Orthodoxy

On Women in Marriage/The Church

I was once engaged to a guy who insisted I say “obey” in the marriage ceremony.  I said I would not.  He said, “I thought you weren’t one of those feminists.”

He was Catholic.  My parents, who would pay for the ceremony, would hold it in our Nazarene church; neither “obey” nor “submit” was in the Nazarene marriage vows.

I never heard in church that I should be an obedient wife.  I refused to have the pastor put “obey” into the marriage vows.

We sometimes argued about this; my fiancé seemed to think that if I didn’t promise to obey him, then if he told me not to go out and have affairs, I would go ahead and have affairs (for example).

The “obey” disagreement was only a symptom of his control issues and emotional abuse.  Eventually he broke up with me, probably tired of my sticking up for myself and refusing to be a doormat.

(Why did I stay with him?  It was probably a combination of, trouble getting dates and hoping he would change.  I suppose I loved him, too.)

His next girlfriend was even more of a “feminist” than I was, so I’m surprised they lasted so long, but they did have a tumultuous relationship and finally broke up.

After finding and marrying a much better man who did not care about wifely obedience, we went to a church which preached a different meaning of submission.

It wasn’t about obedience; it was about the wife submitting to the husband voluntarily and the husband submitting to the wife.  The wife was to respect her husband; the husband was to love his wife.

“Respect” also included “respect for the husband’s role as spiritual head of the household.”  That meant, he would make the decision if there was an impasse, and he was in charge of the spiritual health of the household.

This was much better than how such people as my ex-fiancé interpreted it, because it allowed the woman to have her own opinions and influence decisions.  However, she still seemed to have a second-class status.

I even read an article by Lisa Whelchel in Today’s Christian Woman which said the husband should take over the finances, no matter how bad he was at it!  (I guess my own mother was a “sinner,” then.)  My own childhood church never taught that!  And I wondered how to explain Peter praising Sarah for obeying Abraham and calling him “master.”

Actually, when you take scripture as a whole instead of in bits and pieces, both the husband and the wife are to be totally equal.  Christ explains that rulers in the Church are not to lord it over their followers as earthly rulers would–which he himself demonstrated by example when he went to the Cross to pay the debt to death which freed us from sin and death (Matt. 20:25-28).

St. Paul says that the husband is to love his wife as Christ loves the Church.  So if the husband is the head of the wife in the same way that Christ is the head of the Church, then he is to love her and give himself up for her, not act like “the king of the castle” who must be obeyed.

Here’s an Orthodox view: An Orthodox, Christian Perspective of Marriage by Rev. Fr. Charles Joanides

St. John Chrysostom wrote that “a good marriage is not a matter of one partner obeying the other, but of both partners obeying each other.”  While “the husband giving orders, and the wife obeying them” is “appropriate in the army, it is ridiculous in the intimate relationship of marriage” (p. 72, On Living Simply).  They are obedient to each others’ needs and feelings.

He also wrote that a harsh master, using angry words and threats, causes obedience but not attachment in a slave, who will run away the first chance he gets.  “How much worse it is for a husband to use angry words and threats to his wife.”

Chrysostom went on to describe what, even in our modern age, still plays itself out every day: a husband shouting, demanding obedience to his every whim, even using violence.  But this treatment turns wives into “sullen servants, acting as their husbands require out of cold fear.  Is this the kind of union you want?  Does it really satisfy you to have a wife who is petrified of you?  Of course not.”

Such behavior may make the husband feel better for the moment, “but it brings no lasting joy or pleasure.  Yet if you treat your wife as a free woman, respecting her ideas and intuitions, and responding with warmth to her feelings and emotions, then your marriage shall be a limitless source of blessing to you” (p. 74).

Catharine P. Roth’s introduction to St. John Chrysostom’s On Marriage and Family Life, published by St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press (Orthodox), says the Pauline epistles give the impression of much freedom and equality between the sexes.  They were missionaries and church patrons; the husband’s body was owned by his wife, just as her body was owned by her husband.

But eventually, “the roles of women became restricted, probably to avoid provoking too much conflict with the surrounding patriarchal society.”

Pagan fathers, husbands or masters needed to know their daughters, wives or slaves would still submit to them if they became Christians; “otherwise life could become very difficult for the women.”

This is why some New Testament epistles tell the women to hold to their traditional roles.  In time, this survival strategy became the norm even in Christian families, so rather than overthrow it, Christian teachers tried to “mitigate its exercise or at best transform it from within.”  St. John Chrysostom, rather than trying to change the patriarchal tradition of marriage, taught couples to transform it with love (pp. 10-11).

This introduction–in a book published by an Orthodox press–suggests to me that we should look at marriage not so much in terms of who obeys whom, but in terms of how to love each other and meet each other’s needs.  Outward customs can change from one culture or one century to another; what’s important is Christian love, respect and mutual submission.

Also read this article: Domestic Violence at Home: Cursory Observations by Kyriaki Karidoyanes Fitzgerald (now only available here).

Now, of course, if you’re still not convinced that the husband and wife should submit to each other, not just the wife to the husband, then here’s a tip to get your wife to submit to you:

Act like you don’t care if she submits to you or not.  Then, if she doesn’t, there will be no hard feelings between you.  If she does, it will be willingly, with no resentment on her part.

Also note that yes, indeed, there were women apostles: Junia, Priscilla, Mary Magdalene, Thekla, Nina.

Phoebe was a deaconess (woman who ministered to women in ways improper for a male deacon) who got a personal recommendation from Paul: Apostolic Succession by Dr. Daniel F. Stramara, Jr.   So when Paul says he does not allow a woman to teach, he can’t possibly mean that no woman can ever preach or teach men.

