Satan’s Schemes

As we visited mission fields in three continents, we noticed that while the missionaries worked very hard to advance God’s kingdom, Satan worked just as hard to tear their work down.

* 2 Co 2:11 so that no advantage would be taken of us by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his schemes.
* Eph 6:11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil.

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One of the schemes he used very effectively is to spread strife, to divide and conquer:
* Prov 6:14 Who with perversity in his heart continually devises evil, Who spreads strife.
* Prov 6:19 A false witness who utters lies, And one who spreads strife among brothers.
* Prov 16:28 A perverse man spreads strife, And a slanderer separates intimate friends.

There is a Chinese proverb (鹬蚌相争,渔翁得利) which tells a story about a clam sunning himself on the beach. A sandpiper comes along, sees the open clam and a big meal waiting, tries to pick her fleshy dinner. The clam quickly closes his shell to protect himself, with the sandpiper’s beak caught in between. Neither side wants to give in, until a fisherman comes along, sees them engaged in a bitter tussle, and easily captures both of them. The moral of the parable? When two parties fight, a third-party benefits.

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The devil utters lies to sow discord among brothers, separating even intimate friends. When brothers and sisters fight among themselves, Satan can just fold his arms and watch the church fall apart. She will waste her time and energy arguing over trivial issues, while important matters like evangelism, making disciples and loving one another get ignored.

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The Lord Himself taught:
* Mk 3:25 If a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. (Mt 12:25, Lk 11:17)

Yet Christians everywhere fall into Satan’s trap. Be warned. Watch and pray:
* Jn 13:35 By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

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Should Women Preach? (2 of 2)

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(Continued from yesterday)

Yesterday we looked at the context and observed the text of 1 Tim 2:12, today we continue with its interpretation. The traditional view held by the Church for nearly 2,000 years is that women should not be elders or pastors, and by extension preachers. This is based on a literal interpretation of passages like 1 Tim 2:11-14 and 1 Co 11:3-10, and the fact that there are no women elders in the Bible.

Looking at the W5 observations, we can interpret 1 Tim 2:12 as follows: Paul does not allow a woman to teach formally/publicly in church, or exercise authority over a man. Furthermore, his restriction applies to all churches across time and culture, since the rationale goes beyond culture.

Some try to soften Paul’s prohibition by claiming that he was only addressing a local problem in Ephesus in his days, since Timothy was pastoring in Ephesus (1 Tim 1:3) at that time. But this does not fit the context and is not valid.

Now, since preaching involves teaching God’s truth and exhorting God’s people to apply it, not permitting women to teach implies that Paul does not allow women preachers either.

Let me elaborate. There are only two offices in the Church – elders (overseers or bishops or pastors) and deacons. Elders, overseers, bishops, pastors all point to the same people. “Elder” speaks to their mature spiritual experiences and understanding; “overseer” or “bishop” speaks to the character of the work undertaken, that of overseeing, or ruling, or leading. Pastors are shepherds who address the caring aspect of the overseers’ work. These are equivalent terms for the same people. Their qualifications are given in 1 Tim 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9. Deacons, on the other hand, are servants who assist the work of elders. Their qualifications are given in 1 Tim 3:8-13.

If you compare the qualifications and work of elders versus deacons, the big difference is that elders:
teach (1 Tim 3:2 able to teach; Titus 1: 9 holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict.) and
rule (1 Tim 3:5 take care of the church of God; 1 Tim 5:17 The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.)
Deacons are not required to teach, and they do not rule.

So, when Paul does not allow a woman to teach and exercise authority (rule) over a man, he is specifically forbidding women to be elders and pastors. That is not to say sisters are not competent. Competency has nothing to do with it. Many sisters are more competent than many brothers. It is simply God’s sovereign choice to appoint male leadership in both the home and the church. Just as He chose the Levites to serve Him as priests in the OT, no other tribe can claim the priesthood even though they may be just as competent.

Women can teach:
• Other women or children Titus 2:3-4 Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children,
• Privately Acts 18:26 and he began to speak out boldly in the synagogue. But when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately.
but not men in public assemblies.

