Able to Teach

1 Timothy, Church, Leadership, Titus No Comments »

This “quality” for a church elder is found in the list in 1 Timothy 3 right after the words “respectable, hospitable” and before the words “not given to drunkenness, not violent.” Because we’re Campbellites and we’re conditioned wrongly to read the Scriptures like the constitution or a list of laws, we’ve sometimes taken this short phrase and disqualified a candidate for elder because he doesn’t teach a Bible class or he’s not a polished speaker.

Well, I’d rather SEE a sermon than HEAR one any day. Yes? What’s the deal with teaching? How necessary is it?

We get a fuller description of what Paul’s talking about when we look at his list of elder qualities in Titus.

“He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.” ~Titus 1:9

The idea in Scripture isn’t so much the ability to teach a Sunday School class as it is the ability to pass the truth of the Gospel on to members of the flock. You know, you can teach a Bible class and still not have a good grasp of the Gospel. I’ve been in classes like that and you have, too. An elder needs to know and pass on that we are saved by faith in Christ Jesus, not be any good works of our own. That’s the Gospel. Sound doctrine. The truth.

Elders must uphold that truth, they must defend that truth, they must rebuke those who oppose that truth in order to keep the whole church in that truth.

And when Paul writes “truthful message” or “sound doctrine,” he’s not talking about how to organize a congregation or how to conduct a proper worship service. He’s talking about salvation from God in Christ. In Titus, he’s specifically correcting the errors of the circumcision group and the “sound doctrine” he uses to refute that group and to encourage the others is — are you ready? — more faith, more sacrifice, more reliance on the Spirit, more love. He’s talking to them about expressing more fully the truth of Jesus.

The classroom is just one way, but there are many ways to teach and model and pass on the truth of the Gospel.

I would hate for us to read the Bible passages on church leadership through a legal lens that bogs us down on two or three points and distracts us from the heart of a shepherd that’s actually being described. My recommendation would be to put more focus on words like “respectable,” “hospitable,” “gentle,” “not overbearing,” “not conceited,” “not quarrelsome.” Those words describe our Lord. Those words are characteristic of a Christ-like leader.

Peace,

Allan

Husband of One Wife

1 Timothy, Leadership, Marriage, Titus 2 Comments »

For a church elder, WHO he is is much more important than WHAT he is. We respond to our shepherds because of their great Christian character, not because their names are on the back of the bulletin or because they lead the prayers at the end. The New Testament never instructs God’s people to follow a leader because he holds an office or a title. It has everything to do with his character and his life.

That’s what we have in those two lists in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. These are the marks of Christian maturity. These are the distinguishing traits of someone who has grown in Christ and experienced the life-changing power of the Lord. Their character, their consistency, is above reproach. Not perfect — that’s not what this means. If elders had to be perfect, we wouldn’t have any elders. Blameless, above reproach, means that nobody can legitimately accuse them of any conduct which is not fitting a mature disciple of Christ. It means these qualities should exist in a man’s life to such a degree that they should stand out as the kind of man he really is. It’s clear. He’s a model of Christian maturity.

Now, we have a tendency to view these lists as narrow, legalistic qualifications. We use these lists sometimes like a grid, holding it up to each elder candidate to see if he fits, to see if he checks all the boxes. Even then, we’re generally more concerned with two or three of the character traits than we are the others. And I want to specifically address two of these today and tomorrow and attempt to put them in their proper perspectives.

“Husband of one wife.” You find this exact same phrase in both of the lists, both times immediately after the general descriptive term “blameless” and “above reproach.”

The original Greek text in both lists is mias gunaikos aner. Literally translated it’s “of one woman/wife, man/husband.” Yeah, this is weird for us English speakers because gunaikos can mean woman or wife, depending on the context, and aner can mean either man or husband, again, depending on the context. It’s like the German herr can mean man or husband or sir or lord, depending on the situation. Frau can mean wife or woman, depending on when and where and about whom it’s being said. You’re not sure until you understand the context. The only thing I can point to in English that might be close is when we pronounce somebody “man and wife” at a wedding; you know that “man” means “husband” because we’re at a wedding.

For me, “husband of one wife” is the best English translation. But it’s just as possible and just as correct to translate it “man of one woman” or “man with one woman” or “a one-woman man” or just “faithful to his wife.”

See, the verb is present tense. It matches the present tense verbs in both of the passages. They’re all present tense. He is currently right now the man of one woman. He is presently faithful to his wife. The emphasis is on the man’s character, not his marital history. Maybe he’s had a previous divorce. Maybe he’s got sin in his marital past. The concern in these passages is what’s going on with him right now? Is he loyal? Is he sexually pure? Is he faithful to his wife in all things? Is there any indication he might not be faithful to his present wife?

