A Modern Woman's Perspective On The Kingdom of God on Earth

Showing posts with label The Bible.. Show all posts
Showing posts with label The Bible.. Show all posts

December 3, 2018

Understanding The Wife of God and The Bride of Christ (Part 2)

     In the previous post, I have presented Biblical evidence that God considered Himself betrothed and wed to the nation of Israel -- that is, until they continued in their idolatrous adultery by pursuing other gods. Then He, being a Holy God, served Israel a bill of divorce until some future date when they will be redeemed and once again become His wife. The book of Hosea gives us a good picture of marriage as a metaphor of the covenant between God and Israel. Gomer, the wife of the prophet Hosea, is a picture of Israel as the "promiscuous woman and harlot" who abandons her marriage covenant and "goes whoring". As it is a comparison to God's relationship with Israel, the Book of Hosea is a story of promise and restoration unto the Lord.
     I hope I made it clear in Part 1 that when referring to God's wife, the Bible is always talking about the nation Israel, and "wife" does not apply to us. When it comes to identifying who "the Bride of Christ" is, we must dig a little deeper because the Bible applies this term across a spectrum of people. And I will be honest in telling you that my search for understanding on this topic has led to as many questions as it has answers. I will also tell you that, using Scripture as my source, I have received answers that, at times, seem in conflict with each other. So, I will present the matter as I have seen it in the Bible, and encourage you to do your own study and develop your own theology. What I present here today is simply my journey as it stands today. And I am trusting God to reveal more as I continue seeking Him.
     The first thing that struck me as I began to research the Bible about who to identify as the "Bride of Christ" is that the very term does not exist in the Bible! How can that be? It is readily understood by most of Western Christians that the Church is the Body of Christ. Yet, nowhere does the Bible make that claim clear. So, what does the Word make clear concerning the Bride?  To be honest, not much. What did become evident is that there are lots of what are called "figures of speech" applied in the Bible to God's relationship with people. And they tend to confuse, rather than make clear, the answer to the question Who is the Bride?

