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Is the local church meant to be a patriarchy?

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Question #1:  I am looking for material that addresses the teaching that men today are the same as patriarchs were in the old testament; that God gives the husband special powers and speaks through the heads of the house; that the woman should call her husband "Lord". etc. Part of this is coming from the reformed movement. I'm looking for any online articles that refute this. Can you direct me to any online articles on this subject?

Response #1:  I think the passage you are referring to in the main is 1st Peter 3:6 which comes at the end of Peter's instructions regarding wives and husbands. It is worth quoting the very next verse here, because what Peter says about the need for women to respect their husbands was not meant to be sundered from what he says in the same breath about the husband's responsibility:

Likewise the husbands are to live together [with their wives] in accordance with [biblical] knowledge (i.e., according to what the Bible has to say by word and example about how to properly treat one's wife), [behaving] as [one ought] towards the more delicate female person (i.e., in respect for their femininity). [You husbands] must bestow [all appropriate] honor [on your wives] as fellow heirs of the grace of [eternal] life, so that your prayers may not be hindered (i.e., sin in this regard compromises prayer).              
1st Peter 3:7

Thus any idea that the marriage relationship is any kind of a "one-way street" is unbiblical. Here in the devil's world we all have roles to play in accordance with God's plan for our individual lives. We are all under various forms of authority, but on that day of days to come, we will all enjoy an equal share in our Savior. In Jesus, there is "no male or female", for we are all "one in Christ" (Gal.3:26-29). I would also note just in passing that this passage in 1st Peter does not command women to call their husband "lord" (small "l" in any case); rather it is using Sarah as an example of a believing woman who is to be admired and emulated (more in her attitude than in any formulaic obedience). In my view, to give a very quick general overall take, it is true that scripture demands a very high standard from believing wives - however, that is even more so the case for believing husbands. Husbands, after all, are to "love their wives as Christ loved His Church and sacrificed Himself on her behalf" (Eph.5:25). The implications of this command to husbands are far-reaching and somewhat mind-boggling. I firmly believe that any Christian woman married to a man who was actually doing his best to subscribe to this standard of total self-sacrificing love would have little trouble giving him the respect which scripture commands.

Ultimately, these standards for those who are married are no more onerous or really very different from the ones we Christians are called to in regard to all our fellow believers. For we are all supposed to "consider others as more worthy than ourselves" (Rom.12:10; Phil.2:3; cf. Rom.12:3), "seek their interest rather than our own" (Phil.2:4; cf. Rom.15:2; 1Cor.10:24; 10:33; 13:5; Phil.2:21), and be willing to "bear the infirmities of the weak" (Rom.15:1-2; cf. 1Pet.3:7). If we who are married were willing to adopt such attitudes of general Christian love toward our marriage partners, most of our problems in marriage would disappear, for then we would truly be working together as fellow believers for the good of the Church of Jesus Christ (and any personal love and commitment to our marriage on top of this would be a boon and a benefit).

As far as articles are concerned, the most concentrated section on marriage issues I have posted is in part 3 of the Satanic Rebellion series, "The Creation of Eve".

I hope this is of some help with your question. Please feel free to write back any time.

In Him who bore all our weaknesses on His cross, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob Luginbill

Question #2:  

Thank you very much for sending this. I've passed it on to someone who is under the influence of these new teachings on The Patriarchy. I was now wondering where I could find information on anti-ism. I am particularly concerned about the women speaking in bible class issue (not the main assembly, which we have no quarrel about). I have had some bad experiences, some recent, and some in the past, with those who trouble the local congregation about this. I've typed it in on the web and still unable to find any articles I need.

Response #2: 

You are very welcome. As to you current question, I am not sure exactly what you mean by "anti-ism", but I think I may understand your question. The two passages in the NT which deal with the issues with which your e-mail is concerned are 1st Corinthians 14:33-36 and 1st Timothy 2:11-12 (although in both cases the wider context of chapter and book is also very important for the interpretation). In each of these passages, Paul definitively rules out the possibility of women being in charge of the primary teaching and ruling administrative authority of a local church, but that is not at all the same thing as being uninvolved in church affairs.

