THE LORD’S CHURCH IN THE NORTHEAST U.S.

 

map-of-ne-us

NORTHEAST UNITED STATES

One fifth of all the people who live in the United States live in the northeastern states of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont. It is almost 1,000 miles from Nashville, Tennessee to New York City, and the distance from Dallas, Texas is over 1500 miles.  Brethren in these nine states are out of sight as far as the heaviest concentration of New Testament Christians is concerned, and, as is often the case,  when “out of sight, out of mind.”

According to “churchzip.com” (a website which lists acappella congregations) there are 33 congregations in New Jersey, 37 in New York, 52 in Pennsylvania, 23 in Connecticut, 7 in Rhode Island, 25 in Massachusetts, 10 in Vermont, 16 in New Hampshire and 16 in Maine.  That’s a total of 219. The directory of Churches of Christ in the United States (2012 edition) states the total membership of these congregations is 25,921. The number of adherents:  34,122.  Even if we make allowance for a margin of error these statistics are impressive.

There are spiritual misconceptions about the northeast.  Some think the people who live there are not interested in Bible study; that the gospel will not find receptive hearts. Some think it is not a wise use of the Lord’s money to send preachers there.  (It costs more to support preachers in the northeast than to Africa or India — more people can be brought to Christ overseas for every dollar spent.)  Some have suggested liberal-thinking leaders represent the majority of preachers and elders. Others think the northeast is “too far away” for churches in the “Bible Belt” to send young people and adults to help in Vacation Bible School or other activities. Is this the way it really is?

After spending almost 30 years working with congregations in New England, I have learned that some of these concerns are valid. (It does cost more to support preachers in the Northeast than in Africa, and the growth of the church is slower than in other places.)  I have also learned that other concerns are not valid. (Missionaries report there is more interest in Bible study now than there has been for years. Most of the preachers and elders I know are solidly committed to the teaching of Scripture and to the Restoration principle to “speak where the Bible speaks and to be silent where the Bible is silent.”)

What is Encouraging

 A renewed concern for evangelism is being heard throughout northeastern congregations.  One preacher in upstate New York said that whenever preachers get together, the topic soon turns to how churches can improve their effective outreach with the gospel in their communities. Several factors indicate this is the right time to renew an evangelistic focus..

For one thing, the predominate religion (Catholicism) has been shaken by scandal, changes in liturgy, and a general loss of confidence in “the Church” as they know it. Church attendance is down, church building are being closed and many former Catholics are searching for a religion that makes sense. Some have settled for being “spiritual” without being part of “organized religion.” Not a few are looking for a church that teaches only what the Bible teaches.

Preachers and elders of the Lord’s church are realizing they can no longer rely on members moving in from the Bible Belt to swell their numbers and provide their leadership. (High taxation of industry and property in several northeastern states is causing industries to move south where taxes are lower and property is less expensive.) At the present time the population flow is from the north to the south. All of this is having a significant impact on Churches of Christ.  In order to survive, congregations need to convert people who make the northeast their home, whose “roots” are in the northeast and who plan to stay in the northeast most (if not all) of their lives.  A preacher in New Jersey put it like this: “It is most encouraging that our last three baptisms are first-generation Christians. We are doing more than baptizing our own children. We are seeing outsiders touched by the simplicity of the gospel.”

The preacher in an urban congregation pointed out that the northeast is a melting pot for people from many nations and languages.  His congregation, once almost entirely white, is now 40% African American,  20% Hispanic; 5% Asian; 35%Anglo. “The ‘whole world’ has come to us,” he says. Perhaps the largest Church of Christ in New York City is composed almost entirely of immigrants from Ghana. There are only two Portuguese-speaking Churches of Christ in the United States, one of which is in New Jersey. A number of Spanish-speaking, Chinese-speaking, Korean-speaking and French-speaking congregations now exist in the northeast. The largest congregation in Rhode Island is composed of Liberians.

It is true that some congregations are dwindling. However, others are intensifying their evangelistic outreach and growing. A congregation in Vermont which only a few years ago had little to be encouraged about, today is conducting home Bible studies, baptizing people into Christ and nearing completion of a new church building.  It will be the first new or renovated church building in Vermont for Churches of Christ in the last 42 years!  The church in Middletown (Orange County) New York plans to enter its new church building the last of this year or early in 2017.  The church in White Plains, New York has met the stringent requirements of city planning and zoning, and completed its beautiful 10,000 square feet facilities.  The church in New Milford, Connecticut is having a serious parking problem: the church no longer has room to accommodate the number of cars of people attending . It now shares the commercial parking next door. A preacher in a growing Rhode Island congregation which has just entered a new church facility, expressed it well: “We must remember the mission of Jesus Christ and His desire to see His church grow and become a glorious kingdom.” Evangelism is contagious.  As the word spreads about the successful outreach of congregations like these, it will become an encouragement for other congregations to do the same.

The Challenges

A secular mind-set is characteristic of the northeast United States. One of the effective preachers who has spent over 25 years laboring in New York recently commented that presenting the gospel message must start with building faith in the existence of God and inspiration of the Bible. “Evangelism is a big challenge where skepticism and doubt are so prominent. We must start with basic reasons for faith in God,” he said.

Other challenges include the loss of numbers due to people moving south.  One elder remarked: “For every person who moves into our area to place membership, we have had 3 or 4 move away.” Church budgets and church works are impacted when talented members move south to follow the jobs. This creates a drain on the leadership in terms of elders, deacons, Bible school teachers, and (according to one preacher’s wife) even the amount of food brought to church fellowship meals. In an economic recession families with children are the first to move elsewhere. Things, however, seem to be turning around for some of the harder hit states; Connecticut has announced its first gain in industry in more than a decade.

Biblical soundness is another concern. An elder in one of New England’s largest congregations says: “There is a constant need to fortify ourselves against some of the recent departures from the faith.” Some congregations have been influenced by the changes in worship and doctrine which are occurring in many parts of the country. Instrumental music has been introduced into a few congregations. Women have taken-on worship leadership roles in some places. Thank God, there are leaders who have the courage to stand firm for the truth. Faithful preachers and faithful congregations represent by far the majority of the brethren in the northeast.

When members travel an hour or more to attend worship services there can be a tendency to feel isolated from one’s Christian family.   Having both a morning and evening services on the Lord’s day is not always practical in the mission field. It is heartening to know that congregations are putting forth greater effort to support area-wide fellowships, singings, seminars, etc. It takes deliberate effort and expense to maintain a sense of brotherhood.

Leadership turnover has long been a challenge to churches in the northeast.  For the most part seasoned evangelists have neglected this area of the country, while young men fresh out of college or preacher training schools have been more willing to take on the challenges. Often this has resulted in churches losing their preachers after a year or two of ministry. As one preacher in Connecticut observed: “Churches where preachers have been there for a while are growing the most.”

What Christians in the Bible Belt Can Do

Without mission-minded churches in the Bible Belt most churches in the northeast would never have been planted and preachers would not have received adequate support to serve full-time. How can congregations help the churches in the northeast today?

First,  there is a real need for faithful brethren to come for short periods of time to work and serve. A New England leader put it this way: “Churches in the Bible Belt can be a great help. Send us Christians who are mature (perhaps retired) to help in teaching and encouraging the members for a few months. Provide funds so churches can have resources they need for evangelism and edification.”

Second, establishing new congregations is a constant need.  Several counties in New York state, for example, have no congregation of the Lord’s church. Some counties have large populations. All the factors indicate these areas are ripe for viable churches to be planted. What is needed is sound gospel preachers who see the need and congregations willing to send them. Other members of the church, young or old, (vocational missionaries) who secure jobs in the community and help with church plantings and existing churches which have suffered a loss of members would be a great boost to the Lord’s work. Retirees who spend 3 to 6 months a year with a local church, building up the members and teaching home Bible studies will make a real difference as well.

Third, Christian universities could perform a great service if career offices would contact industries in the northeast to find job openings for their graduates. This would help young people from the northeast return to their homes, and reverse the trend that is taking students out of the northeast to get an education, find a marriage partner and a career in the south then decide to settle there, depriving churches in the northeast of future leaders.  Under the present circumstances, “Christian colleges are bleeding off our young people,” says a gospel preacher in New Hampshire. Christian universities can also encourage students to spend the summers as counselors at one of the Christian camps. Congregations can support the young people who make a commitment to be camp counselors. This will expose young people to the needs and opportunities of the northeast.