     What I discovered is that God uses a lot of different terminology, or figures of speech, to tell us how He feels about the people with whom He is in relationship. We certainly see that in His references to Israel as "wife". We also see God referring to various people or groups as "daughter", "virgin daughter", "virgin", "sister", "espoused" or "bride", "wife", or "mother". But He also calls people "sons", "a vine", "a wild donkey", "sheep", "goats", "a camel". It should be becoming clear that these terms refer to ways God sees people, and may not mean a literal interpretation. In fact, nowhere in the Bible is there a group of people who are specifically and clearly identified as the "literal" Bride. 
     So how did modern Christianity get the idea that the Church is the Bride? What I discovered was a very important quote from Biblical scholar E.W. Bullinger, who wrote in 1899, “Commentators and interpreters, from inattention to the figures of speech, have been led astray from the real meaning of many important passages of God’s Word; while ignorance of them has been the fruitful parent of error and false doctrine” (p. xvi). When realizing that the Bible employs such figures of speech as similes (a comparison by resemblance); metaphors (a comparison by representation); hypocatastasis (a comparison by implication); and personification (things represented as people).
     We can see the difference in the first three figures of speech by considering the statements, "You act like a beast" (simile); "You are a beast" (metaphor); and "Beast!" (hypocatastasis). Personification is portrayed when Wisdom is seen as a woman crying out for people to listen to her; or the blood of Abel is seen as a person crying out from the ground [after he is killed by Cain]. You can also see how an error in recognizing the differences can result in different understandings and doctrines about the statement that Jesus made at the Passover Meal when He held up the bread and said, "This is my body". Some statements are not meant to be taken literal, yet the Church has established doctrine on these kinds of misunderstandings.
     What is becoming clearer to me is that we must take each instance of an identifying figure of speech and determine what God is trying to express about how He feels about people in that particular passage. In other words, each reference to a people -- whether it be Israel, the Church, a nation, or any other group -- is a figure of speech and we need to figure out whether God is making the comparison based on if that group resembles, represents, or is implied to be that term whatever it may be (wife, bride, vine, lion, etc). I think it's wrong to try to build a timeline or doctrine that says God is building a case to give people a specific identity. Instead, I'm not too sure that we aren't supposed to look at each verse and try to determine what the context of that term is in that text alone.
     So, have we made the mistake of trying to make "the Bride of Christ" the Church based on stringing a group of verses together into a doctrine, rather than looking at what God was trying to say in that passage alone? I believe that there are two primary passages that Christians use to back up their theology that the Church is the Bride. The first is 2 Corinthians 11:2, You need to know that God’s passion is burning inside me for you, because, like a loving father, I have pledged your hand in marriage to Christ, your true bridegroom. I’ve also promised that I would present his fiancĂ©e to him as a pure virgin bride (The Passion Translation)The second is Ephesians 5:25-27, Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In each of these passages, Scripture is personifying the Church as a Bride as a way to help us understand how Jesus feels about us, and how we are to feel about Him -- offering love and fidelity as a wife or bride would to her husband. This personification of the Church as a Bride is an effective means of communicating what Jesus has done for us; what He expects in return; and does it with a "word picture" we can understand and which has significant impact.
     But again, it is representing the Church "as" or "like" a Bride. It does not definitively identify the Church OR Israel as the Bride. You see, the only passage that can claim that it defines the Bride is Revelation 21:9-11, Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls filled with the seven final plagues (afflictions, calamities) came and spoke to me. He said, Come with me! I will show you the bride, the Lamb’s wife. Then in the Spirit He conveyed me away to a vast and lofty mountain and exhibited to me the holy (hallowed, consecrated) city of Jerusalem descending out of heaven from God, clothed in God’s glory [in all its splendor and radiance]. The luster of it resembled a rare and most precious jewel, like jasper, shining clear as crystal.
     Here is the only text that says who the Bride is ... the Holy city of Jerusalem, God's dwelling place. The context of Revelation 21 is the revealing of the New Heaven and New Earth, when God will dwell among people who have accepted Him as their God. All others [revealed as cowards; unbelieving and faithless; depraved and defiled with abominations; murderers; adulterers; practicers of magic arts; and all liars] will find their place in the lake of fire and sulphur. To me, the Word is saying that the city of Jerusalem will be filled with every saved person at the end of this Age. So, instead of trying to determine if the Bride is Israel, or the Church, or some specific group within the Body of Christ, perhaps we need to study this passage in Revelation to see how God wraps up His various references to "the Bride". After giving us comparisons from the Old Testament right through to the last book of the Bible, it seems to me that [in Revelation 21:11] He finally gives us His hope for what a people wholly devoted and in love with Him looks like... Clothed in God’s glory [in all its splendor and radiance].... Just like a beautiful Bride!
     In conclusion, you must each do your own research. Read the Bible and look up all the references to "Bride" in the Bible, and see what they say in context. Then read commentaries and the opinions of Biblical scholars and go back to the Bible and read them again ... in context. Then make up your mind. But I guess I want all this to come back to my original comment on the previous post ... I believe it is premature to say that Jesus [or the Father] is our Husband. It is not until Revelation 19 that the Bible reveals Let us rejoice and shout for joy [exulting and triumphant]! Let us celebrate and ascribe to Him glory and honor, for the marriage of the Lamb [at last] has come, and His bride has prepared herself.  She has been permitted to dress in fine (radiant) linen, dazzling and white—for the fine linen is (signifies, represents) the righteousness (the upright, just, and godly living, deeds, and conduct, and right standing with God) of the saints (God’s holy people). This is a picture of a FUTURE event. Note that Scripture says the Bride has prepared herself. I believe we are still in that process of preparation.
     Yes, we are seen as holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation. That is a picture of us at our moment of salvation, and how Jesus, as the Head of the Church, sees us. But Revelation 19 is different. It is a picture of the consummation of our journey with Christ. As of yet, we are still on that road toward purity and chasteness. Speaking for myself, I cannot say that I live a pure, sinless life; it is why I continue to confess, repent and ask for forgiveness. And I certainly do not see the Church fitting that definition. I think we need to understand that Jesus is looking for ALL those who have come to salvation to be chaste and pure and clothed in white at the culmination of His Father's plan for the redemption of mankind. That will include Christians, restored and saved Israel, and a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages. And we will all be residing in the New Jerusalem with our Bridegroom and Husband! What a beautiful day that will be!

Thanks to the website, Truth Or Tradition? (Helping You To Understand The Word of God, Free From the Traditions of Men) for helping me to understand how figures of speech contribute to our understanding of the Word.

