Wolves in Ewes’ Clothing

Men will rise up even from your own number and distort the truth to lure the disciples into following them.    Acts 20:30 CSB

In the wake of recent controversy around Paige Patterson’s comments on women and abuse, I want to draw attention to the public writings of his wife, Dorothy. Are Dorothy and her husband wolves? I don’t have any authority to say that they are, but I mention the concept of wolf from Acts 20:29-30 to remind us all that Paul specifically warned believers to be aware that some will rise up and distort the truth from WITHIN our own cohort of believers. Dorothy Patterson’s writings consistently distort the truth of Scripture, claiming “biblical” womanhood while simultaneously stating that multiple verses from the Bible say something they actually do not say.1 Whether this constitutes what Paul meant by wolf or not, we can at least agree that all those who submit to the authority of the Scripture for faith and practice must take such distortions seriously.

Most who are regular readers know my burdens for this blog. Because I by conviction hold to an orthodox understanding of the inspiration and authority of the Scriptures, I am gravely burdened that it is not the folks who deny that Scripture is authoritative that are most at fault for pushing others out of the church, but those that pervert/distort that truth, claiming that something is biblical that is not actually supported by a close examination of Scripture. My closest personal experience of this was around the fallout from Mars Hill in Seattle. If I know one, I know a hundred women (and/or their families) who no longer trust the authority of Scripture because Scripture was misinterpreted and misused to support an agenda. It’s a serious stewardship, this teaching of Scripture, and it is morally right to expose misuses of Scripture for what they are.

I can say confidently, though soberly with grief, that based on the evidence I have seen from his wife’s commentary, Paige Patterson’s comments encouraging a woman to stay in a situation in which she was further abused and drawing attention to the sexual beauty of an adolescent girl were not thoughtless words given on the fly. Rather, they are consistent with a system of thought he and his wife have taught for years, one they claim is biblical.

I will only offer a brief look into the Old Testament Women’s Evangelical Commentary by Dorothy Patterson and Rhonda Kelley (Dorothy’s sister-in-law). There is an overwhelming amount of bad teaching in that commentary in my opinion, but I will limit what I share here to a few key problems that mirror the things for which Paige Patterson is currently under fire. Patterson has vehemently denied that he counsels wives to endure abuse, but the Patterson’s long track record of teaching show their belief that abusive situations are a thing for wives to endure to reflect God’s created order, which they present as the essence of what it means to be a Biblical man or woman.

On Vashti’s lack of submission

Her flat and unqualified refusal was public—no private note or whispered message. Some have tried to make this pagan queen into a heroine who was responding with her own modesty, but again there is no basis for this virtue in the text or in any logical approach to the history of pagan queens. In Vashti’s response to a foolish command, she may have responded unwisely more from personal pride even if under the guise of modesty.”

And a few pages later …

“… the conclusion of the pagan advisers of the king coincides with the creation order of God Himself: All women will honor [Hb. yeqar, “precious, heavy” in the sense of having weighty and thus high responsibility] their husbands (v. 20). The plan of God from creation is expressed as calling for the husband’s loving headship and wife’s responding gracious submission, firmly established as the divine mandate long before the time of Ahasuerus and the wise men of Persia.”

Summary: Patterson teaches that Vashti’s refusal to flaunt herself in front of her husband’s drunken party violated God’s created order and design for Biblical manhood and womanhood. She and Kelley further teach that the unbelieving leaders of this godless kingdom nevertheless reflected God’s created order in perfection in what they expected of the women in their court, particularly Vashti and Esther.

On Naaman’s slave girl as an example of wifely submission

“This young girl in Naaman’s household was a slave, separated from her family and country, yet she accepted her situation. She gladly yielded to be an instrument of great blessing to her master in order to honor the Lord. This young girl models the principle of submission (wives are called to submit to their husbands for the glory of God; likewise, daughters are called to submit to their parents, Eph 5:22; 6:1). However, submission does not suggest lack of worth or usefulness.”