Finally, churches can “adopt” a congregation in the northeast, support its preacher and outreach efforts. Build a bond between your congregation and a congregation in the northeastern states. Send leaders to see for themselves what is happening, to spend quality time then return home to share the good news of what your “adopted” congregation is doing.  And remember: each and everyone of us can  pray that the word of the Lord will “spread ahead and be honored” (2 Thessalonians 3:1 ESV).

The article above first appeared in the Gospel Advocate magazine, November, 2016

Posted in Northeast United States, U.S. Missions: How to Help, Uncategorized, United States Missions | 3 Comments

HE LOVED THE INDIANS OF NEW ENGLAND

JOHN ELIOT TRANSLATOR OF THE 'INDIAN BIBLE,' THE FIRST BIBLE PRINTED IN THE NEW WORLD

JOHN ELIOT, PURITAN MINISTER EMIGRATED TO THE NEW WORLD IN SEARCH OF RELIGIOUS FREEDOM 1631.

Did you know the first Bible printed in America was not printed in the English language? It was printed in the Algonquin (native American Indian) language in 1663 by John Eliot, a Puritan minister who came to America from England. Eliot had a passion for reaching native Indians with the gospel. He understood three fundamental principles: it makes a difference who one worships (whether things created such as spirits of ancestors and idols or the one true Creator); it makes a difference how one worships; and it makes a difference how one lives. Eliot taught the Indians that the true God commands all men everywhere to repent and become holy as He is holy.

MONUMENT DEPICTING HIS PREACHING TO THE INDIANS OF NEW ENGLAND

MONUMENT DEPICTING HIS PREACHING TO THE INDIANS OF NEW ENGLAND

However, the Bible was not available to the Indians in New England because they had no written language; no words had ever been written down. Eliot had to create an Algonquin alphabet! Listening carefully to the language spoken, he created an Algonquin alphabet composed of English characters (A, B, C, D, E etc.) put together phonetically. During this 14-year project he wrote in his diary: “Visited the Indians for the past four days. The weather was cold and snowy. Was wet for the entire time. But that is a small price to pay for the privilege of taking the Gospel to them.”

THE 'INDIAN BIBLE' IN THE ALGONGUIN LANGUAGE 1661

THE FIRST PRINTED BIBLE IN AMERICA, THE ‘INDIAN BIBLE’ IN THE ALGONGUIN LANGUAGE. THE NEW TESTAMENT WAS PRINTED IN 1661, THE OLD TESTAMENT IN 1663.

Eliot’s “Indian Bible” was an answer to prayer. For the remainder of his life he dedicated himself to preaching to the Indians. He preached in churches in Massachusetts and from the tops of rocks in Connecticut’s open fields.

Renowned scholars on early Bible, T.H. Darlow and F.H. Moule, state: “This book constitutes the earliest example in history of the translation and printing of the entire Bible in a new language as a means of evangelization.”

We would not agree with Eliot on everything he taught, but we cannot help but admire his love for the Indians of New England. Because he cared for their souls, the Indians had an opportunity to learn about the one true God, to worship Him and to change the way they lived.

In 1649 Eliot wrote: “I do very much desire to translate some parts of the scriptures into their language.” 1,000 copies of the first printing of the entire Bible in the Algonquin language were made in 1663. Copies of Eliot’s “Indian Bible” are extremely scarce today. When put on the market they may bring as much as $745,000.

Three hundred and fifty years after Eliot’s evangelistic outreach, the gospel is being taught once again to people of many nationalities in northeastern states through grants provided by a number of congregations in other parts of the United States and by The White Rock Fund. Gospel preachers are sharing God’s word with those who have never heard it. Souls are being baptized for the forgiveness of sins and faithful churches of Christ are being planted.

Posted in Algonguin language, Indian Bible, Indians, John Eliot, New England, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

A ‘REVIEW’ OF MEN & WOMEN IN PUBLIC WORSHIP

The Connecticut Valley Church of Christ in Windsor, Connecticut began to discuss a greater role for women in the church in 1993. After several years of intermittent discussions and study the leaders of the congregation decided in 2010 to phase in the changes they proposed. In a Statement issued by the leaders of the congregation (INVOLVEMENT OF MEN AND WOMEN IN THE PUBLIC ASSEMBIES OF THE CONNECTICUT VALLEY CHURCH OF CHRIST, April 2013) they explain their decision:

For some time the elders have been studying this issue of women’s roles. Through the course of our study we have come to a unified agreement that as far as God is concerned there is no distinction between what a man or a woman may do in any gathering of the Connecticut Valley Church of Christ. This includes:

• Scripture reading

• Prayer

• Communion thought

• Worship coordinator

• Song leader

• Teach of adult Bible classes

• Preaching

An on-line copy of the above document is available at: http://storage.cloversites.com/connecticutvalleychurchofchrist/documents/Synopsis%20of%202008-2009%20Study.pdf.

On more than one occasion one of the leaders of this congregation and an architect of the CVCC document,  asked that I review the Statement of the Connecticut Valley Church of Christ. After prayer and study I have put together the following pages entitled “A REVIEW.”  For the purposes of this REVIEW, I have referred to the Connecticut Valley Church Statement as the CVCC Statement. May the REVIEW go to those interested in careful and diligent study of these matters with the hope that we will all be faithful to the Scriptures as well as to the principle of the Restoration: “We speak where the Bible speaks and we are silent where the Bible is silent.”

–– David Tarbet

Church of Christ

New Milford, Connecticut

June 10, 2014

I.

PRIOR TO THE FALL

Leaders of the Connecticut Valley church conclude that

• There is no evidence of inequality of the sexes or hierarchy of any kind

• The entire focus is on a husband and wife, not on men and women in general

• Adam and Eve shared joint dominion over the earth

• Though no hierarchy in their relationship is in evidence, God did distinguish between Adam and Eve in that, although Eve sinned first, God initially addressed Adam abut the sin, not Eve or both of them together.

–– CVCC Statement, page 1, 2

The sequence and purpose of Creation is important to this discussion.  “The Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. …. The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him…. So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep, and while he was sleeping, He took one of the man’s ribs and closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib He had taken out of the man, and He brought her to the man. The man said, ‘This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.’” (Genesis 2:7, 18, 20-23)

With regard to “inequality” of the sexes, this discussion should begin by affirming that God made both male and  female in His own image (Genesis 1:27). He loves males and females equally; both are equally valuable to Him; both have equal access to His grace through Jesus Christ our Lord. This is not a matter of regarding women as unequal to men, but of recognizing that God has assigned different roles to males and females in His kingdom.  Woman’s submission to man should in no way be considered degrading to her. Respect for what God says about man’s leadership role and woman’s role of submission to his leadership brings out the best in both men and women. It creates harmony in the home and in the church.

A hierarchy of authority is definitely part of the picture of Creation. In the words of Stephen B. Clark:

“The term ‘subordination’ has been chosen for this discussion because, it is one of the best translation of a Greek word (hypostasso) commonly used in the New Testament to express this aspect of the husband-wife relationship and other similar relationships. The English word ‘subordination’ means literally ‘ordered under,’ and its Greek counterpart means almost the same. The word does not carry with it a notion of inferior value. A subordinate could be more valuable in many ways than the person over him or her. Nor does the word carry with it a notion of oppression or the use of force for domination….

‘Subordination’ simply refers to the order of a relationship in which one person, the subordinate, depends upon another person for direction. The purpose of this order is to allow those in the relationship to function together in unity…. A person could be subordinate without ever having to obey a command. People can subordinate their lives or actions to another in many ways: by serving another, by observing and cooperating with the other’s purposes and desires, by dedicating their lives to the cause the other is upholding, or by following the other’s teaching.” (Clark. Man and Woman in Christ, 1980. p. 23-24).

Contrary to the CVCC Statement, there is clear evidence that man’s leadership authority is rooted in the Creation (Genesis 2), and not as a consequence of the Fall (Genesis 3).

First, man was created before woman (Genesis 2:7).  The implication and inspired application of this was clear to the apostle Paul, who based his teaching that “woman is not permitted to teach or have authority over a man” (1 Timothy 2:12) on the fact that the precedence of creation was the man. “Adam was formed first, then Eve” (1 Timothy 2:13).