That’s the way many English translations render this:

NIV – “faithful to his wife”
ESV – “husband of one wife” and a footnote: or “man of one woman”
NIRV – “faithful to his wife”
CEV – “faithful in marriage”
NLT – “faithful to his wife”
MSG – “committed to his wife”

For the Central church, this is our understanding and this is how we apply it: is he currently faithful to his present wife? This fits with the Scriptures and with the function of an elder much better. And it fits much more faithfully to the grace and forgiveness of the Gospel of Jesus than saying any divorce, no matter how long ago and no matter the reason, disqualifies a man from being considered as an elder. Divorce is not an unforgiveable sin — it never has been — no more than if a man at one point in his past had an issue with violence or greed. It doesn’t disqualify him from being an elder today.

Now, this doesn’t mean that the circumstances of a man’s past divorce are irrelevant. If he sinned in his marriage, he might fail some other qualities like blameless, loves what is good, self-controlled, holy, disciplined. Maybe. It needs to be vetted. Is the divorce a past sin that’s been confessed, repented of, and forgiven? Are those sins evident in the man’s life today or is he known as living proof of the Holy Spirit’s transforming power? Is his life an evidence and an example of faithfulness, of a heart saved and changed by God in Christ? Those are the concerns.

Marital faithfulness is a virtue. It has little to do with going through a divorce a long time ago. It has nothing to do with being married twice due to divorce or death. Those things do not reflect on the current Christian character of a candidate.

Peace,

Allan

Where is Jesus? Part Three

1 Timothy, Carrie-Anne, Christ & Culture, Church, Colossians, Ephesians, Holy Spirit, Jesus 1 Comment »

BandAidRedPlease keep my darling wife Carrie-Anne in your thoughts and prayers for the next few days. She’s having surgery this afternoon to repair a fairly significant hole in a sinus passage. The surgery is only supposed to take about an hour and a half, but everybody’s telling us the eight days after are going to be horrible. As you’re probably aware, Carrie-Anne has the best looking nose in our family, and we don’t want anything to happen to it.

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RightHandSaints2

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.” ~Colossians 3:1

“God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms.” ~Ephesians 2:6

It’s a well known and well rehearsed spiritual reality that by our baptisms we all participate in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. We are united with Christ, we are one with him and share in his death and resurrection. But the Scriptures are clear that we also share in his ascension. We reign over the world with Christ both now and, ultimately, when he returns, in the future forever. We’re co-regents, co-rulers with Jesus.

Now, let’s be clear about what this means and what it doesn’t mean. Reigning with Christ does not mean that Christians are supposed to take over the world and start passing laws and trying to push the way we live on others by power or threat or force. Reigning with Christ does not mean telling everybody what to do. Christians have tried that. Christians are still trying that. And it’s always led to disaster.

Reigning and ruling with Christ means the Church — empowered by the presence of Christ by the grace of the Holy Spirit — enters the world vulnerable and suffering, praising and praying, sacrificing and serving. The Church lives in the world as misunderstood and misjudged by humanity, saved and vindicated and raised by God. Like Jesus. Why would we ever believe we can reign with Christ if we’re not going to reign like Christ?

Man, that’s a good sentence right there. I’m going to write it again. Maybe you should tweet it right now: Why would we ever believe we can reign with Christ if we’re not going to reign like Christ?

RightHandWeReignWe like the idea of Jesus being with us everywhere, even inside us. Jesus is present with us because of his Holy Spirit. He dwells in and with his Church. But the One who is present with us and living inside us by his Spirit is also the King of Kings and Lord of Lords who rules with all power and authority from a position over us, directing us, rebuking us, encouraging us, teaching us. So, yes, in a very real sense we do reign with Christ today in the heavenly realms, but only in the ways he directs — with Jesus, in the name and manner of Jesus.

We are a kingdom of priests, or kings and priests, it depends on how it’s translated. Either way, it means we participate in the reign of God like Jesus. We have important roles to play, we have Christ-ordained jobs to perform with our Lord as he brings his Kingdom rule to earth just as it is in heaven. But we don’t fight what’s wrong in the world with the power of the sword, we use the power of love. We don’t threaten or condemn anyone; like our Lord, we suffer and we serve everyone. We’re priests, so we intercede, we pray, we bring the world to God, we lift up people to God. We cannot bring in the Kingdom of God, but we can witness to it. We can’t create the Kingdom of God, but we can set up signs and tell stories. We can’t build the Kingdom of God, but we can live it with humility and faith — turning the other cheek, walking the extra mile, forgiving others, giving up our freedoms and rights, loving our enemies, and praying for the people who want to do us harm.

