Monthly Archives: June 2017

Church & Our Sisters

The word “church” (including its plural form, “churches”) appears over 100 times in the New Testament, and is always a translation of the Greek word, ekklesiaEkklesia was a compound word, combining the preposition ek (out) with the verb kaleo (to call); hence, our frequently cited definition, “the called out.”  Interestingly, however, a first century Greek reader would not have thought of ekklesia in this way.  A word’s meaning is often more than the sum of its parts (consider, for example, the words “pineapple,” “butterfly,” “hotdog,” “hogwash,” etc.).  To the first century reader, ekklesia actually recalled definitions less abstract than “the called out.”  Common meanings included things like: a legislative assembly, a gathering, a community, a congregation, or even some other definition, which one depending on context.

The New Testament apostles and prophets used ekklesia in at least five different ways.  In Acts 19, it is used of non-religious gatherings in Ephesus, both the disorderly kind (Acts 19:32, 41) and the lawful kind (Acts 19:39).  In Stephen’s discourse before the Sanhedrin, he uses it to refer to the ancient nation of Israel, calling them “the congregation (ekklesia) in the wilderness” (Acts 7:38).  We are familiar with how ekklesia is used to refer to the global community of Christians, the universal church (e.g. Ephesians 1:22-23; Colossians 1:18, 24; Hebrews 12:23), as well as its application to local bodies of believers within that universal church:  “The churches (ekklesia) of Christ greet you” (Romans 16:16; see also 2 Corinthians 1:1; Colossians 4:16; 1 Thessalonians 1:1, etc.).

But there’s another way in which ekklesia is used in the New Testament that’s distinct (though not disconnected) from all of these.  We encounter this usage in 1 Corinthians 14.  There, Paul says that if there is no interpreter, a tongue-speaker should keep silent “in church” (verse 28).  He also states that though he is able to speak in multiple languages, when “in church” (verse 19), he would rather speak just a few words that can be understood than the thousands of incomprehensible foreign words at his disposal.  And, finally, near the end of the chapter, he says that it is shameful for women to speak “in church” (verse 35).

This final prohibition, particularly, should spur us to inquire: What does Paul mean by “in church”?  None of the aforementioned definitions make any sense when inserted into Paul’s statements.  There must be a fifth usage for ekklesia.  How do we determine what it is?

Context is king.  It’s often said that in real estate, the three most important things are “location, location, location.”  In language, they are context, context, context (just think of all the different ways we use the word “run” in English, depending on context).  Looking at the context of 1 Corinthians 14, we see that it is the conclusion of a four-chapter long discussion of what was transpiring—and what should have been transpiring—when the congregation at Corinth assembled on the Lord’s Day.   From 1 Corinthians 11:17 to 14:26, the expression “come(s) together” appears seven times.  This serves as the framework for Paul’s expression, “in church,” and elucidates its meaning.  The brethren at Corinth were “in church” when they had “come together.”

But “come together” under what circumstances?  After all, the church can come together at any time for any reason.  Was Paul talking about Sunday evening birthday parties?  Again, context clarifies.  Examining the passages containing the phrase “come(s) together,” we discover that Paul had a very specific kind of gathering in mind.  According to Paul, when the brethren at Corinth were “in church,” the following four items were true:

WHERE:  The congregation was gathered “in one place” (11:20; 14:23).  Can a group really “come together” any other way?

WHO:  “[T]he whole church” (14:23) was gathered—that is, the gathering was intended for the entire congregation, and all who were willing and able were present.

WHY:  The congregation was gathered “to eat the Lord’s Supper” (11:20; cf. Acts 20:7).

WHAT:  The congregation was gathered to share songs, teaching, and words of edification (14:26).

Pretty straightforward.  When the entire congregation assembled together in one place to eat the Lord’s Supper, sing, and share words of teaching and edification, they were “in church.”  When gathered under different circumstances, and/or for different purposes, the implication is they weren’t.