John 14:3  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also.



August 9, 2017

"There Is Therefore Now No Condemnation For Those In Jesus Christ"

Two months ago, I wrote a blog post decrying the condemnation coming against popular Bible teacher Beth Moore.  At the time, I wrote that it wasn't quite clear why the fundamentalist, conservative website Pulpit and Pen was coming after Moore so hard.  Their complaints were shrouded in unsubstantiated grievances, and it took a lot of research to uncover the somewhat lukewarm objections that she was a woman who taught before men (which they say violates Paul's command for women to be silent in the church), and she claimed to "hear the voice of God".  But, I instinctively knew there was a deeper objection that infected this angry segment of the Body of Christ.  Now it has come out into the open....  

     Author J. Lee Grady wrote an article on Charisma News applauding the appearance of Beth Moore as a speaker at a Conference of Pentecostal associations and churches.  Grady wrote that Moore's speech was "so convicting and so saturated in the Holy Spirit .... that people wept, prayed, and sobbed uncontrollably".  Grady stated that Moore based her message on Jeremiah 12:5: "If you have run with the footmen, and they have wearied you, then how can you contend with horses?"  He wrote that "Moore lamented the powerless state of the modern church and called us back to the raw authenticity of New Testament faith".
     And then came the statement that has [not surprisingly] set the angry tongues wagging at Pulpit and Pen... "We are settling for woefully less than what Jesus promised us," said Moore. "I read my New Testament over and over. I'm not seeing what He promised. I'm unsettled and unsatisfied." She added: "I want holy fire!" Amen, Sister!   

