges were at war with a stronger urge to see to his or her own needs met, even if it meant at the expense of another person.  When the stark injustice was pointed out, they would decry the situation. When injustice visit her home, she could pull her hair and cry, “It isn’t fair!”  In between those times, the commitment was not always as clear or strong as might be wished.  Man  found he wanted to obey, but found he could not unless he was made to through accepted legal codes.

The old joke about when it rains we see the need to fix the roof, but when it stops – where’s the need, could apply to early humanity ability to and desire to keep the moral laws.  Repeatedly the rules , the codes, had to be set down, recognized and set into action because of the fallibility of humanity.

In Romans 1:19-21, Paul hints at this innate search for answers to what is “right”:
“because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse; Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.”

People were given a witness of God and a chance to respond to those “higher” urges of morality which were evidences of God.  In addition, there was no doubt, especially in these early years that a remnant of those Garden days lingered on in stories around the campfires and in the towns.  The “witness” of right and wrong was there, weak at times, but definitely there.

The discoveries of biblical archaeology seem to illustrate clearly that certain things were accepted among nearly all early people of the Ancient Middle East.  A close reading of the Pentateuch reveals the people had followed many standards of conduct and law later formalized into the Code of Moses.  Even today people become tangled in “customary laws” or common ethics that allow a person to be “good” without being righteous.  They allow modern mankind to attain a degree of ‘civilization’ and harmony, but, as always, these are supports of glass that shatter under the weight of daily use because a crucial element is missing. 

Secular history presents us with documented records of both the human failure to live up to the moral expectations as well as the tendency of depraved humanity to distort understanding of the nature of right, wrong, and obedience.

The code of Ur-Nummu and the Code of Hammurabi were both collections of social laws listing the expectations and accepted legal , religious, social and civic actions of the Mesopotamian cultures.  The tenor of each is constantly harsh and negative, dealing primarily with death and mutilation.  Humans understood a need for obedience but of what that obedience was to consist of was largely unknown.

In seeing obedience defined as laws limiting activities, enforcing life styles and plainly stating specific ethics,  the laws underscore the inability of humans to live up to their own expectations of what was right.  They could envision , but could not reach the goal.

Humanity was ever aware of a desire to do right, but was always unable to achieve that vision in reality.  Some piece of the puzzle was missing and until that piece was found, obedience had become, and would remain, a tantalizing elusive goal.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Scriptural Obedience - Part 1, Dr. Marvin J. Hudson

Scriptural Obedience. Dr. Marvin J. Hudson. (c2013)

Part 1- Humanity’s Quandary
Two Extremes
Obedience…what a troublesome word. We all have recognized its demands upon our lives at some point. Some of us will recall those dynamic services when minister spoke of obedience and we trembled at our own inadequacy. Others of us may recall being taught that the path of Christ was simplicity and obedience was merely letting go of you in order to trust more in Him.

Perhaps these two understandings of obedience represent polar points, both of which may leave the door open for extremism.  The first tends to lead us toward various forms of legalism as we wrestle with what we perceive to be the demands of a holy God.  We find ourselves confronted by the same quandary that people from Moses to Luther have faced.

On the other hand, God’s Word demands of us a standard if we are to enter into His presence.  Indeed, His very nature requires us to come before Him with “clean hands and a pure heart” (Psalm 24:4).  We are faced with a literal “do or die” situation.  Yet, as soon as the Law of God confronts us, we face a terrible reality: we simply do not have the means at our disposal to obey this perfect Law.

Repeatedly we grasp the regulations of the Law only to fall short of their demands.

The frustration we experience at this point often leads to two different reactions: We either struggle even harder to keep this Law of God , and thus become a modern Pharisee, or we may, as Luther stated, fall through despair into even greater sin (Theology of Luther. Althaus).

For most of us, this frustration leads to the former alternative. We monitor our every action to insure that we either become or remain “holy”.   We refrain from any activity which we feel will retard our spiritual progress.