Even the Catholic Church, which at the present time is adamantly against women priests, recognizes “Fathers and Mothers of the Church,” or primary teachers of the Apostolic Tradition in the Early Church.  Another class of teacher is called “The Doctors of the Church”; three were women.  Teachers of the Church by Dr. Daniel F. Stramara, Jr.

St. Gregory of Nyssa held a lengthy dialogue with his learned sister in On the Soul and the Resurrection.  He called her “The Teacher.”

Also see this article on Mary Magdalene, the Apostle to the Apostles.

As for the Orthodox restriction against women priests: As explained to me by an Orthodox believer around 2006, there were women preachers in the Early Church, but not ordained women who distributed sacraments etc.  Modern Protestant churches have preachers taking on the roles of priests, not just preaching but distributing sacraments and taking charge over a church, so we tend to lump the words together when examining the Early Church.

As the explanation continued, the Orthodox do not have a problem with women teaching men (though a layman who preaches is rare).  They allow women all sorts of leadership roles, even the role of epistle reader in the Liturgy.  The highest role possible for humankind in the Church, the Mother of God’s human incarnation, was given to a woman, Mary.

Who was the first apostle?  As my priest explained it, it was not one of the Twelve Disciples–rather, it was Photini, the Samaritan woman at the well.

See Women’s Ordination by Frederica Mathewes-Green, an Orthodox writer who herself has preached in the Orthodox Church!  She writes, “Non-sacramental ministry, such as preaching, is open to non-ordained people, as long as they are continuing in the faith and worship of the Orthodox Church, and in obedience to a spiritual father or confessor.”  She also gives examples of Orthodox women evangelists, theologians, apologists, rulers, etc.

But Orthodoxy does have a problem with women distributing the sacraments, because the priest represents Christ giving Himself to the Church (the bride).  The Eucharist is not just a memorial; it’s not just about Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross; it is also intimate communion with Christ, Christ and the Church (the bride) becoming one, a spiritual counterpart to marriage.  And well, even though some of us do fight against this, Orthodox hierarchy frowns on a marriage that’s not heterosexual.

I made peace with this concept many years ago (circa 2006) despite wanting to see women ordained as preachers.  But nowadays I’ve returned to many of my older feelings about things like female preachers and homosexuality, and wouldn’t mind seeing a change in who the Orthodox ordain, especially since there’s been a priest shortage for years.  Still, I see the symbolism involved.

An Interview with Bishop Kallistos Ware re: the Role of Women in family/the Church

Written between probably 2005 and 2007

Index to my theology/church opinion pages:

Page 1:

Tithing
End Times and Christian Zionism
God’s Purpose/Supremacy of God Doctrine
Cat and Dog Theology
Raising One’s Hands in Worship
Christian Music
On the “still, small voice” and Charismatic sign gifts
On church buildings
The Message Bible
The Purpose-Driven Life
The Relevance Doctrine, i.e. Marketing Churches to Seekers
Republican Party
Abortion Protests
Creation
The idea that God has someone in mind for you
Literalism in Biblical interpretation
Miscellaneous

Page 2:

Name it and Claim It Doctrine, Prosperity Doctrine, Faith-Formula Theology, Word-Faith Theology,  Positive Confession Theology, Health and Wealth Gospel, and whatever else they call it
More about Pat Robertson
Dr. Richard Eby and others who claim to have been to Heaven
Women in Marriage/the Church
Spiritual Abuse
Other Resources

Page 3:

Why do bad things happen?
Should we criticize our brethren’s artistic or evangelistic attempts?  Or, how should we evangelize, then?
Angels: Is “This Present Darkness” by Frank Peretti a divine revelation or fiction?
Halloween: Not the Devil’s Holiday!
Hell and the Nature of God
Is Christmas/Easter a Pagan Holiday?
Is everybody going to Hell except Christians?
How could a loving God who prohibits murder, command the genocide of the Canaanite peoples?
What about predestination?
Musings on Sin, Salvation and Discipleship
An Ancient View which is in the Bible, yet new to the west–Uncreated Energies of God

Page 4:

Dialogues
The Didache
Technical Virginity–i.e., how far should a Christian single go?
Are Spiritual Marriages “real”?  (also in “Life” section, where it’s more likely to be updated)
Does the Pill cause abortions, or is that just another weird Internet or extremist right-wing rumor?
What about Missional Churches, Simple Churches, Fluid Churches, Organic Churches, House Churches or Neighborhood Churches?
Is Wine from the Devil–or a Gift from God?
What is Worship?
Evangelistic Trips to Already Christianized Countries
Fraternities, Sororities, Masonic Lodge
Was Cassie Bernall a Martyr?
Some Awesome Things heard in the Lamentations Service (Good Friday evening) during Holy Week

Conversion Story

Phariseeism in the Church

Cat and Dog Theology

This new theology, if you can call it that, is described here and here.  It’s also here, a June 22, 2003 sermon, “It’s All About Him,” which sounds very like a sermon we heard in church once.

Cat and Dog Theology is tied in with the above described supremacy of God doctrine.

Yes, we need to focus on God and loving others, not on making ourselves happy and getting all the blessings for ourselves.

Yes, it is true that the Church has been riddled with materialistic error and the concept that God is some sort of cosmic slot machine, giving us wealth, a beloved, a great job, etc. (as long as we remember to tithe that 10%).

Yes, it is dangerous to think that we can expect a life of ease, when our forebears were tortured and martyred for the faith (and many still are in other countries).

Yes, it is dangerous to think that we don’t need to struggle to become more like Christ.  Many down through the ages have deliberately chosen poverty and other difficulties to become closer to Christ.

