A week or two ago, one of my Facebook friends posted a link to this blog. Among other things, one of the author’s main goals appears to be insisting that women should be allowed to speak in the assemblies of churches of Christ. This post is representative of his arguments.
The post is, quite honestly, very long, and I don’t have space to respond to everything in it that I think is mistaken (not without turning this into the 1 Corinthians 14 blog, at least!). However, I think it’s worthwhile to address one of the author’s primary arguments—that no church of Christ is consistent in applying 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 because in none of them are women absolutely silent. He writes, “Hardly a single woman remains silent in the churches. Women sing. They greet people. They say ‘good morning’ and ‘Amen.’ They make comments in Sunday School. They give confession to the assembly before baptism.”
What the author describes is true, so far as it goes. However, it’s not in conflict with the plain meaning of 1 Corinthians 14. First of all, this text applies to times “when the whole church is assembled together”—what we would call worship services rather than Bible classes (though I think that churches need to apply 1 Corinthians 14 to their Bible classes if said classes are an assembly of the whole. The label we assign an activity is less important than the reality of what we’re doing.).
Second, though we tend to focus on women, sisters in Christ are not the only group in the chapter that Paul instructs to be silent. In 1 Corinthians 14:28, he tells men with the gift of tongues to keep silent if there is no interpreter present. In 1 Corinthians 14:30, he tells prophets to keep silent if a revelation has been given to another prophet.
In these passages, it’s clear that “silent” isn’t contrasted with making a sound. Otherwise, gifted men under these conditions would have been barred from singing, saying “Amen”, and otherwise participating in public worship. That interpretation can’t be supported from the text, particularly when Paul urges brethren to earnestly desire spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 14:1. Why desire something that could bar you from worshiping?
Instead, “silent” in 1 Corinthians 14 is contrasted with being the speaker. Tongue-speakers and prophets in these circumstances were free to participate in public worship. They were not free, however, to claim center stage for themselves.
The same rule applies to women. They too are free to say the “Amen” if they agree, as per 1 Corinthians 14:16. They too are free to obey the exhortation of Romans 15:6 and join in glorifying God with one voice. They are not free, however, to become the speaker.
There were circumstances in which tongue-speakers and prophets could become the speaker in an assembly. Tongue-speakers were permitted to do so in the presence of an interpreter. Prophets were permitted to do so (one by one, two or three at most per assembly) in the absence of another revelation. However, there are no circumstances in which the text permits women to do the same. Paul’s prohibition is absolute, even to the point of forbidding women to ask questions in such circumstances.
Such a commandment is opposed to the spirit of our time. That’s not in question. The question is if we are willing to defy the spirit of our time to follow the Spirit of God. Honoring His word will not find favor with our culture, but it will find favor with Him.
As we’ve been going through the gospel of Mark in our neighborhood Bible study, I’ve been reminded of what a sneaky writer Mark is. Let’s say that Paul, for instance, has four things that he wants to say to you. They might be complicated things, but Paul is going to give them to you straight: here’s the first thing, here’s the second thing, and so on.
Mark isn’t like that. Instead, if he’s got four things to say to you, he’s going to tell you four stories about Jesus, expect you to see the point of all four stories, and expect you to see the way that those four things fit together. Often, there will only be the tiniest clue that he’s up to something.
Let me give you an example. Let’s read together from Mark 1:14-15. Here, we learn that Jesus is proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom. We might think that this is only a random comment. After all, the word “kingdom” doesn’t appear again in the whole first chapter of Mark. However, a closer examination reveals that the kingdom is the theme of much of the rest of the chapter. Let’s consider, then, what Mark has to say about the kingdom of Jesus.
First, we see that the kingdom has to do with FISHING FOR MEN. Consider the story of Mark 1:16-20. This story contains a double contrast with the wisdom of the world. First, this is a kingdom that is going to advance with words, not with swords. Jesus isn’t recruiting soldiers. He’s recruiting disciples.
Second, these disciples aren’t the kind of people that worldly wisdom would expect Jesus to call. These aren’t philosophers. These aren’t lawyers. These aren’t scribes. Instead, they’re fishermen, uneducated men from the middle of nowhere who probably never have made a speech in their lives. Yet Jesus says, “These are the people I want telling others about Me.”
How heartening this is for all of us! If we want to serve the Lord, we don’t have to go kill somebody for Him. We don’t have to be experts in the Bible who know every Scripture forward and backward. Instead, we get to be us. We can be ordinary, flawed people because Jesus has chosen ordinary, flawed people from the beginning.
We don’t have to do great things. All we have to do is reveal the greatness of Jesus in our words and our lives. All we have to do is follow Him as the people we really are. In Him, that will be enough.
