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

Ordained Minister

This is the fourth in a series of articles dealing with the uniqueness of the church purchased with the precious blood of Jesus Christ (cf. Acts 20:28). Unfortunately, this church remains unknown to most in the religious world. As strange as it may sound to our religious friends, the church of Jesus Christ does not have a Clergy or Laity, as do most religious organizations. And because it doesn’t, its preachers are not “credentialed” or “ordained,” as are most in the denominational world.

I have been asked on more than one occasion where and when I was “ordained.” When I have tried to explain that gospel preachers are not “ordained,” “credentialed,” or “called” in the ordinary denominational way, I have been rather quickly and summarily labeled a “lay preacher.” Although I reject the designation, I suppose this is about as close to understanding what a gospel preacher is that a denominationalist operating under the delusion of clericalism will be able to come up with. In point of fact, an evangelist or gospel preacher in no shape or fashion resembles most denominational preachers or clergymen. To understand this, it is important to understand some key words and their definitions.

Clericalism is the domination or rule of the “ordinary” members of a church by those ordained, trained, and invested with privilege and power. Such is the natural outcome of (1) a people who have eschewed Bible authority in favor of the think-sos of men and (2) the inevitable pressure placed upon religion by the world to specialize and centralize. As R. Paul Stevens has pointed out on page 52 of his interesting 1999 book, The Other Six Days: Vocation, Work, And Ministry In Biblical Perspective:

Clericalism is not only expressed in dominance through knowledge, position or exclusive right (as in sacramental ministry). It often gets expressed as disdain for the laity as unreliable, incompetent and unavailable. Increasingly, in a high-tech, fast-paced society, churches are hiring professionals for everything from childcare to financial management. Such disdain is expressed in the words of Sir John Lawrence: “What does the layman really want? He wants a building which looks like a church, a clergyman dressed in the ways he approves, services of the kind he’s been used to, and to be left alone” (Lawrence quote in Stott, One People, p. 36, emphasis in original).

According to Stevens, this is countered by anti-clericalism, which he describes as, “…the domination of the ‘laity’ and the rejection of ordained church leadership” (Ibid.).

Consequently, and according to the truths taught in the Bible, true New Testament Christianity will always be, as long as it remains authentic, anticlerical. In other words, the local church, although it is to be guided by a multiplicity of God-ordained leaders (elders, bishops, pastors), does not have, nor will it be seeking, a professionally trained and ordained seminarian as its leader or “pastor.” Such, as we learned in an earlier article, is totally foreign to God’s word. In fact, Paul was very careful to warn the churches of the first century that the God-ordained plan of several men meeting the qualifications of 1 Tim. 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9 (namely, an eldership) exercising the oversight of a local church would eventually be corrupted by those who made up these elderships because they desired to “draw away the disciples after themselves” (Acts 20:28-31).

Therefore, it is certainly disappointing, but not unexpected, that by the third century Christendom had almost totally and wholeheartedly adopted the clergy-laity distinction, an idea that was completely at odds with New Testament teaching. The “preverse things” (Acts 20:30) these elders or bishops would teach is first recorded in the words of Ignatius of Antioch (AD 50-110), who argued for the necessity of having a single bishop in order for there to be “unity” and “peace” in “the Catholic Church,” as he called it:

Plainly therefore we ought to regard the bishop as the Lord Himself [I Eph6:1], your godly bishop, the bishop presiding after the likeness of God and the presbyters after the likeness of the council of the Apostles, with the deacons also who are most dear to me, having been entrusted with the diaconate of Jesus Christ.” Therefore as the Lord did nothing without the Father, [being united with Him], either by Himself or by the Apostles, so neither do ye anything without the bishop and the presbyters. Be obedient to the bishop and to one another, as Jesus Christ was to the Father [according to the flesh], and as the Apostles were to Christ and to the Father, that there may be union both of flesh and of spirit. [I Mag 2:1,6:1,7:1,13:2] In like manner let all men respect the deacons as Jesus Christ, even as they should respect the bishop as being a type of the Father and the presbyters as the council of God and as the college of Apostles. Apart from these there is not even the name of a church. [I Tr 3:1] Follow your bishop, as Jesus Christ followed the Father, and the presbytery as the Apostles; and to the deacons pay respect, as to God’s commandment. He that honoureth the bishop is honoured of God; he that doeth aught without the knowledge of the bishop rendereth service to the devil [I Smy 8:1,9:1], Lightfoot translation (From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ignatius_of_Antioch).

Although he did this in the face of the continuing heresies of Docetism, Gnosticism, and Judaizing that had become so prevalent in the churches of the latter half of the first and early second century, it is interesting that the source listed above prefaced the quoted material by saying: “Ignatius is the first known Christian writer to put great stress on loyality to a single bishop in each city, who is assisted by both presbyters (priests) and deacons. Earlier writings only mention either bishops or presbyters, and give the impression that there was usually more than one bishop per congregation.”

About this, the on-line Catholic Encyclopedia says:

It is scarcely possible to exaggerate the importance of the testimony which the Ignatian letters offer to the dogmatic character of Apostolic Christianity. The martyred Bishop of Antioch constitutes a most important link between the Apostles and the Fathers of the early Church. Receiving from the Apostles themselves, whose auditor he was, not only the substance of revelation, but also their own inspired interpretation of it; dwelling, as it were, at the very fountain-head of Gospel truth, his testimony must necessarily carry with it the greatest weight and demand the most serious consideration. Cardinal Newman did not exaggerate the matter when he said (“The Theology of the Seven Epistles of St. Ignatius,” in Historical Sketches, I, London, 1890) that “the whole system of Catholic doctrine may be discovered, at least in outline, not to say in parts filled up, in the course of his seven epistles.” Among the many Catholic doctrines to be found in the letters are the following: the Church was Divinely established as a visible society, the salvation of souls is its end, and those who separate themselves from it cut themselves off from God (Philad., c. iii); the hierarchy of the Church was instituted by Christ (lntrod. to Philad.; Ephes., c. vi); the threefold character of the hierarchy (Magn., c. vi); the order of the episcopacy superior by Divine authority to that of the priesthood (Magn., c. vi, c. xiii; Smyrn., c. viii; Trall., c. iii); the unity of the Church (Trall., c. vi; Philad., c. iii; Magn., c. xiii); the holiness of the Church (Smyrn., Ephes., Magn., Trall., and Rom.); the catholicity of the Church (Smyrn., c. viii); the infallibility of the Church (Philad., c. iii; Ephes., cc. xvi, xvii); the doctrine of the Eucharist (Smyrn., c. viii), which word we find for the first time applied to the Blessed Sacrament, just as in Smyrn., viii, we meet for the first time the phrase “Catholic Church,” used to designate all Christians; the Incarnation (Ephes., c. xviii); the supernatural virtue of virginity, already much esteemed and made the subject of a vow (Polyc., c. v); the religious character of matrimony (Polyc., c. v); the value of united prayer (Ephes., c. xiii); the primacy of the See of Rome (Rom., introd.). He, moreover, denounces in principle the Protestant doctrine of private judgment in matters of religion (Philad. c. iii). The heresy against which he chiefly inveighs is Docetism. Neither do the Judaizing heresies escape his vigorous condemnation (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07644a.htm).

In that letter to the church of Smyrna referred to above, Ignatius’ exact words were, “Wheresoever the bishop appears, there let the people be, even as wheresoever Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.” It is only fitting, then, that his remains are today being venerated by the Roman Catholic Church as they repose in a church (“St. Clement”) in the city of Rome.

The Word “Clergy”

It is ironic but true (remember, the Devil loves irony) that the Greek word kleros, the word from which we get our English word “clergy,” is used in the Bible to refer to the whole people of God, not just a few (cf. Kittle and Friedrich, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, III, 763). In fact, all the people of God receive a “place” or “inheritance” (kleros) through the gospel. As Jesus is reported to have said to the apostle Paul, “I will deliver you from the Jewish people, as well as from the Gentiles, to whom I now send you, to open their eyes and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance [kleros] among those who are sanctified by faith in Me” (Acts 26:17-18). Nowhere does the Bible use this word to describe someone appointed to an office in the church. It is important to note that the word was not used to refer to “clergy” until the third century. It was at that time that “laity” began to be used, as well, for it goes without saying that a “laity” can only exist when it has an opposite against which to define itself, and throughout the first and second century there was simply no such opposite. Thus, it ought to be clear to anyone interested in what the Bible says about church matters that the clergy-laity distinction so prevalent in Christendom is totally unscriptural and an invention of man and makes up at least some of the “perverse things” of which Paul warned the first century church of (cf. Acts 20:30).

The church of the first century had no “laity.” All were “clergy,” in the Bible sense of that word, in that all members of the Lord’s church had obtained a “place,” “portion,” or “inheritance” in the kingdom of God. As such, those who make up the Lord’s church or kingdom are described as “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people” (1 Pet. 2:9), a “kingdom of priests” (Rev. 1:6), a “holy priesthood” that is able “to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 2:5). In such a place, there is no room for some earthly mediator or priest. The glorified man, Jesus Christ, who now rules as King of kings and Lord of lords, is not just our High Priest, but He is the only “man” authorized to be the Mediator between us and the Father (cf. 1 Tim. 2:5).

