Ode To The Unknown God (II)

I Am That I Am

“You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:3)

God with a capital “G,” the “I AM THAT I AM,” is that one and only (cf. Deuteronomy 6:6) state of being God, consisting of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit — a state that is like no other: self-existent, eternal, infinite, and immutable. A proper understanding of this God is absolutely necessary. In fact, salvation and true worship are not possible without the proper knowledge of who and what God is. I know this is true because when Jesus prayed for His disciples, He said, “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3). In other words, one’s eternal destiny depends upon knowing God, the Father, and His Son, Jesus Christ. This means that the study of God and Christ cannot be ignored by those who want to spend an eternity in the new heavens and new earth. In addition, other passages inform us that the Holy Spirit is to be included in this intimate, knowledgeable relationship (Acts 5:32, for example). Consequently, it should not seem strange that upon a confession of one’s faith in Christ Jesus, a penitent believer is baptized into a relationship with the entire Godhead — Father, Son and Holy Spirit (See Matthew 28:19). All who enter into this relationship are said to “Know the Lord,…from the least to the greatest” (Hebrews 6:11). And finally, “when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire,” He will be “taking vengeance on those who do not know God” (2 Thessalonians 1:7-8).

True worship, which is the only kind that is pleasing to God, must be in both spirit and in truth (See John 4:24). This means that true worship must not just be with the right attitude or spirit, but it must be intelligent and knowledgeable as well. For example, although there were many reasons why the Samaritan woman’s worship was not acceptable to God, the primary reason was stated by Jesus when He said, “You worship that which you do not know” (John 4:22). In the same manner, the Athenians vainly worshiped at the altar “TO THE UNKNOWN GOD.” The Bible makes it clear that this kind of worship is unacceptable because it is “worship without knowing” (Acts 17:23b).

It is sad that modern society knows very little about the one true God. According to Langdon Gilkey, in his book, Maker of Heaven and Earth, the prevailing picture of God, among those in our culture who still believe in Him, is that of “a large, powerful, kindly elder statesman who treats us much as a doting grandfather might do, with occasional moods of needed judgment but with a balance of indulgence” (p. 81). Add to this the fact that many Christians, reflecting the ignorance of God so prevalent in our day, are, like the ancient Athenians, attempting to worship an “UNKNOWN GOD,” and you have, God forbid, the potential for a major apostasy brewing in our midst.

If what I am have read in the religious papers, blogs, and Facebook can be trusted, and if preachers and elders I have spoken with have a sense of what is happening in their midst, then too few Christians today study their Bibles on a daily basis. It would be my guess that fewer still have ever engaged in a private study of the nature and person of God. If this is true, then many Christians know very little about God’s attributes and characteristics. Such ignorance is, according to an inspired apostle, a “shame” (1 Corinthians 15:34), and dare I say, “disgrace.” Just as a lack of knowledge about God made the Corinthians susceptible to false teaching about the resurrection, many Christians today, knowing little about the nature of God, are vulnerable to vain philosophies and empty deceit (cf. Colossians 2:8).

Having, therefore, placed this study in its proper perspective, it’s time to turn our attention to a study of God the Creator, Sustainer and Redeemer of the world.

God Is…

The Psalmist, in Psalm 19:1, said, “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork,” and the apostle Paul, in Romans 1:20, said it this way, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse.”

With these scriptures in mind, it is interesting to note that, down through the ages, men who were not even associated with the Bible have looked at God’s magnificent creation and have understood there must be a Creator. This realization is called “the teleological argument for God,” and is the argument from design, inferring an intelligent designer of the universe, just like one infers that a product (viz., a watch) has a producer (viz., a watchmaker). For example, if someone were to show us a watch, telling us that no one made it, but that it was the result of an explosion that had taken place accidentally in a scrap metal factory, we would think that person was either “pulling our leg” or mighty foolish. Why, then, should it be any different when we think about the greatest product ever created — the creation itself? In fact, the Bible says, in Psalm 14:1, that “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’”

According to Plato, one of the things that makes one believe in the Creator is the argument “from the order of the motion of the stars, and of all things under the dominion of the mind that ordered the universe” (Plato, Laws). According to him, there had to be a “maker and father of all.” In addition, Aristotle, based upon his observation of the creation, concluded there had to be a First Unmoved Mover who is God, a living, intelligent, incorporeal, eternal, and most good being who is the source of the order in the universe (Aristotle, Metaphysica and On Philosophy).

