Recent discussions on Christianity, gender, and the role of women in the church is a case in point. I’ve commented on this before: “Masculine Christianity.”
But neglected in pulling out the “biblical” trump-card is all the related factors and issues between the lines of whatever stated “truth” is given.
Richard Beck illustrates this well with a recent comment on gender and Christianity:
"the issue isn't really about gender, about if God has a "masculine" or "feminine" feel. The issue is about the use of power within the Kingdom. The discussion about gender is really just a cover for a powerplay, about who is in charge and who gets to call the shots. And as we've seen, Jesus is absolutely hostile to this sort of thing."Beck does well to highlight the need for reading between the lines when it comes to our beliefs and practices as Christians. If you read between the lines, discussion on gender reveals a lot about power and influence. Saying something is biblical is not good enough when there are so many other factors involved.
I’ll use myself as an example. Personally, I find it easy to accept equal roles for men and women in all aspects of life. Christianity should have a God feel, not a gender feel. I think this is the biblical perspective on Christianity, and then applies to the roles of men and women.
Not the end of discussion, however...
I need to read between the lines. I need to recognize how my upbringing, church experience, and personality combine to make it very easy for me to accept this view of equality and freedom for all. I still believe I’m right, no doubt. And I also think others should accept my position. But reading between the lines, I realize how easy it is for me to accept my position. I need to be patient and understanding with others who don’t find it so easy, for whatever reason. Perhaps acknowledging our personal tendencies in the matter, whatever our opinion, can at the very least bring some mutual understanding to the often-contentious issue.
But there needs to be more too.
Reading between the lines needs to go beyond personal reflection, especially when personal convictions get implemented as universal truth, turning secondary issues into central tenets of belonging and faithfulness. Especially troubling are instances when such espoused universal truths (e.g. masculine Christianity) lead to unbiblical wielding of authority and power among the people of God, both in local and larger expressions. There are too many stories in Christian history – and sadly, in the present as well – where personalities and power grabs determine theology and church practice, all in the name of what’s “biblical.” Beyond mutual understanding, then, reading between the lines can also bring necessary correction and accountability before people go and do something stupid - and dare-I-say abusive - in the name of biblical truth.
The Apostle Paul’s words on humility sum the issue up well:
For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others (Rom. 12:3-5 NIV).Read between your own lines. Read between the lines of others. Display humility and exercise “sober judgment.” And note, most importantly, we are all one!