I wish that the denominational world could see, by faith, that glorious and all-sufficient church for which Christ died as it really is — truly a church without laity. However, I am afraid that the “clergy” will do their utmost to keep their counterparts ignorant about the true structure and governance of the Lord’s church. What a pity.

We’ll have more to say about this in the next article, Lord permitting.

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

Missionaries

This is the third in a series of articles dealing with the uniqueness of the church purchased with the precious blood of Jesus Christ (cf. Acts 20:28). Unfortunately, this church remains unknown to most in the religious world. As strange as it may sound to our religious friends, the church of Jesus Christ does not have a Clergy and Laity, as do most religious organizations. Consequently, many, even those who are worshiping with local churches of Christ, are confused about the work of so-called “missionaries.”

Foremost is the idea that there are only a few select, spiritually elite, individuals who are called to be “missionaries.” These, we are told, fulfill a very special role in the body of Christ and often at great peril to themselves. To bolster this idea, we hear some saying, “Not everyone can go, but most can give, and certainly all can pray.” At first, this appears to be just another way of saying that there is room for everyone to be involved in the kingdom of God, albeit in different ways. Consequently, it sounds quite biblical. It’s not. Nevertheless, there is just enough truth in this myth for Satan to make us feel comfortable when we embrace it. As a result, many of us fall into a deadly error — an error that says there really is a missionary elite (i.e., a specially favored, highly talented, relatively small group of Christians who are really God’s choice little band for evangelizing the world). The fact that all this corresponds so closely with what we see and hear further operates to make this seem even more plausible. After all, the number of those who actually go into foreign fields to preach and teach the gospel is relatively small. So, although we may not see ourselves as the missionary type (and few are, we console ourselves), we can surely give from our abundance to support these dedicated few, even if this entails digging a little deeper than usual. After all, foreign evangelism is something very special, we tell ourselves, and if, God forbid, we happen to be in a situation at the moment where we are unable to give, then we can always pray for the work and the safety of those involved.

“What could possibly be wrong with this scenario?,” you ask, and “How could such be unbiblical?” Simply this: The “going” that God commands of His people is not limited to an elite group of super-Christians, even as it was not limited to the apostles to whom it was first given. Further, it is not limited to far away places that inevitably involve the crossing of large bodies of salt water. On the contrary, the Lord calls every Christian to be a missionary. In doing so, He commands all of us to “Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). Yes, I realize that the Lord first directed this to His apostles, but most interpreters have understood that this wasn’t limited to them alone. In fact, and this by way of extension, it is every Christian’s “call” to the mission field — a field made up not only of exotic sounding places and far away locations, but one that includes our houses, our neighborhoods, and our communities. It includes the factories and offices where we work and the schools we attend. In reality, the mission field may be as unromantic and unexotic as that area just over our backyard fences. In other words, although we Christians are no longer “of the world,” through the precious blood of Jesus Christ, we are still “in the world” (John 17:6-19), and it is to this world — the one in which we live every day — that the Lord has called us to be missionaries.

So, with the undeserved fuss that is frequently made over “missionaries,” a group thought to be an elite band of super-Christians willing to make great personal sacrifices to preach and teach the gospel in far away places, many of us unwittingly fall into Satan’s snare as we alternately praise and feel sorry for this admired group (viz., the “some” who can go). Believing missionary work to be a task for the few, the rest of us, in moments brought about by guilt, or even by a desire for greater personal service, promise to pay for and pray for “our missionaries in foreign lands.” But in exaggerating the role of those who go great distances to communicate the gospel, we begin to underestimate the divine call to missions that is placed on all Christians. We soon forget that all of us are called upon to live in a mission field, and that all of us are, in fact, missionaries (and this no less or no more than those few who go the great distances). When this happens, the work the Lord left us here on this earth to do is seriously hampered.

We are sometimes lead in the song that says, “This world is not my home, I’m just a passing thru.” This sentiment is an integral part of a correct biblical worldview, for as Christians we are to understand that our citizenship is not here on earth, but in heaven (Philippians 3:20). Here we are but sojourners and pilgrims (2 Peter 2:11). What this means, then, is that wherever we are in this world is the mission field, and when every Christian gets this idea firmly entrenched in his or her mind, we’ll be doing a much better job of what it is the Lord left us here to do.
Does this mean that I think those who go into foreign fields are not to be admired for their work’s sake? Certainly not! Does it mean that I think they should not be supported? No! Does it mean that I think those in foreign fields do not need our prayers? Don’t be ridiculous! What I’m saying is that we must learn to view what the “missionaries” are doing as nothing more than an extension of the work we are all called upon to do. This is to say, mission work is not something “other than” what the rest of us should be doing. We are all in this together, and this is not because we are giving and praying, as we should be, but because we are all missionaries to a lost and dying world.

Our ancient adversary is a formidable foe who specializes in the “deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13). Therefore, it should not surprise us that a church that prides itself on being missionary-minded, and takes comfortable satisfaction in its support of foreign evangelism, reveling in the long roll of preachers it supports at home and abroad, can still be failing in its primary missionary responsibility. Indeed, it is a pathetic thing when a church that expends great amounts of money supporting the preaching of the gospel around the world, and rejoices in the saving of foreign souls, is made up of members who fail to see themselves as missionaries called to service in the army of the Lord. Failing to see themselves as “candidates” for the Marine Corps of evangelism (i.e., “a few good men”), they forget that they are actually “conscripts” who have been called upon to serve the Lord where they are. They forget the church is not the building where they assemble, but the body of Christ that gathers together on the Lord’s Day for worship, and then scatters into the world for service during the rest of the week, going to the unique places God has called them to go. Seduced by a lie and effectively destroyed by a myth, these Christians have caused the primary mission of the church (“to seek and save the lost”) to be seriously impaired as they imbibe the Laodicean legacy. Thinking themselves to be rich and in need of nothing, they do not realize they are “wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:17).

But, there is a remedy, and as always, it is to be found by turning to God’s Word.

When Christians turn to God’s Word for guidance, they will learn to think of themselves as missionaries.

When men go back into the business world on Monday, and they do so not just as an opportunity to make money, but because this is where Christ is sending them, they will see themselves as missionaries to the business world.

When the women of the church return to their tasks in the home, the neighborhood, and the world of commerce, and they do so not just because this is the nature of their lives, but because they are being sent by Christ to these places. They, too, will see themselves as missionaries.

When young men and women who have been taught God’s Word return to their schools and colleges not just to get an education, but because this is where Christ is sending them, they too will be missionaries.

In truth, the role of missionary is assigned to all in the kingdom of God, not just a few. Consequently, the true measure of a church is not necessarily to be found in its foreign evangelism budget or in the number of preachers it supports. It is, instead, to be found in the portion of its own members who understand that because they are saved by Christ, they are sent by Him as missionaries to a lost and dying world. In the plan and purpose of God, all are meant to go. Therefore, the idea that “some can go” falls far short of the truth.

Consequently, when churches of Christ return to their ancient heritage, rejecting as they should the traditions and think-sos of men, ideas that raise the work of foreign evangelism to pedestals to be exalted throughout the brotherhood, they will realize that God’s plan for missionary work is the only effective plan for missions.

When Christians understand the Bible as we should, we will be saying to ourselves and our fellow Christians that all can go, and therefore should; that all can give, and are, as a result, under obligation to do so; that all can pray, and that this is to be an essential part of going and giving, but that this must not be seen as a substitute for either one of these.

So, as a kingdom of priests, let us all rise to the missionary task set before us, and let us take consolation in the assurance that we can do all things required of us through Christ who gives us the strength (Philippians 4:13).

In the next article, we’ll examine some more characteristics of the church without laity.

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

Preacher with Bible

This is the second in a series of articles dealing with the uniqueness of the church purchased with the precious blood of Jesus Christ (cf. Acts 20:28). Unfortunately, this church remains unknown to most in the religious world. As strange as it may sound to our religious friends, the church of Jesus Christ does not have a Clergy and Laity, as do most religious organizations. Nor, as we learned in the previous article, does the N.T. authorize a pastor-system in which one man exercises “rule” over the local church. Instead, the Bible teaches the local church is to be served by a plurality of men (Acts 11:30; 14:23; 20:17; Jas. 5:14) who meet the qualifications of 1 Tim. 3:1-7 & Tit. 1:5-9 and are selected by the congregation they serve (Acts 6:3). These men, when scripturally qualified and selected, are “gifts” given by the Lord to local churches (cf. Eph. 4:7-16). This means that among churches of Christ faithful to the N.T. there can never be any organizational structure larger than the local church. This means that all the organizational and ecclesiastical structures in use in Christendom today are unscriptural and, as such, do not honor or glorify the Lord they claim to serve. Furthermore, the one-man pastor-system that pervades Christendom today dishonors the Lord and that glorious body for which He shed His precious blood.

