Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Six Reasons For My Faith

I believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God...and therefore, I believe that the God of the Bible is real. Why do I believe this? Here are six reasons.
  1. The Bible is actually a collection of 66 books, written by over 40 different men from all walks of life, on three different continents, over a span of 1,500 years. And what's amazing is that these men all addressed countless controversial topics with amazing consistency and harmony. Beyond that, they all contributed in their own way to a greater theme, or story: the story of God's scheme of redemption. It's impossible to get two random people to agree on everything. To get over forty men from different cultures and time periods to agree on everything is definitely impossible. So either there is an incredible intricate conspiracy at work here, or these forty men were inspired by a common source.
  2. When the issue of salvation comes up, we often focus exclusively on Jesus' sacrifice on the cross. This is like looking at the beautiful flower without appreciating the intricate root system underground, or the process by which that beautiful flower has grown from a tiny seed. Yes, the cross is the climactic point of God's plan, but to truly comprehend the depths of God's plan, we have to study the Old Testament. In the Old Testament, we find the "mystery of Christ" (Ephesians 3:1-7). Clues are given inthe stories of Adam, Abraham, Moses, David, etc. We see the foreshadowing. We see God's plan slowly but surely unfolding...perfectly and beautifully. And then, in the life of Jesus, we see it all coming to a head. Jesus was the fulfillment of the Law (Luke 24:44). And it is my firm conviction that this intricate scheme of redemption is so deep and so incredible that no man could ever have produced it on his own accord.
  3. Unlike the Book of Mormon and other so-called holy books, the Bible is supported by an insane amount of archaeological and historical evidence. The lands and cities of the Bible can be visited today. The nations and kings mentioned throughout the Bible did exist, as confirmed by historians and archaeologists (read this article). From the Mesopotamian culture of Abraham's day, to the dealings of the kingdom of Israel, to the early days of Christianity, the timeline of the Bible has been overwhelmingly proven. 
  4. One of the most powerful evidences of the Bible's divine authorship is prophecy. Prophecies about Cyrus (Isaiah 44:28), the Phoenician city of Tyre (Ezekiel 26), the succession of kingdoms from Babylon to Rome (Daniel 2-8), and of course, the dozens of specific prophecies of the Messiah, are found throughout the Old Testament. We can prove that these very specific prophecies were made before they were fulfilled, and we can examine not only the Bible, but historical records, to prove their fulfillment. The only explanation is God! 
  5. While the Bible is not a 'science textbook,' it does make statements regarding the natural world that have been proven to be true. Many of these scientific statements were made long before they were discovered by secular scientists. We call this "scientific foreknowledge." While I do not endorse everything said on this website, click here to learn more about this.
  6. For what it's worth, I also believe that the God of the Bible, as He is defined and characterized from beginning to end, has exhibited Himself providentially in my life. I have seen Him at work not only in my life, but the lives of countless others. His providence. His care. His love. It's been truly an amazing experience.
So much more study can be done on all six of these points, and if you're truly interested in such a study, there are a ton of resources out there to help you in your journey. Hopefully, you can see that I have not blindly accepted the inspiration of the Bible. Through much study, I have concluded that the Bible is inspired by God...which means, of course, that the God of the Bible is real.

Monday, March 10, 2014

I Am a Christian Because...

Why am I a Christian, and why do I view the Bible as God's inspired revelation to mankind?

I am NOT a Christian because the universe has provided me with irrefutable evidence that Jesus is the Son of God who died on the cross for my sins. I am NOT a Christian because I've been raised in a Christian society, or in a Christian home. I am NOT a Christian because I have some mystical feeling in my heart that outweighs all the reason in the world.

While I do believe that there are scientific, traditional and emotional reasons that may be attributed to my faith, I am a Christian because of the Bible.

In the Bible, I am told that all of the Scriptures are inspired by God (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Think about that. The Creator of us all actually revealed His will to various men throughout history who then wrote down exactly what He moved them to write down (2 Peter 1:20-21). The same God who has made us in His image (Gen. 1:26-27), "set eternity in [our] hearts" (Eccl. 3:11), and given us a conscience (Rom. 2:14-16) and heart to pursue the deepest and most profound questions of life, has given us the Bible to answer these questions and to provide us with the guidance we need.

