Thursday, September 13, 2007

Toddlers at the Table (2)

If you haven't kept up with this discussion, but would like to catch up now, here's how it developoed:
  • I posted this article, and also emailed it to Al Maxey seeking his feedback.
  • Mr. Maxey responded in his weekly Reflections email newsletter. Click here to read it.
Well, I have had some further correspondence with Al regarding the question of children partaking of the Lord's Supper. With his gracious permission, I am posting our correspondence.

First, my response to his article:
Brother Maxey,

Thank you for your thorough and thoughtful treatment of my question about allowing my daughter to partake in communion. The factors which you mentioned are the ones that I have always been taught. You confirmed them sufficiently for me to refrain from allowing my daughter to partake at this time. However, I still have some questions that plague me on this issue.

My difficulty is not with any specific point that you made, but with the general idea that "The rituals of Christianity are only for the mature." You mentioned in your conclusion the passage that says that we will pray and sing with understanding. I'm glad you brought this up because I think it helps explain my continuing difficulty with this question.

We believe that the Bible teaches that all that we do must be more than a mere "going through the motions," but must be done with an understanding of what we are doing. This applies to singing, praying, the Lord's Supper, daily life, etc. However, we don't keep our children from singing in worship even though they don't understand the meaning of the words that they sing. We don't keep them from praying even though they don't understand prayer. We certainly don't forbid them from participating in the offering, although they don't understand any of the theology behind it. And we don't discourage them from adopting Christian morals and values in their daily activity (don't lie, be kind, have good manners, etc.) even though they don't understand the theology behind Christian living. We don't forbid these things because, among other things, there is educational and developmental value to the
experiencing of Christian rituals and activities as they progressively learn more and more about the deeper meanings. I see it as the difference between active/multi-sensory learning and theoretical learning.

I agree that the Bible teaches a deeper meaning behind the Lord's Supper than my Abbie can even come close to comprehending. However, I believe that the Bible teaches a deeper meaning behind singing, praying, offering, Christian living than she is able to comprehend. Why, then, do we forbid the Lord's supper but not the others?

As I said, your article was truly a helpful reminder, as I often allow my exploratory thinking to take over and sometimes lose my grounding in the process. You called me back to a grounded view of the question that I asked. For this I thank you. However, the questioner within me is still not satisfied. I know that you probably receive enough email that an ongoing discussion like this may be something that you don't have time for. However, your further thoughts would be appreciated.