Second, Man was given the responsibility to work and take care of the garden of Eden before the creation of the husband-wife relationship. In the process of working and toiling in the garden Adam came to realize that he needed someone to help him.  God created his helper. It now became Adam’s duty to pass along to Eve what God had already told him to do, as well as to warn her concerning eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the middle of the garden.  Man led the way. When Eve was made, she “came on board” with all the work involved in taking care of that magnificent garden and ruling over the creatures, just as God intended (Genesis 1:28).

Third, Man was given leadership authority to “name” things God had made. “Naming” the animals symbolized his authority over them (Genesis 2:19-20).  Later, he gave Eve her name (Genesis 2:23; 3:20).

Fourth, woman was created to be man’s helper (Genesis 2:18). The inspired apostle reasoned that this very act teaches that man is “head” of the woman (1 Corinthians 11:3-10).  “The head of woman is man…. He is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.” Headship denotes ‘authority over’.  In the Corinthian church women were to wear a veil to show their respect for the headship of man.

Fifth, leadership includes accountability. God held the man accountable for the woman’s sin when he failed to exercise his God-given responsibility to protect her from the devil’s temptation and deception. Even though Adam was “with her” when Satan tempted Eve (Genesis 3;6), he did nothing to rescue her. He was not deceived by the temptations.  Eve, however, was deceived,  Because Adam abdicated his responsibility to lead in a godly and decisive manner, he received the blame for sin entering the world (“Sin entered the world through one man”, Romans 5:12). The Fall was the result of man failing to exercise his headship responsibly.

“The most normal reading of the account would indicate that the woman is subordinate to the man throughout chapters 2 and 3. ….There is a subordination in Genesis 2, but it is a very specific kind of subordination –– the kind that makes one person out of two. According to Genesis 2, woman was created to be a help to man, not to be a servant or a slave. She was created to be a complement to him, making a household and children possible. He in turn protected her, provided for her, and considered her part of himself, a partner in life. He was the head of the relationship, head of a relationship that was ‘one flesh.’ …. Because the narrative concerns  the beginnings of the human race, Genesis 2-3 is about more than the husband-wife relationship. It’s about the man-woman relationship.” (Clark, Man and Woman in Christ. p. 26).

II.

AFTER THE FALL

The CVCC Statement affirms:  “Adam was put in a position over Eve as a consequence of the fall” (p. 4).

On the other hand, according to Stephen B. Clark, “The view that man-woman subordination in scripture derives from the curse after the Fall is not a highly tenable interpretation.” (Clark, Man and Woman in Christ. p. 36).

The curse which Eve received followed sin entering the world was this: “I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you” (Genesis 3:16).  What does “he will rule over you” mean?

Some, following the views expressed in the CVCC Statement, think to “rule over” means woman became subordinate to man. However, we have already seen that Adam’s headship was his God-given assignment based on Creation (Genesis 2); that the Fall came about only when Adam failed to exercise his authority as protector and leader of his family –– a role God assigned to him prior to the Fall!  The words “rule over” mean something entirely different from headship. They indicate the kind of rule which involves force, conflict or compulsion. Cain was told he must ‘master’ (the same word translated ‘rule’) sin which crouched at the door (Genesis 4:7). The Septuagint translates this word by the Greek ‘kyrieuo,’ which Jesus used to refer to pagan rulers who ‘lord it over’ others (Luke 22:25). The kind of ‘rule over’ which resulted from the curse would be forceful, coercive, oppressive, self-centered and cruel, causing woman pain. This was quite a contrast to the godly, respectful headship and submission Adam and Eve shared earlier in the garden!

The Scripture never refers to the curse on woman as the foundation of Christian subordination. “In fact the New Testament bases none of its directives on the curses. Instead the foundation of New Testament teaching is the purposes of God in creation.” (Clark. Man and Woman in Christ. p. 33)

This, by the way, is the common view of the curse in Genesis 3:16. It has been the understanding of Biblical interpreters and commentators through the centuries. In recent times evangelical women’s-liberationists have placed a unique “spin” on this passage to make it teach that man’s headship is the curse!

When husbands demonstrate loving leadership with authority and kindness, always looking out for what is best for their wives,  most women will gladly “submit” to their headship, knowing that this is God’s command: “Wives submit to your husbands as to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22).

III.

1 CORINTHIANS 11:3-12

“Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God…. A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. For man did not come from woman but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. For this reason, and because of the angels, the woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head.”

In dealing with the Biblical teaching on man’s “headship” leaders of the CVCC Statement wrote: “We concluded provisionally that the usual meaning signifying leadership or having authority is probably the correct one.” (p. 8). We might wish they had not used the words “provisionally” and “probably.” In any case, it is comforting to know that they believe that at least for some women God expects submission to the authority of at least some men. But which women and which men?

Authors of the CVCC Statement believe it is incorrect that 1 Corinthians 11:3 be translated from the Greek words ‘aner’ and ‘gyne’  as ‘men’ and ‘women’ as the translators of the American Standard Version, New American Standard Version, New International Version, Revised English Bible, World English Bible, New Century Bible, King James Version, New King James Version, Today’s New International Version, Bible in Basic English, Common English Bible, Rhemes New Testament, New English Bible, Amplified Bible, Holman Christian Standard Version, Lexham English Bible, William Barclay New Testament and the McCord New Testament have done. Authors of the CVCC Statement think the text should be rendered ‘husbands’ and ‘wives’ –– that only married women are instructed to be submissive to men, specifically to their husbands. “No where else in the entire Bible are men and women in general put in a hierachal relationship,” the Statement declares. (A much smaller number of  English translations read “husbands” and “wives,” including some paraphrases.).

When words can have more than one meaning context must determine how these words are translated. Undoubtedly the translations listed above deliberately chose “man” and “woman” as the proper translation of ‘aner’ and ‘gyne’ because in this context Paul is referring back to Creation as recorded in Genesis chapter 2 (1 Corinthians 11:8). Further, in stating that “Christ is the head of man” these translators did not want to leave the impression that Christ is the head only of married men.

It is in this context that godly women were commanded to wear a veil, to have their heads covered, to show respect for divinely appointed gender differences.  This instruction would apply to women regardless of their marital status. (Jewish history bears witness that both married and unmarried women wore a veil in New Testament times.) What was the purpose of the veil?  To show that women respected the headship authority of men. In the words of the inspired apostle: “A man ought not to cover his head since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man…. For this reason, and because of the angels, the woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head” (1 Corinthians 11:7-10).

Nor should we conclude what the CVCC Statement refers to as an “unthinkable” position, where one man’s wife is subject to the authority of another wife’s husband. Paul’s point in this context is the difference of roles between genders, and the fact that this difference is rooted in Creation itself. The wearing of a veil indicated respect for what God put in place at the very beginning. Cultural ways of showing respect for gender differences may vary from one generation to the next, but the principle of respect for man’s leadership in the home and in the church remains eternal.

Does woman’s “submission” to man as her “head” mean woman is inferior to man? Modern feminists argue that  differences in function must imply women are somehow inferior to men. The response to this was well stated by Thomas R. Schreiner, Associate Professor of New Testament at Bethel Theological Seminary:

“Paul is saying that Christ is the authority over every man, man is the authority over woman, and God is the authority over Christ. Since Paul appeals to the relation between members of the Trinity, it is clear that he does not view the relations described here as merely cultural, or the result of the fall…. Evangelical feminists conclude that a difference in function necessarily involves a difference in essence; i.e. if men are in authority over women, then women must be inferior. The relationship between Christ and the Father shows us that this reasoning is flawed. One can possess a different function and still be equal in essence and worth. Women are equal to men in essence and being…yet they have a different function or role in church and home…. We have already seen that the clear meaning of ‘head’ is authority and thus a hierarchy is definitely established. Why then, does Paul place “the head of Christ is God” last? I think that Paul added the headship of God over Christ last right after asserting the headship of man over woman in order to teach that the authority of man does not imply the inferiority of woman or the superiority of men.”  (Schreiner: “Head Coverings, Prophecies and the Trinity” in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, p. 128-130).

There is absolutely no way to prove that men were present when women prayed and prophesied in the Corinthians church. There is no consensus among Biblical scholars on this point. This is only an assumption some are making.  Assumptions do not establish the validity of one’s reasoning. Without a doubt there must have been times when Christian women gathered for fellowship,  spiritual instruction and prayer when no men were present, just as there are such opportunities to do the same today. Regardless of whether or not their husbands were present at the time, godly married women in ancient times wore a veil to indicate their respect for their God-given role of submission (this is the context) and perhaps also that they were neither religiously unfaithful or sexually unfaithful to their spouses.  Wearing a veil in public assured that godly wives did not “behave in such a way that would bring shame or dishonor to their husbands” –– whether or not their husbands were with them.  In the first century, having their heads covered with a veil would be appropriate attire for unmarried women who revered God as well, for it symbolized respect for things God appointed at Creation.

