This month: 187 - The Importance of Relationships
Exploring the Heart of Restoration

Remember Me    Register ›

John Mark Hicks

John Mark Hicks has taught in institutions affiliated with Churches of Christ for thirty-two years. He currently lives in Nashville, TN and is Professor of Theology at Lipscomb University. John Mark was born in Ft. Sumner, New Mexico. His father (Mark N. Hicks) and mother (Edith Lois Hicks) were Texans who moved in the 1950s to Virginia to plant a church (though they were back in New Mexico in 1957 for a few years where John Mark was born). John Mark grew up in Virginia, spending his teen years in the Washington, D.C. area. He received his A.A. in German and his B.A. in Bible from Freed-Hardeman University (1977), his M.A.R. in Theological Studies from Westminster Theological Seminary (1979), his M.A. in Humanities (Philosophy) from Western Kentucky University (1980) and his Ph.D. in Reformation and Post-Reformation Studies from Westminster Theological Seminary (1985). He has taught at Alabama Christian School of Religion (1982-1989), Magnolia Bible College (1989-1991), Harding University Graduate School of Religion (1991-2000 fulltime; 2000-present adjunct), and Lipscomb University (2000-present). He has also adjuncted at Northeastern Christian College, Christian Brothers University, Abilene Christian University, Rochester College, and Institute for Christian Theology and Minstry (St. Petersburg, Russia). He has published numerous articles, both popular and scholarly, contributed to fifteen books and authored (co-authored) an additional eleven. His third book (the first two, written as as a teenager, are best forgotten) was Yet Will I Trust Him: Understanding God in a Suffering World (Joplin, MO: College Press, 1999). This was followed by a small group study version published as Anchors for the Soul: Trusting God in the Storms of Life (College Press, 2001). He has also written a 600+ page commentary on 1 & 2 Chronicles in the College Press NIV Commentary series (2001). His most recent publications are Come to the Table: Revisioning the Lord’s Supper (Orange, CA: New Leaf Press, 2002), Down in the River to Pray: Revisioning Baptism as God’s Transforming Work (with Greg Taylor; Siloam Springs: Leafwood Publishers, 2004), and A Gathered People: Revisioning the Assembly as Transforming Encounter (with Bobby Valentine and Johnny Melton; Abilene: Leafwood Publishers, 2007). These three works are an attempt to “revision” the traditional Stone-Campbell ordinances (or sacraments) as divine means of grace by which humans encounter God’s transforming power; the ordinances (or sacraments) are theocentric rather than anthropocentric. In 2006, John Mark also published Kingdom Come: Embracing the Spiritual Legacy of David Lipscomb and James Harding (with Bobby Valentine; Abilene: Leafwood Publishers, 2006). In 2011, John Mark released a Kindle version of his Meeting God at the Shack: A Journey into Spiritual Recovery (also on Nook) based upon his theological and pastoral analysis of William Young’s The Shack. In addition to various ministry positions in Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Alabama and Mississippi, he has served as a church planter from 1998-2000 (Cordova Community Church, a church of Christ in Cordova, TN), Adult Education Minister at the Ross Road Church of Christ in Memphis, TN (1991-1998 ) and Adult Education Minister for the Woodmont Hills Church of Christ in Nashville, TN (2001-2006). In addition, John Mark was the interim preaching minister for the Sycamore View Church of Christ in Memphis, TN from January to November in 2007. He has lectured widely across 40 states and 20 countries (Japan, Korea, Uganda, Greece, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, Croatia, Italy, Ukraine, Jamaica, England, Wales, Russia, Guatelmala and Honduras). John Mark married Sheila Christian Pettit on May 22, 1977. She died due to complications from back surgery in Ellijay, Georgia, on April 30, 1980. John Mark married Barbara Adcox in 1983 but they separated and divorced in 2001 with great heartache as all divorces entail. He has two living children–Ashley (31) and Rachel (25), three grandchildren–Neely (7), Norah (3) and Jonah (6 months)–and two deceased children–one was a miscarriage with Sheila and the other with Barbara named Joshua Mark Hicks who died on May 21, 2001 at the age of sixteen after a long struggle with the genetic condition called Sanfillippo Syndrome. On December 20, 2002, John Mark married Jennifer and now shares responsibility for a blended family that includes Jennifer’s three children: Lauren Bristol (25), Michael Bristol (23), and Lacey Bristol (18). Jennifer also lost a child, Leah, in 1994 by stillbirth. Jennifer serves on the board of Share in Nashville which is a national organization that gives care to families who have experienced the loss of an infant child. Jennifer is a nurse clinical instructor for Vanderbilt University and donates two mornings a month to serving the poor at Siloam a non-profit medical clinic. Oh, last but not the least important–I am a Chicago Cubs fan…diehard and waiting for the inbreaking of Cub Kingdom to dominate the baseball world…or at least win a World Series once every 100 years.

Homepage: http://johnmarkhicks.com/

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.

