In terms of doctrinaire, understandable, articulated, implementable conservatism, there’s nobody closer to Reagan than Cruz. This is why in early voting here in Georgia I cast my vote for Ted Cruz. Will I vote for Rubio, Jeb, Carson or a little to left leaning Kasich if one of them is the nominee? Yes. But if the Republicans play the Trump card, I cannot, and will not, vote for him even in a last-ditch effort to prevent Hillary from being coronated. In other words, I’m not going to risk going to hell over a national election, and this is what I would be doing if compelled to violate my conscience by voting for the personification of everything Jesus wasn’t. Furthermore, I will view the whole scenario, rightly or wrongly, as a “gathering of eagles” sign that God intends to wreak judgement on this nation for its killing of the innocents and its sanctioning of all sorts of sexual perversions and debaucheries.
“You are My witnesses,” says the LORD, “and My servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe Me, and understand that I am He. Before Me there was no God formed, nor shall there be after Me. I, even I, am the LORD, and besides Me there is no savior. I have declared and saved, I have proclaimed, and there was no foreign god among you; therefore you are My witnesses,” says the LORD, “that I am God. Indeed before the day was, I am He; and there is no one who can deliver out of My hand; I work, and who will reverse it?” (Isaiah 43:10-13).
From a very early age I remember being interested in the nature of God. I was particularly interested in His omniscience and how it relates to our free free moral agency. Admittedly, the supposed conflict between the Creator’s foreknowledge and the creature’s free will did not seem as insurmountable to me as it did to most of those I questioned about the subject. However, it was not until later in life that I decided to do some in-depth study of the subject. As a result, it became clear to me that there was clearly no conflict between God’s foreknowledge and man’s free will. But such was not so clear to those around me and I wanted to know why.
While living and working in Kenya, East Africa, in the early and mid nineteen nineties, I decided to devote some quality time to thinking about the attributes and characteristics of God and how they relate to the subject of man’s free will. It soon became clear to me that too many Christians were relating to God as a man, albeit a man of larger proportions. As I thought about the ideas and concepts about God that I had encountered among my fellow Christians over the years, I came to understand that many of them — and I do not exclude myself from these — had constructed and bowed down to a little “g” god that was not the I AM THAT I AM. This series is the direct result of that study.
As you read what I’ve said here, you may become offended. Nevertheless, I entreat you to read with an open mind. If the ideas you find expressed here are unscriptural, illogical, or otherwise in error, just disregard them. On the other hand, if you find truth here, then I ask only that you be willing to make the adjustments in your thinking that such these truth requires.
Finally, it is my prayer that this series will serve in some small way to bring the one and only true and living God more of the glory and honor He so richly deserves.
Some years ago I had a written debate with a very capable brother on the subject of God’s foreknowledge. During this discussion, he used several human analogies in an effort to prove God could not know the future, contingent, free will choices of His creatures. They were the “master of chess” God and “God as novelist or playwright.” In his master-of-chess analogy, his point was: “God does not need foreknowledge of the contingent free will choices and actions of men in order to bring His purpose to pass.” He argued that “a master of chess would not need foreknowledge of a novice’s moves in order to decisively defeat him.” He then applied this analogy to God by arguing, “So it is with God and men.” When using the God as novelist or playwright analogy, his point was that if God already knew the future, then it would have to be because He had already written it.
I pointed out to him that the problem with all such analogies is the inherent assumption, even when one is unconscious of it, that God is just a man of larger proportions — something the Bible categorically denies. My objection to such reasoning was twofold:
- the obvious effort to make God in the image of man, something Romans 1:23 clearly identifies as idolatry; and
- God’s foreknowledge cannot be legitimately compared with man’s writing of a novel or play because God’s foreknowledge, contrary to that of the novelist/playwright, need not be any more manipulative than omnipotence, an attribute my opponent readily admitted God could use to carry out His will without stomping all over the free moral agency of His creatures.
However, and this was a point that greatly greived my opponent, there is, in reality, little difference between the theologians’ constructs (viz., God as a novelist or playwright analogies) and the pagans’ idols — they are all substitutes of God.
Further, when one insists on playing around on the slippery slopes of higher anthropomorphism he ought not to be so surprised when he falls victim of his own dubious assumptions.
To this line of reasoning, my opponent said:
I am accused of an ‘obvious effort to make God in the image of man,’ and, therefore, of idolatry. This is a mighty serious charge to bring against a brother.
I think I can understand how he must have felt, but I was obligated to show that ideas do, in fact, have consequences. At issue was not whether I had made a serious charge against a brother, but whether the charge was, in fact, true. Now, like then, I do not believe this brother knowingly involved himself in idolatry. However, he unwittingly engaged in it when he superimposed man’s imperfections and inabilities onto God. This, after all, is precisely what idolatry is.
I refer to this incident not because I wish to embarrass or be unkind to my brother in that debate, but because I think it serves to illustrate a weakness we Christians have when it comes to the subject of idolatry. It seems we have a tendency to think idolatry is something that only influences heathens. However, the tendency to idolatry is as prevalent today as it ever was. The Bible makes it clear that idols are not just wood and stone images found on pagan altars, but false concepts in the hearts and minds of well-educated moderns, as well.
In the New Testament, the apostle John warned Christians to keep themselves from idols. The apostle Paul wrote that Christians are to flee idolatry. Are these warnings to all Christians throughout all time, or are they, as some claim, just warnings to Gentile Christians who were surrounded by pagan idolatry? Doesn’t the Bible teach that all Christians are susceptible to covetousness? And doesn’t this same Bible clearly teach that covetousness is, in essence, idolatry? If so, then the Bible teaches that idolatry can influence modern “civilized” Christians, just as it did the ancients. Consequently, we moderns must be careful not to become entangled in idolatry’s snare.
The true and living God, the One who has revealed Himself in the Scriptures, is a jealous God. As such, He demands that we have no other gods before Him. Therefore, when we study Jehovah’s revelation of Himself in the Bible, we must work very hard not to misunderstand what He says. If we do misunderstand — or worse yet, misrepresent — Him in any way, we could easily be entangled in idolatry. For example, I have heard people say, “The God I worship could never send anyone to Hell for an eternity.” They go on to say that their God is a God of love, not wrath; mercy, not vengeance, et cetera. I believe most Christians will recognize the idolatrous nature of such thinking, for it is clear that people who talk like this have created a god (i.e., a theological construct or idol) who is much different from the God who has revealed Himself in the Bible. Consequently, all Christians, especially gospel preachers, must be very careful to understand correctly, and teach accurately, the magnificent attributes and characteristics of the Almighty God, Jehovah Elohim. When a preacher says that it is impossible for God to foreknow the future — unless He has acted to cause it to happen — simply because it hasn’t happened yet, he is bowing down, even though unintentionally, to a god quite different from the One who has identified Himself in the Bible, and as I pointed out in the aforementioned debate, this is nothing less than idolatry.
The fact that the brother in that debate thought my mentioning of idolatry to be too harsh in a discussion between Christians is, I am convinced, indicative of a general misunderstanding of the far-reaching significance of idolatry. Idolatry is not just something that pagans engage in; it is something Christians can, and do, participate in, as well. Therefore, an examination of idolatry — what it is and how it affects us — is a study that can be extremely helpful. Our plan for doing so is as follows:
- First, we’ll take a little closer look at the one true God who has revealed Himself in the Bible.
- Then, we’ll do an examination of idolatry itself.
- Finally, we’ll consider some of the idols we moderns have constructed for ourselves.
This study will be challenging, but when we’re through, I hope you’ll agree with me that it was worth the effort.
As they out-thinks, out-lives, and out-dies the pagans around about them, Christians are to be counterculture, not subculture. Unfortunately, many modern-day Christians have begun to blend in. Instead of acting like strangers and pilgrims (Hebrews 11:13; I Peter 2:11) whose citizenships are in heaven (Philippians 3:20), many Christians have become much too comfortable in our narcissistic, hedonistic, materialistic, and pluralistic society. Many are failing to live out the “in the world, but not of the world” mandate of John 17. Like the church at Laodecia, many of us, indulging ourselves in the material riches of our society (cf. Revelation 3:17), have become “neither hot nor cold” (verse 15). Consequently, if we do not repent, the Lord will eventually spew us out of His mouth. Because repentance is not possible without a change of direction and a turning from that which is wrong, the rest of this article will be devoted to identifying the process (namely, secularization) that has brought us to this critical point in time, and a defining of our terms, like narcissism, hedonism, materialism, and pluralism.