But most importantly, the Bible tells me that while God is holy and perfect, I have fallen short of His standard. I have sinned (Rom. 3:23). If I had cancer, I would want to know it...so that I could either prepare myself for what's coming, or possibly even seek treatment. God's word provides the diagnosis - I am helpless in my sinful condition - but also the prognosis and treatment. "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness..." (Rom. 3:23-25).

So the Bible answers the questions of life. Where did I come from? Why am I here? What is my purpose in life? What will happen after I die? But it also guides me in my daily life, helping me to make better decisions. Above all else, it contains the beautiful, wonderful story of Jesus and how I can have a relationship with God, the almighty Creator, through His sacrifice on the cross. Wow.

You might be thinking that it's unreasonable to view the Bible as the inspired word of God just because it says so. Anyone can claim to be speaking on behalf of God, right? Anyone can write a book and then claim divine inspiration, right?

Patience, dear reader. I'm not THAT shallow. I have become more and more convinced of its divine authorship, and I have many reasons for believing so. But that's the topic of another article.

Even though I have reasons for my faith, you might be wondering to yourself, "What about all the scientific evidence that disproves your faith in God?!?!?"

Here's the thing...

Science has not and cannot disprove the reality of God. Science can explain how the universe works, but science can't prove that there isn't a God.

But what about all the scientific evidence for evolution, for an old earth, and for the Big Bang Theory? What about carbon dating, the distant starlight problem, cosmic microwave background (CMB), the peppered moth, dinosaurs, the geologic column, Neanderthal, and all the other so-called 'facts' that deny the timeline and basic facts of the Bible? By believing so strongly in the Scriptures, am I pitting myself against so many irrefutable facts of science? And if the Bible is false, isn't God false?

I believe that there are scientific answers to all these questions. In fact, I believe that the greater weight of science makes a case for a Creator. That being said, after studying these issues for years, I have come to realize that it's not a battle between science and faith, or science and religion, but between two different worldviews. Both evolutionists and creationists have access to the same evidence; they just interpret that evidence differently.

I admit that I begin with a presupposition. I admit that my position is one of faith. I begin with a strong, evidence-based faith in the inspiration of the Bible. I am fully convinced that the Bible is true, and therefore God is true. And so when these questions of starlight and the Grand Canyon come up, I don't call into question my faith; rather, I seek a biblical explanation. And I've never been disappointed.

By way of conclusion...
  1. I am fully convinced that the Bible is the infallible, inspired word of God.
  2. Science cannot disprove the existence of God.
  3. In fact, there is evidence in the natural world of a Creator.
  4. I believe that all of science - even the parts that are used to discredit the Bible - can be explained from a biblical worldview.
In closing, I'd like to share with you how I plan on approaching skeptics in the future.

Let's say I'm on campus this week, standing in front of my "Just Christians" table, attempting to talk to students about matters of faith and religion. And let's say that an atheist stops by and agrees to talk to me as they often do. Instead of getting pulled into these pointless squabbles over Potassium-Argon dating and index fossils, I'm simply going to ask them, "Are you open to the possibility of God?" and, "If I can give you reasons for faith, will you humble yourself and believe in the Lord?" If they're not open-minded and willing to pursue a deeper conversation about faith, I will kindly and lovingly bid them farewell. "If you ever change your mind, you know where to find me," I'll say.

Instead of trying to satisfy the intellectual mind - instead of getting into endless arguments with academics and skeptics about science and philosophy - instead of defending God (as if He needs it) - I've decided to take a more honest approach. Instead of showing why science doesn't disprove my faith-based worldview (as if that will change someone's heart), I'm just going to share my faith. I CAN talk about carbon dating and will gladly do so if necessary, but I'd rather talk to folks about how I have been so impressed and so transformed by the power of the gospel. I'd rather talk about how the Bible is God's word, and how it can give people the answers they're seeking.

