I am reading a wonderful book at the moment. It’s called ‘stand’ and is written by Karl Martin, who was at Bible College at the same time as me (feel the reflective glory!). Indeed we played in the same football time. Or rather, I played in goal in the same team as Karl. When Karl played I was not usually very busy!
It’s looking at the call to live as a follower of Jesus and is very engaging, accessible, encouraging and challenging. This is not meant to be a review, but if you are looking for a book that helps you look at how you follow Jesus, this would be a good one.
I have been reading a section that is talking about identity and among the things I have read was a bit about how all of Jesus’ followers are God’s sons. Now immediately my anti-discrimination hackles were raised. Surely Karl actually means we are all God’s sons and daughters? On behalf of all my female Christian friends (and my wife) I was ready to take issue with the book. But Karl explains that this is not about gender (here), and invites the reader to consider how us all being ‘sons’ is about equality (yes, really!).
In Jesus’ day society was even more male-centred than it is today. Inheritance mainly passed through the male heirs. Daughters did not usually get a look in. The sons were the ones with the rights, with the inheritance, with the family honour, and so much more. So when the Bible describes us (regardless of physical gender) as ‘sons of God’ a significant counter-cultural statement is being made. It is inclusive, not exclusive. All of us become fully part of God’s family. All of us are his heirs. All of us are given equal rights and responsibilities in his Kingdom. If we were described as ‘sons and daughters of God’ there would be wriggle room here. Prejudice and inequality could sneak in. Cultural norms would prevail over God’s Kingdom values.
But we are sons of God, regardless of our gender. (Karl balances it up if you are feeling concerned about this apparent gender redefinition by reminding us that on the same basis the church (men included) is described as the ‘Bride of Christ’).
Churches have not been good at this. Women have not been treated well through church history. We (usually men) have superimposed sexist prejudice over God’s Kingdom values and attempted to say that this is what the Bible endorses, ignoring Jesus’ inclusive approach, interpreting away passages that say that with God there is neither male nor female, and holding onto a male-dominated view of the world and the church despite all that the Bible says about God not having favourites.
And so, acutely aware of that, I have railed against singing songs in which the women are expected to sing that they are ‘sons of God’. I have substituted ‘child’ where possible to be inclusive and sometimes I have even avoided those songs altogether. And now I am questioning my approach.
Unless I have an opportunity to explain the above in a service I may well still ask that we sing ‘child’ instead of ‘son’. That is especially true if there are likely to be visitors present, or those who don’t know much about church because I would not want people to feel that God only loves one gender.
But there will now also be moments when, given the opportunity, I want to declare that with God there is no second class: I will try to explain what it means for us all to be ‘sons’ and invite everyone to declare their status before God. Surely that is what Paul was trying to say to the church in Galatia isn’t it?
26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female,for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:26-29)
Be blessed, be a blessing