Menu

What is a church? (7)

The next usage of the words translated for church and assembly appears in Acts 21 and verse 22. In this instance, Paul has reached Jerusalem and has just completed his explanation of the situations that he had come upon as he had been teaching to the non-Jews during his last tour through the churches in Asia and Macedonia. The instructions are for him to offer that he is following the traditions of the Jews so that any arising trouble might be minimized.

On the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present. When he had greeted them, he told in detail those things which God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord. And they said to him, “You see, brother, how many myriads of Jews there are who have believed, and they are all zealous for the law; but they have been informed about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs. What then? The assembly must certainly meet, for they will hear that you have come. Therefore do what we tell you: We have four men who have taken a vow. Take them and be purified with them, and pay their expenses so that they may shave their heads, and that all may know that those things of which they were informed concerning you are nothing, but that you yourself also walk orderly and keep the law. But concerning the Gentiles who believe, we have written and decided that they should observe no such thing, except that they should keep themselves from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality.”

Such things are rarely successful, and they werent in this instance. You might notice that at this suggestion Paul is altogether willing, compliant and also uncharacteristically silent. This is viewed by some as an inconsistency, but it certainly is not that if it is viewed as humble deference to the will of the elders there.

Well close this portion of the examination noting that the fulfillment of this suggestion takes Paul up in a whirlwind first through the hands of the Jews and then last into the grip of the Roman emperor, on a trip of both wonders and sorrow. At the conclusion of these things and of the Book of Acts we see no more of this apostle to the gentiles, but must go to the general epistles and letters to the churches for what remains a glimpse into his later works for God.

There are several mentions of the word for assembly in the last part of Acts and they generally are used of the assemblies of either the Jews in council or otherwise, and of the two assemblies Paul attended before the Roman Procurators in review of Pauls situation (see 23:7 and 25:24).

From this point our examination enters into these letters beyond the book of Acts. Our next mention of the word for church or assembly is found (oddly enough perhaps) in the last chapter of the letter to the church at Rome. Here Paul commends Phoebe as servant of the church, and he notes that the Romans should receive her as such. Some folks would hang their hopes for women as officers in the churches on this passage, and that would probably work if there was no other notice of the qualifications of the office of deacon (or servant). Phoebe was clearly a servant with a particular duty that had been appointed to her at Cenchrea, but this does not of itself mean that she was an officer of a church there, as the role and qualifications of a deacon are clearly set forth in Pauls first letter to Timothy. To suppose this is to commit the apostle to an inconsistency and of giving a command that deacons as officers of the church must indeed be men with wives in one place, while they may be women (with or without husbands?) in another. As God is not the author of confusion, I choose to side with reason and the record, with the office then belonging only to qualified men, while with any specific duties for which individuals may each be qualified belonging to all, as the churches and their leaders may identify and appoint.