Wilfredo Choco De Jesús: Paying the Cost of Reconciliation (Catalyst Notes)

Wilfredo Choco De Jesús was one of Time’s 100 most influential people in 2013. The senior pastor at New Life Covenant Ministries in Chicago, he is a man not only of the Word but of action. He started his talk with Luke 19:10: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” This, he said, is why Jesus came. This is what we are called to: to seek and to save the lost.

How do we lead in a drifting culture dominated by fear? First, we must realize that nobody drifts towards holiness. Holiness is intentional. Therefore, a Church that offers transformation in a drifting world must be an engaged, purposeful, responsive Church. Prayer is not a crutch. It is the start of something, not the end of it. Revelation calls for a response. Understanding can wait, obedience to the revelation of God cannot. “When my Father says do something, I do it.”

Remember: God uses unusual people to do extraordinary things. It’s all over the Bible. Wilfredo De Jesús, also known as Pastor Choco, felt called to buy a farm and amazing things took place to make it happen through all sorts of crazy turns. That farm has, to date, rescued 625 girls and women from prostitution. There is a cost to reconciliation, but we, the Church, should be happy to pay it. He told a story of buying five prostitutes for one hour. They brought them to a place where they laid out a beautiful banquet. They spoke truth over them, that they weren’t born a prostitute and they were loved. Those women walked away from their path and, through the sacrifice and support of the church, ended up becoming leaders in the church. It’s just like in the parable of the lost sheep: the sheep is not rebuked for being lost, it is celebrated for being found.

Or the prodigal son. The son who basically told his father, “I don’t care about your status, I wish you were dead.” He demanded an inheritance he wasn’t even owed and his father gave it to him, sacrificing his status for him. Then that son leaves and squanders it all. Eventually he came to his senses and returns humbled. What does the dad do? He RUNS to the boy. Men didn’t run in the first century; children and women ran. But again, the father disregards status and runs to the son. He embraces and covers the boy, showing that his protection is over him. He gives him jewelry which is a symbol that tells the son and others that he has complete authority to negotiate on behalf of the father with the assets of the family. That’s some crazy sacrificial love.

Why is the older brother upset? Well, this was all at a cost to him, in his mind. The inheritance was rightfully his, and already the father had allowed his younger brother to squander half of it. Now, he was paying for this celebration as well as giving the prodigal son his status back. You see, someone always pays the cost of reconciliation. There’s a cost to bringing others to the table, to gather those that Christ calls us to. The question is, what are you willing to pay so others can be reconciled to God? Are you willing to stand in the gap?

Lysa TerKeurst: Disappointment (Catalyst Notes)

Lysa TerKeurst is a best-selling author a dozen times over as well at the president of Proverbs 31 Ministries.  She started her talk asking us to raise our hands if you’ve even experienced disappointment and/or someone being disappointed in you. Of course, all hands were raised. This is a common human experience. She then stated that Satan keeps us isolated through and in our disappointment. In James 1:2 it tells us, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds,” and this is because pure joy is NOT the normal way we understand trials. It just isn’t. But if we sit in our disappointment instead of understanding it through joy, we become the playground of the enemy.

She then walks though Genesis 2. That the man was told not to eat from the tree (and he didn’t write it down, so God was like, ‘Dude needs a helper,’ and women have been making lists for men ever since). As we move a little further into the story, we see the serpent speak. There’s a big difference between how the serpent communicates and God. God speaks in freedom and gives restrictions for our protection. The enemy speaks in restriction first, thinking that God is holding out. But when we read the story we see that EVERY tree in the garden was good and pleasing the the eye. It wasn’t like the tree they weren’t supposed to eat from was this massive temptation shining about everything else in the garden. The real temptation of the fruit was gaining wisdom.

So people ask, why didn’t Adam speak up as they ate the fruit? He was standing right there. We don’t really know, but it is sad that he didn’t. When they saw their nakedness and felt the weight of sin and shame for the first time, they concealed themselves. Fig leaves weren’t adequate because sin requires a blood sacrifice, and so God goes and kills the first animals and uses them to clothe man.

God was merciful in his punishment of them. He protected Adam and Eve so that their death could be a gateway to restoration. That garden was the place for which the human heart was created: to exist in perfection. Even today, we continue to expect perfection from people. Some might wonder why God didn’t strip that part out of our hearts, but it’s so necessary to our life and faith. Stripping us of hat would have taken the possibility for us to realize the perfection of God. In Revelation 21 and 22, we see restoration (and God telling him to write this revelation down), Eden restored. But sandwiched between these two gardens is another: the Garden of Gethsemane.

