How are we supposed to “do” Church?   (I Cor.12:4-31 and 14:26-31)

May 10, 2020

 

The two scripture portions that were read this morning from Paul’s letter to the folks at Corinth provide rough outlines of the apostle Paul’s “recommended” agenda for meetings of people committed to serve each other in what has become popularly known as a “church”.

I’d like to begin with a very sincere compliment.  I think that you folks here at GMF have done a much better job than most groups, at following the Biblical instructions.   Unlike most groups, who have chosen to hire one person to be “in charge,” and to do all the teaching, preaching, and other assorted “leadership” functions, you have passed around those responsibilities.  Looking over the last list that we received, I see that we have included Ben, John Bender, John Storm, Solomon, Dave, and Aaron in the last quarter, to share their insight with us.  If you look back a little farther, you will find that Tami, Keith, and Ruth have also been included, as has an occasional outside guest. But where are the rest?  Although many of you willingly assume other responsibilities, and do it very well, what have we missed, by not hearing from Shirley, Dana, Sharon, Mildred, Brenda, Abeba, Anita, and some of our newer folks?  I Cor.14 expressly states that EVERYONE has something worth sharing!  Count the uses of “all”, “every,” and “each”!  V.7  reminds us “The revelation of the Spirit is given by means of each one, for everyone’s benefit!”

Some groups think they have “remedied” their situation by substituting women for men in “leadership” positions.  But that is really not a solution.  As Tony Campolo observed years ago, “It may well be true that the church has suffered for 2000 years from the domination and dictatorship of thousands of arrogant, overbearing males.  But replacing them with an equal number of arrogant overbearing females does not solve anything!” Neither condition is the picture described in Paul’s letter, nor in Scripture as a whole. I Cor. 14:31 could not be more clear:  “You can ALL speak for God (the literal meaning of “prophesy”), one at a time, so that ALL may learn and ALL may be encouraged! “  Is there anyone among us that does not need to learn or to be encouraged?

I recommend to you a very interesting and revealing “Mother’s day” exercise.  Scan through the Gospels, and you will find (as I did) that whole families were involved with Jesus from the very beginning.
Both fathers and mothers brought their sons or daughters to Jesus for healing.
In the crowds that followed Jesus and were fed, the men were counted, but women and children are also deliberately included in the record on both occasions.  (Maybe the kids were running around, as kids do, and the women were too busy trying to catch them, to be accurately counted!  I can believe that – I had four small boys!)
A group of faithful women traveled around with the disciple group “supplying their needs out of their own means.”  (Luke 8)  These ladies must have had their own independently wealthy resources!
A group of women was present at the crucifixion, at the resurrection, and at Pentecost.
Mary and Martha are mentioned frequently – not only in the event with their brother Lazarus
Jesus specifically interacted even with foreigners:  a Samaritan woman at the well (Jn.4),  a Canaanite woman (Mt.15), a Greek woman (Mk.7), a group of women (Lk.8) who had been healed, and many were noted frequently as having been in the crowd.
The disciple group was no exclusive men’s club!  Women are mentioned as meeting with the other disciples both before and after Pentecost.  (Ac.1 and 2).  Their presence may well have been counter-cultural for Jewish folks, Romans, and Greeks, but it was not rare among Jesus’ followers!
There is even sharper contrast with the pagan world. In both Roman and Greek societies, in “religious” contexts, women served primarily as temple prostitutes, and occasionally as fortune-tellers or “oracles”.
Not so among followers of Jesus!
*A husband and wife, Priscilla and Aquila, hosted church groups in their home in several locations, (Corinth and Ephesus, Ac.18), travelled with Paul several times, and together, they straightened out Apollos, who had been teaching an incomplete message.
It is acknowledged that things were not always “all sweetness and light”!
*Ananias and Sapphira were both held responsible for their deception of the brotherhood. (Ac.5)
*Saul arrested both men and women “followers of the Way” before his conversion (Ac.9) in Damascus.
*Dorcas/Tabitha, (probably the only one who would “fit” in with today’s “women’s groups”) led a sewing circle (Ac.9)!
*Mark’s mother (Ac.12) and Timothy’s mother Ac.16) both hosted congregations in their homes.
*A wealthy businesswoman, Lydia, hosted the group in Philippi (Ac.16)
*“Prominent, godly women” hosted churches in Thessalonica, Berea, and Athens (Ac.17)
*Philip’s four daughters were known for their prophesies (Ac.21)
*Phoebe, apparently a deaconess, carried a letter for Paul to Rome.
*In Paul’s letters, at least 14 women’s names appear in greetings.
This was the CONTEXT in which these accounts were written!