Rightly rejecting, as they do, the ecclesiastical hierarchies and one-man pastoral systems that exist in most denominations today, local churches of Christ, when they have qualified men, always appoint a plurality of men to serve as elders/bishops/pastors, as the Scriptures dictate.

However, when qualified men are not available to serve the local church, there has all too often been the tendency to look for an evangelist/preacher/minister who can provide that leadership and direction. This is a gross misunderstanding of the role and function of the preacher/evangelist/minister.

“Preacher”

Paul was a preacher (1 Tim. 2:7; 2 Tim. 1:11). In Romans 10:14, he wrote, “How shall they hear without a preacher?” “Preacher” is translated from a Greek word (kerux) that means “a herald.” It describes one having a message to proclaim. The preacher is to herald or proclaim the word of God, the gospel or good news of God’s plan for saving mankind.

“Evangelist”

Both Philip (Acts 21:8) and Timothy (2 Tim. 4:5) are called evangelists. In the Greek, the word means “a messenger of good” (Vine), and describes one who brings the “good news” of the gospel. This work is identified as a gift of God for the benefit of the church in Eph. 4:11-12. Contrary to what some think, this word does not connote a traveling preacher. What is emphasized by the word is the message.

“Minister”

We find the term in Eph. 3:7, Col. 1:23,25; 1 Tim. 4:6. Of course, the Bible knows nothing of “the Minister” who is set apart and superior to other saints. However, the word, which in the Greek means “a servant,” emphasizes the relationship the preacher or evangelist has to those he teaches. Paul emphasized this concept when he called preachers “ministers through whom you believed” (1 Cor. 3:5).

1 Peter 4:11 says: “If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God. If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion for ever and ever. Amen.” All ministers may not be preachers, but every faithful preacher of the gospel is a minister of the Lord and to those who hear him.

But nowhere in God’s word is the preacher/evangelist/minister given the “oversight” or “rule” in the local church. Therefore, the idea of Evangelistic Oversight did not originate from the N.T.

The charge Paul gave to Timothy was to “Preach the word!” (2 Tim. 4:2). In doing so, he was to: “Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.” His charge to Titus was to “speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1). Thus, we have the work of an evangelist, or as might be considered, his duty, responsibility or office, which Paul made absolutely clear must be done if the evangelist is to fulfill his ministry (cf. 2 Tim. 4:5). The evangelist’s authority does not extend beyond that of an elder, nor can it be rightly assumed that he is free from the oversight of the elders, but should labor under them when a member of a church that is scripturally organized. But what about a situation where the church is without elders? Should not an evangelist take charge in such a situation? Did not Paul command Titus to take charge of the churches in Crete (cf. Titus 1:5)? Was this not the same point Paul made to Timothy when he mentioned to him the qualifications of elders and deacons in 1 Timothy 3:1-13?

No, Titus was not put “in charge” in Crete. Paul left him there to “set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city” (Titus 1:5), but there is nothing in the immediate context, or instructions found elsewhere in the N.T., that indicate that the preacher exercises any evangelistic oversight. Therefore, Paul’s instructions did not authorize “evangelistic oversight.” On the contrary, appointing elders would entail the preacher encouraging the congregation, through his preaching and teaching, to “seek out” from among themselves men meeting the Holy Spirit’s criteria. This would involve teaching the members their responsibilities, as well as conveying the actual qualifications set forth in Titus 1:5-9. Doing so did not put Titus “in charge” of anything but doing his work as an evangelist and fulfilling his ministry (cf. 2 Tim. 4:5).

Well, if the preacher/evangelist/ minister is not to “take charge” and “pastor” the flock, as we see being done in the denominational world, then what is the work of a preacher?

The Preacher’s Work As Revealed In The Scriptures

The preacher’s work that follows is gleaned from a study of Paul’s various instructions to Timothy and Titus.

First, because the preacher is not directly inspired today, he must devote himself to the study of the Scriptures so that in his lessons he is “rightly dividing the word of truth” (1 Tim. 4:13; 2 Tim. 2:15). Christians need to understand that the preacher in his study is just as much “on the job” as the preacher who is out “pounding the pavement.” Study is hard work. In fact, in some instances it can be as exhausting as physical labor, in that “much study,” the ancient preacher told us, “is wearisome to the flesh” (Eccl. 12:12). Some preachers, more inclined to be gregarious than others, spend their time visiting around the community and seeking opportunities to teach. This is well and good. However, they may find it difficult to buckle down for the hard, exhausting work of studying. The lack of study will show in their preaching and the brethren will start to complain. Surely, a faithful minister of the gospel will not become so entangled in the affairs of life that he cannot find the time to study. Unfortunately, some preachers receive “full time” support while devoting much of their time to fishing, golfing, selling, et cetera. But the Scriptures say that “no one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier” (2 Tim 2:4). So, although it is frequently overlooked, a preacher must spend a great deal of his time in studying God’s word, contemplating its application, and praying for its adoption.

Second, the work of a preacher is to “preach the word,” which includes convincing, rebuking and exhorting with all longsuffering and teaching (2 Tim. 4:2). There is an unwholesome trend among some brethren today to minimize the importance of pulpit preaching, and to over-emphasize other forms of evangelism. These want to measure a preacher’s effectiveness by how many cold calls he makes in “personal work.” Such an attitude is unfair in that it magnifies one kind of evangelism over against another. In truth, neither of these forms of evangelism should be ignored, for both pulpit and individual teaching are important. But to judge a preacher’s effectiveness by one or the other is a serious mistake. Paul said that he “kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house” (Acts 20:20). Further, the evangelist is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ “in season and out of season” (2 Tim. 4:2), which simply means when it is well received and when it’s not.

Third, the preacher is to “set in order the things that are lacking” (Titus 1:5). This includes, as the immediate context indicates, the appointing of elders. As we’ve already pointed out, this would involve teaching the members their responsibilities, as well as conveying the actual qualifications set forth in Titus 1:5-9. Further, the preacher must hold fast the pattern of sound words, charging some that they “teach no other doctrine” (1 Tim 1:3; Titus 1:10-14; 2 Tim. 1:13-14). He must warn the church against apostasy (1 Tim. 4:1-7; Acts 20:29-31). Even elders, when convicted of sin, must be publicly rebuked (1 Tim. 5:19-22; Titus 3:10-11).

Fourth, the preacher’s work involves training others so they can be effective servants of Christ: “And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2). This would entail teaching the younger men with the view that they will develop into elders, deacons and preachers. When a preacher has done his duty to train others, the work continues to move forward even when he is absent preaching and teaching elsewhere, or when he moves on to another work. A congregation that has talented men who have been taught well are able to function effectively without a “full time” evangelist, if need be.

Fifth, the preacher is called upon by God to be “an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity” (1 Tim. 4:12; 5:22). The man doing these things will be an asset to the local church and will, no doubt, be highly esteemed in love for his work’s sake (1 Thess. 5:13). Being fully supported to preach the gospel on a regular basis is a privilege and trust that must never be abused by those who desire to live faithfully before the Lord.

In the next article, we plan to delve a bit further into our investigation of the church without laity.

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

The "My Church" Of Matthew 16:18

The church purchased with the precious blood of Jesus Christ is unique (cf. Acts 20:28). It is most unfortunate that it remains a church unknown to most. Astoundingly, it is a church without laity, and it is this feature that we’ll be focusing on in this series of articles. But to do so, it is necessary to begin this story at the beginning.

Before His death on the cross some two thousand years ago, Jesus declared, “I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18b, KJV). It is, therefore, this church — the “My church” of Matthew 16:18 — on which we’ll be concentrating our attention. But to see this church as Christ created it will not be easy for some because they will come to this study with various denominational preconceptions about what the church belonging to Christ ought to look like. Nevertheless, in order to understand and appreciate the uniqueness of this church, it is required that one reject, at least for the moment (and I hope permanently), all denominational thinking, for it is just such thinking that has caused the church without laity to be marginalized and unappreciated for most of the last two thousand years.

Therefore, I ask all of you who read here to make a genuine effort to free your minds of the denominational clutter that so easily besets us and to be willing to open your Bibles in a study of a subject that is of paramount importance to us all, in that it has to do with where we will be spending an eternity.

Acts 2 records the founding of the “My church” of Matthew 16:18. It took place after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension into Heaven in A.D. 30. As the gospel of Jesus Christ was preached by His apostles on that first Pentecost after the Lord’s ascension, a day that was later referred to by the apostle Peter as “the beginning” (Acts 11:15), those who heard and obeyed the message were added to the church by the Lord Himself (cf. Acts 2:47). It has been this way ever since.