The CVCC Statement affirms: “…there is nothing in the NT that would cause one to suspect that there are any restrictions on what women may do in Christian assemblies” (p. 9).  It is worth considering that if I Corinthians 11:2-16 authorizes women to have a leading role in public worship where both men are present, the early Church Fathers knew nothing about it. Tertullian (160-230 AD) wrote:  “It is not permitted to the woman to speak in church, not to teach, to baptize, to present (the offering), nor to pretend to do any kind of function reserved to man, to say nothing of the sacerdotal (priestly) office.”  The sacerdotal office included presiding at the Communion table.  If the early Church Fathers did not conclude that Paul taught that women should lead in public worship neither should we.

IV.

I CORINTHIANS 14:34-35

“As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak but must be in submission as the Law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home, for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.”

It is obvious that if Paul’s instruction about women being “silent” in the churches if taken at face value would be a serious challenge to the position of the CVCC Statement.  We are not surprised, therefore, to read: “It is clear that Paul is writing only about married women and only a special group of them, namely those who have Christian husbands who are capable of answering questions…. Virtually all English translations obscure this fact by translating the gender-specific word ‘gyne’ by women/woman, rather than wives/wife, as the context requires.” (p. 10).  It should raise a “red-flag” when we hear “virtually all English translations” indicted as mistranslations of the Greek text. The reason “virtually all English Translations” render ‘gyne’ as ‘women/woman’ is because the context demands it.

We wonder also why unmarried women would be exempt from Paul’s command. If the reason Paul commanded women to be “silent” in the churches was that married women who failed to understand what the prophets were prophesying were being disruptive, shouting out their questions,  were there no unmarried women (virgins or widows) who were victims of the same circumstances?

Here are the comments of Stephen B. Clark:

“Paul instructs the women to be silent because they are women, not because they are disorderly. First, the passage offers no hint that the women are causing any disorder, other than the disorder that occurs simply from the fact that they are ‘speaking’ and they are women. Secondly, Paul says that the rule he is applying is the same rule followed by all the churches of the saints, and is not a directive given to straighten out a particular difficulty among the Corinthians. Third, Paul says clearly that it is shameful for a woman to “speak.” He does not say that it is shameful for a woman to speak in a disorderly way. Her “speaking” is the shameful action. Finally, if disorder were the issue, men as well as women should have been instructed to keep silent and to be subordinate to the order of the assembly” (Clark. Men and Women in Christ. p. 185-186).

After Paul has identified those who bring “a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation” (v. 26) as well as a prophesy (v. 29-33) he lays down God’s commands about doing such things  “for the strengthening of the church” (v. 26) in a way that is “fitting and orderly” (v. 40). Then he turns to discuss what is expected of Christian women in public worship:  “women  should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak; they must be in submission” (v. 33-34). Leadership in public worship is assigned to the male members of the congregation. It’s a matter of recognizing the divinely appointed roles of males and females. Women are to be in submission to the spiritual leadership of men who lead the worship service. “For it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church” (v. 35).

What does Paul mean by “as the Law says” (v. 34)?  He gives no direct quotation from the Old Testament, but he may well have been referring to the fundamental teachings of man’s spiritual leadership and woman’s submission to that leadership as established at Creation in Genesis chapter 2.  The apostle Peter referred back to the Law as an example of women being submissive to their husbands (1 Peter 3:6). It is most unlikely that he refers to the “curse” placed on woman at the Fall because the curses of the Fall are not appealed to elsewhere in the New Testament as a basis for Christian behavior.    To say “The only place in ‘the law’ that could be Paul’s reference is Gen. 3:16” is misleading.

Everett Ferguson, professor emeritus of church history and Distinguished Scholar of Abilene Christian University, offers these insightful thoughts on I Corinthians 14:34-35:

The speaking under consideration is the addressing of the congregation (in this instance by those with the gifts of prophecy and of speaking in tongues) or the speaking for the congregation (as in prayer –– vss. 15-17); the silence is not absolute but the ceasing from such speech.  Congregational speech (such as singing or saying the ‘Amen”) would not be excluded. If some type of disorderly speech were all that was involved, Paul would have forbidden that and regulated the speech, as he does with the prophets and tongue speakers (vss 27-32); instead, he forbids the women speaking altogether (in an authoritative way, as in prophesying and teaching, or in a representative way, as in praying). One type of speech is specific as forbidden: questioning. In this instance it would be questioning that disrupted the assembly or challenged the authority of the speaker (as in the discerning of the prophets), or the type of questioning used among the Jewish rabbis as a method of teaching. 

The prohibition of women prophesying or giving authoritative teaching in the assembly would seem to contradict 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, where the women prayed and prophesied, It is not certain that these activities occurred in the assembly,  for 1 Corinthians 11:17 seems to mark a transition from commendation to rebuke and to a new setting, “when you come together.” …. Praying and prophesying could be in a group or here of “public” but not in an assembly of the church (cf. Acts 21:8-12). The ranking established at creation regulated the relations of male and female (1 Corinthians 11:3, 7-12). A woman’s wearing a veil was the cultural expression (1 Corinthians 11:5-6, 13-15) of those relationships appropriate in that circumstance. The distinctive positions of male and female were not based on the culture but on what God instituted at creation…. The prohibition of 1 Corinthians 14:33b-35, as reflecting relations established at creation, was not a local requirement because of disturbances at Corinth but was in accord with practice “in all the churches of the saints –– Ferguson, The Church of Christ, a Biblical Ecclesiology for Today (1996), p. 342-343.

In a more recent book, Ferguson summarizes the historical evidence for women’s involvement in the work of the post-apostolic church by stating that all women (that is, both married and the unmarried) “were forbidden to teach and to preside at baptisms …. Although women were denied public preaching and liturgical functions, including baptism, there were many opportunities for women to serve, e.g. private teaching” (The Early Church and Today, p. 134-135). He continues: “Except in some heretical and schismatic groups, the churches in the early patistric period, as in the New Testament, evidence prohibitions on women speaking in the assembly and serving in leadership positions of bishop/presbyter or presiding at liturgical functions.” (p. 137).

I Corinthians 14:34-35 is important to understand the difference in spiritual responsibilities between males and females –– whether they are married, never married or widowed. The “silence” enjoined on women has to do with leadership in worship when men are present. It has nothing to do with women singing hymns to God or making the “good confession” or even confessing their sins to one another. Paul’s command is inspired and authoritative.  He concludes his instructions with these words: “If anybody thinks he is a prophet or spiritually gifted, let him acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command. If he ignores this, he himself will be ignored” (1 Corinthians 14:37-38).

V.

I TIMOTHY 2:8-15

“A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived, it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.”

The CVCC Statement struggles to harmonize 1 Timothy 2:8-15 with the view that “there is no distinction between what a man or a woman may do in any gathering of the Connecticut Valley Church of Christ.” As attempted justification for this position, the Statement affirms that: (1) The phrase ‘in all subjection’ (2:11) refers only to wives of husbands not women in general. (2). The teaching the women in Ephesus were doing was forbidden because it was being done in a domineering manner. (3) It is plausible that their teaching involved false doctrine. (4) The reference to Adam and Eve evidently concerns Eve teaching in a domineering way. (5). The reference to Eve being deceived points back to the marriage relationship. After a somewhat lengthy discussion on this passage, the Statement concludes: “(It) is best seen as Paul’s response to a particular situation in an individual church, probably also involving Christian wives either primarily or entirely” (p. 11-15).

In this REVIEW we offer the following observations:

First, Paul is discussing differences in roles and responsibilities between men and women. Males (the Greek word is andras) are instructed to “pray everywhere” (1 Timothy 2:8). On the other hand, females (the Greek word is gunaikas) are instructed to dress modestly as is “appropriate for women who profess to worship God” (1 Timothy 2:9-10). The commands are addressed to Christian men in general and to Christian women in general, not specifically married men or married women. Virtually every English translation renders these Greek words as “men” and “women,” not “husbands” and “wives.”