Summary: Patterson and Kelley teach humble perseverance under oppressed servitude as a righteous example of wifely submission.  Similar ideas show up in their comments regarding Hagar and Esther as well.

Patterson and Kelley present a world view in which a “biblical” understanding of submission and femininity is based on the created ORDER (man first, woman second). Woman’s identity at every turn is then defined by how she submits to male leadership (including to literally being owned by a man) because she was created second, in response to the man. Though caveats are given (abuse is bad, this doesn’t mean servitude, etc.), the actual examples used show that submission to abuse and even slavery is good/rewarding/faithful and it does in fact, in Dorothy and Rhonda’s worldview, include servitude. Submission to abuse, rather than standing against it, is the more noble way in the Patterson/Kelley paradigm.

These entries reflect the Pattersons’ long history of teaching wifely submission as a permeating piece of the woman’s nature based on the created order. The examples given in this commentary of good wifely submission clearly show that their line of reasoning results in encouraging women to submit to abuse as part of a woman’s essential role in society.

In response to this, some will point out Southwestern’s and other’s recent statements of repudiation of abuse. I am glad to see those statements. But just recognize that those recent statements contradict decades of teaching readily available in the Pattersons’ own works that reveal the pressure they put on women to endure abuse with a submissive spirit.

The Pattersons as People

A friend shared with me this article full of personal anecdotes written in defense of Dr. Patterson. I understood the sentiment expressed in that article very much. I experienced similar emotions when Mark Driscoll received criticism early in my time at Mars Hill. Mark and his wife had received me at their house at midnight a few years before when I was overcome with exhaustion while sitting with my husband in intensive care at the hospital. They were sweet and compassionate, and I believe they showed their genuine heart of ministry in that moment. When others criticized Mark in popular media outlets, I saw Mark as a convenient, misunderstood punching bag for liberals. It took long examination over the years of what Mark actually taught for me to recognize the harmful ways it diverged from Scripture and the rotten fruit it produced down the road.

The more I look at Paige and Dorothy Patterson’s writings, the more it reveals a worldview on men and women that they manipulated Scripture to uphold, reverse engineering at least this Bible commentary to say what they wanted it to say, rather than the other way around. They are a team, and we understand the work of one by examining the work of the other. I hope they can own that they have treated oppression of a woman by a man as an essential part of biblical femininity and a noble thing for a woman to endure. Their teaching has projected shame on women who stand up against abuse. May they confess that and repair with those who have been harmed by this teaching.

 

Endnotes

1 For example, in their discussion of Proverbs 31’s statement that charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, they say, “There is no decrying of feminine “charm and beauty,” which is affirmed elsewhere in Scripture (cp. Pr 4:7-9; 1 Sm 25:3; Jb 42:15; Sg 2:14), …” Dorothy Kelley Patterson & Rhonda Harrington Kelley. Women’s Evangelical Commentary: Old Testament (Kindle Locations 32788-32794).

If you look up these references that the authors cite as affirming physical beauty (which for some odd reason seems really important to the Pattersons), zero of them  actually do so. It’s disturbing, and not the only example of this.

17

Vindicated

     Sometimes a news story guts me, usually because I can empathize with some aspect of the feelings of those involved. This week’s news of the conviction of Bill Cosby of drugging and assaulting a woman did not actually gut me. But what did cause me to suck in my breath and tear up in response was the video of his other accusers in the courtroom overcome with gut wrenching sobs at the announcement.

     I was sobered that he was convicted, with all the lessons that his fall from grace symbolize. But I was ripped open by the women overwhelmed with emotion at the verdict.

     For decades, these women had been maligned as money hungry women, seeking to sully the reputation of America’s Dad by claiming consensual sex was actually rape. Woman … after woman … after woman had identical stories. While two or three witnesses is the standard in Scripture, Bill Cosby had 60 women who accused him. Yet decades passed after the assaults. Bill Cosby flourished professionally, while his accusers were maligned, their reputations sullied. With this verdict, they were vindicated. They have been proven “right, reasonable, and justified.”

