How Does the Gospel Fix Sin?

This is Part 3 of a 3-part series on sin. You can also read Part 1 and Part 2. The prompt given was “write a reflection on your understanding of sin and how the Gospel provides freedom from the negative impact and consequences of sin”. Submitted June 2016.

Well, we all know that sin is bad news and that the Gospel is good news, and that somehow the latter cancels the former out, or at the very least ameliorates it. That’s the basic message, anyway, which we’re studying so hard to be able to broadcast around.

But how does that work, exactly? For a prompt which seems so simple, it’s actually very complicated, and it needed a lot of thought before anything even resembling an understanding of the whole process could be come to. So, then, I’ve started with the “basics”:

What is Sin?

Sin, to my no doubt limited understanding, is a wilful rebellion against God and against His intentions for humanity. It is not merely an action, nor a collection of various actions, as in the popular view, or is it even the mere contemplation of or will to carry out these actions, as is often described based on Matthew 5:28.

Sin is a basic condition which we have, an impulse perhaps: to reject God and everything He is and says He is, and to suspect everything He says He is and wants for us.

What are the Consequences of Sin?

If sin is a rebellion against God, who He is, and His intentions for humanity, then the consequences of sin must be related to these things against which we are rebelling. The loss, as I can see it, is twofold.

Firstly, we experience a loss of or a lack of understanding of who God is and of what He intends for us. Having rejected God and gained a suspicion of what or who He is and says He is, we no longer have the knowledge of these things, and what little knowledge we do have is tainted by our own rejection and suspicion of that very knowledge.

Secondly, we lack the experience of who God is and of what He intends for us. Having attempt to separate ourselves from God, we no longer have the close and intimate relationship with Him which Adam and Eve had in the Garden. Not only have we lost this relationship, God’s original intention for us, but we are not able by our own power to reattain it, either presently or for eternity.

What is the Gospel?

The Gospel is the good news of God’s attempts at the reparation of this broken relationship through Himself reaching out to us in the form of Jesus Christ. Christ, as the ultimate sacrifice, fulfilled and negated one of the more visible consequences of sin – the wages or punishment for it. Jesus, in living a blameless life, demonstrated to us how we might live in a close relationship with God.

The Gospel and our Understanding of God

Through Christ’s actions as the ultimate sacrifice, we learn in the Gospel that God still wants us. He hasn’t rejected us as we have rejected Him simply because we have done so! Instead, He is actively seeking to restore us to how we were, which is what He had intended for us in the first place.

Through the lifestyle which Jesus led, we can learn how to live a relationship with God. We might, as He did, pray, and thereby converse with God in some semblance of the way in which Adam and Eve did. We might, on the other hand, fast as He did, taking the time for a silence in a wilderness, be it literal or metaphorical, in order to listen for God’s responses. We might practice many other aspects of Jesus’ life, such as living a simply existence, or biding our time, holding our tongue, and listening; or many other things which might allow us, just for a moment, to know, understand, and embrace God.

At the same time, we may be secure in the knowledge that all of this isn’t merely one-sided and futile attempts at holiness on our part, but that God is still reaching out to us, and that He is using these small strivings of ours to change us, to fix us, and to rebuild us into something which might one day be able to enter into His presence and to worship Him for eternity.

The Gospel and our Understanding of the World

In understand God and what He is trying to do in us through the Gospel, we are able better to understand ourselves; to understand who we are, what we are, and what we’re meant to be. However, with this understanding, we may see our origins in the Garden and our relationship then with God and to each other; but then we may look around the world and see that it is actually nothing like that.

We know, of course, by now, what happened: we rebelled, and the Fall happened. Nevertheless, even as we might try to reattain – with God’s help – that relationship which we had with Him before the fall, is it possible that we might try to reattain that relationship which we had to each other?

As it turns out, this is also something which God has demonstrated to us through Christ Jesus. In fact, for all the we see Jesus praying, fasting, or anything else of that nature, He says and does a lot about how we might live with one another, and of what we might do with all that God has given us.

One thing which we have lost, in rejecting God, is a good understanding of His lordship – His authority – over everything, the creation, and us. In our self-centred sinful state, we see that everything that we have as a reflection of ourselves, and not a reflection, as we should, of God and of His generosity. Through an observation of Jesus’ lifestyle and words, we may not only better know and embrace God, but we may also understand Him, our position to Him, and the position of both to everything and everyone else.