Jesus, in existence at the very beginning of it all, would have created this garden with as much intention as he created the other two. His soul was overwhelmed and he asked Peter, James and John to stay here and keep watch. Lysa says that she thinks this ask is as much about keeping watch for soldiers as it is about watching how he deals with what he’s being asked to do; he knows what is coming for them as well. Jesus teaches us how to wrestle well between feelings and faith. Jesus knew the devastation.

And when things aren’t just broken pieces you can glue back together, when all you see is dust. It can be hard not to feel discouraged or hopeless. We can’t glue back together dust. Yet we worship a God who loves working with dust. Dust is a sign that new is just on the horizon. Jesus, in his prayer, tells his father my will or thy will, and he’s showing us how we ought to respond in these times.

The garden, designed by God, sits at the Mount of Olives where Jesus ascends to the heaves and where the bible also says Jesus will stand when he returns. It’s an important place, so it makes sense to ask what we can learn from it. One thing we know for sure about the garden was that it was full of olive trees. What do we know about olive trees?

  1. In order for the olive tree to produce fruit, it must have harsh winds of east and refreshing winds of west
  2. Fruit is not usable straight from the tree; we have to go through a process of removing hardness and bitterness (like that in our hearts
  3. What is most valuable is what comes from being pressed and crushed; an oil that can be used for light

Our God has taught us quite a bit about how to deal with struggle and disappointment, as well as which voice we should listen to and how to recognize God’s voice.

 

Louie Giglio: Goliath Must Fall (Catalyst Notes)

Louie Giglio is a pastor, author, speaker and founder of the passion movement. He’s written a book called Goliath Must Fall and that’s what he spoke about at the conference. His vulnerability and raw emotion around his struggle with depression and his journey with God really resonated with the audience.

Louie Giglio started by reminding us that that there are still giants in the land: comfort, rejection, greed, anger, depression, anxiety, etc. We see in the story of David and Goliath in 1 Samuel 17 that Goliath was a beast. He was around 9 feet tall and his armor weighed over 100 lbs. total. The tip of his spear ALONE weighed 15 pounds! The Israelite people were dismayed/terrified by the giant; they lost hope in God’s ability to handle the giant. We respond the same way to our giants sometimes. Even though we are with Christ, it doesn’t change the fact that we are in a battle and will face troubles and tribulations. We can become paralyzed by our troubles and frozen in the moment. Goliath actually taunted them twice a day for forty days before anything happened! But the biggest thing to take away from this story is to remember this: You are not David, Christ is. 

Consider what David says in I Samuel 17:34-37, “But David said to Saul, ‘Your servant used to keep sheep for his father. And when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after him and struck him and delivered it out of his mouth. And if he arose against me, I caught him by his beard and struck him and killed him. Your servant has struck down both lions and bears, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, for he has defied the armies of the living God.’ And David said, ‘The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.’ And Saul said to David, ‘Go, and the Lord be with you!'” It was the power of the Lord that delivered David, not just a little boy or a man slinging a stone. 

In the same way, we slay our giants not through our own work but by the power of the same God that delivered David. We need to wake up and look up because there IS a giant slayer who has our back! When David slayed the giant, it wasn’t about David. It would be ludicrous to believe that this untrained boy would would slay a trained, experienced soldier (and giant) with a stone. David’s response to God’s faithfulness? “Then David ran and stood over the Philistine and took his sword and drew it out of its sheath and killed him and cut off his head with it… And David took the head of the Philistine and brought it to Jerusalem, but he put his armor in his tent.” (I Samuel 17:51-54) David walked twenty miles carrying the head of the giant not because he was a badass or prideful but because the defeat of Goliath pointed to the glory of God. 

It’s the same thing when it comes to defeating our giants. It isn’t just about our freedom, it’s a testimony to the power of God to conquer anything that might come against us. We sometimes make the mistake of worshiping our giants or talking about them more than we talk about God. We certainly shouldn’t ignore the giant or pretending it isn’t there but we should use caution, however, when we consider what we say and what kind of authority and power we give to the giants versus God. These “addictions” are cute when they are small but when they are full-grown giants they have the ability to rip your head off and your heart out.

So consider what and who you worship. Worship doesn’t make everything better, but it does shift our point of view. When we worship God we are reminded that we worship a giant slayer rather than a giant. We enter at the ground level but as you worship, as you preach the gospel to yourself, your perspective is transformed, like rising to the top of the London Eye. Worship is not a feeling, it is a decision. It is a treasure and a weapon given to us by God.