Vindicate me, God, and champion my cause
against an unfaithful nation;
rescue me from the deceitful and unjust person.

Ps. 43:1

     The Bible records many cries of believers longing for vindication. While Christians value perseverance in unjust situations, our belief system is one founded on the concept of objective truth. Our faith gives us hope when we must endure hardship, when we are maligned or even persecuted for our beliefs. But, fundamentally, we believe God is just, and that He will not tolerate those who break His laws and malign the victims that cry out for justice.

Lord, you have heard the desire of the humble;
you will strengthen their hearts.
You will listen carefully,
doing justice for the fatherless and the oppressed
so that mere humans from the earth may terrify them no more.

Ps. 10:17-18

     When someone is vindicated, those around them come to agree with them on the truth of a situation and put a stop to future oppression. Do not minimize the spiritual value of such a moment!

     This is why a nation was transfixed by Rachael Denhollander’s victim statement at Larry Nasser’s sentencing.

     It is why a memorial in Montgomery, Alabama recently opened to acknowledge and lament the victims of lynching.

     And for those of us in reformed evangelical circles, this is why accusations against Mark Driscoll made back in 2007 didn’t go away, and why accusations against Sovereign Grace Ministries still today won’t go away. It’s because they literally CAN NOT go away without an agreement on what is the truth of the situation. Without an investigation by an unbiased third party who evaluates what did and did not happen based on the Biblical standards of witnesses and evidence, the cloud over SGM and CJ Mahaney will never go away.

     Vindication, truth, confession, and repentance are concepts that are inextricably tied together in the Christian faith. As both Nasser’s and Cosby’s verdicts illustrate, truth eventually prevails. We must always as believers choose to be on the side of it, believing in objective truth even if we don’t yet know exactly what it is in a given situation.

 

 

2

The Gospel for Single Moms

I don’t want to be a single mom, but I am one. I am in good standing with my elders, and if anyone has a concern about that, my elders welcome questions on my behalf. But the fact that I have to add that last sentence highlights why we don’t see many orthodox Christian writers addressing the subject of single moms in the church. …

Read the rest at gospelcenteredwoman.com.

A Tale of Two Pastors

Pastor A started Church X in a basement in Seattle around the same time Pastor B started Church Y. Both paid homage to the Seattle music scene made famous by Nirvana. Both spoke gritty sermons that resonated with grunge culture. Church X and Church Y began growing beyond expectations, and both Pastor A and Pastor B were regularly invited to church planting and denominational conferences.

But just a few years into their church plants, Pastor B had a moral failure. Church Y was devastated. The faith of their core group was challenged at a foundational level. Church Y stopped being cool. It lost its edge, and the folks that remained struggled to persevere with hope. Thankfully, the denomination held it together until a new pastor, Pastor C, could be found.

Pastor A and Church X kept on their phenomenal path of exponential growth. From 20 people, to 800, to 3000, to 10,000 over a twelve year period. I attended Church X and sat under Pastor A for six years, experiencing their phenomenal growth. In my early years, when attendance was around 800 people, I learned much from sermon series through Galatians, Jonah, and Ephesians. But when the church bought a new building and growth took off to 3000 and then 5000 and then 7000, sermons changed. Though the gritty trappings remained the same, the cultural wrapping paper no longer held deep reformed, theological truths. The theology that used to be regularly present, spoken in ways that grunge and hipster attendees could hear and understand, was replaced with watered-down content. While the presentation levels went up like they were on steroids, the actual doctrinal content went down in a similar fashion to a body builder on steroids who loses other core masculine parts.