Every society is made up of different people, different jobs, different values, and different classes. Nevertheless, students of history tell us that no society can survive or function without a unifying system of thought. The unifying system of thought that acts as a glue that makes the various parts of a society adhere is called a “world view.” This world view may be built on a philosophical system like Platonism, or on a religion like ancient Israel. It may be built on a common mythology, or on a devotion to the state, or on some political philosophy. In every society there is a competition between philosophy, religion, mythology, and politics for dominance. One of these elements will eventually emerge as the principal world view.
Originally, a Biblical world view was the unifying system that dominated American society; but, this is no longer true. In our modern topsy-turvy culture, the principal ism or system of thought that is being reflected in our creative arts, in our popular literature and music, on our TV screens, in our educational institutions, and even in our churches, is secularism. In secularism, all life, every human value, every human activity must be understood in view of the here and now. There are no windows into the eternal. If there is a God—and the secularist is either an atheist or agnostic—He is totally irrelevant. All that matters is now. In the secular world view, human beings are not created in the image of God. They are, instead, wholly physical. Consequently, humans are the outgrowth of an evolutionary process and are, at best, nothing more than a chance collocation of atoms. Because there is no hope of life beyond this present physical world, the secular humanist declares that man’s highest end is happiness, freedom, and progress for all mankind in this present world. To this end the secularist “assigns to man nothing less than the task of being his own savior and redeemer” (Corliss Lamont, The Philosophy of Humanism, p. 283).
In stark contrast to secularism, which says, “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow you die,” stands Christianity, which says, “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven.” Christianity speaks of something more than the here and now. While secularism takes the short view, Christianity takes the long view. While secularists talk about the here and now, Christians speak of an eternal life beyond the grave. While secularism, which teaches man is the product of evolution, validates narcissism, hedonism, materialism, and pluralism, Christianity, which teaches man is created in the image of God, refutes all man-made isms with the admonition, “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Ecclesiastes 12:13).
The Bible tells us that faith comes as a result of hearing God’s Word (Romans 10:17). In Hebrews 11:3, the writer says that faith has its starting point at Genesis 1:1. Consequently, the starting point for a Biblical world view is the first verse of the Bible. Before the here and now, God, who transcends this current time-space world, existed in eternity. This means there is more to reality than the here and now. But, there is more. Apart from “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth,” there are no real ethical obligations; no such things as absolute norms of conduct—no moral absolutes. If there is no Creator who is Sovereign of the universe, then man is under no moral obligations and is absolutely free to do as he pleases. It is here then that we arrive at the crux of the matter. Man, in his arrogant pride, does not want to do what God wants him to do. As a result, man attempts to suppress the truth about God in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18). Why? Because if man can be persuaded to believe the lie that there is no Sovereign God who lives in eternity, then he can be comfortable involving himself in all sorts of uncleanness and ungodliness (Romans 1:19-25). Secularism, of course, is the perfect vehicle for such unbelief.
In the 20th century, the secularization of America has had a tremendous affect on Christians. It is as unfortunate as it is true that we have bought, nearly “lock, stock, and barrel,” the secularization lie. Consequently, we have given ourselves over to a traditional, uncritical, and unscriptural view of the separation of church (the sacred) and state (the secular). Although it is true that Christians ought to distinguish between the secular and the sacred, it is just as true that we must never try to separate them. To do so would be to deny the Lordship of Jesus Christ over all of life. Nevertheless, for the most part, we, as 20th century Christians, have given ourselves over to a view of church and state that has forced us to divide our lives into that which is sacred and that which is secular. This dichotomy has forced us to compartmentalize our religion. Within the confines of an ever decreasing arena, we unashamedly proclaim belief in, and reliance upon, God. But outside these parameters—cage might be a better word—we are reluctant to even mention His name. Although religion in the private sector may seem to be flourishing, in the public arena it has been almost totally neutralized. Today, Christianity may be privately engaging, but it is socially irrelevant. The central sectors of society (business, technology, science, medicine, law, politics, etc.) have been stripped of religious influence. As Americans, and, unfortunately, as Christians, we have thought it only proper to internalize our religion. This “privatization” or secret discipleship (i.e., the “Joseph of Arimathea Syndrome,” John 19:38) has contributed to the current secularization of America. But, more importantly, it has caused true Christianity to be without any real impact in public life. Afraid to mention the name of the Lord publicly, except within the limited confines of church and family, for fear of being thought un-American, uncivil, un-professional, anti-social, sectarian, and fanatical, we now find ourselves without any real impact in our communities. Instead of being the salt that savors and the light that shines out of darkness (Matthew 5:13-16), we have allowed the “Wall” the secularists have erected between church and state to force us to publicly blend in with the rest of society.
Embarrassing as it is, the secularists have actually become victors by default. They are occupying territory that Christians have withdrawn from. Thinking it our duty to espouse a principle that forces us to eliminate the Lord from ALL of government and MOST of society, we have created the monster called “Secularism.” This Frankenstein, which is now determined to destroy us, is an unnatural creation that should have never been fabricated in the first place. In essence, we have been digging our own graves, and it is this conduct we be referring to when using the term “Gravedigger Effect.”
No student of the Bible would deny that Jesus taught there was to be a distinction between church and state. During His earthly ministry, Jesus said: “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21). Nevertheless, we feel confident in denying that the Lord wanted His disciples to believe there was to be a separation of God and the state, that is, a complete divorcement of God-based morality from civil government. The “Wall,” or in its more expanded form, “the wall of separation between church and state,” first articulated by Thomas Jefferson in a letter to the Danbury (Connecticut) Baptist Association, is a seductive metaphor that has subsequently misled many. The concept of an inseparable wall between church and state, whether one believes it to have been taught by Jesus or espoused in the Constitution, surrenders to a simplistic understanding of a complicated subject. It is, in fact, a gross hermeneutical error to use Matthew 22:21 as a prooftext for an absolute and inseparable wall between government and religion. Prooftexting or “Bumper Sticker Theology,” as I prefer to call it, must give way to a conceptual or over-all view of the Lord’s teaching on any given subject. For example, the faith taught in John 3:16 cannot really be understood without the teaching found in James 2:14-26. Likewise, we would expect the truth taught in Matthew 22:21 to be amplified elsewhere in God’s Word. For example, in Titus 3:1, the Christian is taught to be “subject to rulers and authorities.” Is not this really the same as, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s”?
Those who have supposed the state to be absolutely autonomous and free from a God-based morality have failed to consider many Bible passages, including Colossians 2:10, where Jesus is said to be “the head of all principality and power.” Not only is He “head over all things to the church,” but He is “far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come” (Ephesians 1:21-22). There is but one exception to the sovereignty of Jesus Christ, and that is the Father, “who put all things under Him” (I Corinthians 15:27). As Christians, there is simply no excuse for not knowing what Nebuchadnezzar had to learn the hard way; namely, “the Most High rules in the kingdom of men” (Daniel 4:25).
As we have already said, for the Christian to have believed that in order to honor Jesus Christ it was necessary for him to eliminate the Lord from ALL of government and MOST of society, is totally irreconcilable with the truth taught in the Bible. It is just such unquestioned allegiance to the erroneous doctrine of “the Wall” between church and state that has caused churches of Christ to be without any appreciable impact on society and, as a result, very ineffective in their evangelistic efforts. Having rested our hopes on apologetics (the defense of a doctrine), we have sorely neglected discipleship (the living of a doctrine), see Galatians 2:20. Jesus taught us that we are to be the “salt” and “light” of the world (Matthew 5:13-16). With but little thought given to the context, we can readily understand that the Lord was not referring to our “saying,” but our “doing.” Christians function as salt and light when others see our “good works and glorify (our) Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16b). A world groping in darkness is benefitted by the disciplined lives of a “chosen generation, a royal nation, a peculiar people” (I Peter 2:9).