But doesn’t the Bible teach that men and women are equal:
Gal 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Yes, but in what sense? In the sense that we are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus (Gal 3:26), heirs according to promise (Gal 3:29). That’s our position in Christ. The egalitarian view tries to apply this equality in our standing before Christ to our roles in Church, which is a misapplication as the Bible clearly distinguishes between the role of men versus women. All are Abraham’s descendants, but not all are priests, for example.

What about the mediating view? Wasn’t Barak not up to the task and Deborah stepped in:
Judg 4:8-9 Then Barak said to her, “If you will go with me, then I will go; but if you will not go with me, I will not go.” She said, “I will surely go with you; nevertheless, the honor shall not be yours on the journey that you are about to take, for the LORD will sell Sisera into the hands of a woman.” Then Deborah arose and went with Barak to Kedesh.
Yes, but Deborah was a judge, not an elder. She did not teach, and ruled in the sense of settling disputes, not managing a congregation. Besides, that was the exception, not the rule. God’s purpose will be accomplished one way or another. If men are unwilling or unavailable for the task, God can and have used women to achieve His will. But that doesn’t change His choice of male headship. We may not like it, but it’s His choice, not ours.

In short I subscribe to the traditional view. Situations happen in which women step into men’s roles, but that’s not God’s design.

Should Women Preach? (1 of 2)

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Q. Our cell group was studying the issue of women preachers in 1 Tim. There is much disagreement as there are different opinions which is very confusing. Some say sisters shouldn’t preach and submit to the plain teaching of the Bible, which is also given in 1 Co. Scripture’s demands are not subject to cultural background, except the issue of head covering which was mentioned only in the church at Corinth. Others say the only situation where sisters can preach is when the brothers of the church are not up to the task. What is your view on this?

A. The passages you referred to are 1 Tim 2:11-14 and 1 Co 11:3-10. There is much debate on whether women should preach and be ordained as pastors, with three main positions:
1. Traditional view: Women should not be elders or pastors;
2. Egalitarian view: God calls women as well as men to be elders and pastors; women should serve alongside men in all positions as equals;
3. Mediating view: Women serve under male leadership as their extension; they step in as replacement in the absence of men candidates.
Your cell group seemed to be split along views 1 and 3. There are books and dissertations written in support of all three views. All I can give you is my opinion in this brief article.

Actually I wrote on 1 Tim 2:12 before:
https://raykliu.wordpress.com/2014/09/19/i-do-not-permit-a-woman-to-teach-1-of-2/
https://raykliu.wordpress.com/2014/09/20/i-do-not-permit-a-woman-to-teach-2-of-2/
But I will approach it from another angle to answer your question specifically.

Let’s look at 1 Tim 2:11-14 below:
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.

First, the context is 1 Tim 2, which can be divided into two segments:
• 1-8 A call to Prayer, which ends with Paul calling the men in every place to pray (v 8);
• 9-15 Women Instructed
So the context is that of a contrast between the role of men and women.

Second, observation. I will use “W5” to summarize the key findings:
Who. The word “woman” translates the Greek word “gyne“, as in gynaecology. It can mean either:
• a woman (129 X in the KJV) of any age, whether a virgin, married, a widow; or
• a wife (92 X in the KJV), or a betrothed woman.
Some choose the latter meaning for v 12, and interpret the verse to mean Paul disallowing a wife to teach or exercise authority over her husband. This does not fit the context and the former meaning is the proper one.

What. The word “teach” translates the Greek word “didasko“, and in v 12 is used in the absolute sense, to give instruction. It is formal teaching. Paul is not forbidding a woman to teach informally, but formally.

Where. The chapter did not specify the setting explicitly, but it is quite obvious that a church environment is assumed, as Paul was not regulating situations inside the home.

When. Time was not specified, but given a church setting, the timing would be during public gatherings whenever the congregation get together, and not private meetings.