The Gospel and our Understanding of Ourselves

With the good news of the Gospel, we are able to look at the bigger picture: our origins in the Garden, our rebellion and the Fall, and God’s intention for a close relationship with us, both now and in eternity. On the other hand, we might also look at the small picture of the individual.

We must not underestimate the effect which our childhood and upbringing, our family both immediately and extended, present and past, have had on us. After all, we are born into a family, and this context shapes our understanding even before we can talk, just as the context of our parents or those who raise us is formed by their families. The Bible tells us that iniquities continue on to the third and fourth generation, a seeming contradiction to the words which say that children don’t bear the punishments meant for their parents and vice-versa, but a simply look at one’s family will explain this apparent conceptual problem. Habits, situations, and mentalities of parents – and the effects thereof – become so deeply ingrained in the child that he passes them on to his own children. There are aspects of our personalities, although learnt rather than innate traits, which we have inherited from our parents, grand-parents, and even great-grand-parents.

On the other hand, these effects and close bonds may teach us something else, because what is there which is more reflective of God than a close and loving relationship with another person? If God’s will for us is that we might spend eternity with Him, and if the Gospel is a demonstration of His act to enable this future, then our families provide the perfect place to discover close and loving relationship with others and how we might be in them.

An effect of the Gospel, of course, is the formation of the Church, groups of believers worshipping together. Relationships with other believers and unity in worshipping groups form a major emphasis of many writings in the New Testament. God has given us not only our biological families with whom we might form close and loving relationships, but the much wider Church family also.

In Conclusion

Sin is a rebellion against God and against His intentions for us, an underlying condition in all of us which prevents us from both understanding and experiencing God, a relationship with Him, a relationship to the world and to each other, and our futures with God. Sin creates suspicion and separates us from everything which most matters.

The Gospel shows us both how God has acted to restore us to Him and how we might live in order to reattain something of the relationships for which He intended us.

Firstly, we have been shown how to live in a relationship with God, through prayer, fasting, and other disciplines which might help us to embrace Him and He to embrace us.

Secondly, we have been shown how God has lordship over us, over everyone else, and over all of creation. We must understand that the material wealth which we have is not a reflection of us, but of God’s great generosity for us, and we must use it in a way which reflects the true ownership of this material wealth – ownership by God.

Thirdly, having understood our origins and past, both personal and familial, and how this effects both our present life and our future eternity, we see that we have been placed in a position where we might both learn a little more of God’s nature but also prepare for eternity in relationship with God by practicing with close and loving relationships with family both biological and spiritual in the present.

Through the Gospel, we have been shown how we might remove ourselves just a little from the consequences of sin, and return in some fashion to a close relationship with God.

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A Brief History of Christian Fasting

Adapted from paper presented for the “Spiritual Disciplimes” class at ACM in March 2016 (personal bits removed – and, indeed, rendered irrelevant by intervening events).

_______________________________

I worship in a tradition which has previously practiced fasting but has now mostly abandoned the practice to embrace silence, stillness, and contemplation in its place. I’m not the sort who’s ever had much of a problem with silence, stillness, and contemplation, so these things aren’t really a spiritual discipline for me – or, at least, not a new one, and part being alive is to grow and try new things.

Fasting in the Bible

In the Bible, fasting appears to have been used for a variety of reasons, including mourning[2], preparation for a physical battle[3] or spiritual trial[4], supplication[5], repentance[6], seeking guidance[7], reading the Scripture[8], or simply to draw nearer to God[9] or gain spiritual strength[10]. On many occasions, prayer is mentioned alongside fasting[11] or depicted with it[12].

At several points in the Bible[13], we see people fasting merely for appearances’ sake, to make themselves seem more spiritual; this was apparently such a problem that Jesus gave specific instructions about fasting so as to avoid it. In Matthew 6:16-18, the disciples are told not to go about fasting in an obvious way, but to do it in secret, maintaining a happy outward appearance.

From the Biblical record, we can see that there are a number of needs which fasting fulfils, listed above. While some of these probably seem to us today to be either irrelevant (preparation for a battle) or just a little odd and unnecessary (as mourning or as preparation for reading the Scripture), they are, for the most part, needs which Christians still have today – such as spiritual trials, repenting, and the need for spiritual strength or guidance.