During that season, I began attending Church Y and sitting under the regular teaching of Pastor C. By this point, Church Y had lost its cultural bells and whistles. It didn’t put up cultural barriers, but gone were the candles and dark worship that called to the independent music scene of Seattle. Church Y had two reasonably full services until they planted another church in the city. We sent off friends, saddened by the smaller attendance for our services for a bit. But eventually, we made it to two services again. We sent away our assistant pastor to plant a church in New York City. Again, we were saddened by the loss of this important family in our congregation, but over time, Church Y brought in two more staff members and slowly continued to grow.

I sat under the slow and steady teaching of Pastor C, thirty minute sermons that taught through a book of the Bible week in and week out. Pastor C taught clearly with relevant applications, but he was not a firebrand. I learned though. Slowly and methodically, I learned.

A few years later, exciting, flamboyant Pastor A resigned in disgrace. Though Church X had thousands of attendees at the time, it dissolved, selling off buildings and shuttering a number of its campuses. But Pastor C and Church Y plodded on—sending out members and staff to new works year by year, slowly growing themselves, or as the psalmist puts it in Ps. 37:3, cultivating faithfulness.

I think of Pastor A and Pastor C, Church X and Church Y, a lot as I now live on the other side of the nation and am once again involved with a young church plant. Pastor A and Church X represent the dream of many church planters – dynamic sermons and exponential growth. Their success was seductive. And deceptive. For the tale of these two pastors and their churches has a moral as old as Aesop’s Fables. The race goes to the tortoise.

The problem, of course, is that the tortoise is not glamorous. The tortoise is slow, plodding, methodical. Sometimes, it’s boring. But if you keep an eye on the end goal, you get the perspective you need to value the tortoise.

We all want fruit. Church X saw fruit. Pastor A’s sermons resulted in fruit.

But Jesus whets our appetite for something more than simple fruit. Jesus speaks of “fruit that remains” (John 15:16).

So here I sit sixteen years after I darkened the doors of Church X and ten years after I stepped in the doors of Church Y. One’s doors are still opened. One has enduring fruit that wasn’t choked by the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of wealth (Mark 4:19).

The lessons from these two church plants mean much to me as I now sit in another small service, two years into another new church, on the opposite coast from Church X and Church Y. No bells. No whistles. Just the ordinary means of grace—prayer, Bible study, communion, fellowship. My new church doesn’t garner the attention of Mother Jones or Slate (or even our local newspaper, The Times and Democrat). Our sermons aren’t downloaded by thousands each week. But young fathers are being mentored by older ones. The unemployed are receiving help to find jobs. The hungry are fed, the poor are helped. Bible stories are taught and application is made, disciples slowly trained up in the Scriptures. There isn’t anything grand or glorious in this church plant.

Except maybe the most glorious thing of all, fruit that remains.

You did not choose me, but I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce fruit and that your fruit should remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he will give you. John 15:16

 

Have You Been Dis-illusioned?

I just turned forty-eight years old, and I get the idea of a mid-life crisis in a way I did not in my twenties or thirties. I walk with many brothers and sisters in Christ experiencing mid-life crises as well. Many believers have them, but we may miss it since most of us remain disciplined enough not to buy a sexy new sports car or have an affair.
 
Putting away stereotypes of acting out a mid-life crisis, it is valuable for us to consider what happens in mid-life to believers, why we might have a crisis of belief about our life, our person, or our God, and how God Himself meets us in it.
 
The timing varies person to person, but I think of mid-life as the stage of life when our naïvete wears off, and we become disillusioned.
Disillusion—to free or deprive of illusion.*
Disillusion—to destroy the false but pleasant beliefs (held by a person).**
Those definitions gut me, because that is exactly what happens to many of us in our thirties and forties. It certainly happened to me. I have watched many others struggle as their idea of the good Christian life crumbled before the reality of the life they truly faced. …
Finish this post at Read Your Story, the blog of Christy Rood. There is hope after disillusionment!

 

Is Numbers 5 Good for Women?

