Friday, April 02, 2004

1 Timothy -- Passing the Baton (8)

In Acts, we are told that Paul appointed elders in the new congregations. In his letter to Timothy, he  describes what he looks for:

It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do. An overseer, then, must be 

  • above reproach, (Not sinless, but without a hidden past that could compromise his decisions)
  • the husband of one wife, (Legalists like to debate whether an elder can be divorced or must be married. The spirit behind this is who the man is now. To be sure, a divorce in the past must be examined, but so should the current marriage. It is not a past divorce that is the problem so much as a future divorce or an adulterous affair.)
  • temperate,  (Not given to excess, balanced, able to appreciate clean fun)
  • prudent, (Full of common sense. Able to give sound advice and counsel)
  • respectable, (This is almost a corollary of the above. The elder has real authority in the congregation. That authority is best mediated through one who has earned the respect of those who must obey. In other words, this characteristic helps promote the unity of the body.) 
  • hospitable, (He must have an open home. He should be friendly and outgoing. He should not care who comes into his home.)
  • able to teach, (He must know and be able to communicate the Scriptures.)
  • not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, (I kept these together because of that quality in drink that triggers violence in people. Paul does not prohibit drinking, but indicates that it is a beverage to be used in moderation.)
  • peaceable, (One who works to recognize and settle disputes, and is, himself, prone to be peaceful)
  • free from the love of money. (Sex and Money seem to be things that can bring down a leader more than anything else. The elder must be one who seeks the Kingdom of God above all else.)
  • He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?), and (The measure of a man is often his household. When the doors of a home close, the hidden things in the soul emerge. There are no hypocrites behind closed doors. If the wife and children have an easy respect for husband and father, then the man may be a good candidate for leadership)
  • not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. And (This covers the hidden pride that can be in the heart. This qualification implies that the elder has gone through testing and breaking so that he stands only by God's grace and mercy.)
  • he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil. (This presumes a friendly community and not those who hate the Church. Like the family, the external community that has business and social contacts with the candidate can indicate the quality of the man. If he is shady in his dealings, the external community will provide evidence of this. On the other hand, if the external community honors him, you know that his dealings are honest.)  (1 Timothy 3:1-7)

If you look at leaders in the Church today who give Christianity, you can see where they have failed in at least one of these areas. That is the elegance of this list, it provides external evidence for the internal heart. The more fully a man exhibits these qualities, the more likely he will be to serve the local body well. To be sure, some will slip through the screen that should have been caught and some will be caught that should have passed through. The above are guidelines that let us know the importance of character in the office of elder.

Tomorrow: Deacons

<>< Test everything. Cling to what is good. ><>

Thursday, April 01, 2004

1 Timothy -- Passing the Baton (7)

What Paul says next is one of those passages we like to read quickly and move on, before we have to think and deal with what he says.

A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. But women will be preserved through the bearing of children if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint. (1 Timothy 2:11-15)

In this generation, such instruction causes great concern among many Christians. You can read no end of reasons for why Paul did not really say what the plain text in these verses says he said. They will tell you that Paul was reaching into a specific situation, although there is little by way of connecting with primary sources for their assertions. Others would claim that Paul was speaking in a cultural context that has no bearing on our current culture. But Paul does not base his instruction on 1st century Roman/Jewish culture, rather he appeals to the creation in its unfallen state.

This is a big topic, and one that I will pick up more fully some day. In the meantime, I offer up a few hopefully helpful thoughts.

First, Dan Wallace has an excellent and short write-up of the different approaches to men/women issues in the church today. I would encourage you to read his paper Biblical Gynecology. In the Church today, he writes, there are those who approach this subject from an egalitarian view. In this view, there must be no restrictions on the roles to which men and women may aspire. There are others who approach this subject from a complementary view. Here men and women have complementary natures and the division of roles is according to true natural design. I find this paper particularly valuable for some charts that he has that point out the differences, which charts peg me as a moderate complementarian.

Second, we should expect to find that Scripture at least challenges some aspects of modern culture. Jesus told us that the world will hate us, so there would be a problem if there were not practices and attitudes that the Scriptures advise us to take on that cut across the grain of life around us.

Third, Scripture lights the path of blessing. I have a personal testimony here on this subject. I met my wife Stephanie in 1972. Neither one of us were raised in a way that presupposed us to adopt the Biblical role models for men and women. Indeed, I was saved as a hippie and moderate campus radical. I was fully, to my sorrow now, into the freer sexuality that was emerging at that time. Modern feminism was in the ascendancy and the right thing for young women my age was to pioneer and enter the work force. In short, it was the beginnings of the challenge to the wisdom of Paul's words to Timothy prohibiting women leadership over men. But I was saved, in part, because the Scriptures described who I was (Romans 7) and offered an answer. I was saved by the message of the Scriptures and I purposed to make them the rule of my living. Stephanie did the same. We purposed to establish a home where the wife respected the husband and the husband sacrificially loved the wife. We purposed to have her raise our children in the home. To that end, when we married, we lived off my income and purposed to save hers. The arrangement did not last long, our first born came along pretty quick and we lost her income. That meant the loss of our savings program, but not our way of living. By the way, she made more than I did. 

