John T. Willis

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Elders and Deacons--Part 3

The role or function as a deacon is as unclear and ambiguous as is the role of an elder in the church of Jesus Christ as presented in the New Testament. It is not clear at all that Acts 6:1-7 has to do with deacons.

I. The Greek word for "deacon" is "diakonos." Obviously, the English word "deacon" is NOT a translation, but a transliteration. The same is true of the Greek word "baptizo," which is transliterated into English as "baptize." The translation of "baptize" is another matter.
     a. "Diakonos" occurs often in the New Testament, but only very rarely of a person who functions in some capacity in the church. The verb "diakoneo" means "to minister, to serve," cf. Matthew 4:11; 20:28; Acts 19:22; Romans 15:25; and often. Consult a good concordance. The cognate Greek noun "diakonia" means "ministry, ministration, ministering," which also appears often, e. g., Luke 10:40; Acts 11:29; 2 Corinthians 3:7-9; and often. Consult a good concordance. "Diakonos" occurs in many texts which clearly does not mean a designated functionary in a local church--see e. g., Matthew 22:13; John 2:5; 1 Corinthians 3:5; and often. Consult a good concordance.
     b. The ONLY possible understanding of "deacon," therefore, is a person whose capacity in the church is to serve or minister to other people. Where there is a need, there must be a deacon, a servant, a minister.

II. The only text which gives a description of a deacon is 1 Timothy 3:8-13. The qualities described here are almost identical with the qualities of an elder. Two VERY IMPORTANT truths appear in this text.
     a. 1 Timothy 3:11 clearly states that both men and women are to be deacons in the church. The qualities of elders and deacons in 1 Timothy 3 are essentially parallel to the qualities of "widows to be put on the list" in the church in 1 Timothy 5:9-10.
     b. This proves that the quality "be married only once" in 1 Timothy 3:2, 12 cannot be gender specific. This quality has to do with fidelity in marriage whether the individual is a husband or a wife.

III. Romans 16:1 openly declares that Phoebe was a "deacon" in the church at Cenchreae.
      a. Biblically, these texts show that men and women can function as elders or deacons in local churches.
      b. Along the same line, there are numerous texts which emphasize that women are to be preachers in God's Church. Acts 2:17-18 says: "In the last days . . . your sons AND YOUR DAUGHTERS shall prophesy . . . Even upon my slaves, both men AND WOMEN, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy."
      c. Acts 21:9 says that "Philip had four unmarried daughters who had the gift of prophecy."
      d. Throughout the Bible, God raised up WOMEN to prophesy, that is, to preach God's word, including Miriam in Exodus 15:20, Deborah in Judges 4:4, Huldah in 2 Kings 22:14-20, etc.

Summarizing: The role of elders and deacons in the church is to serve God and serve others. They are NEVER ABOVE anyone else  in the church, but humble servants to honor God, the Creator and SUSTAINER of everyone and all creation.

Share YOUR fears and concerns and thoughts and feelings and beliefs with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Lord is My Shepherd--Psalm 23

Psalm 23 contains only six verses, but is well-known and well-loved throughout the world. The Superscription says only: "A Psalm of David." Obviously, this give no information about the background or setting. The anonymous author had recently been delivered from a severe illness from he almost died (verse 4), and from enemies that sought to kill him (verse 5). Knowing that Yahweh has delivered him from sickness and danger, the psalmist comes to the Jerusalem temple (verse 6) to thank Yahweh for intervening to save him from his troubles. He accomplishes this by using two very common ancient Near Eastern metaphors: (1) a shepherd (vv. 1-4); and (2) a host (vv. 5-6). This little psalms naturally falls into two parts.