Yes, it is true that American worship is becoming more and more man-centered all the time, bringing in various forms of music and praise choruses to make us “feel” closer to God, to make us raise our hands, dumbing down the message so it becomes more like a self-help seminar or something to make us feel good, assaulting our senses with multimedia as if we were being entertained by a movie or concert rather than worshipping at church.

On these issues, I wholeheartedly agree with Cat and Dog Theology.

But when I read the “It’s All About Him” sermon, it scared me.

Now I recognize very Calvinist doctrines running throughout this sermon: Some people are born to be killed for God’s glory?  “What if God wants to sell you into slavery so He can position you for His glory, like Joseph?”  What??!!!  (God did not sell Joseph into slavery; Joseph’s brothers did that.)

Other teachings I’ve heard along this line include, we should pray for other people (dog) and not for ourselves (cat).

But Christ specifically tells us to bring our requests to God, and that we do not have because we do not ask!  He is a loving Father who will not give us a stone if we ask for bread.

Sure, we should pray for other people, and more than we pray for ourselves.  But it is not a “cat” thing to ask for our own needs as well.  (Needs, not wants.)

One Sunday, I could swear the pastor told us we shouldn’t grieve or question when a loved one dies, because we don’t know God’s purposes.  I could swear he told us that even praying for that person to be healed was a “cat” thing.

But the Orthodox tradition affirms that death is a tragedy and we should feel free to grieve, not make glib comments like, “God had a purpose in [your loved one’s name]’s death.”  Christ came to conquer death; death is the enemy!

Some passages from this sermon:

In 1 Chronicles 21 Satan prompted King David to count his fighting men.  The Lord wasn’t pleased for He wanted the glory for giving military victories.

But David swelled with pride, in himself, his country, and his men and took the glory of God.  So it was the Lord, not Satan, who sent a plague and killed 70,000 of David’s chosen men, military leaders and believers from the nation Israel.

Let’s listen in on the conversation these men might have had with God.

Men: Lord, why did you bring us all home at once?  We weren’t even fighting a war.

Lord: David sinned.

Men: What?  David sinned and we were all punished for his sin?

Lord: I don’t see bringing you home into my presence as punishment but that’s what I did.

[Note from me: In those days they would have gone to Sheol, or Hades, the land of the dead, of shadows, of nothingness–NOT God’s presence–because Christ had not yet gone down into Hades and defeated death.]

Men: Oh Lord, we’re sorry.  You’re wonderful.  but why didn’t you take him home?

Lord: Because I had a greater plan for his life.

Men: What about our lives?

Lord: I had a plan for your lives as well.

Men: Well, what was it?

Lord: To die when David sinned, and to serve to bring about his repentance.

Men: But Lord, that just doesn’t seem fair.

Lord: Well, I have never run My kingdom based on fairness, I run it for my glory.

[Note from me: What about justice and mercy?  What about people being judged only for their own sins, not someone else’s?  This “theology” sounds more like heresy than Orthodox doctrine!]

God uses all nations, both good and bad, for His purposes.  When God wanted to take the gospel message past Jerusalem He persecuted his people in that city to spread them throughout the Roman Empire.

When He wanted to extend the gospel message past the Empire He sacked Rome with barbaric tribes from the north that scattered Christians from Ireland to China.

What does that say for America?  Can you think for a more historically accurate, God-honoring way to take the gospel to the Muslim world than to scatter the church, perhaps even the American church?  After all, it’s not about America.  It’s All About Him.

…Let’s ask some questions: Did God love the first nine generations [of Israelites living as slaves in Egypt] as well as the tenth one He freed?  (Absolutely)

Did God have a plan for their lives?  (Definitely)

What was God’s plan for their lives?  (To be born a slave, to live as a slave, and to die a slave.)

Why?

Because God used their captivity to teach future generations to be kind to people from other countries.  Because It’s All About Him….

Would you be willing to be a slave for the glory of God?  What if God wants to sell you into slavery so He can position you for His glory, like Joseph?

…Suppose it is God’s will that you be stoned to death like Stephen?

…As a woman would you be willing to live in southern Sudan, to be raped, mutilated, homeless and hungry if your being on the front lines of spiritual war brought great glory to God?

This website critiques Cat and Dog theology, based on a report given to the author by a reader whose church taught C&D Theology.  The author writes:

Value of mankind:

1-“God is not fair”

We were given examples of three people who served God, yet had different outcomes. Thereby, we conclude that God is not/does not have to be “fair”. “You have no right to ask, ‘Is it fair?'”

Nothing was mentioned about justice. Or just trusting that God sees the bigger plan for our lives.

We should not question when life is taken. We should not grieve when a child is taken.

2-We were told not to seek the glory of the “winner’s circle” by seeking to be like the Bible heroes (of faith). Rather, we were told that we should identify with the lesser characters of the Bible.

The two examples given were of nameless people who died. We were told that they died in order that God might be glorified. (Not true.)

Ex. -1) Job’s children. This story was told as if Job’s children went to heaven and had a conversation with God. (This seemed to be a deliberate but subtle denial of hell.)

Ex. -2) David and the 70,000 who died as a result of his sin and his choice of judgment on his people.

What is missing here is this: If bringing glory to Gods name is so paramount in his theology, then the greatest glory to God that we could possibly affect would be that of seeking to be like none other than Jesus Christ.

This “option” was totally omitted as was the fact that Hebrews 11 sets before us a whole list of “winners” as examples of people to emulate in order to bring the greatest glory to God. He equates these men and women of faith to being “the winner’s circle”.

This is a distortion. They simply walked in faith and obedience to God, enduring hardship and seldom seeing the promise fulfilled.