Second,  Paul is describing the roles of men and women primarily in the local church.  Everett Ferguson argues persuasively that the instruction for males to “pray everywhere” in verse 8 is used in the Old Testament as well as in contemporary Jewish literature to refer to “congregations” or “public assemblies” of worshipers (Ferguson, The Early Church and Today, pp 237-247). While the word has a primary focus on the public meetings for worship there is a wider application to other places and other circumstances where men will lead in prayer. In a similar way, the primary focus on women’s modesty in attire (vss. 9-10) and learning in “quietness and full submission” is in public meetings of the church where males are present, but by extension these instructions have an application on woman’s role in the family as well.  Woman’s “submission” is required by God in both the church and in the family.

Third,  the inspired writer carefully identifies the submissive roles of women: “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man” (v. 12).  Jack Lewis, of Harding Graduate School of Religion, has pointed out that the words “teach” and “have authority over” are coordinate clauses; both apply to the words “a man” (Lewis, Leadership Questions Confronting the Church, 1985 p 5.)

Fourth, contrary to the affirmations of the CVCC Statement, Paul is not concerned about women “domineering” over men; that is not the context of his instructions. There is no hint in this passage that Paul’s concern is only that some women are wrongly handling authority. Disorderliness is not the subject of these verses; woman’s submission to the man is the topic. It is worth noting that the terms “teach” and “exercise authority” are parallel. The kind of teaching under discussion is teaching which involves exercising authority. “Teach” and “exercise authority” are also parallel to “full submission” and “quietness.”  Women are not to occupy places of leadership in the church because this is contrary to the order of Creation: “for Adam was formed first, them Eve.”

Fifth, neither is Paul discussing women teaching false doctrines. Those who teach are accountable to God for teaching the truth and must avoid false teachings at all costs. However, that is not the context of his instructions in of 1 Timothy chapter 2.. In the words of Thomas B. Edgar, professor of New Testament at Capital Bible Seminary:  “Any negative meaning for the practices prohibited in 1 Timothy 2:12 is highly improbable in the context. The passage concerns the relationship between men and women, not some practice wrong in itself. Only women are prohibited from the practice, which implies it is acceptable for men; therefore it is not some practice such as domineering teaching which is wrong for both men and women” (Edgar, Contextualized Interpretations of 1 Timothy 2:12: An Analysis, p. 7)

Sixth,  when Paul forbids women to “teach or have authority over men,” he does not intend to communicate if Elders of the Lord’s church give permission for women to have leadership authority over a congregation such would be acceptable to the Lord. Elders do not have the right to counteract God’s instructions by granting permission to do what inspiration has forbidden. Paul is not intending to provide a “loop hole” around his instructions. Leaders of the church must not place women in teaching positions “over men” because this violates a fundamental principle of male headship, established by God Himself at Creation.

Seventh: the question arises, “What if the elders invite women to exercise leadership authority over men in worship and teaching?   The King James Version uses the words “usurp authority” which some have interpreted as forbidding women to force their leadership over men, but leaving room for them to take on such a role if the male members of the congregation invite them to do so.  Recent editions of the New International Version use the words “assume authority” which some have interpreted in a similar way. However, Dictionary.com defines “assume” as: ”to take over the duties or responsibilities of.”  One does not have to force his/her way upon others when “assuming” a leadership role in the world of commerce and industry. An employee may be invited to take on a new post with greater responsibilities and greater authority. To “assume” these new duties requires only a willingness to accept an invitation extended by someone “to move up the corporate ladder”.  In a similar way, in the church it is possible for women to assume the role of leadership authority in worship and teaching as a result of an invitation from the elders to do so. However, the apostle Paul states that women are not to take on a position that puts them “over man“. Such is clearly forbidden in scripture, even if the Elders give women permission to do so.)

Eighth,  those who teach are commanded to do so “with all authority” (Titus 2:15). “The early Christian understanding of teaching, built upon the Jewish understanding, saw teaching as an activity involving personal direction and an exercise of authority. The teacher … laid out what he expected the student to accept…. The teaching occurred within a relationship in which the students acknowledged the teacher’s authority … accompanied by the correction of individuals who were not following the accepted teaching (1 Timothy 4:11; 4:16-5:2; 2 Timothy 4:1-4; Titus 2:15; 3:8-11)” — Clark, Men and Women in Christ, p. 196.

Ninth, when Paul declares that “Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner,” he does not imply that man is in any way superior to woman.  He is not casting aspersion on woman’s spiritual abilities to understand and obey the will of God. Indeed, a careful reading of Genesis 3: shows that Eve’s vulnerability to Satan’s temptation was based largely on her desire to become “wise like God” (Genesis 3:5-6).  It has been suggested by some that Eve had a fundamental desire to be like God. If this is true, it is a compliment to Eve’s faith and sincere desire to do God’s will in her life. Adam, on the other hand, found it more difficult to have such a tender spiritual heart.  He was not deceived by Satan’s temptation; he saw through the devil’s tricky promises. However, he did nothing to help Eve at the very time she needed his spiritual guidance and protection! To Adam’s shame when he failed to exercise his role, Eve fell for Satan’s “line” and  was deceived. Paul does not explain why he mentions Eve’s vulnerability to the temptation. He simply states the facts. Perhaps it is not for us to know what if anything is the significance of Eve’s deception since Paul makes no direct application of it in this passage of scripture. However, he makes one point  quite clear: Just as Eve was not put in a position of equal or superior spiritual leadership over Adam due to the fact that “Adam was formed first,” so godly women today are not to be put in a position of spiritual authority over men.

VI.

GALATIANS 3:26-28

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Galatians 3:28 has been taken out of context and used by a number of those who want women to have the same roles as men in the church and in the home. The comment in the CVCC Statement concerning Galatians 3:26-28 is worthy of commendation: “In Galatians Paul is trying to counter Judaizing teacher who are attempting to force Jewish practices on new Gentile Christians…. It culminates in 3:26 with the statement, “for you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.” Rather than observance of the Jewish law as the vehicle to be in a relationship as a child of God, faith in Christ is the key. It is through baptism that this union with Christ has occurred and the result is clothing oneself with Christ (v. 27), or, put another way, being one with/in Christ (v. 26). Hence the three-fold groupings in the 3:28 have to do with becoming one with Christ through faith and baptism. Galatians 3:28, then, has no bearing on the topic at hand….” (p. 8) Other churchmen who attempt to justify women as leaders of public worship frequently do so by wresting Galatians 3:28 from its natural context. Would that  they shared the insight of the Connecticut Valley Church leaders!

Males and females are equally loved by God, equally valuable, equally accessible to His grace in Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:28-29). Males and females simply have different roles in God’s over-all plan of things. Men are given the role of spiritual leadership in the church and in the home. Women are to be in submission to their leadership. History teaches us that it is always in the best interest of humanity to do things in the way God has appointed.

I want to express my appreciation to the brethren at the Connecticut Valley Church of Christ, Windsor, Connecticut for this opportunity read, reflect upon and review their document, “INVOLVEMENT OF MEN AND WOMEN IN THE PUBLIC ASSEMBLIES OF THE CONNECTICUT VALLEY CHURCH OF CHRIST.”

–– David Tarbet

Minister of Personal Evangelism

Church of Christ

New Milford, Connecticut 

June 10, 2014

Scripture quotations from the New International Version, 1983 edition

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Clark, Stephen B. Man and Woman In Christ. Ann Arbor, MI: Servant Books, 1980

Edgar, Thomas B. Unpublished essay, “Contextualized Interpretations of 1 Timothy 2:12”,  Capital Bible Seminary, Lantham, Maryland

Ferguson, Everett. The Early Church and Today. Abilene, TX: ACU Press,  2012

Ferguson, Everett. The Church of Christ. A Biblical Ecclesiology for Today. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996

Lewis, Jack. Leadership Questions Confronting the Church. Nasahville: Christian Communication, 1985.

Schreiner, Thomas R. “Head Coverings, Prophecies and the Trinity” in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, John Piper and Wayne Grudem (ed). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1991.

 
 
Posted in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, 1 Timothy 2:8-15, Adam and Eve, Galatians 3:26-28, Genesis 1-3, Genesis 3:16, Headship, I Corinthians 11:1-3, men and women in worship, Silence in the Churches, Submission | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

OBADIAH SAYS: KINGDOMS WILL FALL, BUT GOD’S KINGDOM IS INDESTRUCTABLE

Whoever said the Bible is irrelevant to the way people live today needs to take a fresh look at the “Minor Prophets” of the Old Testament.  These twelve books may be short in length  but they are major in message. They have something today’s world leaders and citizens need to hear — the proud and the humble, the good and the bad, the skeptic and the believer. The target of Obadiah’s message was primarily the people of Edom, and he gives it “all he’s got” in a little book consisting of a single chapter!