 

Spoken Word: Propaganda – Demonstration of the Gospel

“Equality feels like oppression when all you’ve known is privilege.”   “Why you love your guns more than our sons…?”  “Angry, jealous… offspring of the broken…”  “Your unquestioned personhood…”

These are all lines I jotted down as I listened to Propaganda rock a room full of leaders in ministry. What an amazing opportunity to get to see him not only do spoken word but to add his voice and experience to a panel that discussed topics centered around race. While I couldn’t find the piece he performed with these quotes, I did find this one:

Eugene Cho: Uncommon Fellowship and Samaria (Notes from Catalyst)

Eugene Cho (aka NOT Francis Chan) was amazing. Founding and Lead Pastor at Quest Church as well as the founder of One Days Wages, this is a man on fire for God and people. He started his time with us in John 4:1-10:

Now Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that he was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John— although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. So he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee. Now he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon. When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

He highlighted the fact that it said, “Now he had to go through Samaria.” First, let us remember that Jesus didn’t have to do anything. It’s also important to understand that there was a long and complicated history had led the Jewish people and the Samaritans to this point in time, at which they were completely divided. That meant that while it took 3-4x longer to travel around Samaria rather than just pass through it, concerns around cleanliness and safety practically make it a requirement for a faithful Jew.

In fact, we can get a feel for the sentiment when we consider the most common prayer of gratitude prayed by Pharisee’s in public at that time. They would give thanks to God that they were made Jew and not Gentile, free and not slave, man and not woman. We can see this prayer specifically addressed in a revolutionary way through Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Eugene Cho talked about how we, as a church love to TALK about our “Samaria” but that it is a totally different thing to walk through Samaria. He used the example of exercise. The idea of exercise is engaging and we can read and talk about it to such an extent that we can become very knowledgeable in the topic. But it’s a very different thing to know how to run a marathon well, what you need, etc. than to actually train and run for a marathon. Must people don’t want to do that. When it comes to us and our Samaria, we need to not just talk about it, but live with it in the very core of our very being, resting in the truth that all people are created in the image of God. If God’s grace is sufficient for you then you must believe that it is sufficient for the Other.

In truth, some of the most difficult people to lead to Christ are actually Christians. In the story of the Samaritan woman, as well as many other stories of miracles and healing, Jesus stops. He looks in their eyes. He shows them he sees them. Consider the story in Luke 8:43-48:

And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years, but no one could heal her. She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped. “Who touched me?” Jesus asked. When they all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the people are crowding and pressing against you.” But Jesus said, “Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me.” Then the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at his feet. In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched him and how she had been instantly healed. Then he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.”

Jesus, as Eugene Cho pointed out, didn’t need to ask who had touched him. He knew. But this is where he shows us that he is a King who stops and looks into the eyes of his people and meets their needs. His people were the rejected, the sick, the poor, the oppressed and the suffering, and his ministry was impactful because he didn’t draw lines to divide people; he crossed them to build community.

If the Church fails to be like Christ, it loses it’s impact. In our current times where communities, cities and countries exist in such divisive states the Church oftentimes remains homogenous and therefore ineffective. This is hardly surprising. We don’t become a different person on Sunday; it’s a reflection of who we are and the relationships we have Monday through Saturday. Consider the following infograph that he referenced:

black-friends-white-friends

From the perspective of the white person we see that they, statistically speaking, create an environment were the “Other” is generally not truly included or understood. It would certainly be challenging for the friend who is the only black friend to feel truly comfortable being their authentic self. It is also challenging to gain a true depth of knowledge regarding the complexities of race through the perspective of so few minority individuals. The end result of these homogenous environments is an inability to see or recognize the systemic issues that are faced by people who aren’t white.

But there’s an even bigger problem. Sometimes in those environments the idea of systemic racism is called into question. Isn’t it, they say, really a sin issue? And Eugene Cho’s response to this question is, “Of course.” BUT when sinful people gather together, they will create a culture that eventually includes systems and structures that are relevant to them and which benefit them. This is why racism is and continues to be systemic; we continue to operate in lives that are largely segregated and hardly reflect the uncommon fellowship that Jesus calls us to and models.

So what do we do? We confess to one another. We confront the places where we aren’t reflecting the Gospel. We speak Truth, we dismantle systems of oppression and segregation, we reconcile ourselves as individuals and communities. This will be a testimony to the power of the Gospel and it’s ability to transform us today. As we consider what this looks like for each of us in our lives, I want to return, as Eugene Cho did, to the story of the Samaritan woman. In this account we see what can happen when we pause, see another and meet them where they are. In this story, her encounter led her to join missio dei:

Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And because of his words many more became believers. They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.” John 4:39-42

Jo Saxton: Life as an Uncommon Fellowship – The Early Church (Notes from Catalyst)

