THE ESSENTIAL SEVEN
We are new covenant children of God who seek only to surrender our hearts and lives to the Lord and walk humbly before Him with broken and contrite hearts (Psalm 51:17, NASB). We realize that we have no righteousness of our own with which to come before Him because, “all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment” (Isaiah 64:6, NASB) and, “there is none righteous, no not one” (Romans 3:10) for “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), and “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us” (I John 1:8).
We also understand that it is “by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9, NASB). By the sacrificial blood of Jesus Christ our Lord we have been “justified” (Romans 5:9), “redeemed” (Ephesians 1:7), “brought near” (Ephesians 2:13), “cleansed from sin” (I John 1:7), “released from sin” (Revelation 1:5), and “purchased for God” (Revelation 5:9).
Yet, we also know that, “we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10, NASB), and that, “faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself”(James 2:17, NASB). For this reason, therefore, as the Apostle Paul says, “we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 6:9-10, NASB).
In our desire to, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15, NASB), we have come to the understanding that “baptism” (a ceremonial immersion in water demonstrating our faith in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ) is the moment in time when we express our repentance from sin, surrender to the lordship of Jesus Christ, and are saved by the sacrifice of Christ – “Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4, NASB).
As God’s covenant children, we now seek to be “true worshipers” who, as Jesus said, “worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24, NASB). We do this when we, as the Apostle Paul said, “present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:1-2, NASB). Paul also admonished us to continual, daily worship, saying, “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father” (Colossians 3:17, NASB).
Because we seek to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind” (Luke 10:27, NASB), the things we do when we come together as the body of Christ are important to us—even though the little time we share with one another on a given Sunday morning, or any other time of the week, is but the “tip of the iceberg” with regard to all that God calls us to be and do. So we want our time together to be meaningful, productive, encouraging, and uplifting for every child of God present, as well as for their visitors and friends who may accompany them.
Essentially, we practice the very same things that we read about in the Bible when it says of the early Christians that, “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42). Ministering to one another in music and song is also important to us, as the Apostle Paul noted when he said, “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16, NASB). We also recognize that sacrificial giving to collaborative projects and ministries, here at home and around the world, is not only vital to our Christian community, but is part of our worship unto God – as Paul said, “a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God” (Philippians 4:18, NASB) – and so we provide opportunity for God’s people to give “as he may prosper” (I Corinthians 16:2).
We hold to the seven essential fundamentals of the Christian faith, as do authentic children of God the world over: “There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:4-5):
One body – the “ekklesia,” the saved body of Christ: Jesus said, “I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd” (John 10:16, NASB). Later He prayed, “The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me” (John 17:22-23, NASB). Due to the influences of Western capitalism, we live in a world today that pulses to the beat of trademarks and branding of every kind. However, when it comes to authentic Christianity, these things ought not to exist. Those who practice and advocate for division [denominationalism]—separate and distinct religious organizations, each with their self-identifying labels and practices around which they rally—are not adhering to the concept of the “one body,” and are working against Jesus’ prayer for unity.
One Spirit – the Holy Spirit of God: “that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you” (John 14:17, NASB). The Holy Spirit is given as a gift when we are baptized (Acts 2:38). He dwells in us (I Corinthians 6:19, Romans 8:11) to help us “put to death the deeds of the flesh” (Romans 8:12-14, NASB), to “help our weakness” and “intercede for us” in prayer (Romans 8:26-27, NASB), and to help us grow in all the “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-23, NASB). He is the guiding source of inspiration behind all scripture: “for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (I Peter 1:21, NASB).
One hope of your calling – eternal, life-giving, personal relationship with God: that for which we live, and the means by which we are able to attain it, can be summed up in Jesus’ words: “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:1-3, NASB). People may seek to put their eternal hope in the many and various belief systems and religious teachings of men. Some say, it doesn’t really matter what one chooses to believe, that “there are many avenues to God”; or that “regardless of the road we’re on, we’re all going to the same place anyway!” But Jesus said, “When he puts forth all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. A stranger they simply will not follow, but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers” (John 10:4-5, NASB). The “ekklesia,” the new covenant children of God, those who hear the voice of their Shepherd, know that there is only one hope for all humanity. For Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6, NASB).