Fasting in Historical Christianity

Fasting two days of the week quickly became the norm in early Christianity. The Didache, which was written sometime before the end of the second century[14], states that Christians should fast on Wednesday[15] and Friday[16], rather than on Monday and Thursday “with the hypocrites”[17] (presumably the Jews[18]). The Didache also links fasting and praying together in the single sentence[19], indicating that the two were viewed on a similar level.

The Rev’d Joseph Connolly, a Catholic priest[20], stated,

“Fasting is recommended by the scriptures and practised by the church as a means of atoning for sin and commending ourselves and our prayers to God. Hence the fast days of the Christian calendar and their connecting with times of prayer, such as Lent and Ember weeks[21] and the eves of the great feasts.”[22]

In both Roman Catholic and Orthodox traditions, the term “fast” now applies more commonly to what might better be known as “abstinence”. In Orthodox churches, a “plain fast” or a “strict fast” require abstinence from meat, eggs, dairy, fish, wine, and oil[23]. Some feast days require relaxed fasts which allow wine and oil and sometimes fish. In the Roman Catholic church, which has far fewer fast days than the Orthodox church, “fasting” is abstaining simply from meat[24], or from some other food, and the canon law states that works of charity or “exercises of piety” may be substituted for fast and abstinence observance[25]. In the West, it has become more popular for Catholics to abstain from activities, such as texting[26], or from treat foods only, such as chocolate, for Lent. Some Anglican churches recommend daily periods of contemplative prayer and self-examination in place of fasting[27].

Meanwhile, while the practice of fasting is falling prey to attempts to make it relevant by eliminating it in traditional churches, it has experienced something of a revival in Pentecostal churches. Pentecostal churches, leery of legalism, do not legislate any specific fast days and instead leave it up to “the leading of God”. However, many individuals within the Pentecostal movement have labelled different sorts of fast, including “normal fasts” (abstaining from all food but continuing to drink water), “water fasts” (abstaining from everything, including water), and “Daniel fasts” or “partial fasts” (abstaining from one or more items of food, typically meat and sweets)[28].

Fasting in the Modern Context

It is clear to see that fasting can be, has been, and is being adapted for the modern context. In the Bible, as well as in traditional churches, fasting has been very much a communal activity, as well as at times a private one. Today, we no longer live in close, closed communities of believers, whether Jewish or Christian, which can undertake fasting as a community event. Nor, probably, would many protestants want to do so, since faith in many protestant traditions is much more a personal affair than a community one.

Despite whatever postmodern reluctance we might have to avoid doing anything as a group, whether for legalism-avoiding reasons or for anything else, it is most assuredly ill-advised to go about fasting without letting anyone know, even if only for the health concerns, to say nothing of spiritual ones. For this reason it is important to find some way of treading a middle ground between individual, personal fasting behaviour, and the congregational fasting periods of history.

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[1] Thigpen, P., Soul Building, Discipleship Journal

[2] Judges 20:26, 1 Samuel 31:13, Samuel 1:11-12, 1 Kings 12:27, 1 Chronicles 10:12, Nehemiah 1:4, Esther 4:3, Psalm 69:10, Jeremiah 14:12, Joel 1:14

[3] 2 Chronicles 20:3, Esther 4:16, Matthew 4:2

[4] Acts 13:2-3, Acts 14:23

[5] Judges 20:26, Nehemiah 1:4, Jeremiah 14:12, Daniel 6:18, Daniel 9:3, Joel 1:14

[6] 1 Samuel 7:6, Psalm 35:13, Psalm 69:10, Daniel 9:3, Joel 2:12-15

[7] Ezra 8:21-9:5

[8] Nehemiah 9:1

[9] Psalm 35:13, Psalm 69:10, Psalm 109:24, 1 Corinthians 7:5

[10] Matthew 17:21 and Mark 9:29

[11] Daniel 9:3, Matthew 17:21, Mark 9:29, Luke 2:37, Acts 10:30, Acts 13:2-3, Acts 14:23, 1 Corinthians 7:5

[12] 1 Samuel 7:6, 2 Chronicles 20:3, Ezra 8:21-9:5, Nehemiah 9:1, Joel 1:14

[13] Isaiah 58:2-6, Zechariah 7:3-5, Luke 18:12

[14] van de Sandt, H & Flusser, D 2002, The Didache: Its Jewish Sources and its Place in Early Judaism and Christianity, Royal Van Gorcum, Assen, Nederlands., pg. 48b

[15] Interestingly, in the Gaelic language, which has no record for weekday names prior to the arrival of Christianity, Wednesday is called “Di-Ciad-Aoin”, meaning “day of the first fast”. Likewise, Friday is “Di-h-Aoine”, or “day of the fast”, leaving Thursday as “Di-Ardaoin”, a shortened form of “di-eadar-aoin” or “day between the fast”.

