To begin 2015 I want to invite you to wrestle with the tension between cultural values and lasting divine order. In the Jewish world that shaped scripture I am beginning to see that divine order shaped much their understanding of who God is. God created the world with order when he speaks all things into existence while hovering above the tohu evohu the "chaotic nothingness" in Genesis. His law provides order for social and holy interaction with one another and God. The Temple and the priests taught and exemplified this order. To be unclean meant to be out of balance with divine order. One was to seek ways of becoming clean again through sacrifice, washing, and time. This process put one in proper order again.
In the New Testament we see examples like Paul writing about what it is like to live a life out of order. He calls it living in the flesh or giving into the passions. Galatians 5, Colossians 3, Ephesians 4, and 1 Thessalonians 4 all provide commentary on what Paul understands to be actions that exemplify a life out of order in contrast with actions that model a Christ centered life in proper balance. He always emphasizes in these examples the importance of love being the one empatice for right action in Christ.
Mixed into these lists of virtues, gifts, and actions rooted in Christlikeness are also cultural values Paul believes are things that should be kept up for the purpose of social protocol. Examples include the veiling of women and the social castes and family dynamics. For Paul, a society in proper order is one where people are what they are and they should not seek to be otherwise. Slaves remain slaves, masters remain masters, people were subject to local authorities, women and men each have specific roles in the home and community. None should seek to be otherwise, but instead value their role and be the best version of that in the name of Christ. To try and move between castes, challenge local authority, or relax gender roles would create social disorder and Christians had a hard enough time being accepted in Paul's day without also challenging the status quo of social niceties.
Here is the tension. Are Paul's understanding social order things we can look at now and say, maybe they were for a time and place that no longer have the same weight as today? If so are his limited lists of of gifts, virtues, and Christians actions as part of a well ordered Church life also in question? Or is there something to be said for proper order and encouraging people to find out who they are in Christ and encourage them to live into their gifts to create a more ordered Church and society? Where is the balance between positive social dynamics we can adopts and live into as Christians and what ones need to be challenged and as Christians demonstrate another reality in Christ?
How one answers these questions is what determines whether you're living a life shaped by the word and a life of incarnation or a life shaped primarily by social niceties and a life of excarnation.
Some other things to read this week:
Two Questions Pastors Should Ask by Lawrence Wilson
Incarnate: The Body of Christ in a World of Disengagement by Michael Frost