This can be helpful.  It may at first seem to create confusion, but ultimately, it may clear some up.  Often, we’ve used the expression “in church” more broadly than Paul did.  We’ve expanded its meaning.  Take, for example, Sunday and Wednesday evening services.  They can be wonderful, but biblically speaking, do they have us “in church”?  Depending on the congregation, they may have much of the church gathered in one place for singing and teaching, but they’re not for the purpose of eating the Lord’s Supper (with the exception of a few congregations whose Lord’s Day assemblies are in the evening).  And we seem to recognize they’re different, since we don’t treat habitual absence from them the same way we do habitual absence from Sunday morning.  And classes.  Classes are quite different from what Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 11-14.  Rather than the whole church being gathered together in one place, members are divided into groups meeting in separate places, and for activities other than the Lord’s Supper and (with some exceptions) singing.  Are these gatherings wrong?  Certainly not!  They exist as an exercise of our liberty in Christ, and can serve as occasions for edification.   Getting together with saints and studying the Scriptures are good and God-glorifying activities (Hebrews 3:13; Acts 17:11).  But we want to be sure we’re using biblical words in biblical ways.  When we’re gathered in separate classes, or assembled on Sunday and Wednesday evenings for study, we are certainly being the church, but biblically speaking, we’re not “in church.”

Why go to so much trouble to point this out?

For the sake of truth…but also for the sake of our sisters, some of whom wonder if there’s ever a time when they can participate in discussions/studies on spiritual matters, and still please their Lord.

The Role of Our Sisters In and Out of Church

Paul states in 1 Corinthians 14 that women are to “keep silent in the churches” (verse 34), and adds, “it is shameful for women to speak in church” (verse 35).  The word behind “keep silent” is sigao, a word which means to “say nothing, keep still…stop speaking.”1   It is used of Jesus when on the night of His betrayal, He “kept silent” (sigao) before the high priest and “answered nothing” (Mark 14:61).  It is uniformly translated “silent” or “silence” in 1 Corinthians 14:34 in every major translation of which I am aware (KJV/NKJV/ASV/RSV/NRSV/NASB/ESV/NIV).   That this is its intended meaning here is further evidenced by the verse’s surrounding context.  Paul employs the word earlier in the chapter when commanding tongue-speakers and prophets to “keep silent” on occasion (verses 28, 30).  He also offers additional explanation in verses 34 and 35 when he writes: “for they are not permitted to speak…And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home….”  By “keep silent,” then, Paul means to disallow public speaking of any kind, even the asking of questions (this, however, in no way prohibits sisters from “speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.”).

God has determined that “in church,” sisters are to yield the floor to the brothers.  This is certainly not because brothers are brighter, or better informed, or better communicators.  It is quite conceivable that all the sisters could excel all the brothers in all these areas in a given congregation.  That would be beside the point, however.  What is at issue is God’s desire and design for the church, namely, that men serve as its leaders (1 Corinthians 14:34).  The command to have the brothers handle the public proceedings when “in church” aids in the realizing God’s intent.  Rather than giving men an out, God has given them responsibility.

But where does this leave the sisters?  What about their knowledge, their wisdom, their questions?  Are they consigned to be perpetual listeners, except at home?  The Bible doesn’t say so.  Paul’s prohibition concerns only a particular time—that is, when “the whole church comes together in one place” “to eat the Lord’s Supper” and to share in singing, teaching, and words of edification.  Paul did not extend the prohibition further than that, and we cannot do so without going beyond what is written.  Concerning Bible studies (which is what classes are), the Scriptures allow for sisters to participate in the discussion right along with their brothers in Christ.  They, like their brothers, are governed by God’s commands to speak respectfully, lovingly, truthfully, slowly, in moderation and with self-control, but they are permitted to speak.  And if fully persuaded of this in our own minds, we should be glad to hear them.

This by no means addresses all the questions that invariably arise with this subject, but hopefully, it adequately addresses a few.  We dare not allow more than God allows, but neither do we dare restrict more than God restricts.  In this case, by doing so, we could potentially put a stumbling block before some sisters, or at the very least, hinder their growth.  If so, that is serious.  I welcome any comments and questions via correspondence or phone.

~ John Morris

The Patriarchs in Perspective

Who was the first Patriarch? Three times out of four, when I ask this question, what name is given in answer do you suppose? Just now, were you thinking “Abraham?” Or were you thinking “Adam?” The reason Abraham comes to mind is easily seen because of his significant role not only as a patriarch, but also as the progenitor of the people who would be God’s special  covenant people of the Old Testament, (the ONLY people who were bound by what is known as “The Mosaic Law”) the Hebrews; but in fact, the first name to appear on the biblical patriarchs list, must be Adam because Adam was the first, everything! Right?