After an interview for Is the Bible Good for Women?, one of my friends who interviewed me asked me about another hard passage in Scripture that I didn’t address in the book. It was the Trial by Ordeal that Numbers 5 prescribes for wives whose husbands have a “feeling of jealousy” without any proof adultery actually took place.The passage was disturbing to me, but I’ve learned studying Deuteronomy 21 and 22 that careful study of these passages can actually give us precious nuggets of Jesus-centered truth when we read them in context of the long story of Jesus in Scripture. So I set off on a study, and once again, was encouraged that God’s long plan for His daughters on earth is truly good.

Numbers 5 is a good case study on hard Old Testament laws that singularly focus on women. It well reflects the harsh reality of life for women in particular after the Fall. It reflects the problem with humankind. But what does it reflect about God the Father? What does it reflect about Jesus? What is its place in the long story of Scripture fulfilled by Jesus in the gospels?

I’ll summarize Numbers 5:11-31, but I recommend you read it for yourself as well.

God told Moses, “If any man’s wife goes astray, is unfaithful to him, and sleeps with another, but it is concealed from her husband, and she is undetected, … and if a feeling of jealousy comes over the husband and he becomes jealous because of his wife who has defiled herself—or if a feeling of jealousy comes over him and he becomes jealous of her though she has not defiled herself—then the man is to bring his wife to the priest.” The husband is also to bring a grain offering along with his wife. The priest then brings her forward before the Lord and gives her holy water mixed with dust from the tabernacle floor, “bitter water that brings a curse.” She will be unaffected by this bitter water if she is innocent of the accusations. But if she is guilty, “the water that brings a curse will enter her to cause bitter suffering; her belly will swell, and her womb will shrivel. She will become a curse among her people.”

Note: Here, God gave Moses steps for judging between a jealous husband and his wife who may or may not have committed undetected adultery. There is no proof of adultery. The Bible gives different laws elsewhere if the wife is caught in adultery.

We call this type of ritual a TRIAL BY ORDEAL. The Salem witch trials in colonial Massachusetts made Trial by Ordeal famous. Such trials have a long history in many cultures throughout the world. There were various types of trials—trials by fire, trials by burning oil, trials by hot water, trials by cold water, trials by drinking acid, and trials by combat. Most medieval Trials by Ordeal had a common theme, that the gods would protect an innocent person from being harmed. Throw someone tied up into a cold river, and if he was innocent, he’d miraculously float to the top. Force a woman to walk across hot coals, and if she was not burned (or her burns healed quickly), she was innocent of the accusations against her. Religious leaders believed the miraculous intervention of the gods would keep a person safe in a situation meant to harm them. That’s how most ancient trials by ordeal worked.

Modern believers recognize the multiple problems with a trial by ordeal. Such trials seem the work of superstitious people lacking common sense, without access to scientific facts we now take for granted. But what should modern believers do when we encounter a trial by ordeal not in superstitious medieval religious cultures but in the words of the Bible itself?!

It helps to remember that the gospels clearly reveal the Son of God as one who elevates women above their oppressed cultural status. And Jesus Himself taught in Luke 24 that all of the Law and Prophets (which hold many oppressive passages related to women) are ultimately about Him, pointing to His life, death, and resurrection.

Jesus’s words in Luke 24:27, tell us clearly that the Law of Moses, such as instructions in Numbers 5, somehow points to Him, somehow gives insight into what He came to do and the necessity of both His death and His resurrection for the sins of mankind. This Old Testament law speaks into the necessity of repentance, Jesus says, which is our first tool for approaching this Biblically sanctioned Trial by Ordeal.

One sided accusations

Numbers 5 is addressing a particular situation in which adultery is suspected but there is no external proof. The husband experiences a “feeling of jealousy” which in verse 14 may or may not be because his wife actually defiled their marriage. This reminds me of Deuteronomy 22’s laws for a husband accusing his wife of not being a virgin at their marriage. Note that in both passages, there doesn’t seem to be the opposite problem, wives accusing their husbands of sexual unfaithfulness. Though other laws on sexual faithfulness apply equitably to both sexes, these accusations of unfaithfulness seem one sided.