Matthew 28:19-20a

The imperative to “make disciples” is part of Jesus’s last words to his disciples in the Gospel of Matthew. The following two participles (baptizing and teaching) are instrumental in this process. In part, disciples are made by baptizing them into the community of the Father, Son, and Spirit, and they are also continuously formed (made) by teaching them to follow what Jesus taught.

Baptism is a dynamic movement into the life of God. Disciples are baptized into the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit. It is a movement into (which is literally what the text says; e.g. ASV) the communion of God, which gives disciples a sense of belonging to the family of the one (“name,” not names) God of Israel. Baptism is our entrance into the community of God to live among the people of God in the church of Jesus Christ (Matthew 16:18; 18:17).

Teaching is also a dynamic activity. Discipling is a process that not only begins before baptism but continues after it. Disciples are formed by teaching that is based on the life and words of Jesus. This includes—if it is not, in fact, the focus—the teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, which concludes with a call to the wise living, which is obedience to the words of Jesus. Disciples of Jesus teach the teachings of Jesus (Matthew 7:24-29).

Discipling is not limited to one class or group within the community of God.

The heirs of the Restoration Movement have long recognized that baptism is not a clerical act, limited to the clergy in the community. We have wonderfully modeled the priesthood of all believers by affirming everyone’s privilege to baptize another, particularly one whom they have led to Christ. As Alexander Campbell said, “When then any one desires baptism, any one to whom he applies may administer it” (Campbell-Rice Debate, p. 580).  There are no clerical boundaries to baptizing another, though pragmatically this often fell to the “preacher” in many congregations.

But the priesthood of all believers disappears when gender is introduced into the discussion. And the exclusion of women from baptizing anyone has a long history in the Restoration Movement. For example, Campbell also said, “We never, by word or action, sanctioned either females or minors as baptists” (p. 584). There are, it is argued, no examples of women baptizing anyone. Therefore, women are excluded. (We might remember there are no examples of women eating the Lord’s supper either.)

In effect, this limits Matthew 28:19-20a to males. If women cannot baptize anyone, this means they cannot obey the command of Jesus to “make disciples” in the way Jesus told his disciples to make disciples. Are not women as well as men told to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing. . .”?

Further, to “make disciples” is not only to baptize them but to continue to teach them as well. Yet, the practice of many congregations is not only to exclude women from baptizing but also to exclude them from teaching. This exclusion comes in many forms, and not all exclusivists agree on the degree of the exclusion and its particulars.  This excludes women from private teaching, leading small groups, instructing Bible classes where men are present, and sermons as well as other forms of teaching. Some, however, only exclude women from sermonizing in the assembly, or perhaps even more narrow—speaking authoritatively for the church. In other words, when it comes to identifying the teaching from which women are excluded, it is a continuum of judgments, inferences, and applications.

If women are to make disciples, it is difficult to exclude them from the very process Jesus identified for disciple-making. If Matthew 28:19-20a is a call for disciples to make disciples, it is a call for both men and women to make disciples by baptizing and teaching the discipled.

Women, then, are invited to baptize and teach as part of the discipling ministry of the followers of Jesus.

I realize that the previous sentence is relativized by some who maintain that 1 Timothy 2:12 not only prohibits women from teaching men (in whatever form such teaching is envisioned) but also from having authority over them. Consequently, it is suggested by some that baptism is an authoritative act (bordering on a clericalism) within the community and women cannot, therefore, baptism anyone and certainly not men. A single text, it appears, delimits the disciple-making Jesus commanded on the part of women in the community of God. For some, it excludes them from baptizing anyone, and for many it only excludes them from representing the church through authoritative speech (whatever form that may take).

While this is not the place, due to limitations of space, to seek a better understanding of 1 Timothy 2:12, a few comments are appropriate. The sort of teaching envisioned in 1 Timothy 2 is not disciple-making but abusive domination of another. Paul, it seems to me, forbids some women, who had been deceived by false teachers, from aggressively attempting to persuade men. They were belligerently overwhelming others and leading them into the clutches of Satan by spreading false myths rather than submitting to the truth of the gospel, the mystery of godliness. (For more on this way of reading 1 Timothy 2:12, see my video here:

To use 1 Timothy 2:12 to limit women in disciple-making, whether in baptizing others or teaching others, is not only to abuse 1 Timothy 2:12 but to subvert the commission of Jesus intended for his disciples, both men and women. I see no reason to delimit or restrict the meaning of the word “teach” in Matthew 28:20. Women are authorized to teach, and the only text that might say otherwise is filled with difficulties of language, grammar, context, and meaning. It seems to me, Matthew 28:19-20 provides the horizon for all disciple-making, baptizing and teaching.

In answer to the call of Jesus, everyone, both male and female, may baptize and teach others. Everyone is called to make disciples.

Revelation 20 is uncertain and potentially dangerous ground upon which to walk. To comment on it assumes so much. It assumes a particular way of reading the whole apocalyptic drama. It assumes a particular structure to the book. Consequently, there are many ambiguities, varied understandings, and even some nasty polemical controversies associated with this text.

