Friday, 30 January 2015

What Must I Do To Be Saved? Well, It Depends …

     What is the biblical response to one who asks, “What must I do to be saved?” The answer depends on who is asking and where the person is in relation to the Lord.1
     A complete unbeliever must first believe in God (Acts 14:15; 17:23-27) and the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 16:30-31). Without this initial step of faith, one can go no further in the salvation process. And before believing is even possible, the truth of God’s word must be communicated, understood and accepted (Acts 2:37; 8:12a; 16:32; 17:23-34). Once the divine message has been received and trusting faith has been generated (Romans 10:17), what must the one now believing do to be saved?
     A believer must repent, i.e. turn away from sin (Acts 2:38a; 3:19; 17:30; 26:20). Without repentance, salvation is not available (Luke 13:3, 5; 24:47; 2 Peter 3:9). When a believing one turns from darkness to light, what must this penitent believer do to be saved?
     Upon the profession of faith (1 Timothy 6:12),2 a penitent believer must be baptized (immersed in water) for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38; 22:16; Romans 6:1-5, 17-18). Unless one is born of water and the spirit, entrance into God’s kingdom is prohibited (John 3:5, 22-23). Seeing that salvation is “in Christ” (2 Timothy 2:10) and baptism places one “into Christ” (Romans 6:3; Galatians 3:27), baptism is therefore necessary for salvation (Mark 16:15-16; 1 Peter 3:20-21). After baptism, what must the penitent baptized believer do to be saved?
     A penitent baptized believer must continue in the faith (Acts 2:42; 11:23; 14:22). This involves acknowledging and repenting of sins whenever necessary (Acts 8:22; 1 John 1:7-10). It also involves learning, growing, obeying, and serving as an active member of the Lord’s church (Romans 12:1-18; 1 Corinthians 12:12-27; 2 Peter 1:2-11; etc.).
     What must I do to be saved? Well, who’s asking? An unbeliever must believe. A believer must repent. A penitent believer must be baptized. And a baptized penitent believer must continue living a life of faithfulness according to biblical directives. God himself is faithful and does his part as each of us humbly complies.
--Kevin L. Moore

Endnotes:
     1 This question was asked on three separate occasions in the book of Acts (2:37; 16:30; 22:10), with a different response given each time.
     2 Unfortunately some believe in Jesus without confessing him (John 12:42), and some confess Jesus without obeying him (Matthew 7:21).

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Friday, 23 January 2015

Preach Jesus …

     As we seek to fulfill the Great Commission and share the gospel with our neighbors and the rest of the world, what is the message that we should be communicating? On multiple occasions I have heard statements like, “Just preach Jesus.” I have also heard the corresponding sentiment, “Stop preaching the church and just tell people about Jesus!”
     If one considers “the church” to be merely a man-made denominational sect, then I certainly would not want to endorse or promote such an institution either. But when I read what the Bible says about the church and think about the church and teach others about the church, I see something entirely different. The church of the New Testament is the body of Christ and the community of the saved. How can we just preach “Jesus” without including the church which he purchased with his own blood (Acts 20:28); the body of which he is both head and savior (Ephesian 5:23)? 
     When Philip “preached Christ” to the Samaritans (Acts 8:5), this included matters pertaining to the kingdom of God, the authority of Christ, and baptism (vv. 12-13). Later, as he “preached Jesus” to the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:35), the teaching helped the eunuch understand that he needed to obey the gospel by being baptized into Christ (vv. 36-39). Paul simply preached “Christ crucified” to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 1:23; 2:2), but this obviously included baptism into Christ’s body (Acts 18:8; 1 Corinthians 12:13), not to mention all the other instructions he passed on to them (Acts 18:11). To teach “Jesus,” in the biblical sense, not only involves transmitting the doctrine about Jesus but also the doctrine from Jesus (including that communicated through his inspired agents), i.e. “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). This is not merely “church doctrine,” it is the doctrine of Christ (John 7:16-17; 2 John 9).
     As we preach “Jesus,” we must never neglect to inform people about the community of the saved to which the Lord adds all who obey the gospel of Jesus (Acts 2:37-48; cf. Hebrews 5:8-9). What is a bridegroom without a bride (Revelation 21:9)? Can there be a king without a kingdom (Colossians 1:13)? What purpose does a foundation serve when there is no building (1 Corinthians 3:9-11)? Will we sever Christ's head from his body (Colossians 1:18)? Jesus is “the Way” (John 14:6); the Christian community is “the Way” (Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22).
     Jesus and his church are not mutually exclusive, and to preach one without the other is both insufficient and detrimental to the Lord’s cause. We are not in the business of persuading people to join “our” church or submit to “our” doctrine, but we must diligently teach CHRIST’S doctrine inclusive of HIS church and the necessity of being a faithful member of it (Matthew 16:18; Ephesians 1:22-23; 4:4; 5:23). Congregations grow and souls are saved when this task is prayerfully and earnestly undertaken. God help us to be faithful to the task.
--Kevin L. Moore



