Dear Apostle Paul:
In consideration of how correspondence began in your time I’ve tried thus far to begin mine to you in a manner you might at least recognize, as a sign of respect on my part for you and the God we serve. But as these letters take a turn I feel more led to begin them in a manner like one between friends or family in our 21st century.
Let us turn again to the continuation of the focus of these series of letters. In the last one we left off with images of Jesus and His treatment of women contrasting how His actions, attitude and words opened another layer in the consideration of women in life and therefore in churches as well. Today let us go back to Eve but also Mary Magdalene first.
Eve, was the first deceived by Satan to start the downfall of mankind and a woman and Mary Magdalene, is the first to see the fulfillment of God’s plan in the resurrected Jesus and she too is a woman. The first condemned, the first redeemed? The prophecies of the ancient Scriptures were fulfilled, completed and firmly established as the initial foundation of the relationship between God and humans. The Old Testament gives us the Old Covenant, gives us the Law. The New Testament is testament of a New Covenant through Jesus Christ and His forever bridging that original gap and paying the price of all our sins by His own death. His resurrection gives us new life. So the two are joined together, Old and New, man and God, law and grace. Each exists because of the other.
I can understand that you were reared up to believe the Law, to know it as you knew your own body, heart and mind. It was an engrained piece of you. The bases for all you became and all you ever were, even after you became a Christian. You could no more rid yourself of the knowledge of the Law than you could rid yourself of your Jewish heritage.
I can even understand that your heart was forever reminded of the bitterness in the loss of your wife and maybe even your mother as historians find no record of her either. I bear with you the burden of loss of a child as that too was a possibility for you. (One theory being that perhaps you lost your child and wife to death or in your conversion to Christianity. Nonetheless, I know the sorrow of losing a child and though men do not often talk of their feelings about things, I know as a parent this is a horrific thing to endure.)
I have no stones to cast at you Apostle Paul. No anger to fling accusations toward you with. You did not know what would become of your letters when you wrote them, you wrote what God wanted you to write and God has worked through mankind and surely supernatural ways to preserve them. This alone is the subject of much study in our history.
Nor can I lay the disheartenment and sorrow I feel to find myself struggling with, as I lose the blinders I wore, blinders of unknown knowledge, until I began these series of letters to you. What I did not know I cannot be held accountable for. Now what I do know I am accountable for.
What I’ve finally come to understand is that these “Letters to the Apostle Paul from 2013” were addressed to you but you are not whom I must base my life. The foundation of my life is built on God, not any man. Something you would whole heartedly agree with I believe.
One of the tenants of my faith, that I cannot shake nor forsake, is that God is at work at all times in the lives of His children. There are no surprises to Him. Men may make mistakes, misinterpret, mess up but God does not. God’s very nature doesn’t allow for such.
Our Bible is surely the most carefully preserved document in mankind’s existence. Although the language may be different the Scriptures are the same. Therefore, what it contains God knew it would contain. What it does not contain God also knew. If God wanted to fix it He would have centuries ago.
I believe in the history of creation in that God created our world out of nothing but by speaking what He wanted into being. I believe He formed man in His own image from the very dirt of the earth that He spoke into being. I believe He planned for a permanent bridge of the gap caused by Adam and Eve’s original sin by sending Himself as His Son to die upon a cross and be resurrected in three days. I believe Jesus entered this world as a baby born to a young woman who was in the truest sense, a virgin. I believe my experience of salvation is real and the most alive part of my being and will be throughout eternity. I believe in God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. I believe in Heaven and therefore I believe in Hell as literal places beyond this earth.
So if my God allowed you Apostle Paul, or anyone else, to speak their personal opinion in letters God intended to be used as an instruction manual for mankind it was no accident. Regardless if the denial to women the pastoral, teaching of men or deacon role is right or wrong it is up to God. And the biggest reality is this. If I ever believed that truly God was calling me to one of the roles it has been credited to you Apostle Paul for forbidding, I would have pushed for these answers sooner. I would have fought harder to fulfill my dream of a master’s degree from seminary.
Have your words, Apostle Paul, been used in some conspiracy to keep women in their “place”? Yes. Was this your purpose in what you wrote? No, not to me. As evidence from your own writings of this I offer for consideration that although you instructed Timothy that a deacon must be the husband of one wife you also refer to Phoebe of Cenchrea, a port of Corinth in Romans 16:1-2* as a deaconesses (if not the first then one of the first female deacons) and you highly commend her. So I am inclined to think, again, that women have been given the restriction from the office of deacon not by you or God but by man’s view of women and their place in life, society and the church. (In fact had it not been for the shared knowledge of a pastor and research on my own I would not even know Phoebe was a deaconess as the translations of the Bibles I have read and studied from use the term “servant” not deaconesses.)
There are many horrifying and bloody acts of man that were laid at the feet of God than I have either the stomach or time to tell. It is no wonder the world is suspicious of Christians when one learns of our history. Yet there are also the most amazing testimonies of saints who have lived through the ages who have laid down their lives for the cause of Christ.
How then, as my searching altered my life? I will no longer have a fear of supporting any female whose honest belief is that God is calling her to any particular place of service in His church. I will accept that while the denomination which I belong to means that this decision is not without risk, I will do so anyway. For I firmly believe we have been, if not deceived, certainly left in the dark concerning the completeness of this matter.
Will I remain within my chosen denomination? Yes. For with all the flaws of any denomination, (which includes admissions long overdue that as a group Southern Baptists sinned in their views of slavery), it teaches that I cannot lose my salvation even when I sin. Is the church I belong to perfect? No, for the simple reason none of its members are perfect! Being Southern Baptist is a part of who I am, part of my heritage, much as being Jewish was part of yours Apostle Paul. I do not have to give it up in order to serve God in the manner to which He has called me. Although I would if I was called to do so.
These letters could go on and on and in fact, one reader has encouraged me to continue with them, noting so many other things to cover. Will I? Yes, if God leads me to. Like I stated earlier, one cannot study the New Testament and not study the writings of the Apostle Paul. But for the time being, I conclude my letters to you Apostle Paul, grateful for your help, and even more grateful for the Lord we share in common whose mercies are new every morning and whose presence changes people’s lives, mine included.
Enjoy being in the presence of the Almighty! I can’t wait to be there too!
“I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church in Cenchrea. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been a great help to many people, including me.” (Romans 16:1-2)