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Long-View Living in a Short-View World

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For the record, I intensely dislike writing this type of blog post, but alas, this is what God has laid on my heart for this week.

During the time of the prophetic ministries of the prophets Ezekiel and Daniel, the people of God held to a misguided belief that God could, or would never leave his temple. Secure in their belief, the people gave no heed to the warnings of the prophets Ezekiel and Daniel, exhortations to repent, lest Jerusalem be destroyed.

Societal and religious leaders rationalized that God would never allow the destruction of a city and temple in which he dwelt. In their exuberance, they cried out “This is the temple of the Lord!, The temple of the Lord!, The temple of the Lord!” (Jeremiah 7:4), similar to the way we might chant, "USA! USA! USA!" at an Olympic event.

A false sense of security is a dangerous thing.

I am persuaded to my core that the United States is perched precariously atop a false sense of security. Just like the deluded priests in the Jerusalem temple, the people of the United States are moving shamelessly and incrementally from one abomination to the next, screaming "USA! USA! USA!" while driving God out of our lives and our nation just as the priests drove the shekinah (glorious presence of God on Earth) from the temple in Jerusalem.

Drowning in our delusion, the people of the United States are rebellious, obstinate, and stubborn, deluded by our false sense of invulnerability and arrogant, intellectual superiority. We have convinced ourselves that either God does not mind our depravity, or that good is evil and evil is good, or that God does not exist, thus morality and ethics can be whatever we (in our intellectual superiority) decide they should be.

The day is coming when we will successfully drive God away, and calamity will befall us as a nation, just as it befell Jerusalem.

They will be appalled at the sight of each other and will waste away because of their sin. - Ezekiel 4:17b, NIV-1973
Therefore as surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, because you have defiled my sanctuary with all your vile images and detestable practices, I myself will withdraw my favor; I will not look on you with pity or spare you. - Ezekiel 5:11, NIV-1973
I have been grieved by their adulterous hearts, which have turned away from me, and by their eyes which have lusted after idols. - Ezekiel 6:9b, NIV-1973

God In the Sanctuary

When Ezekiel had his vision, it began with God in the temple. God has always wanted to dwell among his people. We started out that way in the garden, but our actions drove (and still drive) a wedge between us and God.

And he said to me, 'Son of man, do you see what they are doing-the utterly detestable things the house of Israel is doing here, things that will drive me far from my sanctuary?' - Ezekiel 8:6a, NIV-1973

Shortly thereafter, God directed Ezekiel to the inner rooms of the temple, and there Ezekiel found the elders of Israel worshiping bugs and burning incense to idols. They felt safe doing so, saying, "The Lord does not see us;" (Ezekiel 8:12b, NIV-1973). They were weeping for Tammuz, and bowing down to the Sun - all of it happening inside the temple.

God At the Temple Threshold

When men and women of God live in filth, filling our lives with profane vulgarities, the glory of God will not remain among us. When we work to drive God out of our lives, he will oblige us by leaving.

Then the glory of the Lord rose from above the cherubim and moved to the threshold of the temple. - Ezekiel 10:4a, NIV-1973

At this point, the glory of God was still with the temple, but it had moved from the inner sanctum, the Holy of Holies, to the threshold of the temple structure. In this, God is basically standing in the doorway. And though his glory still filled the temple, and the court was full of the radiance of the glory of God, the people refused to repent.

God At the Courtyard Gate

Then the glory of the Lord departed from over the threshold of the temple and … stopped at the entrance to the east gate of the Lord’s house. - Ezekiel 10:18a, 19b, NIV-1973

The glory of God has left the Holy of Holies, moved to the threshold of the temple structure, and now has moved to the gate of the temple courtyard. Bit by bit, the glory of God is being driven from the lives of his people, and they are ignoring the reality that they and their city are about to be laid waste.

Even from there, God continued to reach out to the hardened hearts of his people, pleading with them to renounce their filthy ways and to turn to him with repentant hearts. But they (we) refused. The result of their obstinacy, and ours, is not pretty. God will show himself to be God in the face of our headstrong arrogance.

And you will know that I am the Lord, for you have not followed my decrees or kept my laws but have conformed to the standards of the nations around you. - Ezekiel 11:12, NIV-1973

God Outside the City

With no repentance to be found, God left the city, and with that we have a distinct separation of the sacred and the profane. What is precious is on the mountain, while what is polluted destroys the city.

The glory of the Lord went up from within the city and stopped above the mountain east of it. - Ezekiel 11:12, NIV-1973

What We Can Learn

The slow and gradual manner in which God left the temple, and ultimately the city of Jerusalem, gives us a clear indicator that God allows himself to be pushed out of our lives, but that he does so with great reluctance, and that he offers us every opportunity for us to turn things around, embracing him with love and repentant hearts.

We also see that though God’s forbearance and longsuffering are extensive, they do have limits. Matthew Henry noted, “But, though he bear long, he will not bear always.”

As we continuously push God out of our homes, our schools, our sporting events, our courtrooms, and dare I say it - our churches, there comes a point at which God will throw up his hands and give us exactly what we want. We want him to leave us alone, so he does precisely that. Hear it from the apostle Paul in Romans 1.

Pointing to our stubbornness, godlessness, and suppression of truth, Paul highlights God’s reaction to it. Three times, Paul says, God gave them over…

Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie. - Romans 1:24-25a, NIV-1973
Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. - Romans 1:26a, NIV-1973
Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. - Romans 1:26a, NIV-1973

A common misconception is the idea that since nothing bad has befallen me (yet) that God must be okay with my hedonistic lifestyle and worldview. Don’t make the mistake of equating God’s patience with God’s approval.

The people of Israel made this mistake saying, "The days go by and every vision comes to nothing" (Ezekiel 12:22b, NIV-1973). God was quick to correct that, saying “Say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am going to put an end to this proverb, and they will no longer quote it in Israel.’ Say to them ‘The days are near when every vision will be fulfilled’” (Ezekiel 12:23, NIV-1973).

As Philadelphia pastor, Joe Focht, is so fond of saying, “It’s not that God is approving of how I’m living my life. It’s just that I’m quickly running out of room.” The bridge is out, we're ignoring the signs, and we're rapidly running out of highway. And when we finally drive over the edge of the cliff, we will have no one to blame but ourselves.

For the day of the LORD draws near on all the nations. As you have done, it will be done to you. Your dealings will return on your own head. - Obadiah 1:15

Obadiah's prophecy, speaking specifically to Edom, but in general to "all the heathen," is a dire warning regarding the pending "day of the Lord." There is a day coming when all of the nations will be judged by the God who created them, who died to redeem them, and who has been rejected by them, and that includes the United States of America.

From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. - Revelation 19:15, ESV

I cannot count the number of nations and empires that once existed (even during my lifetime) that have been driven to their knees and into obscurity, including Edom.

We have been spared thus far, but as noted above, though God bear long, he will not bear always. But if we, as a nation, will humble ourselves, pray, seek God's face, and repent of our arrogance and wickedness, I trust that our loving and longsuffering God will hear us from heaven, forgive our sin and heal our land.

