I’ve had a number of young women approach me about the following passage from Paul’s Letter to Titus. Titus, a student of Paul, is a bishop appointed to Crete, tasked to appoint others as bishops and priests. He is also to teach the elders so appointed to be devout and trustworthy.
“But speak thou the things which become sound doctrine: that the aged men be sober, grave, temperate, sound in faith, in charity, in patience. The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness. not false accusers, not given much to wine, teachers of good things; that they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the words of God be not blasphemed.”
It is quite evident to me, that taken in context (the appointing of elders and overseers), Paul is instructing Titus to ordain both men and women. Those who do not see the passage the same way at least see that elder women were to take some governance of the young people, and especially to tutor and lead by example, so tha the young women would know how to live in a Christian manner.
I readily admit I am counted now amongst the elders, as a woman over 50 years of age. I have been ordained, and I hope that, mostly, I have kept to Paul’s instructions here.
Young wives and mothers come to me, asking if I will be their “Titus 2″ elder. All right. But this is the where it falls apart: they are happy to be instructed, some of them, as long as it doesn’t interfere with what they want to do. As long as I cheer them on, and give advice which they could probably reason out for themselves, they are obedient acolytes. But about half of them who have asked for this favour have dropped out of the relationship when I have offered correction instead of accolades.
One young woman described to me how she was led to dress modestly, in skirts, and to wear a head covering. She considered it an act of obedience to scripture, an honour for her husband, and a demonstration of Christian modesty. I encouraged her in this; she was called to it. This lasted a few months, but under pressure from other family members, she abandoned her modesty, bought a pair of jeans (which, sad to say, were too form fitting and, in my opinion, unflattering to boot) and took off her cover, with the excuse that she could be just a good a Christian in jeans and styled hair. When I reproved her for it, reminding her that she had invoked a call from the Lord to be apart from the ways of the world, she replied with a statement like this: “You don’t really understand my faith journey.” Oh, so was she lying to me all those months? Was her sense of vocation to be a modest, head covering Christian woman all a pretense?
Perhaps it was. Perhaps she was looking for approval from others in that, and when the approval from the right sort of people didn’t come with it, she abandoned this notion and went back to worldliness. Maybe that is her excuse – she wasn’t really called, she had selfish reasons for adopting modesty. I can say to her, in that case, we all have selfish reasons. No one’s motivations to follow the Lord are entirely pure. We all put on an act at first, and it is probably necessary. Just as children pretend to be grown-ups in their play in order to learn their adult roles and duties, so new Christians need to “put on an act” even if their heart isn’t in it yet.
The best actors don’t just pretend when they take on a theatrical role; they become that character, and in the best of scripts, each character is an aspect of humanity and human relationships. At first, the actor has to pretend, has to mouth over the lines, and contemplate how to enter the character in order to project the deep reality in the stylized pretense of the play. Baby Christians have to do the same thing, with God’s help. They have to say no to the party, the illicit relationship, the old bad habits, the chatter and cynicism of the world, even when they would much rather hang out with their drinking buddies, have a fling, or lose themselves in the brittle public comedy of daily life. They have to look to a model of Christian behaviour in order to learn what “charity” really means in terms of sacrificing self gladly for the love of God and others.
God doesn’t call us to be just good Christians. He expects us to be the best Christians, or little Christs, that we can be. We grow in faith as we grow in practice of that faith. Part of that practice is modelling behaviour on a mentor; the study of hagiography and iconography is to discover models for Christian living.
The women leaders in Paul’s church were to be exemplars. They were chosen partly on how well they could model that Christian behaviour, which means they were not neophytes. They weren’t just out of their catechism – Christian instruction – but had been living in the way of faith for years. They may have been teaching the catechumens, or students, and were experienced in guiding those young in the faith. I am certain that they did not expect the new disciples of Christ to tell them how it was done.
there is a contractual nature to mentorship. The instructor undertakes to be honest with the student, faithful and devoted to the teaching. The disciple suspends his or her own prejudices and preferences, is willing to let go of preconceived and possibly erroneous attitudes, and is obedient to the way of the mentor. That is usually where the contract falls apart.
I would say that young women, for two generations and maybe three, have had a false self-confidence. I know I had it as a young woman. Promotion of ‘self-esteem’ in our culture gives people a false sense of achievement. We think we know more than we do, that we are smarter than we are, that we can trust our own inner voice to guide us. It is worse than the blind leading the blind – although that is certainly the case with youth culture – it is the blind refusing to have their sight restored, and preferring to wallow in the ditch than walk clear-eyed on the high road.
When someone says to me, “You don’t know my faith journey,” I can state, with a bit of humour, that I indeed know it, because all of us walk that same road. We may be on different stages of it. We each walk the road of faith alone, in a way, but we are never the first over that stretch of ground.
The requirements Paul sets forth as to be achieved by those who will call themselves experienced Christians are fairly straightforward: A serious frame of mind, reliability, faithfulness with other people, great love at heart, action rather than talk; a settled person who practices patience; someone who is satisfied with her or his place, who knows the obligation of obedience. These virtues take diligence. They come by prayer, meditation, and practice.
This is the exchange: True peace at heart rather than false self-esteem; humility rather than hubris; true companionship rather than shallow friendship. Self-esteem is casting but one vote for the best person in the world (me); hubris is faith in one’s self rather than God, a rather sad and desperate form of idolatry; shallow friendship is looking for fellowship that is no more than a mutual admiration and a support for vices.
The Lord chastises those He loves, and sometimes He allows that discipline from the hearts and mouths of people who truly act in our best interest, even if it hurts our feelings.