At this point a great danger appears.  As time goes by, many of our decisions as to what will, or will not, retard our progress, becomes dogmas that bind us with a near unbreakable stranglehold.

Nor does the danger stop there, for we tend to believe in these dogmas so strongly that we insist that they apply to others as well.  The result is frustration and surprise.  We are frustrated, because deep down, we are never quite convinced that we are achieving the goal through this form of obedience. In spite of all that we do, we are never quite as holy as we desire.

Secondly, we are surprised because others do not accept our dogmas joyfully; especially younger generations. This should not surprise us, as there is little joy in legalism.

The second of our two approaches mentioned in the first sections of this discussion, at first glance, appear to offer great promise. After all, we have seen that legalism did not work as we may have wished.  Further, we have seen that legalism did not work as we may have wished.  Further, we know that the New Testament teaches that Christ came to set us free from the Old Law of death which was ,in reality, the same system of frustration that many Christians have tried to follow.

This second approach receives eagerly the idea that Christ was and is our substitutionary avenue to righteousness and thus the theme of obedience tends to be deemphasized.  The great danger here is that in this direction we find all manner of incorrect positions ranging from apathy to antinomianism (the denial of any divine Law). Such thinking often leads to apathy disguised as “tolerance” or “broadmindedness.”  No matter what we do or do not do, we have a comfortable “out” in that our theology tells us that we must not expect to be perfect and we may simply continue to pile our actions at the feet of Jesus only to return to the same life-style.

These two extremes  - legalism and license- are two ends of a spectrum and illustrate the difficulty the Church has faced for centuries.  Every Christian will struggle to find the middle road that will ultimately lead to real joy and stability in the Christian life.

The goal of this discussion is to see if that middle road where law and grace are in harmony  meet is mapped as we try to search out the Biblical concepts of obedience.  At the end of the journey, hopefully, will be an understanding of obedience from both Old Testament and New Testament perspectives.  Along the way, an examination of the complementary nature between the obedience  and some to avoid.

God’s Demands, Humanity’s Prerogative
It is significant that the matter of obedience is dealt with from the very first chapters of the creation account. Adam’s relationship to God included the fundamental principle of obedience.  This obedience was enjoined to Adam in the context of Liberty. As early as Genesis 2:16-17 we find the instruction, “Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of goo and evil, thou shalt not eat of it.”  Here is the tremendous reality: Adam holds within his the potential to obey or disobey. What incredible consequences rest upon simple obedience. How far reaching was the result of Adam’s decision.  The outcome of this historic drama is a key element of basic Bible literacy. Humanity has reaped the results of the fall of Adam ever since.

What is crucial for us to see is that this obedience was a matter of trust and free will. This fact is often overshadowed in our concern with the simple fact of the Fall itself.  While obedience was a component of the relationship of humanity to God, and an essential one, the real heartbeat of humanity’s relationship to God was the principle that we identify by such terms as trust, love, faith and so forth. This dynamic principle was the basis of the kind of relationship God has always desired with His creation.  This relational principle appears repeatedly as one traces the concept of obedience through scripture. It was also dramatically changed by the Fall and the result was catastrophic for humanity.

Fallen Humanity: The Crippled Creation
It would be easy to become destracted in exploring the how and why of Adam’s fall in the garden, but it is the result s of that Fall where our focus should turn.  All that follows through the Old and New Testament rests on the actions subsequent to that decision to not obey.

In brief, humanity received disfellowship from God. Humanity no longer enjoyed the benefits of the Garden life described in Genesis.   Indeed, when God came to walk in the Garden, Adam and his wife found they were unable to stand in His presence (Genesis 3:8). The perfect trust was destroyed and the human relationship with nature was negatively affected, where once all had been available as easy bounty, now all was to be obtained by hard toil (3:17-19).