In making note of the observations of these two men, I wish to make it clear that I am not advocating their philosophies. Instead, I am simply pointing out that the greatest minds of antiquity understood the force of the teleological argument. As the Bible so plainly says, in Romans 1:20, man is “without excuse” for not knowing that God is.

…Self-Existent

The God who has revealed Himself in nature and gradually, verse by verse, step by step, makes Himself known in His special revelation, the Bible, is a necessary being who depends on nothing else or anyone else for His existence. In fact, everything else depends on Him. This means that God, ontologically speaking (i.e., having to do with the being of God), is self-existent. This is the meaning of the name “I AM THAT I AM” recorded in Exodus 3:14. It derives from the Hebrew verb “to be” and means “He who is.” It is this self-existence that is the primary point of difference between God and His creation. Therefore, in calling Himself “I AM,” God is arguing, ontologically, that His being is uncaused. He is saying that He is; always has been; and always will be. In other words, God’s being is not derived from anything, and is not dependent upon anything; He just is.

There are three New Testament passages that convey this same idea. In Romans 1:23, God is identified as being “incorruptible.” In 1 Timothy 6:16, it is said that God “alone possesses immortality.” And in John 5:26, it is taught that only God “has life in Himself.” When God’s self-existent nature begins to be comprehended by finite creatures, they feel the need to humble themselves before the totally independent and incorruptible I AM.

…Eternal

If God is self-existent, and this is clearly what the Bible says, then He must also be eternal. In fact, belief in the Eternal is an essential part of the Christian’s faith (See Hebrews 11:6). And although it is true that the creature will one day put on immortality and live forever, according to 1 Corinthians 15:53,54, this is not the immortality that God possesses. God, contrary to His creation, is immortal by the very nature of His being. In other words, only God has always existed and will always exist. How can this be? How can a being have no beginning and no end? How can it be that a being always was and always will be? Because, as we have already pointed out, God alone is self-existent, and a logical consequence of this self-existence is eternalness.

For the creature, immortality is a gift. But for God, immortality is the very essence of His nature. As finite creatures, our minds are controlled and limited by time and space. Consequently, it is impossible for us to fully understand the eternalness of God’s nature. So, as we stand before Him in awe, we reverently say, along with the apostle Paul: “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!” (Romans 11:33). And surely we join with Moses in saying that the “eternal God” is our refuge, “and underneath are the everlasting arms” (Deuteronomy 33:27).

God, then, has a unique existence. In addition to being self-existent and eternal, He is not limited by anything outside of Himself.

…Infinite

This kind of existence is referred to as being infinite, which means subject to no limitation or external determination (i.e., unbounded). But one needs to be careful with this word. As Jack Cottrell points out in his book God The Creator, when referring to God as infinite, this term is not to be understood in its physical or mathematical sense, as if God were infinitely large, or as if He extended infinitely into space (p. 241). To say that God is infinite, is to say that He is not subject to the built-in limitations of a created being.

…Omnipresent

God’s infinitude is to be defined by His self-existence, eternalness and omni-characteristics, which are omnipresence, omniscience, and omnipotence. The God who is eternal, and therefore not limited by time, is omnipresent, and not limited by space (cf. Psalm 139:7-10; Proverbs 15:3; Jeremiah 23:23-24). He is universally present to all of space at all times. Even so, this does not mean that He is dispersed throughout the infinite reaches of space, so that every part of space has at least a little part of God. God is not present in all space; He is, instead, present to all of space. This means that the unlimited God in His whole being is present at every point of our space. But perhaps a better way to express this is to say that all space is immediately present before God.

