Image, Community, Glory and Women in Office

Genesis 1:27

(c) Copyright 2004 Rev. Bill Versteeg


So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

Genesis 1:27 NIV

Brothers and sisters in Christ

You have received a couple of letters from council confirming our decision to open our offices to women. In light of our decision to have women in office and the forthcoming discussion on that issue, a number of people have asked me to address the issue in a sermon for the purpose that the congregation might have a springboard for discussion.

Let me start by saying that I have been on both sides of the fence in this discussion. For the first 8 years of serving the church as a pastor, I held the traditional position of offices of elder open to males only. In the past 8 years I have transitioned to being a person who believes that all the offices ought to be open. And a significant reason why I have transitioned is because of a lecture that I heard by a Dr. Gilbert Bilezikian in 1996 and the scriptural concept of what the church ought to be. What I would like to do this morning is summarize his lecture for you, include a few themes from my own research and conclude why the themes of this presentation were to me compelling on the issue of women in office.

Dr. Bilezikian's concept of the church finds its basis in his understanding of the community of the Trinity.

THE HISTORY OF COMMUNITY

Did Jesus Christ have a vision for the church or is the church a product of historical chance? After all, Jesus used the word "Church" very rarely, with the exception of the passage where he said of the faith of Peter "On this rock I will build my church." Jesus Christ in that passage is pictured as the architect and builder of his church. A project which he envisioned in the great commission "Go and make disciples of all nations"...

Where does Christ's vision for the church come from?

The church, in concept, is pictured for us from the beginning to the end of the scriptures. In Genesis 1, the first three verses,

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. 3 And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light.

We find a picture of God, a multiple personality in the community of oneness. Verse 1 tells us that in the beginning there was God, and these first three verses picture for us the community of the triune God. In these verses we find God the Father, the creator of all things, in verse 2, we find the Spirit hovering over the waters, taking the chaos of creation and bringing order, the Old Testament equivalent to the work of the Spirit in the New Testament, taking the chaos of sin and bringing the order of righteousness through the process of sanctification. In verse 3, we find that God spoke and creation came into being. This is the picture of the Word of God, God's creative agent which actualizes what God the Father conceives. In John 1:1-4 we hear of this same Word without which nothing was created.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men.
John 1:1-4

In Colossians 1, Hebrews 1, we discover that all of creation was made through him, the Word, later on made flesh. This is the same Word.

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.  
Colossians 1:15-20

In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.
Hebrews 1:1-3

The picture we receive from the first verses of the bible is that there is One God who is the community of the Trinity. This community of the trinity is described in the scripture as LOVE for "God is love." This love is variously pictured throughout the scriptures as giving, self sacrifice, deference to each other. The Father gives all to the Son, the Son returns all to the Father. The Holy Spirit glorifies the Father and the Son. Authority is given and returned. Equality is total. They are all in the project of creation and redemption together. At the baptism of Jesus, the beginning of his ministry, the beginning of establishing his church, we see the Father, the Son and the Spirit working together. Throughout all this, the attitude of servanthood is highlighted in the community of the Trinity. Philippians 2:5-9 exemplifies what God is all about.

"Jesus, who was by very nature God,
did not count equality with God something to be grasped,
but took the form of a servant..."

This is a picture of the heart of God, giving, sacrifice, love. God gives himself in-exhaustively to what is most precious to him. And Jesus who in the same way gave himself is repeatedly called for us the image of God in the NT. If we want to see God, we must look at Jesus who portrays for us the very heart of God through his servanthood..

Adam was created in community with Eve and together they displayed the image of God!

One of the most important themes in Genesis 1-3 is that humanity was to be the image bearer of God. In connection with the image bearing, God found that although all creation was good, it was not good for Adam to be alone as the image bearer of God. God is a Triune community and therefore one individual was not enough. A community had to be created in order to display in creation the image of God. A community was needed to reveal God's identity. So out of Adam, Eve was created, together they become one flesh, Plurality becomes unity even as it came from unity.

In Genesis 1:28, we find the domestic mandate - to go forth and multiply and fill the earth, thus create community as image bearers of the living God. We also find the "dominion" (cultural) mandate - to subdue the earth and rule over it. The reason for the dominion mandate is to enable community. The text tells us that both Adam and Eve were responsible for both mandates, like the Trinity, they were equally responsible for this project together. Eve was Adam's "helpmeet" (Ezer) not in the sense of submission, but in the sense of enabling him as the image bearer of God to be community. Eve rescued Adam in his inability to image the Triune God! (The most common meaning of "helpmeet" in the Old Testament is that of one who rescues!)