So, what kind of law did Adam live under? Well, as we read Genesis 1:26–30, we see certain imperatives given to him by God. And, if we compare these imperatives with the added detail given in Genesis 2:15, 21-24, 19, and 20 respectively, we see a list like this: “be fruitful,” that is “do good work”; “multiply,” that is “marry, procreate, and fill the earth” (on this one see also 3:16); “have dominion,” that is “rule the earth” and finally, “eat the plants – except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” All of this and only this is what constituted God’s Law for Adam and Eve, a perfect law. Had they always obeyed it, there would have been no need for any other law. We don’t know how long Adam and Eve walked in faithful harmony with God and the law he had given them, but we do know that the day came in which they broke their covenant with God; they broke his law and thus was ended the “Edenic Dispensation.” A “Term limit” was imposed upon them physically. They were removed from the garden. Therefore, they also lost their access to the “Tree of Life” (Genesis 3:22-24). More serious, they died spiritually that day.

Things changed. The most significant change was God’s requirement now of blood in payment for their sin. So, to demonstrate what had happened to God’s creation because of man’s sin, and what the penalty for that was, God slaughtered animals (Genesis 3:21). Thus began the “Patriarchal Dispensation,” a law with a particular emphasis upon animal sacrifice, a worship requirement which served as a continual reminder of man’s guilt. But with this practice Adam returned to faithfulness. Adam believed the promise God gave in Genesis 3:15 that the seed of the woman would conquer Satan. Perhaps Adam did not fully understand what that meant, but Adam believed. Adam demonstrated his belief by the name he gave his wife (Genesis 3:20) and the Lord indicated his acceptance immediately by covering Adam and Eve with coats of skin (verse 21). At that point, that is all Adam knew, but he believed it. He also, as the first patriarch, taught this law to his sons, who grew up to be patriarch leaders and offering priests for their own families (Genesis 4).

When Abel’s sacrifice was accepted by God and Cain’s was not, it was because Abel offered his “By faith,” which means he had to have “heard,” (that is, been instructed), and Cain sinned, by NOT offering his sacrifice by faith (c.f. Romans 10:17; 14:23; Hebrews 11:1-6). Cain’s persistence in his disobedience led to his murdering Abel and his banishment from his parent’s family. With the birth of Seth (Genesis 4:26), and the subsequent faithfulness of his progeny, there is a clear delineation between those who identify with and obey God and those who do not. The events of the flood were truly precipitated by these two distinct world views coming into an amalgam (Genesis 6:2). Then, after the flood, we find the patriarch Noah worshipping God in the same prescribed manner as first given to Adam, practiced down the line descending from Seth, and in the faithful example of Abel (Genesis 9:20-22; c.f. Hebrews 11:4).

All of the generations of this family from Adam to Moses, as well as every other family among men, if they remained faithful to God, would have kept this pattern of worship. Job was such a man, and we see him offering sacrifices on a daily basis acting as intermediary and priest for his family (Job 1:1-5). This was the way of Job. This was the way of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. This was the way of Melchizedek (Genesis 14:18). This was the way of“Jethro” (“Reul”), “The priest of Midian” (Exodus 2:16). And, this, albeit in diminished form, was the way of Cornelius (Acts 10:1-2). This was righteousness under the “Patriarchal Dispensation.” This was the only way to satisfy the requirements of God at that time. There were certain additions made to this law by God after the flood (e.g. the eating of meat without blood and prohibition against murder; see Genesis 9:1-7), but this was the same law first given to Adam. Corruption of this law occurred in the understandings and practices of many, due to the auspices of man. Thus, properly understood and followed, or improperly understood or not even followed, this was the system of worship imposed upon and travelled over the entire world (“old” and “new”). It was no fault of God’s if the proper understandings were not, in many cases, handed down generationally (Romans 1:25). Therefore, and with all righteousness, God’s requirements, once delivered, remained the same for those living under that system (Romans 1:18-20). It was the knowledge of God through his creation which was intended by him to induce man to worship him as the creator; not that he, the creator be robbed of his glory by man’s worshipping his creation instead of him!

 The Law of the patriarchs contained these components which would be refined and defined more clearly for the Hebrews, when God delivered to them, and only to them, the “Mosaic Law.” But because of what had been given to all men at the start via Adam, all who were not Hebrews were “a law unto themselves” (Romans 2:12-16), and would be judged accordingly.

 Through his servant Moses, God delivered a modification of the patriarchal system (Exodus 12:1ff). to govern only that nation through whom he elected to bring the one man who would be the Savior of the whole world. That man was Jesus of Nazareth. When Jesus uttered words with his almost very last breath “It is finished” as he died on the cross, (John 19:30), it was all past systems finished, new system (“The Christian Dispensation”), go! Until the end of the world (Acts 2:28-Revelation 22:5). And we are now judged accordingly.

~ Steve Wright