It is no secret that the Old Testament reflects a fallen culture that was naturally inclined against women. At the Fall of Man, God said this would be the case. Woman will naturally turn toward the man, but he will oppressively rule over her in response (“Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” Gen. 3:16 CSB). We see gendered oppression play out regularly in the pages of the Bible the rape of Dinah, Tamar, and the unnamed concubine in Judges are particularly harsh examples. In that fallen, survival-of-the-fittest world, women were commodities among powerful men, which often resulted in irrational, unjust jealousy. In Numbers 5, as in John 8, only the woman was singled out for punishment for a two-party violation of the marriage covenant. Even if she had, in fact, been a party to adultery that broke covenant with both her husband and God, the injustice of the woman bearing the sole consequences without mention of her male partner in sin is obvious.

Unjust accusation

Even worse, this law seems to accommodate an unjust accusation by a jealous husband against a wife as well. Elsewhere in Scripture, we see the seriousness of the sin against the wife in such a case. In his commentary on Numbers 5, Matthew Henry reminds us that “charity in general, much more conjugal affection, teaches to think no evil, 1 Co. 13:5.” But in Numbers 5, the husband’s violation of love by way of an unjust accusation isn’t condemned. It isn’t until the New Testament that we see clear teaching on unjust accusations as violation of the command to love. Why then does this law in Numbers 5 not include some measure of this teaching?

We are confronted with an issue that comes up again and again in the long story of Scripture and in our own lives at times as well.

This is where Luke 24 is particularly helpful. Consider how the Bible slowly builds our expectation of the coming Messiah. Why did God assure Satan of his coming destruction by Jesus in Genesis 3:15 and then wait thousands of years before calling Abraham with the next step in the plan of salvation? Why did he wait around 500 years after Abraham’s call before bringing Israel out of Egypt? Why did He wait another 1400 years past the Exodus before the Messiah was born?

I often ponder 1 Peter 3:8 which says, “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.” I know God’s perspective of time is very different than my own, but when reconciliation of oppression does not happen in a lifetime, I have no other tools to understand the patient pace of His movement. Our hope as believers is that injustice in this life is fully reconciled in the next, and this passage requires that understanding as much as any.

Yet, even this injustice points to Jesus’s coming in the New.

Interpreting Scripture with Scripture

Despite the obvious problems in Numbers 5, we have tools in our toolbox to better understand this passage. The most important tool is the fact that the Bible is the best commentary on itself.

The Westminster Confession of Faith, “The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself.” Luke 24 gives us helpful commentary on Numbers 5. But there are other Scriptures that do as well.

In Numbers 5, we are confronted with a passage that can go negatively in our own heads quickly depending on what we believe about God. What do other passages in the Bible teach of the character of God? I find it helpful to review things I know from Scripture about God’s character when confronting a troubling passage like this.

Isaiah 28:29 (CSB)

This also comes from the Lord of Armies.
He gives wondrous advice;
he gives great wisdom.

So could there be some wisdom in here for folks living in that time and place, for men and women facing those types of temptations in ancient Middle Eastern culture?

Exodus 34:6 (CSB)

The Lord passed in front of him and proclaimed: The Lord—the Lord is a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and abounding in faithful love and truth,

Compassion comes from the Latin for suffering with someone. God enters into the suffering of His children. He is not distant from them, and He is faithful in His love of them. So could God be showing compassion for the accused wife in this passage?

Psalm 119:68 (CSB)

You are good, and you do what is good;
teach me your statutes.

Simply put, God is good. He does what is good. So His statutes are then worth engaging when we are unsure, because we trust His character.

Consider the context. Remember that civilization isn’t very civilized at this point in humanity. In the context of the ancient world, including outside the bounds of Israel, a husband was understood to have full authority over his wife and, if accused of adultery, would have been well within his cultural rights to divorce her without cause and in some cases even put her to death. For instance, in the Code of Hammurabi, an accused wife was expected to “jump into the river for her husband” if he similarly accused her of unfaithfulness, even in the absence of evidence.