It is the pattern of “religions” – Jewish, pagan and otherwise – even many who call themselves “Christian” — to codify elaborate theologies and customs, in which they designate and elevate to high status certain individuals who specialize in keeping the system and its adherents in proper order.  Because they consider that the proper ritual, properly performed by a properly qualified individual, will have desired, predictable results, and provide to the observers some sort of benefit from their gods, the exalted status of an ecclesiastical hierarchy is deemed necessary. The word “hierarchy” is derived from two Greek words: “hierus” (priest) and “arche” (ruler).  (Does this describe or require a need for local, national, or conference officials?) It might, on a social level, but that sort of a system bears no resemblance whatever to the instructions of Jesus concerning leadership in his Kingdom.  He is quoted in Mt.23:8-12, and Mk.9:35 directing quite explicitly, that positions of hierarchy are NOT acceptable among his people.  The grace of God is indeed mediated to people through people, but it is through the gathered group of believers that God’s purposes are revealed!!!  I Cor.14:26 declares that “EACH ONE has…” something important to contribute

IF YOU HAVE COMMTTED YOUR LIFE TO THE LORD JESUS, THEN YOU ARE ONE OF HIS DESIGNATED MEDIATORS!!!  You may forget everything else that I have said today, but remember this!  (repeat)  If your contribution is not heard, we are all poorer for its lack!

Paul’s instructions to the folks in Corinth need to be viewed in this context.
The primary concern there, as in his other letters, is for right relationships in the Body of Christ, which is the local expression of Jesus’ Kingdom.   Although the passage in the beginning of I Cor.11 has traditionally been viewed as “ammunition” for the imposition of hierarchical status among the members of the Body, and loudly touted to exclude the participation of women, such a conclusion is diametrically opposed to the relationships that are actually advocated!  Careful examination of the text reveals exactly the opposite!
What is Paul saying, when he declares, “I want you all to know that Christ is the head of every man, the husband is the head of the wife, and God is the head of Christ!”?    This is not a stair-step of descending hierarchy.  It is CIRCULAR – beginning and ending with “Christ”!   Paul is holding up the relationship between the Lord Jesus and the Father, as the model for that between husbands and wives, and between Christ and his people!
The Lord intends that his people see, in his absolute unity with the Father, (which by the way, was why they wanted him killed), the pattern for our own lives!  The Father and Son were each totally committed to the purposes, the welfare, and the glory of each other!  They were both totally dedicated to the same goal – the establishment of the Kingdom!
This is the pattern for leadership that we brethren (say “siblings” if you prefer) are expected to exercise in our life as Kingdom citizens!    Like the Father and Son, our commitment to each other is expected to be complete, of single focus, inviolable, and utterly joyful!  This is the meaning of the “headship” that Kingdom citizens are expected to observe!

More specifically, among both Jewish and pagan religionists, a prophet was a cut above the average citizen.  Prophesying was done only by individuals specifically set aside as spokesmen for their god!  Do you see, then, how revolutionary it was when Paul spoke of “every man” praying and prophesying?  Just as revolutionary as it would be today!   And as if that was not enough, he goes on to extend this same responsibility to “every woman”!  In pagan worship, remember, the function of women was usually prostitution!  The call (in v.5) for modest attire is in sharp contrast to female participants in pagan “worship” wearing little or nothing!  And the inclusion of women in prayer and prophecy is also in sharp contrast to Jewish women, who were summarily excluded from even entering the “holy” parts of the temple!  The women of the disciple group are being lifted up, not put down!!!