You seem to have this concept correctly in mind with your statement "not the main assembly, which we have no quarrel about". For both of the passages cited above are indeed talking about the authoritative assembly of the local church as a whole. Bible studies, like Sunday school, circles, and a wide variety of other activities in which churches of the modern era are frequently involved, are (or at least can be) different. I would put it this way: to the extent that the function or venue in question is for all practical purposes the same as the plenary assembly of the entire church, then the verses apply; whereas to the extent that the venue or function is not the same as the plenary assembly, then to that extent they would not apply. For instance, in the church in which I grew up, there were many women's "circles" in which no men participated at all. It would be absurd to think of no one talking in such gatherings, or forbidding them to have anything to do with the Bible, and wrong-headed in the extreme to adopt such a policy.

In the first passage cited, 1st Corinthians 14:33-36, Paul is indeed talking about the meeting of the whole local church for worship and edification. He has just finished correcting the men (i.e., those gifted in prophecy and the like), and now he corrects the women. I take from this passage that everyone is to be silent in church except the person who is leading the service (in teaching or prophecy or interpretation), for all things must be done "decently and in good order". We can glean from verse thirty-five that the particular offense Paul has in mind vis-a-vis the women of the Corinthian church is their habit of asking questions during the service, that is, interrupting the service by asking their neighbors, husbands, and friends, whenever there is something further they would wish to know (and perhaps of carrying on general conversations). As a teacher myself in the secular as well as the biblical realm, I can affirm that people talking to each other in the classroom is very distracting to the teacher and to the other listeners, something we may on occasion put up with in the secular realm, but something that is highly inappropriate when the topic is the Word of God. So in my understanding of 1st Corinthians 14:33-36, women are to be silent 1) because they are not the ones doing the teaching, and 2) they are not to interrupt the service with cross-talking. It should be noted that all men fall under exactly these same restrictions with the sole exception of the one man who is currently teaching, prophesying or interpreting (only the first of which gifts is currently operative in the Church today in my view).

The second passage, 1st Timothy 2:11-12, also initially addresses the principle of learning in silence (something that goes for men and women both, but, at least in Paul's experience, needed to be emphasized for women). However the main thrust of this passage is the exclusion of women from authoritative teaching and the exercise of disciplining authority. Both of these functions are the province of individuals who have both the office (i.e., are officially installed in the church) and the gifts of pastoring and of teaching (gifts which are exclusively given to men because of the post-Eden principle of authority as discussed in the prior e-mail and the link given: The Creation of Eve). And both of these functions take place in and in relation to the assembled local church as a whole.

What does this mean for Bible study? To this I would say that it depends upon the nature of the Bible study. However, most Bible studies tend to be small, informal groups, where the give and take of questions and answers are part and parcel of the experience, where they are, in fact, much of the point. One things is sure: if it is appropriate for men to ask questions, then it is appropriate for women to do so as well, just as in "church proper" neither can ask questions. In the wider context of both 1st Corinthians and 1st Timothy, Paul has plenty of rebukes for the men as well in regard to abuses in the conduct of the local church (focused on the services proper in the former, and on the issue of qualifications for elders and deacons in the latter). We should not allow Paul's inspired rebuke of this tendency of the women of his day to interrupt the assembly with questions and conversation to lead us into false (and weird) applications of scripture. Incidentally, I might add that in my time I have seen plenty of men talking in church and in class when they should not.

In addition to the link cited above, I also have posted the following e-mail response that is germane to this subject:

        Does the Bible prohibit women from preaching or teaching in the Church?

        More about women preachers.

In the Chief Shepherd of the Church to whom we are all subordinate, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob Luginbill

Question #3:  

Dear Brother Luginbill,

An acquaintance of mine forwarded me your responses to her question about women speaking in the assembly. I am probably the chief cause of her sending that email to you in the first place. I'm a young preacher of an independent church trying to sort through many issues. I have no formal Bible education, so in some ways I end up re-inventing the wheel. Perhaps this is true of the subject of women speaking in the assembly. I do have a question about what you wrote. For all practical purposes, and excepting the absence of miraculous gifts, if I call the whole congregation to assemble at 10am Sunday Morning to worship God in song, go to Him as a body in prayer, read God's Word and teach it's doctrines, are we not Assembled in accordance with 1Cor.14:23-26? It would seem to me that in such circumstances the restrictions of that passage do apply.