Genesis 2:25 tells us that Adam and Eve were naked and not ashamed. This is probably one of the most misunderstood passages. In the Old Testament, to be naked was to be subservient. Status in society was demonstrated by the clothing that a person wore. To have clothing with gold trim was to be a king, to wear no clothing was to have a status of subservience or slavery. Both Adam and Eve were naked.  Their subservience to one another was demonstrated in their lack of clothing. Nakedness demonstrated their mutual servant hood and reciprocal submission and there was no shame in this relationship. They demonstrated the character of God. This should have been the end of the bible.

The Rebellion disabled Adam and Eve's ability to image the community of God.

When Adam and Eve arrogated to themselves what only belongs to God (independence and self sufficiency) they dismantled their oneness. Adam blamed Eve, they became strangers, they lost their community relationship with God and with each other. They recognized their nakedness! In Genesis 3:16, we see the first demonstration of hierarchy, the first expression of wanting to rule over one another.  This passage again is often misinterpreted, a theme that I learned in my Seminary education.

To the woman he said, "I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing;
with pain you will give birth to children.
Your desire will be for your husband,
and he will rule over you."

Genesis 3:16

This is a profound way of putting things. The Hebrew word for "desire" here is used only two other times in the Old Testament, once as a desire for of a husband for his wife and the other time in the story in Genesis 4:7 where Cain is intensely envious of his brother Able, and the Lord warns Cain that Satan is at his door and desires to have him!   This word for desire is a desire that wishes to control, to own. Even though Adam will rule over Eve, Eve still is desirous, even envious of the power he has. Genesis 3:16 pictures the battle of the sexes throughout the ages.

The rest of the Bible is the progressive attempt to restore community.

Genesis 12 - 17 is the story of Abraham. It culminates in the promises of Blessing to Abraham, especially the blessing of community. Through Abraham, all the families of the earth will be blessed. This is the vision of God for his community. It was entrusted to the Old Testament nation of Israel by covenant. The Ten commandments are community commandments. Break any one, and you destroy community with God or others. The History of Israel is obviously a failure in achieving the purpose of God in community, but in all its failures, it became the cradle in which the Christ was born, from the cut off root came a shoot. In that cradle, the Word of God became incarnate with the purpose of recreating community! At the center of his work is the Cross.

The Cross symbolizes the whole work of Christ to restore community.

The Cross has two segments, the vertical segment and the horizontal segment. On the vertical segment, Jesus was lifted up to die. Through his death on the cross, the Father in his holiness reached down to us in our sin and misery in order to provide us forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with himself. This made possible a transaction between the Father and a repentant sinner through the Son, Jesus. But this is NOT the whole gospel. The Cross like the gospel also has a horizontal dimension. Ephesians 2 tells us very clearly that through the blood we have been brought near to God and to one another. As the hands and arms of Jesus were tied and then nailed to the cross, his arms reached out into a wide embrace. With those arms he embraces an entire new community of faith that forms his bride for all eternity. Reconciliation between people is the earthly, yet eternal goal of the cross. The salvation of individuals who are then reconciled into the church, where the barrier walls of hostility are broken down, is God's way of making the Church.

The Church is God's new Eternal Creation.

Revelation 21 is the last scriptural picture of the image of God. John tells us that he saw a new heaven and a new earth, there was no more sea. The old system of creation polluted by sin and death is restored to a new reality. In the middle of that new reality is the Holy City, prepared as a bride for her husband. The bride of Christ is the Eternal City. The Eternal city is the church, community in unity. Again in this verse we see the bride, the wife of the Lamb and the bride is the Glory of God, a community founded on the 12 tribes of Israel and the 12 Apostles, the people of God in community completed. It is the church translated from history into eternity and this church is the focus of God's work in all time as we know it.

The community of the redeemed are the focus of creation, redemption and eschatology. Therefore Reclaiming biblical community is NOT an option, it is the church's divine mandate. It is the compulsion for each Christian who does not want to dismember the Cross of Christ. Both dimension of the Cross must be emphasized...

THE WORKINGS OF COMMUNITY.

The question: How is God's kind of community achieved?

Two models of maintaining Unity.

In the bible, in Genesis one and two, the message of the cross is advocated as the method of building true community. Reconciliation around the cross, restoring vertical and horizontal relationships are the crux of the cross, thus we are to "Welcome one another as God, in Christ, welcomed us." (Rom 15:7) Our approach to each other should be the same as God's approach to us.

Genesis 3 gives the second model for achieving church unity. In the context of enmity, dominance, and rulership, the use of power, and non acceptance becomes the model for building and maintaining unity in community. This is the Hierarchy model. By it, we take the horizontal segment of the cross of Christ and make it vertical. It is a disfiguring of the cross of Christ, it will never lead to oneness. It is an import from the world to the church. And so the church of Christ today is fragmented, plagued by hierarchy on many different levels: IE. Clergy =- laity, rich - poor, Reformed - Arminian, man - women, old - young, white -- black, fat - well toned, tee totalers - those who drink, Sabbatarians vs ... you get the point, the list is endless. There are endless grades between better and worse Christians!  Where on the ladder do you fit? Where there is hierarchy, community is destroyed (even while peace may be maintained).