Now, in our Evangelical-Free church, for possibly two years and in every sermon, we heard that God’s predominant passion is His own glory.  That makes it hard to tell where “Cat and Dog Theology” ended and basic Supremacy of God doctrine began.  So I’m not entirely sure if the following two points came from Cat and Dog Theology.

But our pastor told us 1) Even if God didn’t have all these attributes–love, compassion, caring, blessing us, etc.–we should still glorify Him because He is God.  2) Even if we didn’t sin, Christ still would have died on the Cross because it was for God’s glory.

In answer to 1: If God didn’t have all these attributes, He would become like ancient pagan deities who didn’t care at all about mankind–deities who required sacrifice so we wouldn’t be punished, deities who barely thought about humans and just used them as occasional playthings.  Why would we care to worship and glorify such a deity?

In answer to 2:

According to Gregory of Nyssa, Maximus the Confessor and other Greek Fathers, the Incarnation would have taken place even if Adam and Eve had never sinned. Isaac the Syrian held the same view, as did later Syriac writers.

The purpose of the Incarnation was to achieve intimate union between God and humanity. This is salvation, the fullest expression of love.

God’s plan was for the two to become one and form a New Humanity (confer Eph 2:15 read in light of Eph 4:13 & I Cor 15:45 53).

In contrast to this is the Latin tradition, at least the part that prevailed. During the Easter Liturgy in the Roman Church, the Exultet is sung. The following is an excerpt: “O Happy Fault, O necessary sin of Adam which gained for us so great a Redeemer.”

According to the Latin mindset, there never would have been an Incarnation unless Adam and Eve had sinned.

The Eastern tradition finds this line of thinking totally offensive and in fact, several Popes had condemned it as well.

Nevertheless, ever since the split between East and West, this section of the Exultet stands as part of the Roman liturgy. There is a Latin saying “lex orandi, lex credendi,” “The rule of prayer is the rule of faith.” The liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church reflects its theology.

From the Eastern perspective, God’s desire and reason for the Incarnation was loving intimacy, not punishment for sin. The Sacrifice of the Paschal Lamb, while foreknown by God, was not the primary motivation for the Incarnation.

The East accentuates God’s mercy over God’s justice; the West is vice versa. –Dr. Daniel F. Stramara, Theme 8–Soteriology

So on the Latin side, if man had never sinned, there never would have been an Incarnation.  On the Greek side, if man had never sinned, there would still have been an Incarnation because of God’s desire for union with us.  So either way, what the pastor said was just plain incorrect.

Week after week after week, the pastor made God sound more self-centered and less like a loving Father; my husband felt like just a tool being used for God’s purposes, not someone God cared about as a person.

After all, if God wanted to kill you for His own glory, who were you to complain that wasn’t fair?

And yet the pastor wondered why we didn’t consider this a wonderful theology that made us more in love with God.

We watched in disbelief as other members of the church embraced it and began teaching it to others.  Even now, members from that church propagate this doctrine, and Cat and Dog Theology has become quite popular in the American Church.

This “theology” is the product of modern American Protestantism mixed with Calvinism, not the theology of the ancient Church.

To summarize, God created us for communion.  He wanted someone to bless.

Christ came not just to die for us, but to reconcile us to God and lead us to communion–not for God’s glory, but for communion!

We are not saved from Hell for service, but saved from our sins so we can commune with God!

We do good works for others because Christ told us to and it’s the sign of true faith and love, not because we’re a “dog” or a “cat.”  (See above, and see page 3 for lots of stuff about sin, salvation, Hell, etc.)

Cat and Dog Theology said we are supposed to hunger for God’s glory; in Orthodoxy, we are to hunger for God Himself.  As we come together as a congregation to worship God, and sing praises and glory to Him (since this is a good and worthy thing to do), our worship culminates in the Eucharist.

Our hunger and thirst for God is satisfied as we take His body and blood into our bodies in an intimate union which has even been compared to a man and his wife becoming one.

Out of this pours our honor, glory and praise to God, and we desire to become more and more like Him and help others to do the same.

So just because we do not focus on glory above everything else, hardly means that we are “cats.”  But so much of what I have heard and read from Reformed sources makes it sound like we are robbing God of His glory if we do not focus on His glory above all else.

Also, Cat and Dog Theology says “everyday life was designed to be one big worship service” and goes on to ask, What does God get when you hug a child, see a sunset, listen to music, eat a chocolate covered strawberry, etc. etc.

However, this is not what worship is all about.  Such experiences can show us God exists, and it is good to remember all of it is possible because of God’s goodness.

But worship “reflects the fullness of Truth,” “strives to make holy,” and all

flows from the one, essential act of worship and thanksgiving, the ‘common union’ with the Trinity and with God’s people into which the ‘community’ enters through the reception of Holy ‘Communion’. …’Enjoyment’ is not a goal in worship. —Orthodox Worship vs. Contemporary Worship

Another deficiency, a common problem, is that I read so much in the Cat and Dog writings and other Protestant writings about God, which makes God sound like one Person who is God-centered.

In Orthodoxy, God is more commonly referred to as the Trinity and “Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”

Yes, Protestants are usually Trinitarian, but in common speech, oftentimes Christ and the Spirit seem more like subordinates, while the Father is God.  One important note–which some proponents of Cat and Dog theology may be fully aware of, but can be missed by those in the pews–is that the Persons are equal to each other and each are God.  Instead of seeking what’s best for Himself, each member of the Trinity loves the other two completely and seeks to glorify them.

