Playing First Century in Red Pantaloons

Krister Stendahl, a Swedish Lutheran theologian, gave a lecture at an Episcopalian seminary in 1982. It was on Romans. I was in attendance. I remember thinking either this man is too smart for me to understand or so stupid he ought not to be believed.

He coined the phrase “to play First Century” in his 1958 work The Bible and Role of Women. This was published in America by the liberal Fortress Press in 1966 (N.B. the date). According to Stendahl you are playing First Century if you take what the New Testament said about the roles of women and translate it directly to your century.  “The correct description of first-century Christianity is not automatically the authoritative and intended standard for the church through the ages. It has no means by which it can account for the ensuing centuries of church history as God’s history” (36).

“Isn’t that special?” queries the Church Lady. “Doesn’t that sound pious?” says the open-minded among us. So much then for the Scripture being the norm which norms all other things. So much for Scripture being the inspirited Word of God. So long sola Scriptura.

Stendhal’s work is the launchpad for Helmut Thielicke Theological Ethics from which comes the modern Lutheran understanding, defense, and acceptance of homosexuality (viz., Volume 3: Sex, pp 269 – 292). And it is the launch pad for the trajectory argument for women pastors advanced by self-titled evangelical feminists. Jesus started the trajectory and Paul advanced it as far as he could. It is left to our day to bring the church to God’s goal of total equality (See Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth, 345 – 350).

In case you might not be getting what I’m saying and they’re selling, let me sum it up the way a seminary professor did over 30 years ago. “The theological liberal says that if you want to know the direction the Holy Spirit is leading the church just look where the world around you is heading. That’s where He is leading you.”

After accepting this premise, a decidedly evolutionary perspective is added. Organisms that don’t adapt to current conditions die. This is the position of Dina Brawer, founder of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, and this is where the red pantaloons come in.

Just the title of the August 13, 2016 article in The Sydney Morning Herald “Religion Must Either Modernise or Face Obsolescence” says it all. But this wasn’t at all said/admitted by us when in 1969 – at the high tide of the feminist movement – the Missouri Synod suddenly discovered that women voting wasn’t contrary to Scripture. This wasn’t at all said by us when little girls were made acolytes in the 70s, and this wasn’t at all admitted by us when women were given the presidency, the eldership, and any other office short of pastor at the 2004 convention.  We were modernizing so as not to become obsolete, but we wouldn’t admit it then and we’re not owning it now. Ask the Roman Catholics how modernizing the liturgy worked out for them after Vatican II.

How it works out for Ms. Brawer is in red pantaloons. O she isn’t wearing them, not that I know of anyway, but she is using them. The reference comes from World War I. Warfare had shifted from fighting at close quarters to at a distance with artillery and machine guns. The Brits and the Krauts (I can say this because I’m 1/8 German.) saw this change and went from bright colored uniforms to drab colors. However, the bright red pants stood for France’s pride and prestige of her military traditions. A former war minister said, “’Le pantaloon rouge, c’est la France!’” “The Red Pants is France!”

The militant feminist (and there are no other kind) Brawer is quoting from non-feminist Barbara Tuchman’s 1962 book Guns of August which is said to be the best history of World War I. Brawer quotes Tuchman’s judgment on the red pantaloons and applies it to all who won’t modernize, especially in having women in the ministry. We have as the French did to their red pantaloons a “blind and imbecile attachment” to old traditions about the roles of men and women that is going to insure we die off.

Those of us who don’t have women voting, leading, acolyting, ushering, distributing, reading, or chairing are playing first century. We’re wearing red pantaloons that long ago went out of style and, in fact, make us easy targets for the worldly, the educated, and the sophisticated. Being so bold or stupid (depending on whom you ask) to do this has Ms. Brawer’s panties in a knot as well as many feminists (men and women) in our own denomination, and for that I’m glad.


About Paul Harris

Pastor Harris retired from congregational ministry after 40 years in office on 31 December 2023. He is now devoting himself to being a husband, father, and grandfather. He still thinks cenobitic monasticism is overrated and cave dwelling under.
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