[16] The suggestion has been made that these days were chosen for the following reason: Wednesday because that is the day Judas betrayed Jesus, and Friday because it is the day on which Jesus was killed

[17] van de Sandt, H & Flusser, D 2002, The Didache: Its Jewish Sources and its Place in Early Judaism and Christianity, Royal Van Gorcum, Assen, Nederlands., pg. 12e, 8.1

[18] van de Sandt, H & Flusser, D 2002, The Didache: Its Jewish Sources and its Place in Early Judaism and Christianity, Royal Van Gorcum, Assen, Nederlands., pg. 292c

[19] van de Sandt, H & Flusser, D 2002, The Didache: Its Jewish Sources and its Place in Early Judaism and Christianity, Royal Van Gorcum, Assen, Nederlands., pg.s. 12e-13a, 8.1-8.3

[20] Hickerson, P, ‘Father Connolly, Severn pastor for 16 years, dies’, The Baltimore Sun, 7 March 1993, accessed 22 March 2016, <http://articles.baltimoresun.com/1993-03-07/news/1993066097_1_catholic-priest-roman-catholic-connolly&gt;.

[21] Weeks of dedicated prayer, vigil, and spiritual renewal, see Davies, JG (Ed.) 1972, A Dictionary of Liturgy & Worship, 5th edn, SCM Press Ltd, London., pgs. 168-169

[22] Davies, JG (Ed.) 1972, A Dictionary of Liturgy & Worship, 5th edn, SCM Press Ltd, London., pg. 180b

[23] Seraphim of Platina, F 2008, The Rule of Fasting in the Otrhodox Church, Orthodox Christian Information Centre, accessed 24 March 2016, <http://orthodoxinfo.com/praxis/father-seraphim-rose-fasting-rules.aspx&gt;.

[24] Canon 1251, Code of Canon Law, accessed 22 March 2016, < http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG1104/__P4O.HTM&gt;

[25] Canon 1253, Code of Canon Law, accessed 22 March 2016, < http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG1104/__P4O.HTM&gt;

[26] ‘To text is to sin’, NZ Herald,  8 March 2009, accessed 22 March 2016, < http://www.nzherald.co.nz/world/news/article.cfm?c_id=2&objectid=10560485&gt;

[27]  I can’t really provide a reference for this one, but if you want to check its veracity, feel free to contact Fr. Steve at Holy Innocents’ Anglican Belair.

[28] I don’t know that any of the sites I perused to find this out could be considered legitimate sources of authority, but they include, but are not limited to, such places as “Pentecostal Pioneers” <http://www.pentecostalpioneers.org/fasting.html&gt;, “Central Pentecostal Church” <http://cpchurch.ca/2013/01/03/fasting-not-just-another-diet/&gt;, and “The Apostolic Pentecostal Church” <http://theapc.org/the-foundation-of-fasting/.

Some further divide their fasts by length, exact things being abstained from, or reason. Elmer Towns, a Baptist writer, identifies fast types by  reason or aim, rather than length or abstinence, and lists nine different sorts of fast this way in his book Fasting for Spiritual Breakthrough, 1st Indian edn, OM Books, Secunderabad, Andhra Pradesh, India.

[29]  Towns, E. L. The Beginner’s Guide to Fasting, Regal Books, Ventura, California, USA.

The Fourth Day – The Ginosar Boat (Galilee)

Map.gif

On the way to Ginosar, we crossed the Jordan.

01 - The Mighty Jordan

the mighty Jordan river

Yuval explained that after heavy rains, lots of water flows down from Golan in rivulets called “yuvalim”. No matter how much he said that he was named after the word for river, I couldn’t remove the image of hundreds of Yuvals wandering down to the lake.

The rock to the north of the lake is mostly basalt from the dormant volcanos in the Golan. All around the north and east of the lake, lots of bananas are grown.

02 - Bananas

They’re covered in plastic to stop them getting blemishes. When asked what’s growing, Yuval likes to reply that they’re growing “blue plastics”.