     Now, it has become clear to me why there is such an ongoing and aggressive attack upon Beth Moore.  She has stepped outside the Church's rigid box of acceptable doctrine concerning the supernatural effects of the Holy Spirit, and is being accused of not following in lock-step with the man-made teachings of the Biblical text.  As she says, when you read the New Testament "over and over" with a mind and heart that seeks God's perspective on what and why He inspired the writings, you get a Kingdom mandate that is different from the stereotypical and formulaic variety of teaching and preaching the Word.  You see that Jesus wants more from us than regular Church attendance and a narrow view of our responsibilities as Christians.  He wants bold and courageous followers who [like the Apostles] dare to walk in His radical footsteps.  He wants a Church walking in His power! And that scares the majority of comfortable Christians.
     Moore is calling for renewed minds that are in step with Jesus and His promises; for Christians who have had the Light of God shine upon His Word so that they see what our Lord has called us to do in living out our faith -- Christians that see with unveiled eyes and understand with pure hearts that God is a consuming fire -- and Believers who desperately seek His Presence and that Holy fire in their own lives!  Beth Moore wants "holy fire", and so do I!
     In the Old Testament, God, Himself, lit the fire on the altar of burnt offering, and charged His priests to keep it continually lit.  As New Testament believers in YHWH, our bodies are living sacrifices upon the altar of God, and His Holy Spirit is to engulf our hearts and remain inextinguishable.  That holy fire within us exhibits God's Presence, His passion for His children and His Kingdom, and His desire to purify us for good works for that Kingdom.
     All of that is our right as Sons and Daughters of God! But that "right" comes with some conditions ... we should be crying out for, embracing, and receiving that Holy Spirit fire.  We must trust in, and rely on, the power of Jesus's Name to continue the works He did for the Father [including healing the sick, casting out demons, and raising the dead]. We must be spiritually transformed, with renewed minds, and sanctified to do these works for the glory of God alone.  But do we see that happening in the Body of Christ today?  That is what Beth Moore is calling our attention to, and those who are satisfied and settled in their complacency are made uncomfortable by that calling.  And, so they condemn and criticize and censure.
     But how many of you can identify with Beth Moore and Jeremiah 12:5? How many of you lament the powerless teachings of the modern Church? There are so many promises given to us in the Bible; promises that we have a right to expect as Sons and Daughters of God.  But, as Beth Moore explicitly states, we are settling for less than the inheritance due us.
     Among those stated promises is this: we have been given authority to trample on demonic spirits, and are able to exercise that authority over all the power of the enemy, with no harm coming to us. We have been promised that whatever we bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever we loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Jesus gave us the promise that if we have only the faith of a mustard seed, nothing will be impossible to us.  We have been given the promise of treasure in heaven. We have been promised persecution -- but it will give us the blessed opportunity to testify of our Lord before the world.  We are promised a kingdom and a place at Jesus's table in His Kingdom.  We are promised that He will do whatever we ask in His Name, so that our Father will be glorified by His Son.  We are promised that He will abide in us and we will bear much fruit.  We are promised that our joy will be full, and we will not stumble.  We are promised that we will be made holy and set apart by God's Truth.  We are promised power when the Holy Spirit comes upon us; and signs will accompany us in that power.
     These are just a few of the more than 200 promises in the New Testament, and these are only the promises we can expect in this present age.  There are many more promises to be fulfilled in the future Kingdom!  But all these promises are due the Children of God who believe them and trust in Him who pledged them -- and who are willing to act out their faith.  Beth Moore and so many others are simply willing to step out in faith and receive those promises, seeking the fire and the guidance of the Holy Spirit to do Christ's bidding.
     But here's how the Enemy blinds the hearts and minds of the Body of Christ ... with headlines that scream, Beth Moore is Unsatisfied With Christ.  They are so twisted in their minds that they cannot see that it is the modern Church that is unsatisfactory to her, not Jesus!  Why are they so afraid to seek after the promises Jesus offers those who trust Him?  How do their unregenerated hearts hear the false whispers of the Enemy who translates her words into conflicting statements such as this:  Jesus promised eternal life to those who would repent and believe in Him. Is she denying that this promise is being fulfilled? Is there something more than this that she wants? Who could make such a claim? Of course, this is one of the deceptive errors of Pentecostalism and charismaticism–that God owes us anything and that His Son Jesus is not enough. And there, we also see their fear of any supernatural relationship with Jesus or the Father. That is why so many of us have also become wearied by the "footmen" of the Church.
     Can you see how Satan has blinded them and twisted her words?  Can you now understand why so many Christians are living powerless and fearful lives?  For those who have ears to hear, and eyes to see, it is not difficult to discern the schemes of the devil and the presence of a religious spirit.  But there is a remnant in this generation that is following Jesus's command to seek the Kingdom first.  We will not be intimidated nor pressured into standing down from our Lord's invitation to walk in His footsteps. I, for one, am thankful that Beth Moore is letting the Light of God guide her as she boldly and confidently walks that narrow path towards Heaven's gates. As long as she faithfully represents Jesus's Kingdom message, I will stand with her.  But it is no wonder that those who choose the easier and more frequently traveled route think themselves the wiser. I'm afraid they will find themselves put to shame by their arrogance and rejection of the Word of the Lord. It is much easier to condemn than to diligently seek the Truth.

Please feel free to click on the following links and read the article by J. Lee Grady on Charisma News, and the opposing viewpoint on Pulpit and Pen.  Then I welcome your prayerful discernment and comments. 

Matthew 15:14   "Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit". 

July 29, 2017

The Multiple Sides of "Leaven"