This is demonstrated by the Trinity icon, in which the three members of the Trinity sit around a table in perfect love and communion, their heads bent toward each other.  See here.  Looked at in this way, God is not self-seeking or self-loving, but loves and seeks what is best for the other, just as we are to do.

Oddly enough, this Cat and Dog “theology,” first heard of in the Evangelical Free Church, is part of the reason why I began the path toward Orthodoxy.  It was a long and twisted path, full of error, but led me to seek what was for God rather than just for myself.

Still, as I’ve noted above, this theology is flawed.  Cat and Dog Theology says that “dogs” hunger for God’s glory while “cats” hunger for the blessings; Orthodox theology says that we should hunger for GOD–and this hunger is satisfied in the Eucharist, which is Christ’s body and blood.

Cat and Dog Theology focuses our attention on God’s glory (as in, reputation); Orthodox theology focuses our attention on God Himself.

Cat and Dog Theology says that Christ died on the cross for our sins so that we might point to God and glorify Him; Orthodox theology focuses on the love of God in reconciling us to Him, showing us how to live, and bringing the suffering souls out of Hades so they could commune with Him forever.

Cat and Dog Theology focuses on God’s reputation (glory); Orthodox theology longs for the wondrously beautiful manifestation of God’s energies (glory).

Cat and Dog Theology makes life’s unfairness sound deliberately caused directly by God; Orthodox theology realizes that the Devil is our enemy and the source of all evil, that we ourselves cause our own troubles (such as Hell, which we cause ourselves by rejecting the love of God).

Cat and Dog Theology focuses on the lack of praise of God in Hell; Orthodox theology focuses on the suffering people will endure because they have rejected the love of God and cannot get away from it.

Cat and Dog Theology would essentially call Orthodox theology “me-centered cat thinking” because it focuses on our becoming like Christ and acquiring the Holy Spirit.  Yet Orthodox theology is the most ancient, while Calvinism is only about 500 years old!

See for some good old-fashioned deep theology that does not come from 500-year-old Calvinism: Theosis: The True Purpose of Human Life

Written between late 2004 and probably late 2006/early 2007

 

Index to my theology/church opinion pages:

Page 1:
Tithing 
End Times and Christian Zionism 
God’s Purpose/Supremacy of God Doctrine 
Cat and Dog Theology 
Raising One’s Hands in Worship 
Christian Music 
On the “still, small voice” and Charismatic sign gifts
On church buildings 
The Message Bible 
The Purpose-Driven Life 
The Relevance Doctrine, i.e. Marketing Churches to Seekers 
Republican Party 
Abortion Protests 
Creation 
The idea that God has someone in mind for you 
Literalism in Biblical interpretation
Miscellaneous 

Page 2:
Name it and Claim It Doctrine, Prosperity Doctrine, Faith-Formula Theology, Word-Faith Theology,  Positive Confession Theology, Health and Wealth Gospel, and whatever else they call it
More about Pat Robertson
Dr. Richard Eby and others who claim to have been to Heaven
Women in Marriage/the Church
Spiritual Abuse 
Other Resources 

Page 3:
Why do bad things happen?
Should we criticize our brethren’s artistic or evangelistic attempts?  Or, how should we evangelize, then?
Angels: Is “This Present Darkness” by Frank Peretti a divine revelation or fiction?
Halloween: Not the Devil’s Holiday!
Hell and the Nature of God 
Is Christmas/Easter a Pagan Holiday? 
Is everybody going to Hell except Christians?
How could a loving God who prohibits murder, command the genocide of the Canaanite peoples? 
What about predestination?
Musings on Sin, Salvation and Discipleship 
An Ancient View which is in the Bible, yet new to the west–Uncreated Energies of God

Page 4:
Dialogues
The Didache 
Technical Virginity–i.e., how far should a Christian single go? 
Are Spiritual Marriages “real”?  (also in “Life” section, where it’s more likely to be updated) 
Does the Pill cause abortions, or is that just another weird Internet or extremist right-wing rumor?
What about Missional Churches, Simple Churches, Fluid Churches, Organic Churches, House Churches or Neighborhood Churches?
Is Wine from the Devil–or a Gift from God?
What is Worship? 
Evangelistic Trips to Already Christianized Countries
Fraternities, Sororities, Masonic Lodge 
Was Cassie Bernall a Martyr?
Some Awesome Things heard in the Lamentations Service (Good Friday evening) during Holy Week

Conversion Story

Phariseeism in the Church

God’s Purpose (Supremacy of God Doctrine)

One form of theology says that God’s chief end or purpose, his chief priority, the thing that He’s most passionate for, is His own glory, the glory of His name.

Basically, every single thing He does is primarily done to glorify Himself–even the Cross.  The world was made to glorify God (which is partially true); we’re saved to glorify God; the Church exists to glorify God; we evangelize to glorify God; we’re supposed to make this primary.

This doctrine comes from traditional Calvinism/Reformed theology and from dispensationalismThis page describes glory theology.  Also see What the Church Was Meant to Be by Reformed evangelical writer John MacArthur, posted on what appears to be a very Calvinist website.

This theology is also described by Reformed Baptist Pastor John Piper in his books, such as Desiring God (1987) and God’s Passion for His Glory (1998).  I believe it is called the Supremacy of God doctrine.  See the following pages, as linked and quoted below:

And I really mean it this morning: the chief end of God is to glorify God and enjoy himself forever….

God loves himself more than he loves you, and therein lies the only hope that he might love you, unworthy as you are….

He chose you. Why? That his glory and grace might be praised and magnified.

Your salvation is to glorify God. Your election is to glorify God. Your regeneration was to glorify God. Your justification was for the glory of God. Your sanctification is for the glory of God.

And one day your glorification will be an absorbance into the glory of God….