On the west side of the lake, olives are more common. They’re grown commercially for oil here. Most of the tourist shops we went in today were selling Galilee Oil.

11 - Olives

We went to Kibbutz Ginosar, a farming kibbutz with a massive museum dedicated to a single exhibit.

03 - Sycamore

This is a sycamore tree. That’s not the exhibit.

About a generation ago, two men from the kibbutz were down by the bank after a drought and found some old nails in the mud. They started digging and began to find wood. It turned out to be a fishing boat dating from the early 1st century.

04 - Excavation

05 - Excavation

After digging the boat mostly out, it was sprayed with foam to protect it as it was moved. They didn’t know how to move it otherwise without destroying it, because the wood was very soft, and for a while they were thinking about building the exhibit right there on the shore.

05 - Foam

It was actually sailed across the lake (for the first time in almost 2000 years!) to the harbour at Ginosar. It was put in a huge tank of water with little fish to get the bugs out of the wood, and then in a tank of wax and chemicals to seal it up.

06 - Boat

07 - Me and Boat.jpg

We had some time to look around the shop. It was mostly all the same “Holy Land” and “Jerusalem” stuff, as well as the aforementioned olive oil. There was a large group of Orthodox people, including nuns and monks, going through at the same time as us.

08 - Kippot and Tallit.jpg

kippot (skullcaps) and tallit (prayer shawls)

09 - Torah

torot (the Pentateuch scroll)

10 - Mezuzah

mezuzah – little cases into which one slips a written-out shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-7-ish) and ties on the doorframe (taking the instruction in the verse in question quite literally)

There were tiny little torot in metal tubes about 10cm tall which opened up. I couldn’t believe it was the entire torah (you know how big the first five books are, right?), but couldn’t quite communicate that comment to the assistant nearby who asked if I wanted any help. He seemed to think I thought the entire Bible was there and tried to explain to me about the three parts of the tanakh and what the torah was.

Rebuttals for Headcovering Arguments

Compiled. Finally.

Here are some of the most common arguments I get (online and in real life) against the idea of wearing a prayer covering, as well as my (current) responses to them.

Since the main backing for the teaching of headcovering comes from the first half of 1 Corinthians 11, most of the arguments are also based on that passage.

“It’s outdated – that passage was only talking to the Corinthians.”

There are two streams to this argument: (1) It’s isolated in time to the 1st-century Corinthians, and therefore not applicable to us in the 21st century, and (2) It’s isolated in geography to Corinth, and therefore not applicable to us in the “West”. I’ll deal with the second point first, because it’s the easiest.

I direct your attention to the first chapter of 1 Corinthians, where Paul in the first few verses introduces himself and states who he’s writing to:

“To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 1:2). Was Paul writing to the Corinthians? Yes. Did he intend for the things he talked about in the letter to just be for the Corinthians? I’ll let you decide.

As for the second point, well, this is also covered in 1 Corinthians 1:2 – “together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ”. That’s all Christians, everywhere, right? And anywhen?

But nevertheless, take a look at some of the other topics Paul covers in the letter. What does he talk about in the second half on 1 Corinthians 11? Communion? Is this also an outdated practice to be consigned to the 1st century?

“It’s all about oppressing women.”

Perhaps. Feminists can find stuff about oppressing women in every text, and the Bible is certainly no exception! By why is this passage a target? Here are a few thoughts:

(1) The religious group most known for headcovering today is the Muslims, and there’s been a lot of negative media about how they oppress their women. Might I just remind you that Islam and Christianity are not the same religion and have very different reasons for headcovering? In Islam it’s about not tempting men (or God). In Christianity it’s about praying and respecting God.

(2) The headship order is read as woman < man < Christ < God. Therefore, one surmises, it must be placing women as lesser than men, and therefore must be oppressive. Think about that for a minute. By that logic, Christ is less than God. Huh? Three equal parts of a triune Godhead? And one is less than another?

(3) In verses eleven and twelve, women and men are placed as equals. This is a common theme in 1 Corinthians – see Chapter 7, too – and was quite radical in its day. How can it be about oppressing women when men and women are described as equal? Even more unusually for the Bible, this whole passage doesn’t even talk about submission at all. It just talks about honour and dishonour. In verse twelve, men and women are equal, but both come from God.