This is not an isolated principle.  It is intimately connected with one’s whole understanding of the Body of Christ!  It is not male-female roles that are at the root of most of the difficulty among the people of God.  The real problem lies in our refusal to learn that there is no place for ANY kind of status among us!  We do have many different functions, as was read in I Cor.12.  But “when we all come together”, EACH ONE, according to I Cor.14, is to contribute to the edifying! In Christ, everyone is assumed to have a unique, valuable, and necessary contribution to make to the Kingdom!  We need each other equally. And don’t forget the other half of the admonition – the “safety valve”: “The others must EVALUATE what is said!” (v.29)  Have you ever seen that happen?

This, then, is the message that sets the stage for Paul’s instructions regarding participation in the life of a congregation.  The call is for mutual participation, respect, and order, exercised in the freedom with which the people of God have been entrusted, “so that all may learn, and all be encouraged.”

Let’s continue to give it our very best try!
Thanks be to God!

 


An interesting congregational exercise: “Why did Jesus come?”

February 24, 2020

This is not the usual posting that I have made after having had the privilege to share with our little congregation.   I decided to try an experiment, which I highly recommend to any of you who may find yourselves in a similar situation.

The week before, I assigned”‘homework” for the group.  Here is a copy of the assignment:

“There are plenty of people who are ready and eager to tell you “Why Jesus came”.
It is not always clear where they got their information.  Some are quite faithful to his message, and others much less so.  How do you decide which ones to accept?
By far the best authority on that subject is Jesus himself.
This is not in any way to disparage the Biblical writers, or anyone else, but in order to represent Jesus faithfully, we need to be familiar with his own words.
Please find some time this week to look carefully through at least one of the Gospel accounts, and make a list of the direct quotes from Jesus himself on this subject.  It would be good if couples or family units would each use a different Gospel account.
The things you are looking for may be introduced by such phrases as:
“This is why…”
“I have come because…”
“In order that…” or “in order to …”
“So that…”
or just simply “to” or “for”.
You may be surprised at what is or is not included.
Please be ready to share what you find.”

I was not at all sure how many folks would try this exercise, but was delighted with the response.    Here is a summary of what they contributed:

To preach in the next towns  Lk.4:43
To do my Father’s business Lk.2:49
To do the will of the Father Jn.6:38
To bear witness to the truth (before Pilate) Jn.18:5-8
To preach the Kingdom of God Lk.4:42
Not to call righteous, but “sinners”  Mt.9:13, Mk.k2:17, Mk.5:31
To give my life a ransom Mk.10:44  (although the respondent had expected him to say “sacrifice”)
To set the oppressed free Lk.4:18
To set prisoners free Lk.7:22
To seek and to save the lost Jn.19:10
Not to bring peace but division  Mt.10:35, Lk.12:51
Draw all people to myself Jn.12:27-33
Recovery of sight to the blind Lk.4:23
Not to be served, but to serve  Mt.20:28, Lk.22:29
To proclaim the Kingdom Lk.4:43
For judgment – to sort out those who admitted need  Jn.9:38-39, Mt.12:18
That everything about me will be fulfilled – in Law, prophets and psalms  Lk.24:44, Lk.4:18-19
Not to abolish law and prophets, but to fulfill  Mt.5:17
To fulfill Law  Jn.15:22
To make the Father  known to people Jn.17:25

“I AM” statements  (note:  there are many more)
Bread for life of the world Jn.6:51
Light of the world Jn.8:12
Good shepherd Jn.10
The way, the truth, and the Life Jn.14:6
“Don’t be afraid– I AM” Mk. 6:50,14:61