I adore Jo Saxton. She’s a Nigerian Londoner who, more recently, relocated to Minneapolis where she pastors at a church plant.  She also chairs the board of 3DM, is an author of a couple of books and is overall just an inspiration. She started her talk with a favorite verse of mine and what I believe captures the heart of the mission God has been calling me to the last year or so:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47)

When she thinks of those early church times, she said that she often thinks of the phrase from A Tale of Two Cities, where it says that “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” It was the time where there was tremendous persecution and suffering for Christians but it was also the time where the church was, likely, the most unified and mission focused in it’s history. Jo Saxton gave us a How To Guide for modeling ourselves like the early Church:

  1. Posture & Purpose: What kind of family are we? We need to ask ourselves how we live and lead. Are we leading from behind locked doors and “loving” from a distance? Or are we willing to get into the mess that is the Other’s life and sit with them. Jesus literally went to through walls to be with his disciples, they touched his scars, he was patient as they worked through their skepticism and doubt. Does our posture look like his and is our purpose shared? We should be operating in the understanding that all people are made in the image of God and we are commissioned to them. This is difficult and costly, just as it was for Jesus.
  2. Prayers & Practices: How do we live as a family? How do we share devotion, worship and fasting? What do those rhythms look like (or are they absent)? And are we praying with people unlike us? Doing life together included sharing meals, materials, their real live and brokenness. This is different than the way we are naturally inclined to operate, but God is doing something different through it. We need to remember that it doesn’t blow out our own candle to light another. Doing life this way requires generosity.
  3. Pressure & Pain: How are we moving forward together? The price of family life is that we move together. What skills are being developed? Are you resolving conflicts with Christ at the center? It’s hard to Band-Aid a deep wound; healing requires an acknowledgement of feelings (like how some marginalized persons feel with this last election.) We, as a church, need to light the way for how to deal with pain, injustice and inequality. This is HARD and PAINFUL work sometimes – grace is not cheap. Galatians 4:19 speaks to this: “My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you.”
  4. Power & Potential: Are you a family on a mission? God’s family is on a mission, and we have such power and potential!! In what ways is your family moving? How are you responding to the Word and the Spirit?

Discovering the Feminine in the Triune God

Martin Luther once asked, “Of what help is it to you that God is God, if he is not God to you?” (Migliore 232) At the heart of this and most other theological questions sits these two: ‘Who am I to God?’ and ‘Who is God to me?’ Many of us are compelled by these thoughts to seek within and outside of ourselves for answers that provide clarity and vision for our life and future. In Genesis 1:27 (NAB) it says, “God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them.” (Bible 19) Both sexes were created by God in God’s image and yet the female is rarely represented in the triune God when we look within the walls of the church. Mary Daly once said, “if God is male, then the male is God,” (Johnson 99) and while our behavior as an overall faith community reflects this, we need to ask ourselves if this is truth. Women of faith are asked to find themselves in the Bible through the women in it’s narrative, yet men are not only dominantly represented within the stories recorded in the Bible, they see themselves reflected in the very persons of our Triune God. This pneumalogical paper will explore how history shaped our understanding of who the holy Spirit is, identify several key characteristics for who the Bible says the holy Spirit is and reveal how women who were systemically excluded from representation within the Godhead can come to recognize themselves within the holy Spirit.

The importance of the Holy Spirit cannot be overstated. Jesus himself emphasized the tremendous value that such a Helper would have to humanity in John 14:26 (NAB): “The Advocate, the holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name-he will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.” (Bible 1610) Although Jesus asserted the value of the Holy Spirit, it’s uncontrollable nature made it a challenge to the hierarchy the church eventually formed itself into: often the Spirit was treated more as a problem to solve or a question to answer than an opportunity for deeper relationship with God. In fact, the holy Spirit wasn’t always understood as a person. “It was the Cappadocian Fathers in the fifth century who fortified the notion of the Holy Spirit as a person. Basil the Great became known as the ‘theologian of the Holy Spirit,’ thanks mostly to a desire to establish the tri-unity of God against attempts at tritheism…” (Clouzet 15) There ought to be a point of clarification around the term person, particularly as we consider the individualistic lens through which Western civilization operates. The personhood of the Spirit does not negate the truth of God as one. “…both mimetic theory and modern psychology teach us is that the “person” is not autonomous — we are in fact interdividuals rather than individuals… non-consciously interconnected far more than we consciously realize. And so, if we are going to even attempt to label the Trinity as three “persons,” we need to acknowledge that the person is a person only because s/he is in relationship with an ‘other.’” (Distefano) Thus, as the Church sought to understand the Godhead, or the triune God, it necessitates that it is not as individual persons but as persons in relation to one another.