Two models of ministry.

The church is Community! Any church that is bigger than 60 people should be disbanded or develop small groups where people can look at faces, touch one another, disclothes themselves (in the sense of submit to one another), develop true Christian intimacy, confess their sins, receive forgiveness, grow, cry and find a place to belong. For way to many Christians, church is only a Sunday morning deal! And all this time, the ones at the top of the hierarchy are the ones who are paid - the ministers. It is their job to do the work of the church, too often both the internal work of the church (discipling) and the external work of the church (outreach). And because f this hierarchy the church is hamstrung.

This hierarchical model of ministry was not in the early church. It came to the for especially with the conversion of Constantine who established the Christian faith as the State religion. When he did that, the church changed from a movement of the Holy Spirit among a community of people to an institution that deformed the community and created the clergy - laity split. The Reformation dealt with the vertical dimension of the cross well but failed to realize the full implications of the horizontal dimension, the community of believers, all priests called to equally serve our God in the power of the Holy Spirit. We need a new "Reformation" through which the community will be the ministers on the basis of the gifts of the Holy Spirit available to each believer, not just those on the top of the hierarchy. The ministering church was birthed at Pentecost. Acts 2:16, is a passage in which we see the vision of God for his church. In quoting from Joel 2:28f, the vision tells us that the Spirit that creates ministry will be on all people without exclusion.

‘And afterward,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your old men will dream dreams,
your young men will see visions.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days.

In the Old Testament, the prophet had the last word, in the New Testament, prophecy is regarded as the most important gift. But to be a channel of revelation is not limited to the church's elite, it is available to anyone, even slaves. There is no hierarchy. Romans 12 again pictures ministry through the gifts of the Spirit, again there is no hierarchy, just a plurality of gifts in a unified body

4 Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. 7 If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; 8 if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.

God's vision is the total mobilization of the entire community in ministry!

12 The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.
1Corinthians 12:12,13

Again the picture is that of the unity of the church with a plurality of gifts. The picture is of the community of the church at work! Ephesians 4:2-6, 11-13 tells us that grace is given to each to equip ALL to ministry.

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit— just as you were called to one hope when you were called— 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

11 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

The Pastoral Epistles (First and Second Timothy, Titus) seem to be the New Testament Exception. They address a different world with different concerns. For the first time, elders, deacons and bishops are mentioned and given the task to managed and teach. There is no mention of oneness or spiritual gifts within the community. The qualifications of elders and deacons are forbiddingly restrictive, women are out, very few men need ever apply! And today when we read these restrictions, we apply them with great rigor to women but not to men.

Careful research shows that the churches were going through very hard times in the pastoral epistles. There were satanic teachers who were infiltrating the church from within and without (as it still happens today), apparently some or many of these were women. The picture of the church that we pick up in the pastoral epistles is the REMEDIAL model of the church. It was hard medicine for a sick church. Since error was coming from a variety of sources, Paul recommended that only those whose purity was unquestioned, whose credentials were flawless, be placed in a position for bringing the church back to purity in doctrine and practice. For a sick church, this remedial action could bring it back to health. But place this model of church on a healthy church, where the body of Christ ministers, it will make it sick!

In the church leadership is shared leadership in community. God's design is that there be mutual submission and servant hood. Leadership is servant hood and leadership and submission are always plural! We are called to take up our cross for one another. Real leadership in the church creates leadership in the church. Leadership develops God's gifts in others. There is no evidence in the New Testament for the one pastor church system. The elders were the pastors of the church. The character of the church is grounded in the character of God. The church is to display the glory and the image of God in this world through its community. As Jesus Prayed:

"May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.  (John 17)

Conclusion

1. If our working together is a demonstration of the glorious image of God, it is imperative that we develop a church organizational system that enables both men and women to share equally in displaying God's glory through acknowleging and mobilizing their gifts for ministry equally.  If church office is a recognition of giftedness, and according to scripture, gift distribution is non gender specific (Joel 2:28), the conclusion would be that the offices must be open to both genders!

2. One of Paul's motives for evident gender inequality in church was for the gospels sake, so that culture would not be offended by the radical social upheaval in the church (1 Corinthains 11).  He adopted practices that would not offend culture.  In our culture, not having a visible equality between men and women is becoming offensive. Should we be adopting Paul's standard on this issue?

3. Our church structure is uniquely qualified to have both men and women in office since in our council structure, no one lords it over another.  The time has come for us the recognize the importance of both genders displaying the image and the glory of God through their equality and roles in community!


(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

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