Next, Jesus reveals that the kingdom involves TEACHING WITH AUTHORITY. Look at Mark 1:21-22. Remember, Jesus is a Capernaum resident. At this point, He still owns a home in Capernaum. Probably, everybody in town thinks of Him as good old Jesus, the carpenter.
Now, He pops up in the local synagogue one Sabbath, and He starts teaching with authority. The natives react with astonishment, likely both at the authority of His teaching and that a carpenter could be teaching so authoritatively. However, if Jesus’ teaching isn’t authoritative, He isn’t really proclaiming the kingdom. A kingdom with no authority is no kingdom at all.
Today, we still have to remember that the kingdom of Jesus consists of His authoritative teaching. Lots of people want to call that into question. They deny that Jesus and His chosen messengers speak with authority when it comes to the practice of homosexuality, or to marriage, divorce, and remarriage. They deny that Jesus needs to be King in the work and worship of the church. Instead, they claim that we get to do whatever we want, and Jesus—if He even exists—doesn’t care much one way or the other. However, denying the authority of Jesus doesn’t make it so. Either we hear His authoritative teaching, or we will face His authoritative displeasure.
After this, we see that the kingdom includes POWER OVER THE SPIRIT WORLD. Let’s keep going in Mark 1:23-28. In this case, the illustration is provided by a demon-possessed man who helpfully shows up in the middle of Jesus’ teaching. Jesus immediately demonstrates that His kingly authority isn’t limited to teaching. Instead, He sends the demon right back to Hades.
Imagine for a moment that you are in the synagogue on this day and you see Jesus cast out the demon. What are you going to think? Judging from the Scriptures, demon possession was common in Galilee during the Lord’s ministry, but there was nothing anybody could do about it. How can a human being fight a demon? Jesus, though, proves that through His power, He can fight demons and win. This one act gave a lot of suffering people hope that they had never had before.
Thankfully, we don’t have to deal with unclean spirits today, but it is still true for us that our worst enemies reside in the spirit world. Ephesians mentions rulers, authorities, and cosmic powers of darkness. Over them all, of course, is Satan himself.
None of us can see these enemies, though their handiwork is obvious, and if we have to fight them on our own, we will certainly lose. Jesus, though, defeated them. Indeed, through His death He defeated even the devil! We can’t fight the evil rulers, authorities, and cosmic powers in the heavenly places, but we don’t have to. Once we are in the kingdom of Jesus, we are safe from their hatred.
Finally, Jesus reveals His kingdom in His POWER OVER ILLNESS AND DEATH. Our last story for the evening appears in Mark 1:29-31. I suspect that most brethren pay attention to this story because it proves that rather than being celibate, the supposed first pope was married.
However, once we read it through the lens of the kingdom of Jesus, we see that there’s a lot more going on than that. Jesus is not limited to casting out demons. Instead, He also has the power to go to someone with a serious illness and heal them completely and instantaneously. Sickness cannot stand against the authority of Jesus.
Even that, though, is not the final point. As I was studying this, I was struck by Mark saying that Jesus took Peter’s mother-in-law by the hand and lifted her up. I thought to myself, “That sounds like a sneak preview of resurrection!” I checked, and in fact, the Greek word translated here as “lift” is the same word used for raising someone from the dead. Mark is implying that Jesus is not merely in the healing business. He’s in the resurrection business too.
For now, death has not yet been defeated. Even the faithful still get sick and die. However, the day will come when the final victory of Jesus’ kingdom will be revealed. On that day, He will say the word, and everyone who died in Him will rise from the dead in Him. Death will be no match for the authority of King Jesus!
Shine forth, O God of vengeance;
Bring judgment on the proud;
They overflow with boasting
And shout their crimes aloud.
They kill the helpless orphan,
The stranger in the land,
And say, “He does not see us
“And cannot understand.”
Give heed, you foolish people
Who mock at His decrees:
He made the ear and hears you!
He formed the eye and sees!
The Judge of all will punish;
His grasp of truth is sure;
All plots are plain before Him,
And they cannot endure.
How blest are those You chasten,
Who learn Your law, O Lord!
Through trial, You will sustain them
And grant a right reward.
You hear my cry for justice
And hold me when I fall;
When troubles overwhelm me,
You cheer me through them all.
Can You support corruption
When wicked laws arise
That work against the righteous
And kill the just with lies?
The Lord has been my fortress,
The refuge of my joys,
But all who trust in evil
He baffles and destroys.
Proverbs 13:24 reads, “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.” Typically, when we go to this verse, we see it as being about corporal punishment. All the experts in our society tell us that spanking children harms them, but we know better (generally from personal experience), and besides, Proverbs 13:24. Certainly, I believe that there are times when my children’s backsides listen better than their ears do!
