My mother, as a girl, was taught that Christians should not say the Lord’s Prayer. The reason? Because it was no longer needed, since the Kingdom had already come. It was a model prayer, it turns out, for only a few months, since the Kingdom had come at Pentecost. This prayer was something of a historical oddity, giving us a glimpse perhaps of Jesus’ prayer life, but was quickly antiquated, like my iPhone 3. To believe this was to believe that the church and the Kingdom of God were one in the same. So, she was taught, as were many others in my tribe.
I don’t think we’re completely unique here. Those traditions with the most muscular ecclesiology (doctrine of the church), often have both an over-realized eschatology and a restrictive view on the role of women. By an over-realized eschatology I mean that salvation is seen as completely present in the gifts of the church, and we are simply waiting for the clock to run out so that we might find our heavenly reward. And if its all over but the fat lady singing, then the way it was is the way it will be. Women weren’t apostles then. They shouldn’t be leaders now.
But we were wrong, at least about the church and the Kingdom. The Kingdom and the church are not the same thing. The church serves the Kingdom which will only be fully present in the age to come. So, the prayer of Jesus is still our prayer. We’re still hoping that the future reign of God will make itself more evident in the present, that it will become on earth the way it will one day be in heaven.
I was never taught what my mother was taught: that saying the Lord’s Prayer was wrong. But neither was it emphasized. The first time I remember citing the Lord’s Prayer was not in church or at home, but on the school bus that was carrying the band to march at halftime of Abilene High School’s football game against Sweetwater High. The band director boarded our bus and led us all in the Lord’s Prayer. I barely knew it well enough to say it with the rest of my band mates, who clearly were well-versed in this practice. (I’m sure there’s another blog in here somewhere).
I also remember, as a young preacher, preaching for a small church in Oregon that my grandparents were trying to encourage in their early retirement years. I had preached on a text from the gospels that emphasized the Kingdom of God. After the lesson, we had a time of discussion and my grandfather asked me to tell everyone how the church and the Kingdom were the same thing. I was surprised by his request, but not as surprised as he was when I patiently pointed out that the Kingdom and the church were not the same.
So, I never really thought the Kingdom and the church were the same thing, but the significance of this insight grew on me over time. I remember talking to my dad about Paul’s notions of “new creation,” and he pointed out that the new creation was not simply the restoration of the old creation. It wasn’t simply a return to Eden. It was a “new thing” like what God had promised through prophets like Jeremiah and Dt. Isaiah. And what was coming was greater than what was from the beginning.
This was underscored for me when I read Paul Hanson’s massive book, The People Called, where Hanson demonstrates that after the exile, the prophets locate the work of God, not in an ideal past to be restored, but in a coming and perfect future. (Your Kingdom come…). More, I began to recognize what biblical scholars meant by the apocalyptic “deep structure” found in both the gospel proclaimed by Jesus and by Paul. As Leander Keck wrote about Paul, “The age to come is not the outgrowth of the past and present, nor the consummation or telos of history, but the God-given alternative to it.”
The earliest Christians were not those with their eyes always in the rear-view mirror hoping to restore some lost epoch. Instead, their eyes were forward, looking for the coming of the Lord Jesus and the full realization of the Kingdom, and living in the Spirit as the agent of God’s future glorification. This is where the story is headed. This future glory is the highest value of the gospel. This is what allows everything to be new every morning, for there is still to be news about God’s in-breaking Kingdom.
The earliest Christians, therefore, are indispensable to us, not because they fully embody the Kingdom of God, but because they pointed to it, staked their lives on it, prayed for it, and welcomed the gifts of the Spirit of God–a sure sign that the future glory of God was coming into view.
And in God’s future, there will be no distinction in how men and women will experience the presence and glory of God. The church, in my opinion, lives faithfully to the Kingdom of God when it serves this coming day of glory.
So, how do I deal with those texts in which Paul argues for restrictions based on the realities of creation? This is a good question. First of all, I don’t try to explain them away, though I think often they are misunderstood. Instead I recognize that gender texts are one place where Paul is doing situational theology in the tension of the already/not yet. Though Paul is straining toward the new creation, he knows that we still live in the realities of the old. Paul is giving his best contextual advice as he lives in the tension between creation and new creation. (I want to point out that I am not a biblical text scholar and only play one on my blog. I did, however, spend the night once at a Holiday Inn Express).
Some who have responded to my blog have pointed out that in the gender texts, Paul leans heavily on creation for his theological warrant. I agree. (This depends on what counts as a gender text, but I’ll grant that in a few spots it appears as a warrant). But there are also places where he stresses the new creation, and sometimes these theological commitments, creation and new creation, are in tension. A few examples. First, in 1 Cor Paul urges young widows to remain single if they can in light of the realities of the coming Kingdom. In 1 Timothy, he commands younger widows to remarry, a letter in which he bases other gender advice on creation (And yes, I actually think Paul wrote 1 Tim. Not as sure about Ephesians and Colossians, but buy LTJ’s view on the pastorals). Why the two different pieces of advice? Certainly, the context is different. But so is the respective weight he is putting on creation/new creation. Sometimes he leans on creation, sometimes an new creation. This is my point. Paul is doing theology in light of real-life, concrete situations, and in giving pastoral instruction he is always working within the tensions of the already/not yet.
Second example. In 1 Cor 11, women are clearly praying and prophesying, and it is likely given the larger context that Paul’s advice in chapters 11-14 is related to public worship. Paul wants to honor the fact that in the praying and prophesying of these women they are “remembering and maintaining” what Paul has taught them. To what is Paul referring? We can’t say for sure, but whatever it is, it is clear that Paul sees in the Corinthian women’s practice a desire to live into his instruction. They are honoring his teaching in some way. It’s not hard to imagine that the Corinthians, who clearly have an over-realized eschatology, are taking literally a statement like Paul’s in Gal 3:28: In Christ, there is neither male or female. Paul’s advice in chapter 11 does not forbid them from praying and prophesying, but from blurring gender distinctions in their practice. They are still men and women this side of the eschaton! In this text, Paul is clearly giving advice within the tensions of the already/not yet.
So, this is my take. The new creation is where Paul sees the story going. Texts like Galatians 3:28 speak to this reality. In the meantime, there are still men and women, slaves and free, and Jews and Greeks. Paul gives advice about how to live out the new realities within the framework of his culture which he often sees as simply the way things are (creation). He is giving advice on how churches should conduct themselves in the world in which they find themselves and within the tension of the already/not yet. And we should do the same thing.
We live in a world where the values related to the use of the public gifts of women are not restricted, and, therefore, where the values of the new age can be more fully embodied by the church. I am not substituting the values of my culture for the values of the Bible. I am living out the values of the coming Kingdom of God in a cultural context that demands it. Your Kingdom come…on earth as it is in heaven.