The Church Is A “Called-out” Group Of People

The church that the Lord added people to at its beginning was a “called out” or “gathered people” (for such is the meaning of ekklesia, the Greek word often translated “church” in the New Testament) that did not consist of a clergy-laity distinction, as do most religious bodies today. On the contrary, Christ’s church, a church He purchased with His own blood (cf. Acts 20:28; Hebrews 10:29), consists entirely of a priesthood of believers who have been “baptized into Christ” (Galatians 3:27 Romans 6:3). It was Peter himself who said to all baptized believers: “You also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5). In another place, he said, “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). Therefore, the church belonging to Christ is a called-out group of people who make up a priesthood of all believers. As such, they are able to offer their own sacrifices to God without any earthly mediators.

Ironically, and I say this because current practices in many Protestant churches belie this idea, the watchword of the Protestant Reformation was “the priesthood of all believers.” Luther himself said: “All Christians are priests and all priests are Christians. (Babylonian Captivity of the Church, Vol. 2, p. 283). It was even earlier than this that Augustine, who is so greatly admired and venerated by Roman Catholics, wrote, “None of the faithful doubts that the priesthood of the Jews was a figure of that royal priesthood which is in the Church, to which are consecrated all who belong to the Body of Christ, the sovereign and true Head of all priests” (Augustine, Quaestionum Evangeliorum, ii, 322ff, quoted in Paul F. Palmer, SJ, “The Lay Priesthood: Real or Metaphysical?,” Theological Studies, Vol. 8 [1947], p. 583).

But in quoting these two men, one a Catholic and the other a Protestant, I have really gotten a little ahead of the story I wish to tell. My point in quoting them at this time is simply this: many years after the “My church” of Matthew 16:18 was established, prominent Catholics and Protestants recognized that in the New Testament, and this is going to be a complete surprise to some who read this, there was no concept of a “priesthood within the priesthood” of all believers. In the “My church” of Matthew 16:18 there was no laity, period. All were priests. In fact, not only did Christ’s church not have a laity over which earthly priests were to exercise authority, there was absolutely no clergy-laity distinction to be found in Christ’s church.

Defining Terms

Even though clergy and laity are frequently used terms today, it cannot be assumed that all understand how these terms are being used here. Permit me, then, a little time and space to define terms. Depending on the specific denominational context, the laity are defined by function (namely, they do not administer the Word and “sacraments”), by status (they do not have a “Rev.” in front of their names), by location (they serve primarily in the world), by education (they are not theologically trained), by remuneration (they are not full-time, paid “ministers”), and by lifestyle (they are not considered overtly religious, but are primarily occupied with secular life). Notice that these qualifications are mostly negative. On the flip side of this coin, the clergy are defined positively with reference to the things mentioned above. As such, the clergy dominate the work and function of the various churches they “serve.”

A Departure From “The Faith”

During the first century, a century that had revealed to it “the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3b), Christ’s church existed exclusively without any clergy-laity distinctions. It was not until the second and third centuries, when rank apostasy had produced a man-made ecclesiastical order in the church, that a definite clergy-laity distinction clearly manifested itself. Such remains in place until now in many different denominations. This man-made innovation was the result of three major influences:

  1. a man-made molding of the original, godly structure of the New Testament church into the image of the secular structures of the Greek-Roman world which, incidentally, were not unlike the professional-lay distinctions we find in our own modern societies;
  2. the transference of the Old Testament priesthood model to the leadership of the church;
  3. the false, but popular, piety that elevated the Lord’s Supper to a mystery which required priestly administration. After all, if the utterly false idea of transubstantiation is believed (a doctrine that says the fruit of the vine and unleavened bread of the Lord’s Supper, when blessed, actually turn into the literal body and blood of Jesus Christ), then it is only natural to think that special care and handling of such must be given by a select few who can correctly administer said “sacrament.”

However, and this is always the case, such developmental theology was the product of men and, therefore, did not reflect the truths taught in the New Testament.

The Lord Established Only One Church

Jesus Christ established only one church (sometimes referred to as a “body”) of which He, and He alone, is the Head (cf. Ephesians 1:22-23; 4:4; Colossians 1:18). Consequently, “the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5), and this refers to the ascended and glorified Jesus, functions as this body’s High Priest and only Mediator (cf. the book of Hebrews). Thus, the church belonging to Christ needs no earthly mediator through which it offers its sacrifices, and any such vicarious system is a perversion of the “My church” of Matthew 16:18. As such, this universal body of believers has no earthly head or organizational structure. This means that all ecclesiastical structures, whether they be Catholic or Protestant, are not just extra-biblical, but anti-biblical as well. “In Him” (Colossians 2:10), and this is to say in connection with Jesus Christ, the church is complete, and because it is, it needs no exalted priestly caste, like the old Jewish system, to intercede or mediate on its behalf.

Nevertheless, the Lord instructed His called out group of people—that is, His church—to organize themselves into local congregations. These were sometimes referred to as “churches of Christ” (Romans 16:16). Consequently, within the pages of the New Testament, we can read about the church at Corinth (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:2), the churches of Galatia (cf. Galatians 1:2), the saints that made up the church at Ephesus (cf. Ephesians 1:1), Philippi (cf. Philippians 1:1), and Colosse (cf. Colossians 1:2). We can further read of churches at Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea (cf. Revelation 2-3). The men in these local congregations who had the “oversight” (the Greek word here is episkopeo, from which we derive the word “bishop”), were called “elders” in 1 Peter 5:1-5. The English word “elders” is translated from the Greek presbuteros, from which is derived the transliterated term “presbyters.” Therefore, an elder (or presbyter) was a bishop (that is, one who exercised oversight) in a local congregation. This is borne out by the immediate passage under consideration, and by others, like 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9, where the qualifications of these men are discussed in some detail.

In the apostle Paul’s letter to Timothy, he calls these unique men “bishops,” but in Titus he refers to the same group of men as not just “bishops,” but also as “elders.” Consequently, the Scriptures make it clear that an elder and a bishop in local churches of Christ were not different offices (or functions), but were terms that described the maturity of the men (they were elders, or older men) who exercised the oversight (or bishopric) in a local congregation. In Peter’s instructions, we learn that these men were to “feed” the flock of God which was among them (cf. 1 Peter 5:2). The NKJV translates this word as “shepherd,” while the ASV says “tend.” The Greek word so translated is poimaino, from which we get the word “pastor.” So, according to the New Testament, the terms elder, bishop and pastor are used interchangeably of the same man, and are not titles, per se, but serve to describe who and what these men are in connection with the “flock,” or local church, of which they are members. But when those in these churches started changing the government of the local church, mimicking the Greek-Roman culture in which they lived, they developed an ecclesiastical order that conferred a higher ranking on a bishop than they did an elder, eventually granting to bishops oversight over more than the local church of which they were members.

Always A Plurality

On top of everything else, and this is going to be another big surprise for some of you, elders, bishops and pastors, who were the overseers of local churches of Christ, were always referred to in the Scriptures in the plural. In others words, when the apostle Paul was in Miletus and wanted to speak with the leaders of the Ephesian church, he sent and called for “the elders [plural] of the church” (Acts 20:17). This is not a surprise for the careful Bible student, for in Acts 14:23 we learn that Paul and Barnabas, in their second missionary journey, had “appointed elders [plural] in every church.” Also, in a letter written to Christians everywhere, James assumes the established order in every church would be “elders” (plural), for he instructed Christians, no matter where they were, to “call for the elders [plural] of the church” (James 5:14). One can conclude, then, that the New Testament order was that if a local church had elders (and this was not a given, for there would not always be men with the necessary qualifications), there would always be at least two of them.

Therefore, according to the New Testament, a local church that was scripturally and fully organized had a plurality of elders/bishops/pastors who exercised oversight in that local church. These men had to meet certain stringent qualifications (cf. 1 Timothy 3; Titus 1) and be selected by the local church of which they were members (cf. Acts 6:3). Consequently, one man could not scripturally exercise oversight in a local church, as is done in many denominational churches today. It was not until the 2nd century, in the face of various heresies (Docetism, Gnosticism, and Judaizing tendencies) that Ignatius of Antioch (A.D. 50-110) argued for having a single bishop so that doctrinal unity could be maintained. By the time of the writings of Tertullian (A.D. 197-200), a structure for the church consisting of ordinary members who were served by a priestly or ecclesiastical order of bishops, presbyters and deacons, was already in place.

In the 3rd century, the Syrian Didascalia Apostolorum in the East devoted five chapters to the office of bishop, claiming that bishops were “priests and prophets, and princes and leaders and kings, and mediators between God and his faithful, and receivers of the word, and preachers and proclaimers thereof, and knowers of the Scriptures and of the utterances of God, and witnesses of his will, who bears the sins of all, and are to give answer for all” (translated by R.H. Connolly [Oxford: Claredon Press, 1929], page 80).

