“And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require from you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in His ways and love Him, and to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the LORD’s commandments and His statues which I am commanding you today for your good?”
“He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing. So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”
Deuteronomy 10:12-13 and 18-19 (NASB)
These words written by Moses connect something very important for God’s chosen people. Throughout this book, God called the people to remember Him as their one and only God. This remembrance is rooted in the deliverance out of oppression and slavery in Egypt. From here, they are to know God, love God, and follow his commandments. One important element of these commandments is the execution of justice.
What God seems to be saying here thru Moses is, “I saw you when you were the marginalized and the oppressed. I delivered you out of this condition. Now out of remembrance, worship, and love, live for Me by caring for the marginalized and oppressed around you now. If you are not sure who those people are, let me be very clear; the orphan, the widow, and the alien.” In other places in Scripture the poor are also mentioned. In Matthew 25, Jesus extends this in a very clear way to the sick and incarcerated as well. This should lead us to understand the connection between Deliverance, Remembrance, and Justice. Let me take this a little further.
Jesus is our deliverance out of sin. We should not disconnect our understanding of this from the deliverance of Israel from Egypt. Just as the people of Israel were called to remember this, we Christians are to participate in the Sacrament of Communion as a remembrance. The Old Testament remembrance ought inform the New Testament remembrance. The New Testament remembrance should not remove the Old Testament remembrance. It is the combination of the two that fueled the movement against slavery and Jim Crow segregation in the United States of America. These movements were another great awakening in our country, which provided a new lens of understanding Kingdom justice.
Today, the church should still be about the evangelistic work of deliverance, the communal act of remembrance, and the missional work of Kingdom justice. As a product of the African-American church, I’ve never understood the historic divide in the European-American church between evangelism and the social gospel. I realize that the term social justice has taken on a bad name in evangelicalism and in many ways I understand why. Justice has been kidnapped to a large degree by humanism. This was the undoing of the Civil Rights Movement in a lot of ways. It went from being a church-based movement, to a secularized and political one. But the church should never stop connecting Evangelism and Kingdom Justice. God is a God of love, deliverance, and justice. We should always remember that.
Three months ago while in Kenya, I visited the town of Dandora. Dandora has the second largest concentration of extreme poverty in Kenya. The town is basically built on a trash dump. As you go into the town you see mothers, children, and pigs on a mountain of trash digging for food and other necessities. There are families in the town that are so poor, that when they have a child born they take that baby to the trash dump to die.
In the midst of all this though, there is a church in the center of town. I met the pastor and some of their ministry staff who work in partnership with Compassion International. They have a motto that says, “we find God’s treasures amongst the trash. I met a young man who had been rescued from the trash dump years ago. He now is in college. I will never forgot this trip. It has forever changed my thoughts on the poor, God’s Kingdom, and the mission of the church.
Last weekend, I was in downtown Los Angeles. Rolling Hills Covenant Church is one of the churches in the conference which I serve. They sent a Kingdom army of close to 600 people from their congregation to Skid Row. Skid Row contains about 60,000 homeless people in downtown LA. You don’t have to go all the way to Kenya to see poverty. Rolling Hills partnered with the Fred Jordan Mission to put on a tremendous service of hope. I had the privilege of preaching with the senior pastor of Rolling Hills to hundreds of the homeless of Skid Row. But, we didn’t just preach. People were fed. People were plugged into programs for life change and were extended the love of God.
In the area of Kingdom Compassion, Mercy, and Justice there is yet still much to do. Churches around this country and around the world must put themselves in a position to hear God’s voice calling us still to love the poor. We must find our local and global place of mission and transformation. My trip to Kenya three months ago and my visit to downtown Los Angeles last weekend has my spirit so hopeful of what God will do thru us, His beloved children.
As we continue to live within the ever-increasing multi-ethnic and multicultural reality, it is more and more obvious that the Black and White matrix of the American Christian Church is outdated. It seems that regardless of the racial and class constructs that exists within our nation and world, God is determined to to fulfill the Great Commission (Matthew 28).