Not so for God’s people. In God’s household, if a husband accused a wife without evidence, God commanded that the priest be called in to mediate. Do you start to hear whispers of the good news of Jesus?

The accuser with all the cultural power could not decide the consequences for himself. He had to submit to another who stood in protection of his wife and determined her guilt or innocence by process before God, not by simple suspicion or accusation.

The accused wife was to drink holy water sprinkled with tabernacle dust. And here is the great difference in medieval trials by ordeal, and even those in the Code of Hammurabi contemporary to the Law of Moses, that promised death to the accused unless there was miraculous intervention. Instead, the miracle in this trial would be if the woman was harmed, not if she was saved. This water was most likely from the same source used for ritual cleansing throughout the book of Leviticus. The drink might taste gritty, but it would not be poisonous. It would take a miracle to prove her guilt, not to prove her innocence. She was naturally protected by the process rather than threatened by it.

While this odd procedure can easily become the focus of the passage, drawing our attention to other trials by ordeal throughout history, it is the mediation of the priest that is a better focus, pointing to the long story of Scripture ultimately fulfilled by Christ. John Calvin notes in his commentary on Numbers 5 that “many are causelessly suspicious” and suggests that Numbers 5 is protecting against “trifling suspicions” of husbands against wives. The role of the priest then is key in Calvin’s understanding because “when jealousy has once taken possession of the mind, there is no room for moderation or equity.” In this law, God, the just Judge, stepped in through the mediation of the priest to protect the woman against unjust accusation.

But the process seems by no means perfect, leaving us to wonder why God prescribed this method and not some other more precise one, or just teaching us as He does in I Cor. 13 that agape love puts away suspicions and acts in good faith.

Here we must remember another verse on the Law that give us helpful commentary for understanding the problems in Numbers 5.

Galatians 3:24—

24 The law, then, was our guardian until Christ, so that we could be justified by faith.

Rather than producing righteousness in the heart of God’s children, the Law was a tutor/guardian/keeper that pointed us to our need for Christ. Numbers 5 may have temporarily provided protection for the wife from an unjust accusation in a way that Trials by Ordeal in other cultures did not, but it did not change the heart of the husband sinning against his wife through unjust accusation. It is this very injustice that shows us our need for something more than the Law could provide. And here, we have hints of that better thing in Jesus that the Law teaches us we need.

This human priest is commanded to step into an unjust situation and stay the hand of jealousy, albeit in a limited way. But this points to our better mediator, our great High Priest and mediator before God, Jesus Christ (I Tim. 2:5).

1 Timothy 2:5 (CSB)

For there is one God and one mediator between God and humanity, the man Christ Jesus,

What is the point of a mediator? They are advocates who stand between an accuser and a judge. In Numbers 5, the husband unjustly accuses, and apart from this law, would likely set up himself as accuser, judge, and executioner. The priest steps in to mediate before God, the just judge. The priest protects this woman from an unjust accusation, as Jesus stepped into our lives stopping both the unjust and the just accusations of the accuser, Satan.

Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say:
Now have come the salvation and the power
and the kingdom of our God,
and the authority of his Messiah.
For the accuser of our brothers and sisters,
who accuses them before our God day and night,
has been hurled down. (Revelation 12:10)

Why have Satan’s accusations of us before God the Judge been hurled down? Because they were satisfied by Christ’s payment for our sins on the cross! This is key to understanding how Numbers 5 fits into the long story of Jesus in Scripture. Numbers 5 affords wives priestly protection from accusation and misuse, though in an imperfect, partial way. This law was a tutor, pointing to Jesus, yet still unable to make men fully righteous.