Many Christians wrongly believe that to be honest, open-minded and effective in their evangelism, they must engage every skeptic in an intellectual battle of wit. We have convinced ourselves that we must have a ready answer for every question and win every little debate on academic and philosophical grounds. We tell ourselves that once we've conquered their mind, we can conquer their heart.

I disagree.

I have to believe that the "power of the gospel" (Romans 1:16) will have its effect. I have to believe that if I sow the seed and water it, that God will "add the increase" (1 Cor. 3:6). And again, I have to believe that even though others will mock my faith, none of these criticisms will matter when I'm standing before God and hear Him say, "Well done, good and faithful servant...enter into the joy of your Lord" (Matthew 25:21).

Friday, March 7, 2014

A Gentle Reminder...

In reading Proverbs this morning, I stumbled upon this verse...
"All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the spirits" (16:2).
And there are many other verses that echo this same thought...
"There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death" (Prov. 14:12).
 "I am blameless, yet I do not know myself" (Job 9:21).
"For I know of nothing against myself, yet I am not justified by this; but He who judges me is the Lord" (1 Corinthians 4:4).
"Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven" (Matthew 7:21).
It's so, so, so easy to become complacent, to see ourselves as "good people" and therefore "good enough" for heaven. It's easy to convince ourselves that we've done all our studying in the past - we've already developed our convictions - and therefore, have nothing more to learn...or change. It's easy to think "we got this." Heaven's a sure thing for us, right?

There's nothing wrong with conviction and confidence (1 John 5:13), but there is something wrong with arrogance, close-mindedness and complacency. Don't let it happen to you. Continue to examine your faith, to pray for wisdom, to diligently study the Scriptures. Don't give up. Don't think that you're beyond change or repentance. Don't think that you have it ALL figured out.

Of course, we all think of ourselves as open-minded. But that's a lot easier said than done.
"Till I come, give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy and the laying on of the hands of the eldership. Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all. Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you" (1 Tim. 4:13-16).

Monday, March 3, 2014

What Constitutes An Assembly?

“Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says. And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church” (1 Corinthians 14:34-35).
The above text from 1 Corinthians 14 is very familiar to us. Generally speaking, those in churches of Christ agree that women are not to speak out during what we call the “worship service.” We don’t allow women to give the announcements, lead singing, lead prayer, preach, teach or even speak up publically from where they are sitting. Again, I’m speaking generally here, for certain churches of Christ are a little more lax.

As clear as this might be for most of us regarding the worship service, many wonder how this principle might apply to other such spiritual gatherings. Can women speak up during Bible classes and small group studies? What if the whole church is gathered together, but instead of having a “worship service,” we have a “seminar,” a “congregational class,” or a “Question and Answer period” following a “lecture.” What about congregational business meetings? What about Vacation Bible School or other such special events? Are women permitted to speak publically in such gatherings?

The question that we have to ask ourselves is, “What constitutes the church setting in which women are to keep silent, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35?” If we can come to an understanding of what such an assembly looks like, we will be in a much better position to apply the principle of this text to other types of gatherings. NOTE: From this point forward, to simplify matters, we’re going to refer to this setting as “the assembly.”

There is a Difference

First of all, we must understand that the assembly of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is something specific that can be defined in contrast to other gatherings. We know this because, while women are told to keep silent in this assembly – whatever that is – women are seen throughout the New Testament speaking and even teaching in other kinds of gatherings.

In Acts 5:7-11, Peter asked Sapphira a question in front of a gathering of certain Christians, and she answered. In Acts 9:36-39, certain widows spoke with Peter, and by implication, other disciples, including men, were present. When Peter was freed from prison in Acts 12, he went to the home of Mary, the mother of John, “where many were gathered together praying” (vs. 12). When a young girl named Rhoda answered the door and saw Peter standing before her, she ran in to the gathering and announced his arrival. And most notably, Priscilla assisted her husband in teaching a man named Apollos in Acts 18:26.

On one hand, Christian women spoke up in certain situations and gatherings. On the other hand, 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 commands women to “keep silent in the churches.” It is obvious, then, that the assembly of 1 Corinthians 14 is something specific that can be defined.

What Constitutes an Assembly?