Jeff Borcherding
Now, his reply:
  • I can certainly appreciate where you are coming from; I've struggled with many of these same questions and feelings over the years, as I'm sure a great many have. One will discover, however, that in most human societies (whether secular or spiritual, primitive or modern) there is a perceived need to reserve some activities for those who have attained a certain level of maturity. For example, consider marriage. Yes, there are indeed some cultures where the very young are allowed, even encouraged, to marry and bear children. I have heard of girls as young as ten having a baby. Most of us, however, regard such an activity as being something that is not truly developmentally appropriate for that age. Are their bodies capable of reproducing? Yes, in many cases. Does a ten-year-old have a rudimentary understanding of marriage? I'm sure they do. Would you encourage your own daughter to "experience" marriage and reproduction firsthand simply because her physical body might be capable of such, thereby giving her experiential, not just theoretical, knowledge of this?! Probably not. Why not? Because we see the wisdom in postponing certain activities until one is more emotionally and/or spiritually capable of appreciating and accepting the responsibilities of said activity. I truly believe some things are important enough in our lives to advise waiting until we are truly ready to embrace them as they should be, and need to be, embraced.
  • Yes, as we assemble together, we do encourage our children to sing, pray and give. However, these are things we also encourage them to do every day. In reality, these activities are largely inherent. Before an infant can even form words, they are singing. A fetus will respond to music even in the womb. It is part of our nature. So is giving. Watch a baby sometime. They'll suck on a cracker and then offer the soggy morsel to Mom and Dad. They are sharing; giving. It is inherent. Psychologists, and even anthropologists, will tell you that man is a "worshipful animal" -- i.e., we have an inherent need to look to something or someone greater than ourselves. Solomon wrote that God has "set eternity in their heart" [Eccl. 3:11]. In other words, God has placed within man an inherent awareness, however rudimentary, of that which is greater than himself, so that even from the very first there may be this inherent longing to grasp the Infinite One. Seeking to communicate with this One is inherent within us, and this is accomplished in prayer. It is a need even a child can fulfill. We can cry out Abba, Daddy, long before we appreciate the true nature of that eternal Father. Thus, singing, praying and giving all address fundamental, basic, inherent traits of the human species, and are developmentally appropriate to almost any age.
  • The Lord's Supper, on the other hand, points to a most remarkable moment in time and space, one that is completely outside of and apart from the realm of human nature and experience. It memorializes an event when God Himself stepped shockingly into our physical realm and did the unthinkable -- He died a horrendous death in our place. There is absolutely nothing inherent within our nature to prepare us for this expression of His nature. "Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" [Rom. 5:7-8]. Two verses later we are told that the death of Jesus reconciled us to the Father while we were still His enemies. There is nothing inherent within man that prepares us for this amazing grace! The Lord's Supper commemorates the supreme act of love of our Creator, an event that requires some degree of maturity to even begin to grasp, much less apply to our lives in a meaningful way. Singing, praying and sharing are aspects of our nature; that which the Lord's Supper displays is an aspect of His. It is totally outside of our own human experience, and thus requires some degree of development as disciples of Jesus to appreciate, much less accept, this demonstration of His redeeming love!
  • Nevertheless, having stated all of the above, it is certainly true that there is no definitive "law" for resolving the issue of precisely when it is "developmentally appropriate" for one to partake of the Lord's Supper. God has largely left that to the exercise of our good judgment. In my previous study I provided what I personally believe the purposes of that event to be, according to my best understanding of the Scriptures, and then simply challenged us all to determine, as best we can, at what point we feel one is capable of truly appreciating this event as it deserves to be appreciated. Since the Lord has not specifically set an age for participation, neither can I. I can only offer the fruit of my study and my insights into the matter. In the end, each person must make that determination for themselves. I have stated my belief -- a four-year-old is not yet ready for this event -- but I will most certainly not condemn those who differ with me on this matter, and who choose to give the bread and wine to their child (although I think it inappropriate to do so). This is, ultimately, between them and their God, and I gladly leave the matter in His merciful, loving and gracious hands. Our Father knows men's hearts and motives far better than I. In conclusion, to this brother from Texas I say: May God richly bless you and your precious daughter. She is truly blessed to have such conscientious parents who want only to raise her to love and appreciate the Lord.
  • --- Al Maxey

Toddlers at the Table

Al Maxey has responded to my question about letting Abbie take the Lord's Supper. Click here to read what he has to say. And, if you don't receive his weekly Reflections email, you are truly missing out on a truly enriching read every time.

Also, I hate to do this again, but I will be taking a break from the blog (for the most part) over the next month. I have until October 15 to complete my thesis, and need to dedicate all of my time to it. Its crunch time and I'm still behind. I may post a random video or link in the meantime, so check back on occasion, but I'll have to postpone the rest for a little while.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Gender Roles (8) -- Submission in Ephesians 5

Read Part 1
Read Part 2
Read Part 3
Read Part 4
Read Part 5
Read Part 6

Read Part 7

We now enter the portion of the study on gender roles that gets quite difficult. As I have said before, I am studying this week-by-week and don’t know what will come of my study. Thus far, I have found the egalitarian arguments more convincing. However, I haven't yet dealt with the passages that are considered definitive by the complimentarians, so it hasn’t been a very fair fight thus far. We shall see where this ends up.