In the Gospels, we see the fulfillment in Christ, as Jesus stepped in to halt the just condemnation of the woman caught in adultery in John 8 and silenced the shameful accusations against the sinful woman of Luke 7. Ultimately Jesus on the cross silenced for all time both the just and the unjust accusations of Satan against us all, male and female. He brought our case before God the Father, Judge over all the earth, protecting us from unjust accusation and paying the penalty for the just ones. Jesus became “a curse among (the) people” in our place (Num. 5:21). Numbers 5 then is a tutor that points us to the One Mediator between God and men who silences all accusations against those who believe for all time. Apart from its context in the long story of Scripture, Numbers 5 is troubling and confusing. But understood as a tutor showing us our need for Jesus, this law is transformed into something truly beautiful.

Matthew 5:17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”

 

 

Women’s Ministry Coaching

I have met a number of life coaches over the last decade, a growing trend that I admit I’ve always thought a little hokey. Hokey is the best word I can come up with, indicating a general unease or weirdness about the concept without any real data or even anecdotes attached to that weirdness. It just seemed odd and suspicious (my apologies to any who do that kind of thing for a full-time living). Without looking at any real data, I thought of it as a job for folks who liked to talk about things more than they actually liked DOING things. It made me think of that old saying, “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.” Despite the critique in that saying, I know my own desire to teach is a spiritual gift, and I have embraced that gift with gusto. I am coming to see coaching in a similar fashion, and my opinion of it has changed.

The primary thing that changed my opinion on Christian coaching was (as fits a math teacher) some data on the subject. In this video, Ross Kaellner at Tailored Coaching shared interesting results from a survey that convinced me that there was more benefit to a coaching/mentor relationship (with clear parameters and accountability from both sides to persevere with the relationship) than I had originally credited to such a venture.

All that to say, I am going to coach through Tailored Coaching starting in April. The topic is Women’s Ministry and Practical Theology, with six sessions for leaders on developing a women’s ministry that is …

1. Mission Driven.

This session will lay a foundation for orienting a women’s ministry around the larger vision for discipleship in the local church of which it is a part.

2. Jesus Centered.

In Luke 24, Jesus taught His disciples that all of Scripture points to Him, including the hardest parts of the Old Testament. This session will cover what a Jesus-centered hermeneutic looks like when developing and presenting content from Scripture.

3. Gospel Focused.

As leaders develop vision, content, and strategies, even the best will fail without the gospel as the oil that keeps the engine running. Friction inevitably develops when leaders attach their identity to how well their strategies are received. The good news of Jesus offers us an identity that holds fast whether we are affirmed or critiqued in ministry.

4. Theologically Rich.

How do leaders communicate the riches of the knowledge of God in ways that women in a particular ministry can receive and apply? This session will aid in developing practical theology—content that is both doctrinally correct and relevant to women’s daily lives.

5. Relationally Relevant. 

Every individual church’s culture is at least slightly different from the next. This session will focus on understanding the language and culture of a leader’s particular church and translating into that culture in ways women in that ministry can receive.

6. Women’s Ministry Troubleshooting.

This session will help apply our understanding of the Triune God and our union with Christ to the various issues that cause frustration and discouragement in women’s ministries–gossip, family dynamics, critique, friction with other leaders, etc.

I am particularly excited about the first session, on helping folks develop women’s ministries that reinforce the larger mission of the church, working with pastors and elders to be genuine helps to their work of equipping disciples in the church. Pastors need the support of women leaders in their congregations. And women need the support of their pastors in a congregation. Building mutual relationships between pastors, elders, deacons, and deaconesses for the discipleship of the church is a great need about which I hear regularly.

If any of this sounds intriguing or helpful to you, you can find more information about it here. There is a cost, but I hope that cost feels reasonable for the time invested by all parties to make this a mutually accountable relationship. The first session begins on Friday, April 20. All monthly sessions will be on Fridays from 10 am – 12 pm Eastern. I apologize to west coast friends and hope down the road to offer sessions more convenient to those in mountain and pacific time zones.

Join us if you can!