However, we ought to spend as much time in this verse considering the importance of diligence as we do defending a particular method of discipline. The contrast in the proverb isn’t really between spanking and not spanking. It’s between being diligent in discipline versus refusing to discipline when appropriate.
There are many reasons why parents, even Christian parents who believe in corporal punishment, can find themselves in the latter category. I’m here to tell you—it’s HARD to discipline children consistently! For one thing, parents who work long hours may simply not spend enough time around their children to consistently hold them to a standard. If you only have a couple hours a day with them, do you really want to spend those few hours making them do stuff and calling them down when they don’t?
Energy is another issue. I have heard legends of children who only need to be told once and then obey their parents’ wishes. It is not so with my children.
Don’t get me wrong; they’re basically good kids. However, they will gladly expend ten times as much effort evading some instruction as they would in obeying it. Never mind that simply listening the first time would be easier and less painful for everyone. They remain as intent on freedom as the plot of a Mel Gibson movie.
As a result, they are exhausting to parent. Getting them to do anything they don’t want to do requires a massive expenditure of energy, and tomorrow, there will be no evidence that the energy was expended. If the same situation arises, the same conflict will take place.
I have been known to observe that trying to train my children is about like banging on a hunk of scrap steel with a hammer. It makes a lot of noise, but it doesn’t appear to produce much change. That being the case, why not hand them the remote and let the TV and the Xbox raise them?
To myself, to my wife, and to all parents with children like that, I say, “Do not grow weary and lose heart!” It may be tempting to walk away from the daily struggle, but that won’t end well. As Shawn likes to say, if you don’t teach your children to act right, the police will. Life isn’t kind to people who haven’t learned to control themselves.
Additionally, I doubt that I am truly as ineffective as I sometimes feel. My children may be learning at a glacial pace, but they are learning. These days, they can sit through an hour-long funeral without having to be bribed with books or tablets, and that wouldn’t have been true two years ago. The signs of progress will be evident to those who look for them.
Diligence matters. It matters in everything, but it particularly matters in raising children. The more we apply ourselves to the task now, the less cause we will have to regret it later.
Much to my surprise, for the first time that I can remember since the Cold War, there is a flurry of national interest in socialism. As someone who is a student of history, this concerns me. As someone who is politically unaligned, I’m not sure what to do about it.
I have seen, though, a small minority of brethren with left-leaning political views justify their embrace of socialism by pointing to the communal practices of the first-century church. They cite texts such as Acts 4:32, which reads, “And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them.” Ergo, the argument goes, adopting a democratic-socialist form of government is Biblically acceptable, if not outright Biblically justified.
From my perspective, though, the argument appears to suffer from the usual problems with basing public policy on the Bible. New-Testament Christianity is concerned with the conduct of individuals and small groups, not nations. It assumes that those individuals and groups will be motivated to obey by love. The less true those things are, the less applicable the code of the Bible becomes.
Take, for instance, Acts 4:32. It certainly describes a communal moment in the history of the early church. However, we see plainly in the text that everyone who was involved in sharing their possessions did so willingly. If a group of people chooses to pool their possessions, whether Christians or not, I don’t have a problem with that.
However, socialism is never 100 percent voluntary. No political system is. It invariably involves coercion. Somebody who is a citizen of a socialistic country but doesn’t want to have his possessions redistributed will have those possessions redistributed forcefully.
I think that generosity among brethren is beautiful. I think that forced redistribution is hideous. It is provoked by greed, not love. Historically speaking, lots of people have died in the course of state redistribution of property.
Second, Acts 4 captures a particular moment in time. It comes on the heels of the establishment of the church on the day of Pentecost, during which thousands of Jews from all over the world who were in Jerusalem for the festival obeyed the gospel. Most of those converts didn’t own property in Jerusalem. They didn’t have employment there.
As a result, if they wanted to remain in Jerusalem and be taught, they had to rely for their needs on others. The native Christians were driven to sell their property to meet the need. This took place only for a limited time, and if the situation had continued indefinitely, it would have been unsustainable. There’s a sense in which the persecution of Saul did the Jerusalem church a favor by forcing it to scatter.
Political socialism, by contrast, does not advocate state assumption of assets as a limited-term response to a crisis. Instead, to at least some degree, it contemplates the permanent collectivization of property. This too is unsustainable. People who are not motivated by the prospect of reward will not work.
In summary, there is a facial resemblance between the economics of the Jerusalem church and socialism, but the parallel doesn’t stand up under scrutiny. What a church might do when many of its members are in need has little to do with how a nation should organize itself. As always, we are on solid ground when we seek to apply the word of God to ourselves and our churches. The more we stray from the intent of the Holy Spirit, the more fraught the exercise becomes.