Why. Paul gave two reasons for not allowing a woman to teach:
• Adam was first created, and then Eve;
• Adam was not deceived, but the woman was.
The reasons go all the way back to:
• The order of creation, which specified man’s priority, and
• The Fall. Eve was deceived and Adam went along. She stepped out from man’s headship (leadership) and fell into transgression first.
Since the reasons involved our first parents, they apply to all their descendants and are trans-cultural. They do not apply just to a particular time in history or cultural background, but to all humanity.

(To be continued)

Lone Ranger Christian?

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Q. My friend told me he does not read reference books in Bible study, saying there are so many different interpretations and opinions that it’s confusing. All he needs is “me and my Bible”. He said, “If you believe everything the books say, you might as well do without books (盡信書不如無書).” He also does not trust leaders in his church, nor well-known pastors. How can I steer him back?

A. While there are many opinions, there are sound rules of hermeneutics by which you can evaluate whether a particular interpretation is valid or not. It is not free for all and everything and anything goes. Your friend has a very high view of himself and a very low view of learning from others. But the fact of the matter is that most things we know we learned from others, our parents, elementary and high school teachers, bosses, books, media etc., even though your friend does not acknowledge them. We always stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us, and passed on the lessons they learned through their words and writings.

The Christian life is never meant to be lived in isolation, but in community. To say that one does not need the wisdom of the church in history, the exhortation of fellow believers, the edification of leaders is to be very arrogant and naive about one’s dependence on the body of Christ.

1 Co 12:21-26 And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; or again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary; and those members of the body which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our less presentable members become much more presentable, whereas our more presentable members have no need of it. But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.
• Eph 4:11-16 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.
• Heb 13:17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.

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There are dozens of “one another” verses in the epistles about how we should relate to each other. For you friend to say “just me and my Bible” sounds pious, but in fact goes against what the Bible taught. There is no place for playing “lone ranger”.

Church Mess (2 of 2)

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(Continued from yesterday)

There are 4 parties in the story, each with actions that are not handled properly:
1. Pastor A who accused his associate in public.
2. Pastor B who was accused, which accusations may be true or false.
3. Church members who reacted negatively to A at the members’ meeting and wrote a joint letter to the board demanding that A be disciplined.
4. The board who took no action when the accusations first erupted and wrote a letter to all members requiring them to cease all forms of communication, private or public.

Taking things at face value, i.e. everything is accurately reported, my principles and gut reaction are:

• Deal with public matters publicly, private matters privately. I don’t know whether they had private discussions prior to the public outburst, and whether they are at the same job level or not, but A should have approached B in private to resolve the grievances first. If there is no resolution, then bring it to B’s supervisor or the board. Only when there is still no satisfactory resolution then it’s up to the board to take the matter to a members’ meeting, not A. This is standard Mt 18 procedure regarding conflicts between members or staff.

• A is handling things immaturely. In general we can tolerate a pastor’s poor performance due to inexperience, bad behavior (up to a point) due to immaturity, but usually sever employment when his integrity is compromised, whether it is morals (infidelity), money (embezzlement), or when he drifts into heresy. Here A has not gone so far to warrant dismissal, but needs disciplinary action so that he can repent and be restored, and the congregation to learn grace rather than legalism.

• The board does not have the authority by virtue of their position to require members to cease private communication. They can appeal, but cannot demand. They have also lost their moral authority when they stalled and did not deal with the issue as it happened. A healthy board should be aware of the dynamics between its staff, and keep their eyes/ears open as to what’s happening among the members. This board seems very reactive and dysfunctional.

• Since events have already degenerated, the board should:
o investigate the allegations and discipline A for his outbursts and immaturity,
o discipline B if the allegations were true,
o call a members’ meeting to inform the congregation the facts as appropriate; educate them what is the biblical way to handle such matters, and exhort to deal with grace rather than law.
o come up with a plan to prevent similar grievances from recurring, and recast the vision what the mission of the church is, to refocus everyone’s attention to God’s purpose for the church, not on the disunity that obstructs the church’s progress

Depending on whether there are particular church members or board members who are stirring up trouble instead of solving the problem, they may need a private admonition apart from the public address. Persistent antagonists should step down from leadership if they are causing the church to regress instead of progress. Public apologies from A, B, member ringleaders, the board may be needed as appropriate to move the church forward.

