Most everyone agrees that this has been an unusual and difficult year. For those of us who are active church members, the shut-downs and social distancing have been especially hard to take. We miss the fellowship of corporate worship, being active in local ministries, and perhaps especially the small group gatherings. In times of testing, we need one another to keep our faith strong.
If you have been suffering because you can’t meet with your regular Bible study group, I would like to invite you to drop in on the weekly study hosted by my fictional creation, octogenarian Matilda Thistlethwaite.
Step into her parlor, plop yourself down on an overstuffed chair, and see if you recognize any of these women as they study God’s word together.
Welcome to Mrs. Thistlethwaite’s cozy cottage. This evening Tillie is hosting a home Bible study for a group of ladies from her church. You can curl up on the cushioned window seat beside Edgar, Tillie’s pet tortoise, and listen in:
“Keep silent! Cover your head! Don’t tell men what to do! That Paul was such a male chauvinist!” Jesslyn Anderson said. “That’s the sort of garbage that gives Christianity a bad name.”
Jesslyn, a single social worker in her late twenties, was a newcomer to the women’s Bible study and a new Christian.
Tillie just smiled, giving the other women an opportunity to offer their own opinions, before addressing Jesslyn’s comments.
When Tillie invited the young woman to join this group, she’d hoped Jesslyn’s outspoken nature would add some spice to the discussions and she wasn’t disappointed.
Carol Boles, married to the pastor of Tillie’s church, put her coffee cup on the table, pulled the hem of her skirt over her knees, and prepared to defend the Apostle.
“The words of Scripture are not garbage. As it says in Second Timothy 3:16, everything in the Scriptures is useful for teaching and showing us how to live. Saint Paul was inspired by God, so we must do as he says,” Carol said.
“Well, I’m not wearing a hat, a scarf… or a burqa to church!” Jesslyn insisted. “These verses sound more Muslim than Christian.”
Edith Boles, Carol’s ninety-seven-year-old mother-in-law, who had been dozing in a cozy chair with Tillie’s cat, Agatha, on her lap, jerked awake. “Moslems? Where?”
“It’s alright, Mother Boles,” Carol soothed, leaning over and patting her arm.
“And another thing,” Jesslyn said, turning pages in her Bible. “Here in First Corinthians he says, ‘If there is something they want to know, women can ask their husbands when they get home. It is disgraceful for women to speak in church.’ What’s that, if not misogyny?”
Tillie got up to pass the basket of cranberry scones around. Standing in the middle of the room, she gently took control of the conversation.
“Many theologians agree that the instructions for the churches in Ephesus and Corinth reflect guidance specific to the culture of the early church. When studying the Bible, it is important to remember context, including who is being addressed, the circumstances, and most importantly, the spiritual meaning.
“Whenever I think about some of the controversial passages, like these we’ve been discussing, I look for the spiritual lesson. After everything that is cultural, or material, falls away, I usually find the controversy or apparent contradiction disappears, too. Now, what do we think is the spiritual lesson Paul is trying to give the leaders of the early church here?”
“He says in other verses that in Christ there is neither male nor female, doesn’t he?” Edina Horvath, a rumpled middle-aged woman in stained and mismatched clothing, asked, lifting an old, brown fedora and scratching her frowzy head.
Edina and Tillie had met when Tillie was helping to serve one of the community meals for the needy. Edina had responded to Tillie’s genuine friendliness and respect and they’d become friends. Tillie overlooked Edina’s rough, sometimes smelly, exterior and discovered a surprisingly insightful woman.
“So, does the important part of this message have to do with mutual respect?” Beverly Washington, the church’s long-time secretary asked. In her late forties, slim and dark-skinned, Beverly was unmarried and devoted to her church family.
“It seems like mutual respect is a big theme in Paul’s writing,” Cathy Hong said. Cathy had retired from teaching the same year as Tillie. They were long-time friends and contemporaries, although Cathy, a Chinese-American, had come to Christ later in life.
“But, what about all that business about the husband being the head of the family and how wives must obey them?” Jesslyn asked. “That doesn’t seem too respectful of the wife.”
“Those verses are always being quoted out of context,” Linda Watson, a late-middle-aged accountant and the church treasurer, said. “You only get the whole picture when you read the rest, where the husband is told to love his wife as Christ loved the church. Christ died, painfully, for the church, remember. That puts a huge burden on a husband to sacrifice for his wife.”
“I agree,” said Ruth Fitzgerald, Linda’s best friend, another long-time church member. “Although Ephesians 5:24 tells wives to always put their husband first, as the church puts Christ first, the husband is to act toward his wife as Christ did towards the church. It’s a two-way street.”
“And Colossians 3:19 says a husband must love his wife and not abuse her,” Carol added.
There was a knock at the door and Tillie went out to see who was there.
“Hi, come on in, Opal,” she said, taking the bag of small jars of honey her friend carried. “You are just in time to weigh in on the place of women in the church and home.”
“A woman’s place is wherever she wants it to be, in my opinion,” Opal said, striding into the parlor, as though illustrating her statement.
“Ladies, I’d like you to meet my good friend, Opal Pyle. She’s stopped by to deliver delicious, golden honey from her very own hives,” Tillie said, holding up a sparkling jar.
“Let’s gather around the table and I’ll open a jar or two and you can all taste the honey. I think we’ve still got enough scones to go around,” Tillie said, leading the group into the dining room.
Although still holding differing opinions on Paul’s teachings, the ladies were soon in full agreement about the place of honey on scones.Tillamook Tillie series of Christian fiction by J.B. Hawker