Jesus is bringing his eternal rule to this world in ways this world does not understand. 1 Timothy 6 says it’ll happen in God’s own time. He is with us, yes. We reign with him, oh yeah. But he is our Lord. And for us to use methods that are contrary to Jesus’ methods is to reject him as Lord and to try to establish a rival kingdom.

Peace,

Allan

Christianity’s Las Vegas: Last Part

1 Timothy, Christ & Culture, Romans No Comments »

(This is post #998. You only have this post and the next one to enter a comment and automatically qualify for all the books we’re giving away with the 1,000th post, probably sometime next week. See the September 20 and 21 posts for excruciating details.)

We’ll wrap up this week’s conversation as it relates to Christians and politics with a final look at Bryan Roberts’ article, “Seven Things Christians Need to Remember about Politics.” Roberts’ fifth thing to remember is “Scripture tells us to pray for our governing leaders (1 Timothy 2:1-4) and to respect those in authority (Romans 13:1-7). His main point in this paragraph is that “if you’re mocking your governing leaders on Facebook, you’re in sin and the Holy Spirit is grieved. We should spend more time honoring our leaders and less time vilifying them.”

Amen. No question about any of that. But let’s take it a bit farther. Let’s talk about our prayers.

Let me be clear in my belief that God’s Church is very political. We are committed to political thought and actions. But our politics are not of this world. We are citizens of a Kingdom that is not of this world. So do not do things the way the world does things; we do things the way Jesus does things. Not with power and force, petitions and votes; but with sacrifice and submission, love and service. Our politics are entirely different from this world’s politics.

So our prayers need to be bigger than just about the United States. God’s Church knows no national boundaries and neither does his Kingdom to which we belong. Yes, pray for the leaders who are elected in America. But also pray for the leaders and peoples of every nation around the globe. There are Christians in Iraq and Afghanistan; we have brothers and sisters in Iran and China. God is working in those places, too.

As for our congregations, I would suggest two things about our Sunday morning prayers together. If you’re leading a public prayer in your worship assemblies or Bible classes, why don’t you model something like this:

One, our prayers should be for God to work through those who are elected for his holy purposes. We shouldn’t be too overly concerned about who is elected; God’s people focus too much on the big picture to be too worried about that. Praying that the President will be impeached or that your particular candidate will be elected doesn’t count. And, in light of the politics of Jesus, it’s out of line. The prayer is that God will use them, whoever they are, for his purposes and to his glory and praise.

Two, we should pray as God’s people that we will always be submissive and obedient, that we will honor all those who are leaders of our cities, states, and countries, regardless of whether we agree with them or not. That means the rulers who hold office now and those who will hold office in the future. Romans 13 tells us that those who rebel against the government are rebelling against God.

Roberts’ sixth thing, “Don’t be paranoid,” is also very important for God’s people to remember during this political season. The United States is not going to be destroyed if your candidate loses. It’s not going to be the end of the world. We should all be clear by now that the individuals or parties in control of government actually have no control whatsoever. Our God is in control. He alone causes nations to rise and fall according to his eternal plans. That should fill us with great confidence, not anxiety. God has not given his people a spirit of fear, but of power and love and a sound mind. Stop being afraid. Besides, what happens when your candidate wins and, four years from now, all the same messes still exist? The messes in your life and in your state or country? Government doesn’t ever fix what’s ultimately wrong with this world.

And, Roberts’ seventh thing is closely related, “Stop saying, ‘This is the most important election in the history of our nation.'” I’ve heard this several times in the past few months. Almost daily, somebody in my own congregation will say it in my hearing or forward me an email declaring this to be the most critical election ever. Roberts claims the most important election in the history of the U. S. was when Abraham Lincoln was voted in as President. Before that, he reminds us, we thought it was allright to own people. Every generation always thinks it’s living in the most important moments in history. We’re not. Our parents weren’t. Our children won’t. And that’s OK. Claiming that this is the most important election of all time ignores all of ancient and recent history, heightens fear and paranoia, and puts too little faith in our God.

Let me close by repeating again what I think is a critical thing for us Christians to remember during this election season: Government doesn’t ever fix what’s ultimately wrong with this world; only God’s mercy and grace, his love and salvation through Christ Jesus, can ever repair and reconcile and produce lasting joy and peace.