When studying the Bible, we must always interpret specific statements in light of the context. This is a basic principle of hermeneutics that all diligent Bible students accept. I believe that the context of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 defines for us what the assembly here is. In other words, when Paul commands women to keep silent in the churches, he tells us what “the churches” are, or what the assembly is. With that being said, let’s get to it.

A careful reading of 1 Corinthians 14 will make it clear that Paul is speaking of a gathering of Christians. He says in verse 18, “Yet in the church I would rather speak five words with my understanding, that I may teach others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue.” In one sense, the church never ceases to exist. Even during the week when we are all doing our own thing, we are still the church; we are still members of one another, in submission to Christ, our Head (1 Corinthians 12). But there is another sense – a special sense – in which the church is a gathering of the Christians.

But Paul is even more specific in verse 23: “Therefore if the whole church comes together in one place…” Before I get to the main point, there is something I want to clarify…

Regarding the term whole, Paul does not mean that literally every member must be present in order for the assembly to be the assembly. Folks are sometimes sick or out of town. Of course, there are some members who choose not to attend a particular service. We see an example of this in John 20. Following the resurrection of Christ, the Holy Spirit indicates that “the disciples were assembled” (vs. 19) even though Thomas “was not with them” (vs. 24). Was this an assembly? Yes, even though they weren’t ALL present. Likewise, when Paul describes the “whole church” coming together in 1 Corinthians 14, he’s not so much speaking of perfect attendance as he is the intent and collective will of the body. Has the body collectively willed to come together? Is this “the church?”

Now let’s get back to the main point of verse 23. Regarding the assembly, Paul says that it involves the “whole church” coming together “in one place.” Of course, this is inherent in a gathering. People are not gathered together when they are separated or scattered. I’m simply pointing this out because there are folks who might wonder if the “Bible class hour” (as it is traditionally practiced where multiple classes take place simultaneously) constitutes an assembling of the church. If the church is gathered together in one place for such a class, then yes, it is an assembly, but if the church is NOT gathered together in one place, the classes do not constitute an assembly of the church.

Paul does specify what he means by “one place.” Throughout the chapter, he is speaking of the kind of gathering where “the whole church” can be attentive to the same speakers and activities (we’ll come back to this). In verses 13-16, for example, Paul argues that what is being taught must be coherent and understandable so that those who are present (i.e. the “whole church,” vs. 23) can say ‘Amen’ (or that they can hear and agree with what is being said). In verses 23-25, Paul presents a scenario where an unbeliever comes in (where the “whole church” is gathered in “one place”) and is able to witness what is being said and done. The text says that this unbeliever is “convicted by all.” During the traditional Bible class hour, members are typically scattered in different rooms. Rather than a singular gathering, there are multiple gatherings.

For more on this, see Acts 15. In verse four, we learn that Paul and Barnabas were “received by the church and the apostles and elders.” In verse six, we’re told that “the apostles and elders came together to consider this matter. Then, in verse 22, we read that “it pleased the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas…” The church was assembled at various points here, but was not assembled when the issue itself was addressed by a specific group within the church. Again, when we come together as a church and then split up into different gatherings, we are no longer the assembled church (in the sense of 1 Corinthians 14). Multiple gatherings within close proximity of each other do not make it a singular gathering.

Furthermore, the assembly of 1 Corinthians 14 is contrasted with what is done on an individual basis, or in the home. In 1 Corinthians 11 regarding the Lord’s Supper, Paul says, “What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in?” And in verse 34, “But if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, lest you come together for judgment.” In 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, women are told to “keep silent in the churches…And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home.” Although this point has already been inferred, there is a difference between what we do as a collective and what we do on an individual level.

If I have some folks over in my home on a Friday night to sing or engage in a small group study, it is clear that the church is not acting for the “whole church” is not gathered in “one place.” Granted, the whole church CAN be gathered in my home, but in the scenario described above, that is not the case. The examples mentioned earlier also substantiate this claim. Rhoda interrupted a group of Christians praying in Acts 12. Priscilla aided her husband in teaching Apollos in a small group setting.

So far we have established that the assembly of 1 Corinthians 14 is taking place when the whole church has willed to come together in one place in contrast to what may be taking place separate from the church, in the homes of members. My third point may be the most important one – and this is really the main point of chapter 14.

Not only must the whole church be present, and not only must we be present in one place, we must be collectively focused on the same activities. And by “the same activities,” I do not mean the same kind of activities (I’ll explain this more in just a moment).

Going back to 1 Corinthians 11 where Paul describes the same type of assembly – where, in the context, he is speaking of the Lord’s Supper – he says that we must “wait for one another” (vs. 33). This is the whole church in one place (vs. 20) with one singular focus. They were all to be unified in their observance of the same collective activity. In fact, he rebuked the Corinthians for being divided, for being factious, and for not waiting on each other. In a true assembly, you cannot have different focuses or different gatherings.

Conversely, during the Bible class hour, we can be divided and we are not required to wait on one another, because it’s not an assembly. There are different focuses and gatherings during the traditional Bible class hour, but the assembly, by definition, involves a singular focus and gathering.

In 1 Corinthians 14, this is Paul’s point as well. The Corinthians were perverting the nature of the assembly. Notice what he says in verses 26-31…
“Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret. But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to God. Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge. But if anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent. For you can all prophecy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged”

Paul is teaching us here that in the assembly – when “the whole church comes together in one place” – that there must be complete unity of mind and practice. Specifically, Paul describes a scene where the congregation is tuned in to the same activity, whether it be a psalm, a teaching, a prophecy or a tongue.

Someone might argue that during our traditional Bible class hour, the whole church IS tuned in to the same activity in that we’re all studying the Bible. By that reasoning, the Corinthians could have disagreed with Paul’s words here because all of these different men were teaching/promoting God’s word (the same kind of thing). Again, I’m not saying that we have to be tuned in to the same kind of activity, but to the same activity. During Bible class hour, different men do bring different teachings, and this is permitted because they are teaching different gatherings and those respective gatherings ARE being edified. This same practice isn’t acceptable, however, during the assembly-setting of 1 Corinthians 14.

Finally, it is worth noting that Paul is describing a spiritual assembly where the goal is “the edification of the church” (vs. 5, 12, 26). This wasn’t a potluck. This wasn’t a game day at the local park. This wasn’t a situation where Christians were scattered, having different social conversations (like we do in the foyer after services). This was an assembly where there was a unified focus on spiritual matters – a structured gathering, if you will.

By way of conclusion (on this point), the assembly of 1 Corinthians 14 where women are to keep silent is given the following parameters:
  1. It is a gathering of the church, which requires the collective will of the church to gather, not every person to literally be present.
  2.  It is a gathering of the church “in one place.” Paul further clarifies what he means by describing throughout chapter 14 a scene where all who are present can witness the same activity (not kind of activity).
  3. It is a gathering of the church in contrast to individual or small group gatherings. This simply enhances our understanding of points 1-2.
  4. A singular focus on a singular activity is required. If everyone cannot be tuned in to the same teacher, song leader, prayer, etc., it is not an assembly where women must keep silent. If there are multiple men teaching and leading different activities simultaneously, it is either NOT an assembly, or it is an assembly that has been grossly perverted (hence Paul’s words of admonition for the Corinthians in this chapter).
  5. There is an obviously spiritual purpose with the ultimate goal being “the edification of the church.”
Purpose Doesn’t Matter

It is the belief of many that an assembly ceases being an assembly if we assign it a different name or purpose. For example, women cannot speak during the “worship service,” but if we choose to call it a “Bible class” or “Question and Answer Session,” suddenly women can speak. This is where much of the controversy lies with this issue.

Let me first of all say here that many of our 21st century perceptions of worship are rooted more in tradition than in Scripture. Biblically speaking, how can we distinguish between a Bible class and a worship service (so called) if both scenarios meet the same criteria listed above? We often say that preaching is one of the five acts of worship. Is teaching then an act of worship? Is studying an act of worship? Does the “worship service” cease being worship when the preacher is preaching and the attendees are studying and following along? So how can we call one a worship service and the other a Bible class if both meet the same criteria listed above?

Simply put, Paul does not say that women are to keep silent during the “worship service” and then define the worship service as a service involving certain key acts of worship. He says that women are to keep silent “in the churches” (what we’ve been calling “the assembly”) and he defines that assembly in light of the criteria listed above.

When we have song night – whether it be on Sunday night or Friday night – women are not permitted to speak. We understand this. When we as a church have a special prayer service, women are not permitted to speak. Again, we understand this. When we have a gospel meeting, women are not permitted to speak in the services during the week, even though the Lord’s Supper and collection are not observed. We understand this.

If we make it about the purpose of the assembly, not only does the whole issue become completely and totally subjective, we are actually denying the definition of the assembly in chapter 14. Not to be repetitive, but to make this point very clear: Paul does not assign a particular purpose to the assembly of 1 Corinthians 14 (outside of it being a spiritual, edification-based assembly). Therefore, we cannot say that because we change the purpose of the gathering (from multiple acts of worship to just teaching), the criteria which are actually listed fall by the wayside.

Practical Application & Gray Areas

Like with so many other issues – does the divorce/remarriage controversy ring a bell? – the teaching of Scripture can be very clear, but the application of that teaching can be difficult at times. There are going to be situations where the application of Scripture is very clear, but then there will be situations where it is very difficult to determine how a particular scenario should be governed by the Scriptures. The so-called “gray areas” do not negate what can be clearly explained in the Scriptures, nor do they negate the situations where the practical application is clear. Simply put, we have to apply the teachings of 1 Corinthians 14 to those assemblies that are clearly assemblies, while exercising wisdom in those gray areas.

With the divorce/remarriage issue, we don’t begin by analyzing the emotional nature of a questionable marriage and then reinterpret the Scriptures to appease our emotions. Instead, we begin with the clear teachings of Scripture and do our best to apply them as we can. Let’s do the same thing here before we conclude this article.

What about a congregational class? We cannot say that because it is a Bible class, the rules of 1 Corinthians 14 don’t apply any more than we can say that because it’s a song service, the rules don’t apply. The question is: does the congregational class meet the criteria of chapter 14. Has the church collectively willed to come together for this activity? Yes. Is the church gathering in one place? Yes. Is there a singular, unified focus on the same activity? Yes. Is this a spiritual assembly where edification is the goal (1 Cor. 14:5, 12, 26)? Yes. Is this congregational class indeed a congregational activity, rather than an individual or home activity? Yes. Then it is an assembly, and in such an assembly women are to keep silent.

First of all, as I’ve pointed out many times in this article, our traditional Bible classes do not fall under the umbrella of 1 Corinthians 14 because the church is split up into small groups which each have a different teacher and focus.

What about a small group Bible study or class? Has the church collectively willed to come together? It’s hard to say. Maybe only a few have expressed interest, or maybe this is a special class that the eldership expects all to attend. Is the church gathering in one place? Again, is it a collective church study? In most cases, it isn’t. The study is happening in one place, though; that’s obvious. Is there a singular, unified focus on the same activity? Yes. Is edification the goal? Yes. Is this activity contrasted with a private or home activity? Again, this is what’s in question. The unique circumstances would have to be examined here. But it has been my experience that most small group studies, even though they may be offered in the church building or announced from the pulpit, are nothing more than special studies that only a handful express interest in. If it becomes the collective will of the church and a gathering of the whole church, then it becomes a situation where women are to keep silent.

What about a congregational business meeting? Has the church collectively willed to come together? It’s hard to say. Is the church gathering in one place? Yes. Is there a singular, unified focus on the same activity? Yes. Is edification the goal? Now this is an interesting question as it pertains to this activity. A congregational business meeting is intended to inform the congregation of the administrative business of the church – treasury amount, goals for the year, and so on. Perhaps this makes such a scenario a gray area. This would require deeper study. Finally, is the activity contrasted with private/home activities? Absolutely.

What about VBS or Youth Lectureships? Without being repetitive, the issue here is whether or not these are collectively-willed assemblies of the church in one place with a singular focus on the same activity?