Most importantly, humanity changed. From an estate of innocence, humans discovered they were driven by base desires that warred with their better selves.  Over time it became clear that the first human’s initial inclinations were often their worst inclinations.

Paul expresses this condition of the fallen human in Romans 7:19: “For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which would not, that I do.”

Theologians have referred to this as a “depraved” nature, meaning that as humans we are firmly caught in a trap from which we cannot escape.  It is the trap of God’s demand for perfection and our inability to achieve it.

We may summarize humanity’s situation. We are the Fallen Man and Fallen Woman.  We have all sinned against God and deserve the penalty of our rebellion, which is death. There are no resources at our disposal to pay this ‘debt of sin’ and reconcile ourselves back to God. Further, we are consistently powerless to change our course of conduct. We are guilty and we are continually becoming guiltier.  We stand in the rain of a fallen world, hands raised, and scream through the ages, “O wretched man that I am! WHO will deliver me?”

Who indeed….
To be continued

Friday, August 30, 2013

God: Bigger Than We Think

God: Bigger Than We Think [Draft]  /Marilyn A. Hudson, MLIS (c2013)

All language about God is metaphor.  It has to be because we cannot understand God. Our languages are all limited to our understanding of our world. This is illuminated by current and reoccurring discussions about the proper language to use when referring to God (inclusive or exclusive). How should one proceed? Does it matter if images and language always refer to God in the masculine? What, moreover, does the Bible actually say on the matter? 

We see, and  understand, only a small part, and do that imperfectly, but with great confidence in our own perceptions. Plato understood this when he write his Allegory of the Caves.  What we think we understand is often merely the shadows of what is real.

Like those people staring the shadows, we define our understanding of God in a feeble and limited manner.  Our hubris is a need to define things, measure, describe, and classify.  In this process, we assume control of the surrounding chaos of unknowing.  All our attempts to characterize our world, our God, and ourselves are really only our attempts to control.

What we control we think we own.
What we own we seek to dominate.
What we dominate we often abuse.
What is abused is without value.

The origin of the word ‘definition’ refers to limiting or ending something.  Thus, when we define we limit further understanding by drawing a boundary around it.  We humans sit back and define.  Then, we expect our definitions to be final. We also tend to view our definitions, our understanding as the only understanding. 

Our finite conceptualizations predominate. The difficulties of new ideas finding a purchase in the scientific realm underscore this process. Once defined, changes in thinking are hard to shift or even be reconsidered.
All of these lines of thought lead back to the multi-gendered image of God found in the Bible.  This, however, is also, where the problems are compounded through that layer of language.  In that process of interpretation and reading the language ambiguity, misunderstanding, and sheer human ego intersect with understanding.
Take, for example, Deut. 32:18 where Moses told the people that they had neglected the “Rock” who had ,in KJV language, “begat” and in other versions (such as the NLT) “fathered” the people and the God who had “formed them.”  The NLT is symbolic of the very process involved in the topic of this paper.   The Hebrew term for “begat” is often used to explain lineage…but it can also be used to refer to a midwife.  It does not necessarily signify the male parent.  In a similar vein, the passive phrase of ‘had given birth’ (pg. 367) hides the Hebrew term used that refers to a twisting as in writhing with pain as a woman struggling to give birth from her essence.   The emphasis on the translation is a male God who is a rock who fathered and allowed their birth to occur.  Is this, however, what the text intended to convey?  That must always be the issue.  The term for rock is a figurative word inferring shelter.  The issue of meaning is further confused by the ‘study notes’ used in the NLT noting the “rock” is an expression drawing attention to “God’s reliability as Father.” Now, to recap…

In looking at the Hebrew translation ‘begat’ refers to lineage but also to midwife. The term for ‘forming’ or ‘given birth’ refers to a term meaning twisted, as in writhing in pain such as experienced by a woman giving birth.