This is, in part, the very thing which challenged the inclusion of the person of the Holy Spirit into the Godhead. One major contention was the origin of the Spirit. In fact, the controversy over its origin lead to a division in the Church that is considered by many to be the greatest disagreement in the Church’s history: “…the Eastern Church discovered the now famous filioque clause in 1014. To the Nicene Creed had been added the word filioque-Latin for ‘and the Son’-now stating that the Holy Spirit proceeded ‘from the Father and the Son.’…leading to the permanent rift between the Eastern and Western Church: the Great Schism of 1054.” (Clouzet 16)

While the holy Spirit was eventually understood by many, through doctrine, as both a person and component of the triune God, the very nature of the Spirit ran against the grain of the rising influence of rationalism. Industrialization further hindered our ability to embrace the unknown that is the Spirit. The world was usually understood to be more like a machine than a wonder, ruled entirely by laws and able to be understood through cause and effect. This left little room for the Spirit to operate in through the 18th and 19th century. “Protestant scholasticism with its ‘rechte Lehre’ (correct doctrine), produced ‘a more mechanical view of the role of Scriptures,’ and ‘as a result the witness of the Spirit tended to be bypassed.’ The Word alone, without the Spirit, was regarded as the basis for authority.” (Clouzet 16-17) Those who did focus on the doctrine of the Spirit tended to focus on the work rather than the nature of the holy Spirit’s person.

Regardless, there has been what some might term a revival. “Nowadays, it will not do to speak about the Holy Spirit as the theos agraptos- the God about whom no one writes-as did Gregory of Nazianzus in the fourth century.” (Clouzet 11) As this revival has occurred though, many tend to focus on what the holy Spirit can do for us rather than who the holy Spirit is to us. The danger of this approach is perceiving the Spirit less as a person who is the triune God and a bearer of wisdom and truth and more as a genie who grants wishes if we ask the right way. Furthermore, “…the doctrine of the Spirit became the concern of individual and corporate praxis, or experience, rather than dogma, or theology.” (Clouzet 17)

Although the nature of the Spirit may seem elusive in the Bible due to the biblical focus on its works, that does not mean we are incapable of discerning its nature through what is given to us. It is as Paul writes in Romans 14:4 (NAB) “For whatever was written previously was written for our instruction, that by endurance and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.” (Bible 1709) We can be assured of three things regarding the Spirit: first, that it is understood to be part of the Godhead. A few examples of how we know this include 2 Corinthians 13:13 (NAB) which frames them together: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the holy Spirit be with all of you.” (Bible 1765) I Peter 1:2 (NAB) also blesses through the triune God, “…in the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctification by the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling with the blood of Jesus Christ: may grace and peace be yours in abundance.” (Bible 1903)

Second, that the holy Spirit is equal to the Father and the Son, not a lesser component. Jesus makes this known at the Last Supper, recorded in John 14:15-17 (NAB): “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth, which the world cannot accept…But you will know it, because it remains with you, and will be in you.” (Bible 1610) Jesus referred to parakletos, (often translated as the Advocate or the Helper) as another parakletos. This means that Jesus, already acting as an advocate for us, would ask the Father to send another like him to us in his absence. He promises not to leave them as orphans. “Just a few minutes earlier Christ had referred to Himself and His Father as equals (vv. 9,10). If the Comforter is equal-or parallel-to the Son, and the Son is equal-or one-with the Father, the Comforter, or Holy Spirit, is equal with the Father.” (Clouzet 20)

Lastly, we know that the holy Spirit is in possession of attributes unique to God. I Corinthians 2:10-11 (NAB) speaks to the intimate relationship and knowledge shared between the Father and the Spirit: “…this God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit scrutinizes everything, even the depths of God. Among human beings, who knows what pertains to a person except the spirit of the person that is within? Similarly, no one knows what pertains to God except the Spirit of God.” (Bible 1721) The Spirit is not merely a messenger sent by God but one that scrutinizes the depths of God and all God’s creation.

What, though, do we know about God when it comes to gender? It is a popular framing, particularly within modern churches built on the foundations of an androcentric patriarchy spanning back millennia, to understand the relationship of the Godhead as primarily that of the Father, the Son and the Spirit (the Spirit being an it or a he). God as a Father serves as the primary means of understanding Elohim or Adonai (or any of the other various other names for God) in churches, most notably because Jesus referred to Elohim as a Father so often (hardly a surprise if one is trying to establish one’s divine origin). The ascribing of exclusive gender to Elohim based upon the words used by Christ rather than the entirety of the Bible is outside the scope of this paper but worth noting, as it indicates a bias towards the masculine. Additionally, I recognize that Jesus was certainly born a man. However, the assertion of the Spirit as a neutral person (it) or a male (he) is highly questionable.

