Confessing the Sins of a Nation

There are many great examples of humility and repentance in scripture. One of those examples is found in the opening chapter of Nehemiah.

Nehemiah is a man of Jewish heritage who is in exile in Babylon. He has just learned that the city of Jerusalem, the center for worship to the LORD, is in ruins. The scripture tells us that Nehemiah “sat down and wept and mourned for days; and I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven,” with these words:

“‘I beseech You, O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who preserves the covenant and lovingkindness for those who love Him and keep His commandments, let Your ear now be attentive and Your eyes open to hear the prayer of Your servant which I am praying before You now, day and night, on behalf of the sons of Israel Your servants, confessing the sins of the sons of Israel which we have sinned against You; I and my father’s house have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against You and have not kept the commandments, nor the statutes, nor the ordinances which You commanded Your servant Moses. Remember the word which You commanded Your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful I will scatter you among the peoples; but if you return to Me and keep My commandments and do them, though those of you who have been scattered were in the most remote part of the heavens, I will gather them from there and will bring them to the place where I have chosen to cause My name to dwell.’ They are Your servants and Your people whom You redeemed by Your great power and by Your strong hand. O Lord, I beseech You, may Your ear be attentive to the prayer of Your servant and the prayer of Your servants who delight to revere Your name, and make Your servant successful today and grant him compassion before this man.’ Now I was the cupbearer to the king.”

It is interesting to see that Nehemiah mentions not only his own sins but also “the sins of the sons of Israel” which “we” have sinned, including “I” and “my father’s house.”

Normally we think of confession as something that we would only do for ourselves. Passages like Ezekiel 18:20 teach us that sons are not responsible for the sins of their parents, nor parents for the sins of their children. If this is so, what is the benefit of confessing sins that other people have done, as if they could gain forgiveness based on our confession instead of their own, or as though we bore the guilt for what they did in ourselves?

One benefit that might come from confessing the sins of our forefathers and of the communities in which we live, is that it can help us to recognize how pervasive and serious the brokenness of the world around us really is.

This might also help us to recognize how we got in such bad shape and what must be done to turn things around.

Furthermore, in attributing these sins both to “I” and “my father’s house,” Nehemiah may also be articulating the fact that he learned a lot of his bad habits from the culture and the environment into which he was born, and thus rather than “inheriting” their sins automatically, he has nonetheless adopted their sins into his own life and replicated them for himself by his own free will.

We tend to think of past generations as being the backward ones, while our generation has learned from the mistakes of the past. But often times, we are making our own mistakes that may be superficially different, but are in many ways analogous to the sins of those before us.

Isaiah said “Woe is me! I am ruined! I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips!” Before we point the finger solely at our forefathers or at the world around us, maybe we should make sure that we ourselves are not doing the same kind of things.

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Three Kinds of Unfaithfulness

Our Bibles contain a good deal of ancient history, especially concerning the Israelites. When reading the Old Testament we can learn not only about the customs, technologies, art, and warfare of this ancient people, but also about their intimate relationship with the LORD.

What we find is that the Israelites, over the course of the centuries, fell away from God time after time. If there was a way to go wrong, the Israelites would manage to find it. Because of this, their story gives us hope that God will be as patient with us and with our friends and family as He was with the people of Israel. It also gives us many examples of what not to do if we want to prosper and have joy in the LORD.

Here are three broad categories of unfaithfulness that we see Israel exhibiting. By examining where they went wrong, we can better be on the alert against troubles that might find their way into our own lives if we are not watchful.

1) Being too cowardly to even try to follow God’s leadership.
2) Becoming just like everyone around us.
3) Forgetting God in the midst of our prosperity.

Consider these categories of unfaithfulness in more detail:

Being too cowardly to even try to follow God’s leadership:

God told the children of Israel to go into the land of Canaan and to take it by force. He would fight for them to give them a land flowing with milk and honey. But the people, when they analyzed this task for themselves, decided that it was just too hard, and decided it was better not to try than to try and fail.