Christ came to earth, clothed himself with flesh, and died so that you would give glory to his Father for mercy. He came for his Father’s sake. That’s the main reason why he came, for his Father’s glory. And his glory reaches its apex in the overflow of mercy….

He is coming [again] to be glorified, magnified in his saints, and to be marveled at. —Passion for the Supremacy of God, Part 1

Yesterday, in an attempt to torch the glacier and to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples, I tried to make the point that God does everything he does for the glory of his name.

God magnifies God. The most passionate heart in all the universe for God is God’s heart. That was the main point.

Passion ’97, as I understand it, is about God’s passion for God. Everything he does, from creation to consummation, he does with a view to displaying and upholding the glory of his name. —Passion for the Supremacy of God, Part 2

John Piper says it exceedingly well when he says that the Good News is not that He loves us but that God loves Himself.  God exists to glorify himself.

Miraculous deliverances, supernatural healings, and even the Good News of the Kingdom of God are means to an end; they exist to bring glory and honor and praise to the eternal supreme king of the galactic universe….

Friends, we too are a means to an end. “The chief end of man,” says the Westminster Confession of Faith, “is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”…

God’s love is a boomerang love, it goes out only for the purpose that it comes back to glorify Him not us. —What is the Supremacy of God? (Formerly at http://supremacyofgod.org/. Website now defunct.)

Apparently Piper’s books have been selling very well lately in Reformed and Evangelical circles.  Piper also seems to be influenced by Jonathan Edwards (even called his successor), who wrote about God’s supposed chief end here.

I first heard about this doctrine/theology when at an Evangelical Free church a few years ago.  Cugan and I both wondered where it came from; it was foreign to anything I (Nazarene) or he (Lutheran) had heard before.

Our pastor once made an analogy between God and a CEO, with God meeting daily with his staff (I forget who they were–the Trinity? angels?) to decide, “How can I glorify myself today?”

It bugged us to no end, as it made God sound like a warrior-king from Beowulf, not our Loving Father.  And we heard it every single week, month after month.  We’re still skittish at the sound of the words “glory” and “glorify,” even though they’re not bad things in themselves.

Apparently, even though we thought the Evangelical-Free Church was Arminian, its churches are allowed to be Calvinist.  And recently I discovered that the theology of the church is considered to be moderately Calvinist.

I do recall a lot of activity and fellowship between our church and local Reformed churches, but in those days I did not know that “Reformed” meant “Calvinist.”

We left for the not-so-Calvinist Presbyterian Church (USA), which had left traditional Calvinism and double predestination far behind and didn’t have this supremacy doctrine, but it would have been best to leave Calvinism completely.

The Orthodox Church does not teach this supremacy doctrine.  Proponents say the Church’s primary purpose is to glorify God; in Orthodoxy, the Church is seen as a hospital for souls, and man’s purpose as becoming like God so that man and God can be in union/communion.

According to Wikipedia,

Prior to dispensationalism’s 19-20th century inception and systemization, Covenant Theology was the prominent Protestant view regarding redemptive history and is still the view of the Reformed churches.

A relatively recent view, which is seen as a third alternative, especially among Reformed Baptists, is called New Covenant Theology.

Outside of Protestant Christianity, however, the other branches of Christianity (for example, Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox) reject both dispensationalism and Covenant Theology.

The Lutheran Church also rejects dispensationalism, by the way.  Pages 44-45 of this paper put out by the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (LCMS) seems to agree with what I’ve found in Orthodox theology: The End Times: A Study on Eschatology and Millennialism  To quote:

Nevertheless, dispensationalist teaching contradicts the Scriptures at many critical points and therefore seriously endangers the pure teaching of the Gospel….

Dispensational premillenialism tends to regard the glory of God as the center of theology, rather than the mercy of God revealed, and yet hidden, in the suffering and death of Jesus on the cross for the sins of the world.

The visible manifestations of God’s power at the end of history and obedience to the will of God become the primary foci, instead of the grace of God revealed in the cross of Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 2:2)–

which by faith the Christian regards and accepts as the place of God’s definitive triumph over sin and every evil (in Lutheran theology, the ‘theology of the cross’ as opposed to a ‘theology of glory’).

Also, Luther’s Small Catechism states,

What is the key to the correct understanding of the Bible?  Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, is the heart and center of the Scripture and therefore the key to its true meaning….Jesus revealed Himself as the center of Scripture (Luke 24:13-27) (p. 49).

I have recently discovered that this theology is quite common in Evangelical and Fundamentalist churches, that dispensationalism and Calvinism are as well, though I had always thought that Evangelical and Fundamentalist churches are Arminian.

The theology of “God’s glory being His ultimate purpose” seems to be present even in churches which are otherwise not Calvinist.

It seems that people don’t realize the supremacy of God doctrine is being promoted in Evangelical churches by a Calvinist, John Piper, who believes in and promotes the Calvinist understanding of double predestination.

It seems that many people don’t realize that, taken to its obvious conclusion, this theology turns into full-blown Calvinism, with some being predestined for glory and some being predestined for damnation–not from their own choice, but so God can be glorified.  The unchosen ones become vessels displaying God’s wrath.

One former Calvinist, posting on a message board, noted that the statement often quoted from an old Calvinist catechism–“Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever”–sounds great at first.  But it’s all external; it doesn’t emphasize union with God.

Here, the Orthodox view of why God created, under section III.b., a different take on glory:

The goal and purpose of God’s creation is the participation of this creation in God’s blessedness: St. John of Damascus speaks of “God’s glory and man’s theosis“;

however, God’s glory is man’s theosis, for God creates to communicate Himself, His blessedness and glory to the creatures He creates – the entire creation, and in this creation, man in particular (The Dogmatic Tradition of the Orthodox Church).