1. Yahweh is My Shepherd. Psalm 23:1-4.
    a. Here the poet uses the metaphor of Yahweh as shepherd to emphasize his appreciation and gratitude for Yahweh providing all his needs and dealing with all his problems. It is possible that the composer is a king because he refers to Yahweh as "shepherd," and a king is frequently called a "shepherd" of his people in the ancient Near East. In Israel, the ideal earthly king would willingly subject himself to the rule of Yahweh, the real king. The verb "anoint" in verse 5 may suggest he is a king because the normal way of making an Israelite king is that a prophet anointed the chosen person to be the next prince or king of Israel. 23:1.
    b. The statement "he [Yahweh] makes me lie down in green pastures" communicates the idea that when a sheep is full and satisfied, he or she will lie down to rest and sleep. God's people are like "sheep" (see Psalms 95:7; 100:3), and Yahweh is like a tender, loving "shepherd," who guides his sheep into lush, green pastures so they will have plenty to graze and know they are safe. The statement "he [Yahweh] leads me beside still waters" suggests that Yahweh leads his people away from troubled waters to keep them in slow-moving streams. This is a perfect picture of peace. 23:2.
    c. The word "soul" throughout the Bible does not mean a spiritual part of the human body, but rather the whole person. Thus, the expression "he [Yahweh] restores my soul" means "he revives my overwhelmed or dejected spirit when I am down and out" (see Psalm 19:7). In this context, Yahweh has done this by delivering the psalmist from his illness and his enemies. The psalmist continues: "Yahweh leads me in right paths for his name's sake." This is a picture of a spiritual journey. "Right paths" are good and safe paths in the spiritual sense. 23:3.
    d. The psalmist explains that he has walked through the darkest valley. But since Yahweh is WITH him, he will fear no evil. "Evil" here means calamity, affliction, danger, and the like. Study the word "evil" in a good concordance. As a good shepherd, Yahweh carries a "rod" to correct a straying sheep and a "staff" to move a lagging sheep to move forward more quickly. Thus, Yahweh"s rod and staff comfort and strengthen the psalmist. 23:4.

II. Yahweh is My Host. Psalm 23:5-6.
     a. In verses 5-6, the poet introduces a second metaphor, comparing Yahweh with a host. Yahweh prepares a table in the presence of his enemies, Yahweh anoints the guest with oil, and the guest's cup overflows. Yahweh is the great GIVER of everything. We are all recipients. Let us constantly be thankful for all of Yahweh's gifts and blessings. 23:5.
     b. The "house" where this feast will take place is the Jerusalem temple, "the house of the Lord." Leviticus 7:11-17 states that the sacrificial meal connected with the offering of thanksgiving that the worshipper brings to express his gratitude to Yahweh for what he has done for the worshipper. It was a common courtesy to anoint the guest with oil (Luke 7:36-50, especially Luke 7:46) and to give him a full cup of wine with his mean (Genesis 14:18; 27:25; 1 Samuel 16:20; 25:18; 2 Samuel 16:1-2). This demonstrates the genuineness of the host's hospitality and the generosity of his character. The poet is astonished at the limitless generosity of Yahweh's love and care throughout his whole life, and he is certain that this will continue all the days of his life. All of this comes from Yahweh's "goodness and mercy." 23:6.

Share YOUR insights and reversals and problems and dreams and aspirations with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Elders and Deacons--Part II

Out of the six terms for elders in the Bible itself: 1. Elder; 2. Presbyter; 3. Overseer; 4. Bishop; 5. Shepherd; 6. Pastor, the function or role of an elder is not clear at all. For example, "elder" or "presbyter" might mean an older person physically or an older person spiritually. The Bible does not tell anything about this. "Overseer" or "bishop" is not clear at all. This could mean a co-ordinator, a person appointed to do a specific job. The Bible does not make this clear at all. A text like 1 Peter 5:1-4 makes clear that none of these means a dictator or a boss of any kind. The best chance one has to determine the function or role of an elder is the term "shepherd" or "pastor." Great texts in the Bible describe the role of a shepherd. The most important texts are Ezekiel 34 and John 10. Anyone can study these great texts. One will find that the role of a shepherd is:

1. To lay down one's life for the sheep. John 10:11, 15, 17.
2. To lead the flock into green pastures and beside calm waters. Psalm 23; John 10:3-4.
3. To strengthen the weak. Ezekiel 34:4, 16.
4. To heal the sick. Ezekiel 34:4.
5. To bind up the injured. Ezekiel 34:4, 16.
6. To bring back the strayed. Ezekiel 34:4, 16.
7. To seek the lost. Ezekiel 34:4, 16.
8. To feed the flock with justice. Ezekiel 34:16.
9. To destroy the fat and the strong.; to overthrow those who rule harshly Ezekiel 34:4, 16.

Peter emphasizes that elders are not to "lord over the flock in your charge, but be examples to the flock. 1 Peter 5:3.

It is obvious that biblically, a church or a group of people must not elevate or set apart elders from the rest of the church, leaving the impression that they are more important or more spiritual or better trained or nearer to the heart of God. On the contrary, every good elder will always be in close contact with the flock to be an example for all. The purpose of all elders meetings is to deal with the issues which exist in the church of which they are a part. Their role is not to take the role of God the Father or Jesus Christ our Lord. We are all servants--period.

Share YOUR reversals and issues and concepts and fears and feelings with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Monday, September 29, 2014

God has Forsake me--Psalm 22

The setting and ideas of Psalm 22 are very similar to Psalms 6 and 30. The superscription of Psalm 22 is not helpful. It reads: "To the leader: according to the Deer of the Dawn. A Psalm of David." "According to the Deer of the Dawn" seems to be a familiar tune for the singers or praise leader. The superscriptions of the Psalms are later additions. The psalmist of Psalm 22 is confronted with three serious problems: (1) He feels that God has deserted or forsaken him; (2) He is very ill physically; and (3) His enemies have unleashed a malicious attack against him. This psalm naturally falls into two parts.

I. The Poet describes his afflictions, and pleads with Yahweh to deliver him. Psalm 22:1-21a.
    a. The psalmist begins by expressing his deep feeling that God has forsaken him. He desperately needs God's help, and he repeatedly groans over his anguish. He cries to God by day and night, but God does not answer, and the psalmist has no rest. There are times in everyone's life when we share this same type of feelings. 22:1-2.
    b. In his attempt to persuade Yahweh to respond, the poet compares his own situation with Yahweh's faithful responses and help in the past. He praises Yahweh because he is holy and confesses that Yahweh is enthroned as king on the praises of Israel. The ancestors of the psalmist trusted in Yahweh, and Yahweh delivered them. They cried to Yahweh, and Yahweh saved them. They trusted in Yahweh, and Yahweh did not put them to shame. Why doesn't Yahweh respond in the same way with the psalmist? 22:3-5.
    c. Then the poet reflects on his own miserable situation. He feels like he is a "worm and not human." His enemies scorn and despise him. They mock at the psalmist, they make horrible mouths at him, they shake their heads to symbolize he has no hope, they mock him, saying, "Commit your cause to the Lord, let him deliver--let him rescue the one in whom he delights!" These are obvious sarcastic words. When a person is down and out, sometimes other people throw salt into the wounds. 22:6-8.
    d. The psalmist turns back to address God. He reminds God that God is the one who took him from the womb and kept him safe on his mother's breast. The psalmist has been Yahweh's God from his birth. Thus, he pleads that Yahweh will not be far from him, because trouble is near and there is no help but from God. 22:9-11, 19.
     e. The poet then describes his enemies. He compares them with "strong bulls," "ravening and roaring lions," and "vicious dogs" surrounding him to destroy him. 22:12-13, 16, 20-21a.
     f.  Finally, the psalmist paints a vivid picture of his physical illness. He declares that he is poured out like water; all his bones are out of joint, one can count all his bones because he is so thin, and people stare and gloat over him. The psalmist says that his heart is like wax and is melted within his breast; he is very depressed. His mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and his tongue clings to the his jaws, he is near death. He is completed dehydrated. His enemies are convinced that he will die at any moment, and so they divide his clothes among themselves after his death, and each person receives different pieces of his clothing by casting lots. 22:14-15, 17-18.