Nevertheless, I will venture into these choppy waters in order to make a very specific point based upon my understanding of this text. And I do so only to share a pastoral meditation that I find quite meaningful.

In Revelation 20:1-3, Satan is bound. Whatever that means, it means he is not destroyed but only limited. Simultaneously, in Revelation 20:4-6, the martyred saints (those beheaded) and others who have overcome (they did not worship the beast) reign with Christ on thrones. Those who overcome are promised earlier in Revelation that they will sit down with Christ on his throne–it is a co-regency (cf. Rev. 3:21). They share in the glory of the kingdom of God. These thrones, as are all thrones in Revelation, participate in heavenly glory–they exist in the throne room of God, in the heavenly sanctuary, the heavenly dwelling place of God.

These saints (“souls”) participate in the “first resurrection.” This resurrection is described at the end of verse 4 as: “they came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years.” I believe this an affirmation, similar to the picture in Revelation 7 or Revelation 14:13, that those who have passed from earth to heaven, those who have died in the Lord actually come to life when they pass through the portals of death. When the saints of God die, they come to life. They enter the presence of God and reign with Christ on his throne. They are seated on thrones surrounding God’s own throne. They share the heavenly glory of Christ himself.

The “rest of the dead” –apparently those who do not share in that glory–do not “come to life” until the judgment day when everyone experiences the “second resurrection” (or the resurrection from the dead where bodies are raised to meet God). I tend to think that the righteous dead, according to this text, live with Christ, but the unrighteous dead (the rest of the dead) are not conscious of their state until the “second resurrection” (that is, the general resurrection of the dead when all will be raised with bodies once again). However, I am more confident about my conclusion regarding those who died in the Lord than those who did not.

Those who participate in the “first resurrection” will not participate in the “second death.” The “first” and “second” imply a contrast with missing components. What is the “first” death and the “second” resurrection? I believe the first death is physical death. The souls enthroned with Christ experienced the first death but as participants in the “first resurrection” they will not experience the “second death.” These “souls,” however, await the newness of creation–the time when creation will be renewed, including their own bodies in a (second) resurrection. The “new heavens and new earth” will appear along with a “new Jerusalem.” This newness is the (second) resurrection of the cosmos–a renewed creation with renewed, transformed bodies in which the saints participate.

Where are the saints who have died in the Lord? They have experienced the first resurrection. They came alive in their death. They live in the presence of God, reigning with Christ as they await the final consummation; as they await the renewed heaven and earth. They are not dead, but alive. But they are not yet complete, not yet all that God intends them to be. They are waiting for the new heavens and new earth just as those living upon the earth do. Even though they died, yet do they still live!

Thanks be to God!

Don’t miss the first three parts of this series
Part 1 – Where are the Dead? Before the Throne!
Part 2 – Where are the Dead? The Church Bears Witness Before the Empire
Part 3 –

The church has heard some rather ominous words in the past two chapters (12 & 13). A powerful dragon is making war against God’s saints. The dragon has empowered two monsters—one from the sea and the other from the earth—to exercise the dragon’s authority upon the earth. They are given the power to conquer or overcome the saints, that is, to kill them. While the dragon cannot dethrone God’s Messiah or destroy the church as a whole, the saints are vulnerable. The church is suffering and will continue to suffer from the dragon’s war.

As previously in chapter seven, Revelation 14 answers the question that must have dominated the minds of these persecuted saints. Where is the victory in this suffering? It appears that the unholy trinity of dragon and two beasts has the upper hand. They are conquering (overcoming) the people of God. But that is a limited perspective. It is blinded to the reality of the throne room of God. And John now sees that reality…he looked, and “behold”…he sees an amazing scene.

On Mount Zion, the heavenly throne room, John sees the Lamb standing with the 144,000 who had been previously sealed in Revelation 7 with the name of the Lamb and the Father on their foreheads. These are those who refused the mark of the beast and welcomed the mark of the Lamb and his Father. Their refusal to receive the mark of the beast entailed suffering, including economic and social marginalization as well as martyrdom.

The 144,000 are no longer on the earth as they were in Revelation 7. They are now “before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders.” They have been ransomed or redeemed “from the earth” and “from humanity” as “firstfruits for God and the Lamb.” These are those who, having emerged from their earthly trials through suffering and martyrdom, are now present in the heavenly throne room praising God. They have joined the great multitude. They have been redeemed through suffering rather than from suffering. Redeemed from the earth, they now inhabit the God’s dwelling in heaven and John hears their singing.

Their praise thunders across heaven. It is loud and chilling. The sounds were like rushing waters and cracking thunder. The sound is musical–the song is accompanied by harps. The sounds of harps and voices reverberate throughout the heavenly throne room. It is sung by redeemed humanity. Their singing is harmonious, like a single voice (sound) even though sung by 144,000. The number is, of course, symbolic, but they sing a new song as if they were one voice (not voices). They sing about their redemption. Though martyred, they have overcome, just like the Lamb who was also slain by the dragon.

John’s description highlights their faithfulness. Like a mighty army raised to defend the kingdom of God, the redeemed are “virgins” and truthful. The reference to virginity probably alludes to the practice of readied armies avoiding sexual liaisons as they prepare for battle. The parallelism in the text indicates that the point is faithfulness.

Those redeemed from the earth were virgins who did not defile themselves.

These are those who follow the Lamb wherever he goes.

Those redeemed from humanity are those who were blameless because they did not lie.

“Redeemed” from the earth or humanity parallel each other just as “blameless” and “virgins” parallel each other. So also, “did not defile themselves” parallels the fact that they did not lie. The central point is that they follow the Lamb.  They are the Lamb’s army that follows the Lamb into battle, and they do battle through suffering. The defeat the dragon and his beasts through martyrdom. They overcome the enemy when the beasts overcome them. They win the battle, and consequently sing a victory song on heavenly shores, because they follow the Lamb to death. They suffer just as the Lamb suffered. They are faithful witnesses like the Lamb.

The martyrs, and other suffering saints, are the firstfruit of a harvest dedicated to God and the Lamb. The firstfruit is the first of the harvest. The harvest is the full number of the saints whom God will receive into the heavenly throne room, and they are a number that cannot be counted (cf. Revelation 7:9-17). As history proceeds, more will join their number. The 144,000–the suffering saints of the seven churches of Asia or the church in the Roman empire–is the firstfruit of a larger harvest to come.

As a harvest, they are offered to God and the Lamb. They are, in effect, a sacrificial offering. They sacrifice their lives for the sake of the kingdom of God, and now they sing their victory song standing by the slain Lamb in the throne room of God.

Despite appearances, then, the beasts do not win. They may overcome and kill saints as the dragon wages war through them, but the martyrs find themselves in the throne room of God singing redemption songs. They inhabit Mt. Zion. They sing before the throne. They stand with the Lamb that was slain. They wear the victory wreaths, not the beasts.

Martyrs continue as even now Iranian Christians are persecuted by the powers. Martyrs abound in Pakistan where assemblies of believers are violently assaulted. The harvest is not yet complete. The conflict between the dragon and the people of God continues. May God have mercy.

Don’t miss the first two parts of this series
Part 1 – Where are the Dead? Before the Throne!
Part 2 – Where are the Dead? The Church Bears Witness Before the Empire

On the heels of John’s prophetic commission in Revelation 10:8-11, he is tasked with measuring the temple of God but not its outer court (Revelation 11:1-13). The prophetic message of Revelation 11 envisions a period of time when God’s people will faithfully witness before the nations. Indeed, the “two witnesses” will imitate the pattern of the Lamb–they will prophesy, they will be martyred, and they will be vindicated through resurrection and ascension. The faithful witness of the church follows the pattern of the Lamb, and God does not abandon the witnesses.

Just as the interlude between the sixth and seventh seals focused on sealed but suffering believers (Revelation 7), so this interlude between the sixth and seventh trumpets reveals a  suffering church. The interludes address the situation of the church in the midst of a hostile but collapsing empire. The hope of believers is victory, and their role is faithful witness.

There are some difficult problems of interpretation in Revelation 11. What is the temple? What is the outer court? Who are the “two witnesses”? What is the “great city” that, in part, collapses? One’s general approach to Revelation will, in large measure, determine the answers to these questions. There is little need to argue this in detail here, but it is important to understand the flow of the drama pictured.

The first moment in the drama is the measurement of the temple. This imagery is drawn from Ezekiel 40:3 and Zechariah 2:1-5. God declares ownership; the temple belongs to the one who sits on the throne. The owner measures the temple. But where is this temple? The other use of “temple” in Revelation 11:19 which places the temple “in heaven.” Temple imagery in Revelation is always located “in heaven,” that is, in God’s throne room. Much like Revelation 7:9-17, God’s temple and its worshippers are protected and victorious. Nothing will assault the throne room of God. The temple, then, are–analogous to the great multitude in Revelation 7–the people of God gathered before the throne of God.

However, the “outer court” of the temple is unmeasured. Rather, it will be given over to the nations who will trample not only it but the whole “holy city for 42 months.”  The adjective “holy” indicates that we are still talking about the people of God. In one perspective, they are protected (sealed upon the earth in 7:1-8), but from another perspective they are under attack.  Indeed, the beast from the Abyss kills the two witnesses (11:7). The imagery is drawn from Daniel 7:21-25. In the second century B.C. Antiochus Epiphanes waged war against the saints and trampled the temple in Jerusalem for a “time, times, and a half” (or 3 and 1/2 years; cf. Daniel 12:5-6). In Revelation 11 the beast makes war against the outer court and the holy city, including the two witnesses. This war will only last for a limited time (1260 days or 3 and ½ years). The powers wage war against the church and are able to inflict suffering (martyrdom). The beast (the nations) trample the people of God (the outer court) but the beast cannot destroy the temple (the inner court or sanctuary).

The “two witnesses” are prophetic figures (11:10). Their description draws heavily on prophetic images in the Hebrew Bible.  Like Elijah, and John the Baptist, they wear sackcloth. Like Moses, they turn water into blood and strike the earth with plagues. Like Elijah, they stop the rain. Like Jeremiah, they breathe fire (Jeremiah 5:14). Like Zerubbabel and Joshua the High Priest, they are God’s anointed olive trees to serve the whole earth (Zechariah 4). They are lampstands. The two prophets represent the church. The Torah requires two witnesses for convicting testimony (Deuteronomy 19:15). The church has a prophetic role in the world.

Their testimony, however, comes at a cost. The two witnesses are killed by the beast and their bodies are left exposed in the “great city.” Every use of the “great city” in Revelation refers to the hostile empire that oppresses the followers of the Lamb (16:19; 17:18; 18:10, 16, 18, 19, 21). This “great city” is not the “holy city.”  The “holy city” is the church which is trampled by the nations while the “great city” is the hostile empire–empires like Sodom, Egypt, and Rome. The reference to “where also their Lord was crucified” does not mean the literal city in which Jesus died but rather the “great city” that killed Jesus, that is, Rome. The two witnesses will suffer the same fate as their Lord; they will die at the hands of a cruel empire, Rome. Just as Rome crucified the Lamb in Jerusalem, so Rome will display the death of Christian martyrs as spectacles of its power within the empire (the “great city”).

“The inhabitants of the earth,” that is, the followers of the beast, who come from every “people, tribe, language, and nation” (like victorious believers in Revelation 7 who also come from the same) rejoice over the death of the two witnesses. They glory in the death of the martyrs. It is part of their festive activities as they give gifts to each other. In this, one hears an allusion to the games in which Christians were martyred during the Roman empire.

But the church itself–the two witnesses who are martyred–is vindicated. The dead witnesses are raised and ascend into heaven in a cloud.  The witnesses follow the pattern of the Lamb–witness, death, resurrection, and ascension. In other words, like the 144,000, as they pass through the trials and overcome through faith, they are received into the throne room of God as victors (cf. Revelation 7:9-17). The witnesses defeat the empire through martyrdom. The witnesses join the assembly around the throne in God’s heavenly temple. This is their “resurrection.” This is not a picture of their literal bodily resurrection, but–like Revelation 7–the movement of the witnesses from earth to heaven, from suffering to victory in the throne room of God (that is, the heavenly temple).

The church is God’s prophetic witness against empires. This is part of its role in the present chaotic world. The witness is not about predicting specific facts or imperial history about the future, but it is a witness that proclaims that the kingdoms of this world will become the kingdom of God. It is a witness that opposes violence, idolatry, and immorality. It is a witness that God will judge the empires because of their greed, violence, and oppressive power.

But empires kill peacemakers. Rome crucified Jesus and martyred his followers. Empires still kill peacemakers. Empires still oppose the church’s witness. Unfortunately, the church often silences its own witness in the wake of imperial holidays, pledges of allegiance, and imperial benefaction (giving credit to the empire for peace and safety rather than to God). Followers of the Lamb oppose empires and bear witness against its imperial designs. Like the Lamb, they may suffer and die for that witness, but like the Lamb, God will vindicate them and receive faithful witnesses into the throne room as victors in the conflict between good and evil.

If you missed part 1: you can read that here “Where are the Dead? Before the Throne!”

Humanity, in terms of its own resources, stands before death helpless and hopeless. It seems like our loved ones pass into nothingness as we are separated from their presence. But the death and resurrection of Jesus testify to a different reality that God will actualize in the new heaven and new earth–victory over the grave and embodied, resurrected immortality. God provides the help and hope.

And yet as we lower our loved ones into the grave, death stings us with their absence and stirs doubt, curiosity, and anxiety. This separation generates questions. Where did they go? What are they experiencing? Am I still connected with them in some way other than my memories and yearnings?

I imagine the Christians of Asia Minor experienced similar anxieties and questions as they witnessed the martyrdom of friends and family in the late first century. The Revelation of Jesus Christ, at least in part, addresses these anxieties and questions as a way of encouraging the patient endurance of God’s people in the midst of the trial that encompassed them (Rev. 3:10).

The trial entailed the seven-fold unsealing of a scroll, the announcement of a judgment the scroll contained, and the implementation of that judgment through the pouring out of the bowls of wrath (Rev. 4-16). John watches this drama unfold from the divine throne room (Rev. 4:2).

Before judgment is executed, the servants of God upon the earth are “sealed” (marked for protection). Though the earth experiences God’s testing, the people of God upon the earth (the church militant) are hedged by God’s loving care (Rev. 7:1-8).

But there is another group pictured in Revelation 7. This group is not upon the earth but is in the throne room of God. This “great multitude” stands “before the throne and in front of the Lamb” (Rev. 7:9). They are adorned in their white robes (cleansed purity) and hold palm branches (festive joy) in their hands.

Who are they? “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation” (Rev. 7:14). These have passed through the trial–those who were martyred for the testimony of Jesus, those who overcame through their faithful obedience to the testimony of Jesus, and those who followed the Lamb. They “died in the Lord” (Rev. 14:13). They have moved from earth to the throne room. They came through the trial into the presence of God. They have passed through the doors of death into the heavenly throne room.

They presently experience that throne room. They stand before the one on the throne and serve God day and night. “Never again” will they hunger or thirst or experience trial. The Lamb is their shepherd and provides all they will ever need. God has wiped away all their tears.

This picture encourages readers who still live upon the earth undergoing trials. The vision bears witness to the reality of their passage from earth to heaven. The vision encourages faithfulness and endurance as it assures the people of God of the journey through death (out of the tribulation) into the presence of God.

I believe it provides a glimpse into the experience of those who have died in the Lord. They presently serve God before the heavenly throne. The Lamb is with them before that throne. They share life with the angelic hosts, and they sing, “Holy, Holy, Holy” with the heavenly chorus.

This has a pastoral purpose. The text is not explicitly concerned to offer a particular understanding of or theorize about the “intermediate state.” Rather, it has the pastoral function of assuring those upon the earth about the reality of post-death experiences in the presence of God. It promotes endurance and faithfulness. It comforts the people of God as they face death.

In the light of this text (and I know there are quibbles and alternative readings), I often meditate on the experience of my loved ones. I imaginatively and contemplatively join them around the throne of God. I am comforted by their experience, or, better, I am comforted by the divine faithfulness that not only fills me with the Holy Spirit but also shepherds my loved ones in God’s own presence. That presence here and there connects me with them. Divine presence is my link to them, particularly through the communion of the Holy Spirit.

I know who they are. They are my father, my wife, my son. Where are they? They have moved from here to there, from this earthly existence into the throne room of God. And they are swaying their festive palm branches in praise of the one who sits on the throne and the Lamb.

Yes, they are there. But they have not yet experienced all that God has in store for them or us. There is more to come, something even better, in the new heaven and new earth.

These are brief: one tidbit each from the Hebrew Bible, the writings of the New Testament, and from the history of Churches of Christ.

Hebrew Bible

When Nehemiah finished building the wall, he appointed gatekeepers to watch over the entrances to the city and Levitical singers to serve in the temple (Nehemiah 7:1). Most of these singers were descendants of Asaph, who was one of the leading musicians and a prophet from the time of David (1 Chronicles 16:7; 2 Chronicles 29:30) as well as the author of several Psalms (50 and 73, for example). The Levitical singers, including Asaph’s descendants, led the worship of Israel (2 Chronicles 5:12; 35:15).

Nehemiah’s singers numbered two hundred and forty-five, and they included “both male and female” (Nehemiah 7:67). Women were part of the Levitical choir that led the worship of Israel at the temple. In other words, women were on the praise team!

New Testament

Why did God incarnate as a male? That is a good question.

Perhaps we don’t really know. Nevertheless, given that God decided to become human, God must become a particular human. That is, God must dwell in the flesh in a particular geographical location, as a particular ethnicity, and as a particular sex. But the point is not that God in the flesh represents only male Jews who live in Palestine but that God in the flesh represents all humans. The incarnate Christ is the image of God, and we are all being conformed to the image of Christ whether male or female, whether Jew or Gentile, whether slave or free. The particularity of the incarnation, necessary for authentic existence as a human being, does not limit its meaning for all human beings.

Nevertheless, whatever reasons we might assign to God’s incarnation as a male, they do not imply that only males are gifted for leadership any more than God’s incarnation as a Jew implies that only Jews are gifted for leadership. Jesus, as human, represents all human beings.

History

In 1848, John R. Howard published what became a popular and influential sermon entitled “The Church of Christ Identified.” He listed the “original marks” of the true church, including such things as Christ as founder, no creed but the Bible, terms of admission (faith, repentance, confession, baptism), and weekly Lord’s supper. Interestingly, one of the marks “of the true church of Christ” was that it would be organized  with “certain officers,” including “1. Bishops, or elders; 2. Deacons and deaconesses, 3. Evangelists.”

Howard was not alone but stating a common orthopraxy among congregations in the early Restoration Movement (or, Stone-Campbell Movement). Other advocates for deaconesses included Alexander Campbell, Walter Scott, Tolbert Fanning, Robert Richardson, Robert Milligan, Moses Lard, J. M. Barnes, E. G. Sewell, C. R. Nichol, G. C. Brewer, J. Ridley Stroop, and J. D. Thomas. This was a strong tradition within the Restoration Movement in the nineteenth century, but it died out in the early 20th century even though some prominent ministers thought it was an approved office in the church.

Why did it die out? The influence of David Lipscomb and J. W. McGarvey weighed heavily as they understood only men could serve as such. The rise of women’s suffrage and the emergence of the “New Woman” movement in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries probably shaped the response of churches who were threatened by those movements. They circled the wagons and excluded women from the diaconate. Yet, the church has always been filled with women deaconesses even if they were not permitted to wear the name. Churches may not have honored the office, but God still gave the gift.

These are brief: one tidbit each from the Hebrew Bible, the writings of the New Testament, and from the history of Churches of Christ.

Hebrew Bible

Psalm 68 celebrates the movement of Israel from Egypt (v. 7) to Sinai (v. 8) and then victory in Canaan (vv. 9-14) whereupon God ascends to the throne on Mount Zion (vv. 15-18).

Paul uses Psalm 68 to describe the ascension and enthronement of Jesus in Ephesians 4:8. Jesus, released from the grave, ascended to the throne and gave gifts to the church through the pouring out of the Holy Spirit.

Psalm 68:11 reads: “The Lord gives the command; great is the company of those who bore the tidings.” In the ancient Greek translation, the word “bore the tidings” is the same word as in the New Testament that describes “preaching the gospel” (euaggelizomenoi). They preached the good news.

In Hebrew, unlike in the Greek translation, that word is feminine. In other words, the Psalm envisions a great company of women who declare the good news! In the light of Paul’s application of Psalm 68 to the ascension of Christ, we may hear an echo of the gifting of women to preach the gospel.

New Testament

Why did Jesus choose only male apostles? This is a good and important question.

It seems rather obvious that twelve is a number that reflects Israel’s twelve patriarchs, the twelve sons of Jacob. Twelve male apostles underscores continuity with Israel and also the renewal of Israel.

The twelve apostles were free Jewish men, and the apostleship before Pentecost was limited to those categories. However, Pentecost changed this. While the twelve retained a unique honor in the Christian community, after Pentecost the gifting of apostles, prophets, and evangelists (preachers of the gospel) also extended to slave as well as free, Gentile as well as Jew, and women as well as men. The pouring of the Spirit in Acts 2, in fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy, enlarged the community of gifted leadership from free Jewish men to even enslaved Gentile women.

The gifts given to the church in Ephesians 4 include apostles (Junia was an apostle, Romans 16:7), prophets (Philip’s daughters were prophets, Acts 21:9), and women preached the gospel (the men and women who were scattered went preaching the word, Acts 8:2-4).

Pentecost shifted the dynamics. Those once excluded were now included, and those once unchosen were now chosen. Slaves, Gentiles, and women were now empowered and gifted to participate in the mission of God.

History

C. R. Nichol, a renowned and beloved conservative among Churches of Christ, published an important book in 1938 entitled God’s Woman.

Nichol advocated for female deacons from 1 Timothy 3, underscored that women prayed and prophesied (taught!) in the public assembly of the church in 1 Corinthians 11, and affirmed that women have the right to teach men in a Bible class when the church gathered. While he also taught a kind of patriarchy, he did not believe this eliminated the female voice from the assembly or excluded them from teaching men. His book, with a few exceptions, was well-received. But its views did not win out in the end, and most Churches of Christ silenced the female voice in the assembly and in teaching men (including, teaching eleven year old baptized males).

These are brief: one tidbit each from the Hebrew Bible, the writings of the New Testament, and from the history of Churches of Christ.

Hebrew Bible

Miriam was both a prophet (Exodus 15:20) and a leader (Micah 6:4). She was one of the three people (along with Moses and Aaron) God sent to lead Israel out of Egypt and through the wilderness (Micah 6:4). In addition, she served another role as well:  worship leader.

Once Israel crossed the sea and the Egyptian army was destroyed, Miriam took her tambourine and, with other women, played and danced before the Lord. And “Miriam,” the Bible says, “sang to them.”

Our English translations do not typically specify to whom the “them” refers. Most English readers, in my experience, presume it refers to the women. But the Hebrew text is clear: “them” is masculine. Miriam sang to the men (probably the whole congregation). In other words, Miriam led Israel’s first communal worship after the Exodus. Israel’s first worship leader was a woman!

New Testament

Eve is only named in two passages in the New Testament: 2 Corinthians 11:3 and 1 Timothy 2:13-14. In both passages Eve is mentioned because she was deceived.

Because Eve was deceived, some have thought women are more easily deceived, perhaps (they say) due to their supposed emotional nature, natural instability, or weaker mind. But Paul offers no reason for why Eve was deceived; male interpreters have invented these dubious rationales.  In my experience men are deceived as often as women. In fact, the Bible regularly warns everyone about deception (e.g., Ephesians 5:6). Further, we might even say, Adam was weaker because he ate the fruit even though he was not deceived.

Paul uses Eve as a typology of deceived people. In 2 Corinthians 11:3 whole groups of people (men and women) were deceived like Eve. In 1 Timothy 2:13-14, Eve represents the women in the Ephesian congregation who had been deceived by false teachers. She illustrates the danger present when deceived women lead or teach. That same danger is true for men as well, but the specific situation in Ephesus involved deceived women—some had already been captured by Satan (1 Timothy 5:15). Paul is neither describing every woman nor the nature of women but identifying one woman from the Biblical story who was deceived in order to highlight the local problem in Ephesus. It is not a universal statement about women.

History

Daniel Sommer (1850-1940) was a leader in the conservative wing of the Churches of Christ. In fact, some believe he was the major force in the division of Churches of Christ from the Christian Church through his participation in the Sand Creek Address and Declaration in 1889. Those congregations announced their separation from other congregations who practiced “innovations and corruptions.”