WHO WERE THE EDOMITES?

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Nation of Edom

Edomites were descendants of Esau, one of two sons of Isaac and Rebekah (Genesis 25:19-34). Esau was born around 2,000 BC and his descendants lived Southwest of the Dead Sea. Although the Edomites were relatives of the Israelites (who descended from Jacob, the twin brother of Esau), they did not treat the Israelites well.  When Israel was traveling from Egypt to the Promised Land around 1400 BC the Edomites refused to allow passage through their territory (Numbers 20:14-21). This created significant strain in the relationship between the Israelites and the Edomites.

King David conquered Edom around 1,000 BC (2 Samuel 8:14).  However, when Israel was attacked by the Babylonians in 586 BC the Edomites aided and abetted Babylon as it ruthlessly conquered God’s people and took them into Babylonian captivity for 70 years.  The Lord was angry with Edom for its cruel treatment of their kinsmen in the flesh and promised that a day of reckoning was coming when Edom would be destroyed for their actions against Israel.  He said, “Because of the violence done to your brother Jacob shame shall cover you, and you shall be cut off forever” (Obadiah verse 10). Other prophets such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Joel and Amos joined with Obadiah in denouncing the Edomites, and promising the end of the nation.  God said through Obadiah: “I will bring you down!” (verse 4).  Other prophets were very specific in their predictions about what would happen to Edom. They wrote that:

• Edom would become a desolation (Isaiah 34:13) •

• It would be conquered by Israel (Ezekiel 25:14) •

• It would have a bloody history (Ezekiel 34:5-6; Isaiah 34:6-7) •

• Wild animals would inhabit the area (Isaiah 34:13-15) •

• Trade would cease (Isaiah 34:10; Ezekiel 35:7) •

• Spectators would be astonished (Jeremiah 49:17) •

• Edom would never be populated again (Jeremiah 49:18) •

In the sixth century BC the Nabateans expelled Edom from their rock fortresses and occupied their country. They were again conquered by the Maccabees around 150 BC in fulfillment of the prophecy of Ezekiel 25:14. At that time 20,000 Edomites were put to death!  In the first century AD the remaining Edomites were absorbed by the Arabs and their identity was lost completely.  Today there is not one person on earth who can trace his ancestry back to the Edomites. The promises of Jeremiah 49:18 have been fulfilled: Edom will never be populated again.

Higgins comments on the annihilation of ancient Edom:  “Today the land stands deserted, a mute testimony to the sure Word of the Lord. Petra is a remarkable example of the literal fulfillment of this prophecy. This great ancient capital with its theatre seating 4000, its temples, its altars and its monuments, is now silent and alone, decaying with the passage of time.” (Higgins, David C. “The Edomites Considered Historically and Prophetically.” Unpublished Master’s Thesis, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1960). The inspired word of the Lord through Malachi, the last Old Testament prophet, still grabs our attention and raises our eyebrows:  “Esau (referring to the Edomites) I have hated. I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert” (Malachi 1:2-3).

WHO WAS OBADIAH?

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Obadiah the 6th Century Prophet

Ten people bore the name “Obadiah” in the Old Testament. The one who authored the book bearing his name received a “vision” sometime between the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem (586 BC) and Edom’s destruction by the Babylonians (553 BC).  Almost nothing is known for certain about his background. According to  “Jewish” tradition, Obadiah was a convert to Judaism who came from Edom, a descendant from Eliphaz, one of Job’s three “friends”. According to “Christian” tradition, Obadiah is said to have been born in Shechem and was the third captain of 50 men sent from king Ahaziah to bring Elijah to meet the king face to face (2 Kings 1:13-16). What we know for sure is that Obadiah was a prophet of God, a courageous preacher and a man of few words.  His entire book covers only 21 verses. His name means “one who serves the Lord.” Come to think of it, that’s really all we need to know to make us attentive to his timeless message!

WHAT IS HIS PRACTICAL AND TIMELESS MESSAGE ?

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Book of Obadiah

1. God Rules Over the Nations.  God is not the God of the Israelites only; He is the God of all nations. The Edomites may have thought they were impregnable because they dwelt among the cliffs, high above the canyon floor, but God’s presence and power would bring them down from the cliffs where eagles soared.  “Though you soar aloft like the eagle, though your nest is set among the stars, from there I will bring you down, declares the Lord” (Obadiah verse 4). It is true even today that the fate of nations is in the hand of God. He has determined “the allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place” (Acts 17:26). Even rulers who do not know or honor the Lord are subject to His will. He makes kingdoms rise and He makes kingdoms fall. “The Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone He wishes” (Daniel 4:32).

2. Prideful Self-sufficiency Is a Delusion. A famous theologian once said that there is only one basic sin: pride. It is man’s determined insistence that he is master of his own fate and captain of his own soul that continually gets him in trouble. Mankind thinks that it deserves whatever it desires; that the world owes it whatever the “good life” has to offer; that no one has the right to criticize or pass judgment on its conduct, belief systems or pleasures. Any concept of the need for a Savior is foreign to the thinking of prideful people. As someone recently put it to me, “I may not be doing what God wants me to do, but when I get to the judgment I want to have my say!” Such arrogance will keep a person from reading his Bible, repenting of his sins or committing his life to Jesus Christ.  It’s faulty thinking. Obadiah assured the Edomites that pride would be their downfall. “The pride of your heart has deceived you … You have no understanding” (verses 3 and 7).

3. It Matters How We Treat People. The Edomites and the Israelites were kinsfolk, and kinsfolk ought to “cover each other’s backs.” They ought to feel obligated to defend and protect members of the family even if they don’t do the same for non-family!  How do we expect people to treat strangers with equity and kindness if they don’t care enough to be equitable and kind to their own family?  God said: “Because of the violence done to your brother Jacob, shame shall cover you, and you shall be cut off forever.” (verse 10). What follows is Obadiah’s eight “do nots” for family relationships:

• Do not gloat over the misfortune of your brother (verse 12) •

• Do not rejoice in his day of ruin (verse 12) •

• Do not boast in the day of distress (verse 12) •

• Do not enter the gate in the day of his calamity (verse 13) •

• Do not gloat over his disaster (verses 13) •

• Do not loot his wealth (verse 13) •

• Do not cut off his fugitives (verse 14) •

• Do not hand over his survivors (verse 14) •

Jesus put it positively when He said: “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them” (Matthew 7:12). Family members and neighbors, friend and foe alike must be treated with the love of Christ. “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink” (Romans 12:20).  It is by practicing love that Christians are identified in this world of violence, hatred, apathy, abusiveness and self-centeredness.  “By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).

4. Divine Punishment Is Fair, Just and Inevitable. “The day of the Lord is near upon all the nations. As you have done, it shall be done to you; your deeds shall return on your own head” (Obadiah verses 15-18). God does not exercise his wrath like a bully who abuses others. His anger is always just and fair. It is in proportion to one’s sins. Some sins are more serious than others; some have greater consequences.  However, we can be assured of this one fact:  God’s judgment against sinners is inevitable.  “We must all stand before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Corinthians 5:10). We dare not take the coming judgment lightly!  “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God!” (Hebrews 10:31).

5. “The Kingdom Is the Lord’s” Even Today. Obadiah announced the promise of God to His faithful people: “Saviors shall go up to Mount Zion to rule Mount Esau (that is, Edom), and the kingdom shall be the Lord’s”  (verses 19-21). This is more than a promise of a return to Palestine following Babylonian captivity. The prophet Amos spoke of this very same promise to “possess the remnant of Edom” when the Lord would “raise up the booth (or tent) of David that had fallen” (Amos 9:11-12).  Early Christians saw these promises fulfilled in the establishment of God’s spiritual kingdom, the church. James applied this prophecy to the salvation of Gentiles: “After this I will return, and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will restore it, that the remnant of mankind may seek the Lord and all the Gentiles who are called by My name, says the Lord, who makes all these things known from old” (Acts 15:14-17). The coming of Christ’s Church and the salvation of Gentiles is the assurance that “the kingdom shall be the Lord’s”  in our own day. You can inherit the kingdom-blessings Obadiah promised to God’s faithful people!