Unless we acknowledge our mistakes and repent, we will be no good to ourselves or others. Consequently, let us now examine some of the philosophies and values that exist under the larger umbrella of secularism and that affect us both personally and collectively.
Narcissism is one of secularism’s false values. It says, “Me first.” It says, “I’m number one.” The narcissist is in love with himself. Other people matter only as they serve to fulfill and satisfy him. He is only concerned about his rights, his privileges, and his happiness. Wives, husbands, children, employers, employees, and fellow citizens all take a second seat to the narcissist. He or she is a “me first” kind of person. He is in love with the self-esteem, self-love, pull-your-own-strings, put-yourself-first, you’re-number-one shibboleths of modern-day pop-psychology. When the Christian becomes infected with this spiritual disease, he begins to talk about doing something for himself. He talks of being tired of doing what God and everyone else wants him to do. He begins to complain about the sermons not being uplifting enough. He protests that Bible classes just aren’t positive enough. He whines about the worship services of the local congregation just not doing anything for him anymore. It is not long before families, church unity, ethics in the marketplace, and community stability soon begin to play second fiddle to the “star” of the show—Numero Uno! By contrast, Jesus instructs us to crucify self and put others first (cf. Matthew 16:24,25; Philippians 2:3). He teaches us to give ourselves away to God and others (Matthew 22:34-40).
Closely related to narcissism, hedonism says that life ought to be lived solely for pleasure. It is personified in the Playboy philosophy of the 1950s and ’60s and is summed up in the motto, “If it feels good, do it.” It fans the flames of pornography and homosexuality as it promotes anything and everything that supposedly gives “pleasure.” It replaces responsible living with a “thrill at any cost” approach to life. It is responsible for the proliferation of sexually transmitted diseases, including AIDS. Those given over to hedonism are addicted to lust and can never be satisfied. Nevertheless, in their attempts to satisfy their lusts hedonists usually become quite promiscuous. This, of course, destroys many marriages and homes. Finally, the pursuit of pleasure at any cost leaves men and women broken, lonely, and sad. On the other hand, those who follow God’s Word will find true happiness and satisfaction in the “one flesh” relationship ordained by God, and will find ultimate satisfaction in pleasing Christ (II Corinthians 5:9).
Materialism says, “I am what I have” and “He who dies with the most toys wins.” Instead of concentrating on the spiritual and eternal things, materialism seeks after those things that can be seen, touched, tasted, smelled, and possessed. Everything and everybody takes a second seat to materialism—the accumulation of things. In contrast to this, Christianity teaches that we ought to be laying up for ourselves treasures in heaven. In other words, life is an investment, and we can either invest for short-term benefits or long-term gains.
Modern America prides itself in its pluralism. Pluralism is modern culture’s belief that there are many different right ways to live and believe. Find whatever works for you. If it’s Jesus and Christianity, fine. If it’s Hinduism, great. Whatever you want to believe is just fine. Find the church of your choice. Dogmatism is out. Absolutes are out. All paths lead to the same god. God wouldn’t turn away sincere people. All this nonsense is pluralism. In pluralistic America, even witchcraft and devil worship are constitutionally protected religions. Many seem to think that the Creator of the universe is somehow limited by the Constitution of the United States. He is not! Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). The apostle Peter taught, “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Any culture totally given over to pluralism has forgotten that there is a Law above the law. America, both collectively and individually, will honor God and be blessed, or it will disobey God and pay the bitter consequences.
Allowing ourselves to have been seduced by a metaphor, we have unwittingly added to the void that has caused our current secularization. Surrendering to the enemy, we have even stooped to digging our own graves. Consequently, we believe it critical—for both the church and society—that the church of Christ respond to the God-given imperative: “Let your light shine.” But realizing some may misunderstand our thesis, we want to make it clear that we are not advocating the “social gospel” which still overshadows a majority of the Lord’s church. We are not promoting the activation of the universal church, and would resist all efforts to do so. Every such effort has resulted in the dilution of the gospel message. On the contrary, ours is an appeal not to the church collectively, but to the church individually. As individual Christians, we must learn that there is no basic conflict between discipleship and political power. Biblical faith is more than a private pill to be swallowed; it is a prescribed regimen that must become a part of every facet of our lives.
As we have now entered the 21st century, secular values and their consequences will continue to permeate our culture and affect Christians. But, as always, there is a remedy. After repenting, we must turn to (1) strong Bible teaching (II Timothy 3:16; 4:4), (2) a rediscovery of our calling (I Thessalonians 2:12; Romans 12:1,2; II Peter 1:1-11), and (3) the development of a Bible-based world view (Ecclesiastes 12:13; Micah 6:8; Matthew 22:36-40). Ultimately, the battle is for the mind; therefore, we will either give ourselves over to a secular way of thinking or we will develop the “mind of Christ.”
It is our prayer that churches of Christ will stand up and courageously answer the Lord’s bidding to be counterculture. With this in mind, we close with the apostle Paul’s exhortation in Romans 13:12-14, which says:
The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in licentiousness and lewdness, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.
A Few Concluding Observations
Having looked at those things mentioned in parts VII and VIII, I’d like to focus your attention on a few more scriptural observations and then this study, for whatever it is worth, will be yours to accept or reject. But whatever your decision, I hope you will prayerfully contemplate the things that have been presented in view of the obligations that are placed on us as members of a local church of Christ.
I am the head of my wife and she, praise God, honors me as her lord (cf. 1 Peter 3:6). However, this does not mean that I run roughshod over her. In fact, I discuss with her every decision that directly impacts her life with me. I am ashamed to say that I have not always been so inclined. But, thank God, I have repented of all such actions and have been cleansed, I trust, of these sins by the precious blood of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I would dare to say that there is not anyone who knows my wife and me, and this would certainly include our closest relatives, who does not think she is subject to me as her head. Even so, as we work as a husband and wife team, we discuss, or have discussed, most everything that relates to our life and work together. However, as the one who is in subjection, she defers to my judgment, as long as it is consistent with what God teaches in His word. This means that ultimate authority for me and her is not Allan Turner. Our ultimate authority is Jesus Christ.
This means that the delegated authority I have been given as my wife’s head must be exercised in view of the truths revealed in God’s Word. If I do not understand her needs (i.e., “dwell with her according to knowledge,” 1 Peter 3:7), then I am not what the Lord requires me to be, and our prayers are ultimately hindered. But how can I understand her if I’m not discussing my wife’s needs with her? By the same token, how can the men of the congregation understand the needs of the congregation if they are not discussing these with the women members of the church? If this is true, and I believe it is, and if elders are supposed to be the kind of husbands we’ve just talked about, then how could an eldership, if one exists, exclude female members of the congregation from discussing the important business of the church? I think the only correct answer is: It couldn’t and it wouldn’t!
However, I have heard that there are even elderships exercising their “oversight”/“rule” in local churches at the expense of even the male members of the congregation, in that they do not even meet with the men of the church to discuss congregational business. This is, in my humble understanding of things, just plain WRONG! The apostle Peter, who was himself an elder, instructed elders to: “Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock” (1 Pet. 5:2-3). What’s my point? Simply this: If elders are not to be lords of (or masters over) the flock which is among them, how can it be thought wise for them to never have a meeting with the members of the church? Unless the congregation is so small that it would be possible for the elders to discuss the matter with everyone in the church individually before making some major decision, then a business meeting with the church would seem not only appropriate, but sometimes mandatory.
How does this apply to our situation? Well, if elders ought not to run roughshod over the men of the congregation by never calling a business meeting with them, then why should those in a “men’s business meeting” feel justified in making significant/major decisions without the valuable input of the women of the congregation? Godly elders do not relinquish oversight of the local congregation when they consult with members in a business meeting anymore than a husband does when he consults his wife and children. Consequently, the men of the congregation do not relinquish their leadership, nor do women usurp their authority, when they consult with the women of the congregation, be it in a business meeting or otherwise.
So, someone says, “Okay, then, we won’t object to women being in a business meeting as long as they remain silent.” In other words, such will concede to the women being informed by what takes place, but they refuse to permit them to inform the meeting, for to do so, they think, would cause them to either teach over or usurp authority over the men. This, of course, could happen, but not necessarily so!