With this in mind, it must be understood that God’s omnipresence does not prevent Him from manifesting Himself in a localized place. In fact, although His ontological being is present to all of space equally, He has, at various times, entered space at specific points and become present in it for a specific purpose. These “theophanies,” as they are called, most often involved redemption. For example, the pillar of cloud bearing the glory of God that appeared before the Israelites is but one example of such a case (cf. Exodus 33:9; 40:34; 1 Kings 8:10ff). Of course, the most dramatic incident of God entering time and space was the incarnation itself (See John 1:14; 1 Timothy 3:16). Consequently, Jesus was called Immanuel, or “God with us” in Matthew 1:23. But in entering time and space, God, in His self-existent, eternal and infinite Being, did not cease to be omnipresent. He was, in fact, still present to every point of space, holding everything together by the “word of His power” (Hebrews 1:3; cf. Colossians 1:17). In fact, it is evident that the omnipresence of “God with us” is the subject of John 3:13, which says, “No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of God who is in heaven.” If omnipresence is not under discussion in this passage, then pray tell me what is? Remember, these words were being spoken by God Himself while enfleshed here on this earth. Another example of God interjecting Himself into time and space would be the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost (cf. Acts 2:1-4), as well as His indwelling of the body of every Christian (See 1 Corinthians 6:19). “Mind-boggling,” you say. Yes, but such is the magnificent nature of The Great I AM.

…Omniscient

When one considers passages like Isaiah 46:9-10, Psalm 147:5, Romans 11:33, and 1 John 3:20, one comes to appreciate the fact that there never was a time when the self-existent, eternal and infinite God of all creation knew less or more than He does right now. God, because of who He is, never learns and never forgets. This characteristic is called omniscience. Omniscience is not anything like the knowledge man possesses. Man, by his very nature, cannot know some things. God, on the other hand, knows all things (consider 1 John 3:20), and does so because He is “He who is” (Exodus 3:14).

Nevertheless, some are willing to argue that there are things that even an all-knowing God cannot know. These argue that the future free will acts of men and women cannot be known by God because they have not yet happened. God, according to this position, cannot know what cannot be known, and the future, contingent, free will choices of men and women cannot be known, they think. But can this be true? What is it that the self-existent, eternal, and infinite God cannot know? There is, of course, absolutely nothing that such a Being could not know, for He transcends the flow of the space-time continuum and sees the past, present and future in a kind of eternal now. Only a being with the infinite characteristics and attributes of God could be all-knowing. Consequently, it is omniscience that God uses to challenge those who claim to be gods, but who are, in fact, no gods (cf. Isaiah 42:8,9; 43:3-7; 44:7,8; 45:20,21; 48:3-7). Surely, praise, honor and eternal glory belong to the one and only true God, who said, in Isaiah 46:9 and 10, “I am God, and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done.”

…Omnipotent

Since God is self-existent, eternal, omnipresent and omniscient, it comes as no surprise to us that He is also omnipotent or all-powerful. In fact, if God is infinite in His relationship to time, space and knowledge, it only follows that He is omnipotent as well. In the New Testament, this truth is taught in Matthew 19:26 and Revelation 19:6. In Genesis 17:1, when God appeared to Abraham, He said, “I am God Almighty.” In Jeremiah 32:27, He says: “Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh. Is there anything too hard for Me?” For God, of course, “nothing [consistent with his nature] is impossible” (Luke 1:37). Finally, God’s omnipotence, according to Jeremiah 32:17, is grounded in the fact of creation: “Ah, Lord God! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and outstretched arm. There is nothing too hard for You.”

…Immutable

Given the nature of God, there is no chance He can ever be anything other than what He is. This can be inferred from His self-existent, eternal, and infinite nature. His nature, or essence, cannot change, but is eternally the same, totally incorruptible (cf. Romans 1:23) and immortal (cf. I Timothy 6:16). In other words, He is unchangeable or immutable (cf. Psalm 102:25-27; Malachi 3:6; James 1:17). What does this mean? It means that the Self-Existent One cannot be not self-existent; it means that the Eternal One cannot be not eternal; it means that the Infinite One cannot be not infinite; et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. God, ontologically speaking (again, by the nature of His being), cannot be anything else; if He were, He would not be God.

Included in God’s unchangeable or immutable nature are His moral attributes, for His moral character is no less a part of His essence than are His power and wisdom. What this means is that God has always been, and always will be, the holy, righteous and gracious God that He is right this moment. His goodness has not been developed and will never be altered. From everlasting to everlasting, He is the same in character, infallible and immutable (cf. Numbers 23:19).