If there was ever a time for Pastoral Leadership with the ability to lead Christ-centerd and multicultural communities now is the time. The reason I say Christ-centered is because leading a multicultural congregation should not compromise biblical truth. Some churches in the United States of America and beyond have sacrificed biblical truth for the sake of becoming multicultural. This Christ-centeredness and belief in the authority and centrality of Scripture ought to lead us to proclaiming truth, righteousness, evangelism, discipleship, and Kingdom justice. A true commitment to Christ-centeredness in no way compromises the commitment to biblical truth, because the Word of God is the beginning point for understanding the nature, words, and works of Christ. This ought to be the on-ramp to the next area, which is cross-cultural leadership.
The ministry of Jesus was very cross-cultural in nature. His ministry included the Tax Collector, the Samaritan, the Canaanite, women, the poor, and those of privilege. Jesus Himself walked the earth as both God (John 1) and a multicultural Jew (Matthew 1). His ministry was cross-cultural and He was cross-cultural. Thru the Holy Spirit, He lives within us as Christian pastors and lay leaders. This reality is the on-ramp for our understanding that God desires to equip and empower us to minister in the multicultural reality in which we live daily.
Cross-cultural leadership takes being willing to be informed and mentored by diverse, Christian leaders. If you’re European-American and evangelical for instance, it’s not enough to just have C.S. Lewis, John Piper, N.T. Wright, John Calvin, and Rick Warren on your book shelf. You also need Vashti McKenzie, Soon-Chan Rah, Francis Chan, Howard Thurman, John Perkins, and Anne Wimbley on your shelf as well. You also must allow God to lead you into deep, authentic cross-cultural friendships. God desires to raise up an army of Christ-centered, cross-cultural, post-black, and post-white leaders.
I recently spoke to a pastor who made his case for not supporting women as senior pastors. “I’ve asked many men this question,” he said. “As a man, when you see a woman up front preaching or teaching, what’s the first thing you think about? The first thing that comes into your mind is if she is attractive or not. This distraction is one of the main reasons women should not be senior pastors or preach to men”, he said.
I was somewhat shocked by this argument. Not because he believed this, but because he said it out loud and so boldly. He stated it as if it were a biblical truth. To me, his statement was more about the sexism within evangelicalism connected to the sexism within the broader society, than some well thought out theological position on women in ministry leadership.
At least he was honest and pointed to the real issue at the foundation of why many men in evangelicalism struggle with women in ministry and pastoral leadership. Some try to cover up this truth by using the words of Paul in the New Testament. I’m not going to go into all the Scriptures which support women in ministry and pastoral leadership because this has already been done. I invite you to go to the website of the Evangelical Covenant Church (www.covchurch.org) to get information on some insightful resources.
What I will say is this-
Should the words of Paul, which could very well be situational and contextual, not universal and unconditional be used to argue the case for women in ministry? Shouldn’t the actions of Jesus with women and the equipping of women by God speak louder than the words of Paul? To the second question, I say yes.
I believe the bible is authoritative and central for living. Within this belief, I believe the works of God, which includes the works of Jesus, should speak louder than the words of Paul. I don’t in anyway negate the words of Paul or them being from God, but these word of Paul are put in its proper context when put up against and compared to the works and words of Jesus. Why is this important? Because Jesus is God and Paul is not. God speaks higher than God’s servants and God speaks thru God’s servants simultaneously. This understanding is important in dealing with the issue of women in ministry.
What does the actions of Jesus with women in the Gospels tell us about God’s empowerment of women and should this speak louder than Paul’s words, which I present were situational, not universal? Jesus transforms and empowers the life of the Samaritan woman at the well. Jesus has a woman anoint and prepare him for the cross. Jesus answers the prayers of the Canaanite woman. Jesus heals the woman with the issue of blood. Jesus stands with the woman caught in adultery. Jesus gives life to a teenage girl left for dead. A woman is at the tomb first to acknowledge the resurrection of Jesus. All of this is not about women in pastoral leadership, but it’s about the bigger issue of God being mindful of the second-class citizenship of women and dealing with it as a kingdom agenda. Jesus challenges the place and role of women to the point that his own male disciples, were annoyed every time they witnessed His empowerment of women.
When it comes to women in ministry and pastoral leadership we should join the position of Jesus and also acknowledge our sexism.