     If you are like me, I was always taught in Sunday School or Bible Study classes that "leaven" equaled sin.  This idea is carried out in the Exodus story, when in preparation for Moses leading the tribes of Israel out of the land of Egypt, God instituted the Lord's Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. This Feast followed the Passover Day, and lasted 7 days.  During the first day of this week, they were commanded to remove all leaven from their houses. In addition, they were not to eat any bread which contained leaven for the whole week.  This symbolized that God was about to do a mighty work in the nation of Israel by removing all the sinful influence (leaven) of 400 years of bondage in Egypt and the pagan worship of false gods.  Furthermore, because leaven is equated with sin throughout the Bible, the "unleavened bread" was a picture of bread without sin in it, i.e. Jesus, as the Bread of Life.
     But are you aware that Jesus talked about leaven in broader terms?  And in one instance, He even referred to leaven as a good thing? I'm always fascinated by what God shows me; that no matter how much I think I know about Him and His Character and Nature, and the teachings of Jesus, there is always something new that He wants revealed.  So, it was with great interest that I discovered these different facets of leaven.
     My interest was first piqued as I ran across a reference to leaven in Mark, Chapter 8.  This is the second time that Jesus performs the miracle of feeding the multitudes from a few loaves of bread.  You will remember that we have the account in Matthew 14 of Jesus feeding 5,000 with five loaves and two fish.  At a later date, in Mark 8, He feeds a gathering of 4,000 with seven loaves and a few small fish.  After getting into a boat with His disciples and going to a different district, Scripture tells us He encounters the Pharisees, who "began to argue [contentiously and debate] with Him, demanding from Him a sign from heaven, to test Him [because of their unbelief]. He groaned and sighed deeply in His spirit and said, “Why does this generation demand a sign? I assure you and most solemnly say to you, no sign will be given to this generation!" Leaving them, He again boarded the boat and left for the other side".
     And here is where the subject of leaven comes up ... The Disciples had forgotten to bring any bread with them, and only had one loaf between them.  Jesus says, “Watch out! Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” So, what did He mean by that?  And why is this His response to the fact that they are discussing their lack of bread?  First of all, remember that these men had already seen Jesus multiply five loaves of bread in order to feed 5,000; and just witnessed Him doing the same thing with seven loaves that fed 4,000!  And they are seriously questioning how they are going to make one loaf feed the 12 of them? Have they forgotten that quickly, Who they are with, and the supernatural works He has done?  But they relate His admonishment about the leaven of the Pharisees and Herod to simply be about the subject of bread, and their lack of it.
     But Jesus wanted them to understand so much more.... here He wanted them to understand leaven as the concept of an impure and pervasive influence that modifies something and spoils it.  In the case of the leaven of the Pharisees, it is the leaven of Religion -- their man-made traditions and hypocrisy have pervaded the Jewish Religion, which will result in preventing the nation of Israel from accepting the Messiah.  Luke 12:1 explains it concisely:  In the meantime, after so many thousands of the people had gathered that they were stepping on one another, Jesus began speaking first of all to His disciples, “Be continually on your guard against the leaven of the Pharisees [that is, their pervasive, corrupting influence and teaching], which is hypocrisy [producing self-righteousness]". The leaven of the Pharisees will cost the nation of Israel their redemption for centuries.
     A second aspect of leaven is the leaven of Herod [Antipas], which is political. His father, Herod the Great, was an Edomite who converted to Judaism, but was not a religious man.  He was appointed King of the Jews by the Roman Senate, and his son, who succeeded him, was also a Jew in name only.  In fact, Herod Antipas was involved in a great deal of lying in his political wheeling and dealing, abusing the power of his office. So the leaven of Herod represents the corrupting influence of politics in the nation of Israel.
     But there is a third leaven that Jesus mentions in both Matthew 13 and Luke 13....  “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and worked into three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.” This is the first mention of leaven in the New Testament, and it's significance is quite different from the concept of leaven in the Old Testament, and its later reference, in comparison to the Pharisees and Herod.  Here, Jesus intends leaven to mean something different.  The Hebrew word for leaven, seor, refers specifically to the leavening agent (the Kingdom of Heaven/God coming to earth) as opposed to the dough containing it (the nation of Israel/the world).  Rather than symbolizing impurity and corruption, Jesus is using the illustration of leaven’s ability to permeate a mass of dough many times its own size as a picture of the spread of the Kingdom of heaven throughout the entire earth -- spilling over and impacting all mankind. In this instance, leaven as an influence is a very good thing, indeed.
     To be honest with you, it is only very recently that I have understood and seen the positive side in Jesus's parable about the leaven.  And I believe that I was blinded to the fact that He equated it to the Kingdom of Heaven... all I saw was that word leaven, and I only understood it to be sin.  But I think this points to the bigger realization that I, along with much of the Body of Christ, have been ignorant about how much Jesus taught about the Kingdom of God.  In reality, it was His favorite subject matter and what He focused on more than anything else!
     So, I am grateful for God's new revelations, day by day, as I glean more of His truth in His Word.  And this broader understanding of leaven is not the only thing I derived from Mark, Chapter 8.  In my next post, I want to share the bigger issue Jesus discussed when admonishing His Disciples about their concern over the lack of bread.  He warned them to not be influenced by hypocritical religion or religious politics, but He also chided them with three questions:  Don't you see? Don't you hear? Don't you remember?  Those are questions we need to ask ourselves. Stay tuned....

Luke 13:18    [ Parables of Mustard Seed and Leaven ] So this led Him to say, What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it?

July 24, 2017

The Importance Of Discernment: Who Do We Believe?