What commands has God given, or what direction does He lead, that you are too scared to follow? Find courage to follow where He leads, or you will die in the wilderness for your rebellion.

Becoming just like everyone around us:

Eventually the children of Israel did go into Canaan to take it for themselves. Many of them were courageous in following God into battle and claiming their inheritance. But many others were half-hearted about this task. They drove out some of their enemies, but they left others to live in the land. It was not long before they found themselves worshipping the sun, moon, and stars, practicing cult prostitution, sacrificing their children to Moloch, and doing all kinds of detestable things. They may have claimed to still follow the LORD as well, but their loyalties were obviously divided.

What worldly practices have you allowed to maintain a stronghold in your life? We may insist on calling America a “Christian nation,” but we must be careful to recognize that much that goes on here is anything but Christian. We must not cheapen the name of Christ by wearing it while living like everyone else.

Forgetting God in the midst of our prosperity:

God warned Israel repeatedly that they must not forget Him when times of comfort and prosperity came. They would enjoy nice houses and beautiful vineyards and large flocks and herds. Many of them would forget God in these times and feel that it was their own strength by which they had acquired their wealth.

In the age of advanced technology, modern medicine, and socioeconomic mobility, we may feel that the answer to all of life’s questions is to work harder, be smarter, and then sit back and enjoy the results of our own efforts. Science will save us. Money will fill the holes in our lives. Comfort is the ultimate goal. But we must not forget that without God, we have nothing.

Which of these kinds of unfaithfulness do you struggle with the most? Do you struggle with all three from time to time? What specifically should you be on the alert for this week?

The Role of Women in Corporate Worship and Church Leadership

A controversial topic in many churches today is the presence of female pastors, preachers, and deacons, and female leadership in corporate worship.

As is typical of contemporary doctrinal discussions, this topic is raised largely as the result of recent cultural changes, though its implications go back to the very natures of God and of man. The topic is therefore an extremely important one, and even more so when we consider that the way we interpret the Bible on this topic sets a precedent for future hermeneutics.

It is my position that only men are authorized by the scriptures to serve in leadership positions in the lord’s church, including leadership during corporate worship, and that a hermeneutic that reaches any other conclusion is dangerous and flawed.

Galatians 3:28 is referenced repeatedly and proudly among those arguing that women should have the right to lead prayers, singing, and deliver sermons to our congregations. The verse states “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” (NASB). This verse is understood by some to mean that distinctions and roles based on gender are no longer binding on those who are in Christ.

But if this verse means that wives are not longer under the authority of their husbands as dictated in Gen. 3:16, why do we find Paul in Eph. 6:22 exhorting: “Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord” and in verse 24: “But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.” It is impossible to suggest that Gal. 3:28 abolishes divinely decreed gender roles without implying that the scriptures, and even the writings of Paul himself, are contradictory, thus undermining the inerrancy of scripture.

Those who would welcome female church leadership also make much of Rom. 16:1 in which Paul uses the Greek word “diakonon” in reference to Phoebe. This verse is cited as proof that woman “deaconesses” are endorsed in scripture to hold public offices in the church. To derive this teaching from Rom 16:1 is irresponsible because the noun diakonos is used frequently throughout scripture to refer to anyone who is a servant in a general sense. In Mark 10:43 Jesus tells his apostles that “whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your diakonos.” Was Christ teaching that if a man wants to become great, he must hold the office of deacon in the Lord’s church? It is obvious from the context that in this instance and in many others in scripture, the term diakonos is being used simply to denote one who serves in any capacity.

In the same passage Prisca and her husband Aquila are greeted by Paul as his “fellow workers,” once again indicating that women can and do serve in various capacities in the Lord’s church, but giving no indication whatsoever that they may lead corporate worship or hold public church office.

A careful reading of 1 Timothy 2 gives us a clear answer to this discussion. In verse 8, Paul requests for “men in every place to pray.” The noun used here is not the general term “anthropos,” which may refer to mankind generically rather than males specifically. Rather the term “andros” is used, which refers distinctively to a male human being or a man. This verse is followed by a series of verses on the conduct of women. Verses 11-12 state clearly: “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.”

