The Manly Church

Today I want to talk a little bit about the common charge heard in Conservative/complementarian circles that today’s church is ‘feminised’, springboarding off this article from Christianity Today called “Act Like Men: What It Means to Fight Like a Man“, subtitled, Men, is [sic] your life characterised by courage, strength, and love?

Here’s how the article starts: “One of the reasons many churches struggle is they’re not a friendly place for men. Think about the worship service at your church. More than likely, there’s a lot of talk about loving each other, but not much about fighting against sin or fighting for each other. There’s holding hands when we sing, but not much locking arms as we get marching orders for the mission.”

The article goes on to cite passages like 2 Timothy 4:7 (“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race…”), Ephesians 6 (“Put on the full armor of God so that you can stand against the tactics of the Devil…so that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having prepared everything, to take your stand.”), and 1 Peter 5:8 (“Be serious! Be alert! Your adversary the Devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for anyone he can devour.”)

You may not be surprised to find that I take issue with this. Here’s why: what they are talking about is not feminisation. It is just plain weak theology and vague experientialism– and I refuse to accept that as inherent to my gender. “Is your church all about lovey-dovey pop-psychology stuff, with no serious, difficult looks at sin and struggle to be seen? LADIES.”

Those passages referenced above? Are inspired Scripture intended for the whole of the church, not ‘Notes from the Men’s Manual of Being a Good Christian’. Battle language is part of our life as Christians; warring against the flesh, fleeing temptation, standing firm against the flaming darts of the enemy, being alert and watchful are the territory of every Christian. Being “characterised by courage, strength, and love”? Two-thirds of that dictum are in my blog title referencing Proverbs 31, the excellent wife.

I have always loved John Piper’s description of “strong complementarian women” as having “massive steel in their backs, and theology in their brains.” By all means, let us call churches to draw from the richness, depth, and strength of Scripture in their meetings instead of relying on niceness to save us. Let us face the darkness of our sin, let us ask the Spirit for self-control, endurance, and discipline along with our love, kindness, and gentleness– and let all of us do this without drawing a line down the middle for gender, because that line is not written into God’s Word. Let us not, however, make the mistake of calling a theologically-weak, feel-good, standardless church ‘feminised’. Because, I beg your pardon, but that ain’t my femininity.

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Poetry: Orrery (Suffice It To Say)

I. Uranus
A message erased
before you had a chance to read it,
but it read like a harness, like strong arms,
like charcoal and red clay, and who am I to talk?
Murmurs in the dark (the sweeping dark of starlings)
and what washes in on the high tide
are a message erased before I had a chance to read it.

II. Neptune
When like Lot and his family we fled that darkness
empty as a moon and naked of atmosphere:
suffice it to say I never looked behind me.

III. Saturn
A solemn morning, damp with the dew on the cedars,
and my hand is in yours. Consider this a diagram,
mechanical and systematic, of the solar flares, the
cold dark lunar night, of the calendar year
with the pride of empires
and the wild, fair roots of a laurel tree.

IV. Jupiter
If nothing else,
we have the intricacy of our moving parts,
the cogs and gears of your late nights,
Angostura bitters, steady patience
like a vein of amber fed intravenously
into my wrist. The magic tricks, ink or
engine grease on our knuckles, white teeth
nipping the flesh of a lychee or perhaps your neck,
a Galilean moon in either hand and
one in my pocket for good measure.
No, I can hang on; I can wait.

V. Mars
What doesn’t kill us makes us
furiously in love.

VI. Earth
Some thorny problem or another,
I suppose: desert cacti, garden roses,
mountain pines, field thistles,
it’s all one. If you listen very close,
you can hear the hum of the
very core of the planet.

VII. Venus
Here it is, laid out to the best of my honesty,
sweet, and spiced with nutmeg and cinnamon,
and stubborn as anything.

VIII. Mercury
Blue-black ether for miles between us,
and all I can think of is the minutest things:
the rim of your skin eclipsed in sunlight,
an eyelash on your cheek for luck;
suffice it to say almost any word
will suffice.

IX. Solas
Consider this a chart of the stars by which,
God helping us, we can painstakingly calculate
the way to land. (And ah, my darling! There is
milk and honey there.)