Remember, if you will, that sweet Priscilla, a godly Christian woman, along with her husband, “took [Apollos] aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately” (Acts 18:26). The KJV and the ASV translate this same Greek word as “expounded.” Most assuredly, she did this without either “teaching [over] or exercising authority over a man” (1 Tim. 2:12).
Remember, also, that dear sister Phoebe was a servant (a “minister,” if you will) of the “church in Cenchrea” (Rm. 16:1). Paul asked the church at Rome to “receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and [to] assist her in whatever business she has need of you: for she has been a helper of many and of myself also” (v. 2). Assuredly, she did this without either “teaching [over] or usurping authority over a man” (1 Tim. 2:12).
Yes, women may get “out of line” or “out of their place” in a meeting of the church to discuss business, and this must be guarded against by all involved. However, even men sometimes get “out of line” or “out of their place” in business meetings, and this is no less sinful than if women were to do so. Perhaps a reading of Philippians 2:1-8 at the start of business meetings would be beneficial to all involved.
Therefore, if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a servant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.
When the apostle Paul said: “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition [strife] or conceit [vainglory]; but in lowliness of mind [humility] let each esteem others better [more significant] than himself,” he wasn’t simply making a suggestion. He was, instead, giving a direct command! Christians are plainly taught to “submit…one to another in the fear of God” (Ephesians 5:21). Such godliness would eliminate the attitudes that wreak havoc in too many “men’s business meetings.”
My position/role with reference to the exercise of authority does not dictate my significance. The world may reason this way, but the gospel teaches that our glory, our worth, is measured by our personal conformity to Jesus Christ as Lord of our lives. Feminism argues that a woman cannot be “a serious person” unless she occupies a position of headship/authority. This kind of thinking does not come from “above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish” (Jas. 3:15). It reflects the mass stampede for power, recognition, status and prestige we see all around us in a lost and dying world. But the world’s reasoning is invalid.
Authority does not authenticate me as a person made in the image of God. Authority is not a privilege to be exploited to build up my ego. Authority is a responsibility one bears for the benefit of others without regard for one’s self. This is the Christian view. In other words, my personal significance is not measured according to my rung on the ladder. Neither is my opportunity for personal fulfillment enlarged or diminished according to the role I have been assigned. If it is, then the goal of life degenerates into competition for power, and when this happens, then no one hungers and thirsts for the true fulfillment that comes only from doing righteousness.
The ancient preacher said, “Let us hear the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Eccles. 12:13). Godly submission honors and glorifies God just as much as godly authority, and neither of these is easier than the other. For a woman to learn godly submission and for a man to learn godly leadership takes devotion and work. Devoted to God and the male/female roles He ordained, we work hard to exemplify these roles to the glory of God. Contrary to what some think, the Bible does not teach that men are superior and that women are inferior. Thus, man’s authority is a responsibility, a God-given trust, for the good of all. It is not a right of man to exercise for his own self-exaltation or ego-satisfaction. And it is not so much a prerogative as it is a calling. It is, in fact, a duty, an obligation, a charge that God has given to man. It is unfortunate that sin has distorted both masculinity and femininity. Consequently, it is only “in Christ” that one can expect to learn what mature masculinity and mature femininity are all about.
“Authority,” whether in the home or church, is vested in men. However, any and all power associated with such authority recedes before its responsibility. In Matthew 20:25-26, the Bible says: “But Jesus called them to Himself and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant.’” Therefore, mature Christian masculinity views leadership/authority as an obligation to be borne (a sacred duty to be discharged for the good of others, if you will), not simply as a right to assert or power to exercise.
Finally, and in consideration of 1 Corinthians 14:40, which says, “Let all things be done decently and in order,” an agenda of business to be discussed and a presiding “chairman” are useful expedients for a congregation without elders. These would provide a means for all things to be done decently and in order. But to exclude women from such meetings, as is often done today, and to do so arguing that the Scriptures do not permit them to attend and participate, is not, itself, a legitimate scriptural position. In other words, the Bible teaches no such thing!
However, and as already mentioned, a congregational meeting of men and women to discuss business may not be deemed expedient. In this case, and consistent with the prohibitions of 1 Tim. 2:12, a men’s business meeting could be conducted. But because we are compelled to arrive at our conclusions by consensus, then how could it be appropriate to make decisions that affect us all without first considering what the women are thinking? It isn’t, unless you buy into the argument that a men’s business meeting is the “ruling entity” for the church. But the Bible makes it clear that this is a function reserved for the eldership, and not a group of lesser qualified men. Therefore, some means will be necessary for “feeling the pulse” of the women of this congregation.
In other words, it is important not only that the women are being told, after the fact, what happens in the men’s business meeting, but that they have genuine input prior to decisions being made. If they are not going to be allowed in the meeting, or if in the meeting they are not permitted to speak, then it seems reasonable/expedient that the men could assign a man to meet with the women prior to the men’s meeting, so as to make sure they had a feel for what the women were thinking, and all this for the ultimate purpose of reaching a consensus. The male, who would, of course, chair the meeting, could then report to the men what the women thought about the matters at hand.
This would require, or so it seems to me, an agenda of business to be provided to these women before or during their meeting. Then, not only would the women of this congregation be informed as to decisions that were being made, but they would also have genuine input into the decision making process, so that when a decision is finally made, it would indeed be by consensus. This is, without elders, and in my humble opinion, the only scriptural avenue at our disposal. By “only scriptural avenue,” I do not mean the particular plan I have set forth here. What I mean is that, in lieu of elders, and in my understanding of God’s word, the only scriptural avenue we have open to us is to arrive at our decisions by consensus. To doubt, as some do, that a consensus is possible, one must lack faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ in shaping the hearts of both men and women.
And as you do, understand that in the absence of a humble spirit of love and mutual concern, there are no rules of order that can make a church without elders function for the Lord as He would have it. As Christians, our task, without sacrificing the truths taught in God’s word, must be to “keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). Without elders, a church is, at best, still “lacking” (Titus 1:5). Therefore, in a church without elders, let every saint be determined to be the kind of man and woman that will one day allow them to appoint, from among themselves, godly men who will be both qualified and willing to take the “oversight” of the church. Let all be praying for and working toward that day, trusting the Lord to bless them as they endeavor to do His will in all things.
In concluding this series, it is my fervent prayer that New Testament Christians will realize and understand that there is no clergy-laity distinction in the church for which Jesus died. We are all priests and, as such, are full participants in the service and devotion He requires of us.
- No Book But The Bible
- No Creed But The Christ
- No Name But The Divine
- No Plea But The Gospel
- No Aim But To Save
- In Christ — Unity
- In Opinions — Liberty
- n All Things — Love
Church Business Meetings And The Feminization Of A Culture
But having read what I’ve written up to this point, please don’t misunderstand what I’m saying! I am not arguing, as some might think, that it is right for a woman to be in a “men’s business meeting.” I have argued, and will continue to argue, that a men’s business meeting can not only be a lawful expedient, but it can be a loving one as well. In other words, I do believe the Bible teaches that both men and women can come together to discuss the business of the church. But I also believe that current cultural conditioning has made this a very thorny issue that is fraught with dangers.
The feminization of Western culture, and today the primary focus of this culture is America, is in full bloom. Radical feminists bent on nothing less than the destruction of patriarchy have, with few exceptions, won the battle. As a result, a family structure where the husband/father is accepted and honored as the head is practically nonexistent or seriously diminished. The home and workplace are now almost totally egalitarian, and the patriarchal nature of religious structures are changing with more and more women being ordained as clerics, whether it be bishops, priests, pastors or various other “ministers.” It is fair to say that the times are not just changing, they have, instead, already changed.