     I know for a fact that we are not the first Christians who have faced a multitude of different teachings about Jesus, and have struggled with whose teachings to follow.  All we have to do is look at the Early Church and we can see the problems that arose -- problems not unlike those we face today.
     In Scripture, we can see an explosion of faith after the experience at Pentecost in the Book of Acts.  Important Christian doctrines were established, such as the Incarnation of the Son of God (fully Deity and fully man); His death, burial, and resurrection; man's fallen nature and his need of a Savior; and Salvation is by God's grace through our faith in Jesus, just to name a few of the foundational doctrines.  We see the Gospel Message [of the Kingdom] taken to distant lands, as the Apostles carried out their commission from Jesus to heal the sick, cast out demons, raise the dead, and preach that Kingdom Message.
     But we can see that things must have become distorted as the decades and centuries passed, because the Church today doesn't teach that full Gospel; it has been reduced to the "Gospel of Salvation" alone.  A fleeting glance at history shows us some of the problems that began arising in the Church, especially after the deaths of the Apostles and the martyrdom of Paul.
     It isn't hard to imagine the early Christians meeting together for worship, and someone stepping forward to give their oral testimony of how they had heard an Apostle or other eyewitness tell of hearing the Lord say this or that. Or how they had seen the Lord heal the sick and give sight to the blind. Persecution of the new Christian faith soon thinned out these credible eyewitnesses, so that it wasn't long before very few persons remained who could give firsthand testimony regarding the teaching and activities of the Lord.
     Fortunately for us, the Synoptic Gospels were soon written, verifying those oral testimonies and preserving them for posterity.  But before we ascertain that the First Century Church was all sunshine and roses, we can see in Paul's writings and the epistle of James that differences of opinion and various disturbances among groups of Believers were beginning to cause dissension.  Once that first generation of actual eyewitnesses and the second and third generation of those who had known the eyewitnesses were gone, the Church became subject to teachers and theologians who applied their own personal subjectivity to the Bible, and Christians had to decide whose teachings were the most credible and true to the original teachings of Jesus.
     Nothing has changed in all these centuries.  Today we are presented with a wide range of teachings -- all purported to be in alignment with Scripture.  And as in the past centuries, we are presented with various "movements" that may or may not be in strict agreement with the Bible.  Let's face it, the modern Christian has to be serious in their discernment.  And it is not uncommon to agree with parts of a particular ministry, while having difficulty with other parts of its theology because it doesn't exactly align with Scripture.
     There is such a huge number of teachers, Bible scholars, authors, ministers, and internet personalities for us to choose from, that it can be difficult to know how reliable their teachings are.  We are rightfully concerned about being deceived; and any teacher or movement whose foundation is anti-Biblical should be dismissed. But at the same time, I have found that I can oftentimes get a nugget of Truth [from Biblical teachings] that I can apply to my theology, and then discard other parts of the message until I can study them further to see if I agree. As my husband often reminds me, "We can eat the meat and spit out the bones".
     I can understand the hesitancy to accept any part of a teaching that may have questionable doctrine.  But we must remember that even in the early Church there arose various opinions about what constituted "faith" because people misunderstood the teachings of Paul.  For Paul, the word faith meant complete reliance upon Jesus Christ for salvation, and we know that this is correct teaching. But some converts were using the word faith to mean nothing more than they were members of Christian groups, and so on.  So James, the brother of Jesus, and a leader of the Jerusalem Church, wrote his epistle to point out that Paul was speaking of "saving faith".  He wrote to clarify that faith required "doing", not just hearing.  These differing opinions did not mean that groups within the early Church discounted each other. Rather, it called for further study and clarification.
     Also, during this first Century there was a difference in how some of the Jewish Christians regarded the concept of "works".  For some it was the observance of the strict Jewish ceremonial law; while to others, it referenced charitable acts, or the fruits of Christian living.  As you can see, there were differences of opinion that resulted in different theologies, although these disparate groups all proclaimed obedience to Jesus's teachings and Christianity.
    So, how should we look upon the variety of teachings that are available to us today?  Do we submit them to a stringent test, and require that they be 100% in accordance to Scripture?  Or is it OK to extract the Biblical truth from a teaching, while discarding those ideas that we are skeptical about?  I think we can agree that it is impossible today to find any teacher that meets the standard of Jesus.
     I can only answer for myself, and tell you how I apply discernment.  I try to follow Jesus's example in Mark, Chapter 9, when the Disciples came to Him and said, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name, and we tried to stop him because he was not following us.”  And what was Jesus's reply?  “Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in My name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of Me. For the one who is not against us is for us".  Jesus understood that not everyone would be part of the intimate group of His followers.  But if they did the works that He did, and credited Him [instead of themselves], then they were doing the work of the Father and advancing the Kingdom.  In effect, they were part of God's team and not Satan's -- for them, and not against them.
     And that's what I try to do.  I truly believe that God's character and knowledge are so great that He cannot download it all into one man or woman --- we are simply unable to contain the vastness of Him.  But He can impart a piece of revelation to each of us -- this man might understand repentance at a really high Kingdom level; while this woman might receive God's wisdom regarding seeing in the spirit; and this person has had God's heart revealed in the area of Deliverance in partnership with the Holy Spirit.  See what I'm saying?
      I don't think it is possible to receive all God wants us to know about Him from one person.  Yes, He has revealed Himself in the Bible, and it is up to us to seek Him through His written Word.  But I also believe that He has no problem with us sharing what we have come to know through a heart seeking Truth.  And just as Jesus said of those who were doing mighty works in His Name, we can discern whether today's teachers/scholars/authors/ministers are producing fruit for the Kingdom, and if they are, then it's safe to say they are for us, and not against us.  It is not necessary to discard the sum total of their teachings.  Use your God-given discernment, along with confirming Scripture and prayer. Then keep what has worth, and toss the rest. If you are seeking genuine Truth, the Holy Spirit within you will guide you and counsel you; He will not lead you astray.  Above all else, God isn't interested in limiting what we can know about Him, and I want all the Truth about Him I can get!

