Mar 18, 2014

Early Church and Women – Now that’s Missional

by Mary-Elsie Wolfe

As a movement, we have been talking increasingly over the last decade or so about being more missional—being more incarnational in our communities—becoming a more redeeming presence.

Historical and archeological research confirms that quest was met by the early church. We see that evidenced in the lives of women. Christianity in its pioneering stage attracted women because it offered what no other religion or society could. Anyone could follow Jesus, regardless of status, position or the sign of the covenant in circumcision. The numerous cults dating to Rome and Greece allowed for very limited—if any—roles for women. Likewise, Judaism restricted the role of women. Christianity did not. In Christianity, women were fully able to come alongside in faith as equal partners and were given opportunities no other venue offered.

In the first and second century, infanticide and abortion were commonly practiced in all regions. Women had little choice in the decision because “Roman law accorded the male head of family the literal power of life and death over his house-hold, including the right to order a female in the household to abort.” Methods of abortion were risky for the woman. Sometimes, poison was used in the uterus or orally but doses were determined by guess work that could kill both mother and child. The archaic methods of removing a child from the uterus involved techniques of force in a time before antibiotics, potentially causing early death. Among the women who survived this ordeal, some became infertile. Those who were not rendered infertile through abortions might also have been sterilised through antiquated forms of contraception or medicine. This was the world in which early Christians lived—but not so for early followers of Jesus

Rodney Stark cites emperor Valentenian’s written order to Pope Damasus I “requiring Christian missionaries to cease calling at the homes of pagan women.” Why? Because women out numbered men as early followers of Jesus.

Christians at the onset valued life. Valuing all life was imbedded in Christian culture from Jewish teaching. Not only that, but Christian women were more fertile having not been exposed to the same obstructions to their reproductive systems. Women found freedoms in the Christian community that they weren’t afforded elsewhere. In many Greco-Roman regions, women were forced into marriage at the age of twelve. Pagans were three times more likely to marry before the age of 13 according to Stark and impregnating young girls was not uncommon.

In contrast, nearly half of Christian women had not married by the age of 18. Not only were Christian widows allowed to remain single but their status was both respected and sanctioned. Conversely, some laws outside the faith fined women who were not married within two years of being widowed. Of course, the right of property would be lost in the marital commitment—a reason why historians conclude that many women of means were drawn to the early church.

Women were crucial to the early church. Men and women met together for worship in the homes of many of these women. Affluent women had homes large enough to fit growing churches. Lydia, Priscilla, Phoebe, Apphia and Nympha are mentioned as women of stature in the church. Phoebe was a leader who helped Paul and served as a deacon in the church. A deacon was understood to have “assisted at liturgical functions and administer the benevolent and charities of the church.” As Stark explains, it was perfectly natural for Paul that a woman hold that position; thus he commended Pheobe as a deaconess to the Romans.

Living Jesus in our community brings hope that might otherwise be obstructed by social norms. That’s why we want to be missional.

Mar 6, 2014

Our Church and Alcohol

by John Vlainic


Let me begin with the kind of church I long for. Everyone who comes soon learns that this people is about: 1) worshipping Jesus, 2) loving Him and everyone else (even enemies), 3) committing to a life-time of becoming more like Him, 4) building quality relationships with some fellow-Christians (in a more intimate context), 5) sharing His love with people “outside” the church, 6) supporting His church in time, energy, attitude, money (everything), and 7) being a counter-culture to the sick society around us. When it comes to the matter of use of alcohol, I dream of such a church where there are people (like me) who abstain from alcohol for good reasons, and where many (like many friends and acquaintances) use alcohol in limited, careful ways. All of us are against drunkenness.

I also dream of a church where we have agreed that alcohol will not be used in church properties or at whole-church gatherings (because of the range of convictions and needs among us about its use).


-The Bible on wine. “In the Bible, wine appears far more frequently as a vehicle of God's blessing than an occasion of human folly.” David Neff, citing author in book review at .

-The Bible on convictions and membership “rules”. Think, for example, about whether there should be a rule about using meat that has been part of an idolatrous worship experience. Some Christians thought so, but Paul did not.

-John Wesley on alcohol, and his insistence that the identity of Methodists: “Let this be your many, noble, generous religions, equally remote from the meanness of superstition, which places religion in doing what God hath not enjoined, or abstaining from what he hath not forbidden.” (Advice to a People Called Methodist)

-An honest look at the whole history of the church re: alcohol. For 95% of our history, the church has been against drunkenness, and for care regarding alcohol. At one time, Yale historian David Underdown tells us, the Puritans of Dorchester adopted an unusual tactic to assist the town's poor: they opened a brewery. “Revivalist and founder of Methodism John Wesley expressed strong opinions on the best methods for brewing beer in the 18th century, as did Reformer Martin Luther in the 16th. And in the 19th century prominent Baptist pastor and evangelist Charles Spurgeon disallowed temperance meetings in his Metropolitan Tabernacle lest people think that abstinence somehow contributes to a person’s salvation. (in Article on Moody Bible Institute now allowing staff to use alcohol. Abstinence has been the rule at only one time – in recent history. See note about the Temperance movement below.)