When the concept of submission of wife to husband comes up, I immediately think of one of my classmates in preaching school who made the statement, “If I tell my wife to crawl across the kitchen floor on her hands and knees, she must do so according to Scripture.” This classmate of mine would assure us that he would never do such a thing, and that he believed that he would be violating Scripture by acting in such a way towards his wife. Nevertheless, he believed that the Bible passages mentioning wives submitting/being subject to their husbands meant that his wife would ultimately have to do so if he instructed her in such a way.

While never taking it to this extreme, Alissa and I always believed (because that’s what we had been taught) that the wife was to be submissive to her husband as the ultimate authority in the home. In fact, I made my desire clear that her vows in our wedding would include the word “submit.” She willingly (submissively?) agreed. So now, even though I am leaning egalitarian in my understanding of scripture, I can still be an authority over her on the grounds that she made a vow of submission! And the Bible certainly teaches the importance of keeping your vows!

Just kidding.

The passages most commonly mentioned as supporting the submission of wives to husbands are Ephesians 5:22, Colossians 3:18, Titus 2:5, and 1 Peter 3:1. Indeed, on a surface reading of the text, the case seems clear – husbands are in a position of authority over wives, and wives must recognize this authority by submitting to it.

Discovering whether this is the true meaning of the texts is, unfortunately, not so clear cut. In fact, it is downright frustrating. Today, we will start looking at Ephesians 5, for it has the most points of contention between the two positions.

Mutual Submission
Egalitarian position: V. 21 is the interpretive key to the passage, and it refers to mutual submission. The verses that follow give examples of how mutual submission is played out in life. The first example of mutual submission is in marriage. Wives submit to their husbands, and husbands love their wives as Christ loved the church. Christ became a self-sacrificing servant for the church. Slaves submit to their masters (6:5-9), but masters are told to treat their slaves "in the same way" as slaves are to treat their masters. Hence, mutual submission. The parent-child relationship is mutually submissive in that the parents are serving the needs of their child whereas the child is obeying the parent. If these verses are not describing mutual submission, what is the meaning of and purpose of v. 21? The other passages instructing submission of wives to husbands can be independently explained in such a way that makes them consistent with the egalitarian thrust of all scripture up to this point and that does not mistreat the text.

Complimentarian position: It is unnatural to understand these verses as referring to mutual submission. Children submit to parents, but not vice versa. Slaves submit to masters, but not vice versa. Likewise, wives submit to husbands, but not vice versa. In each of these relationships, the authority is regulated to prevent mistreatment. Also, if God's desire was for mutual submission, it would seem that there would be some place in the Bible where it said something that more clearly instructs husbands to submit to their wives? Instead , you have several other verses repeating the instruction directing wives to submit, such as Colossians 3:18, Titus 2:5, and 1 Peter 3:1-6.

My assessment: I'm torn. V. 21 cannot be ignored, and it clearly espouses some kind of mutual submission, although not necessarily the egalitarian brand of it. However, the mutual submission of parents and children seems to be a stretch. On this point, the complimentarian reading of the passage seems to be more natural, although the egalitarian reading is viable.


Complimentarian position: The Greek word for "submit" means to submit to an authority. It carries the idea of authority in its very meaning. Nowhere in ancient Greek writings was that word used to refer to reciprocal submission, whether in the Bible or not.

Egalitarian position: The word "submit" does not appear alone. It is followed by the words "to one another." The addition of that phrase makes it mutual. It like saying, “Treat one another as being an authority over you.” It reminds me of what Paul said in Philippians 2:3-4, that we are supposed to “consider others better than yourselves” and “look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

My assessment: The egalitarian position makes good sense on this point. I don't know Greek well enough to know how well the linguistic argument's hold up, but they do seem to make sense within the text.

I'll continue looking at Ephesians 5 next time. Clearly, both egalitarians and complimentarians have solid points related to Ephesians 5. Taking the passage on its own merits, I have to call it a draw thus far. In the case of a draw, I must defer to my understanding of the whole of scripture, which, as I have said above, currently leans egalitarian. But the jury is still out.