- One Lord – Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of the only true and living God: The Apostle Peter stated it well when he said, in his first gospel sermon on the day of Pentecost, “Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ – this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36, NASB). Later, the Apostle Paul would say, “For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11, NASB).
One faith – as presented in the “Good News” (Gospel) message of Jesus Christ: The apostle Paul said, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘But the righteous man shall live by faith’” (Romans 1:16-17, NASB). Paul also said, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17, NASB). Concerning this one faith we share, which is the result of the “word of Christ,” the prophet, Jude, says: “Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints” (Jude 1:3, NASB). From this statement we learn that the one faith is both singular and distinctive; it can be identified from the many and varied “faiths” to which people adhere. Writing to the people at Corinth, he said, “For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (I Corinthians 2:2, NASB). Jesus, and His sacrifice for us, is the heart, the core, the center of the one faith set forth in the Holy Scripture. Later, Paul wrote to the Corinthians, saying, “Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (I Corinthians 15:1-4, NASB).
- One baptism – the baptism commanded by Jesus when He said: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned” (Mark 16:15-16, NASB). It is the baptism exemplified by the Ethiopian eunuch when, after hearing the Gospel, he cried out, “‘Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?’ … and they both went down into the water, Philip as well as the eunuch, and he baptized him” (Acts 8:36-38, NASB). It is baptism “for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38, NASB) in that “all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death” (Romans 6:3, NASB). It is baptism of, by, and into the Holy Spirit, “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit” (I Corinthians 12:13, NASB). It the baptism that “now saves you—not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (I Peter 3:21, NASB). It is not some outward, legalistic work of law or religious regulation; but rather an expression of our personal faith in that we were, “buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead” (Colossians 2:12, NASB). It is the outward manifestation of our new birth into the family of God; as Jesus said: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5, NASB).
- One God and Father – the only true and living God, creator of heaven and earth, giver and sustainer of life, Who: “… after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world” (Hebrews 1:1-2, NASB); “and without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6, NASB). The Apostle Paul said, “For even if there are so-called gods whether in heaven or on earth, as indeed there are many gods and many lords, yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him” (I Corinthians 8:5-6, NASB).
It is important to note that while authentic Christians everywhere are united by these seven essential fundamental of the faith, differences do exist among us insofar as traditions, cultural practices, and the ways and means by which we express these truths. When it comes to the broad area of human judgment, individual interpretations, private opinions, and expedient applications of the scripture, we need to be very careful and follow Jesus’ teaching when He said, “Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7: 1-2, NASB); and the Apostle Paul’s admonition, “Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand” (Romans 14:4, NASB).
Sadly, people often do judge. Rather than seeking to “not to exceed what is written, so that no one of you will become arrogant in behalf of one against the other” (I Corinthians 4:5, NASB), people often make themselves the lawgiver an judge by going too far and exceeding what is written in the scripture either by: 1. speaking where God’s word does not speak and making up rules and regulations not specifically taught in scripture that are based on their own traditions, private interpretations, and personal opinions, and then then trying to force their will upon others as though it were the word of God; or 2. by discounting and discrediting what God’s word does, indeed, specifically teach, thus allowing, and even encouraging, people to participate in things that God says are evil.
Authentic disciples of Christ are neither Catholic, nor Protestant, nor Jew. They do not see themselves as Evangelicals, or Baptists, or Methodists, or Presbyterians, or Episcopalians, or Pentecostal Holiness, or Jehovah’s Witness, or Mormon, or even Church of Christ. In fact, they do not see themselves as “denominational” at all. They are not defined by “religion,” but only by their personal relationship with God and identity as a child of God through faith in Christ Jesus, our Lord and Savior. The Bible, and their own understanding if it as God puts His “laws into their minds” and “write[s] them on their hearts” (Hebrews 8:10), along with the wisdom God pours out within them when they ask (James 1:5), is all the authority they need to guide and direct them in their walk with God. Their beliefs and practices are structured by the teachings of Jesus and the apostles and prophets of the 1st century (Ephesians 2:20) – and certainly not by any 16th century renaissance reformer, or 19th century restorationist, or modern day pastor, priest, rabbi, church, synagogue, synod, council, or convention.
THE BIG/LITTLE FOUR
Having humbly set forth our theological position—illustrated in the background information above—we now turn our attention to four reoccurring questions—albeit, to us they are rather minor issues—by which some people who see themselves as “Christians” tend to judge the body of Christ at large and determine whether or not we are worthy of their fellowship. However, unless a person is walking in rebellion against God by “sinning wilfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth,” in which case “there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries” (Hebrews 10:26-27, NASB), not a single one of these questions has anything to do with one’s salvation and, therefore, does not define the perimeters Christian fellowship.
And, yet, because of the continual harping on these issues over the years by religious leaders with Pharisaical attitudes who seem to need a distinct dogma to define their denomination—because, for them, a living faith in Christ is not enough—people have come to believe that the faithful family of God really can be determined by these few particular variables alone. Or, for some who apparently don’t want to think too deeply and are just looking for a simple method of determining whether or not it might be “lawful” for them to pay a visit to a particular congregation on any given Sunday while on vacation, these four items seem to give them a quick and easy ready-reference whereby they can make that determination.
Sadly, however, they seem to think that any individual or group of “Christians” that does not answer these questions precisely as has been inculcated upon them by their home church cannot possibly be pleasing to God and should be avoided at all cost. This is a rather sad commentary on the depleted state of so-called “Christianity” in modern America. Virtually meaningless—well, minimal at best—denominational dogma is being elevated to the level of the holy and inspired word of God and used to define and identify the church—while the great, eternal principles upon which the Christian faith rests are all but forgotten and discounted; and unity and beautiful Christian fellowship goes out the window.
So, what are these “big/little” four questions? We will, herein, provide each question along with our response—keeping in mind that we do not speak for anyone other than those covenant children of God who are currently participating in our local circle of Christian fellowship:
Question Number One: Do you use mechanical instruments of music?
Answer: The Bible does not specifically address this issue. Instruments of music were used in the Old Testament and some of the Psalms were specifically written to be accompanied by musical instruments. However, the New Testament, while admonishing us to “be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:18-19, NASB), is silent on whether or not such psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs should be accompanied by musical instruments. Since the New Testament neither commands nor forbids their use, musical instruments fall into the category of human opinion, expedience, and cultural relevance; as do many other things that the “church” does today.
We must remember that, when it comes to the area of human opinion and reasoning, “All things are lawful” (I Corinthians 6:12, 10:23, NASB). In other words, we need to keep in mind that, due to the “freedom of the new covenant,” the church is not prohibited from adapting to contemporary culture in order to remain relevant throughout the ages and to expedite the mission to which Christ has called us. We need to remember that any practice is permissible; so long as it does not invalidate the word of God or circumvent God’s expressed will for our lives. As long as a given practice or tradition does not endorse, permit, promote, or advocate that which God, through His divinely inspired written word—the Bible—says is sinful, the practice is permissible. Likewise, so long as the practice or tradition does not hinder, invalidate, repudiate, circumvent, or disavow a specific commandment of God—that which the written word of God has expressly enjoined upon us—the practice is permissible. And, so long as the practice or teaching is not inculcating the personal opinions, beliefs, traditions, interpretations, or doctrines of men as though they were the word of God, and then binding those practices or teachings upon others and holding them accountable, as though their personal relationship with God or fellowship with the body of Christ depended on it, the practice is permissible.
For example, if the “ekklesia” in a given location decides that it really is in their best interest that they organize, incorporate, open a bank account, purchase land, build a building, and engage in corporate programs, projects, ministries, worship activities, and all the other trappings that seem to define a modern “church” in today’s world, the terms of the new covenant do not condemn such activity because “all things are lawful”; even though God’s people in Bible days did not do these things and there is nothing in scripture that specifically “authorizes” any of these actions. By the same token, if the “ekklesia” living in various locations determine that they want to cooperate with one another and work together to provide some structure beyond the local community level in order to accomplish foreign mission work, or to build hospitals and clinics, or to found schools and orphanages, or other goods works, the freedom of the new covenant allows for these activities because “all things are lawful”; even though we have no specific commands or examples in the Bible that would specifically “authorize” such cooperation.
As for our little circle of Christian fellowship, because we see EVERYTHING that we do and say, every day that we live, as worship, then the answer is “YES!” sometimes our worship is accompanied by musical instruments—particularly in small-group settings in people’s homes, or when we come together for special occasions. However, we do not typically use musical instruments in our “public” gatherings on Sunday morning because we know that there may be people present among us—usually visitors from the Bible-belt—who have been led to believe that it is wrong; and so, for them, it is wrong. In fact, there are many things—not specifically spelled out in scripture—that may be considered either “right” or “wrong,” depending on one’s own heart and how our participation, or nonparticipation, plays out in the hearts and lives of others. Paul makes it clear that, “to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean” (Romans 14:14, NASB) and says, “whatever is not from faith is sin” (verse 23). So, to some degree, our own personal faith must determine our level of participation in matters that are not specifically addressed in scripture. However, the final verdict as to whether we should insist on a particular practice or not does not rest even with our own faith, but with that of others; for Paul also makes it clear that, if “your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love” (verse 15).
Question Number Two: Do you observe the Lord’s Supper each Sunday?
Answer: The Bible does not specifically address this issue. The “ekklesia’s” [church] devotion to “the breaking of bread” (Acts 2:42, NASB) may be a reference only to their “taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart” (verse 46, NASB), or it may be a reference to “the Lord’s supper” (I Corinthians 11:20, NASB). Likewise, we read that, “On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul began talking to them, intending to leave the next day, and he prolonged his message until midnight” (Acts 20:7, NASB). The “first day of the week,” was probably Saturday evening—sometime between sundown and midnight—according to the Jewish calendar and tradition; which explains why there were “many lamps in the upper room where they were gathered together” (verse 8) and why the young man, Eutychus, “was overcome by sleep and fell down from the third floor and was picked up dead” (verse 9).
Note that, while Paul spent a good deal of time teaching the brethren on this occasion, the purpose for their coming together was “to break bread” (verse 7). This, too, may be a reference only to a common meal; or it may be a reference to “the Lord’s supper.” However, it really makes no difference how anyone chooses to interpret or apply these particular passages because we know from other verses that God’s children often observed “the Lord’s supper” when they were together.
Writing to the “ekklesia” [church] living in and around the city of Corinth, the Apostle Paul says, “Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ? Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread” (I Corinthians 10:16-17, NASB). Again Paul writes:
For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. (I Corinthians 11:23-26, NASB)
Exactly how often did the “ekklesia” [church] in Bible times observe this memorial feast called, “the Lord’s supper,” to remember and proclaim the sacrificial death of our Savior? We don’t really know. Remember, the New Testament is not written like the book of Leviticus or Deuteronomy. It is not a law book with strict rules and regulations meant to govern every facet of our worship. The new covenant is “not like the covenant which I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt” (Hebrews 8:9, NASB). And, for the new covenant child of God, no one day is any more important or “holy” than any other because, for us, every day is a holy day—every day is “the Lord’s day.”
At times, perhaps, Christians in Bible days included an observance of the Lord’s supper in their daily fellowship activities, as “day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart” (Acts 2:46, NASB). At other times, perhaps they observed the Lord’s supper only once a week, “on the first day of the week” (Acts 20:7, NASB); or sometime between sundown Saturday and sundown Sunday by Jewish reckoning.
To be honest, the Bible does not spell out for us just how often the “ekklesia” shared together in the Lord’s Supper. It only tells us, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (I Corinthians 11:26, NASB). Why debate “how often,” when what we should be focusing on is making sure that “as often” as we partake, we do it “in spirit and truth”—with our hearts attuned to the sacrifice of our dear Lord, and with the proper understanding of what we are doing and why.
That being said, it becomes apparent from the Apostle Paul’s message to the Christians living in Corinth that celebrating the Lord’s Supper together was one of the central purposes for their coming together on a regular basis. In speaking to them about some of the ways they were abusing the Lord’s Supper—turning it into a common meal and showing discourtesy to the poor, while using the occasion to honor the socially elite among them—Paul says:
I do not praise you, because you come together not for the better but for the worse. For, in the first place, when you come together as a [ekklesia – assembly] (church), I hear that divisions exist among you… Therefore when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper, for in your eating each one takes his own supper first; and one is hungry and another is drunk. What! Do you not have houses in which to eat and drink? Or do you despise the [ekklesia] (church) of God and shame those who have nothing? (I Corinthians 11:17-22, NASB)
From this passage we learn that, when the “ekklesia” at Corinth came together, it was “not for the better but for the worse” because it was “not to eat the Lord’s Supper.” Apparently, at least some of their public gatherings were supposed to be for that very purpose—to eat the Lord’s Supper—and, thus, to keep the sacrifice of Christ continually before them. But, due to the way they were abusing the occasion, it appears as though they had forgotten that purpose. For them, their coming together had turned into a big social occasion; it wasn’t about remembering Jesus anymore. And so, Paul says, their coming together was “not for the better, but for the worse.”
It becomes clear, therefore, that observing the Lord’s Supper together—proclaiming God’s love for us by remembering the sacrificial body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ—is supposed to be something that is central to our fellowship; something that is done regularly and often. The Biblical example indicates that, in all likelihood, our Christian brothers and sisters in the 1st century did so at least weekly, when they could, if not more often than that; and so, we too, without making it a legalistic work of law or a term of Christian fellowship, choose to observe the Lord’s Supper at least once a week, typically on Sunday morning during our public gather.
Question Number Three: Do women serve in any leadership roles or public capacity?
Answer: That depends on exactly what “leadership roles” you have in mind and the type of “public capacity” you’re talking about. Every authentic disciple of Christ respects God’s order of things and the roles and responsibilities assigned to men and women respectively. We understand and value the importance of male spiritual leadership in both the home and the church. Writing to the young evangelist, Timothy, who was ministering among God’s people living in Ephesus, the Apostle Paul said, “A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression” (I Timothy 2:11-14, NASB).
We also recognize that this beautiful, eternal principle may play itself out in different ways among various cultural settings. For example, it appears as if women in the 1st century church at Corinth were allowed to pray and to prophecy in some of their gatherings, so long as the respective roles of men and women were respected. The Apostle Paul says:
But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ. Every man who has something on his head while praying or prophesying disgraces his head. But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying disgraces her head, for she is one and the same as the woman whose head is shaved. For if a woman does not cover her head, let her also have her hair cut off; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, let her cover her head. For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man; for indeed man was not created for the woman’s sake, but woman for the man’s sake. Therefore the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. However, in the Lord, neither is woman independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as the woman originates from the man, so also the man has his birth through the woman; and all things originate from God. Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? (I Corinthians 11:3-13, NASB).
Of course, we must note the particular time, culture, and circumstances during which this passage was written. If we fail to do that, as some mistakenly do, we might come away with the idea that we should be prophesying in our public assemblies today. But Paul was making his comments to a people who lived during the “Apostalic Age”—that period during the 1st century when signs, wonders, and miracles were being granted by the Holy Spirit. That period in Bible history served its purpose and was bought to a close during the early 2nd century. So, we’re not talking about women, or anybody for that matter, publically or privately, prophesying for the church today.
We must also acknowledge the point that Paul was writing in the context of a 1st century Greco-Roman culture. This was just the way things were up in Asia Minor and in the city of Corinth. Greek men did not cover their heads in public and Paul didn’t want them doing so in the public assemblies of the church, either. However, Paul would never have written these same words to the Christians living down in Jerusalem. For, Jewish men did, indeed, cover their heads with their prayer shawls whenever they prayed. It seems as if the Christian men in Corinth, those who were Greeks, thought that they should step out of their culture and imitate their Jewish brethren. But Paul forbids them because he knew it would be disruptive to spread of the gospel in that region.
Also, in their culture, and pretty much throughout the known world in those days, it was appropriate for decent women to cover their bodies entirely and to wear a veil over their heads whenever they were in public as a symbol of respect for the authority of the men under which they lived. Only a rebellious or immoral woman would be found outside her home without being appropriately clad. Yet the text indicates that, perhaps, some of the Christian women in Corinth had decided that, because of their new standing as children of God, which placed them on an equal footing before men — “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28, NASB) — they should, therefore, demonstrate that by losing the veil. But the Apostle Paul is having none of that because, again, he knows how disruptive that would be to the spread of the gospel; not to mention the wrong signals it would send regarding the roles of men and women and male spiritual leadership in the home and in the church.
But the question arises, to what extent does God expect us to imitate societal norms from ages in the distant past in our walk of faith today? Should Christian women today dress entirely the way they were expected to dress in the ancient Greco-Roman, or for that matter Jewish, culture more than 2,000 years ago? There are some societies around the world today that still adhere to these same cultural mores. However, where we happen to live at the moment is not one of them But if we turn the New Testament into a book of rules and regulations and read it the same way the ancient Jews would have read the book of Leviticus or Deuteronomy, then, “Yes!” we would have to say that it is wrong for a modern Christian woman not only to show up at a public gathering of the church, but to go anywhere outside her home, without wearing her burka. Surely we can see through the cultural manifestations of Paul’s teaching and discern the difference between the eternal principle being set forth and the cultural manifestations of that principle in any given society, can’t we?
The Apostle Paul then goes on to say to this same community of Christians living in Corinth, “The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church” (I Corinthians 14:34-35, NASB). Again we must ask, is this specific instruction something that the Apostle Paul intended to be incorporated in all gatherings of the church, in all places, for all time; or, like putting on the veil, did he mean for it only to be applied to 1st century Corinth in light of their particular culture and the issues that the Corinthian church had been dealing with?
If the answer is, “Yes! Paul gave this instruction for all churches, everywhere, in every age,” many legalistic spin-offs then occur, such as: Does a public Bible Class not constitute such a gathering, or even a small-group Bible study at a public venue, or even in someone’s home? And, does this passage refer to every form of “speech,” including not only asking questions and making comments, but also prayer and even singing? Or, does this teaching only apply so long as there are no men present? What if there are no “qualified” men present? And what is a woman to do if she has no husband, or her husband is not a Christian? Is she, then, allowed to talk with other men? And on and on the questions go as the “Pharisees” among us try to iron out a legalistic faith for all the rest of us to live by.
But, we must remember, the New Testament is not a “law book,” and authentic Christianity was never intended to be inextricably bound to any one culture or time period; it was meant to be cross-generational, cross-cultural, and applicably relevant to any society in any age. So sometimes, when it comes to the cultural manifestations of an eternal principle, such as male spiritual leadership in the home and in the church, our best course of action is to teach the Biblical principle and then ask for God’s wisdom as to how it should be applied within the cultural norms wherein we find ourselves; and then trust ourselves, and our brothers and sisters in Christ, to make the right decisions and to do the right thing, as God employs His holy and inspired written word to do just what He has promised: put His laws “into their minds” and “write them on their hearts” (Hebrews 8:10).
Is this making popular culture, or the predominate hegemony, the foundation of our faith? Not if we are truly surrendered to God. Authentic covenant children will always seek God’s will first and foremost, and then submissively apply the teachings of the scripture to their own lives and to the world around them in whatever ways they believe to be most appropriate and relevant—keeping in mind that it was also the Apostle Paul who, understanding the need for cultural relevancy, said to these same Christians in the city of Corinth:
To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. (I Corinthians 9:20-22, NASB)
So, while insisting that Christian women in Corinth put on the veil whenever praying or prophesying 2,000 years ago in the city of Corinth was altogether appropriate, insisting that they dress that same way here in Hawai‘i whenever they show up at a congregational meeting would be quite inappropriate. However, we know that Christian women everywhere should always be desirous of dressing modestly and respectfully. They should also be more than willing to adhere to their God given roles as women and respect the eternal principle of male spiritual leadership in the home and in the church.
While not usurping the spiritual leadership role reserved for men, there have always been women who served the church in a visible manner; as did Phoebe, who the Apostle Paul says was a “servant [diakanon – deacon] of the church which is at Cenchrea” (Romans 16:1, NASB). It is interesting that Paul also uses the word “prostatis” – [governess, patroness, protectress] to describe Phoebe in verse 2. This word is used nowhere else in the New Testament but, at its most basic meaning, it represents “one who stands before” others and, in secular usage, it was used of kings, military commanders, governors, and various other types of leaders.
We also note that, when the Apostle Paul was elaborating on the character traits of male servants of the church—deacons—he includes this statement concerning women: “Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things” (I Timothy 3:11, NASB). While the word use for “women” [gunaikas] is sometimes used to denote “wives” when specifically contextualized in that fashion, it is not used that way in this text. Rather, the context indicates that it should simply mean “women” and that it pertains to those female servants of the church who, like their male counterparts, served the church in some visible fashion.
In our little circle of fellowship here on the Big Island of Hawai‘i, we have a deep and abiding respect for the eternal principle of male spiritual leadership in the home and in the church. For this reason, we do not deliberately place Christian women in positions of authority over Christian men, or in settings wherein they are the designated leader or teacher of a group of men. However, we do encourage our women to excel in public leadership roles among other women, or in particular ministries wherein their roles and responsibilities do not contradict this eternal principle. We have no problem with women functioning as publicly designated servants in positions such as office management—church secretary—or as coordinators of certain projects and ministries, such as our food pantry and benevolence outreach, or with women serving as members of our Christian school Board of Directors. Furthermore, our little circle of fellowship and its accompanying ministries are guided and directed by regular “open congregational meetings,” which, while always presided over by a man, includes both men and women who come together to share information and ideas and collaboratively make decisions regarding our work and ministry. And while our men always take the lead in all our public gatherings—such as our Sunday morning praise—we do invite our women to speak up, ask questions, share their thoughts, and contribute to our group discussions. We also, sometimes, invite both our men and women to pray aloud together—side-by-side, hand-in-hand, heart-to-heart—in our public gatherings. We believe these practices reflect a balanced, humble, and scriptural approach to rightly applying the eternal principle of male spiritual leadership within the context of the culture in which we live.
Question Number Four: Do you have elders?
Answer—and you should be able to guess, by now, that we’re not going to waste this “teachable moment” with a simple “yes/no” answer: We have no evidence from scripture that God’s people, the “ekklesia” [church], organized themselves beyond the immediate, local, community level. And even at the local community level, there was very little formal organization. The Bible says:
And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11-13, NASB)
- “Apostles” were the original ambassadors of Christianity, men chosen by the Lord and recognized by the “ekklesia” in the 1st century as having the direct empowering of the Holy Spirit; which they received on the day of Pentecost (See: Acts 2:1-12). They alone had the “authority” to pass along the miraculous empowering of the Holy Spirit to others (See: Acts 8:18-19).
- “Prophets” were men and women who were indirectly empowered by the Holy Spirit “through the laying on of the apostles hands” (See: Acts 6:3-8, 8:14-19) through whom God’s word was made known during the first century, prior to the completion of the New Testament.
NOTE: The Bible says that “God’s household”—the “ekklesia” (church)—is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone” (Ephesians 2:20, NASB). While there are no longer “apostles” or “prophets” in the world today—because when the last apostle died the empowering could no longer be passed along to others— the New Testament contains their inspired writings and teachings; and continues to serve as the foundation of the Christian faith.
- “Evangelists” were proclaimers of the “good news” (gospel) message of Jesus Christ. They traveled to various places throughout the world preaching and teaching the word of God. Today, we might think of them as “missionaries” in a sense. However they often spent considerable time with local communities of the “ekklesia” helping to get them rooted and grounded in the teachings of God’s word and establishing them firmly in the one faith (See: 2 Timothy 4:1-5).
- “Pastors” – also called “elders” or “overseers” – were older Christian men who served as the spiritual shepherds of the flock in various locals. They were formally recognized by the “ekklesia,” among whom they lived. These men were role models, teachers, spiritual counselors, and even protectors of the flock (See: 1 Timothy 3:1-7, Titus 1:5-9, I Peter 5:1-5).
- “Teachers” were men and women like Priscilla and Aquila who, after listening to Apollos preach, “took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately” (Acts 18:26, NASB).
- We know there were also men and women who served as designated public “servants,”—some modern versions of the Bible use the terms “deacon” and “deaconess”—who ministered to the physical needs of others and provided hands-on assistance to others where and when needed (See: I Timothy 3:8-13, Romans 16:1-2).
We do not currently have publically designated “elders” in our local circle of fellowship here on the island of Hawai‘i. But this is not because we do not want them; it is due only to the current make up of our fellowship. We do not feel that, as yet, we have men who are Biblically qualified to be recognized as “elders.” Furthermore, we must remember that even if, eventually, men do emerge within our associated circles of fellowship who we come to recognize as our “elders,” or “pastors,” or “shepherds,” these men must be gentle servants to the flock of God. They are not simply some kind of an executive board. They are not in the position of “governing,” or making decisions and setting policy for, the children of God. Rather, the Apostle Peter says:
Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. (I Peter 5:1-5, NASB)
So there you have it—the four big/little questions that we are so often asked and by which we are seemingly judged—and our local response to each. We know that many, from all directions of the matter—conservative, liberal, traditional, progressive, etc.—may disagree with some of our positions. But far from wanting to simply do our own thing, or cater to the world around us, we have humbly arrived at these decisions out of a profound respect for Bible authority, with hearts submitted to the will of God, and with the sincere desire to effectively minister to people in a culturally relevant manner in the setting in which we find ourselves.
Let us reiterate the fact that we do not judge anyone by their position on any of these four issues, we do not identify our Lord’s church by these issues, and we certainly do not draw lines of association, or refuse to fellowship with people, because they may happen to disagree with us on these issues. Unless someone has a rebellious heart and simply wants to do things their own way, regardless of what God’s word teaches, none of these issues are matters of salvation. We do not have to be absolutely correct about every little detail of the faith in order to be in a saved relationship with God. We are saved “by grace through faith and that not of ourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8, NASB) and His grace is more than adequate to cover all our sins, our weaknesses, our misunderstandings, and our incompetency.
What God does expect of us is that, despite our varying viewpoints and differences of opinion, we “walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-3, NASB). So, if you come to visit our island home, please do not get off the airplane with the intention of making war against us. We expect people, while on our shores, to respect our positions on these and other such matters and to relate to us with “aloha”—love! Furthermore, please know that this document is pretty much all we have to say about these matters. Please don’t be offended if you contact us about these matters and we fail to respond in kind. We hope you will understand that time is precious and the real mission that our Lord has set before us—loving, serving, reaching, and teaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ to our neighbors and friends—is of the utmost urgency. We simply do not have the time or energy to waste on endlessly debating others over matters of opinion that are of no significant eternal importance, when what people living all around us need most of all is Jesus!
By HIS grace,
~ Philip ~