He HAS power ON EARTH to forgive sins Mk.2:10, Mt.9:5, Lk.5:24  (notice the present tense!)
Everything is handed over to Jesus by the Father Mt.11:27
(Jesus) brought glory to the Father by following his instructions Jn.17:4
Must suffer, be rejected and be raised Lk.9:22
There is tribulation in the world, but “I have overcome” the world Jn.16.33
I will come back and take you where I AM  Jn.14:3
I will send the Spirit  Jn.16:7
The Kingdom HAS ARRIVED  Mk.1:15  (at the BEGINNING of his ministry!)

 

As you can see, any one of these would make a “sermon” topic by itself.  Perhaps sometime it will.  The important thing for this session was to allow folks to see that many things that are usually overlooked were important enough for Jesus to emphasize them — and many ideas that are usually “preached”  were not on his expressed agenda at all.  It will be interesting to see if any of these are followed-up!  (In our little group, we take turns with a message.)

I highly commend this exercise to any of you.

 


An offer for those interested

April 13, 2016

Good morning, friends.
Recently, a friend of mine inquired about getting copies of Citizens of the Kingdom for a study class to use.  I was glad to send her what she needed.

As I hope I have made clear, any of you are free to make (or to have made) copies of any of my work on this site for your personal use, as long as you do not sell them for any reason.  I try to live by my conviction that anything that is truly a gift from the Lord should NEVER be used for anyone’s profit.

However, I do have a good-sized box of print copies of Citizens, which were made before my son Dan put the work on the internet for you.  They are just sitting in a closet.  It occurred to me that some of you might also like to have a few for group use.  THEY ARE NOT FOR SALE.  I would, however, be glad to send any of you what you might want to use, simply for the cost of the shipping.  Please respect the trust I have in you, that you will not offer them for sale.  UPS charged me about $15 to mail a box of ten to Pennsylvania from North Carolina,  so I do not feel able to foot the bill for shipping a quantity multiple times.
But I would rather have you using them, than just have them taking up space.

You can reply here on the site if you wish.

In the service of the King —

Ruth


New resources

January 3, 2016

Hello, folks.

As I’m sure you have noticed, there have been no new postings for the last couple months.  We have been working on the problem with the Translation Notes.  Seems that the Greek font I had been using, no longer is compatible with PDF’s, and so when anyone tried to print that off, Greek words came up with a crazy jumble of English letters that were completely meaningless.  After trying a bunch of alternatives, Dan and I decided that the best solution was to simply use the transliteration we have been using in the regular studies. So I re-did the whole thing.  Sorry about that, to those of you who would prefer”real” Greek — but although the technology is out there somewhere, my computer skills are not up to learning a whole new system at this point.

So Dan has now posted the Notes in a printable (transliterated) form, which you can access from the “download” section of the homepage.  In case any of you want the Greek version, it is still there, and you can get to it if you download “SLGreek” to your computer.

We apologize for the inconvenience and nuisance, but it is the best we can do.

Wishing a blessing-filled New Year to you all — Now I will get back to a few waiting requests for studies.  Keep your suggestions for new work coming.

Ruth


2015 in review

December 31, 2015

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 16,000 times in 2015. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 6 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.


Note to readers

March 16, 2015

Dear folks who have been using this resource:

Some of you have wondered about the lack of postings lately, and you deserve to know that I too will be glad when they can come back.  The site has been used nearly 75,000 times, in 174 countries.  This is a real delight, and each one of you continues to be in my prayers.
The fact is, that after a silly injury, I ended up having spinal surgery, and although it went well, I am not allowed to bend over or to lift more than 5 pounds.  Nearly all of my reference works are heavier than that!  And sitting for a long time does not work either.

So, dear people, thank you for your interest, and I hope to be back with you before too much longer.  Any prayers are greatly appreciated.

Ruth


2014 in review

December 29, 2014

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here's an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 20,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 7 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.