Proverbs 2:3-5    "Yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God".

January 23, 2017

What Does It Mean to "Be Submissive"?

          Please, I hope you will allow me to comment on a difficult and controversial passage in the Bible.  And in full disclosure, I am doing so at the request of someone my husband and I have counseled in our spiritual healing ministry.  This woman is in great need of knowing the Truth of Scripture, as it is being used against her to keep her in bondage.  And I have no doubt that her questions are shared by many women who might be reading this blog.  So let me jump right in...
           I know it may be difficult to think that in this day of radical feminism and advocacy of equal rights for women on political, social, and economic grounds, that there are those who believe that a woman's place is in complete servitude to a man.  Nowhere can this be more abused than in the covenant of marriage. I am writing this blog on behalf of all women who are struggling to understand their role as "wife" from a Biblical perspective. 
          So, here is the dilemma:  most women honor and respect their husbands, but how do we reconcile the Scripture that is often used by the Church [and well-meaning pastors] to preach that wives should "submit in everything to their husbands, as the Church submits to Christ".  I'm sure you are all familiar with this chapters in Ephesians that instructs us on the unity in the Body of Christ, including the relationships between Husband and Wife, and Parents and Children.      
            Ephesians 5:22-24 reads as follows:  Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.  Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.  This passage is often interpreted that wives should be "submissive" in their relationships with their husbands.  Can you see how this explanation can be wrongly used to keep a woman from her full identity in Christ -- especially if it is misapplied by an abusive husband?  Let's take a deeper look at what the Bible is telling us in this important and defining passage.
           What is often overlooked in the discussion on this particular Scripture are the verses just preceding verse 22.  In Ephesians 5:20-21, the Bible says ... giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. When we are filled with the Spirit, it will show by our mutual submission to each other; and the submission will be done in the fear of God, not the fear of man.
           The word "submit" in this context literally means "to be under in rank". What this indicates is that all of us are under the dominion and authority of Christ.  And, yes, it does indicate that in the covenant of marriage, there must be rank, i.e., the husband is the leader in the marriage, and the wife is his helpmate.  But, there is more to it than that.  In many of the best ancient Greek manuscripts, Ephesians 5:22 doesn’t even have the word submit. It simply reads wives, to your own husbands. 
           When Paul admonishes wives to submit to their husbands, it is in the idea that wives recognize that there is an order of authority; the husband is the leader, and that they are part of a unit, a team. He is making it clear, that as an individual, the wife is not more important than the working of the unit or the team. But, sadly, too often this Scripture is used to subjugate women and suppress their spirits.  
           It is important that all people recognize that Submission does not mean inferiority. As well, submission does not mean silence. Submission means “sub-mission.” There is a mission for the Christian marriage, and that mission is obeying and glorifying God. The wife says, “I’m going to put myself under that mission. That mission is more important than my individual desires. I’m not putting myself below my husband, I’m putting myself below the mission that God has designed for our marriage, for my life.”
           Now, let's take another look at the Scripture in question ... Wives, submit to your husbands, as to the Lord.  Let's begin with the "to your husbands" portion. This defines the sphere of a wife’s sub-mission. The Bible never commands a general sub-mission of women unto men in society. This order is commanded only in the spheres of the home and in the church. "As to the Lord" ... this is the crucial phrase.  There are those within the Church who interpret this to mean that it “favors” the husband.  They will say that As to the Lord means that a wife should submit to her husband as if he were God himself. The idea is “you submit to God in absolutely everything without question, so you must submit to your husband in the same absolute way.” Wrong!