Let me give you an example of what I’m talking about. The burqa, that “shuttlecock” outfit that Afghan women wore under the repressive regime of the Taliban is not, it may surprise you, a Taliban invention. It is worn many places in the Muslim world. It is an interpretation of Shari’ah (Muslim law) that requires the woman to wear a hijab (a covering). Even so, this covering was used by the Western media as a symbol of the oppressive rule of the Taliban. Many Christian ladies were probably appalled by the thought of the oppressiveness of being forced to wear such an outfit. But I am afraid Paul’s teaching concerning the head covering the Corinthian women were required to wear would seem equally oppressive to many Christian ladies today. After all, women who are liberated in the market place and in the home will not take kindly to a symbol of authority in the church either. But Paul told the Christian women of Corinth that they could not take their head coverings off in the assemblies of the church. Of course, the women of Corinth were not liberated socially and a head covering was mandated as a symbol of their subjection. But because the women were “all one” in Christ Jesus equally with the men, they evidently thought it would be okay for them to take their coverings off in the assembly of the saints. Paul said “No,” they could not.
The apostle gives several reasons, one of which was to remind the woman of the role she was originally created to play, i.e., a helpmeet, in that man was created first and therefore the woman was created for man, and not the other way around, and this no matter what some women seem to think. Paul uses the primacy of man as one of his arguments for a woman not teaching over nor usurping authority over a man in 1 Tim. 2:13. Therefore, if our culture mandated the wearing of a head covering for women, Paul’s teaching would require that Christian ladies not take their coverings off in our assemblies. But because it is not culturally mandated, I do not think a woman ought to feel obligated to put one on when she comes into the assembly. But if she thinks she should, then she must not violate her conscience.
But just because a woman in our culture is not required to wear a covering to show her subjection to man, and therefore is not required to wear a covering when she worships in our assemblies, does not mean that the points Paul made about the roles of men and women can be disregarded. On the contrary, women are to be in subjection. As such, they cannot teach over nor usurp authority over a man. This does not, as we’ve seen, prohibit a woman from being in a business meeting, but her participation would have to be consistent with her God-ordained role. Therefore, a woman could not take a leadership role in a business meeting, but would need to conduct herself consistent with the obligation placed upon her by God in His divinely revealed word. To disregard this would be to forfeit who we are as a people “in Christ.”
So, as we study this subject we must do so carefully and prayerfully. As a male, I do not intend to look down my nose at a female spiritually or otherwise. At the same time, I do not want to do anything that would cause a woman to get out of “her place.” By this expression, I do not mean the place where I want to keep her, but the place where God put her. Therefore, with the egalitarian spirit that is wreaking havoc with many peoples’ thinking today, the decision to have a business meeting with just the men of the church may not be the crass chauvinism some think it to be. On the contrary, and commensurate with man’s leadership role, it may be both the most loving and wisest thing to do.
In the preface to The Feminization Of America, written in 1985, Elinor Lenz and Barbara Myerhoff, write of “head-spinning changes now occurring in American life as a result of women’s transition from their historic domestic world to the public world of business, industry, and the professions.” “These changes,” they claim, “are truly revolutionary; some of them could not have been predicted even a decade ago.” “They represent,” they said, “nothing less than the feminization of America” (p. 1). On page 14, describing chapter 6 of the book, they said: “The feminizing process is altering the family in ways that could not have been imagined even a few decades ago. As the family is redefined, we are seeing new attitudes toward mothering and fathering and the reordering of relationships all across the social spectrum.” On page 141 they note, “The God of Israel was a chauvinistic deity….” Then on page 146 they say, “The cult of the Goddess is a dominant motif of the recovery of women’s religious roots.”
In the closing remarks of When God Was A Woman, the writer says: “It is time to bring the early facts about the early female religions to light… With these facts we will gain the historical and political perspective that will allow us to refute the ideas of ‘natural or divinely ordained roles’… When the ancient source of the gender stereotyping of today is better understood, the myth of the Garden of Eden will no longer be able to haunt us” (pp. 240-241).
In her book, Changing of the Gods: Feminism and the End of Traditional Religions, Naomi R. Goldenberg wrote: “‘God is going to change,’ I thought. ‘We women are going to bring an end to God. As we take positions in government, in medicine, in law, in business, in the arts and, finally, in religion, we will be the end of Him. We will change the world so much that He won’t fit in anymore’” (p. 3).
In her book, The Skeptical Feminist: Discovering the Virgin, Mother and Crone, Barbara Walker starts out by saying: “A feminist believes a world where socioreligious and legal systems are governed by women would be a more humane world than the present one, which is governed by men. There would be less greed, injustice, exploitation, and warfare” (p. 1). She went on to write: “We are barely beginning to understand the enormous tragedy of the historical clash between the archaic mother religion and the new, aggressive father religion, which took place from approximately 1000 B.C. to A.D. 1000, and which drastically changed the world. The sexist attitudes, injustices, and outrages that plague our society today have their foundation in religious imagery. The reason a feminist needs a skeptical view of father religion is that sexism is the product of that religion, and will remain so as long as God is assigned a masculine gender” (pp. 5-6).
Things have changed. In today’s society, if you hold to a traditional understanding of men and women in the family and the church, you are an “uncool Neanderthal.” If you believe God has assigned to men a unique calling to authoritative leadership, where they alone are appointed to “oversight” in the church and they alone are the heads of their families, you will be seen as backward, fearful of change, and a misogynist. You hold such a position, it will be thought by many, because you’re just another insecure male frustrated over the loss of your cultural superiority. Furthermore, either you’re not married (it figures!) or your wife (for surely you are male) is a shriveled doormat of a human being, who has low self-esteem and wears heavy make-up to hide the welts where you have beaten her into submission.
Additionally, it doesn’t matter what kind of “traditionalist” you are. You may believe that women are created in the image of God and are deeply loved by Him, and have been given talents that should be encouraged and developed for use in the local church. And you may believe that women are essential and valuable partners in their families as wives and mothers. You might respect women, work in partnership with women, and even learn from women. But if you believe it is God’s will that men have been given certain unique positions of leadership in the church and family—even if you believe this leadership ought to be exercised in a humble, servant-like fashion—the “cool” people will still see you as anti-women. It also doesn’t matter that your belief regarding the sexes has been the normal position held by the majority of all people, everywhere, over all time, up until about 1960. Why? Because the current cultural propaganda brushes aside all history before the rise of modern feminism as uniformly oppressive to women. Exclusive roles of the sexes are to be outgrown just like witchdoctors, horse-drawn carriages, and rotary telephones.
In the epilogue of the book shown above, Robert H. Rowland, a Christian, wrote: “Visualize with me an unusual, but not unscriptural scene. It is Sunday morning and we walk down the hall of the educational wing of the church.” He goes on to describe several scenes:
[In one room] the minister and his wife are team-teaching a mixed class on family relations. Across the hall, an older lady, who spent 40 years in the mission field in Africa, is teaching a mixed college class about mission work … In another classroom, a sister who recently graduated from a Christian university with a major in Biblical Languages is teaching a dozen men and women New Testament Greek. Down the hall, a Christian woman, who is a trained psychologist, is teaching a group of recovering alcoholics and their mates. In the auditorium, a Christian woman who is head of the music department at the local Christian university has a large group of men and women studying worship and is training them to read music and blend voices to more effectively teach and admonish in song. In the family room, the new youth minister is teaching teenagers to resist Satan and live for Christ in this sin-pressured world. She recently graduated from a Christian university. The teenagers have already learned to love and respect her.
After the congregation gathers for worship in the auditorium, he writes, “the lady who taught the music class encourages the church to join her in two songs of praise.” After a brother reads scripture, “a sister asks the church to join her in the offering of prayer and thanksgiving.” After the preaching, which was done by a man, “three men and three ladies wait on the communion table and serve the church. One of the ladies offers thanks for the bread and a man offers thanks for the wine.” During the announcement, an elder announces “that Sister Jones, from our favorite Christian university, and professor of Biblical Archeology, would be preaching for us next Sunday morning on the subject ‘Archaeological Evidence That The Bible Is True.’” “The bulletin reports the activities of deacons and deaconesses who are involved in dozens of ministries within the membership and in outreach.” Rowland then goes on to lambaste those who would find this whole thing “shocking.” Shocking, indeed, but such is the vision of some among us.