II. The Psalmist praises Yahweh because Yahweh has heard his prayer and has delivered him from death and all his afflictions. Psalm 22:21b-31.
     a. The whole tone between verses 1-21a and verses 21b-31 stand in bold contrast. Apparently, between the first stanza and the second stanza, Yahweh intervened and delivered the psalmist from all his afflictions. It is also possible that a messenger of God [a priest or a prophet or a wise person] delivered an oracle to the psalmist after the psalmist's complaints in verses 1-21a.
     b. The poet praises Yahweh for "rescuing" him from his enemies, "the wild oxen."  22:21b.
     c. The psalmist then resolves to go to his "great congregation" to tell them how Yahweh has delivered him from all his afflictions. The psalmist "tells" of Yahweh's name to his brothers and sisters, "praises" Yahweh in the midst of the congregation. He encourages his brothers and sisters to "fear Yahweh," "praise him," "glorify him," "stand in awe of him." The structure in verse 23 is chiastic: abba. To fear Yahweh is the same as to stand in awe of Yahweh; and to praise Yahweh is the same as to glorify Yahweh. Then, in bold contrast to his complaints in verses 1-21a, the poet declares in verse 24:
      Yahweh did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted,
       he did not hide his face from me,
       but heard when I cried to him.
Often, we have similar experiences. We are very depressed, and suddenly God intervenes and changes our hearts, our situations, our lives, and turns us upside down. 22:22-24.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Elders and Deacons--Part I

As we continue our study of the history of the Church of Christ denomination, the "role" of elders and deacons has paid a MAJOR role. In this and following blogs, I am giving ONLY my own experiences and my own view as I understand the Bible. I will try to make this as clear as I can, and would appreciate responses. Remember, I was baptized at Highland in Abilene, Texas in 1947. I taught 15 years at Lipscomb in Nashville, Tennessee from 1956 to 1971. I became a member at Highland again in 1973, and became an elder at Highland in 1976. Thus, I have been an elder for 38 years. I will strive to make each point clear, first about elders, then about deacons.

I. The Bible gives us ONLY a very few texts, and almost all of them are not very helpful about the work or function of elders or deacons.
    a. The texts for elders are: Acts 11:30; 14:23; 15:2, 4, 6, 22, 23; 16:4; 20:17-38; 21:18; 1 Timothy 3:1-7; 5:17-19; Titus 1:5-9; James 5:14; 1 Peter 5:1-5; 2 John 1; 3 John 1. Almost all of these texts do nothing but allude to elders. In addition, Philippians 1:1 uses the term "overseer" for "elders," again only as an allusion. The ONLY substantive texts are Acts 20:17-38; 1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9;
1 Peter 5:1-5. All these texts describe the QUALITIES [NOT QUALIFICATIONS] of an elder, and state almost nothing about their function or role in the church. [It is significant that there are several references to Jewish elders in the New Testament as well as the "elders" in the heavenly realm in the Book of Revelation. Those texts are not relevant for this discussion].
   b. The texts for deacons are: Romans 16:1; Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:8-13. Some would like to add Acts 6:1-7, but this is extremely questionable. Again, these texts do not discuss the role or function of deacons in the church.
   c. This brings us to a VERY IMPORTANT point. Church of Christ people have written numerous books and articles about elders and deacons. But the ideas in these books and articles come primarily out of the minds of the writers, not out of the Bible. Most controversies and practices and beliefs in the church [this is true of the Church of Christ denomination and other churches] are not rooted in the Bible, but in the ideas of prominent, influential people in different churches. This is a fact that no one can successfully deny.