(4) Quite apropos to nothing, we were reading through Proverbs 31 in women’s Bible study the other day, and a couple of the ladies, ardent feminists, got quite angry, talking about throwing their Bibles down and how horrible and outdated it all was. And I’m just sitting there going, “This is an incredibly empowering passage for women. She’s the one who’s in charge of all the finances, of buying goods and property, of basically running the world. What do they find so terribly patronising about that?” Basically what I’m saying is, you see what you want to see. If you’re determined to find an anti-feminist women-oppressing agenda in a Bible passage, you’ll probably see it if you look hard enough.

“It’s only mentioned in this one place.”

There are a lot of other lifestyle things which are only mentioned in 1 Corinthians. Not tolerating adulterous incest in the church (chapter 5), not taking each other to court (chapter 6), not visiting prostitutes (chapter 6), and so on. All these things seem so obvious they’re barely worth mentioning, and modern churched readers look at this and go, “He had to tell them this?” Do you think it might be possible that headcovering was seen as a similarly obvious thing not worth mentioning? Could it be in the same category?

“God doesn’t mention the Creation/Headship Order anywhere else.”

Genesis 1:26-28 hints at it – humans are made by/ come from God (1 Corinthians 11:12), but higher than fish, birds, and animals. If you’re determined to see some sort of female-oppressive regime going on, you really can’t go past Genesis 3:16 (“you husband… shall rule over you”) to find a hint of it. I haven’t even got past the first three chapters of the Bible yet.

Then again, the Trinity isn’t explicitly mentioned until you get to the New Testament, either, although Daniel 7 gets pretty close to it (more on that another time). But then, the Old Testament is peppered with references to the Trinity, if you read it already knowing about God’s triune nature. God is like a parent, feeding His children hints at the answer to let us work it out for ourselves, rather than just spoon-feeding the information to us and expecting us to accept it blindly. There are a number of threads of thought that start as occasional hints in the Old Testament and finally we’re told straight-out in the New Testament (presumably when we’ve become too stupid to work it out and God finally gave up patience).

“God didn’t detail it enough for it to be important.”

This argument I was given in the context of a comparison with the detail in Leviticus and Deuteronomy regarding the construction of the temple and how and when sacrifices are to be made. “God spared no detail,” I was told, “You would think that if headcoverings were equally important, God would have set aside more than the first half of 1 Cor. 11 to explain it in detail, but what we have is a confusing set of unclear metaphors that are indirect.”

Well, this argument just doesn’t make sense to me. Comparing the construction of the temple and the guidelines for sacrifices with the passage detailing women’s headcovering is like comparing oranges and pears, to use a metaphor. One is historic narrative discourse, another is a personal letter. One is from 1400BC to a group of escape slaves in a desert, another is in 55AD to a group of modern, affluent, urbanite Greeks. One details something that had never happened before (building a temple for the Lord) and in unusual circumstances (the Lord had literally just come down and His presence was actually, physically, in the middle of their campsite); another is dealing with a lifestyle practice issue which was so obvious they should have already known (see point #3).

“It was just a cultural practice in Corinth.” and “It was just an oriental custom.”

I’ve put these together because they contradict each other. Let’s go through some basic cultural background of 1st-century Corinth.

(1) Corinth was (and still is) a Greek city. Greece is in Europe. (This is being said just in case the second argument was based on the assumption that Corinth was in the Near East).

(2) The majority of the church at Corinth was ethnically Greek, not converted Jews (see 1 Corinthians 12:2). (This is begin said just in case the second argument was based around the idea that the church at Corinth was culturally Near Eastern).

(3) Corinth was known for its “modern” free-thinking and general laissez-faire attitude to everything (including sex). (Sound familiar?) In Classical times, the temple of Aphrodite in Corinth employed around a thousand temple prostitutes.

(4) Corinth was a very rich city because it was situated on a major trade route. It had two ports and had traffic from Rome, Athens, Turkey, Egypt, and the Levant (modern Israel/Palestine/Lebanon). People from all over the Mediterranean region called Corinth home. Think about similar cities today – is there just one cultural practice present in them?

“It’s just about public worship.”

Actually, it’s about praying and prophesying. Is there anywhere in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 which implies public cohortative worship at all, let alone exclusively?

I wear my headcovering all the time because Christians are called to pray continually (1 Thessalonians 5:17). However, I know ladies who wear headcoverings for church services as well as for private prayer and small-group Bible studies.