The website above (http://www.facebook.com/Gal328/?fref=ts) is maintained by a group of Christians who are touting just such a vision. On this site under the title “Hearing Women’s Voices At The Stamford Church Of Christ,” (click here for documentation) it is said:
Where I worship God I hear women’s voices. I hear them read Scripture, sometimes with an interpretive passion I’ve rarely heard from men. I hear them pray in ways that stir my soul and awaken places in my heart that were dormant and undiscovered. I hear them bring a woman’s sensibility to their reflections on the suffering of Christ as we commune together at the Lord’s Table. I hear announcements that make sense because they are directly given by those most familiar with the real needs of our church family. And I have sat in, and greatly benefited from, classes taught by female social workers or Bible scholars. In fact, where I worship God we understand that distinctions of roles, privileges, rights and status on the basis of birth (that is, on the basis of race, gender and class) are ended in Christ (Dale Pauls, minister of the Stamford Church of Christ in Stamford, CT).
I would like to think that reasonable, God-fearing men and women would easily recognize the folly of such radical feminism. I would like to think that you are appalled by these shenanigans. But, experience has taught me that this is not always the case. Some of my worst critics concerning gender roles have been Christian women. Depending upon their own perspectives, some have thought me too conservative while others have considered me to be too liberal. Gender issues are extremely volatile, even among Christians. One of the reasons for this is that the feminization process feeds off the real injustices that have existed—and in some cases still exist—in our culture concerning women and equality. I understand this and try to be as sensitive as I can without sacrificing what I believe the Bible to be teaching on this subject.
I do not wish to ignore or diminish the legitimate concerns off of which feminization feeds. But if you want to know why men today are acting more like women and women more and more like men, it is because feminist propaganda reigns supreme in our society—a society that encourages, even admonishes, men to get in touch with their feminine side and be, you guessed it, more sensitive. At the same time, women are taught to be more aggressive and authoritarian. It is exactly this role reversal, or interchangeability, that is touted by our feminized culture. In The Feminization Of America, the chapter that deals with “New Men, New Women” ends the section on the new man with this paragraph: “The new man, it appears, is a fit companion for the new woman who, as his mother, lover, wife, coworker, has helped him become the expressive, open-minded, vulnerable, empathetic man he is today” (p. 208). How sweet. Isn’t that just precious. Let’s all get in touch with our feelings so we can act like “girly-boys.” God forbid!
Where is that man that God created to be male, not female? Where is that man who is a leader of and provider for his family? Where is that man’s man who exhibits those qualities that will make him desirable to God’s woman? He is, unfortunately, an endangered species! But if he can’t be found in society, then surely he can be found in the church. Sadly, this is not always the case, for instead of the church being the salt and light it needs to be to a lost and dying world, the world has risen up to force its image upon the church. Too many Christian men act neither like Christians nor men.
But the image is not faded altogether, for there is Jesus, the personification of what real manhood is all about. There is Peter, Paul, Timothy, Titus and the others. And there are those qualifications in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 that speak to the fullness of Christian manhood:
[W]ithout reproach or blameless, given to hospitality, good testimony from without, a lover of good, no lover of money, not greedy for ill-gotten gain, temperate, self-controlled, orderly, gentle, not contentious, not a brawler, soberminded, apt to teach, not a novice, children in subjection, able to rule his own house, the husband of one wife.
This is true manhood and it ought to be what we strive for. Such a man is the “head” of his wife, as also Christ is the head of the church. “Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything” (Eph. 5:23-24). The man of God is not a neutered wimp who has emasculated himself at the altar of an anti-God, anti-Christ, anti-Biblical feminism. The true man of God is not willing to relinquish his leadership role in the family or the church, and God’s woman does not want him to do so. This may make us “peculiar” to those around us, but it must be remembered that this is precisely what God created us in His Son to be (Titus 2:14; 1 Pet. 2:9). May God help us to be true men and women, and may we glorify Him in these efforts.
I have frequently thought that if we’d just get ourselves taught on this issue, emphasizing what the Bible says about the male and female roles, then a meeting of the whole congregation could be conducted in such a way that no one, male or female, would get out of line, and ultimately no one would feel left out of the process. But congregations that have tried this have not always met with positive results. Why?
Because although it is certainly lawful for a woman to be in a business meeting of the church, it is not always expedient. The apostle Paul addressed this principle when he said, “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful; all things are lawful for me, but all things do not edify” (1 Cor. 10:23). What this means concerning the subject at hand is that although a combined meeting of men and women called to discuss church business is authorized, this does not mean it is mandatory, or even desirable. It all depends upon our attitudes, dispositions, and of course, our understanding of God’s word. I’m speaking to both the men and the women here. Is our collective thinking up to speed? In other words, are we sure we have a “thus sayeth the Lord” for it, congregationally? I doubt it! But if we all conclude that we do have authority for it and that this is what we want to do, is there reason to think that some of us might have a tendency to get out of line? And if someone does get out of line, are the rest of us willing to rebuke such an individual, and take the necessary action if one doesn’t repent of their ungodly behavior? Or, might not a husband try to defend his wife even when it is clear to the rest of us that she has gotten out of her place, and vice versa? I hope you’re getting my point here. Yes, I believe the Scriptures teach conclusively that congregational business meetings are authorized and, therefore, can be conducted—and I personally would like to see it happen—but the pertinent question still remains: Is it expedient for us to do so? Remember, just because something is lawful does not automatically mean it’s expedient, or that it edifies (1 Cor. 10:23).
We’ll have more to say about this in the next and concluding article.
Without Elders, Who’s “In Charge” Of The Local Church?
In Paul’s epistle to Titus, we learn there were some things “lacking,” or still left undone, that needed to be “set in order” (Titus 1:5). One of these things was the ordaining of elders. In Acts 14:23, we learn that Paul and Barnabas, while returning from their first preaching journey, “ordained … elders in every church.” Obviously, then, the ordaining of elders in every church was something the Holy Spirit considered to be extremely important to churches of Christ. If elders were simply to be thought of as “options,” as some seem to think, then surely they would not have received the attention afforded them by the Holy Spirit. Ordaining (or appointing) elders in a local church of Christ was, according to an inspired apostle, nothing less than setting in order the things that were lacking.
What this all teaches is that although a local church may be scriptural without elders, it cannot really be complete until such elders are ordained. In fact, the Bible makes it clear that elders are “gifts” given by our Lord Jesus Christ “For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:7-13). But in truth, even when two baptized believers begin to meet at a certain place for the purpose of New Testament worship, they compose the church in that locality. As such, they are as scriptural as a well established church with elders. But, and here is my point, they definitely have a problem, and sooner or later this problem is going to manifest itself. As the congregation continues to grow in number, its members will eventually come to appreciate their need for some type of oversight. Of course, in their scripturally unorganized form, the very thing they need (viz., “oversight”) is the very thing the Bible says is “lacking” (cf. Titus 1:5 and 1 Timothy 3:1-7).
In the absence of elders, no single person (or group of people, for that matter) has the scriptural right or obligation to assume or exercise any “oversight.” When a situation arises where a decision needs to be made, the church must discuss the situation, be of the same mind, and then act accordingly. There is absolutely no scriptural authority for any form of voting so as to establish majority rule. The church of Jesus Christ is not a democracy. If more brethren understood this, there would not be so many attempts to substitute “leadership” or a “men’s business meeting” for a scriptural eldership. Churches that do so, do so to their own detriment.
The Bible informs us that a church without scriptural elders is definitely working with an impediment. Inevitably, congregational decisions will have to be made; but if, in the absence of elders, no one (or group) has the rule, then how are final decisions going to be made? I believe the Bible provides guidelines for Christians who find themselves in such circumstances. But some, seeing this as an insurmountable problem, hastily (or at least prematurely) appoint men who are scripturally unqualified. This is a mistake and, interestingly enough, demonstrates a lack of faith in God’s plan for the local church. How?, you say. Because those rushing to be “scripturally organized” due to the pressure of congregational “business” neglect the Holy Spirit’s instructions as to the absolute qualifications that must be in place before a man can be scripturally appointed an elder. True faith, the kind that trusts in and relies upon God, will seek a “thus sayeth the Lord” for the things it believes and practices. Consequently, we must turn to God’s word for the answer of what is, admittedly, a thorny issue.