“The most interesting, creative, political solutions we Christians have to offer our troubled society are not new laws, advice to Congress, or increased funding for social programs. The most creative social strategy we have to offer is the Church. Here we show the world a manner of life the world can never achieve through social coercion or governmental action. We serve the world by showing it something that it is not, namely, a place where God is forming a family out of strangers.”  ~Resident Aliens

“The Church exists to set up in the world a new sign which is radically dissimilar to the world’s own manner and which contradicts it in a way which is full of promise.” ~Karl Barth

Peace,

Allan

Our Lord’s Patience Means Salvation

1 Timothy, 2 Peter, Genesis, Grace, Romans, Salvation 2 Comments »

For some reason — from the very beginning, in fact; check Genesis 3 — we have always decided that we know better than God.

We decided that God’s limits on us were oppressive. We rebel against our Creator and we sin. We blame Satan. We blame each other. We rationalize our actions and justify our sins. We argue with God about it. And in our sin, he clothes us. He covers us. He protects us and provides for us.

We kill our brother. And God puts a mark on us so we won’t be destroyed.

Every other chapter in Judges paints a dark picture of the rebellion of God’s people. They only do what’s right in their own eyes. They’re worshiping Ba’al; this is no little thing; this is full-blown apostacy. They forsake the Lord. They turn their backs on him. And God delivers them again and again and again. Even the deliverers are lousy. Barak refuses to obey God so Deborah gets the credit. Jepthah was a fugitive outlaw who sacrificed his daughter. I can’t find one redeeming thing about Samson. Even Gideon made a golden idol out of the people’s earrings. And God keeps rescuing his people. Again and again.

We see it all through the kings and the prophets: idolatry and rebellion and sin, pride and arrogance and defiance, doubt and disbelief. And, again, it’s been this way from the start.

After God makes a covenant with Noah, Noah gets drunk and naked. After the covenant with Abraham, Abraham panics and takes Hagar so he can have a son. God makes vows to Israel and they respond by building a golden calf before the words on the tablets can even set. After the covenant with David, the great king attempts to break all Ten Commandments in one weekend — and nearly does!

After 1,500 years of these adulteries, surely the Lord our God is going to sue for divorce. Certainly he’s going to destroy these ungrateful, unfaithful, stubborn people and start over. Or just quit.

No. The Lord our God sends Jesus. In an act of astonishing grace and incredible patience he sends his Son.

He. Sends. Jesus.

“He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” ~2 Peter 3:9

Our God is eternal. He always was and always will be. God is more than willing to let entire centuries go by, to let whole milennia pass, as he carefully works out his eternal purposes.

God is still patient. God is still waiting. He is patiently waiting for people to repent. He doesn’t want anyone to perish. He wants everybody to be saved. In Romans 2, Paul says it’s this patience of God, the richness of his kindness and tolerance and patience that leads to repentance. God’s patience is a big part of what saves us! In 1 Timothy 2, we’re told that God wants everybody to be saved. That’s why he waits. Praise God for his patience!

“Our Lord’s patience means salvation.” ~2 Peter 3:15

Peace,

Allan

Concerning the Women: Part Two

1 Corinthians, 1 Timothy, Acts, Church, Colossians, Creation, Galatians, Genesis No Comments »

Acknowledging together that we in the Churches of Christ must do something different if we’re going to remain a viable witness to the Christian faith in our rapidly changing world, we’re spending our time here reviewing and reflecting on Leroy Garrett’s “What Must the Church of Christ Do to Be Saved?”

To paraphrase Garrett, what must we do to escape extinction in the decades ahead, to avoid being regarded as an insignificant Texas-Tennessee sect? What must we do to be loyal to the Scriptures and true to our Stone-Campbell heritage of unity? What’s it going to take for us to, as a movement, advance toward being “truly ecumenical, truly catholic, truly holy, and truly apostolic?”

In the 18th chapter, Garrett returns to the subject of women he addressed in chapter nine:

Bring women into the church.

Although Garrett gets much more into the “women’s role” passages in Corinthians and Timothy here than he did in the previous chapter, his focus in this essay is on Paul’s universal statement (creed?) in Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

If that passage means anything it means that gender is not to be made a test of fellowship or ministry, such as, “She can’t do that because she is a woman.” Paul himself may have sometimes fallen short of that ideal of perfect equality, due to the pressures of custom, as in the case of slavery, which he tolerated, and which is forbidden in that same passage, “There is neither slave nor free.” If socio-economic conditions had been different, Paul might not have said what he did about women and slaves, tolerating their unequal treatment.

To put it another way, Paul almost certainly would not say to the 21st century church what he said to the first century church about women and slaves. But still he laid down the principle that applies to all generations because it so reflects the mind of Christ: In the Church of Christ there is to be no distinction between slaves and freedmen, Jews and Gentiles, men and women! We have to recognize that this was the ideal that even he was not always able to effect due to the conditions beyond his control.

