Sunday, January 17, 2010

Confronting the Church on Marriage, Part V

When we last left off, I promised to take up this discussion, interacting with Hebrew Language professor Stewart "Woody" Lauer on the topic of "Elder Monogamy," and a surprise admission. That was last year, then several stories I had been following blew up, and dominated my time.

Sorry about that, it is hard for me at least, to maintain burning intensity of interest on several fronts at once, I don't know about you, but that's me.

I had written the following for public consumption about 6 years ago, and had sent it to the session of my church in April of last year, who then sent it along to Dr. Lauer. It is the argument based on the supposed argument that Elders are to be monogamous. It's a sort of "AHA!!" contention that is offered to polygyny proponents by monogamy only proponents. I lay aside the contention of some that the Greek word "mia" is mistranslated for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that calls our translations into so much disrepute that we would have to all go learn Greek and Hebrew to continue the discussion. I'll accept, at least for the sake of discussion with the OPC, Dr. Lauer, and the COPC session that it means "Husband of One Wife."
"Elders are to be husbands of one wife" Again, "dicto simpliciter." This is a condition of office, not a rant against polygyny. Again, take a deep breath. The argument using this verse employs the notion that it is an ideal to be striven for. Credible, until you realize you've just said women are sub creatures. Besides it's virtual proof that there were polygynous couples in the early church. Otherwise why say anything about it?
Remember this is a talking point, designed to get the conversation going. There is a great deal more to talk about on the polygyny side of the argument, and perhaps we will get to those other points. The most significant contention I make here, is conceded outright:
Dr. Lauer - "I agree with the last two sentences, above."
I've highlighted what he agrees with. First some housekeeping. I hadn't noticed in 6 years that I said something incredibly silly that NO ONE has ever picked up on. "Polygynous couples?" That should be families, not couples but the concept of the adult component of family being a "couple" is so deeply embedded in our culture, that I said it, repeated it, didn't pick up on it, and no one did for all that period of time where I have used that form of the argument as a "foot in the door" when discussing polygyny.

Dr. Lauer concedes without a fight that one of the major contentions of many "monogamy only proponents," that "polygyny is not mentioned in the New Testament and not present in the early church" is completely false. They were there, that's it, and from my point of view at least, the practice was so unremarkable that it's only mentioned in passing. Indeed, if you were to ask of a Disciple why they never mention polygyny as part of a claim they didn't, because they were downgrading the practice, you'd get a really weird look, like "we didn't mentioned beards either, dummy."

All of what I am doing here, has now come to light in my church over the issue of membership. After months of stonewalling me on membership, I went to the congregation and said "they won't let me join" and the church responded with an email in which they said the following:
"(Our refusal to allow Hugh to join) involves (him) both believing and publicly advocating, especially via the internet, a position that that is so seriously sinful that no church throughout all of Christendom accepts it."
Which makes you wonder if they even read the response they contracted with Dr. Lauer, to write.

The position was "so seriously sinful" that Paul, the apostle, whose writings are the ones on which we base doctrine and church governance, didn't think it was even important enough, to mention. He doesn't mention it in the face of SPEAKING to congregations in which he looks out over the church, identifies and sees (and knows) men who are in church, with several of their wives in tow.

In the past a friend (now deceased), of mine and I had remarked to one another, if we ever got past the first rung of church elders, and reached the "intelligentsia" round, very quickly many of the arguments routinely raised and fervently held to, would be dropped. That drop was audible. Dr. Don Dean and I have had discussions with prominent theologians who admit in one way or another, privately, that our arguments are not unsound, they just won't sell in the church. In Dr. Lauer's response through the session of COPC a number of such concessions occur. This is one of them.

It is in fact powerfully convincing that polygyny is an acceptable practice when it's going on right in front of Jesus, his disciples and the growing church in the New Faith. It's going on, and the disciples and apostles say NOTHING whatsoever about it except that Paul seems to be saying "If you have a polygynous man in church, don't make him an elder."

Woody goes on to say that it indicates disfavor, but that is frankly impossible. Again now the first part of my contention comes back into play.
Dr. Lauer - "(I)t is clear that the apostles (representing Jesus officially; 1 Cor 14:36) viewed it with disfavor, disqualifying the man from office. This official, negative attitude toward the practice on the part of the Lord’s apostles cannot be dismissed so lightly."
There are some, who employ the phrase "it is clear" because it is precisely the opposite, it's not clear.

Dr. Lauer is easily refuted. If those disqualified from the office of Elder are viewed with "disfavor," then he is saying women are viewed with disfavor. (Elders as husbands unpacked, means among other things, elders are to be men.) Any other man that qualifies for office on marital status can be disqualified also because they are not "apt to teach." Paul himself says "teaching is a gift:
"Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles?" - 1st Corinthians 12:29 (ESV)
This is extremely simple logic. Some of the qualfiers for office of Elder in the church have to do with morals, and indeed, on the face of it, it could very well be that being polygynous is being morally compromised, or at least "morally not quite the best thing." Elders are not to be drunks for instance, but Paul mixes up his list naming things that are merely things Elders should and should not be, but otherwise acceptable, and things that no one should be, particularly elders. A man not gifted by God to teach is not to be an Elder. A woman, no matter how she is gifted, is not to be an elder. Neither are viewed with disfavor, it does not logically follow that a polygynous man is viewed with disfavor. We know from other passages of scripture that drunkenness is a bad thing, there is no such corresponding scripture for a much married man.

Though the this post is short, and Woody's answer is short, it is what you do when you're trying to avoid an uncomfortable truth. Unless you change your position on the subject, you give it a short shrift and blow past it. This is what Woody does, but not before showing us a very important fact.

Polygyny is mentioned in the New Testament. It is NOT commented on, in that context, as a negative. The most important theologians in the church, Christ, and his immediate Apostles say nothing whatsoever about polygyny being wrong or substandard, even though polygyny is right in front of all them, among the believers. The most that seems to be said is; "Don't make them, and women, and people who can't teach, Elders."