What other scenarios can you think of? Simply ask the following questions to determine if it’s a situation in which women may speak, may not speak, or if it’s a gray area:
  1. Has the church collectively willed to come together?
  2. Is the church gathering in one place?
  3. Is this a collective gathering rather than a private or home gathering?
  4. Is there a singular, unified focus on the same activity?
  5. Is it a spiritual assembly where edification is the goal?
A Final Word

This is not an OVERLY-analytical or unreasonable approach to the question of what constitutes an assembly. All I’ve done in this article is combed through the context of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 to determine what Paul intended when he spoke of an assembly in which women are to remain silent. Context is key. This is what we have to do with all such issues. It is not Pharisaical or improper to carefully seek a Scriptural answer to a Scriptural question. If such an approach is wrong, then we are approaching a lot of other issues incorrectly as well (i.e. plurality of elders, the nature of church-sponsored benevolence, institutionalism, just to name a few). Should we shun verse-by-verse studies? Should we object when someone appeals to the Greek to make their point? Of course not. I think we understand that such a careful, diligent approach is, in fact, essential to our pursuit of truth.

Ultimately, we have to begin with the Scriptures and understand the Scriptures before we can delve into scenarios (where there is often emotional attachment or concern). If and when a situation is “gray,” we must exercise wisdom…and I would add caution. If a scenario is on the verge of being an assembly (per 1 Cor. 14), it might be best to structure it so that women cannot speak…lest the consciences of certain brethren be offended, or lest visitors misunderstand.  Of course, neither can we bind where God has not bound.

I realize that there are other questions concerning 1 Corinthians 14:34-35. To address these concerns, I have written two short addendum articles (beginning on the next page). Having said that, I hope that this article has adequately answered the question at hand. As always, if you have any questions, comments or disagreements, please let me know.


ADDENDUM #1: Many argue that Paul, in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, is not speaking to women in general, but to prophetesses specifically. This conclusion is reached because so much of the chapter has to do with miraculous gifts. It is thus concluded that because the miraculous gift of prophecy has ceased, this passage no longer applies. While it is true that miraculous gifts such as tongues and prophecy are under consideration in 1 Corinthians 14, it is far from conclusive that the women of vs. 34 were prophetesses or tongue-speakers. There are two places in the New Testament where prophetesses are mentioned. In Luke 2:36, we read about “Anna, a prophetess,” and in Acts 21:8-9, we read of Philip’s “four virgin daughters who prophesied.” In both cases, it is explicitly stated that these women had the gift of prophecy. This is not the case in 1 Corinthians 14:34. Paul speaks generically of women (not prophetesses) and their natural, submissive role. Finally, I will add that it’s improper to connect every detail of this chapter to the theme of miraculous gifts because Paul is really speaking more about an orderly assembly (with “edification” being the objective).  To limit this text to prophetesses and thus to negate its modern application requires us to make assumptions which cannot be proven.

ADDENDUM #2: Others argue that Paul is only speaking of married women in verses 34-35. After all, Paul says in verse 35, “And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church” (NKJV). While this conclusion is certainly understandable, there are two points that we must understand in response. First, the Greek word for husbands (vs. 35) is aner and is actually a generic term which is often translated “men” in the New Testament. So Paul could have been just as easily telling these women in Corinth to “ask their own [men] at home…” This brings me to my second point: in the first century (as with most ancient cultures), women did not generally live independently. Young women remained at home under the guardianship of their fathers, grandfathers and brothers until they got married (see 1 Cor. 7:36-38); then they would be under the guardianship of their husband. So Paul, in verses 34-35, is not speaking only of married women; he is speaking of all women (in that culture). Rather than speak out in the assembly, these women were to ask their men at home, or on a private basis, separate from the assembly. Paul never intended to word this in such a way so as to permit certain women to speak out in the assembly; what he wrote did apply to all women in that culture, in that time. If women happen to be independent today (without any Christian men in their private/personal lives), rather than assume that this passage has no application for them, it is better to assume that they simply need to find a Christian man that they can speak with on a private basis (if they have questions regarding the teachings of the assembly).