At the same time, Sommer advocated for the “privileges” of women to participate in the public worship assemblies of the church. Though he was not egalitarian (e.g., he did not believe they should preach or rule (elders in the church), he encouraged women to lead prayer and read Scripture in the public assembly. Moreover, he encouraged women to “exhort” the congregation in the public assembly. “If a sister in good standing,” he wrote, “wish to arise in the congregation and offer an exhortation it is her privilege to do” (Octographic Review 44.34 [1901] 1). Apparently, such a practice was not an innovation. Typically, Churches of Christ do not permit any audible participation of women in the public assembly except singing and their good confession at baptism (or perhaps the occasional “amen”), but it has not always been so among us.

These are brief: one tidbit each from the Hebrew Bible, the writings of the New Testament, and from the history of Churches of Christ.

Hebrew Bible

In Genesis 4:1, Eve explodes on the scene East of Eden as one who is already subverting the “man will rule over the woman” script of Genesis 3:16. She names a man!

Eve produced (qanah) a man (ish) with the help of Yahweh. Cain (qayin) is the noun form of qanah, and he is called an ish rather than a child, or a human, or a boy. Eve gave birth to a man, and named the man. Just as Adam named the woman (ishah) “Eve” after God questioned them in the Garden, now Eve names a man (ish) whom she has brought into the world with the help of Yahweh.

This anticipates Paul’s point in 1 Corinthians 11:11-12 where he recognizes the mutual reciprocity between male and female rather than the domination of male over female: “in the Lord, woman is not independent of man nor man independent of woman for just as woman came from man, so man comes through woman; but all things come from God.”

New Testament

In Christ, Paul writes, there is neither Jew nor Gentile, and there is neither slave nor free. Then he also adds a third pair: there is neither male and female. There is no “nor” as in the first two pairs but the conjunction “and.” Why the difference?

Paul writes “male and female” (arsen kai thēlu), which is the precise language that appears in the ancient Greek translation of Genesis 1:27. This is not typical language for Paul who only uses “female” in Romans 1 and nowhere else. He drew it directly from the Genesis 1 creation account. In other words, Paul recalls the creation of humanity as male and female.

This appeal to creation is important because what Paul describes as “in Christ” is part of the “new creation” (Galatians 6:15). This new world renews the partnership of the original creation when “God blessed them” and told “them” to co-create and co-shepherd God’s good creation. In other words, the equality and partnership envisioned in Genesis 1:26-28 is renewed in the new creation.

History

In the nineteenth century, many leading teachers among the churches of Christ believed that 1 Timothy 2:12 had universal application. It was not limited to the assemblies of the church but applied to the whole of society. Consequently, 1 Timothy 2:12 was used to deny women the vote, oppose public speaking by women in any social situation, and reject any kind of public leadership on the part of women.

If the traditional interpretation is correct, they had a point. If the prohibition of 1 Timothy 2:12 is rooted in some kind of “order of creation” (a kind of primogeniture), then it applies universally—whether in the assemblies of the church or in political assemblies. Whatever is rooted in creation applies to every aspect of human life.

It would seem a consistent application of 1 Timothy 2:12—if one thinks this contains a timeless prohibition—excludes women from any public leadership or authority, whether in the church or in society. That is how our “forefathers” read it until women were given the right to vote, hold political office, sit on juries, and become Presidents of universities. Then, we no longer believed that, adjusted our interpretation, and decided that the text only applied to assemblies of the church while continuing to ground the prohibition in some kind of “creation order.”

More next week.

Our Words

The Psalmist confesses Torah, God’s guidance, is both life-affirming (there is great reward in living a wise life) and a warning (there are dangers into which the “simple” might fall).

Indeed, the dangers are so pervasive that they are often hidden from our own eyes. The human ability for self-deception and self-delusion knows no practical limits. Most of our faults, I would guess, are “hidden” from us. We are unaware due to ignorance–ignorance both of the Torah and of our own selves.

The danger is this self-deception can grow into an arrogance, and arrogance leads to presumptuous or defiant behavior.  It leads to willful sin, that is, sin that rebelliously lives outside God’s story. Arrogance presumes that the story (Torah) does not apply to them, and they are the exceptions to the rules a community shares for the sake of the common good.

Because this danger looms large in every heart, the Psalmist asks God to forgive the hidden sins and prevent them from developing into a rebellious attitude. The Psalmist is committed to God’s story and wants to live within it. Yet, the poet knows the dangers and seeks God’s help in cleansing and self-understanding.

Yahweh is the Psalmist’s “rock and redeemer.” The fear of Yahweh is a stable place and a sure foundation upon which to build a life, and though our own self-deception often intrudes and disrupts that life, God is also a redeemer who forgives sin, renews life, and gives joy.

Let us offer our meditations–on creation and Torah–before the Lord, recommit ourselves to wise living in the fear of Yahweh, and humbly submit to God’s guidance.