Look earlier in v.11 God is compared to an eagle that “rouses her chicks and hovers over her young” in a familiar image of a protective parent.   Strangely, in the NLT this verse is not commented on, which is a familiar situation encountered in far too many ‘study’ books about the Bible, especially in reference to any verse suggesting a broader frame of reference in our understanding of the nature of God.

As the roles of men and men fractured in society into dogmatic opposing pieces, kept separate through social structures, biological uniqueness, and beliefs of sexual superiority, translation often was less than unbiased.
Women were viewed as ‘something less’, inferior and suited only for reproduction, child care, and sexual gratification. Here ‘sphere’ was the home and hearth.  As such, women were relegated to having, caring for, and teaching the children.  It is this role, however, that God occupies in Hosea 11:3 “I  have taught Israel how to walk, leading him along by the hand…”  This nurturing, female only, role is one frequently used in the Bible but one which is so often overlooked or mis-interpreted.

In Isaiah 6:6, God describes his holy city, Jerusalem, symbolic of the presence and relationship of the divine with the people, as a midwife/mother giving birth to a people (v.8f) and later he comforts as a mother (v.13). 
In Job 38:28 God challenges Job with questions reflecting God in both father and mother roles in the creation and maintenance of nature.

In Isaiah 42:12-14 God is likened to BOTH a might warrior and a woman panting in labor.  Matt. 23:37 (Luke 13:34) which mirrors Deut. 32”11-12 with its imagery of the mother hen seeking to protect her chicks. 

Despite these many instances of the image of mother in relationship to God, concordances such as the one found in the NLT list “mother” only 15 times and “father” 58 times.  Dictionaries will ignore the use of the female, mothering and birthing images when describing God’s nature or gloss over it without study or detail.
In Hosea 13:8 God is likened to a mother bear, in Psalms 131:2 as a mother and Luke 15:8-10 as a woman searching tirelessly for a lost coin (symbolic in the parable of God’s efforts to gather his sons and daughters.)  
These female related symbols or metaphors are just as valid and important as the images of God in strictly masculine terms. For most of Christian history, however, there has been a superiority at work placing God in masculine terms and hiding the female images.  Some early church writers (Augustine, Knox, Calvin, etc.) will use the term of “master” to refer to their wives and to women in general.   The paradigm that developed was one of hierarchy, of inferiority, or skewed human value in both church and society.  Hosea is significant for an important statement made by God in the second chapter.  God wanted, he told the people via his prophet, to no longer be called ‘master’ but to be called ‘husband’.  It is a clear indication of the intimacy sought by the divine with his creations.  It is also clear how far the human construct fell from the divine ideal.  If God no longer wanted to be called “master” but wanted a deeper relationship why did human males in Christendom fall so short in describing their male-female relationships?

What, ultimately, is the result of excluding, minimizing, or ignoring those “other”  images of God?  There is the suggestion that we have moved into that sphere of human pride where we define God as ourselves.  It reflects the weaknesses and limitations of ourselves, and our social units, as part of God and infers values based on gender where no privilege of gender exists.

When the imagery we adopt for God is solely reflective of one gender, the gender assumes the role of defining God.  It becomes an example of that tendency to control through definition or limitation to one particular way of understanding.

As an example, if I describe the perfect garden and I feel strongly as to the superiority of roses, I will  ignore the mums, tulips, daisies or other blooms.  They do not fit my notions (preconceptions) and biases.  I believe this is the process used by too many scholars over time.  Their biases about the value or role of people will influence their understanding and the subsequent definitions created.