This masculine assumption does not accurately depict the historical language of the books in the Bible and therefore creates the opportunity for a fundamental misunderstanding of God’s nature: it associates power with an entirely masculine God rather than a Godhead whose power manifests in both the feminine and the masculine. This is a problem not only because it is inaccurate, but it leads to a flawed living-out of the gospel. Rosemary Radford Ruether once wrote, “Whatever denies, diminishes or distorts the full humanity of women is appraised as non-redemptive;…what does promote the full humanity of women is of the Holy, it does reflect true relation to the divine, the authentic message of redemption and the mission of redemptive community.” (Johnson 94) Feminist theology isn’t about displacing or minimizing the value of men or the role they play; men are also created in the image of God and the masculine images used to depict the Godhead are accurate and invaluable for providing insight into the character of God. However, equally important is restoring women to the role that that Elohim, Jesus and the holy Spirit called women into. It works to reveal the places where we lack alignment as a Christ-center community with the will of God. “Sallie McFague summarizes the feminist critique of patriarchy and its legitimating theology by contending that the heart of our most pressing issues today is the misuse of power…exploitation of the natural environment, or of political, economic, racial, cultural, and gender oppressions…the fundamental problem is ‘the question of power; who wields it and what sort it is… Is power always domination?’” (Migliore 68)

This leaves many wondering if the feminine can be found within the Godhead. In most modern translations, the holy Spirit is predominantly referenced in either masculine or neutral terms. But why? When we look back into the grammar of the early languages used, we can see an implied relationship between the rise of the church patriarchy and the disappearance of the feminine holy Spirit. “Although the New Testament was written in Greek, Christianity was born in a Semitic milieu and Jesus himself will have spoken Aramaic (of which Syriac is a dialect).” (Brock) This means that the New Testament was not written in the spoken language of Christ but translated from Aramaic (also the language common to many of the early communities) to Greek. “…when these communities spoke of the Holy Spirit they naturally used the standard Aramaic word for ‘spirit’, ruha (also ‘wind’ as pneuma), which, like Hebrew ruah, is grammatically feminine.” (Brock)

A pronoun in the Hebrew, Aramaic and Syriac languages are necessarily either feminine or masculine, and thus, up until around 400 AD, it was always treated as feminine grammatically. However, in Greek translations a word like pneuma becomes, through its translation, neuter (still not masculine). “From the early fifth century onwards…in defiance of the grammatical rules of the language, they treated the word ruha as masculine whenever it referred to the Holy Spirit.” (Brock) This mattered, because early on it was understood that something truly revolutionary was being taught by God: “an ancient, unassailable truth with new clarity: God loves women and passionately desires their flourishing. When violence is done to women, to their bodies or their spirits, it is an insult to the divine glory.” (Johnson 96) Yet this idea was subversive to all dominant cultures at the time. Some hypothesize that shift from feminine to masculine is the influence of the Greek language but others, particularly considering the Greek translation is still not masculine, hypothesize that it is the disapproval of the Spirit as feminine that causes the shift.  By the 6th century, that practice becomes normalized although occasional outliers can be found in poems or liturgical texts.

A major indicator that these changes were made based on the issues around gender roles is found in the Peshitta, a revision of the Syriac New Testament made in the early fifth century. “Rather surprisingly there are only two places in the Gospels where the revisers who produced the Peshitta chose to alter the feminine of the Old Syriac to the masculine; it so happens that both are passages where the Holy Spirit ‘teaches’ (Luke 12.12 and John 14.26).” (Brock) The fact that the feminine was maintained in other parts of the text speaks to their belief that the gender of the holy Spirit was originally only an issue in spaces when the holy Spirit served in a role that was culturally only acceptable for men; She could no longer be a she.

This same shift is visible in the treatment of Logos and mellta and compels us to push beyond the assumption that the gender change was only due to the role the holy Spirit was serving. If the femininity of the holy Spirit were not an issue for the Church what reason would it have had to alter the texts that serve as the foundation and support for their faith? The collective community would be unlikely to systemically shift the holy Spirit from feminine to masculine unless the femininity was considered a problem and/or the shift to masculinity was an opportunity.