The page then goes on to speak of man’s specific call to become like God in character, and to be the link between creation and God, bringing creation into communion with God.

Lutheran, PCUSA and Orthodox churches do not follow the supremacy of God doctrine.  Traditional Calvinist/Reformed churches do.

The Orthodox say that union with God (not just the glory of God) is the chief end or purpose of man, and that the final end/purpose of the world is man’s union with God.

“The whole purpose of the Incarnation of the Son of God was to restore humanity to fellowship with God”  (Rev. Thomas Fitzgerald, “Spirituality”).

“It is in Christ that the purpose of human existence is realized: communion with God, union with God, deification”  (Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev, “An Online Orthodox Catechism: Redemption”).

The Earth shows God’s glory–so that man can see it and commune with God.  The “end purpose of all things” is God.  One of God’s purposes in anything could be glory, but making glory the be-all and end-all of everything makes theology seriously one-sided.  And how can we presume to say we know all of God’s purposes in everything?

Of course, we must not assume that God’s glory has nothing to do with our purpose, Christ’s purpose, creation’s purpose, God’s purpose, etc.

The problem with the focus on glory in Calvinism and dispensationalism, is that it is imbalanced: It takes the focus off God’s love for mankind, His caring for those who suffer, His desire to be in communion with us, and makes us sound selfish for desiring Him to feel this way.

Somehow, our wish to help others find God so they, too, can commune with Him, is made to sound self-serving.

But there is far more to “ultimate purpose” than just making God look good (though it is a big part of it).  Father Thomas Hopko writes (and note how he defines glory):

The Holy God of the Old Testament revealed Himself to His chosen people who were able to behold His glory.

The glory of the Lord was a special divine manifestation of the Person and Presence of God. It consisted in the vision of light, majesty and beauty and was accompanied by the voice of the Lord and His holy angels.

It created in the persons who observed it overwhelming feelings of fear and fascination, as well as profound convictions of peace, well-being, and joy….

The main teaching of the Old Testament and the foundation of all of its life was that God’s people should share in His holiness. This was the purpose of the entire Law of Moses in its commandments of morality and worship….

The people were to be holy and to gain the wisdom and righteousness of God through their service and worship of Him.

All of the so-called Wisdom writings of the Old Testament, and all of the teachings of the prophets and psalms are centered around this same fundamental fact:

God’s people should acquire and express the holiness, wisdom, glory, and righteousness of God Himself. This, and nothing else is the meaning and purpose of man’s life as created and guided by God.

The ultimate perfection of God’s purpose for man is fulfilled in Christ. He alone is the fulfillment of the law and the prophets. He alone is the “Holy One of God” (Mk 1:24, Lk 1:35, 4:34).

He alone is perfectly righteous and wholly without sin. Thus, St Peter speaks of Jesus to the people after the event of Pentecost.

The glory of God is revealed in the person of Christ. This is the consistent witness of the apostles who beheld the “Kingdom of God come with power” on the mountain of the Transfiguration (see Mt 17:1-6, Mk 9:2-7, Lk 9:28-36).

“And the Word became flesh and dwell among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father” (Jn 1:14).

“Now if the dispensation of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such splendor that the Israelites could not look at Moses’ face because of its brightness, fading as this was, will not the dispensation of the Spirit be attended with greater splendor?

“For if there was splendor in the dispensation of condemnation, the dispensation of righteousness must far exceed it in splendor. Indeed, in this case, what once had splendor has come to have no splendor at all, because of the splendor that surpasses it.

“For if what faded away came with splendor, what is permanent must have much more splendor. Since we have such a hope, we are very bold. 

“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into His likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. 

“For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Cor 3:7, 18, 4:6).

In and through Christ, by means of the Holy Spirit, all men can share in the glory of God and become participants in God’s own holiness….

The participation of men in the “nature of God” already begins in the Church of Christ, the final fruit of the salvation history of the Old Testament.

In the Church, the Kingdom of God is present which is “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom 14:17).

In the Church of Christ already begins that perpetual praise of the Holy God which exists now in the heavens and will fill all creation when Christ comes in the glory of His Kingdom at the end of the ages (p. 112-115, The Orthodox Faith: Vol. iii, Bible and Church History).

My priest says that our chief purpose in life, our number-one reason to exist, is to worship the almighty Lord and to worship at the Cross (which we do when we participate in the Eucharist).

He says our highest, sacred responsibility is to attend Divine Liturgy (services including Eucharist).

He says this is how we unite and communicate with God, how we commune with him, through worship and the Eucharist.  Christ’s very real presence is there; that is our chief purpose in worship, to unite/commune and communicate with God and with each other, to experience the real presence of Christ.

Isn’t that beautiful?  Doesn’t that transform even the so-called “boring” liturgies into something far more glorious than just sitting in a pew, listening to a sermon which may or may not be inspired, and singing a few songs that may or may not be your favorite music style?

In an article about the teachings of St. Gregory of Nyssa, Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos writes,

Man’s basic aim, according to St Gregory of Nyssa, is deification. We must look at man’s salvation only from this perspective. But in order for anyone to succeed in this very high aim, he must be purified, which is essential for man.

In The New Testament: An Orthodox Perspective, Theodore G. Stylianopoulos describes the view of the Early Church Fathers:

As the fulfillment of the Old Testament and the fullness of historical revelation, Christ is the chief aim and main subject of Scripture and, therefore, the beginning, center, and end of biblical interpretation.

In both biblical revelation and biblical interpretation the living Christ personally reveals himself as the ultimate interpreter by the power of the Spirit.  In an important way, interpretation is a fruit of the personal revelation of Christ, the Word, to the interpreter.