There are other issues e.g. salary disparity, but we just don’t have enough details as to the scope of each pastor’s responsibility, years of experience etc. to determine whether the difference is justified.

That’s my humble opinion without deeper probing. Hope that helps.

Church Mess (1 of 2)

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My brother sent me an article for my comments. It goes like this:

Recently, a problem arose in a Chinese church in Southern California that needs deep reflection and careful handling. A pastor accused a fellow pastor in Sunday School and even in a business meeting of members of coming to work late and leaving early, and improper use of funds. He also said he knew his salary is lower, which is grossly unfair. Some members reacted immediately by questioning the propriety of his accusations, leading to chaos.

Afterwards some members wrote a joint letter to the Board, demanding that they discipline the accusing pastor. The Board did not know what to do, so did nothing. After a few weeks, the attendance kept declining. The majority of those who remained felt they should tolerate the pastor, but others believed if that pastor stays, it will hinder the church’s progress and long-term development.

One thing led to another. The Board sent a letter to all church members, stating “The Church Board requires the constituents to immediately cease all forms of communications, private or public”. Some members find this letter offensive. (Two thousand years ago, Emperor Qin forbid criticizing state policies, with offenders to be beheaded.)

The incident is still developing. They hope to hear from readers suggested solutions, which could also be a reference for other churches in the future:

1. When should a pastor be tolerated? When should he be dismissed?
2. Does the Board have the authority to forbid members from expressing their opinion in private?
3. Under present circumstances, what can each party do to:
a. pacify the situation,
b. resolve division,
c. allow people to feel at ease to stay in church,
d. cooperate and develop the future?

(To be continued)

Reflections on “It’s a Wonderful Life”

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We attended the live-radio play “It’s a Wonderful Life” hosted by our church. It’s a classic Christmas movie (1946) about “an angel who helped a compassionate but despairingly frustrated businessman by showing him what life would have been like if he never existed.” (For those who do not know the storyline, please refer to http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0038650/) The story held our attention and the performance was very good, but I left with mixed feelings about the plot.

On the one hand, I like the theme “No man is a failure who has friends. Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole. All you can take with you is that which you’ve given away.” Not many of us are wise according to human standards, not many mighty, not many noble (1 Co 1:26), but all of us have friends. What we have given away have left a mark, great or small, on their lives. Had we never existed, our friends’ lives would have been different by virtue of the fact that our impact would have been absent.

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wonderful life 2

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I thought back over the last few decades. A lot of the things I did would not amount to much. Whatever trophies or awards I earned in school or university had long been forgotten, as soon as the next school year came along and there were new students competing for those top spots. What achievements I had with my employers were a thing of the past too, as everyone’s attention quickly refocused on the latest quarterly and annual results. Vanity of vanities. All is vanity. (Eccle 1:2; 12:8)

However, if I had never been born, for sure I would not have any children or grandchildren! And they are important! Even though I had not done anything great according to the world’s standards, I shared the gospel with quite a few, and by God’s grace some did trust and follow the Lord. Many I did not have the opportunity to meet again, but I expect to see them again the other side of heaven. Had I not existed, I guess the Lord would have used others to lead them to Himself, but I’m glad I was there at the right time and place and obedient in carrying the message. To me that’s significant! So I’m thankful for the play’s reminder to reflect on what matters in life.

On the other hand, I am bothered by the play’s utilitarian value system. What if, unlike the story’s hero, I had not saved anyone life? Or contributed to society’s well-being by stopping evil oppressors in their tracks? What if I am just an ordinary citizen trying hard to make ends meet? Or perhaps I was born physically or mentally challenged? Does that mean my life has little value because I had not influenced others for the better? I don’t think so. Even with all the disadvantages and looked down by the world, I would still be fearfully and wonderfully made (Ps 139:14). I would still be made in God’s image, a child of God and precious in His sight.

So I have mixed feelings about the play. But I suppose that’s the best I can expect from humanitarian philosophy – good from today’s moral decline perspective, but far short of God’s ideal. That’s why we need to share the gospel to as many as we can as best as we can. Other things pale in comparison.