“In Syriac Logos, ‘Word’, is translated by another feminine noun, mellta. Accordingly in the Prologue of the Gospel of John the Old Syriac treats Mellta, the Logos, as feminine, and this usage is reflected, not only in the fourth-century writer Ephrem (which is to be expected); but also very occasionally in texts of the fifth, or even later centuries, even though in the Peshitta revision the gender had already been altered to masculine.” (Brock)

When we contrast this change to words we find in verses like Galatians 3:28 (NAB), where an equal, mutual love is held up as the goal, we can see an incongruity begin to reveal itself. The early Church was a body of people who were all one in Christ Jesus, who saw themselves equal in their relationship to the Godhead.   “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Bible 1776) Yet this aspired-to state has a relatively short-lived existence over the lifetime of the Church. “…despite the irreplaceable participation of women in the founding and spreading of the church, women were marginalized once the community became somewhat established…Banned from the pulpit and altar, their wisdom has not been permitted to interpret the word of the gospel nor their spirituality to lead the church assembled in prayer.” (Johnson 91-92)

Rather than maintaining the roles originally given to them, a shift began in the male body of the church on their view of woman. Thinkers of the time began to focus on the female body as a gateway to the enemy rather than a person made in the image of God. Instead of operating as ‘one in Christ,’ women were reframed as temptresses of men and came to represent the reason that men fell from favor with God. “In the third century Tertullian viewed women as a second Eve…and because of their sin the Son of God had to die. Augustine, while affirming that woman is equal to men in her spiritual capacity, taught that in view of her body and social role, ‘she is not the image of God,’ but can be considered so only when taken together with man who is her head.” (Johnson 92) While Augustine could see the image of God in man alone, the feminine was only redeemable through her relationship with the masculine. Thus, man was independent while woman became interdependent: her access to the divine could only be found through the opposite sex, thereby becoming the secondary, less desirable gender not only in church but in society; ironically, this suppression of women was propelled by the very faith that once lifted women beyond the stature of chattel to equal standing with men in relationship with Christ.

To understand the true obstacles faced by Jesus in transforming the world, consider the account in Luke 13:12-16 (NAB) of Jesus healing a woman on the Sabbath: note the response that religious men in power have for a woman crippled for 18 years and the way that Christ responds not only to her, but to that man:

When Jesus saw her, he called to her and said, “Woman, you are set free of your infirmity.” He laid his hands on her, and she at once stood up straight and glorified God. But the leader of the synagogue, indignant that Jesus had cured on the sabbath, said to the crowd in reply, “There are six days when work should be done. Come on those days to be cured, not on the sabbath day.” The Lord said to him in reply, “Hypocrites! Does not each one of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his ass from the manger and lead it out for watering? This daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound for eighteen years now, ought she not to have been set free on the sabbath day from this bondage?”

The man in power showed no compassion for the woman, nor did he celebrate the miracle that was her healing. Instead, he focused on the violation of the Law. Jesus points out the man’s hypocrisy and elevates the status of the woman. Unlike the religious man who saw her as a broken Law, Jesus described her as a daughter of Abraham: Jesus’ treatment of her wasn’t because of her actions as an individual but rather because of her general identity as a woman of God’s chosen people. Indeed, the men Jesus addressed had greater compassion for a thirsty ox or ass than they did for a woman crippled for nearly two decades. Jesus asks, “…ought she not to have been set free on the Sabbath day from this bondage?” Jesus takes issue with her bondage and desires freedom, something that honors God more than honoring the Sabbath. There is a tremendous lack of alignment in values between the men and Jesus, particularly regarding the value of women.

Diving into biblical accounts like these and recognizing what they reveal about the society in which Jesus walked, demonstrates how necessary discernment is in recognizing what is of man and what is of God. This discernment given to us by the holy Spirit, who not only scrutinizes everything but also reveals truth to us, can lead us down a path of deep relationship and greater reconciliation between each other and God. This is critical; in fact, the Kingdom of God is not even available to us if the Spirit isn’t with us. It says in John 2:5-8 (NAB)

Jesus answered, “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of flesh is flesh and what is born of spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I told you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (Bible 1588)

This kind of relationship with the holy Spirit can sound weird, but the ramifications are profound. Cath Livesey is a leader within what she calls a prophetic church, which means (in its simplest terms) that they listen to God for each other. Prophecy in this context is understood as something given by the Holy Spirit that points towards Christ. While most churches like hers understand the holy Spirit as a he or an it, the notable difference of a church operating in relationship with the Spirit is a shift of power. The Church is not threatened by their inability to control the Spirit but celebrate operating in its fullness; the gender of the follower being moved by the Spirit is of no consequence. “…prophecy is about hearing God for other people. When we look at the Bible we see that prophecy involves the process by which the thoughts and intentions of God are communicated to his people via a human vessel. It origins are… divine revelation.” (Livesey 35) They see the power given by the Spirit as the primary means by which they can bring freedom and transformation to the church and the community, not as means for domination. This is certainly progress, but it still does not take us to a place where the feminine is inherently recognized in the Godhead. Do communities like this demonstrate that the gender of God doesn’t matter if you operate in the Spirit?