Looking back over 30 years, I will attest to you the value of following the Scriptures. My wife is my best friend. I have 5 children of whom I am most proud. They are strong, stable, and content. They are strong Christians. The attitudes that Stephanie and I brought into the marriage and home that we established has extended to unite the extended family. 30 years ago we balked at the trend of our generation and have reaped a blessing.

As for the rest of my generation, we have aborted millions of babies in the name of freedom and privacy. Violence among very young people is on the rise. Divorce continues to rise. Marriage is losing definition.

I say that following the Scriptures was the correct choice for me 30 years ago.

There is one hard to understand phrase in Paul's words, "But women will be preserved through the bearing of children if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint." For this I have several comments:

First, there is a real sense that men might rule their current generation, but women rule the next. In this way, women have a great purpose in keeping society going forward and preserving it. The entire gains of the gospel can be lost in a single generation and the mother is a key to passing on the knowledge of godliness to her children.

Second, the egalitarian movement in contemporary culture has not benefited all women. Husbands may now more easily abandon their wives and families. Single parent homes abound and most of them have a mother and a missing father. In my Alpha classes, I have heard more than once the words of single moms who would love to have a husband who worked and allowed them to continue to raise their children in the home. Women, more than men, have taken the changes in society on the chin.

In your home and in your church, think about following the plain text of Paul's words here. By them Stephanie and I and our children have found blessing. Others, choosing differently, have not found those blessings.

Tomorrow: Elders

<>< Test everything. Cling to what is good. ><>

Wednesday, March 31, 2004

1 Timothy -- Passing the Baton (6)

My apologies for being offline for a few days. In fact, that has been the problem. I have been offline waiting for my DSL provider to correct an outage. My link was down from Tuesday afternoon until Friday morning.

Paul now instructs Timothy about attitudes in worship. He addresses men and women separately:

Therefore I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension. 

Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments, but rather by means of good works, as is proper for women making a claim to godliness. (1 Timothy 2:8-10)

The word "likewise" is an important connector linking the two thoughts. To me it means that the goals for men lifting their hands and the women dressing modestly are similar. These similar goals have to do with avoiding "wrath and dissension." This is simply said, but it is hard to comprehend exactly how these things relate.

How do "lifting up holy hands" and "without wrath and dissension" relate? Simply this, angry hands are not holy. The important point that Paul is making is not the lifting of hands as the heart that is lifting them. It is the same thing that Jesus said, 

You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not commit murder’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell. Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering. (Matthew 5:21-24)

Lifting hands in praise and worship is an offering to the Lord. It expresses a desire for His Presence, a declaration of His majesty, and a means to thank Him. None of these sentiments is valid outside the context of the love Christians are to maintain for each other.

Wrath and dissension represent disease in the body and we do what we can to remove it from us.

The main issue with clothing is two-fold. First, it can draw attention to the person and distract attention from the worship of God--the "likewise" connector, to me, signals Paul is primarily talking about a gathering of worshipers. Second, it has a way of conferring status on a person that is not otherwise deserved. Indeed such status can have the effect of excluding certain members of the community from attending the meetings. This would not be from the bylaws of the local church, but just the effect of not wanting to be embarrassed. A claim to godliness needs the adornment of good works, but since we humans tend to see outward appearances only, we can easily miss this point and gravitate to beauty and popularity rather than heart.

So you can see that Paul is talking about the heart and cautioning us about externals. We are to develop our hearts. Leaders in the congregations are to promote an atmosphere that recognizes and rewards godliness. Leaders must support and promote an atmosphere that all are welcome: rich and poor, stable or instable, soul-saved or sin-sick. Jesus never met a "sinner" He did not like through His eyes of mercy. Our churches are to be places where sinners can come and meet Him and, in the meeting, find solutions, healing, and wholeness.

Unlike the next topic, there is room in these words of Paul for cultural change over time. Certainly the history of fashion has been such that men have had their times of adornment just as compromising as the women of Paul's day. And nowhere is it said that women cannot raise hands in praise and, therefore, must do so in holiness and without wrath and dissension.

Tomorrow, however, I must enter a controversial area.

<>< Test everything. Cling to what is good. ><>