Is God a Bigamist?

17 07 2008

I think that Doolally’s post Is God a Bigamist? deserves a bit more consideration for one reason… it’s an excellent question.

I mean the bible is literally chock full of God Romance, isn’t it? All through the narrative in the Old Testament we see God pursuing His people like a lover pursuing a flirting, impetuous girl. In the prophets we see God’s jealousy and anger at her waywardness, so easily abandoning her covenant with Him. And Song of Songs is so sexually explicit that it should be rated.
In the New Testament it’s a little more doctrinal but the same theme carries straight on. Right up till Revelations where we find what can only be described as the consummation of a great marriage – The Wedding Feast of all wedding feasts. God, it turns out, will get married to His people.

Well then, is Doolally not right? After all there are many people, and only one God.
Yes, Doolally is right, but not in the way she describes, she stops too soon, at an observed religious devotion. Doolally is describing religious monasticism – nuns and monks, as if there was a choice between marrying a person and marrying God. As if God was jealous somehow of human sexual intimacy and only those sexually pure enough get to marry God.

I don’t blame Doolally for this view, it’s the default presentation of the church to the world (in fact I feel like I should apologise for it). But thankfully, it’s not the biblical view. And when one looks it becomes very obvious as to why forced celibacy for the clergy is the wrong approach in Christianity.
It’s not even biblical; the first four verses of 1 Timothy 4 calls it a demonic doctrine taught by “hypocritical liars”.
Celibacy itself may not be wrong for an individual, in fact I would think for some marriage would be completely wrong, but to force those serving in the church to remain single is about as unbiblical as one can get. It’s in the same league as the Crusades. And Doolally is spot on when she says: “By denying sex to priests, the church is creating its own problems.” More accurately by denying the human covenant of marriage to priests; with all the warmth, friendship, honesty and intimacy that goes with it (including sex); the church is creating its own problems.
I’ts so anti-biblical that I cannot see how such a place can even be called a church.

The answer to the accusation of Divine bigamy is, I believe, found in a little mystery we call “unity”. Another thread running through scripture from Adam & Eve through the tower of Babel right into the New Testament and on to the same Marriage Consummation. God is not marrying a multiple personality disorder, He is marrying one bride. How that will work I only have little personal glimpses.
I can see that my wife and I can sometimes be ‘one’. the way we talk and think (some people say we even look like eachother). As time goes on we get better and better at it; and it’s not all sexual ‘oneness’ I’m talking about – although that tends to be the oneness foremost in my mind… what can I say, I’m a man.
If unity exists in a Platonic sense – there must be an ultimate Unity. If there is an ultimate Unity, then the Bride of God would be it.
Why are there many of us, not just one? Why did God not leave that rib in Adam? Why go to all the trouble of taking it out, making a woman and then presenting her to him, and then calling them “one flesh”? Adam was ‘one flesh’ in the beginning, what’s the added complication all about?
It’s about Unity, it’s a reminder, the whole Adam/Eve narrative is a metaphor. Keeping Adam single would have been very pragmatic (and he would not have known the difference)… but there would have been no human relationship, no intimacy… and no sex.
Forced sexual denial by religious celibacy ultimately means absolutely nothing except perhaps confusion and frustration. Paul puts it quite well in 1 Corinthians 15:19If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.” More so for those who don’t even get to have sex in the hope that their religious piety will somehow give them favour with God!

Now by extension we cannot conclude that if forced religious celibacy is wrong then animal, pheromonal sex – ‘whenever and with whomever’ sex – is logically right. An excess of Stoicism does not vindicate a lifestyle Hedonism.
I would suggest that if you are going to look for a biblical model of sexuality you are going to find sexual pleasures that are more satisfying and lasting than your wildest expectations – I suggest this because I have looked and I have found. But sex is not an end in itself. Like I said, we tend to stop too soon, we draw conclusions on other’s faith instead of finding out for ourselves.
We think that the bible is always trying to make us control our passions (especially sexual ones), because they are too strong… actually the bible is trying to open our eyes to what heights of sustained ecstasy our passions can take us under the right bridle (if you’ll excuse the pun). We tend to settle for so little when we could have so much.

I think that what the bible says about sex is that finding Mr Right starts with finding the right God, it does not work the other way round. He’s not jealous of our sexuality, actually He designed sex to remind us of a happiness and fruitfulness we have forgotten so thoroughly that we cannot even remember having forgotten it!





Just for fun

5 06 2008

Sometimes I think that those three words were left out of the Genesis account by a well meaning, but overly zealous scribe. “Let us create man in our image… just for fun,” seems to me to represent the character of God and the tone of scripture much better.
Of course I am only joking, that’s about as close as I can bring myself to being heretical.

Nick has asked for Tim and I to answer a question each, for no other reason than the fun of it.
How would Tim build a sacred tribe that includes me? is Tim’s question. I’m afraid that I have a problem with the concept of a tribe which I will explain further into this post, so that may make Tim’s task a little more difficult; sorry.
Mine is: How could I release Tim to minister to the flock in my care?