“While language reflects our world, it also shapes the way we construct our experience of the world. As hallowed by tradition and currently used, all-male images of God are hierarchal images rooted in the unequal relation between women and men, and they function to maintain this arrangement…Instead of evoking the reality of God, they block it.” (Johnson 96) We still aren’t knowing God as fully as we could because we limit how God can be understood. And while language and power are neither good nor evil the way those two things are applied and used by humans can be alter our trajectory greatly. When we look at how power is used by what is a vastly androcentric world, we discover a systemic marginalization of women:

While women make up one-half of the world’s population, they work three-fourths of the world’s work hours, receive one tenth of the world’s salary, own one one-hundredth of the planet’s land, and constitute two-thirds of the worlds illiterate adults. Together with their dependent children, they comprise 75 percent of the worlds starving people and 80 percent of homeless refugees… they are also raped, prostituted, trafficked, and murdered by men to a degree that is not mutual. (Johnson 91)

This same imbalance of power exists within many religious organizations. Within the Catholic Church, only men can serve as priests, and only men have authority over many of the rites Catholics understand as being critical to their entry into the kingdom of God.  “Exercising public authority in the church, men assume the right to speak of God; their own privileged position then served as the chief model for the divine. As a result, verbal depictions of God in liturgy, preaching, and catechesis, along with visual representations in art, have forged a strong link in the popular mind between divinity and maleness.” (Johnson 98) Human history teaches us that when one group holds all the power, it effectively subjugates or oppresses those that are not of that group (examples include apartheid, ethnic minorities in Europe during WWII, the current crisis in Syria, etc.). While some might consider such comparisons to be dramatic, the point is to emphasize the disparity of power and the inevitable lack of freedom it creates. In effect, the patriarchy becomes a barrier to people better knowing God.

In summary, what the current Church perspective creates is a decision point for women. The first option is to receive relationship with God only through male bodies; that they are her intercessor, her priest, her path to Elohim, Jesus and the holy Spirit. The second is that, “As Carol Christ astutely observed, a woman may see herself as created in the image of God only by abstracting herself from her concrete bodiliness. But she can never experience that which is freely available to every man and boy in her culture of having her full sexual identity affirmed as being in the image and likeness of God.” (Johnson 99) The risk of these two options is that our community continues moving forward with God as a male icon, resulting in a failure to reconcile relationships between women and God, women and men, and God and men. The Church also continues to limit the triune God: “…it reduces the living God to an idol. Exclusively male language leads us to forget the incomprehensibility of holy mystery and instead reduces the living God to the fantasy of an infinitely ruling man.” (Johnson 98) By embracing the holy Spirit in her feminine identity as she was spoken of by Jesus, by remembering that she is equal to the persons who form the Godhead and by walking in the truth that not only does she possesses the attributes of God but that women are made in her image, we gain a richer and deeper answer for the questions we seek as individuals as well as a fulfillment to our calling as the Church. For the Church, “…to call for justice in the world the church must itself first be just. If church structure is in service of mission, then without just internal structures the church’s mission in the world will not be credible.” (Hines 167) Ultimately the femininity of the Spirit expands who God is to us, who we are to God and who we are to one another, thereby transforming the Church.

Works Cited

Bible. Saint Mary’s Press College Study Bible. Winona, MN: Christian Brothers Publications, 2006. Book.

Brock, Sebastian. “The Holy Spirit as Feminine in Early Syriac Literature.” Ed. Soskice, Janet Martin. After Eve. Collins Marshall Pickering, 1990. http://www.womenpriests.org/theology/brock.asp. Electronic.

Clouzet, Ron E. M. “The Personhood of the Holy Spirit and Why It Matters.” Journal of the Adventist Theological Society (2006): 11-32. Electronic.

Distefano, Matthew. “The Holy Spirit is not a Male, Conservative Evangelical.” 25 April 2016. Patheos. Blog. 25 April 2017.

Hines, Mary E. “Community for Liberation.” LaCugna, Catherine Mowry. Freeing Theology: The Essentials of Theology in Feminist Perspective. United States of America: HarperCollins Publishers Inc., 1993. 161-184. Book.

Johnson, Elizabeth A. Quest for a Living God: Mapping Frontiers in the Theology of God. United States of America: Bloomsbury Continuum, 2014. Book.

Livesey, Cath. My Sheep Have Ears: Exploring Prophecy with Discipleship and Mission. United Kingdom: 3DM Publishing, 2015. Book.

Migliore, Daniel L. Faith Seeking Understanding: An Introduction to Christian Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2014. Print.