-Taking into account the fact that today, large number of evangelicals (and Free Methodists) who do carefully use alcohol. A few years ago a National Association of Evangelicals survey found that 40% of evantelical leaders were sometimes using some alcohol. I.e, what is the body of Christ as a whole saying about this? That is, even today, after the temperance movement of the past century, the larger body of Christ is saying what the church did for almost 2000 years: we are against drunkenness, and very careful about alcohol. We have to conclude that all these people are living in sin, or that they are using their freedom in Christ in ways that are acceptable.

-Ongoing appreciation for the good in the Temperance movement. “The temperance movement reacted to a real social and medical problem. We should not dismiss it as a product of Victorian prudishness. But then a focus on reducing alcohol abuse morphed into the conviction that it was a sin for any person to take a drink, period. This was a simpler approach, but it is not biblical.” (Thomas S. Kidd, “How Evangelicals Lost Their Way on Alcohol

-Not wanting a “bait and switch” where people who start coming to church among us sense the 7 points above from day one, and do not suddenly learn, late in the membership process that there is another requirement: not using alcohol.

-A church of integrity where we all, especially leaders, practice what we say we are “for.” This means that today, EITHER the Bishop needs to start disciplining the pastors among us who sometimes use alcohol (and likewise, pastors need to discipline their members who use alcohol) OR we change the stance of the church.

-We reject “slippery slope” fear-based arguments against changing our stance. We remember that people who teach logic say that slippery slope arguments are logical fallacies! The problem with slippery slope reasoning is that it avoids engaging with the issue at hand, and instead puts attention on extreme hypotheticals. No evidence is given that such extreme hypotheticals will actually occur. (See, for example, .)

-We remember that in an earlier day, even while the FMC was against wedding rings, some younger ministerial candidates and lay people started using them even before the rules were changed – and it has NOT resulted in Free Methodists becoming a jewelry-obsessed people. Just look around at the next multi-denominational gathering!

-Concern for how to best help those who are mis-using alcohol. If there is a “rule” against any use (even a now-vague one), any move to help someone mis-using alcohol begins with shaming them (explicitly or tacitly) as a rebel and rule-breaker. Then we try to help them deal with the excess.

By contrast, if abstinence is not a rule, we begin with helping them re: their excess in something that we are not categorically condemning. Yes, they may end up abstainers (since they have problems with alcohol), but we don’t start with shame and condemnation.

Mar 5, 2014

Alcohol and the Church

by John Vlainic

Last evening I attended a Hamilton event (sponsored by the city's Public Health Department, the police, and school boards) on "What Can Parents Do To Prevent Underage Drinking - and How Alcohol Affects the Teenage Brain." The 2010 death of a city teen who died from alcohol poisoning had resulted in an inquest and recommendations and studies and now some actions and educational tools. It was so moving to hear his mother say a word to the gathering.

I was there trying to listen for any indicators from the health community re: whether we, as a faith group, do more good by having a "rule" against drinking (= recommending total abstinence) or by educating well, helping people to make their own decisions, and advocating great care with a dangerous substance.

I didn't get any "news-bite" things that could easily help us. But I did learn a great deal about the development of the teenage brain (this was the focus of the main speaker).

As you probably know, it is illegal in Ontario for someone under the age of 19 to drink alcohol or for their parents to provide it for them or to allow them to bring it into their home.

The main part of the evening was spent presenting 6 Research-based strategies to help parents to work with their teen/young adults regarding alcohol.

Again and again we heard about the process (well into the 20's) whereby the frontal lobe (where reasoning and the capacity to make thoughtful choices)of the young brain is being developed. Repeatedly we heard how parents who use "rules" or "tell" their teen/young adult what they MUST or MUST NOT do,DO NOT HELP the young person to develop their frontal lobe, their capacity to learn to work into decisions using reason.

The stress was on helping teens to develop the ability to make thoughtful decisions. This requires much more emphasis on benefits (to them and to people they love) than on bad consequences.

Again and again we heard how important it is to ask teens "judgment" questions rather than fact questions. I.e., "Tell me what you did today" is useless (we all know that), whereas "Tell me the most disgusting thing that happened at school today" or "Tell me the best thing that happened at school today" push them to evaluate and make judgments. The latter kind of questions help them to develop their frontal lobes (which are developing into their 20's).

We also heard that the appropriate sharing of "kernels of wisdom" can be helpful-if they are not presented as though we are exercising "authority" over them.

These things were shared by a lecturer from OISE at U of T (who doesn't drink at all, but whose wife does).

I left thinking that:

-we DO need to point our people to good information about alcohol's damaging effects on the developing brain and potential dangers to everyone

-having a "rule" (or even saying we "advocate" abstinence) probably does nothing overall to help our people to help their teens/young adults to develop their frontal lobes well (where the capacity to reason thoughtfully into a decision takes place)

-we need to take out the "Rule" part in our Manual and simply point to the responsibility of Christ-followers to educate themselves about the dangers of alcohol (especially to teens/young adults) and to help one another to come to responsible decisions about its use. There are good materials we can point people to. I would be OK with us saying a bit MORE about alcohol -- but not by way of a "rule" for our people.

. . . . . . Some thoughts from a man who doesn't drink alcohol at all (except a few molecules when receiving communion with my Anglican friends).