Have you entered the Lord’s kingdom (His church) through obedient faith? You do not need to wait till next Sunday to do that –– you can enter the kingdom by being “born of water and the Spirit” this very day (John 3:5)!

Posted in Acts 15:14-17, Acts 17:26, Amos, Daniel, Edom, Esau, Ezekiel, Family Relationships, Isaiah, Jeremiah, John 3:5, Lord's Kingdom, Malachi, Minor Prophets, Obadiah, Petra, Pride, Punishment | Tagged | 2 Comments

THE SUN OF RIGHTEOUSNESS SHALL RISE WITH HEALING IN ITS WINGS

 Malachi 4:2 (English Standard Version)

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The Prophet Malachi

Unique among the Minor Prophets, Malachi was the last of the Old Testament prophets. He lived in the mid 5th century before the coming of Christ, during one of the most disappointing periods of Israelite history. One would have hoped that the nation of Israel would have learned its lessons after losing its homeland and spending 70 years in Babylonian captivity.  But alas! Israel took spiritual things for granted, neglected the proper sacrifices and failed to give the Lord what was due Him. Malachi asked direct questions for God such as these:

“If I am a father, where is My honor? If I am a master, where is My fear?” (Malachi 1:6)

“When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not evil?” (Malachi 1:8)

“Who can endure the day of His (the Lord’s) coming; who can stand when He appears?” (Malachi 3:2)

“Will a man rob God?” (Malachi 3:8)

To grasp the significance of these questions one needs to realize the disrespectful and ungodly attitudes and actions of the Israelites:

“You say, ‘The Lord’s table is polluted, and its fruit, that is, its food may be despised’ ” (Malachi 1:12).

“You say, ‘What a weariness this is,’ and you snort at it” (Malachi 1:13).

“You say, ‘Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the Lord’” (Malachi 2:17).

“You have said, ‘What is the profit of our keeping His charge or of walking as in mourning before the Lord of hosts?’ ” (Malachi 3:14).

The kingdom that God had intended to be the light of the world now groped in its own darkness. Because Israel failed to respect and honor the Lord terrible things had been brought upon the nation. The spiritual light of God’s favor had gone out. Few rebukes equal the expressions of divine disfavor found in Malachi: “I will rebuke your offspring, and spread dung on your faces, the dung of your offerings, and you will be taken away with it” (Malachi 2:3).

But wait!  The future is not entirely bleak! God’s sinful people will not always remain in the darkness. On a coming day light will be restored. Forgiveness will be renewed! Israel will return to God! And when Israel returns to God, He will return to them! Look at what the future holds ….

LORD OF THE TEMPLE  “Behold, I send My messenger, and he will prepare the way before Me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to His temple, and the Messenger of the Covenant in whom you delight, behold He is coming, says the Lord of hosts….He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord” (Malachi 3:1-3).

SUN OF RIGHTEOUSNESS  “The sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings” (Malachi 4:2). Just as the sun chases away the darkness when it rises to shine upon the earth, so spiritual darkness will be dispelled from the hearts of God’s people. When sinners are refined and purified like silver, when the sun rises, spiritual illness will be removed and spiritual healing will be restored. What a wonderful promise!

FAMILY LOVE AFFIRMED  “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers” (Malachi 4:5-6). Families will be united in love when the Lord ushers in the age of the “sun of righteousness.”

Jesus said John the Baptist was the “Elijah” spoken of in this passage (Matthew 11:14).

The Lord whom we seek, the Lord of the Temple, the Messenger of the Covenant is none other than Jesus Christ, the Son of God (John 2:13-17; Matthew 26:28; Hebrews 8:6). God’s forgiveness of our sins, the beginning of a “new creation,” the privilege of arising from the waters of baptism to walk in “newness of life” (2 Corinthians 5:17; Romans 6:3-4), is the time when “sun of righteousness” chases away the darkness of sin.  The “light of the world” has come (John 8:12)! Obedient believers now receive “one grace after another” (John 1:16). We have been removed from the kingdom of darkness and transferred into the kingdom of God’s dear Son (Colossians 1:13).

Mind-Refreshing-SunriseThe connection between Malachi’s promised “sun of righteousness” which dispels all the terrible consequences of sin and Jesus Christ, who now “shines upon us” (Ephesians 5:14) is astounding. Some translations actually capitalize Malachi 4:2 to make it obvious that the prophet Malachi was referring to the Messiah Himself. These translations read:   “The Sun of Righteousness with healing in His wings” (21st Century King James, Amplified, Darby, God’s Word, New Living, and Orthodox Jewish translations).

In the first century Zechariah the priest knew that the time was near, and declared that “the sunrise shall visit us from on high” (Luke 1:78). Isaiah predicted the coming of Christ and wrote: “Arise, shine, for our light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you” (Isaiah 60:1).  Again, he wrote: “Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily” (Isaiah 58:8).

Do you appreciate all the blessings God has in mind for you? The ultimate choice each of us must make is whether to walk in the darkness or to walk in the light; whether to live in the guilt of sin or to allow God to forgive us. No one needs to live in the cold, dark condemnation of sin.  Jesus, the Son of Righteousness, the Light of the world can take all the darkness away. Why would anyone choose the darkness when he could walk “in the light as He is in the light”?  Have you taken the steps of obedient faith to become His disciple?  Have you been scripturally baptized so you can be transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light (Romans 6:3-4)? We want to help you discover the “sun of righteousness with healing in its wings.”

Posted in darkness, Isaiah 58:8, Isaiah 60:1, Luke 1:78, Malachi, Malachi 3:1-3, Malachi 4:2, Malachi 4:5-6 | 1 Comment

ZECHARIAH –– “THE KING IS COMING!”

Zechariah

Zechariah depicted on Michelangelo’s ceiling of the Sistine Chapel

“Major Prophets” like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel and some of the “Minor Prophets” anticipated a coming age of peace and forgiveness. Perhaps none of the “Minor Prophets” alluded to the coming Messiah with more detail than the prophet Zechariah who lived 500 years before the coming of Christ.  There are 54 images of the Messiah found in his book. These are echoed in 67 passages of the New Testament. Zechariah chapters 9-14 are quoted more than any of the “Minor Prophets” in the final hours leading to Jesus’ death. Four of these grab our attention.

THE COMING OF THE KING

“Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your King comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9). How remarkable that on Sunday, as Jesus rode into Jerusalem, these words were fulfilled.  “They brought the donkey and the colt, placed their cloaks on them, and Jesus sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of Him and those that followed shouted, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David!’ ” (Matthew 21:1-9).

Triumphal Entry

Notice the royalty of the Messiah. The King comes! He is the one of whom Jacob spoke: “The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet until He comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is His” (Genesis 49:10).  God promised on oath that one of David’s descendants would sit on his throne. He spoke of the resurrection of Christ. Therefore, be assured of this: God has made Jesus both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:30-36). He is the new King reigning over God’s spiritual nation. Jesus sits on the throne of David. “His kingdom will never end” (Luke 1:32-33). To be a follower of Jesus Christ means to be committed to His absolute authority, to obey His commandents without reservation.

Notice also the accomplishments of the Messiah. He rides not on the steed of military aggression, but on the foal of a donkey — the animal which symbolizes humility and gentleness.  He is “righteous and gentle and riding on…the foal of a donkey.” Again, “He will proclaim peace to the nations” (Zechariah 9:10). But He has accomplished even more!  He lived a righteous life of (Zechariah 9:9). Like a righteous king described by the psalmist Jesus will “deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help. He will take pity on the weak and the needy and save the needy from death. He will rescue them from oppression and violence, for precious is their blood in His sight” (Psalm 72:12-14). If you are looking for righteousness and peace in your heart Jesus is the One you need. He is the only One who can deliver what He promises. “Till the moon is no more” Jesus will be our assurance that “the righteous will flourish” (Psalm 72:7), and that those whose hearts are troubled will find the “peace of God that transcends all understanding” (Philippians 4:7).

THE SHEPHERD BETRAYED

Zechariah was commanded by God to assume the role of a faithful shepherd of God’s flock. Almost immediately he ran into the stiff opposition of religious leaders, worthless shepherds, who were interested only in making money by slaughtering the sheep. Even the people he was trying to guide and protect despised him! In extreme frustration over Israel’s leaders he resigned his assignment and went to those responsible for paying his salary, demanding, “If you think it best give me my pay; but if not, keep it.” They weighed out only 30 pieces of silver” –– the pitiful value of a slave but certainly not of a shepherd (Exodus 21:32)! At God’s direction, Zechariah promptly threw the coins into the house of the Lord to be given to the potter (Zechariah 11:4-14)

Early in the morning Judas grieved with agony because he had betrayed His Lord for 30 pieces of silver.  The Scripture records:  “He was seized with remorse and returned the thirty silver coins to the chief priests and the elders. ‘I have sinned,’ he said, ‘for I have betrayed innocent blood.’ …. So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself.  The chief priests …. decided to use the money to buy the potter’s field as a burial place for foreigners. That is why it has been called the Field of Blood to this day” (Matthew 27:3-8). Little did Judas know that 500 years earlier Zechariah had participated in a very similar tragic story.

Judas coins 2

Can we not see the heart of Judas in this story?  Judas (like the corrupt leaders of Israel) messed up his own life and the life of others. As the leaders of Zechariah’s day failed to appreciate God’s true shepherd, and undervalued his worth, so Judas failed to appreciate Jesus as the Shepherd of God’s flock. He sold the precious Son of God for the price of a slave. How frustrated he became with himself! How remorseful! It was too late to reverse his foolish actions. Judas’ hope for the future was gone forever. Without hope his life would end in despair. The betrayer of the Son of God returned the thirty pieces of silver and doomed his body to suicide.

The Tyndale Commentary summarized the lessons for us: (1) The responsibility for human chaos lies squarely on human shoulders. (2) God has offered men His Shepherd but they have rejected Him, to their own irreparable loss. Sinful attitudes and sinful actions result in shameful decisions that hurt us and others.

THE ONE THEY PIERCED

The prophet spoke of a future day of grace and forgiveness:  “Tbey will look on Me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for Him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son” (Zechariah 12:10). The word translated “pierced” usually refers to being stabbed with a spear or sword.  Zechariah 13:7 identifies the One pierced as the Lord’s Shepherd, none other than “the man who is close to Me” (NIV), or who “stands next to Me” (ESV). We can hardly read this without thinking of the Lord Jesus.  Is it any wonder that the apostle John wrote: “one of the soldiers pierced Jesus. side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water …. These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled:…’They will look on the one they have pierced’ (John 19:34-37).  His mother, friends and disciples mourned over Him as the “firstborn son,” God’s “one and only Son” (John 3:16). The blood of Jesus is “precious” because it is through His blood that we receive forgiveness of all our sins –– no matter how serious, when we sinned, or how often we repeated it. When we are baptized (immersed) into the death of Jesus, God forgives our past sins (Romans 6:3-4; Ephesians 1:7). After baptism, the “blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7-10).  Have you been washed in the blood of the pierced Shepherd?

“STRIKE THE SHEPHERD AND THE SHEEP WILL BE SCATTERED”

As long as the Good Shepherd was present the disciples were united and felt secure.  But when the Shepherd was killed, His followers fled, as the prophet foretold: “Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered” (Zechariah 13:17). Jesus predicted Peter’s denial and the scattering of His apostles which followed.  “ ‘You will all fall away,’ Jesus told them; ‘for it is written: ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered’ ” (Mark 14:27). The day Jesus was crucified His followers scattered in many directions –– some to their homes, some to the homes of other disciples, some to villages away from Jerusalem.

Who else but Jesus Christ could have fulfilled these remarkable 500-year-old prophecies in such minute detail?

The words of Zechariah builds our faith in Christ. His book reminds us of what Jesus went through to bring salvation and peace to our world. It encourages us to see anew that through God’s love and providence He has provided a Savior for us.  As the “Minor Prophet” declared: “A fountain will be opened to the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity” (Zechariah 13:1).  Jesus is the Fountain. Have you been to Jesus for the cleansing power?

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Posted in Acts 2:30-36, Exodus 21:32, Genesis 49:11, John 19:34-37, Judas, King, Look On the One Pierced, Luke 1:32-33, Mark 14:27, Matthew 21:1-9, Matthew 27:3-8, Messiah, Psalm 72, Strike the Shepherd, Thirty Pieces of Silver, True Shepherd, Zechariah, Zechariah 11:4-14, Zechariah 12:10, Zechariah 13:1, Zechariah 13:17, Zechariah 9:9 | Tagged | 2 Comments

THE DAY OF THE LORD IS COMING!

“The great Day of the Lord is near –– near and coming quickly!”

(Zephaniah 1:14).

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Zephaniah lived during the reign of Judah’s king Josiah (640-609 BC) –– over 2600 years ago –– and his words were spoked with urgency and power. He referred to a day of reckoning when the nations would face God’s ultimate judgment. His message reminds us of the promise of the New Testament that the “Day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night” (1 Thessalonians 5:2).  The words of the apostle Paul point us to the future, when Jesus Christ will come again.  The Old Testament and the New Testament are tied together by prophecies that the Day of the Lord is near and coming quickly!  What can we learn from the prophet Zephaniah that will help us prepare for the ultimate arrival of the Day of the Lord?

A DAY OF GOD’S WRATH

The ancient prophet warned the people that the Day of the Lord would be the outpouring of God’s wrath in judgment. Nations, including Judah (God’s chosen people) would surely suffer punishment because of their sins. Specifically mentioned are the sins of compromise with false religion, violence, deceit, pride, arrogance, apathy and corrupt spiritual leadership. Hear his words: “Listen! That day will be a day of wrath, a day of distress and anguish, a day of trouble and ruin, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness…. I will bring distress on the people and they will walk like blind men, because they have sinned against the Lord” (Zephaniah 1:14-17). We need to recognize that God is a righteous God whose justice demands punishment for sin.

The day of God’s wrath is a major theme of the New Testament as well.  It foretells of the coming Day of Judgment “when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with His powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of His power” (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9). People today who ignore these warnings do so to their own peril.

A DAY OF NO MORE CHANCES

In Zephaniah’s time, even at that late hour the Lord was willing to give sinners another chance to repent, to make things right with God. He did not delight in pouring out His wrath; He loved sinners even while he hated their sins. If Judah and the other nations had turned their hearts back to God, if they had obeyed Him, God would have been willing to show mercy and grace.  The last thing the nations should have done was to take God’s grace for granted, ignored His warnings, and deceived themselves into thinking that God would not do what He said He was going do. Nothing upset the Lord more than spiritual apathy and complacency; thinking that “the Lord will do nothing, either good or bad” (Zephaniah 1:12). God said: “On that day I will search Jerusalem with lamps and punish those who are complacent.” Only if nations returned to God would the coming Day of the Lord be averted! There was not much time to do that; the Day of the Lord was “near and coming quickly.” When the Day arrived there would be no more chances to repent and be forgiven. It would be too late.

It is because God loves and cares about Christians that He warns us about the coming Day of Judgment.  The Scripture says: “God is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).  He “wants all men to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). Jesus is coming soon, but now we have an opportunity to seek God’s mercy and forgiveness.  Tomorrow may be too late! After death there will be no changing one’s eternal destiny. The fate of the soul is sealed at death (Hebrews 9:27).  The question all of us must answer is this: “Do you show contempt for the riches of His kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance” (Romans 2:4)?

A DAY OF JOYFUL REWARD

Zephaniah promised that devastation and destruction would be everywhere, but among those who humbly and reverently obeyed the Lord there would be peace and reward. What words of comfort and reassurance:  “Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, O Daughter of Jerusalem!  The Lord has taken away your punishment…. The Lord your God is with you, He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing” (Zephaniah 3:14-17).  This may be the only time in Scripture that God is spoken of as “singing” with joy.  God sings when His people do the right thing! As a mother calms a crying child, He quiets His people with His love.

As the Old Testament Day of the Lord was to be a day of gladness for the true children of God, so in the New Testament, the coming Day of the Lord will be a day of gladness for all who are part of the family of Christ.  On the day Jesus returns, He will “be glorified in His holy people and marveled at among those who have believed” (2 Thessalonians 1:10). God has not appointed obedient believers to suffer wrath, but “to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:9). He will  “bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him” (Hebrews 9:28). He is coming back to take us to be with Him that we also may be where He is (John 14:3).  God assured the ancient Israelites that He would bring them home (Zephaniah 3:20).   On the Day of the Lord, Jesus will take us home, where we will be with the Lord  forever! Truly, there is no place like home!

What preparations do you need to make for the Day of the Lord?  There are things you need to do. Let us help you make those preparations, for the Day of the Lord is near and coming quickly!

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