Scriptural authority for a church meeting to discuss business is found in Acts 6:1-8, where we are told that certain widows were being neglected in the “daily ministration.” Responsibility for these widows fell within the “business” of the Jerusalem church. Having “called the multitude of the disciples unto them,” the apostles said, “look ye out among you seven men…whom we may appoint over this business (emphasis mine).” The word translated “business” in this passage means “Necessity… need … duty or… business” (Vine). After receiving such apostolic instruction, the “multitude of the disciples” (the ASV says “congregation” and the NRSV says “the whole community”) then took care of the business at hand, that is, they selected seven men to minister to the neglected widows. Therefore, “business meetings” are authorized by an approved apostolic example. However, many of the “business meetings” I have been a part of during my 48 years as a Christian have not reflected the approved apostolic example mentioned above. I say “most” because I have been in a few meetings of the whole church where pressing business was discussed, like the need for the church to look out among itself and appoint elders, for instance. But these occasions have been exceptions rather than the rule.
I believe an argument can be made for a “men’s business meeting” on the grounds that a meeting that is called to take care of business that includes both men and women in today’s cultural environment may not be expedient, and I’ll further expound on this point later. But the point I’m trying to make now is that a business meeting involving the whole church, and this would usually include both men and women, is, in point of fact, lawful. By lawful, I mean scriptural. In other words, I am arguing that an apostolically approved example (viz., Acts 6:1-7) teaches that a meeting of the whole church called to take care of business is Biblical. If this is true, and I don’t see any way it can be effectively refuted, then it is wrong to believe or teach that it is somehow unscriptural for women to be in a meeting of the church called to take care of business. But this is exactly what some brethren argue:
If a woman has authority with men in business meetings, she then has authority over men in the church. Remember, that business meetings are decision making meetings that involve the leadership of the church. If women have the same authority as men in these meetings, then they are exercising authority over the church (which includes men as well as women).
Those who take this position go on to say:
Leadership in the local church belongs to men. A decision making business meeting is in itself a ruling entity. The role of women is that of subjection. … Just as it is men (not women) who are to conduct the worship of the assembly, it is men (not women) who are to conduct the business affairs of the local church.
Now, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that men (not women) are to exercise leadership in the local church, and there is no doubt that such leadership involves authority. Otherwise, Paul’s instruction that a woman must not usurp authority over a man in 1 Tim. 2:12 would make absolutely no sense. Anyone who knows me or has listened to my preaching and teaching over the years knows that I believe and teach that a woman, in order to be pleasing to God, must be “under authority” or “in subjection” both in the home and the church. Consequently, I do not believe a woman can “teach or usurp authority over a man” (1 Tim. 2:12). I further believe that a woman is to “keep silent in the churches” (1 Cor. 14:34), that is, when the church is assembled.
However, the only men that the N.T. identifies as having the “rule” or “oversight” are elders/bishops/pastors (1 Tim. 5:17; 1 Pet 5:2; Acts 20:28). Therefore, and here’s my point: The only “ruling entity” in the local church is a plurality of men (elders/bishops/pastors) who meet certain specific and extensive qualifications set down by the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, and this ought to be quite clear, if such an eldership presently existed in a congregation, then a “men’s business meeting” would not and could not be viewed as a “ruling entity.” However, in the absence of elders, the Bible does not teach that a “men’s business meeting” is the de facto “ruling entity” for the local church. In fact, and this is my point, in the absence of elders, there is no ruling entity that exists in the local church; namely, it is one of the things that is lacking.
Consequently, decisions that are made — and decisions will have to be made — are to be made by consensus. According to Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, consensus is “group solidarity in sentiment and belief.” In other words, “UNANIMITY.” Some think that such is impossible, but they are wrong. It is not impossible for a congregation to come to a unanimous decision about some piece of business. In fact, if all members are Christians, and this is what a local church is supposed to be, then it ought to be a simple matter to arrive at a consensus of opinion, and to do so without someone or some group being “in charge.” It is unfortunate that such a process can be, and often is, quite difficult, and this is particularly so when those involved in the process don’t have the right attitude about what it is they are doing — namely, demonstrating their faith and trust in God and those He has redeemed with the precious blood of His Son.
Admittedly, this whole process is made much easier when elders, who are in the God-given position to exercise “oversight” or “rule,” are in place. However, it must be remembered that even elders do not exercise themselves as “lords” over those who have been “entrusted” to them, but as “examples to the flock” (1 Pet. 5:3). When these men set the right example, it is assumed the congregation will follow. There are, of course, exceptions (i.e., the unruly, et cetera) and elders have the authority to deal with such members. If the elders are unsuccessful in leading such to repentance, then they will ask the congregation to “withdraw” from such individuals (1 Tim. 3:6). So, even with elders, the local church is expected to be “perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Cor. 1:10). In closing his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul exhorts the church to be “of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss” (2 Cor. 13:11-12).
You will recall that when the letters were sent out by the church at Jerusalem concerning the Judaizers, who were troubling the Gentile Christians concerning matters of the Law, it was in the name of “the apostles, the elders, and the brethren” (Acts 15:23). Some, trying to argue that only men were involved in the process, say that “brethren” means only men. Such a claim manifests total ignorance of the text and the context. Yes, adelphos, translated in the verse as “brethren,” can refer to men, but it is frequently used to refer to kinsmen (male and female), those of the same nation (male and female), those in the same group (male and female), and those who are Christians (male and female). Besides, that men and women are included in the term “brethren” in verse 23 is established by verse 22, which says, “Then it pleased the apostles and elders, with the whole church [emphasis mine], to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas, namely, Judas who was also named Barsabas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren.” In other words, they were all of the “same mind” and “same judgment” in the matter. Notice, further, that this was all done without any woman teaching or usurping authority over any of the men, be they apostles, elders, or any other male member of the congregation.
In the next article, the plan is to deal with church business meetings in view of the feminization of our culture, a circumstance that must be factored into this issue.
This is the sixth in a series of articles dealing with the uniqueness of the church purchased with the precious blood of Jesus Christ (cf. Acts 20:28). We’ve learned that the “My Church” of Mt. 16:18 is singular in number, universal in existence and that Christ is the Supreme Head with headquarters in Heaven. However, the New Testament reveals that the Church, in its local aspect, is plural in number, independent in operation and overseen by men according to the Divine plan as prescribed in the New Testament. Therefore, when we speak of authority, we must understand whether it is universal or local authority. When we refer to membership, we should know whether it is universal or local membership. When we speak of fellowship, we should understand whether it is universal or local fellowship. And when we talk about the work of the Church, we ought to know whether we are talking about the universal or local Church.
As we’ve learned, membership in the Universal Church is by birth — a birth of water and the Spirit (Jn. 3:5). This is accomplished by obeying the gospel and being added to the universal body of believers, the “My church” of Mt. 16:18. However, this does not make one a member of a local congregation or church. This membership is obtained by the mutual consent of both the baptized believer and the congregation with which he desires to be identified (cf. Acts 9:26-28;18:27;Rom. 16:1-2).
Some Christians have the mistaken idea that they are members wherever they attend just because they are members of the Universal Church. If all Christians made the same assumption, there could be no local congregation, for such persons remain independent, free from responsibility and free from discipline should they be disturbers of churches. The progress of God’s work in a local area cannot depend upon such people. On the contrary, when one joins or identifies himself with a local church, he pledges or agrees to enjoy and participate not just in the local worship, but in the local fellowship in aiding and financially supporting the cause of Christ in the community and elsewhere. Now, it is true that one can be a member of the Universal Church without being a member of a local congregation, as was the case with the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:39).
Therefore, it must never be argued that one must be a member of a local church of Christ in order to be saved. Nevertheless, the question is: Can one remain faithful, and therefore saved, if he refuses to become a member of a local church? Again, there may be some exceptions, but I think the general answer is “No!” In other words, the mindset of the “floater,” who argues for automatic membership in any local church, and in fact all local congregations, because he is a member of the Universal Church, is contrary to the truths taught in God’s word. The Bible teaches that each Christian ought to be a part of a local congregation, and participate in the activities of that group of believers. Except in rare circumstances, it is impossible to fully obey the Lord without such participation. Why? Because Christians are taught to not be “forsaking” the “assembling” of themselves “together” (Heb. 10:25). This passage does not say, as some try to make it say, “forsake not the assembly,” referring to the Lord’s Day morning assembly, as if that assembly is essential and all others are optional. Instead, it is the practice of assembling together that is under consideration: “forsake not the assembling of yourselves together…” (KJV). But there is more to this subject than just attending services and warming a pew. Instead, we must come together to engage in those things the local church is prescribed to do.