Response #3: 

First let me say that I have no wish to undermine your authority in any way. Clearly, I really know very little about the specifics of your situation there, and, as in all applications of scripture to actual circumstances, the details (of which I am ignorant) are often of decisive importance in deciding precisely what to do. These kind of questions rarely come up in my experience, because 1) most Christians in this country belong to different groups or denominations which have long since codified these issues (de facto if not always de jure), and 2) those who have not are often little concerned with what scripture has to say in any case. Your situation is somewhat unique in that 1) you are not associated with any group where such issues have already been resolved for you (and that is potentially a very good thing), and 2) you are genuinely seeking to conduct yourself and your ministry in a truly biblical way (and that is just as wonderful a thing as it is unusual today). So please take all that into account as you read this response.

Let me make three observations by way of answering your question. First, in purely practical terms, were I to be struggling with the mechanics of a new church (even in the presence of some trouble-makers) I don't think there really would be much of a doctrinal problem for me vis-a-vis women talking or not talking in church. That is because I would hope to so construct whatever assembling was done, large or small, so that it was either a) appropriate, or b) inappropriate for the audience to be talking or asking questions (no matter whether male or female). As I said in the prior e-mail, to my view, if the men can ask questions, so can the women, and if the women can't, neither can the men. The women, it is true, are singled out by Paul in these passages because this seems to have been and may still be an occupational hazard more pronounced in the female gender - goodness knows that men have their own issues, as can be seen clearly enough in 1st Corinthians when one takes into account all the criticisms and strictures of Paul (so that there is no need to be defensive about this). For I do not see in any reconstruction of early church government a situation where men in the congregation are going to be sounding off at random either. The men who speak in church, then and now, are the pastors, the elders, the deacons, those gifted in one way or another in the Word of God, and it is clear from Paul's upbraiding of the church in Corinth that this needs to be done in a planned, orderly, and systematic way for the purpose of edification - that is the whole point of the assembly. Everything else is inconsequential. If anyone is speaking out of turn, edification suffers. And since the women are not allowed to be involved in the primary authoritative teaching function of the church, by definition they should be silent in the teaching-edification assembly (men too, except for the pastor)..

That brings me to the second point. It is not just a question of women usurping or challenging authority. The point is that no one, male or female, has a right to usurp or challenge or interfere with the governing authority of the church in any other than a decent and prescribed way. Church government varies. That is a whole different (though related) issue, but the point is that while there may be an appropriate and acceptable time and place and way to bring up disagreements with the leadership (a congregational meeting, for example: cf. Acts 15), the teaching-edification assembly is not the place for this. The logic of this point is that even in small groups, one should not tolerate distractions to teaching or serious interchanges which conflict with the teaching of the pastor-elders (what have you). Not because any group of leaders is perfect or understands everything in the Bible perfectly, but because the challenging of their teaching authority in venues which, large or small, are designed to pass on the fruits of their labor in the Word, are not only counterproductive, but they are also potentially very damaging to the faith and growth of the body. There are ways for someone who has what they feel is a legitimate concern to communicate this without introducing disagreements into a small group or violations of Paul's strictures into the assembly as a whole: 1) by personal contact with an elder or deacon or the pastor; 2) or if this does not prove satisfactory, in the congregational forum (if such exists in the constitution); 3) in extreme cases, separation. After all, in this country in particular, there is no reason for a person to continue in a group he/she feels is seriously flawed in its doctrine or application (whether or not he/she is correct).

Thirdly, therefore, it is not, in my view, really the size or even the format of the assembly that is the decisive factor, but rather its purpose, namely, the building up of the Church of Jesus Christ through the Word of God (Jn.17:16; Eph.4:15; 5:26). Whether this be as in Paul's description through prophecy by the Spirit, or interpretation of a tongue with the Spirit, or teaching the words of the Spirit (this last being the only remaining method of legitimate teaching still functioning in the Church today), in every case it is the communication of the truth of the Word of God which is all important. Anything that distracts from that primary function of assembly, whether in the assembly-ekklesia proper or in small groups (which may be designed to reinforce this purpose in a less formal way), should be avoided.

The problem I find in the "assembly" of the vast majority of Christian churches today is that edification is often the last thing on the list of priorities. A prophecy was a word from God that lined up with scripture and was given by the Spirit (important for people who were many years away from having the whole Bible yet); a tongue served the same purpose when its meaning was interpreted (without which interpretation Paul forbids its use), as did revelations. Teaching is the same (or should be the same) today as it was then, undertaken by gifted, prepared men. As far as "everyone has a song" is concerned, the psalmos mentioned in 1st Corinthians 14:26 is not really the same word as "song" in Greek, and is very uncommon outside of biblical literature: "psalm" really is the correct translation, and this refers to a poetic rendering of divine truth (whether one of the 150 which form part of scripture, or a similar rendering under the interim ministry of Spirit in this pre-canonical time) - music was not necessarily involved, though it could be, but the content of the psalm was what mattered. This last point is important to me personally, because what it says to me is that, today, since in my view that interim period is long past, the only sure psalms are the psalms. I am not much on Christian music because 1) the tune, format, emotional effect tend to predominate, not the words; 2) there is almost always something in the words of such music that is either a) directly contradictory to scripture; b) slightly askew; or c) puts a wrong emphasis on something or other. Given the tremendous emotional effect that such powerful musical presentations as we have today have on people's hearts, this last point I find the most troubling of all.

I do not find the list in 1st Corinthians 14 to be prescriptive. That is, I do not see that all of these things have to take place always in the assembly (for one thing, communion is not mentioned, and I would be more inclined to make that a staple of the order of service). The key point, the canon to be used in the evaluation of every meeting of the assembly-ekklesia, is the final statement of verse 26: "let everything happen for building up [the Church] (i.e., spiritual "edification")". What this says to me is that the sole point of getting together as an assembly is to grow in the truth of the Word of God. Everything which contributes to this is a plus, while those things that detract from this (even if only by wasting time) are a minus. In my view, experience, and observation of things, most groups or denominations have in truth almost entirely excluded the teaching of the Word from the assembly gathering (the whole biblical point of gathering in the first place), opting to shunt teaching aside into "small groups" (where there is often little authority, little consistency, and even contradiction, with much "lack of silence" too as we have been discussing it). Even the short sermons that are usually preached are in my view really not what Paul has in mind (and not just because they are short). The goal these days (and such has been the trend for centuries) is to produce something eloquent, something inspirational, something impressive. Paul goes out of his way to say on numerous occasions that he deliberately avoids all rhetorical flourish in his teaching (cf. e.g., 1Cor.1:17; 2:1; 2:4; 2:13). To him, content was what was important, and teaching content is a long, and sometimes onerous business (as a professor I know this only too well). In most of the churches of our own day, in contrast to Paul's approach, it is very much a case of style over substance, and the most successful churches owe their success to a) fantastic music; b) impressive presentation (in all things, but eventually in their buildings especially); c) an easy-listening message which is highly polished, emotionally manipulative, and "pertinent" (as if the whole Word of God were not). It helps to dress the latter up with a few scripture quotations and maybe a Greek or Hebrew word or two: in our teaching-free contemporary Christianity, this will often pass as "teaching in depth".

Finally, if you have suffered through this far, I wish to congratulate you and encourage you in your efforts to build an assembly of the Lord that is truly responsive to His Word and seeking Him in the correct, biblical way, through careful investigation of His Word. This is a rare thing today, but one which I am sure that the Lord will prosper as you stay faithful to your principles. I know that things can get discouraging. I am a "p.k." and saw my father put up with more than I will try and share here. I also understand that the trouble-makers in your midst are a challenge in more ways than one. I would only observe that the devil has little problem with most of what is going on in the majority of churches in this country, so that any such strident opposition to your ministry is quite possibly a sign that you are on the right track. The road to glory is a steep and narrow one; the road to destruction is easy. You have my admiration.

Please also see:

Church Polity: Elders and three other passages.

Some Questions on Church Polity.

Deacons and Elders.

Mega-Churches, Emergent Christianity, Spirituality and Materialism.

May our Lord Jesus Christ grant you success in advancing the Word of truth.

In Him,

Bob Luginbill

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