Meanwhile in the West, Cyprian, who was the bishop of Carthage, and therefore a usurper of the biblically ordained government of the church, which recognized no earthly church government larger than that which was contained to the local church, modeled his church order on the civil orders of the rulers of the city of Carthage. In doing so:

  1. He made a clear distinction between the order of bishops and the laity.
  2. He sacralized the priesthood according to the Old Testament model of the sacrificial priesthood.
  3. He established a monolithic episcopate that was to be the same for all of Africa
  4. He linked ministry to sacrifice, again in the image of the Temple priesthood.
  5. He modeled the bishops in the image of the Roman senators.
  6. He consolidated the supposed ruling powers of the bishops through various means, such as episcopal conclaves.
  7. He further argued that anyone who separates from a bishop, separates from the church.

Consequently, in less than two centuries, the church, which was now to be identified with Christendom, had moved from a community of priests to a separate clergy that vicariously represented both the priestly and kingly rule of the people belonging to Christ.

According to the New Testament, however, the plurality of men who were appointed elders/bishops/pastors in local churches of Christ did not exercise their oversight “as being lords over” those who had been entrusted to them, but as “examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:3). In the chart below, one can see the erroneous view of the church as developed by man contrasted with the New Testament view.

Looking at this chart, it is easy to see the stark difference between what God ordained and what man ultimately created. Elders/bishops/pastors, although they are entrusted with the oversight of the local church, are not something other than or more than their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Accordingly, they exercise their oversight not as “lords,” but as “examples” of what pure, unadulterated Christianity is all about.

Even so, from the 4th to the 16th centuries, the clergy-laity distinction grew even worse. After his “conversion” in A.D. 312, and please note the quotation marks, the Roman emperor, Constantine, appointed bishops as civil magistrates throughout the Roman empire. He also organized the various churches into dioceses along the pattern of Roman regional districts. Furthermore, he consistently used the terms “clerical” and “cleric” to designate a privileged class. By the time of the Gregorian reform (A.D. 1057-1123), the structure of the entire Western (or Roman Catholic) Church was shaped by Roman Law. Therefore, in the period prior to the Protestant Reformation:

  1. the bishop of Rome came to be regarded as the head of the Roman Catholic Church, which claimed to be the church of Christ on earth;
  2. the language of worship ceased to be the language of the people;
  3. the clergy dressed differently and were prepared for ministry in a seminary;
  4. the clergy became celibate, and thus distant from the normal experiences of the laity;
  5. the cup, or fruit of the vine, was removed from the laity in the “Eucharist,” the term by which the Lord’s Supper came to be identified by the Romanists.

In due course, the clergy-laity distinction became institutionalized in religious orders, priestly ordination, and the seminary system.

Clergy-Laity Distinction Continued Among The Protestants

Even the Protestant Reformation, with its call to recover “the priesthood of all believers,” did not succeed in reinstating the laity as one dignified people called to service by means of their membership in the church belonging to Christ. Why the full implications of “the priesthood of all believers” was not fully realized in the churches spawned by the Protestant Reformation is an interesting question. Some of the reasons why are as follows:

  1. The Reformation was primarily concerned with soteriology (i.e., salvation) than ecclesiology.
  2. The priesthood of all believers was interpreted according to its effect on individual salvation. But with regard to the collective religious experience, it was “business as usual.”
  3. The preacher or “Rev.” replaced the priest.
  4. The sermon became the central act of Protestant worship—the Protestant “Christ-event,” if you will. In turn, this gave the preacher the same clerical standing as the Catholic officiant at the Mass, even though he now wore a Geneva gown.
  5. The scholarship inferred in such a ministry ultimately succeeded in once again taking the Bible out of the hands of the layperson and putting it in the hands of the seminary-trained scholar.

In the evolution of Western society from A.D. 500 to 1500, a period referred to by some, and I think rightly so, as the “Dark Ages,” the common man (or layperson) had lost access to high culture and learning. As early as the 8th century, the language of scholarship and worship had ceased to be the language of the people, and was, instead, Latin.

Although the Reformation spawned denominations that took seriously the priesthood of all believers, like the Quakers, Moravians, Puritans, Baptists and Anabaptists, Methodists, Disciples of Christ et al., which were all lay oriented, even these denominations—denominations that stemmed from the so-called “radical reformation”—have now gravitated to the pre-Reformation clergy-laity distinction.

These churches eventually adopted the Catholic seminary system. While exceptions do exist, the seminary system, which was fully developed by the 19th century, became the universal model for equipping a generation of “pastors,” thus ensuring their enculturation into a clerical culture. Today, theological education remains, for the most part, the exclusive preoccupation of those intending a career in “the ministry” (read clergy). Ordination is still retained almost universally for the full-time, supported, church worker. Most denominations still regard the ordination process as conferring a priestly character. Para-church organizations not withstanding, there are no denominations that ordain people to secular careers and missions. In fact, “lay” spirituality is something that is rarely taught and promoted. Although the Reformation rejected the two-level spirituality of the monastery and common Christian, Protestant spirituality, with few exceptions, has focused either on charismatic and mystical experiences, or on the deeper spiritual life of outstanding church leaders. Consequently, there has been little exploring of the holiness of the ordinary Christian in the totality of his or her life: eating, sleeping, working, buying and selling, playing, having sexual relations, and dying. It is clear, then, that in all these years Christendom has not become free of the Greek dualism that relegates bodily life to a lower, less important, even insignificant, level of existence.

When thinking about all this, it is imperative we recognize that the same cultural and social forces that were at work in Christendom during the sixteen centuries before the Protestant Reformation (secular management models; professional-lay analogies; the tendency to deal with outside threats by increasing central government) are still at work even today. Therefore, the fleshly predisposition to a clergy-laity model must be continuously fought by all who would honor the church for which Christ died—the “My church” of Matthew 16:18. Addressing the need to reject the current clergy-laity model, D. Elton Trueblood (1900-1994), who was a Quaker, went so far as to call for a new Reformation:

Our opportunity for a big step lies in opening the ministry of the ordinary Christian in much the same manner that our ancestors opened Bible reading to the ordinary Christian. To do this means, in one sense, the inauguration of a new Reformation while in another it means the logical completion of the earlier Reformation in which the implications of the position taken were neither fully understood nor loyally followed (E. Trueblood, Your Other Vocation, page 32).

Abolishing the clergy-laity model and recovering the unique dignity of the whole people of God is — in theory as well as practice — a tall order indeed. Lord willing, it is precisely this glorious pursuit we’ll explore in the next article in this series.

Gender & Worship (Conclusion)

Femenism vs. God

I have frequently thought that if we would 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 Corinthians 10:23).

Being Lawful Doesn’t Equate With Expedient

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. Is our collective thinking up to speed on this, brotherhood wise? In other words, do most churches of Christ believe there is a “thus sayeth the Lord” for congregational business meetings? No. Are there some congregations that think there are? Yes. But even when a congregation concludes it does have authority to do so, even desiring to implement such a policy, are there reasons why such may not be expedient? Yes. For example, due to so many misconceptions that exist concerning this subject (some in the church and others in the culture), is there reason to think that some women might have a tendency to get out of their place in such meetings? And if they do get out of line, will the rest be willing to rebuke them, and take the necessary action if they don’t repent of their ungodly behavior? Or, might not a husband try to defend his wife even when it is clear to the rest that she has gotten out of her place? 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 would like to see this happen in more churches of Christ — but the pertinent question still remains: Is it expedient? Remember, just because something is lawful doesn’t automatically mean it is expedient, or that it truly edifies (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:23).

Neither “Headship,” “Oversight,” Nor “Leadership” Authorizes 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. 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 the ultimate authority for this relationship is not Allan Turner — it is, instead, 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., if I don’t “dwell with her according to knowledge,” 1 Peter 3:7), then I am not what the Lord requires me to be, and our prayers will be hindered. But how can I understand her if I’m not willing to discuss these 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 kinds 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 elderships exercising their “oversight”/“rule” in local churches at the expense of 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 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 Peter 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 the subject of congregational business meetings? 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 the women they consult usurp their authority, 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 exercise authority over the men. This could happen, of course, but not necessarily so!

Remember, if you will, that sweet Priscilla, a godly Christian woman, along with her husband, “took [Apollos] aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately” (Acts 18:26). The KJV and the ASV translate this same Greek word as “expounded.” Most assuredly, she did this without either “teaching [over] or exercising authority over a man” (1 Timothy 2:12). Remember, also, that dear sister Phoebe was a servant (a “minister,” if you will) of the “church in Cenchrea” (Romans 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 Timothy 2:12).

Yes, women may get “out of line” or “out of their place” in a meeting of the church to discuss business, and this must be guarded against by all involved. However, even men sometimes get “out of line” or “out of their place” in business meetings, and this is no less sinful than if women were to do so. Perhaps a reading of Philippians 2:1-8 at the start of business meetings would be beneficial to all involved.

Therefore, if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a servant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.

We must learn that 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,” as it would with congregational business meetings, as well.