Despite Paul’s clear directive here and his similar admonition in Colossians 3:11, the Christian church in America used the Bible for decades to justify slavery. Wherever slavery is mentioned in Scripture as the current conditions in society at the time of the writing, those passages were used by Christians to say, “Well, God didn’t condemn it in that Scripture; it must be OK. Or at least, it’s just the way things are.”

Today the practice of slavery is officially, socially, morally, and publicly condemned in every corner of the United States. Our churches now preach against slavery, loudly abhor the idea of slavery, and lament the behavior of our forefathers who justified it. What changed? Scripture certainly has not changed. Our God has not changed. The evil of slavery has not changed. What’s changed is our society. That’s what’s different now. For an American church today to actually uphold the idea of slavery and teach and practice in favor of slavery is unthinkable. That church would not do very well at evangelizing. That church wouldn’t grow. That church today wouldn’t have much credibility when it came to proclaiming the good news of salvation in Christ Jesus. Who would listen to a church like that?

Regardless of the ways you might interpret 1 Corinthians 11 and 14 or 1 Timothy 2, we all agree that the social conditions that existed then in first century Corinth and Ephesus do not exist today in 21st century America. It’s vastly different. It is certainly not a shame for a woman to speak in public. It’s not a disgrace for a woman to teach in a room full of men. It happens all the time. Women are just as educated as men, just as capable as men, just as qualified as men. Nobody blinks when a woman is named president of a major university or CEO of a global corporation. Your professor or your police officer or your accountant or your doctor is just as likely to be a woman as a man. The cultural conditions to which Paul wrote in Corinth and Ephesus do not exist in America today. It’s different. It’s changed. For an American church today to actually uphold the idea of man’s superiority and teach and practice in favor of denying women leadership and teaching roles is unthinkable. That church would not do very well at evangelizing. That church wouldn’t grow. That church today wouldn’t have much credibility when it came to proclaiming the good news of salvation in Christ Jesus. Who would listen to a church like that?

OK, is that a little strong? Maybe. I hesitated to write it that way, but I think I need to in an effort to at least present the possibility that the two issues are the same in Paul’s eyes. Afterall, in speaking to the Galatians he uses both examples in the same breath.

Garret points out that we are very good at drawing lines according to our own preferences and comforts. Foot washing is both a command and an example in Scripture, but we decline to practice it because it only applied to that biblical culture during that biblical time. Same with the holy kiss. In Acts 15, the church council claims the Holy Spirit himself gave them four commands that had to be followed by all Gentile Christians. We completely ignore the first three! And I’m not so sure we even take the fourth one very seriously.

1 Timothy 2:8 tells men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing. It’s a command. Is it then, that all men who do not lift their hands while they pray are sinning against God and his Church? No! Of course not. The command is to pray; lifting hands was the customary and cultural prayer posture of the day. Does that mean that it’s OK for the women to be angry and to dispute? No! It’s that the men were apparently the problem in this particular Ephesian church, not the women.

1 Timothy 2:9 tells women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes. Does that mean that all women who braid their hair are sinning against God? No! Of course not. It’s cultural. The command is to dress appropriately for the culture in order to preserve your Christian witness to a lost and dying world.

1 Timothy 2:11 says women should learn in quietness and submission; women are told not to teach or to seize authority from a man; women must be quiet. Does this mean then that a woman who speaks in church is sinning against God?

For way too long we’ve not hesitated to answer “Yes! Of course!” For way too long we’ve interpreted verses 8-10 as cultural and no longer applicable and verses 11-12 as universal and for all time.

A husband’s rule over his wife is part of the curse of sin and death in Genesis 3, not part of the original creation plan of God as found in Genesis 1-2. A husband’s superiority over his wife is a result of sin and death, not a divine facet of God’s eternal will. As children of God and partners of reconciliation with his son Jesus, we are commissioned to reverse the curse, to join our God in overturning the effects of sin and death. We never ever actually labor to impose the curse.

Our task in the 21st century is not to do precisely as they did, but to do for our generation what they did for theirs, bring in the Kingdom of God. And our men and women should be at it today just as their men and women were at it back then, but not necessarily in exactly the same way.

What I want for the Church of Christ down the road is that there will be no social, racial, or sexual lines drawn. None whatever. Liberties and ministries will be shared equally and indiscriminately, according to gifts and talents. We must overcome the mentality that half (or more) of the church is to be subservient to the other half. All because of gender! Christ has made us one and we are all equal — and half of us are not more equal than the other half!

Peace,

Allan