“Long hair is the headcovering.”

My first rebuttal is that Verse 6 makes no sense if this is so. Let’s read it with the assumption that long hair is the headcovering, using the NIV translation (italics are the bits I have changed for the sake of this assumption: “For if a woman does not have long hair, she might as well have hair her cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should have long hair.” Yep, that makes perfect sense.

My second rebuttal is one of personal incredulity. Why do so many women who tell me that long hair is the only headcovering needed have short hair? And I’m not just talking about shoulder-length hair or bobs. Proper short one-or-two-inch mens’-style hairdos. Really short hair. If they honestly believe that long hair is the headocvering, then… what?!

“Well, that’s your conviction.”

Yes. Yes it is. It isn’t one I’ve just plucked out of thin air, either. And while I’d love it if you read your Bible and came to the same conclusion, I’m not going to force it on you. After all, as you’ve said, it’s my personal thing – my personal “act of worship”, as our parish priest put it today when she overheard me explaining it to someone. I understand I’m in the minority.

Headcoverings aren’t a salvation issue. In fact, I might even go so far as to say they’re optional. As Christians, we have a great freedom of conscience in many areas, and it doesn’t do to force one’s own opinion on others – we should leave that for God to do. As Romans 14:5 says, in the context of whether to fast or eat, whether to keep Sabbath or not keep Sabbath – “Let each be fully convinced in his own mind.” Whatever you do, do it in sincere praise and worship and thanks of God.

But, you know, read your Bibles and work it out for yourselves. Don’t just go with the flow. Being a Christian isn’t about blindly following. It’s about thinking and testing and working things out.

“What on earth is meant by the ‘angels’?”

Good question. If ever I work it out, I’ll… probably be dead, in heaven, and have just asked God himself. Until then, here are a few of the explanations I’ve heard.

(1) The angels in heaven that are worshipping God use one of their three pairs of wings to cover their heads and faces (Daniel, Ezekiel, Revelation, et c.). Therefore, we should follow their example and also cover our heads. I can’t say I find this particularly convincing, since men are told in 1 Corinthians 11 not to cover their heads in prayer.

(2) It’s to protect us from the fallen angels. They can see that we’re Christians and won’t touch us. Uh-huh. Like that’s ever stopped them. I’ll think you’ll find it’s having God’s indwelling Spirit in you that will stop the fallen angels.

(3) It’s so the angels know to protect us because we’re Christians. I heard a story of two ladies on a bus that was boarded by a gunman, but they were both veiled and at the front of the bus and the gunman said there was just a bright light at the front and he couldn’t see and left. That started off well, but it was a bit of an odd conversation with a Mennonite lady when I was visiting the US a few years ago.

(3) Angels are genderless and all the same. Humans, on the other hand, are more like God; made up of different sorts and very relational. The headcovering is representative of the Headship order, which tells us how to interact with each other and with God. By wearing the headcovering, we’re providing an example to the angels on how to relate to each other and to God. I like this one the best, so far.

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Headcoverings are as varied as the Christian women who wear them. Pictured are women and girls from various Christian traditions, including Catholic, Orthodox, Amish and Mennonite, Ethiopian Orthodox, Anglican, Hutterite, Russian Old Believer, Messianic, and Non-Denominational.

Reflective Paragraphs Week 3 – John 17

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It’s interesting that the way Jesus prays here is quite different to the way we pray. In the Anglican tradition, at least, group prayers in church tend to circle in, starting with big ideas like the world and global poverty, and then moving into to national, and then state, community, and church issues, before finally reaching the family and then the self. Conversely, Jesus starts with himself for the first five verses, before praying for his friends, and then for all believers. It’s an interesting juxtaposition.

Reflective Paragraphs Week 2 – Luke 11

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A major theme for the first part of this chapter seems to be prayer: how to pray, and how to have faith in answer to prayers. This is something that has been very real to me over the past week, in the wake of a pretty terrible car crash my father and sister were in. God’s hand was on them and they survived, while many in that sort of crash don’t, but in the days following, my sister was in hospital, expecting to have surgery on her leg. Our friends and family at church, as well as many in my university community, were praying for her and for the surgery, and after a few days, scans told us that the bones were aligned and no surgery was needed; and then later that the fractures were minor enough not to even need plaster but simply a brace! I’m no medical expert, but when something changes that much, how can anyone say to me that God does not answer prayer?