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” (James 3:15). It reflects the mass stampede for power, recognition, status and prestige we see all around us in a lost and dying world. But the world’s reasoning is invalid. Authority does not authenticate me as a person made in the image of God. Authority is not a privilege to be exploited to build up my ego. Authority is a responsibility one bears for the benefit of others without regard for one’s self. This is the Christian view. In other words, my personal significance is not measured according to my rung on the ladder. Neither is my opportunity for personal fulfillment enlarged or diminished according to the role I have been assigned. If it is, then the goal of life degenerates into competition for power, and when this happens, then no one hungers and thirsts for the true fulfillment that comes only from doing righteousness. The ancient preacher said, “Let us hear the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Eccles. 12:13). Godly submission honors and glorifies God just as much as godly authority, and neither of these is easier than the other. For a woman to learn godly submission and for a man to learn godly leadership takes devotion and work. Devoted to God and the male-female roles He ordained, we work hard to exemplify these roles to the glory of God.

Contrary to what some think, the Bible does not teach that men are superior and that women are inferior. Thus, man’s authority is a responsibility, a God-given trust, for the good of all. It is not a right of man to exercise for his own self-exaltation or ego-satisfaction. And it is not so much a prerogative as it is a calling. It is, in fact, a duty, an obligation, a charge that God has given to man. It is unfortunate that sin has distorted both masculinity and femininity. Consequently, it is only “in Christ” that one can expect to learn what mature masculinity and mature femininity are all about.

“Authority,” whether in the home or church, is vested in men. However, any and all power associated with such authority recedes before its responsibility. In Matthew 20:25-26, the Bible says: “But Jesus called them to Himself and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant.’” Therefore, mature Christian masculinity views leadership/authority as an obligation to be borne (a sacred duty to be discharged for the good of others, if you will), not simply as a right to assert or power to exercise.

Conclusion

In conclusion, and in consideration of 1 Corinthians 14:40, which says, “Let all things be done decently and in order,” it seems prudent that a meeting called to address the business of a church without elders would benefit from (1) an agenda of business to be discussed and (2) a presiding “chairman” to facilitate the meeting. If executed well, 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 require it to be done this way, is simply not scriptural, in that it cannot be demonstrated that the Bible teaches any such thing!

However, and as I’ve already mentioned, a congregational meeting of men and women to discuss business, although scriptural, may simply not be deemed expedient. In that case, and consistent with the prohibitions of 1 Timothy 2:11-12, 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 a whole congregation without first considering what the women are thinking? I don’t think it can be, unless you buy into the argument that a “men’s business meeting” is the “ruling entity” for the church. However, and as I’ve pointed out in this series of articles, 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 who make up the 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, then, women 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 chair the meeting, could then report to the men what the women thought about the business 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 the 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.

In a congregation without elders, this is, in my judgment, the only scriptural avenue available. 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, it seems to me that 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. It is my prayer that the Lord will help us do His will in His way.

Please, think seriously about what I’ve said. 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, is 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). All who make up such a church should be determined to be the kind of men and women who 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, as God intended. They must be praying for and working toward that day, and the Lord will surely bless them as they endeavor to do His will in all things.

May the good Lord bless us all as we continue to humbly study His word.

Gender & Worship (IV)

Gender Roles in the Chruch

Many have come to believe that a congregational meeting called to discuss the business of a local church would contravene the “keep silent” prohibition of 1 Corinthians 14:34. I do not think so. However, I urge extreme caution in dealing with this matter. Why? Because if congregational business meetings do violate the Scriptures, then it would be nothing less than “shameful” to engage in them (“for it is shameful for women to speak in church,” 1 Corinthians 14:35). “Shameful,” not in Paul´s sight, but in God´s sight. Thus, it is imperative we take the time to study this subject thoroughly, making sure we have prayerfully considered each and every nuance of the question, and all this before beginning the practice.

It must be kept in mind that this issue is not just a matter of personal conviction. It is, instead, a matter that effects the whole church. Consequently, if a congregation rushes ahead, commencing the practice, while there are those in the church who could not conscientiously agree with them on the implications of the “keep silent” mandate of 1 Cor. 14:34, then they would be forcing these folks to violate their consciences in order to participate in such a meeting. This would involve not just them in sin, but those who compelled them as well (cf. Rom 14:23). On the other hand, if the actions of the church force some to conscientiously refrain from participating in such meetings, thereby creating a schism in the local congregation which might ultimately result in those not inclined to participate to leave and go somewhere else where congregational business meetings are not engaged in, this, I believe, would not be just unfortunate, but counter to the injunction of Eph. 4:1-3, which says: “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to have a walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with long-suffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Therefore, before we let this matter divide us, it must be lovingly and thoroughly studied.

I wish to make it clear that I believe congregational meetings called to discuss the business of a local church are totally scriptural. By “congregational meetings,” I mean meetings that include all baptized members of the local church, whether they be male or female. By “business,” I mean those things having to do with the legitimate function of a local church.

The Jerusalem Church Example

The church at Jerusalem had not been in existence very long when “there arose a murmuring against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution” (Acts 6:1). The twelve apostles, who were members of the Jerusalem church, “summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, ‘It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables.´ Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:2-4). Notice that they called together “the multitude of the disciples.” That this excluded women cannot be credibly argued, and if not, then women were involved in making a decision about the men who would “serve tables” in the Jerusalem church, and did so without teaching over or exercising authority over the men present. While you’re thinking about this, keep in mind what transpired here is what we’ve called “and approved apostolic example.”

In a popular workbook used by brethren that argues that women are scripturally prohibited from participating in business meetings, one of the authors writes:

Notice that the Apostles (v. 2) took the lead in this matter. They simply ask the disciples (yes, that included men and women) to select seven men from among them. Notice who would do the appointing: “whom we may appoint over this business.”

In an apparent effort to diminish the implications of these verses, the author makes the point that the apostles “took the lead in this matter.” Yes, and rightly so, for women were prohibited from exercising authority over men; but this is not really the issue, is it? What is at issue is whether the women, along with the men, engaged in selecting the seven men that were set before the apostles for ordaining. If they did, and I don´t see how anyone can deny it, then women, consistent with their God-ordained roles, participated in the “business” of selecting these seven men. In other words, here we have an “approved example” and a “necessary conclusion” that women may participate in church business meetings. Therefore, when the writer said, “They simply asked the disciples to select seven men from among them,” his “simply” serves to reduce the importance of what was taking place, and this is that even with the presence of apostles, it was deemed appropriate for the whole church to be involved in selecting its servants. Therefore, when men today, in the absence of elders, and viewing a men´s business meeting as the “ruling entity” of the church, exclude women from the decision making process, informing them, after the fact, of their decisions, they are not honoring the teaching of God’s inspired word. I used the term “ruling entity” because this is the term used in the workbook mentioned above. In fact, this is exactly what was said:

Leadership in the local church belongs to men. A decision making business meeting is in itself a ruling entity…. 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.

The Men’s Business Meeting As The “Ruling Entity” Of The Local Church

As I see it, the mistake these men make is thinking that, in the absence of elders, a men’s business meeting, which has never been anything more than an expedient, is somehow the de facto ruling entity of the local church. According to Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, “entity” is defined as:

1 a: BEING, EXISTENCE; eps: independent, separate, or self-contained existence b: the existence of a thing as contrasted with its attributes 2: something that has separate and distinct existence and objective or conceptual reality.

This being the case, when did a men’s business meeting, which, by default, probably doesn’t have more than one man who could meet the qualifications of an elder (otherwise there could be an eldership) become the “ruling entity” of the local church? In other words, where in the Bible is the direct statement, approved example, or necessary conclusion that such is the case? There aren’t any, as far as I can tell. Even so, Christian men have been willing to pontificate their erroneous views on this, as the following quote indicates:

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).

Here I believe a compounding of errors takes place. First, some conclude that only men are to be involved in making decisions for the church, arguing that such “authority” belongs to males only. If we were discussing the oversight and rule of an eldership, then I would readily concede the point; but we’re not. What’s under discussion is a men’s business meeting functioning as the sole decision-making entity for the church. I maintain there is absolutely no authority for this, and if there is, then someone should cite book, chapter, and verse for it. This error is then compounded by the argument that if women were permitted to participate in a congregational business meeting, they would somehow be exercising authority over the men of the church. But how so?

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 was not to exercise 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, and as I’ve indicated over and over again in this study, I do not believe a woman can “teach or exercise authority over a man” (1 Tim. 2:12). I further believe that the  “keep silent in the churches” prohibition of 1 Corinthians 14:34 prevents her from speaking out of order or exercising any authority over men in the assemblies of the church. However, the only men the New Testament identifies as having the “rule” or “oversight” in the local church are elders/bishops/pastors (1 Timothy 5:17; 1 Peter 5:2; Acts 20:28). Therefore, and here’s my point, the only “ruling entity” in the local church is a plurality of men (viz., the eldership) who meet certain specific, as well as extensive, qualifications that were articulated by the apostle Paul under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Consequently, if an eldership existed in a local church, then a “men’s business meeting” would not, and could not, be viewed as a “ruling entity.” The fact that many now believe it is, is without any scriptural authority. This means that in the absence of elders a “men’s business meeting” is not the de facto “ruling entity” for the church. In fact, in the absence of elders, it is my contention that there is absolutely no ruling entity that exists in the local church. This in no way diminishes male leadership, for it is the whole church, under the leadership of men, that is to decide a matter. In such meetings, women, who are not permitted to teach or exercise authority over men, would not take the lead, just as they do not do so when the whole church comes together for worship.