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Friday, 16 January 2015

My Recent Visit to the Bible Lands

     This is a brief summary of the recent trip my wife and I made to Greece and Israel with the Freed-Hardeman University program, The Bible Lands Tour (29 December 2014  8 January 2015): a group of 20 pilgrims led by our capable guides Mark and Dana Blackwelder.
     In Athens we visited the Acropolis, a high rocky hill upon which the remains of several ancient structures stand, including the Parthenon – the old temple of the city’s patron goddess Athena. When the apostle Paul was in Athens over 19 centuries earlier, “his spirit was provoked within him when he saw that the city was given over to idols” (Acts 17:16). From atop the Acropolis, viewing the city’s myriad (tightly compacted) buildings and houses, it’s hard not to share the apostle’s deep concern for these precious souls. On the northwest side of the Acropolis, we climbed to the top of the Areopagus (“Rock of Ares”) or Mars Hill, where Paul had delivered his passionate speech about “the unknown God,” pleading for all to repent in view of the coming judgment (Acts 17:19-31).
     From Athens we traveled about 1 hour by bus across the narrow isthmus to the ruins of ancient Corinth, a journey that would have taken Paul a couple of days by foot (Acts 18:1). We entered the city with intrigue and fascination, while Paul had come “in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling” (1 Cor. 2:3). We spent about an hour and a half exploring the empty ruins, where the apostle had invested a year and a half “teaching the word of God among them” (Acts 18:11). We wondered which of the dilapidated shops around the agora (marketplace) may have been used by Aquila, Priscilla and Paul to manufacture and/or sell tents (Acts 18:2-3). We viewed with interest the remains of the temples of Apollo and Octavia (cf. 1 Cor. 8:10) and the fountain of Peirene (cf. Acts 18:8; 1 Cor. 1:14-16). But perhaps the most poignant site was the Bema where Paul had stood trial before the proconsul Gallio (Acts 18:12-16), after which he left behind a thriving community of believers (Acts 18:18; 1 Cor. 1:2).
     We visited too many locations in Israel to mention in detail, but among the highpoints were Caesarea Maritima (Acts 10:1; 12:19; 21:8; 23:33), the Sea of Galilee (Mark 1:16; 4:1, 36; 5:1), Caesarea Philippi (Matt. 16:13), the Mount of Beatitudes (Matt. 5:1; 8:1), Mounts Tabor and Hermon (Matt. 17:1), Capernaum (Matt. 4:13; 8:5, 14; 11:23), Tel Dan (Judg. 18:29), the Jordan River (Mark 1:5, 9), Chorazin and Bethsaida (Matt. 11:21), Nazareth (Matt. 2:23), Bethlehem (Luke 2:4), the Dead Sea (Gen. 14:3; Num. 34:12), Masada (Herod the Great’s fortress), Qumran (where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered), Jericho (Josh. 6:1-27), Jerusalem (2 Sam. 5:5; Mark 11:11), the temple mount and western wall (Matt. 4:5; 24:1-2; John 2:20), the temple’s southern steps and ritual baths (Acts 2:14, 41), the Garden of Gethsemane and Mount of Olives (Matt. 26:30, 36), traditional sites of Jesus’ death and resurrection (John 19:41), and Joppa (Jonah 1:3; Acts 9:36-43).
     While the proliferation of man-made shrines, cathedrals, pseudo religion, and commercialization has significantly detracted from the modest dignity of many of these sites, it helps to remember that there is nothing inherently sacred about any given place on earth. What really matters is what God has accomplished throughout history and all that he continues to accomplish in every place through his Son Jesus Christ.
     Most would agree that the highlight of the trip was worshiping with the Lord’s church in Nazareth. The last time Jesus was in Nazareth, even though he was among his hometown kinsmen, he was rejected and mistreated (Mark 6:1-6). But thanks to him, we were warmly welcomed in the midst of our spiritual family. Nowhere on this trip did we ever feel threatened or in danger, but it was in Nazareth, in the company of our brethren, where we felt right at home. “Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Eph. 2:19).
--Kevin L. Moore