I really believe in Church in both it’s global and local sense. I believe that the gifts of the Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12 and the 5 fold ministry gifts in Ephesians 4 are for one purpose – Unity. I believe that the ambition of God is unity among men, and He calls His ambition “Church”. He is building His church and I cannot see that He is doing one other thing in earth today.
I also believe that Jesus started the very first church and that He gave us the blueprint in exactly sufficient detail (and without too much detail so that there would be lots of room for a variety of expression in this ultimate unity).
I also believe that He showed us how to hand over a church to another leader so that church would always be multi-generational, despite men’s failures and mortality.

Now the pictures we have given ourselves of church today find themselves in two man-made opposites (there are always 2 man made opposites in heretical error – Baal & Astarte, Fate & Luck, Bulls & Bears… the list is long).
The man-made errors are:
1. Top-down leadership – autocratic, dangerous, evangelical, charismatic.
2. And Bottom-up leadership – democratic, frigid, denominational, traditional.
Neither of these two pictures are what I believe Jesus had in mind. Both of them center around man made systems and man made structures – they are ‘hewn’ out of the mangled machine of failed humanity.

The picture Jesus paints is very different, it is of a front-back leadership:
– Where there are no levels of leadership, where equality is a practical reality (in fact the leader is called to lay his life down for the sheep. This is the key difference between Christianity and Hinduism – no time to get into that now)
– Where momentum is essential and change is ongoing. New wine = new wineskin (without momentum the church reverts to top-down or bottom-up structure)
– Where the whole structure is relationally (not religiously) driven.

That is the way, I believe to ‘bring people through’ into leadership in the church. It is what Jesus did with Peter, and it is what Peter did with James. It’s what the Church stopped doing the moment it became political and hence ‘respectable’.
It calls into action the essential ministries of the Apostle and the Prophet, not only the Evangelist.

It’s opposite, Back-front leadership, is very clearly wrong, bordering on demonically inspired. This is essentially obvious to the western mind, but it is anti-cultural in a traditionally animist context. We can see these two opposites very clearly in Jesus’ own metaphor of the Good Shepherd:
Traditionally middle-eastern shepherds lead sheep very differently from African shepherds. African shepherds have a stick or a bunch of stones, they shout, whistle and goad from the back of the heard to get them moving. Having concern or love or relationship with the sheep is initially optional and quickly becomes unnecessary. (I believe that this mindset is at the heart of tribalism and is the same reason why it is so hard to find a political leader of character in Africa. Of course the extreme Stoic is no better, but that is not what this post is about)
The middle-eastern shepherd, on the other hand, makes it his business to get to know each sheep, he learns to love them and the sheep learn to know, recognise, love and trust the shepherd; that’s why he can lead from the front because there is a willingness to follow him.
It is at once clear that this method is much more natural than any of the man made structural methods. Although it requires a lot more effort and sacrifice from those leading, it is truly progressive, not merely developmental.

Church leaders may not get it right all the time, but I believe that we are to, as much as possible, lead this way.
What does it mean practically? Let me give a few examples. A full list would require a book:
– We don’t have a church membership, and we don’t give out certificates. Yet the edges of the church are well defined (a shepherd must know which are his sheep and which are not).
– Potential leaders are both accountable to and friends with existing leaders before they can play a role in leadership. I have young men ask me to mentor them, my usual answer is, “sure, what 2 areas in your life would be the most difficult for you to hear me speak into?
– Leaders, in Jesus’ church, do not give instruction to people in their personal lives, they give advice. I often say to people that they will get perspective from me, but not permission. But having said that someone who keeps rejecting your advice clearly does not see you as their leader. Also this does not mean that the pastor should not lead the affairs of the church, in that realm he must be giving instruction, not advice.

So we build, as Paul said, on the foundation that is already laid (he was not referring to himself, Paul was only a “master builder”, he never considered himself as the architect – Paul was referring to Jesus). Whatever we build outside of Jesus’ plan may be pragmatic, cultural even wise; but it is not Church!

I have dealt essentially in concepts in this post using a few illustrations and examples. Perhaps, instead of trying to be exhaustive (another word for verbose) it would be better to handle one instance at a time – my way of asking for a response – I may have some answers to specific problems, I’ve been in a front-back lead church for 25 years this December, and I have seen it work.
There are many ways that the traditional church, with the best intentions, has hurt those in it. (every church hurts some people – I’m sure it hurt Peter to hear “get behind me Satan.”) But none more so than its potential leaders.

I am busy with a critical look at second-in-commands in the OT, I believe that the most dangerous position in Jesus’ church is just behind the leader. There are three people I’m comparing:
1. David under Saul
2. Jonathan under Saul
3. Jaob under David
The sad conclusion is that the one who failed the most miserably (and who was lead most astray) was the one under the best leader!