Forced to concede that women ought not to be excluded from such meetings, some will say, “Okay, okay, I’ll not object to women being in the business meeting, but they’re going to have to remain silent, as per 1 Corinthians 14:34-35.” But does 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 really prevent women from saying anything? No, no more than it prevents women from singing in a worship assembly or speaking in a Bible class. As long as women do not teach or exercise authority over a man, they are in their place — the very place God put them. Therefore, a decision made by the whole church, under the guidance and leadership of men, does not, nor can it, by definition, exercise authority over anyone, as it is a decision of the whole church — namely, a decision with which the whole church agrees. This is what happened in Acts 6:5 and Acts 15:22, even though in each of these cases there were men in the congregations who had God-given authority to rule, namely, apostles and elders.

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 sometimes difficult (and this is why elders are such a blessing), but not impossible, for a congregation to come to an 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 possible to arrive at a consensus of opinion, and to do so without someone (an evangelist) or group (men’s business meeting) being “in charge.” It is regrettable 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 charge. However, and as it has already been noted, elders do not exercise themselves as “lords” over those who have been “entrusted” to them, but as “examples to the flock” (1 Peter 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 Corinthians 1:10). In lieu of elders, a men’s business meeting does not operate as the “ruling entity,” and New Testament Christians must break free from all man-made doctrines, including the one that says it is only the men’s business meeting that can make decisions in a church without elders. Without elders, decisions must be made by the whole church.

When this happens consistent with the principles laid down in the Scriptures, women do not exercise authority over the men in the church, as it is not the women who are making the decision, but the whole church. This is not just a matter of semantics, as some may claim, for a decision made by the whole congregation, with the men exercising their leadership roles, is not itself a “ruling entity,” for such would be, by definition, a subset of the church, not the whole church itself. And because the only subset of the church that the Bible talks about that has oversight or rule is the eldership, a men’s business meeting cannot be a “ruling entity” for the church.

The Feminization Of Culture

But don’t misunderstand what I’m saying, for I am not arguing that it is right for a woman, uninvited, to be in a “men’s business meeting.” I believe a men’s business meeting cannot only be a lawful expedient, but it can be a loving one as well. In other words, although I believe the Bible teaches both men and women can come together to discuss the business of the church, I also believe that current cultural conditioning has made this a very thorny issue that is fraught with various dangers. The feminization of Western culture — and 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 all the battles. As a result, a family structure where the husband/father is accepted and honored as the head is practically nonexistent, or seriously diminished, in our culture. 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 “shuttle-cock” outfit Afghan women were forced to wear under the repressive regime of the Taliban is not, it may surprise you, just a Taliban invention. It is worn many places in the Muslim world. It is an interpretation of Shari’ah (Muslim law) that requires a 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. No doubt many Christian ladies were appalled by the thought of the oppressiveness of being forced to wear such an outfit. But I am afraid that even 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 their sacred assemblies.

Of course, the women of Corinth were not culturally liberated, and a head covering of some sort was evidently mandated as a symbol of their subjection. But, because the women were “all one” in Christ Jesus equally with the men, some apparently thought it would be okay for them to take their coverings off in the assemblies of the saints. But Paul says they could not. He 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 used the primacy of man as one of his arguments for a woman not teaching nor usurping authority over a man in 1 Tim. 2:13. Therefore, if our current 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 in our society, I do not believe women should feel obligated to put one on when they come into our assemblies. Of course, if they still think they should, then they must not violate their consciences. However, just because women in our culture are not required to wear coverings to show their subjection, and therefore are not required to wear coverings when they worship in our assemblies, does not mean 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 nor exercise authority over men. This does not, as we’ve seen, prohibit women from being in congregational business meetings. Nevertheless, their participation would have to be consistent with their God-ordained roles.

Therefore, women could not take a leadership role in a congregational business meeting, but would need to conduct themselves consistent with the obligation placed upon them 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 folks’ thinking today, the decision to have a business meeting with just the men of the church does not have to be the crass chauvinism some think it to be. On the contrary, and commensurate with the man’s leadership role, it may be both the most loving and wisest thing to do. I’ll have more to say about this in just a moment.

Neanderthals Ain’t Cool

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 positions of “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 (or woman hater). 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. We have indeed “progressed” (?) much further along than some have even imagined.

Visualize This, If You Can

In the epilogue of his book, I Permit Not A Woman….To Remain Shackled, Robert H. Rowland 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, “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 we are told 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.” The writer then goes on to lambaste those who would find this whole thing “shocking.” Yes, this will indeed be quite shocking to most who read this, but such is the vision of some among us.

Hearing Voices

In an article entitled “Hearing Women’s Voices At The Stamford Church Of Christ,” Dale Pauls, “minister” of the Stamford Church of Christ in Stamford, CT wrote:

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.

I would like to think that reasonable, God-fearing women would easily recognize the folly of such radical feminism. I would like to think that all of you who read this will be  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 on which feminization feeds. But if you want to know why men today are acting more like women and women 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 all us men get in touch with our feelings so we can act like girly-men. God forbid!

Will The Real Men Please Stand Up?

Where is that man who 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 imprint 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. And there is Peter, Paul, Timothy, Titus and the others. There are also those qualifications in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 that speak to the fullness of Christian manhood:

…without 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 all men of God 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” (Ephesians. 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 (cf. Titus 2:14; 1 Peter 2:9). May God help us to be true men and women, and may we glorify Him in these efforts. In part V of this study, I’ll make my concluding remarks.

Gender & Worship (III)

feminism and goddess worship

According to Rosemary Radford Ruether: “Feminist theology must create a new textual base, a new canon…. Feminist theology cannot be done from the existing base of the Christian Bible” (Woman-guides: Readings Toward a Feminist Theology, p. ix). In other words, before society can be thoroughly feminized, the radical feminists know they must eliminate any influence the Bible has had on our society. In doing so, the feminists refer to pre-Christian, non-Christian, and so-called post-Christian religions that affirm the image of the Divine as male and female. For instance, Ruether´s book, Womanguides, is a collection of writings from the ancient Near East, Hebrew and Greek mythology, Christian Science, paganism, goddess worship, and the New Age movement. As Phyllis Trible wrote in God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality: “A feminist who loves the Bible produces, in the thinking of many, an oxymoron…. After all, if no man can serve two masters, no woman can serve two authorities, a master called scripture and a mistress called feminism” (quoted in Mary A. Kassian, The Feminist Gospel, p. 109). These feminists, of course, do not just reject the Bible, but they reject the God of the Bible as well.

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). According to the feminists, “If God is male, then the male is God” (Mary Daly, Beyond God the Father, p. 9). Daly writes:

The symbol of the Father God, spawned in the human imagination and sustained as plausible by patriarchy, has in turn rendered service to [patriarchal] society by making its mechanism for the oppression of women appear right and fitting. If God in “his” heaven is a father ruling “his” people, then it is in the “nature” of things and according to divine plan and the order of the universe that society be male-dominated (ibid., p. 13).

In rejecting Jehovah, the only true and living God, feminists sought a new symbol that would affirm the legitimacy of their revolutionary movement: the goddess. According to Mary A. Kassian:

Initially, feminists reacted with scorn to the goddess and goddess worship. Why would intelligent, self-defining women want to bow down to ancient idols of stone? But feminists learned that goddess worship was not worship of an external deity; it was, in essence, worship of oneself. The goddess was merely a symbol that acknowledged the legitimacy of self-worship (The Feminist Gospel, p. 159).

In modern feminism, Satan´s old Edenic lie, “you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:4), has come full-cycle.

Those who have tried to be feminists without giving up the Bible (something that is quite impossible) have insisted on the use of inclusive language. Rejecting masculine pronouns as limiting one´s understanding of who God is, and citing His “feminine” characteristics, feminists feel justified in calling God “She” or “Mother.” And although feminists claim that using female as well as male pronouns to address God has de-sexualized Him, in effect, the opposite has occurred. When feminists switched from masculine to feminine in their description of God, they reduced God to sexuality. They actually presented an image of a deity who is bisexual or androgynous rather than one who transcends the polarity of the sexes. In addition, in renaming God as She/He, feminists have stripped God of independent, personalized existence. The Bible teaches that Jehovah is an individualized, personalized Being who has chosen to relate to His creation as “male.” He is not merely a “force,” as the pagans have traditionally identified Him. Nevertheless, in transforming Biblical feminine metaphors into a divine name for God, the feminists soon discovered that they needed to extend this practice to other metaphors as well, i.e., God ought to be understood as a “rock,” “eagle,” “door,” etc. As a result, His personality was further diffused to encompass all natural phenomena. Renaming God in a way other than He had named Himself has ultimately led the proponents of inclusive language to think of God as a force with no independent personality. This is evident by their reference to God as “He/She/It” (see Virginia Mollenkott, The Divine Feminine, p. 113).