Of course, and this is very important, it must be kept in mind that the immutability of God’s nature does not mean that He cannot interact with His creation. In fact, the Bible teaches that the Almighty has agreed to, and does, interact with His creation within the bounds of time. Such interaction is genuine and not pretended. God has agreed to be influenced by His creation. Whether or not I can explain this in view of God’s immutable nature is not the point. I cannot even understand it; how, then, can I explain it? In truth, it is not my responsibility to explain it. Instead, it is my responsibility to believe, teach, and defend it. If I had to be able to understand and explain everything about God, especially those things He has not chosen to reveal to me, before I could believe in Him, I and every other finite finite creature could have no choice but to remain in unbelief. The Aristotelian, or classical, view of God as “the Unmoved Mover,” who is, in turn, unrelated to the world, impassive and unconcerned is, in my opinion, as ridiculous as it is non-biblical. As such, it reflects idolatry, pure and simple.

As I’ve said, it is not possible that the essence of God could be anything other than what it has been, is and always will be. If this essence were to change, then God would no longer be God. As a matter of fact, it is impossible to make distinctions between God, His essence, and His attributes. “I AM THAT I AM” or “He who is” (Exodus 3:14), exists as a self-existent (cf. Romans 1:23; 1 Timothy 6:16; John 5:26), eternal (See Deuteronomy 33:27), infinite (See Psalm 139:7-10; Isaiah 46:9,10; Jeremiah 32:27), immutable (cf. Psalm 102:25-27; Malachi 3:6) Spirit (cf. John 4:24). If God ceased to be any of these, He could not be God. In other words, God’s essence (i.e., that which makes Him what He is) could not be anything other than what it is; and that which makes God what He is, of course, is His attributes. Therefore, it is never correct to think of God apart from His essence or attributes. Namely, God does not have an essence; He is His essence, and He does not have attributes; He is His attributes. For example, the Bible tells us, in 1 John 4: 8 and 16, that God is love. It informs us that God’s love is great (cf. Ephesians 2:4), eternal (cf. Jeremiah 31:3; Ephesians 1:4-5), infinite (See Ephesians 3:18,19), and dependable (ibid.).

If the theme of the Bible is man’s redemption, then the central word of the Bible is love. In fact, the Bible tells us that the motivation for the scheme of redemption is God’s love for His creation. How much did God love His creation? He loved it so much that He was willing to give His only begotten Son so that it could be redeemed (cf. John 3:16; 1 John 4:9). But, what kind of love would do such a thing? Simply this: God’s love for His creatures, which, in turn, is the same kind of love we should have for Him and those He created in His image.

Therefore, when the Bible says, “God loves us,” it means He really cares about us and always does what is best for us. God’s love is different from other kinds of love in that it seeks to give and not to get; it seeks to satisfy not some need of the lover, but rather the need of the one who is loved. This is what God is, i.e., this is His nature. Strip from Him His love and we no longer have the God who has revealed Himself to His creatures. Strip from Him His love and what remains is something similar to the gods of the pagans, which are nothing but “idols for their own destruction” (Hosea 8:4).

However, what the Bible does not say about the essence or nature of God is just as important as what it does say. For instance, although the Bible teaches that God is His attributes and characteristics, it does not teach that any particular attribute of God is God; i.e., the Bible is not saying, and has never said, that “Love is God.” On the contrary, what the Bible teaches is that “God is love” (1 John 4:8,16). Clearly, then, the Bible instructs us that God is His attributes and characteristics, and anyone who believes the Bible believes this. Consequently, God is, has been, and always will be who and what He is at this exact moment.

…Triune

In the one state of being God (cf. Deuteronomy 6:4; Romans 3:30; 1 Corinthians 8:4), there are three distinctly different personalities: the Father, the Son (or Logos/Word) and the Holy Spirit. Each one of these personalities shares fully the one essence, nature, or state of being God. Everything involved in being Deity is possessed by each of these personalities. In other words, the Bible teaches there is one, and only one, God; but it just as plainly teaches that the Father is God (cf. John 6:27; Galatians 1:1; Philippians 2:11), the Son is God (cf. John 10:30; 20:28), and the Holy Spirit is God (cf. Acts 5:3-4). Even so, it must be understood that although the Bible says that God is three persons in one essence (cf. Matthew 28:19; 2 Corinthians 13:14), it does not teach “Tritheism” (i.e., three Gods). As Roy Lanier, Sr. wrote on page 46 of his book, The Timeless Trinity:

We do not affirm that one God is three Gods; we affirm that there is but one infinite Spirit Being, but within that one Spirit essence there are three personal distinctions, each of which may be, and is, called God; each capable of loving and being loved by the others; each having a distinct, but not separate, part to play in the creation and salvation of man.