This is different from what my Evangelical Free pastor taught, that God’s glory is the chief aim and main subject of Scripture.

Piper’s opening salvo is remarkably insightful and immediately pulls the reader into his argument: “People are starving for the greatness of God. But most of them would not give this diagnosis of their troubled lives. The majesty of God is an unknown cure.

“There are far more popular prescriptions on the market, but the benefit of any other remedy is brief and shallow” (p. 9).  Regardless of one’s theological perspective, this statement rings true….

No good preacher will argue with Piper’s opening statement. However, many good preachers may choose to argue with Piper’s view of the shape and content of the kind of preaching that meets this human need.

Because of Piper’s strong Reformed leanings, he clearly favors preaching that emphasizes God’s sovereignty in a distinctively Edwardsian package. Sadly, he seems to discount all other preaching as missing the mark in demonstrating God’s majesty….

Piper’s guidelines for carrying out his burden are more indicative of his own theological position than they are of Biblical revelation. Is it really true that the “dominant note of preaching [should] be the freedom of God’s sovereign grace”?

Why this doctrine over others? Why not the incarnation or the Trinity or salvation by grace or any of a number of other significant doctrines?

And must the unifying theme of preaching be “the zeal that God has for his own glory”? Why not the zeal God has to glorify those who respond to His grace?

Obviously God has created the universe with more intention than merely displaying His glory. He has also created it in order to share his glory — to glorify those who are his own.

By overemphasizing one facet of Biblical revelation, Piper seems to leave humankind entirely out of the picture. Would it make any difference if humankind had ever existed at all? If not, why did God choose to create humankind?

Even more importantly, why did God choose to identify so intimately with humankind through the incarnation?

It appears that Piper has merely taken his integrative motif and demanded that all preachers share the same emphasis lest they be guilty of undermining true God-centered preaching….

In reference to Piper’s third guideline: Is it really true that the “grand object of preaching be the infinite and inexhaustible being of God”?

Does the Bible present us with a systematized, categorized series of abstract reflections on God’s infinite and inexhaustible nature?

Or does it present the glorious God in the context and flow of human history, demonstrating his nature and character in light of his interactions with human beings?

Piper’s “grand object” can all too easily boil down to abstract, decontextualized, depersonalized and ahistorical philosophical jargon.

I would argue that the “grand object” of Scripture is God’s saving purpose worked out in human history. Insofar as this demonstrates God’s nature, I agree with Piper.

However, beginning with God’s “infinite and inexhaustible being” and working down to God’s saving acts seems to invert the order Scripture presents and the way in which Scripture presents it. –Richard J. Vincent, God-Centered Preaching: An Analysis and Critique of The Supremacy of God in Preaching

Also see:

Internet Monk: On Being Too God-Centered (catch the comments, too)

I find this frightening–the thought that TULIP Calvinism has become newly popular among evangelicals.  It also explains why my old Evangelical Free church suddenly turned Calvinist after having been Arminian:

“Young, Restless, Reformed: Calvinism is making a comeback–and shaking up the church” by Collin Hansen

See for some good old-fashioned deep theology that does not come from 500-year-old Calvinism: Theosis: The True Purpose of Human Life

Written between late 2004 and probably late 2006/early 2007

 

Index to my theology/church opinion pages:

Page 1:

Tithing 
End Times and Christian Zionism 
God’s Purpose/Supremacy of God Doctrine 
Cat and Dog Theology 
Raising One’s Hands in Worship 
Christian Music 
On the “still, small voice” and Charismatic sign gifts
On church buildings 
The Message Bible 
The Purpose-Driven Life 
The Relevance Doctrine, i.e. Marketing Churches to Seekers 
Republican Party 
Abortion Protests 
Creation 
The idea that God has someone in mind for you 
Literalism in Biblical interpretation
Miscellaneous 

Page 2:

Name it and Claim It Doctrine, Prosperity Doctrine, Faith-Formula Theology, Word-Faith Theology,  Positive Confession Theology, Health and Wealth Gospel, and whatever else they call it
More about Pat Robertson
Dr. Richard Eby and others who claim to have been to Heaven
Women in Marriage/the Church
Spiritual Abuse 
Other Resources 

Page 3:

Why do bad things happen?
Should we criticize our brethren’s artistic or evangelistic attempts?  Or, how should we evangelize, then?
Angels: Is “This Present Darkness” by Frank Peretti a divine revelation or fiction?
Halloween: Not the Devil’s Holiday!
Hell and the Nature of God 
Is Christmas/Easter a Pagan Holiday? 
Is everybody going to Hell except Christians?
How could a loving God who prohibits murder, command the genocide of the Canaanite peoples? 
What about predestination?
Musings on Sin, Salvation and Discipleship 
An Ancient View which is in the Bible, yet new to the west–Uncreated Energies of God

Page 4:

Dialogues
The Didache 
Technical Virginity–i.e., how far should a Christian single go? 
Are Spiritual Marriages “real”?  (also in “Life” section, where it’s more likely to be updated) 
Does the Pill cause abortions, or is that just another weird Internet or extremist right-wing rumor?
What about Missional Churches, Simple Churches, Fluid Churches, Organic Churches, House Churches or Neighborhood Churches?
Is Wine from the Devil–or a Gift from God?
What is Worship? 
Evangelistic Trips to Already Christianized Countries
Fraternities, Sororities, Masonic Lodge 
Was Cassie Bernall a Martyr?
Some Awesome Things heard in the Lamentations Service (Good Friday evening) during Holy Week

Conversion Story

Phariseeism in the Church