Rejecting God as Father, the feminists have rejected Jesus Christ as Son. They have argued that Jesus´ maleness is inconsequential. In her book, Women & Worship, Sharon Neufer Emswiler surmised, “if the society had been reversed and Palestine had been a matriarchy instead of a patriarchy, surely God would have sent her Daughter” (p. 31). Therefore, feminists urge their followers to change their language about Christ. In doing so, they reject Son of Man, who they consider too masculine, and encourage the use of the Human One. But, of course, such theological shenanigans have serious consequences. The Son of Man is a title indicating that Jesus was divine and those who heard Him refer to Himself by this designation understood that He was really identifying Himself as the “Son of God” (Luke 22:69, 70). Whereas, the designation the Human One indicates that Jesus was merely an example of ideal selfhood or humanity. In other words, through the feminist theologians´ inclusive language, Christ is viewed as a model of the new humanity, the one sent by God to reveal to us what we can become, rather than God Almighty in the flesh, who took upon Himself the penalty for our sins.

There must be no mistake about it, radical feminism is anti-Bible, anti-God and anti-Christ. It does not liberate, rather it enslaves all those who embrace it to the bondage of sin. Conversely, it is the Bible, and the Bible alone, that contains the real hope for the liberation of women. Knowing the Truth makes one free indeed (John 8:32).

A Taste Of Heaven

The history of man and woman, as well as our own experiences, demonstrates the real problems created by the consequences of our first parents´ sins. The unity God intended for His creation was destroyed by those sins. As a result, the woman would desire to usurp man´s rule, and the man, if he was to rule, would do so with great difficulty. Add to these consequences our own sins, and the battle between the sexes has actually grown into a full-fledged war. The family, the very fabric of our society, is being destroyed today. Divorce is rampant. The so-called “traditional family structure” has been redefined to include unmarried couples and homosexual liaisons (they call each other “housemates” and “significant others”). So complete has been the transformation that today we just call the “married.”

In addition, the feminist goal, which is nothing short of social, political, and cultural revolution, has had a dramatic impact in our day. Whether we like to admit it or not, feminism has converted our culture to the feminist mind-set. In fact, the feminization of America is in full-swing. As a so-called “Biblical feminist” has noted: “Feminism since the early 1960s has begun to color interpersonal relations, the language we speak, family life, the educational system, child-rearing practices, politics, business, the mass media, religion, law, the judicial system, the cultural value system, and intellectual life” (quoted in Mary Pride, The Way Home, page 12).

Paradise Lost

As originally created, the male and female were to complete each other as they enabled one another to fulfill the God-ordained purpose of procreating and subduing the earth. Neither was to seek the other´s position, but as half of a whole they were to complement each other. When sin entered into the world, their distinctive roles were blurred and their harmonious relationship distorted. Instead of working together in unity, they began to compete with each other. Instead of reflecting the glory of God, they began to mirror the corruption of sin. Their original “oneness” was replaced by a power struggle that has continued in society ever since. This struggle, although it does not always manifest itself overtly, does, nevertheless, lie just below the surface in even the best of marriages.

Unfortunately, many men, even Christians, “hardened through the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13), have engaged in the practice of “lording it over” their wives. While on the other hand, many women, even Christians, have become “silly women laden with sins” (II Timothy 3:6) and have not willingly submitted to the headship of their husbands. It is sad but true that many Christians, both male and female, instead of “prov[ing] what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:1), are actually being guided by current secular values. Of course, we, of all people, ought to know that the answer to this problem is not to be found in current secular thought or even in so-called traditional thinking. Instead, the answer is to be found in God´s Word, the Bible. It is in this book that we will find the answer to our problem.

Paradise Restored

A part of the “good news” of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that what was lost in the Garden of Eden can be restored in Christ. As faithful followers of the humble Galilean, the husband and wife can once again become the unit God intended them to be from the very beginning: the husband, the loving leader who “nourishes and cherishes” his wife as if she were his own body (Ephesians 5:28,29) and the wife, the suitable helper who willingly submits to her husband´s guidance, “as to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22). Such a relationship must be characterized by selflessness, yet it is only in Christ that one learns to crucify Self. It is only in Christ that one exchanges the egotistical “I am” of sinful pride for the loving guidance of the Great I Am. It is only in Christ that two people will live in the estate of matrimony as God truly intended. Does this mean that people who are not Christians are not married? No, of course not. Does it mean that a Christian cannot marry a non-Christian? Again, no. (Please note that I am not attempting to answer here the question of whether a Christian ought to marry a non-Christian.) Well, then, what does it mean? What it means is that without the restoration that comes in Christ, marriage will never be, nor can it ever be, what the Lord created it to be; namely, a relationship of unity that supersedes every other earthly relationship and in a very wonderful way reflects the unity that exists between Christ and His church (Ephesians 5:22-33). This Bible truth is a part of that light that illuminates a lost and dying world (Matthew 5:14). And it is this truth that functions as some of the salt that preserves our decaying society (Matthew 5:13). If Christians are not living this truth out in their lives on a regular basis, then they are no good to themselves or anyone else.

In Titus 2:5, the Word of God informs us that the younger women are to be taught to be “keepers at home” (KJV) or “homemakers” (NKJV). The Bible does not prohibit the wife from working outside the home, but it does teach that the home is to be her primary concern. It is unfortunate that the idea of homemaker is being much maligned in our present day society. It is tragic that young women and men are being taught that a female cannot really be happy as a homemaker. It is sad that young girls are being told they cannot be fulfilled unless they have a career that takes them away from their homemaking and child-rearing responsibilities. What is even more tragic is that many Christians have begun to incorporate these secular values into their own lifestyles.

Churches of Christ cannot be negligent in their responsibility to edify themselves concerning this important subject. We must realize that young Christians will not be taught their God-ordained roles, and the duties associated with them, by a secular system inundated by humanism. Churches owe it to their young people to pass on to them the richness of the husband and wife relationship as taught in God´s Word. Furthermore, as husbands and wives, we have the responsibility to live out our God-ordained roles before our children. But this is not enough! These roles must be reinforced by Bible classes that teach the duties and responsibilities, as well as the benefits, of the husband and wife relationship. In truth, we have not done a very good job with this subject, and it has definitely begun to show. The divorce rate among Christians, although much lower than that reflected in the world, is still much higher than anyone would have predicted just thirty years ago. Are we going to wait until the divorce rate among us begins to match the world´s before we do something about it? If not, then we had better get busy and lovingly teach on this extremely critical subject before we find ourselves overshadowed by the horror of darkness that is engulfing our society. Fellow Christians, we must let our lights shine.

The Wife And The Home

The place where God put the wife is the husband´s home (notice that I did not say house). The home is a unique kingdom all its own in the midst of a hostile world. It´s a stronghold amid life´s storms and stresses, a refuge, even a sanctuary! The home is unique in that it is not built on the shifting sands of public life or cultural changes. The home is an institution (relationship might be a better word) that has special meaning and value because it has been especially ordained by God. It´s a place where peace, quietness, joy, love, purity, discipline, respect, obedience, and happiness is to dwell. It is the wife´s calling and her pleasure to build up for her husband a “world within the world,” and do her life´s work there. How happy and blessed is the woman who realizes just how great and rich a task and position God has given her! In this special relationship, the wife occupies a position of permanence, not novelty; constancy, not flux or change; peace, not antagonism or adversariness. In this relationship there are actual deeds, not just empty words; gentle persuasion, not arrogant commands; and, of course, love, not lust. All these are inspired and sustained by her love for her husband — this is the wife´s kingdom. “A virtuous woman [an excellent wife] is the crown of her husband” (Proverbs 12:4).

The traditional family, as defined by secular society, has assumed the husband to be the superior ruler and the wife to be the inferior servant. This is far to the right of what God has ordained in His Word. On the other hand, the feminist movement has swung the pendulum far to the left in denying the family structure and gender roles God has given. Let us, therefore, as Christians, strive for that golden mean set forth in God´s Word and let us “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of [our] mind[s], that [we] may prove [to a lost and dying world] what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:2).

What, Then, Can Women Do In The Church?

The answer to the question posed above is “Plenty!” Women are not second-class citizens of the kingdom of God (cf. Galatians 3:28). Consequently, they do not function as inferior members of the local church. They are priests, as are the male members of the church. As such, they do not need male mediation to carry out their sacrifices. In other words, because they are not excluded from our worship assemblies, nor are they prevented from offering their sacrifices or worship in these assemblies, their service to the Lord is not encumbered by their God-ordained roles of submission. Therefore, I find it disappointing that so many Christian men think they have the right to regularly exclude women from congregational decisions. So, it is to the subject of our so-called “business meetings” that we’ll turn our attention in part IV of this study.