     Simply put, in no place does the Scripture say that a person should submit to another in that way. There are limits to the submission your employer can expect of you. There are limits to the submission the government can expect of you. There are limits to the submission parents can expect of children. In no place does the Scripture teach an unqualified, without exception, submission -- except to God, and God alone. To violate this is to commit the sin of idolatry.
           Here is the truth:  As to the Lord defines the motive of a wife’s submission. David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, minister of Westminster Chapel in London expresses it the best I've ever seen: “It means: ‘Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands because it is a part of your duty to the Lord, because it is an expression of your submission to the Lord.’ Or, ‘Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands; do it in this way, do it as a part of your submission to the Lord.’ In other words, you are not doing it only for the husband, you are doing it primarily for the Lord Himself . . . You are doing it for Christ’s sake, you are doing it because you know that He exhorts you to do it, because it is well-pleasing in His sight that you should be doing it. It is part of your Christian behaviour, it is a part of your discipleship.”
           BUT, it is very important to take into account if the husband is loving his wife as Christ loves the Church.  This has nothing to do with whether or not the husband is “right” on a particular issue. It has to do with Jesus being right, and the two being right in their understanding of the marriage covenant.  When they submit to each other in marriage, they must have "a team attitude".  There is a natural order in a marriage, with the husband being head of the family, as Christ is head of the Church. But Scripture also tells us, So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. 
           Paul goes on to say, Husbands, love your wives.  Though wives are to submit to their husbands, it never excuses husbands acting as tyrants over their wives. No husband is entitled to say that he is the head of the wife unless he loves his wife.  The wife is the one who is kept, preserved, guarded, shielded, provided for by the husband. That is the relationship -- as Christ nourishes and cherishes the church, so the husband nourishes and cherishes the wife -- and the wife should realize that that is her position in this relationship. The initiative and the leadership are ultimately the husband’s, but the action must always be co-ordinated. That is the meaning of this picture -- co-ordinated action, but leadership in the head. There is no sense of inferiority suggested by this. The wife is not inferior to her husband; she is different. 
           And finally, we must address the concept as expressed in the last part of verse 24: wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Are there any exceptions to "everything"?  Absolutely!  When the husband asks the wife to sin, she is free from her obligation to submit.  When the husband is physically abusive, and endangers the safety of the wife or children, the wife is free from her obligation to submit. She does not have to submit to his violence. When the husband breaks the marriage bond by adultery, a wife does not have to submit and just accept it. The Bible says she has the right to “come out from under his rank” in such cases. If the husband has been guilty of adultery the wife is no longer bound to give him obedience in everything. She can divorce him, she is allowed to do so by the Scripture.
           I know that this topic and its discussion can be exhaustive, but it is an important one to have, especially if a daughter of the Kingdom finds herself in a marriage that strains her ability to perform her sub-mission before the Lord.  As you can tell, Paul (and the Lord) take the subject of marriage and the subsequent roles of husband and wife seriously.  And so should we. We would do well to caution our children to take the choice of marriage partner seriously.  It is in service to the Lord that we enter into such sacred partnerships.  We owe it to ourselves, our spouses, and our Lord and Master to choose wisely.

      Ephesians 5:32-33     This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.  However, let each of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.