I think it wise to caution that, when thinking of God, it is possible to use “person” or “personality” in a wrong sense. If we are not precise in our thinking, we might conclude that the three persons or personalities that are God are just like human persons or personalities, except more complex. This would be a common, but serious, mistake. Human personalities are totally different from each other, and their relationships are often inharmonious and completely external (i.e., they do not partake of the same essence). On the other hand, the three personalities that are God partake of one essence and are always harmonious. Therefore, we must not try to think of divine personality within the limits of human personality, as if God were but a more complex image of the human person. To do so would be idolatry, pure and simple (cf. Romans 1:23). Consequently, one must not press too far the concept of personhood when applied to God. What, then, are we saying when we speak of God in three persons?

As has already been pointed out, divine personality is the archetype of human personality; it is not the other way around. If this is true, then there must be some similarities between divine personality and human personality, and, in fact, there are. As Paul taught the Athenians, “Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising” (Acts 17:29). In other words, we are not lifeless, impersonal matter, and neither is God. The Bible teaches that God is Spirit, and therefore we who are His offspring have a spiritual nature. The Bible teaches that God is personal, and we who are His offspring partake of personhood. In his excellent book, What The Bible Says About God The Creator, Jack Cottrell, on page 237, points out four elements that are characteristic of personhood:


  1. rational consciousness,

  2. self-consciousness,

  3. self-determination, and

  4. the capacity to have relationships with other persons.

These characteristics are, in fact, a very intricate part of the portrait God paints of Himself in the Bible, from beginning to end. Based on Scripture alone, no one would ever doubt God’s personhood.

If, then, the self-existent, eternal, infinite, and immutable Spirit who is God has three personalities, and this is what the Bible says, then the Father, Son and Holy Spirit partake of personhood. As such, each enjoys rational consciousness, self-consciousness, self-determination, and relationships with other persons. This means that the Father is conscious of Himself as an individual person apart from the Son and the Holy Spirit and vice versa. It means that the Father, of His own free will, decided to send His Son into this world for the redemption of mankind. It means that the Son, of His own free will, responded positively to His Father’s decision when He came to this earth and experienced death for fallen humanity. Finally, it means that the Holy Spirit, of His own volition, came to this earth to do the bidding of both the Father and the Son. And although it must be understood that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were, and are, all involved in man’s redemption, nevertheless, each person in the Godhead had work to do that was unique only to Him (cf. 1 Peter 1:1-2). When one reads the Bible, these truths are clear. By clear, I do not mean that I think it is easy for finite creatures to understand how this threeness is rooted in the divine essence. On the contrary, by clear, I simply mean that the doctrine of the triune nature of God is explicitly taught in the Bible.

The Economic And Ontological Trinities

Theologians speak of the “economic Trinity” and the “ontological Trinity.” These are constructs that attempt to define God. The so-called economic Trinity refers to the “division of labor” that exists between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and concerns itself principally with the different works done by the three persons of the Godhead in relation to the scheme of redemption. For example, the Bible depicts God the Father as foreknowing and choosing the plan whereby man could be redeemed (cf. Romans 8:29). In His role (or work), the Father is never portrayed as being the One sent. On the contrary, the Father sends the Son and the Spirit (cf. John 5:37; 14:26; 20:21). In turn, the Holy Spirit is involved in the work of sanctification (cf. 1 Peter 1:1-2), and He is also the agent of inspiration (cf. John 16:13; 2 Peter 1:21). In this connection, it is interesting to note that it is only blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, and not against the Father or Son, that is unforgivable (cf. Matthew 12:31-32). From this, one can clearly see that the three persons of the Godhead are truly distinct. It is, of course, the works of Jesus, the Son of God, which receive most of the attention in the New Testament. This is because it is He who “became flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). It was only the Son who experienced death for us. It was only the Son who was resurrected from the dead, taken bodily into heaven, and seated at the Father’s right hand. It is only the Son who is the High Priest and Mediator between God and man (cf. 1 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 4:14).

Therefore, the Bible teaches that, when it comes to the scheme of redemption, there are

  • works done by the Father that are not done by the Son or the Spirit;
  • there are works done by the Son that are not done by the Father or the Spirit;
  • and there are works done by the Spirit that are not done by the Father or the Son.

