The church can distinguish itself in this dark season
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For those keeping track, Dec. 3 marks the first Sunday of Advent.
It comes at a good time.
The Advent season begins as the advent of a particularly dark cultural moment continues. This week brought more disturbing accusations against more powerful men about sexual misconduct against women they knew.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining …
With the advent of the Christmas season, I’ve been considering: How did the perfect God-man interact with women when He lived on earth?
The Gospels show us.
Jesus struck up a conversation about salvation with a woman at a well. During a dinner gathering, He allowed another woman to anoint His feet with oil, as her act of devotion.
When a woman was afflicted with a disabling spirit, Jesus laid His hands on her and healed her. When a sick woman grasped the fringe of His garment, He said her faith had made her well.
When Jairus’ daughter lay lifeless, Jesus took her by the hand and raised her from the dead. He embraced children, and He rebuked His disciples for keeping them away.
Jesus cared for bodies and souls, of both men and women, without a hint of impurity or sexual immorality, because Christ was the sinless Savior.
A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices …
This isn’t a template for all human interactions: We don’t say because Jesus spoke to a woman at a well by Himself it’s never a bad idea for a man to be alone with a woman to whom he’s not married. The well was in a public place, but the bigger point is: He’s sinless; we’re not.
Indeed, a man or woman should have guardrails in their conduct with anyone of the opposite sex who is not their spouse. The merits of the so-called Pence rule are worth considering, while applying Biblical wisdom and common sense to specific situations.
But I hope the current cultural climate doesn’t cause Christian men to draw away from women in need of protection and care.
I’m thinking of widows and orphans. I’m thinking of single moms and never-married women. I’m thinking of the disabled in nursing homes and hospitals, and women living on their own or facing difficult circumstances.
This may be a crucial opportunity for the church: Godly men who exercise purity and prudence in their interactions with women, but who don’t withdraw their concern because they fear a hyper-sexualized culture will misinterpret any kind word or deed.
I’m a single woman, and when a deacon at my church mentions he noticed the tread on my tires is growing thin, I feel grateful for his concern. When a 10-year-old boy runs ahead to open the door because his parents have trained him to respect women, I feel heartened.
When an elder presses me about my safety on reporting trips to dangerous places, I don’t mind his furrowed brow or persistent questions. I don’t think: “Don’t patronize me.” I think: “Thank you caring for me.”
I’d feel comfortable calling on any number of men in my congregation if I needed help in an emergency, not primarily because they’re my friends, but because they’re my brothers. They treat me like a sister. I feel protected, not threatened.
All of this may sound rudimentary, but at this cultural moment, it could be revolutionary.
Just as the first-century church distinguished itself by caring for children cast aside by a cruel society, the 21st-century church could distinguish itself by also caring for women trampled on by the abuses of a brutal world.
Many women might balk at this idea. They might consider it condescending or sexist. But underneath the layers of confusion—and perhaps sometimes pride—I think many women long for it. You hear it in the despair they described when powerful men took disastrous advantage of them. They hashtag it and form a community around it: #MeToo
Any ministry in this context calls for a renewed commitment to personal holiness and growth from every Christian in every Bible-based church. (Godly women are crucial for offering discipleship and friendship to women who need personal care.)
It’s tragically true that plenty of predatory abuse and sexual misconduct has happened within many Christian congregations—and it’s also important to recognize boys and young men are sometimes the victims. When it’s our turn to confront sin, we can’t excuse it or gloss over it or undermine its gravity and consequences.
Instead, we can pursue purity and protection for ourselves and others, and a Christ-like compassion that welcomes those who have never known the joy of such a community.
In our imperfect ways, we’d be pointing to the perfect Savior who sees all kinds of people, and moves towards them in love. We’d be pointing to the cross, where Christ became a curse to deliver us from the curse of sin that has battered the world and everyone in it so badly. In a dark night, we’d be proclaiming good news.
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn …
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