II. Most local Churches of Christ think of "elders" as little popes. No one would express this thought, but this is the reality. Ordinarily [not always], Churches of Christ ASSUME that we have a hierarchy. The ordinary RANKS are:
     a. God the Father through Jesus Christ our Lord.
     b. Elders.
     c. Deacons.
     d. Teachers and/or [often PAID] Staff Members.
     e. The ordinary members of the church.
There is a DEEP problem about this view. There is NO FOUNDATION AT ALL for the ASSUMPTION that we have a hierarchy. On the contrary, EACH MEMBER of the Body of Christ is on the SAME STATUS. Each member is alike: a member of the body--Romans 12:3-8; 1 Corinthians 12:12-27; etc. Each member has an very important FUNCTION in the body, the church. The eye is NOT more important than the hand; the ear is NOT more important than the foot. It is contrary to God's will to think that some in the church have a more important role than others in the church. Philippians 2:1-4 emphasizes this point, stating:
       "Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit,
         Let EACH ONE OF YOU look not to your own interests,
         but to the interests of others."

III. The Bible uses SIX terms to describe ELDERS.
      a. Presbyter. The Greek word "presbuteros" means "older person." In the ancient Near East, including the Hebrew Bible, people of older age were usually respected by younger members of the community, and thus they were called "presbyters" or "elders" or "older people."
      b. Elder. This is the English equivalent of the Greek word for "presbyter."
      c. Bishop. The Greek word "episkopos" means "overseer." In the ancient Near East, including the Hebrew Bible, people who "over saw" or "co-ordinated" or "arranged" or "organized" or "put together" a project of some sort, whether it be a cooperative effort or systematically organizing a city or collecting data for trying to carry out a plan, etc. Over time the word "episkopos" was shortened in English to the word "bishop."
     d. Overseer. This is the English equivalent of the Greek word for "episkopos."
     e. Pastor. The Greek word for "shepherd" [poimen] was translated into Latin as "pastores." From this Latin word came the English word "pastor." Thus, a pastor is a shepherd. For some reason, in English we do not use a word built off of "poimen."
     f. Shepherd. This is the English equivalent of the Greek word for "poimen."
These SIX terms are synonyms. They supply ONLY a TINY bit of information about the function or role of elders. It is incorrect and very divisive to be dogmatic about the role or function of an elder. Our only hope about this is a little common sense.

[To be continued]

Share YOUR insights and thoughts and reversals and fears and experiences with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Friday, September 26, 2014

Yahweh Blesses a Faithful King and Destroys His Enemies--Psalm 21

The superscription of Psalm 21 is brief: "To the leader. A Psalm of David." This gives no information for the content of this psalm. Psalm 21 does not allude to a specific event, but rather deals with a general issue facing every king of Israel. On the one hand, the earthly king must TRUST in Yahweh alone. On the other hand, when the king trusts in Yahweh, Yahweh overthrows any of his enemies. Psalm 21 naturally falls into two parts. The composer of this psalm is not the king, because he refers to the king in the third person. He is probably a priest or a prophet or a member of the king's court. Throughout this psalm, the composer consistently addresses Yahweh in the second person singular.

I.  The Psalmist praises Yahweh for blessing the earthly king of Israel. Psalm 21:1-7.
     a. The psalmist begins with exuberant voice: "In YOUR [Yahweh's] strength the [earthly] king [of Israel] rejoices, O Lord." The king greatly exults in Yahweh's help. 21:1.
     b. The poet proclaims that Yahweh answers the prayers of the king: rich blessings, a crown of fine gold of his head, life, and length of days "forever and ever." The term "forever" in the Bible occasionally means "endless time," but MOST passages in the Bible have in mind "a long period of time in contrast to a short period of time." An excellent example of the use of "forever" is 1 Samuel 1:22, in which Hannah uttered this prayer:
      "As soon as the child [Samuel] is weaned, I will bring him,
        that he may appear in the presence of the Lord, and remain there FOREVER."
Later, 1 Samuel 1:28 makes clear that "forever" means "as long as he lives." 21:2-4.
     c. The psalmist declares that Yahweh BESTOWS [gives] the king "glory" and "splendor" and "majesty" and "blessings" and "joy." None of this comes from the king, but ONLY from GOD!!! 21:5-6.
     d. The reason for all this is that the king TRUSTS in Yahweh, not in himself, and thus through the STEADFAST LOVE [Hebrew--hesed] of Yahweh the king will not be moved. 21:7.