The whole church comes “together” only as each individual participates. Individual action is made clear in the NASV: “not forsaking our own assembling together…” (Heb. 10:25). Consequently, the person who willfully absents himself from any assembly has a spiritual deficiency. He may do so because he does not feel a sense of “community” with the saints. He may not understand or appreciate the benefits to be derived from community in worship. He may consider the call to assemble as “man-made.” This is often the attitude toward evening and midweek services. However, such assemblies were first called because spiritually minded brethren felt the need for them. So, if we have a sense of “community,” then it would seem reasonable that these would be important to us.
The N.T. reveals that the early saints, as a group, engaged in five activities when they assembled for worship. Two of these (#1 and #5 in the list below) were authorized as first day of the week only activities. The others were engaged in on other days in addition to the first day of the week.
- They met on the first day of the week to eat the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:17-34; Acts 20:7).
- They had preaching and teaching when they came together (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 14:15).
- They engaged in singing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16).
- They engaged in congregational prayer (Acts 2:42; 12:5; 1 Cor. 14:12-15).
- They laid by in store into a common treasury on the first day of the week (1 Cor. 16:1-2; Acts 5:1-6).
According to the Bible (cf. 1 Tim. 3:1-13; Tit. 1:5-9; Phil. 1:1; Acts 14:23; Eph. 4:11-16) those who are to serve the local church are:
An example of the whole congregation (“the multitude of the disciples”) being involved in the selection of servants is found in connection with the church at Jerusalem (cf. Acts 6:1-6). This “seek[ing] from among you” (v. 3) was done according to the apostles’ instructions. Because faith comes by hearing God’s word (cf. Rom. 10:17), Christians today, exercising faith in God and His word, follow this example in appointing those who will serve the local congregation. This means that the local church, apart from the instructions in the Bible, is not subject to any outside control or oversight. This is what we are talking about when we say the local church is completely autonomous. Synods, conventions, and all denominational structures are unwelcome and anathama to churches of Christ functioning after the New Testament order.
The local church has been given work to perform. There is:
- The work of Evangelism.
- The work of Edification.
- The work of Benevolence.
Each individual should participate to the extent of his or her ability in every teaching effort planned by the congregation. This would include attending the scheduled services of our “Gospel Meetings,” and making efforts to bring others to hear the gospel on those special occasions. By freely giving of their means into the common treasury of a local church, Christians have fellowship in supporting evangelists. This includes not just those evangelists who are members of the local church, but also those who are laboring in other places. Paul, you recall, received “wages” from other churches while ministering to the Corinthian church (2 Cor. 11:8; Phil 4:10-11).
There is much that we can do as a congregation to “edify one another.” One way is to participate in the Bible classes a church offers. What, pray tell, is the purpose of “joining the disciples” in a particular area if one is not going to be “coming in” and “going out” with them in their various spiritual activities (Acts 9:26-28)? In order to be successful, every member who is able ought to be participating in the scheduled Bible studies offered by a church, putting forth his or her best effort. The Bible teaches us that we are to “consider one another in order to stir up love and good works,” and this in the context of “not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some” (Heb. 10:24-25). Some had, for whatever reasons, given up on meeting together. For these, the Scriptures tell us, “there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries” (Heb. 10:26b-27). Those who were converted on that first Pentecost after the Lord’s resurrection and ascension into heaven “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42). The Scriptures go on to say “Now all who believed were together” (Acts 2:44).
“Were together” does not mean they became a commune, all living together, but speaks to the marvelous unity of these brethren who were “coming in” and “going out” together — a genuine community of believers. It speaks of a unity of mind, of purpose, of faith, of heart, of action. They were united because they were obedient believers in Jesus Christ. Although men try, they cannot create such unity. This isn’t socialism, and it surely isn’t communism. It is, instead, pure N.T. Christianity. It is the unity that only comes “in Christ.” The meaning of “together” (Grk. epi to auto) is explained by the following verses:
Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved (Acts 2:44-47).
I emphasized “as anyone had need“ in the above quotation because this is the key to understanding what took place. Christians, without being forced to do so, willingly took care of those in their number who had needs. These “needs” were not simply “wants” or “desires,” but were instead the genuine needs that people have in order to sustain their existence; namely, food, water, shelter, clothing, et cetera.
The local church is to engage in works of benevolence as circumstances dictate. The word benevolence means, “An inclination to perform kind, charitable acts.” Clearly, the church has been given the responsibility to provide for its own needy (Acts 2:44-45; 4:35; 1 John 3:17). In Acts 6:1-6, we learn that the Jerusalem church provided for needy saints. Then, in Acts 11:27-30, we learn that the disciples at Antioch sent a contribution “for the relief of the brethren living in Judea.” In Romans 15:25-26 and 2 Corinthians 8 and 9, we are informed that the churches of Macedonia and Achaia sent their contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. In other words, the churches of Christ take care of their own! On the other hand, churches of Christ have never been burdened with the responsibility of taking care of the world’s poor. Indeed, such would be impossible! Nevertheless, there are those who believe the local church has just such a responsibility. Although there is absolutely no authority in the New Testament for such, these advocate using the treasury of the local church to take care of all who are needy, particularly non-Christians.
Today, we find some churches of Christ pooling their money together for the relief of non-Christians. To many, this seems perfectly all right; but nowhere in the Bible is Christ’s church saddled with such a responsibility. Actually, it is sometimes all the church can do to effectively take care of its own needy. The Scriptures are totally clear on this subject. Taking care of the benevolent needs of the saints is all that local churches of Christ are responsible for. Yes, it is true that Christians, as individuals, have a responsibility to the needy, and this is true even when the needy are not Christians (Galatians 6:2-10; 1 Timothy 6:17-19; James 4:17).
Consequently, a Christian may deem it fit to meet this responsibility by building, in cooperation with others, various benevolent institutions (hospitals, aid societies, etc.); but even when he does so, these institutions must not be seen as doing the work of the local church. The local church, which has the God-given responsibility to care for its own, is sufficient to do its own work. Furthermore, and as we’ve previously learned, even Christians are not to unduly burden the church in matters of benevolence. For example, in 1 Timothy 5:16, the apostle Paul said, “If any believing man or woman has widows, let them relieve them, and do not let the church be burdened, that it may relieve those who are really widows.” Therefore, those who think the church is responsible for taking care of all the needy have “wrested” the Scriptures by wrongly applying passages meant specifically for individual Christians to the local church. Called upon to “rightly divide” the Scriptures, it is extremely important for Christians to make distinctions between individual and collective responsibilities and activities, always guided by book, chapter and verse.
The church at Corinth was instructed to deliver the fornicator to Satan “when you are gathered together” (1 Cor. 5:4-5). There are two reasons for this. First, the immediate objective is to remove the wicked man from the fellowship (1 Cor 5:13), and second, to ultimately save the sinner (1 Cor. 5:5). The united action of an entire group of saints will have far more power to bring the sinner to repentance than when just a few people take it upon themselves to do so. If a brother or sister “walks disorderly” and will not repent, the local church is to “withdraw” from that person (2 Thess. 3:6). When a church fails to do this, it can only do so by disregarding the Lord’s instructions, which is serious business as it is nothing short of rebellion.
Individually and collectively, the church is a “spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 2:5). It is not, then, a social club/country club for religious people. The Corinthians were instructed to “eat at home” (1 Cor. 11:34), and this was the pattern for the church (individually and collectively) from the very beginning: “So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people” (Acts 2:46-47a).
- The local church is a voluntary association of Christians who come together to do those things that God would have them do as a group.
- Each individual member should participate fully in the worship and work of the local church as he or she has the opportunity and ability.
- However, as Christians, our responsibility to the local church is only one of many obligations we have as we live in this world. Without denigrating the importance of the local church, those who think it to be the be all and end all of the Christian’s obligation, fail to be the well-rounded influence the Lord expects His unique people to be to a lost and dying world (cf. Matt. 5:13-16).
This is summed up in the chart below:
Our plan is to continue this study in the next article.