I want to clearly establish two foundational truths about this declaration: one, that he is speaking in regards to how we conduct ourselves when gathered together as the Lord’s body, and two, that the following verses make it perfectly clear that Paul’s declaration results from timeless theological reasons as opposed to temporary cultural views.

From the context of this passage we can clearly see that Paul is speaking in regards to the worship and activity of the church. He goes on in chapter 3 to give the qualifications for elders and deacons (both of which are obviously male specific in their terminology,) and the explanation in verse 15 that “I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth.” This context makes it clear that Paul’s orders for women to receive instruction with submissiveness, and not to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet, apply specifically in the church and its activities.

Many will claim that while Paul may have been prohibiting women from leading prayers or preaching in the first century, he was doing so for cultural reasons that are no longer applicable today. The context of the passage is exceptionally helpful in disproving that notion. Paul gives very specific reasons for his prohibitions in verses 13-15: “For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.  But women will be preserved through the bearing of children if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint.”

Paul makes it clear that these roles he is describing are the results of God’s arrangement in Gen. 3:16 that a man should have authority over a woman, an arrangement that he apparently believes is still in effect at the time he is writing. This shows us that Paul did not believe that Christ’s death abolished gender roles, and that these roles are the theological, rather than cultural reasons for his stance. This view is clearly supported by the verses from Eph. 6 mentioned earlier, as they attribute the theological importance of modeling Christ and his church to the roles of men and women in marriage. It is impossible to properly understand Paul’s teaching and to claim that it is culturally motivated.

A hermeneutic that encounters any passage that is culturally unpopular as though it were outdated and can safely be revised is dangerous indeed. Various teachings of God’s word have been unpopular throughout history, but the theological truths that undergird those teachings cannot be revised without revising our very understandings of God and man, and to do so is simply to contradict scripture.

As a final word to those who are deeply offended by the idea of the prohibition of females from corporate church leadership, it should be stated that a view of a church in which only a few activities such as “leading songs, preaching, and being a pastor” are considered meaningful jobs to do is a sad view of the church indeed. There is SO much for women to do in the church, as hundreds of thousands of them demonstrate every week.

“Be Saved from this Perverse Generation”

Times Square
On the day of Pentecost, when the Lord’s church was established, Peter preached a sermon that was followed by 3,000 baptisms.  The Bible tells us that after encouraging the crow to repent and be baptized, “with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, ‘Be saved from this perverse generation!’

Apparently we aren’t the only generation in the past 2,000 years or so to get a few things wrong.  As the early church was set apart from the wickedness of popular culture in the Roman Empire, are we setting ourselves apart from that which is amiss in the 21st century?

Ours is a culture of intense individualism.  Each person chooses their own path, rises or falls by their own merits, and considers the needs of others as secondary.  What about you?  Do you look out not merely for your own interests, but also for the interests of others (Philppians 2:4)? Are you helping to build a loving community in Christ?  Are you making sure others are not falling through the cracks?

Ours is a culture that misuses technology.  The power of modern technology for good or for evil is immense.  It has been suggested that man is no more wicked than ever before, though he continues to invent more sophisticated means to his wicked ends.  How will you, the Christian, use the convenience, privacy, mobility, anonymity, availability, and scope of content and features provided by technology?

Ours is a culture crazy for entertainment.  Sports, television, film, and video games are all multibillion dollar industries, with film bringing in over a half a trillion dollars a year.  What does your spending reveal about your priorities?  What about the use of your time?  How many times have we spent a couple of hours watching TV or browsing the internet, only to realize that we are exhausted and go to bed without so much as 15 minutes for the Creator?

Will you be saved from this perverse generation?  Can a Christian be faithful in such a wealthy, self-centered society?  With man, it is impossible, but with God all things are possible (Matthew 19:26).”