II. Yahweh will DESTROY and SWALLOW UP his enemies. Psalm 21:8-13.
     a. The composer suddenly turns from talking about the earthly king to talk about his enemies. He assures the king that he will "find out" all his enemies, those who hate him. The verb "find out" means something like "defeat." The king will be like a "fiery furnace" against his enemies, not because of his own power, but because Yahweh will SWALLOW them up in his wrath and fire will consume them. 21:8-9.
     b. The poet continues to assure the king that he will DESTROY the descendants of his enemies. When his enemies PLAN evil and DEVISE mischief against the king, they will not succeed. Instead, the king will put them to flight and aim at their faces with his bows. The king here is like an archer who shoots arrows to defeat his enemies. 21:10-12.
     c. The psalmist concludes by praising Yahweh for his strength and power. 21:13.

Share YOUR concepts and beliefs and reservations and expressions and feelings with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Only True Church

According to Matthew 16:18, Jesus declared: "On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it." Jesus' prayer in John 17:17-21 is that all of his true followers "may ALL be ONE. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, so that the world may believe that you have sent me." Paul states in Ephesians 4:4, "there is ONE body," that is, the church.

Many religious groups have taken these texts and then made the leap: WE are the only true church. This began to be a well-established belief in Churches of Christ. No one knows when someone first came up with this idea. If one studies the Bible, one will quickly realize that his assumption or view or belief is not only unchristian, but also anti-Christian. Here are some simple reasons.

1. This view is dripping with ARROGANCE, PRIDE, SELF-CENTEREDNESS, INGRATITUDE. The assumption of this view is: I am better than everyone else, and on top of that, I will go to heaven and anyone who differs with me will go to hell. The truth is: ALL of us are sinners, and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), and the ONLY way we can be saved is by the grace of God through faith (Ephesians 2:8-10).

2. This view is PRECISELY the attitude of the Pharisee which Jesus blatantly condemned in Luke 18:9-14. This text says:
     "The Pharisee, STANDING BY HIMSELF, was praying thus: 'God, I thank you that I AM NOT LIKE OTHER PEOPLE: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.'"
     The prayer of the tax collector was: "God, be merciful to me, a sinner."
     Jesus' evaluation is: "I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted."
It is VERY DIFFICULT, if not IMPOSSIBLE, for many so-called Christians to accept this statement of Jesus. But this is critical, and gives a clear description of the nature of Christianity.

3. This view does not comprehend or appreciate the beauty and the power and the potential of the diversity of the people of God. Think of all the churches described in the New Testament. Each church was very different, where one thinks of Rome or Ephesus or Laodicea or Jerusalem or Antioch or Colosse or Philippi or Thessalonica or whatever church there might be. The same is true in the present times. Each church in the Church of Christ denomination has its own peculiar practices and concepts and beliefs. But by the grace of God, spiritually we are united in heart and under God's deliverance and the Holy Spirit's guidance.

4. There are true Christians in all denominations. What matters is the heart. Proverbs 4:23 puts this clearly and solidly:
      "Keep your HEART with all viligence,
            for from IT flow the springs of life."
Jesus makes this same point essentially in Mark 7:21-23.

5. God's true people focus on God, not on themselves. They worship God, not the church, which is a group of fallible human beings. When we recognize and accept this view, the world will be much better.

Share YOUR insights and thoughts and reversals and shortcomings and confessions with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis