Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Preparing Your Net : Part 3

This is a post on church discipline, on recognising that the glorious liberty of the children of God is not a licence to throw off restraint, but a free choice to submit to a higher law.

1 Timothy 2:11ff are some of the most poorly translated verses in Scripture.  But they contain life-giving principles, that are lost in translation.  On this, Ian Paul’s Grove booklet ‘Women and Authority: The Key Biblical Texts’ is extremely helpful, and to be highly recommended.  Here I will draw out some principles for church discipline, which I believe to apply equally to men and women.

Firstly, the text addresses attitude: we should quieten our spirits, or seek to live quiet lives, at peace with one another (‘silence’ is not an acceptable translation) and we should submit ourselves to teaching (not one gender to another; though elsewhere we are clearly instructed to submit to one another, regardless of gender).

Secondly, the text addresses permission: Paul does not write ‘I do not permit...’ but ‘I am not permitting...’  Consider the difference between these two statements: ‘I do not permit anyone to say anything in my pulpit’ and ‘I am not permitting anyone to say anything in my pulpit.’  The first says, only I am allowed to preach; the second says, my decision to allow other people to preach is not a blank cheque and I will not allow it to result in a free-for-all.  Paul does write ‘I do not permit...’ elsewhere, but not here.

Thirdly, the text addresses abuse: it speaks of usurping authority, and the word in question (not the usual word for authority) carries the meaning of murder.  We murder one another when we crush one another’s spirit by shouting another down, or when we character-assassinate them by spreading dissent.  It would appear that in the church Paul was writing to there was a particular issue of women creating ‘noise’ and ‘murdering’ men...but in my experience of local churches this is not a form of ungodly behaviour that is restricted to women.  Because fourthly, the text addresses equality: women are not more sinful than men; but neither are they less sinful.

What has this to do with the preparing of nets?  Often, the net created by a local congregation is torn, by the stirring-up of dissent, by the marginalisation of certain knots, or the insistence of certain knots that they are more important than others (women considering themselves to be more important than men, or men considering themselves to be more important than women; apostles thinking they are more important than pastors, or pastors thinking they are more important than prophets).  Without church discipline, without a willingness to submit to one another, without a willingness to submit to decisions that are made (which may turn out to be wrong – that is for time to tell – but which can be changed healthily where mutual submission is the culture), the net can be torn to shreds.  The lake is teeming with fish.  A shredded net is neither use nor ornament.  We must regularly attend to washing and repairing our net.

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