Definitions set limits, create boundaries, and establish or finalize comprehension.  Definitions are turned into accepted standards that then preclude other views or ways of thinking.  When we define who and what God is, we are limiting understanding of God to that single definition.  It fossilizes meaning into an unwieldy construct. Yet, we do not, we cannot, begin to truly grasp the magnitude or nature of God.  We see but glimpses, through a waving darkened glass, and without meaning most of the time. Thus, the simple and ordinary metaphors employed by scripture (often from the very mouth of the Lord).  In Job, God asks “shall he contendeth with the Almighty, instruct him?” (Job 40:2) and demanded, “who is it that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?” (Job 38:2).  This coming after a series of very wise, educated, spiritual people advised the luckless Job.  Here, God vividly points out how unqualified humans are to know the extent of God. From this, comes the clear message that human understanding falls short of total comprehension and is unable to ‘define’ God.

The diversity of images used BY GOD to explain his nature is ignored to support our particular – and limiting – grasp.   Our inferior grasp of those images – and their significance – defines the meaning, the form, and values influencing the very structure of the life of faith.   Over the centuries, there have always been those who recognized this truth of the incomprehensibleness of God.  They could echo the words of Thomas Aquinas that “since our mind is not proportionate to the divine substance, that which is the substance of God remains beyond our intellect and so is unknown to us.”  

 It is time to revisit the totality of the profile of God given in scripture and discover the immensity of the Creator of the universe.  To submit pride and privilege based on gender to the God who is beyond our ken. To strip away the debris of centuries and find the God who is bigger than we think.

Sources (In process):
Thomas Aquinas.  De Potenia. Westminister, MD: Newman Press, 1952.
Robert K. Barnhart. The Barnhart Concise Dictionary of Etymology. New York, Harper, 1995.
Elizabeth A. Johnson. She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse. New York: Crossroads, 1993.
O.T. Hebrew-English Translation, based on the Massoretic Text and the King James Bible    at
The Oxford Handbook of Philosophical Theology,  edited by Thomas P. Flint, Michael Rea
Plato. “Allegory of the Cave”, The Republic, Translation and commentary by Desmond Lee.  New York: Penguin Books. 1974.
New Living Testament. Nashville:Tyndale House, 2008.
Karl Rahner: Theologian for the Twenty-first Century  edited by Pádraic Conway, Fáinche Rya

One Flesh

Russian stacking dolls
ONE FLESH. A mystery hidden within a mystery that has been under explored and under appreciated as a revelation about the nature of relationship between humanity and God, Christ and His Church, and between husbands and wives.

In the beginning, God was in essence ONE FLESH, the God of Creator-Redeemer-Comforter called variously the Trinity or the Godhead or the PARENT-CHILD. This ONE FLESH GOD said "let us make humans in our image : male and female...." They were created and then immediately the Bible says "for this reason."...a man shall leave his family and cling to his woman...a woman will move from the allegiance of her birth family to this new unit....they shall be "ONE FLESH". The one flesh was the standard - the concept of the reuniting of separates that were unique in and of themselves but whose completeness was best realized in a reunion of the halves to make a new whole.

In the New Testament, Jesus reaffirms the importance of this marital relationship by repeating that they shall be "ONE FLESH". Why? Because that ideal, that concept, was fundamental to His own relationship to "GOD" and the relationship he wanted to have with his "BRIDE" - the followers who would become the Church.

Paul indicates this with his own repeated imagery of the "Body" with its parts all working in coordinated harmony. He indicates it with his discussion of husbands and wives. He indicates this with his imagery of the 'ev Christos' of Galatians 3.27-29. There he paints the picture of moving from one sphere of existence into a new, totally different sphere. In that new spehere is where the believer merges, integrates, blends, disappears into, becoming the new creation of Jesus Christ. All a consistent imagery reflecting that same ONE FLESH revealed since the creation account.

-- [from Those Pesky Verses of Paul by Marilyn A. Hudson, used by permission]

The Russian stacking dolls are an excellent imagry of the process of becoming one flesh -- everything becomes one.  This process of reuniting that which was divided is crucial to understanding the manner in which God wants to interact with humanity.  How do we reconcile, however, a superior and inferior role in a merged new entity?  How can one half of the one flesh than seek to control or negate the other half?  Hard questions but ones which demand our exploration and thought.