Blessings upon you my friends.

Victoriously in Christ!

- damon

DamonJGray.org
Medium.com
Facebook Author Page
Twitter - @DamonJGray


Comments

07/11/2018
R.W. Williams  R.W. Williams

Well said. Unfortunately unless we lose the internet, it will be impossible to turn the ship around. That is why it is so important to bring our children up in the ways of the Lord. We very likely will not be able to save the nation. But the goal is for us as individuals to live in the Kingdom of God. We may die the terrible death from God’s wrath, but I believe that he will receive those of us who believe with total conviction in Him and live in his ways. I believe we show our conviction by helping others to see the Truth. Yet God knows our efforts may go unfulfilled. He expects us to try, and each one of us may be only a tiny piece to one man’s ultimate conversion. We may never know that a one-day contact with a man, compiled with contacts of many others trying to show him the Light, is what brought him back to God. So we must try with all our heart and soul to not hide our own conviction in the Truth of God. We must not hide that we are a Christian. And in this country we may perish in the punishment of God but be resurrected to his Kingdom.

07/11/2018
Damon J. Gray  Damon J. Gray

Robin, I am puzzled by the Internet comment. You believe that negates any possibility of national repentence? Is there a way it could be a tool to actually bring that about?

I like the way that you distinguish our responsibility to individuals from what happens on the corporate, national level. I don't believe we have reached a point of no return yet. I'm grieved and concerned, but still have a glimmer of hope. I think of Jonah and Nineveh, and how they turned things around. I look at the death and decay of our nation's morals and ethics, and I want to ask, "Son of man, can these bones live?" I believe they can.

07/11/2018
Diane  Diane

Well said!

07/11/2018
Daniel Gray  Daniel Gray

Heavy...good stuff Damon!

07/11/2018
Damon J. Gray  Damon J. Gray

You're right. It really IS heavy, Danny. That's why I said I really don't like writing this kind of post, but you go with what God lays on your heart. I prefer to be more upbeat and positive! ;-)

07/11/2018
R.W. Williams  R.W. Williams

Damon J. Gray I pray that I am wrong. The internet has captured at least half of our youth and it bombards them with the wrong values. When a lie is repeated often enough it becomes truth to the masses.

07/11/2018
R.W. Williams  R.W. Williams

And truly fear brings about repentance very often, if only people will stick with the Lord after they are out of danger. God’s wrath will bring many to Christ. But will it be in time to make them vote differently? To make them think differently? To value Life more than their own personal freedom when it comes to conception? Sin, when made easy to commit and easy to erase when the consequences make themselves apparent, I.e., a baby, is our battle. We have no realistic penalties for crimes against our neighbor, stealing, making false truths. Until there is penalty and justice rather than limited consequence, I see little in our favor except a hope in Christ.

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Beautiful Gardens

Just to the north of where Alean and I live is one of the most breathtakingly beautiful sites you can ever hope to visit. One hundred and six years in the making, the Butchart Gardens inspire awe from everyone who sees them. If you have not seen them, a trip to Victoria, British Columbia needs to be added to your bucket list.

There is something about a garden that inspires peace within us. The mere mention of the word seems to elicit calm and to dismiss stress from our emotional state. Frances Burnett's 1911 novel, The Secret Garden has delighted generations of readers, and has since been adapted for stage theater, multiple movies, and multiple television mini-series.

The strong compulsion for humanity to linger in such gardens may stem from the reality that we were created to be in the garden. That is from whence we came (Genesis 2:8), and ultimately, that is where we are headed (Revelation 2:7).

Four Garden Vignettes

The garden motif is strewn throughout both the old and new testaments. It is used both literally and metaphorically to illustrate, inspire, and admonish. We will peek at four such gardens in this blog posting.

1) The Garden of Eden

And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. - Genesis 2:8, ESV

This is the first garden in all of creation, and as stunning and awe-inspiring as I find the Butchart Gardens, I have to believe that this garden, the Garden of Eden, would just knock our socks off! We are told specifically, "And out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food" (Genesis 2:9, ESV) If the trees were pleasant to the sight, the flowers had to be nothing short of glorious. But what made this garden truly peaceful was that God was there, walking with Adam and Even in the midst of it (Genesis 3:8).

But it was not to last. When sin entered the timeline, humanity was driven out of the garden and away from the presence of God. God and sin cannot coexist. Isaiah 59:2 says that our sin has caused a separation between us and God, and it has hidden his face from us such that he does not hear. In a sense, we have left God alone in the garden.

2) The Garden of Gethsemane

Jesus entered another garden on Mount Olivet, this time with his disciples, those he loved. Jesus' death was imminent, and he was deep in grief, enduring stress so great that his sweat became like great drops of blood (Luke 22:44) as he pleaded with God to find some other way to accomplish what must be done to rectify what happened in the first garden.

Upon entering the garden, Jesus asked the disciples to keep watch while he went a short distance beyond to pray. Twice, Jesus returned to the disciples and found them sleeping rather than keeping watch with him, or on his behalf. So, despite the fact that the disciples were there, once again, God was alone in the garden.

3) The Garden of Golgotha

Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. - John 19:41, ESV

God walked alone in the first garden, searching for his own. He knelt alone in the second garden, agonizing in prayer for his own. Now he is buried alone in the third garden, having died for his own. Given the pattern, it is so fitting that Jesus would be laid to rest in a garden.

It is to this same garden that Mary Magdalene came, found the stone rolled away, the tomb empty, and two angels standing watch. This garden is a garden of ultimate victory. The crucified Christ has risen from the dead, never to die again.

So it shall be with us when we are laid to rest, that death will have no victory over us, because death has already been conquered through the resurrected Christ.

Death is swallowed up in victory.
O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?
- 1 Corinthians 15:54b-55, ESV

4) The Garden of Paradise

We complete our circle, having been ejected from the first garden, having abandoned Jesus in the second garden, having been separated by death in the third garden, and now we are reunited with him forever in the fourth garden.

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God. - Revelation 2:7, NASB

Paradise is a term used to describe a place of blessedness, joy, and delight. The Hebrew people use the term to refer back to the original garden, the Garden of Eden. This may or may not be accurate. I really don't know. What I do know is that Jesus is there, and for that reason alone it is where I want to be.

This is a place where God wipes away every tear, we run and do not grow weary, we walk and do not faint (Isaiah 40:31). We mount up with sings like eagles (Isaiah 40:31), and feel no pain and fear no death.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, 'Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.' And He who sits on the throne said, 'Behold, I am making all things new.' - Revelation 21:3-5a, NASB

Here, the curse of sin is forgiven, and we walk with Christ as citizens of heaven. "For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ" (Philippians 3:20, NASB).

It will truly be a garden of delight. I'd love to see you there. If I get there before you, look for me in the northwest corner. That's where I'll be hanging out and chatting.

Blessings upon you my friends.

Victoriously in Christ!

- damon

DamonJGray.org
Medium.com
Facebook Author Page
Twitter - @DamonJGray


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The Concern

Last week we began a discussion of the church's tendency to conform to culture rather than to conform to Christ, and to do so in the belief that the inherently offensive nature of the cross and the call to discipleship may be off-putting to those who need to hear the gospel message.

In response to that belief, not only do we see a propensity for scaling back the call for full discipleship in the life of a believer, but there is a strong trend toward competing against the world as entertainers, as though a robust theatrical presentation will compel the world to embrace Jesus where a forthright presentation of the message of the cross will not do so.

This approach to corporate worship and evangelistic outreach has prompted many to decry what is often called a "watered down gospel." I'm inclined to reject that characterization, because it assumes that the full gospel message is included, but that it has been diluted with water. I'm fairly certain that is not what is happening.

Instead, what I am seeing is a message from the church wherein difficult truths are carefully avoided, and the more challenging teachings of Jesus are strategically ignored, while choice elements from contemporary culture have been woven into the resulting theological voids. Through this practice, we see facts supplanted by feelings, and verity traded for a good vibe. David Alan Campbell noted that such an approach to presenting the Christian message "may get a lot of people into pews, but it won’t get anyone to the Cross." I tend to agree.

In an attempt to be sensitive to the ears of contemporaries outside the body of Christ, we modify the call of the gospel. We adjust it to make it more palatable to culture's fragile self-esteem and emotional sensitivities. In some cases, that is precisely the designation that is applied to this approach to faith and outreach, calling our assemblies "seeker-sensitive services."

And what is it we believe these "seekers" want? They want short-attention-span entertainment. They want fast action that is impressive and impactful. They want music with a catchy beat and pitch-perfect harmonies - dramatic presentations delivered with eloquence and flair. They want messages that boost their self-esteem, messages that feel good.

To capture and hold this crowd, we must host specific concerts with headliner bands that really rock the audience. We need to have mind-blowing multimedia with interactive stage lighting, sound effects, and dry-ice fog machines. It is all the flair and glitz the world serves up, with a serindipitous religious icing.

If we do these things, the world will see how cool we are, and they will bust down our doors to get in and be a part of what we are doing. They will retweet our sermon notes and like our Facebook pages. If these things don't happen, we can never reach the world for Christ.

Or so I am told.

The Undesirable Result

Substituting style for substance carries with it a number of undesirable side effects. The outcome of eliminating the call to full discipleship is, at least, fourfold.

  1. If the hearer embraces the modified message, they have embraced a non-truth, a message that is not aligned with the call to discipleship that Jesus has made. In this, we have done our hearers no favors, but have, rather, deceived them. As David Furman said, "Holding back truth or being vague regarding what God has made clear is not being sensitive — it is arrogant and unloving."

  2. It also carries with it the propensity for us to get in God's way. If the attention is drawn to our presentation style rather than to the Son of God, we are not presenting the message God wants presented. We go to the world with a message that says, "Come check out my church because we have/do such a cool X, Y, and Z," when we should have a message that says, "You need to know my God, and here is a place you can meet him."

  3. Furthermore, we inappropriately presume that we know better than God what should and should not be considered the gospel message, and we arrogantly endow ourselves with the authority to change that message.

  4. And finally, we incur a rather strong condemnation from the apostle Paul.

But though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach any other gospel to you than that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed. - Galatians 1:8, WBT

Yowzah! That's strong stuff.

A diluted presentation of scripture is a less-than-faithful exposition of God's word that invariably results in an anemic Christ-follower. It is the infant who never grows up, and who must continuously be fed milk because he or she cannot handle solid food (1 Corinthians 3:2, Hebrews 5:12).

The Best Message

In stark contrast to that, the apostle Paul proclaimed, "For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2, NIV-1973). Paul fully acknowledged that the message of the cross is a "stumbling block" and "foolishness to those who are perishing," but it remained his message nonetheless.

Why would a Holy Spirit-inspired apostle employ a message of foolishness and offense to reach a lost and dying world for Christ? It is because the message of foolishness and offense is also a message of truth, and despite what seeker-sensitive advocates claim, truth is something for which the world is starving. At a time when the public and president repeatedly denounce "fake news," how much more impactful is it for any of us to present a fake gospel?

The message of the cross is the effective message, and if our efforts to reach the world are not effective, it is because our message is not the message of the cross.

Jesus was very forthright in identifying what would be (and is) the one effective evangelistic tool. It was not human eloquence. It was not a pristine, cutting-edge worship center. It was not a nine-piece worship band. It was not padded pews or stackable chairs.

It was, and is the cross, and the message of Jesus' death, burial and resurrection.

And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself. - John 12:32, ESV
As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; - John 3:14, NASB
So Jesus said to them, 'When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me.' - John 8:28, ESV

If it is our intention to draw men and women to Jesus, we do so through the message of the cross.

The Result of the Best Message

What happens when we faithfully present the message of the cross, and the undiluted call to discipleship? Is everyone happy? Does life go more smoothly for us?

No. Not so much.

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

Standing for truth, godliness, and discipleship (contending earnestly for the faith) will make you intensely unpopular, injecting you into conflict in ways you never believed possible. Withstanding that conflict will require you to wear the full armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-20). Evangelist Leslie Ludy describes such boldness as smacking a hornets' nest with a baseball bat, and then finding that your feet are embedded in concrete. You cannot get away!

Greg Lauri once said, "The Christian life is not a playground, but a battleground." In contemporary society, the only Christianity that is tolerated is the quiet, passive, almost submissive Christianity that in no way resembles the "contending earnestly" that is called for by Jude, the half-brother of Jesus. The act of standing for truth is labeled as antiquated, unloving, feeble-minded, or even terroristic and criminal.

The pressure to remain silent, to allow society to spiral into hedonistic filth, grows daily. No one should dare to say aloud that the emperor is parading naked through the city. Yet, God calls us to shine as lights in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation (Philippians 2:15).

The reality is that the gospel is offensive. If that causes your brow to furrow, if you don't understand the truth of that, then I submit that you don't really understand the gospel. It is disconcerting and unsettling. It is disruptive. It is a "skandalon," - a rock of offense.

Sadly, that offense is taken not only by those outside the body of Christ. Within the body, many have become so steeped in compromise that they have a low tolerance for truth.

For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. - 2 Timothy 4:3, NIV-1973

There is a positive side, however. People will respond. The world is starving for truth, for reality, and though most do not say so aloud, we know the emptiness of what the world offers up on its menu. When truth is presented, it is such a stark and refreshing contrast to the emptiness of the enemy's lies that the truth is deeply compelling.

It is the truth that will set men and women free (John 8:32), and it is the truth that will hold their attention.

It is this knowledge that in 1904 and 1905, the evangelist Reuben Torrey, from Hobokken New Jersey, was inspired to (foolishly, by the world's standard) reserve Royal Albert Hall for two months at a cost of $85,000, and to hold daily gospel meetings within. Royal Albert Hall was, at that time, the largest venue in London, and even the biggest names in entertainment had difficulty filling it for more than one night. Yet daily, for two months straight, the hall was filled to capacity, while people stood in the rain clamoring for admission, eventually being turned away.

Prior to that, Torrey preached in the Liverpool Tournament Hall, filling it night after night for nine weeks, sometimes multiple times per night as thousands exited, and thousands more poured in. It is estimated that some 35,000 were turned away because there simply was not enough room in the hall to accommodate them.

People are hungering and thirsting for truth, for reality, for substance.

The Drawing Power of the Gospel

Forget the flash and the flair. When Jesus is lifted up, he will draw all men and women to himself. We need to lift Jesus higher.

And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself. - John 12:32, ESV
No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day. - John 6:44, NASB
The LORD appeared to him from afar, saying,
'I have loved you with an everlasting love;
Therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness.'
- Jeremiah 31:3, NASB

It is through the gospel of Jesus that we are "drawn" to God. And it is through the gospel that we draw others.

We do not berate and browbeat. We do not "drive" men and women to Christ. Cattle are driven. Sheep are led. We, as sheep, are led by the chief shepherd of our souls (1 Peter 2:25).

The gospel of Jesus Christ is God’s power for salvation (Romans 1:16). That same gospel that "draws" us is the gospel that saves us (1 Corinthians 15:2). If both of these things are true, by what stretch of logic would we ever embrace an adultrated message that has neither the power to draw nor the power to save?

Through embracing the truth of the gospel of Jesus, I refuse to allow the culture to shape my theology, my message, or my faith. Instead, my theology, message, and faith will be used to the fullest extent to shape the culture.

'Therefore come out from them and be separate,' says the Lord.
'Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.'
'I will be a father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters,' says the Lord Almighty.
- 2 Corinthians 6:17, NIV-1973

Blessings upon you my friends.

Victoriously in Christ!

- damon

DamonJGray.org
Medium.com
Facebook Author Page
Twitter - @DamonJGray


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I have attended and worked with enormous churches, and also with very small ones. I have worked with churches that delivered impressively polished, theater-worthy presentations, where event timing was measured in the seconds, all of it driven by headset-adorned technicians working feverishly behind the scenes to keep the flow of the service as smooth and fluid as it can be. I have also worked with churches where we were not entirely certain what was going to happen from one moment to the next. Whatever happened happened, and we just rode the wave. I have worshiped with groups that met in gorgeous, multi-million-dollar facilities, complete with beverage restrictions in the worship center/auditorium, and I have worshiped with believers who met in apartment living rooms, with overflow seating on the floor.

What the body of Christ needs to understand and to become convinced of is that none of that matters!

Cultural Relevance

There is a growing obsession in today's church with what might be referred to as "cultural relevance." Somehow, somewhere, someone has convinced hundreds of thousands, if not millions of contemporary believers that we cannot be effective at reaching our communities with the message of Jesus unless we become culturally relevant. It is outside the realm of possibility for that line of thinking to be more misguided.

Do not misunderstand me to be saying that cultural relevance is wrong. I am not saying that. Indeed, I would argue that cultural relevance (properly defined) is a non-issue. The gospel of Jesus Christ is culturally relevant, and we are incapable of making it non-relevant. To say that the gospel of Jesus is not culturally relevant is to assert that contemporary culture does not need Jesus. Thus, to them, he is irrelevant. Such an argument is asinine.

My disagreement with striving after cultural relevance is not with the cultural relevance of the gospel, but rather with the prevalent mentality in evangelicalism that says the church must adopt the marketing methodologies of the world in order to reach the world with the message of Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection.

Audience Assessment

Neither am I saying that we should avoid doing assessments of our audience in order to capture the attention of our hearers. As I write this, I am actively preparing a workshop for Christian authors and bloggers in which I will walk them through how to identify and connect with their ideal target reader. I do believe in understanding the demographic and psychographic makeup of our audiences.

The apostle Paul stated quite powerfully that he became a slave to all to win as many as possible. (1 Corinthians 9:19-23) He became "like" a Jew, and "like" one under the Law, and "like" one not having the Law in order to appropriately influence each segment of society. However, nowhere in that passage did Paul say that he altered his message. He altered himself! The change was always with him, his person.

It was to this same church that Paul said, "And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. (2 Corinthians 4:3) He did not suggest altering the message, softening it, or removing some of the more difficult aspects of it to "unveil" the message. To emphasize that truth, let's look at what Paul said that led up to his statement:

We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. - 2 Corinthians 4:2b, ESV

Boom!

We do not shamefully tamper with the word of God just to make it palatable to those outside the body of Christ. Brothers and sisters, understand that the world is hostile to the gospel. The only way to make the world not hostile to the gospel is to make it something other than the gospel. I choose, rather, to stand for truth rather than posture for the approval of a world that stands opposed to everything that defines me.

Pining for Approval

Why do we even want to be liked by and approved by the world? James, the brother of Jesus said, "You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God." (James 4:4, ESV) "Adulterous" is a strong word, powerfully describing how we look to God when we breathlessly chase after the emptiness of what society esteems.

Jesus himself said...

If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. - John 15:19, ESV

This same Jesus said, "Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and insult you, and scorn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man." (Luke 6:22, ESV)

We don't want to become like the world. We want the world to become like Jesus. It is that very tension that I have heard described as "the struggle between holiness and Hollywood." The fact that so many Christ-followers are enamored with the entertainment that the world provides is fairly disquieting. Our environment bludgeons us with endless filth to leave us worn and weakened, but the Bible calls us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds.

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 12:2, NASB

It strikes me as absurd that we should alter who we are as followers after Christ, and how we worship when we come together as a body of believers, just to make our worship of God an easy swallow for someone who does not even love Jesus, fall at his feet, or acknowledge him as Lord and King. We need to be far less concerned with what the world thinks of us, of our worship assemblies, of our church family, and far more concerned with God's truth and God's glory.

Lifting Jesus Higher

Our ministry is not about us. It is about God. If we cause it to be about us, then we need to re-evaluate why we are doing what we are doing, because such a ministry is not of God. Ministering in any way that draws attention to us, to our church family, to our music, to our videos ... anything other than God, robs God of the glory that is rightfully his. Rather, we should say with Jesus' cousin, John, "He [Jesus] must increase, and I must decrease." (John 3:30)

So, if becoming like the world in our method and our message is not the answer, how do we get people introduced to Jesus? Jesus himself answered that question before we even asked it.

And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself. - John 12:32, ESV

As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; - John 3:14, NASB

So Jesus said to them, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me." - John 8:28, ESV

Instead of investing our efforts in discerning ways to become sapid to a world that hates us, immersing ourselves in the latest George Barna research nuggets, we should apply ourselves to lifting Jesus high above all else, and in so doing, Jesus will draw all men to himself.

Next week, we will dig more deeply into what it means to lift Jesus high, and what impact that will have on us personally, and as a body of believers.

Blessings upon you my friends.

Victoriously in Christ!

- damon

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Comments

06/21/2018
Julie  Julie

"Our ministry is not about us. It is about God." That is so spot on, Damon. I think wanting to be entertained at church is a side effect of society's desire to be distracted from anything of depth. If it's worth contemplating (and God is), it's worth the time and effort devoted to it. Sure, meaningful participation in the community of the church should be supported by uplifting music, scripture, homilies - but should be done in a way to inspire in us a deeper desire and love of God. You get out of it what you bring through the door with you, and what you leave on the altar before Him in your humility when you are there. Bright and shiny things can cause you to take your eyes off of that altar, for sure. (I actually prefer to keep my eyes closed during much of the mass just to really allow myself to concentrate on the readings and soak them in, rather than be distracted by anything else.) Thanks for sharing this. Great post - looking forward to part 2.

06/22/2018
Damon J. Gray  Damon J. Gray

This was a difficult piece to write, and part two is no easier. There are two seemingly distinct arguments to make, but the truth is they are inextricably joined. We want to spread the gospel of Jesus, because we know people need it. But somehow, the church has become convinced that the gospel message is too harsh, too demanding. People will not accept it. And so, as contemporary society is wont to do, we "lower the standards." We call for a less-than-all commitment, and assure society that God will be okay with that.

The other part to this is what you mentioned above, that contemporary society has a short and shallow attention span, so we believe we must grab their attention with flashy presentations, amazing lighting, mind-blowing oral presentations, and precision musical presentations. Some churches go so far as to hire professional musicians for precisely that reason.

What I am getting at, is that ultimately all of that is misguided. None of that is wrong in and of itself. But it is all driven by a misguided premise, and that premise is that presenting the raw, unadulterated cross of Jesus, and the full, die-to-yourself call of discipleship will be completely ineffective. I completely disagree. Jesus says otherwise, and my own experience has shown me otherwise. When we present Jesus and his message exactly as it comes to us in scripture, people quickly learn that it is what they are starving for, and they beg for more.

06/22/2018
Damon J. Gray  Damon J. Gray

Another aspect to this is that by filling our message with all of the human theatrics, polish, effort, technology, ingenuity (note, ALL of that comes from us) we are actually getting in God's way. By investing in our cleverness and creativity, and by RELYING on that, calling on it as a "necessary" component to an effective outreach, we have blocked God's path, saying, essentially, "It's okay, God. I've got this."

06/22/2018
Daniel Gray  Daniel Gray

I need to admit that I was working and multitasking so I read this really really fast but I really really like the heart of it and the content very well written sir

06/22/2018
Damon J. Gray  Damon J. Gray

Thank you Danny. I appreciate the encouragement you multitasking marvel! ;-)

06/22/2018
R.W. Williams  R.W. Williams

Amen. What drove me from a Whatcom County mega church was the marshmallow manner in which they presented the gospel. I found a rock solid tiny church in Lynden, and our pastor said he’d go to jail to stand solidly on God’s word.

06/22/2018
Damon J. Gray  Damon J. Gray

Interestingly put Robin. Yeah, it is called by so many different names. Marshmallow, easy believism, watered-down gospel, etc. Any time the sentence begins with, "Well, all you have to do..." I know we are headed down that road.

All you have to do is everything. Give up everything. You are not your own. You were bought with a price. Take your your cross. I die daily. Anyone who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.

Some of that has to ring a bell, right?

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I have been somewhat taken aback by the volume of material posted over the last four or five months regarding oppression of women in the body of Christ. To my shame, I did not recognize this was as widespread an issue as it seems to be. The pervasiveness of the issue is clearly evidenced by the amount of "airtime" the issue is getting recently in social media, and Christian news sources.

As an expert in my own mind, I asked myself, "Gee, Damon, what are your thoughts on this issue?" For this blog post, I have decided to limit my response to an analysis of one specific passage in the Pauline canon of scripture - 1 Corinthians 14:33b-38.

The Question

The question we will be attempting to answer is whether or not the apostle Paul told the Corinthian women to remain silent while in church. I'll reveal the punch line here and tell you I believe quite the opposite is true, and if you stay with me for the entirety of this rather long blog posting, I hope to convince you of that by the time we reach the end.

Any analysis of the role of women in the body of Christ is a polarizing undertaking. We must give care, therefore, to avoid an emotional attachment toward what many hold to be the most misogynistic statement in the entire Pauline canon. Instead, we should apply ourselves to an objective analysis of the target passage.

The focal passage of this analysis reads as follows:

As in all the churches of the saints, 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. Was it from you that the word of God first went forth? Or has it come to you only? If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, let him recognize that the things which I write to you are the Lord’s commandment. But if anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized. - 1 Corinthians 14:33b-38, NASB

This passage presents us with some interesting difficulties. A fundamentalist student of the Word will begin with this passage, and having established a doctrine from it, work to explain seemingly contradictory passages in light of this passage. I am suggesting an equally valid exercise wherein we reverse that approach, begin with other less controversial, more easily understood passages, and then work toward harmonizing this one by asking more difficult questions than we have previously asked.

Attempts to make peace with 1 Corinthians 14 have been varied in scope and approach.

  • Some claim that Paul did not write these verses at all, insisting that they were added later. That is an argument, or explanation, to which I don’t ascribe much credence. I do believe this came from the apostle Paul.
  • Others will cite this passage as evidence that Paul was inconsistent, and conclude from his inconsistency that we can ignore him altogether and do whatever suits us. Holy Spirit inspiration and inconsistency do not play well together in my mind.
  • Still others contend that Paul was not inconsistent, but rather, simply changed his mind. I dismiss this for the same reason I dismiss the inconsistency analysis. If God changes not, then his inspired message will not change either.

If we take the passage at face value, it does present a clear, apostolic prohibition against women speaking in Christian assemblies, even going so far as to attach some level of shame or disgrace to women speaking "in church." Assuming we do accept the passage verbatim, a number of disturbing difficulties immediately arise. In our spirit of objectivity, we cannot allow ourselves to ignore these difficulties.

Three Challenges With a Literal Reading

  1. What constitutes a church?

    If a woman is to remain silent "in the churches," based on the impropriety of her speaking in church, it is essential for us to determine exactly what constitutes "in church."

    Jesus indicated that a gathering of two or more in his name includes his presence. Is that church? When a husband and wife pray together, is that church? When a small group of believers gathers in my home, is that church?

    I do not ask these questions facetiously. If we are going to take the passage literally regarding the behavior of the female gender in church, then we must take it equally literally regarding the practical definition of an εκκλησια, a "church."

  2. It is problematic trying to harmonize this directive with other biblical passages that clearly display women in positions of leadership.

    • Deborah, the wife of Lappidoth, was a prophetess in Judges chapters four and five. Following the death of Ehud, Deborah was the fourth Judge/Leader of pre-monarchic Israel. She rendered public decisions on disputes between the Israelites. It was Deborah who sent for Barak and commanded him to go to battle against the pagan Sisera. Barak refused to go unless Deborah went with him. She did, and the honor of the victorious battle against Sisera went to Deborah, not Barak.

    • Huldah, the wife of Shallum, was a great prophetess in 1 Kings 22 and 2 Chronicles 34, during the reign of Josiah. The Huldah Gate in the Southern Wall of the Temple Mound is so named in her honor. When Hilkiah discovered the Book of the Law collecting dust in the Temple, the king sent the scrolls to Hulda to have her confirm what the scrolls were, giving clear indication that she was considered the national authority on such matters.

    • Anna, the wife/widow of an unnamed husband, was the prophetess at the temple who, when Jesus was presented on his eighth day, announced to the crowd that the child was the promised redeemer.

      Note: Some will be quick to note that these three pre-church examples appear to be exceptions, rather than the societal standard. That is a valid observation. However, it must also be noted that societal standards are rarely God’s standards, and it is clear that the calling of God on the lives of these three prominent women establishes that the unchanging God does not forbid such practice as Paul appears to be doing. Furthermore, we also see that neither did their culture prohibit it. It may not have been the norm, but clearly it was accepted.


    • The Acts 2 quotation of the prophecy of Joel declares a public role for women in the church, a role which would not have been common in the synagogue. In Acts 2, on the day of Pentecost, Peter gave a speech to the crowd in which he pointed to Joel’s prophecy as being fulfilled through the Spirit of God. Be very clear on this - it is God's work.

      And it shall be in the last days,’ God says, that I will pour forth of My spirit on all mankind; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; Even on My bondslaves, both men and women, I will pour forth of My Spirit, and they shall prophesy. - Acts 2:17-18, (NASB)


      This quotation, speaking of the church age, not only allows that women will prophesy, it actually makes special emphasis of that fact in the last verse, stating that sons and daughters and "both men and women," the bondslaves will prophesy because the Spirit of God will cause them to do so. Intellectual honesty demands we acknowledge that.

    • Philip’s four daughters, mentioned in Acts 21:9 are a fulfillment of the prophecy mentioned above.
       
  3. The "silence" directive of chapter 14 is inconsistent with much of chapter 11 from the same letter.

    In 1 Corinthians 11:3–16, Paul lays down a difficult discourse about head coverings for men and women. It is outside the scope of this blog post to give full treatment to that discourse, but one thing that is clear from the passage is that a woman who wears a head covering may both pray and prophesy.

    The context of chapter 11 is one of a religious assembly, so it is problematic to say this directive is intended for anything other than public assemblies of believers. While it is true that prayer is frequently a private engagement, in 1 Corinthians 14, the very chapter containing our target verses, Paul indicates that prophecy is intended for edification of the entire body.

    • Some have asserted that the seeming contradiction between chapters 11 and 14 are not a contradiction at all, but rather that the assembly in chapter 11 is "informal" while the assembly in chapter 14 is "formal." Such a dissimilitude is never presented by the apostle Paul, and no other New Testament passage notes a distinction between formal and informal assemblies, wherein certain activities are allowed in informal gatherings that are strictly prohibited in formal ones. Thus, this explanation is devoid of a foundation, and it cycles us back to the nagging question, "What constitutes church?"

    • Similarly, some have proposed that the chapter 11 assembly was one in which only women were present which, if true, would allow them to pray and prophesy without violating the directive in chapter 14. Such a proposal, however, is internally inconsistent. In a "women only" assembly, a head covering would be unnecessary according to the line of teaching in chapter 11. Setting aside the theological difficulties of the chapter 11 discussion, what is clear from that chapter is that the head covering is prescribed precisely because "the woman is the glory of man." If only women are present, the head covering is a non-issue.

    • Still others argue that the context of 1 Corinthians 14 includes a discussion of spiritual gifts, specifically, tongues and prophecy. The argument contends that by the time Paul gets to verse 33, Paul is saying the wives of the prophets need to wait until they get home to evaluate and criticize the message. To do so publicly is denigrating to the husband. If this is to be believed, it seems Paul is allowing others to knock the prophetic message publicly, while the wife has to wait for a private moment to do so. Furthermore, this argument neglects the female prophets in the body. Is there to be a similar restriction placed on their husbands? This argument is ludicrous.

A Proposal for Understanding Verses 33b-38

Years of study, attempting to understand this passage, and to harmonize it with other passages in which women are clearly praying and addressing an assembly of believers with a word from the Lord, have brought me to a view of this passage that is not outlined above.

I have concluded that 1 Corinthians 14:33b-35 is not from Paul. Don’t misunderstand me though. Paul wrote them, yes, or rather he spoke them and his amanuensis wrote them for him, but these words do not reflect Paul’s belief, or his teaching.

A Pauline Rhetorical Device

It is not unusual for Paul to implement a practice in his letter-writing of alluding to statements made by his readers, and then responding to those statements. I am convinced that is what Paul has done with our target passage. Scholars agree, almost unanimously, that Paul uses this rhetorical device in his writing, but since we do not have quotation marks in the original Greek manuscripts, scholars do not agree on exactly where all of these quotations are located.

Some examples of this practice, from the letter of 1 Corinthians alone:

  1. 1:2, "I am of (or follow) Paul" … "I am of Apollos" … "I am of Cephas." They say it, Paul writes it, but the words do not reflect Paul's doctrine or belief.

  2. 7:1, Paul writes, "Now for the things you wrote about:" and the very next thing he writes, I believe, is a quotation he presents to the Corinthians, a statement they would recognize immediately. "It is good for a man not to touch a woman." Really? I cannot see a God-inspired apostle saying such a thing with a straight face. The Corinthians say it, Paul quotes it back to them, and then he follows it up with some teaching that says in effect, "That may or may not be true, but if you’re going to find yourself living immorally, it’s just not very sound counsel."

  3. 8:1, "We know that we all possess knowledge." For starters, that’s not even true. Paul responds by saying, "Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up."

  4. 8:4, "We know that there is no such thing as an idol in the world and there is no God but one." Really? Our world is flooded with idols, just as theirs was.

  5. 6:12, "Everything is permissible." No. It isn’t. Murder is not permissible. Rape is not permissible. Child molestation is not permissible. Sexual intercourse with livestock is not permissible. Worship of idols is not permissible.

  6. 6:13, "Food is for the stomach, and the stomach is for food." Paul responds, "No. The whole body is for the Lord!"

Similar examples of this rhetorical technique are strewn throughout Paul's epistles, but these are sufficient to make the point. I submit, therefore, that 1 Corinthians 14:33b-35 is a statement made by the Corinthian Christians, a statement to which Paul responds in verses 36-38. To make this assertion, I have to offer convincing evidence, evidence that would cause me to even seriously consider such a proposition. That evidence follows.

The Evidence

To begin with, I should state up front that this is not an idea original to me. Extending as far back as 1924, the American Baptist Publication Society celebrated the completion of their first 100 years of work as a society, and did so by publishing their Centenary Translation of the New Testament. In this translation, 1 Corinthians 14:33b – 35 is set in quotation marks, indicating the committee's belief that Paul was implementing his practice of quoting his audience and then responding to the quotation.

We will come at this from three distinct angles, each of which adds just a bit of weight to the assertion that what I am proposing is an accurate approach to reading and understanding our target passage.

1. Syntax, Vocabulary, and Writing Style

I start with this, because it is the weakest of the three evidentiary arguments, but it is true that writers have certain styles to which they adhere. This is certainly the case with Paul, and while I could offer extensive examples of consistency in his approach to writing, it is my hope that this is a concession the reader is willing to make.

As in all the congregations of the saints…

Consider the opening phrase of our target passage. Paul writes, "As in all the congregations of the saints…" It would have been sufficient to say, "As in all the congregations…" Some scholars have noted that often in the Corinthian literature, the phrase, "the saints" seems to refer to a very specific group of believers. Further study drives us to the conclusion that the specific group in mind is the Palestinian Christians, and perhaps even more specifically, those in Jerusalem.

  • Take, as an example of this, 1 Corinthians 16:1, where Paul writes, "Now concerning the collection for the saints…" The collection to which he refers is for a very specific group of believers - the church in Jerusalem, a body that supported a large number of widows, and which was suffering in the midst of a famine.

  • Another example is in 2 Corinthians 9:1, "For it is superfluous for me to write to you about this ministry to the saints…" Again, Paul is referring to the Jerusalem church. They were gathering funds specifically to support their brothers and sisters in Christ in Jerusalem. Paul would be in Corinth later to pick up that support and deliver it to Jerusalem.

Is it reasonable for us to believe that there might be a group of believers in Corinth who would use the phrase "congregations of the saints" in such a way as to refer to the Jerusalem believers? I submit that, not only is it reasonable, but that it might be those very believers who were quoted in chapter 1 as saying, "I follow Cephas" (Peter).

What is it that sets the Cephas-aligned believers apart from the others at Corinth? Cephas walked with Jesus in the flesh, something that neither Paul nor Apollos did. Cephas had a first-hand example from Jesus. He operates in Jerusalem, home of the "mother church," where Christianity finds its roots, beginning with that mighty Acts 2 sermon from Cephas/Peter himself.

Here is a group of believers that says, "Hey, we are those of the old paths. Perhaps out here in Asia Minor, Paul has all these newfangled ways of doing things where you don’t have to keep the customs of the Jews, but we … yes, we follow Cephas; we follow the old ways." The phrase, "As in all the congregations of the saints…" could easily be a flag phrase of the Cephite disciples in the church of Corinth, a phrase that is used to refer to the Jerusalem Christians.

As the Law also says…

The textual argument of 1 Corinthians 14:34 is that the women need to remain silent. Why? What force is put to that argument? It is because the Law says so.

There are three glaring problems with this idea.

  • Glaring Problem #1 - In what other passage does the apostle Paul ever say that a Christian must do anything because the Law of Moses says they must do so? I cannot identify a single instance of this occurring. Paul uses the Law to illustrate concepts, but never to bind. Indeed the entire letter to the Galatian churches demonstrates quite the opposite truth. Paul says we are free from the Law, so it is unthinkable that he would use it here to bind.

  • Glaring Problem #2 - In every passage in Corinthians where Paul references the Law, he quotes the verse … except here. That is an inconsistency that cannot be ignored. With a statement as dynamic and as impactful as this one seems to be, it would behoove Paul to quote the referenced Law in support of his statement.

  • Glaring Problem #3 - Where does the Law say this, that women must remain silent in the churches? It doesn’t say it anywhere. Nothing in the Law even approaches this. Is it in keeping with Holy Spirit inspiration for an apostle of Jesus Christ to spit out alleged quotations, attributing them to the Law of Moses when no such quotations exist?

Some have tried to downplay this substantial oversight by saying the silence directive from Paul is an "extension" of Genesis 3:16, "To the woman he said, 'I will greatly multiply your pain in childbirth, in pain you shall bring forth children; yet your desire shall be for your husband and he shall rule over you.'"

I see nothing in Genesis 3:16 that lends itself to silence in Christian assemblies. And even if it did, it is important to realize that Genesis 3:16 is a curse, and not a command. And finally, this extension principle would be a rabbinical interpretation of the Law (curse), and I don’t see the apostle Paul mandating obedience even to the Law itself, much less some rabbinical tradition stemming from their interpretation of the Law, particularly an interpretation as misguided as this one seems to be.

Josephus, a non-Christian, Jewish historian of the first century, in his work Against Apion – Book II, sections 200 to 201, makes the following statement, "The woman, says the Law, is in all things inferior to the man. Let her accordingly be submissive." Again, there is no such statement in the Law. What Josephus is referring to is a rabbinical tradition.

In the Mishna and Talmud, we can find a number of misogynistic statements, just like the one Josephus references above. Statements like, "It is indecent for a woman’s voice to be heard," abound in these writings, and it is highly likely that 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is a reference to such statements as though they were Mosaic Law.

If we tie this idea back to the core argument in this section, we have the Cephite disciples reflecting the Judaic culture, saying, "We do things the way they do them in the motherland, and one of the things they do in the motherland is they prohibit women speaking in public."

2. The Greek Disjunctive Particle, η

Multiple occurrences of the Greek disjunctive particle η are found in our target passage. According to the Greek-English Lexicon by Arndt and Gingrich, this disjunctive particle "separates opposites which are mutually exclusive." Lidell and Scott, in their lexicon, state that it is an exclamation expressing disapproval.

Twice in our target passage, Paul uses this disapproving, mutually exclusive particle. It carries the idea of a "not" used by the youth of our day. "Hey, you’re an excellent hockey player, man … NOT!"

While many translations ignore particle completely, the King James Version translates it, "What?" or sometimes, "Never!" To get a feel for how Paul uses this disjunctive particle, let’s take a look at its usage in other passages.

For our purposes, I will render the disjunctive particle as "Preposterous!" That accurately captures the idea. Paul uses this throughout his writings, but we will constrain ourselves just to 1 Corinthians, since that is home to our target passage. When you see this particle in action, I believe it will shed bright, new light on our target passage.

  • 1 Corinthians 6:1-2, "Does any one of you, when he has a case against his neighbor, dare to go to law before the unrighteous and not before the saints? Preposterous! Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? If the world is judged by you, are you not competent to constitute the smallest law courts?"

  • 1 Corinthians 6:8-9, "On the contrary, you yourselves wrong and defraud. You do this even to your brethren. Preposterous! Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?"

  • 1 Corinthians 6:15-16a, "Shall I then take away the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? May it never be! Preposterous! Or do you not know that the one who joins himself to a prostitute is one body with her?"

  • 1 Corinthians 6:18b-20a, "Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body. Preposterous! Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?"

  • 1 Corinthians 9:5-8, "Do we not have a right to take along a believing wife, even as the rest of the apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? Preposterous! Do only Barnabas and I not have a right to refrain from working? Who at any time serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat the fruit of it? Preposterous! Who tends a flock and does not use the milk of the flock? I am not speaking these things according to human judgment, am I? Preposterous! Does not the Law also say these things?"

  • 1 Corinthians 10:21-22, "You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. Preposterous! Do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? We are not stronger than He, are we?"

  • 1 Corinthians 11:13-15a, "Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? Preposterous! Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him, but if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her?"

  • 1 Corinthians 11:20-22, "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. Preposterous! Do you not have houses in which to eat and drink? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? In this I will not praise you."


Now that you have the idea how the particle functions, let’s place it in our target passage and see how it sheds new light on the actual meaning. Also, note that I have supplied quotation marks around what I believe Paul is quoting back to the Corinthians.

1 Corinthians 14:33b-38

"As in all the churches of the saints, 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." Preposterous! Was it from you that the word of God first went forth? Preposterous! Has it come to you only? If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, let him recognize that the things which I write to you are the Lord’s commandment. But if anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized.

When we look at our target passage, with the disjunctive particle in place, we see Paul saying that the statement requiring women to be silent in the Christian assembly is completely asinine. He raises the question, "Did the Word of God originate with you folks?" That too is asinine! "Perhaps you’re the only ones it has reached and the rest of us are in the dark."

Paul is using a powerful rhetorical device, following a pattern he has used throughout the Corinthian letter. He states the Corinthian position, expresses disapproval with the disjunctive particle, and then moves forward, teaching an accurate view or understanding. In a sense, it is like the modern-day practice of shaming.

At the end of this section, Paul asserts his apostolicity, saying he is the one with a word from the Lord, not the Cephite disciples, and refusal to hear Paul on this puts the Corinthians in danger of not being "recognized."

3. The Masculine Pronoun "You"

In verse 36, Paul asks, "Was it from you (plural) that the word of God first went forth? Preposterous! Has it come to you (plural) only?"

Strictly speaking, Greek pronouns do not have gender attached to them. We must determine the gender from context and sentence construction. From that, we can tell if a pronoun, "you" in this case, is masculine, feminine, or neuter.

In this passage, the gender is determined by the modifier, "only" (μονους). Monous is masculine, and from that, we determine that you (υμας) is also masculine. Thus, in English, we might say what Paul said in this way, "Was it from you men that the word of God first went forth? That’s preposterous! Has it come to you men only?"

In fairness, and in the interest of full objectivity, let’s consider the fact that often masculine pronouns are used to refer to entire mixed-gender assemblies. A speaker may stand before a group and say, "Now, brethren…" but he’s not speaking only to the men. He is addressing the entire assembly, but using a masculine term in doing so. Paul says, "By faith we have all become sons of God." Do all women become men when they embrace their faith in Christ? No. This is a commonly used rhetorical device.

So, in our target passage, the masculine "you" could be inclusive. Or, it could be deliberately exclusive, as I believe it is. I believe Paul chose his masculine "only" as a dig, to chastise these arrogant Corinthian men, specifically the Cephite disciples, for teaching and practicing an oppressive stance regarding the sisters in the church.

Beyond the masculine pronoun, context itself seems to demand that Paul is addressing the men in this passage. The passage says that they (women) are not permitted to speak. Let them (women) subject themselves. If they (wives) desire to learn anything, let them ask their husbands.

This thoroughly demonstrates that Paul is talking to men about women. The men at Corinth were saying, essentially, "If women want to know something about what we’re doing here, let them ask their own husbands at home, because we all know it is disgraceful for a woman’s voice to be heard in public, and far be it from us to bring disgrace on the body of the Lord."

Therefore, when Paul says "you" in verse 36, the "you" being addressed is the men, and these men are being verbally spanked by the apostle. Paul says to these men, "That’s dangerous teaching, guys. It sets you up in the place of God as his only mouthpiece."

Furthermore, according to Paul, if it is only the men’s voices that are to be heard in public, we have a real problem with verse 31 in this same chapter, where it says all (παντες) may prophesy in turn, not just the guys. Remember Joel’s prophecy that God will pour out his Spirit on "all flesh," men and women, your sons and daughters, and that your sons and daughters will prophesy. We saw it with the four daughters of Philip, and we saw it with the women of Corinth in Chapter 11.

Indeed, it may be this very prophesying by the Corinthian women that was getting under the skin of the Cephite disciples, causing the stir that resulted in Paul quoting back to them in verses 33b – 35.

In essence, Paul says, "All may prophesy so that all can learn and be exhorted; the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. Now, if this is the case, how is it that some of you men are saying the women cannot prophesy, but that they must remain silent? I am the inspired apostle here, and I never taught you that. If you don’t acknowledge that I am giving you the command of the Lord, then you will not be recognized either!" (My rough paraphrase)

That’s very strong language. We would do well to heed it.

Conclusion

On the basis of these three arguments, I have concluded that 1 Corinthians 14:33b – 35 constitutes a quotation of a specific segment of the Corinthian men to whom Paul responds, "Guys, go pound sand! The Spirit of God has come on both the sons and the daughters, and these sisters have a function and a word from God for you. And for you to teach otherwise puts you in a very precarious position with God."

I have a real problem with this passage if we are to take it literally as the belief and teachings of Paul. If this is Paul’s inspired position, then I must assume women are to be silent in public. They are not to be heard. Since there is no biblical distinction between formal and informal gatherings of believers, then women are not to speak in classes, in small groups, in fellowship meals, any place where there is a gathering of disciples. Sitting in my living room in the privacy of my home, if other believers are there, even one, my wife must remain silent.

Yet I see Huldah was a great prophetess. I see Deborah as a magnificent, brave Judge. I find Anna in the Temple announcing the Redeemer. I see the daughters of Philip prophesying and edifying. If we are to believe that 1 Corinthians 14:33b-35 is from Paul, then all of these women were inspired by God to do something his own Law condemned, and I cannot accept that.

This passage must be harmonized with clear teachings in other passages. It must make sense to the people to whom it was written, and it must be seen in the context of their time, their culture and their belief system. Only then can we know exactly what was meant.

I believe this was a statement made by, and belief held by the male, Cephite disciples in Corinth. I believe they were seeking an opinion from former Pharisee, Paul, on it, and if not, he offers one anyway. I believe Paul threw their quotation back at them and told them it was preposterous thinking and teaching. I am convinced that Paul is telling them that the exact opposite is true, and he hit them hard with verse 38, saying if they do not accept this then neither will they be recognized.

If I am correct about this, then many in the body of Christ are perpetuating a flawed teaching that is almost 2,000 years old; one which the inspired apostle Paul declared to be ludicrous and dangerous. The suppression of sisters in Christ is not a teaching I can endorse or teach because I believe it to be a teaching that is in opposition to God.

Blessings upon you my friends.

Victoriously in Christ!

- damon

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Comments

06/12/2018
Wendy L Macdonald  Wendy L Macdonald

Thank you for researching and writing about this topic, Damon. Jesus treated women well--as equals to men--so I've had a hard time reconciling the popular view regarding women not being able to preach in church. This article gives me reason to consider rejecting the stale air I've been led to breathe.

06/12/2018
Damon J. Gray  Damon J. Gray

Breathe deeply my friend! The air is fresh and clean.

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Acts 17:28 - ἐν αὐτῷ γὰρ ζῶμεν καὶ κινούμεθα καὶ ἐσμέν