Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Principle and Practice, Prophets and Deacons

Much of the discussion concerning prophets and deacons is often framed by gender and exclusivity. It is assumed that these offices are the sole domain of males and they exclude females. This is much the same as to advocate for the presence and ministry of women in the church, but without a lack of understanding of the scriptures. This is equally true of those who oppose the presence and ministry of these women in the church, but who lack an understanding of the scriptures. The inability of the former and the latter to present a consistent understanding and explanation for the edification of the saints is uncannily similar.

Often, the refusal to accept what is revealed through an examination of the scriptures is deep-rooted. The pressure of the fear of men is nothing new, both in those who advocate and in those who oppose the ministry of sisters in Christ. The exchanges between them of endless single word definitions, an endless barrage of questions and negative assertions create the intended desire. The impression is created that there is an understanding, but often this is not much more than a cover up of a lack of understanding. These are not crimes. These are not sins. However, neither one does much to increase the knowledge, understanding and edification of the saints in Christ in the assembly.

The principle and the practice involving prophets and deacons is revealed in, both the Old Testament and the New Testament. It puts to the test Romans 15:4 which the saints have learned to parrot from those who lead, teach and preach. Coincidentally, often it is those who lead, teach and preach who are the ones who feel most threatened by these same principles and practices involving prophets and deacons and the things which they have professed and proclaimed for years during their own ministries. The discussion in this article is brief, but the reader is encouraged to open the links to my blog articles which cover portions of the content in this article more fully.

God never called prophetesses in the Old Testament
Beware of negative statements which may sound imposing, truthful and full of understanding, but which are none of these. God did define, specifically in Numbers 12, what constitutes a prophet as being one to whom God reveals himself through visions and dreams. Incidentally, take note of how loosely some teachers and preachers refer to Jesus as a prophet, or the prophet.

The test of that mistaken notion is to ask: when did the Father make his will known to the Son through visions and dreams? Jesus was no more a prophet than Moses with whom God spoke face to face. The Father never made himself known to Jesus through visions and dreams anymore than he did with Moses.

Huldah, the prophetess
So, how does one explain the prominent and significant appearance of the prophetess Huldah in II Kings 22? Here is just one of the woefully weak responses from some who oppose the ministry of prophetesses: prophets were solely from the tribe of Levi. There is muted silence when it is noted that King David of the tribe of Judah was a prophet. Then, there was Anna, the prophetess of the tribe of Asher who prophesied concerning the eight day old baby Jesus. Suddenly, the presumption of exclusivity is thrown into some serious doubt or a need for closer examination. When God said of a prophet “I will reveal myself to him” he did not intend to limit, as is assumed, the office of prophet according to gender to men only. This may be a good starting point to make good on the debt owed the saints for an understanding and explanation on this obvious variation, but not a contradiction, from the principle concerning prophets as declared by God himself in Numbers 12. Huldah was not sought out by King Josiah because there wasn’t, as another weak reason is often given, a qualified man around. The prophet Jeremiah was a contemporary of Huldah in the city of Jerusalem. (Jeremiah 1:1-3)

The incident in Numbers 11 is not a mere coincidence as it relates to God’s definition of what constitutes a prophet. The definition was spoken, not by Moses or a prophet, but by God himself. Prior to that definition in chapter 12 God had instructed Moses to bring out the seventy elders of Israel. God does as he said he would do. He puts some of the Spirit that was in Moses and puts him upon the seventy elders.

A glitch occurred. God was unfazed nor was his power limited. Only sixty eight of the seventy came out of the camp. The glitch that happened next was that when God placed some of the Spirit that was in Moses on the sixty eight the other two, Eldad and Medad, who had remained in the camp prophesied, too.

This was too much for Joshua, Moses’s right hand man in training. “Moses, my lord, restrain them.” Joshua cried to Moses concerning Eldad and Medad, two of the seventy elders who had not gone out of the camp with the other sixty eight elders. Here is another popular mistaken notion debunked. The strained and forced insistence by some to create a distinction between prophesying in the assembly and prophesying outside of the assembly as though God’s power is limited either way. When God put some of the Spirit on the sixty eight who were not, so to speak, “in the assembly,” received the same measure of the Spirit of God. Ponder that closely.

God never called deaconesses in the New Testament
Beware of negative statements which may sound imposing, truthful and full of understanding, but which are none of these. The first problem which the church faced in the first century was between the Hellenistic Jews and the native Jews concerning the distribution of food to their widows. The twelve apostles called on the congregation to “select from among you seven men” to “serve tables.”

Although one of the most popular texts cited concerning the selection and duties of deacons is First Timothy 3:8-14 the passage in the book of Acts also involves deacons, that is, men who serve in the fulfilling of tasks of the church. There is no contradiction or problem merely because Paul’s letter was written long before Acts. This is the principle concerning deacons in the New Testament which is similar and not unlike the principle concerning prophets in the Old Testament.

The reaction and rationale to the words of the apostles for the selection of seven men is pretty much the same as to the words of God in Numbers 12 when he said he would speak “to him,” that is, the prophet among the people of Israel. The reaction and rationale is one in which includes males and excludes females. The masculine gender noun is seized tenaciously. It is taken to mean that the office of deacon is solely limited to males and to the exclusion of females, right? After all, this is the principle in the New Testament concerning deacons, right?

However, the Old Testament principle concerning prophets demonstrates graphically in the matter of Huldah that it was meant to extend to the inclusion of women as prophetesses. The question needs to be asked if this is so in the New Testament concerning a similar extension that would include women as deaconesses. The answer to that question is just like in the Old Testament. The extension of the principle concerning deacons in the New Testament is evident in Phoebe whom Paul names as a deaconesses in Romans 16:1.

God made his declarations in the form of principles and practices for Israel. He was not vague or ambiguous. Despite the focus and bearing down on single words in isolation to extract a clear meaning of what God said is one part of understanding. The second part of that is to understand what he meant. In the matter concerning women as prophetesses and deaconesses God did not leave us to guess or to wonder. He has given us his word and his meaning together with graphic demonstrations for us to understand. Whether we accept it is a completely different matter.

The truth is that the reactions and attempts of men, and no small number of women, to rationalize their at-odds and inconsistency between their understanding or lack of understanding of principle and practice is not a matter of intelligence. It is a matter of the carnal emotions of the heart and whether we will be deceived by them. This too was graphically demonstrated and modeled in the jealousy of Joshua when he saw Eldad and Medad prophesying. It was graphically demonstrated in the apostles when they argued among themselves as to which one of them was the greatest. They revealed their own mistaken notions of exclusivity when they  thought Jesus would beam proudly that they had done their best to prevent a disciple from casting out demons in the name of Jesus because that disciple was not walking with them and Jesus. What all of these objections and oppositions reveal in common is that they have nothing to do with gender. They all have to do with the notions of prestige, power and positions of males and the emotions that come into play with them. Gender is merely the more useful cudgel which seems most effective when muttering something vague about what God never said or God never meant concerning women, our sisters in Christ, as prophetesses and deaconesses. It is far better to speak and teach the scriptures for the understanding and edification of the saints in the body of Christ, the church.

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