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Image credit: Photo taken by Lynne Moore from the Acropolis, with the Areopagus (Mars Hill) in the foreground and the city of Athens in the background.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Questions Concerning the Role of Women in the Church

Does the statement in Galatians 3:28 mean that “in Christ” men and women are equal in every respect and hence there is no fundamental difference in their designated roles?
     “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28 NKJV). God does not care about one’s ethnic, social or gender status, and He shows no partiality with regard to whom He offers salvation (Rom. 2:11; 1 Tim. 2:3-6). A woman has just as much right to be in Christ as a man. But created gender differences do not simply disappear. In fact, the respective male and female roles were established in the Garden of Eden and continue to be relevant in the Christian Age (1 Tim. 2:11-14). In the church of our Lord both men and women share the benefits of salvation, and they are equal in these higher things, but redemption in Christ does not eliminate their divinely appointed functions, responsibilities, or positions (1 Cor. 11:3).

If women are to “keep silent” and “are not permitted to speak” in church gatherings (1 Cor. 14:34-35; 1 Tim. 2:11-12), wouldn’t this prohibit them from singing or from making comments in Bible class?
     In the context of 1 Corinthians 14, to “speak” (laleō) has reference to the exercise of spiritual gifts to lead the assembly (vv. 5, 6, 19, etc.). Instead of “speaking” as to lead the worship assembly, women are told to be submissive (hupotassō) and remain “silent” (sigaō). But to take this word in its absolute sense is to ignore the context. Paul had just said to the tongue-speakers to “keep silent” (v. 28), and to the prophets to keep silent (v. 30), i.e. to refrain from using their gifts to lead the assembly in certain circumstances. This obviously does not refer to singing (v. 15), saying “amen (v. 16), making a public confession (1 Tim. 6:12), etc. Women are merely forbidden to speak as to lead the corporate assembly. The word translated “silence” in 1 Tim. 2:11-12 is hēsuchia and has reference to a quiet, gentle disposition. A godly woman will not be authoritative, nor will she seek a leadership position in the church, but will be submissive and possess “a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious to God” (1 Pet. 3:4). Simply making comments, asking questions, or even reading in a Bible class do not violate these principles. However, a woman who stands before a mixed assembly and at least gives the impression that she is leading does not exhibit the attitude enjoined by these directives.

What is meant by “let them ask their own husbands at home” (1 Cor. 14:35)?
     To take this universally would exclude unmarried women, widows, and those married to unbelievers (7:8, 13). The word translated “husbands” is andras (literally “men”) and may refer to “their own men” (i.e. husbands, fathers, brothers, or even ‘brothers in Christ’), although it is possible that the women Paul particularly had in mind at this time were all married to believers. It is reasonable to infer that at least some of these women possessed spiritual gifts (cf. 11:5), which may have included the gifts of interpretation and discerning of spirits (12:10). What was a spiritually-gifted woman to do when she questioned the message of a male prophet or tongue-speaker in the assembly? Paul says “keep silent,” refrain from using your gift, and reserve your questions for a setting outside the assembly. There were things appropriate at home that were inappropriate at church gatherings (cf. 11:22), and Paul dissuades women from the appearance of taking a lead in the worship assembly.

Is it permissible for a Christian woman to pray aloud in the presence of and on behalf of Christian men in light of passages like Acts 1:14; 4:24; 12:12?
     When Christians assemble together and pray together, it is to be done in an orderly manner (1 Cor. 14:40). If everyone spoke their personal prayers out loud at the same time, this would be distracting and at least give the appearance of disorder and confusion. In the assemblies at Corinth it seems that one person led the prayer on behalf of the congregation (1 Cor. 14:16), and this person was to be a man (1 Cor. 14:34). While one person was actually speaking aloud, all the rest of the church would have followed his address to God with their hearts and minds, thus the church collectively prayed together. The passages that mention men and women praying together (e.g. Acts 1:14) say nothing about women actually praying on behalf of men. It is important not to read into the text something that is not there, and we must ensure that the overall context of scripture is considered. Incidentally, in Acts 12:12-17, before Peter’s arrival the only ones specifically named in this prayer group are females (cf. Acts 16:13), and they are then told to go report to James and the adelphois (“brothers”). But whether this was an all-female prayer session or not makes no difference to what the passage actually says and does not say.
     In Acts 4:24, the context indicates that this was the apostles praying rather than the whole Jerusalem church. Peter and John had just been released from custody (vv. 19-21), and they returned to their "own" (v. 23). Their own what? The New International Version unnecessarily inserts the word “people,” whereas the New King James Version uses the word “companions.” They prayed for boldness to speak God’s word (v. 29) and to work miracles (v. 30); they were filled with the Spirit and spoke God’s word with boldness (v. 31). Only the apostles are recorded as working miracles and speaking God’s word for the first five chapters of Acts. In Acts 4:32 a new subject begins, and the multitude of believers is mentioned, but it is still only the apostles working miracles (v. 33).
     There is a general biblical principle which should govern our Christian activities: God has given the role of leadership to Christian men, and women are instructed to have a spirit of quietness and submissiveness (1 Cor. 11:3; 14:34-35; 1 Tm. 2:11-12). Notice that this even applies to public prayer: 1 Tim. 2:8-13, “Therefore I desire that the men [Greek andras in contrast to women] pray … Let a woman learn in silence with all submission . . .” When one person voices a prayer and others follow along in their minds, that person is actually leading the thoughts of the group. God has not authorized women to lead men. Some may reason that if the man is in a position of authority, he may therefore delegate certain things for the woman to do. However, a Christian man is not given divine sanction to delegate to a woman things which God would not have her do (e.g. preaching). There is also the question of actual authority and leadership, and perceived authority and leadership. For example, if a woman stands before a mixed assembly to distribute communion, she might not be in a position of actual authority or leadership, but it leaves the impression (at least in the minds of some) that she is in such a position. But a Christian woman must modestly show that she respects her God-appointed role of submission and ought to do nothing that will leave the wrong impression with others.

Does 1 Corinthians 11:5 suggest that women are allowed to lead prayers and preach in a mixed worship assembly?
     In 1 Cor. 11:4-13 Paul merely identifies the activities of praying and prophesying without specifying the environment of these activities. Notice that he is not necessarily discussing a setting where there is both praying AND prophesying, but rather praying OR prophesying. Neither praying nor prophesying is restricted in the NT to the corporate worship assembly (Acts 13:1-3; 15:30-32; 21:10-11; etc.), and mentioning both in the same context does not demand such a setting (cf. Rom. 12:6-12; 1 Thess. 5:16-20). When Paul first wrote this epistle, it was not divided into chapters and verses as in our current English versions. The subject matter of what we now call chapter 11 actually begins in verse 2, and nearly everyone agrees that it was a mistake to mark the beginning of the chapter at verse 1. Moreover, Paul’s original text did not have a chapter heading like, “The Corporate Worship Assembly.” As Paul begins a new subject at verse 17 and introduces matters relevant to the Christian assembly, there is no reason to reverse the context to incorporate the previous discussion. Paul seems to be using the example of men in this discourse as a means of contrast to point out his main theme -- the conduct of women. Since women were not permitted to speak as to lead in a mixed assembly (1 Cor. 14:34-35), the only legitimate setting for them to exercise their spiritual gifts was in all-female gatherings (cf. Ex. 15:20-21; Acts 16:13; Titus 2:3-5). It is unnecessary to assume that Paul was limiting these instructions to a mixed assembly, and in light of what he goes on to write in 14:34-35, he is obviously not giving women permission to lead in a mixed assembly.

Was there a position in the early church for the “deaconess” (i.e. female deacon)?
     In Romans 16:1 Phoebe is called a diakonon of the church in Cenchrea. This word is the accusative form of diakonos, which is rendered “deacon” in Phil. 1:1 and 1 Tim. 3:8-13, and “minister” in 1 Cor. 3:5 and 2 Cor. 6:4. Is it proper, then, for a woman to serve as a “deacon” or a “minister” in the church? When we understand what the word diakonos actually signifies, there is no problem. Its basic meaning is “servant” or “helper,” and in this sense every Christian is to be a diakonos (Matt. 20:26; 23:11; Mark 9:35). Furthermore, the word diakonos is used in both a generic and an official sense in the NT. For example, the word presbuteros (“elder”) generally refers to someone who is older (cf. Luke 15:25; Acts 2:17) and even applies to older women (1 Tim. 5:2). But the same word is also used in a special sense, referring to the position of leadership in a local congregation (Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5). In order for a person to serve as either a presbuteros (elder) or a diakonos (deacon) in the official sense, he must meet specific qualifications, which, incidentally, clearly exclude women (1 Tim. 3:1-13). When applied to a Christian lady, therefore, whether the word diakonos is rendered “deaconess” or “servant” or even “minister,” it does not change the function designated by the term nor does it alter what a woman is allowed or not allowed to do in the church. The terms diakonos and “leader” represent completely different concepts.

How can female leadership be unacceptable to God considering the account of Deborah in Judges 4-5?
     As the 4th chapter of Judges begins, we find the Israelites in open rebellion against God and consequently suffering oppression by Jabin, king of Canaan, and the commander of his army, Sisera (Judges 4:1-2). “Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, was judging Israel at that time” (v. 5). It will be helpful to consider what this “judging” entailed and whether it sets a precedent for female leadership in the Lord’s church today. There is a distinction between leading, prophesying, and judging. Miriam was a prophetess (Ex. 15: 20), but she was not Israel’s leader. Abimelech was the leader of Israel but not their judge (Judg. 9:2-6, 22). Samson and Eli each served in the position of judge but apparently not as Israel’s leader (Judg. 15: 10-11, 20; 16:31; 1 Sam. 4:3, 18). Samuel judged Israel all the days of his life (1 Sam. 7:15-17), even while Saul was leading as king (1 Sam. 10:1-24). Sometimes leaders judged (1 Kgs. 7:7; Prov. 29:14) and judges led (Judg. 3:9-10; 11:11), but not always (2 Chron. 19:1, 5).
     In the book of Judges most of the male judges appear to have been leaders in Israel (cf. 3:9-10, 15, 31; 6:34; 11:11; etc.), but in Deborah’s case we find a different scenario. Deborah was like “a mother in Israel,” and “the children of Israel came up to her for judgment” (Judg. 4:5; 5:7). However, the text identifies Barak as Israel’s leader (Judg. 4:10, 14; 5:12, 15). When Deborah said that “the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman” (Judg. 4:9), reference was being made to Jael who drove a tent peg through Sisera’s head (4:17-24; 5:24-27). Deborah accompanied Barak (at his request) as he led the army (Judg. 4:8-10), though she later sang: “My heart is with the rulers of Israel” (Judg. 5:9). Regardless of the significance of Deborah’s position in ancient Israel, it does not serve as a pattern for Christian activity any more than multiple marriages, animal sacrifices, stoning the disobedient, or other accounts of action recorded in the Old Testament. It is important to consider what this particular account says and does not say and to interpret it in view of the whole context of the Bible.
Kevin L. Moore

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