It is this Bible-based division of labor or economic Trinity that sheds some light on the so-called ontological Trinity (viz., how the three persons of the Godhead are related within their own being, totally apart from any manifestations or works directed outside themselves.). Discerning a threeness in the external manifestations and works of God is not too taxing, but when one turns his attention to the ontological Trinity, things begin to get a lot harder. For instance, are the appellations of Father, Son and Holy Spirit eternal distinctions within the Trinity, or are they derived from the various works of God in the scheme of redemption? Particularly, from the standpoint of the Scriptures, is the doctrine of the eternal Sonship of Christ authentic? For example, Alexander Campbell taught that Jesus Christ, according to John 1:1, pre-existed as the Divine Logos or Word of God, but that His Sonship began with the incarnation. According to Campbell, the entire “relation of Father, Son and Holy Spirit began to be” during the days of Augustus Caesar (The Christian System, pp. 9-10). Personally, I am not certain that the eternal Sonship of Christ is biblical, and, furthermore, I do not really see what difference it makes. There are several explicit references to the Deity of Christ in the Bible; consequently, His Deity (or equality with God) does not, as I see it, depend on an eternal Sonship relation.

But how, then, do we explain the ontological Trinity? Personally, I do not think we can with any large degree of specificity. When we do try, we seem to fail, and fail miserably. Furthermore, many attempts to explain or depict the ontological Trinity (i.e., three in One) actually incline toward idolatry (cf. Romans 1:22-23), which is something we should be seeking to avoid with a passion. We must always remember that God is not a man; therefore, He cannot ultimately be explained or understood by trying to compare Him with finite creatures. And although it is absolutely impossible for three finite creatures to consist of the same essence, nevertheless, God, who is three Divine persons, and Who is identified in the economy of redemption as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is also, and at the same time, one self-existent, eternal, infinite, immutable Spirit Being.

There can be no doubt that the Biblical doctrine of the Trinity transcends the limits of our finite knowledge. By reason alone, and by this I mean reason unaided by divine revelation, we cannot figure out the ontological Trinity. But by concentrating on the economic Trinity revealed to us in the Bible, we can know what the Triune God wants us to know about Himself. Consequently, I agree with professor B. B. Warfield, who concluded, “When we have said these three things, then—that there is but one God, that the Father and the Son and the Spirit is each God, that the Father and the Son and the Spirit is each a distinct person—we have enunciated the doctrine of the Trinity in its completeness” (“The Biblical Doctrine Of The Trinity,” in B. B. Warfield, ed., Biblical And Theological Studies, pp. 22-59).

Mythology is filled with numerous triads, but there is only one Triune God. And if it had not been for the scheme of redemption, we would know very little of His threeness. In fact, although there are allusions in the Old Testament that the Godhead consists of more than one person, if Scripture had not depicted Jesus of Nazareth as God incarnate, and the Holy Spirit as Deity, the question of the Trinity would have never arisen. This means that Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are the fundamental proof of the doctrine of the Trinity. This means that if the pre-existent Jesus (i.e., the Word or Divine Logos of John 1:1) actually divested Himself of His Godhood and Divinity, so that the “fullness of the Godhead” did not dwell in His earthly body (cf. Colossians 2:9), as some are currently teaching, then the Triune God, who has identified Himself as a self-existent, eternal, infinite, immutable Spirit, ceased to exist as He had existed, at least for a period of time. Therefore, one can readily see that the controversy over the Deity of Christ that has been manifested in some churches of Christ is not a “tempest in a teapot” issue; but is, instead, an issue that strikes at the very core of the gospel. With this in mind, it is now time to turn our attention to the Biblical truth that there never was a time when the Divine Logos was not God with a capital “G.”

Jesus is God. This is the basic meaning of the incarnation. In John 1:1, the Holy Spirit teaches that not only was the Word (i.e., the Logos) in the beginning with God, but the Word was God. In verses 14-34 of the same book, we learn that the Logos became flesh in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. And in this book that was written so that men would believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and believing might have life in His name, Thomas, speaking of Jesus, exclaims, after seeing Him in His resurrected body, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). There are, of course, other passages that directly speak of Jesus as God, but since they are all disputed by some, I have chosen not to mention them here. Nevertheless, the passages cited serve to demonstrate, to those who are willing to believe the Bible, that Jesus is, in fact, God.

Furthermore, the writer of Hebrews, telling us what God had prophesied about Jesus, writes, “But to the Son He says: ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever’” (Hebrews 1:8). Also, he clearly identifies Jesus as the Jehovah and Elohim of Psalm 102:25-27, who eternally existed before He created the heavens and earth (cf. Hebrews 1:10), and who remains eternally the same (cf. Hebrews 1:11,12), and who is, in the person of Jesus Christ, “the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). To see in Hebrews 13:8, as some do, only a reference to the faithfulness of Jesus, and not a reference to His immutability, is a serious mistake. In fact, Jesus Christ’s faithfulness is grounded in His changelessness. Because He does not change ontologically (i.e., because He has always been the fullness of God that He is at this very moment), He has been, is, and always will be, completely and totally reliable. It is only in this sense that Jesus could identify Himself as the “I AM THAT I AM” or “He who is” of Exodus 3:14 (see also John 8:58). When Jesus said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM,” He used the aorist tense to describe Abraham’s existence, but the timeless present tense to describe His own existence, and thereby identified Himself as the self-existent, eternal, infinite, immutable God with a capital “G.” Well has it been said:

Lord, You have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever You had formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God (Psalm 90:1-2).

As difficult as it may be for finite creatures to even begin to comprehend, when the Divine Logos, or Son of God, became flesh (cf. John 1:14), or, as the Bible says elsewhere, came in the likeness of man (cf. Philippians 2:8), or was manifested in the flesh (cf. 1 Timothy 3:16), He did not divest, give up, or have stripped from Him, His Deity. Within the man Jesus of Nazareth dwelt, and continues to dwell (for such is the meaning of the present tense), all the fullness of the Godhead bodily, as Colossians 2:9 so clearly points out. In fact, from a Biblical standpoint, the historical Jesus is never understood apart from His embodiment as the self-existent, eternal, infinite, immutable God in time and space. And although it is true that a God divested of His Deity would still continue to exist, in truth, He would no longer be what He had been and, therefore, could not call Himself “I AM THAT I AM.”

Now, with a concept of the true God firmly imprinted in our minds, it is time to turn our attention to the various substitutes for God (i.e., idols) that men invent, even Christians, and we’ll do this, Lord permitting, in the next post in this series

This Is The Way I See It, Or Why I Voted For Ted Cruz

God Less America

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.

Ode To The Unknown God

The Unknown God — Acts 17

“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.

An Introduction

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:

  1. the obvious effort to make God in the image of man, something Romans 1:23 clearly identifies as idolatry; and
  2. 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 Almighty Is A Jealous God

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.

Secularization And Its Effect

Secularization Definition

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.

What Is Secularism?

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.

The Gravedigger Effect

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.”

Seduced By A Metaphor

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

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).

Hedonism

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

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.

Pluralism

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.

Conclusion

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.

The “My Church” Of Matthew 16:18 — The Church Without Laity (Conclusion)

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.

Neither “Headship,” “Oversight” Nor “Leadership” Authorize Domination

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!

Some Godly Examples

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).

If They Are Not Careful, Anyone Can Get Out Of Their Place

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.

Submitting To One Another

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.”

Authority Comes With Tremendous Responsibilities

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.

Superior Vs. Inferior Has Nothing At All To Do With It

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.

Not As Lords, But As Servants

“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.

“Decently And In Order”

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.

Think About It!

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

The “My Church” Of Matthew 16:18 — The Church Without Laity (VIII)

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.

The Feminization Of America

Feminist Books

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).

Feminist Books

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).

Neanderthals Aren’t Cool

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.

Feminist Books

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.

Feminist Books

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).

The Feminization Of A Culture And Its Results

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!

Real Men

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.

Lawful, But Not Necessarily Expedient

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.

The “My Church” Of Matthew 16:18 — The Church Without Laity (VII)

Church Business Meeting

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).

Without Elders, No One Has The Oversight

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.

So, What Are The Guidelines Without Elders?

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.

A Church Business Meeting

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.

What About The “No Women Allowed” 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.

“Authority” And The “Ruling Entity”

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.

Being Of The “Same Mind” And “Same Judgment”

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.