Part 3. The Voice Of The Spirit May 30, 2007 From Ron and Karen Schwartz
Revelation 2:26-29 KJV 26 And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations: 27 And he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of my Father. 28 And I will give him the morning star. 29 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.
We are convinced that most Christians do NOT know how to hear the voice of the Spirit. Gleaning truths divined from the scripture is NOT the voice of the Spirit. Basing your decision on your understanding of biblical truths is NOT hearing the voice of the Spirit. Coming to a consensus through the counsel of others is NOT listening to the Spirit of God. Instead of hearing the voice of the Spirit, most Christians have come to accept their own presumptions, cultural values, and intellectual knowledge of the scripture to dictate the answers they desire and their spiritual direction. Though truth can sometimes be found in this way, it is a poor replacement for hearing what the Spirit has to say. Only by listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit can one be fully submitted to true spiritual authority.
Barriers and Structure
Today, we can be in contact with a church halfway around the world in an instant through telephone, Internet, or radio communications. As a result, we can be made aware of a need or a problem almost instantaneously. But when the Bible was written, information coming and going to a church could take months to reach its intended destination. By the time Paul became aware of a situation, months would pass before he could address it. Therefore, the apostles often used different forms of structure, Christian rulers, and barriers to provide limits to control spiritual growth in the desired direction. Bear in mind that most of the epistles were directed toward the Gentile churches which, in many respects, did not have a grasp on Judeo-Christian values.
In addition to structure, most churches have man-imposed customs (barriers) that prevent them from being fully under the authority of the Spirit. Often these barriers are based on biblically-founded truth or just good practical common sense.
Let’s examine a few examples of barriers.
Let your women keep silence
Many seek to decipher direction for their lives and the church by reading the scripture and attempting to follow it like a step-by-step direction manual, but this can prove to be a faulty method, especially when trying to understand scriptures that seem to be contradictory to others. When there appear to be contradictions, it is important to understand the biblical themes behind each passage.
When you consider the scriptures as a whole, you begin to see certain themes occurring. I believe ‘biblical theme’ are certain inalienable truths that the apostles embraced and were therefore reflected in their writing. For instance, Western civilization embraces justice and freedom. As a result, someone who embraces these values will unknowingly communicate these virtues in their writing and speech even though they may not directly address the subject. That is because these values are a part of the way we think and are therefore reflected in how we communicate. This is also true in the writings of the New Testament. There are certain ideological truths like love, grace, and faith that were embraced by the authors of the New Testament. These values were at times subtly communicated in their writing. They appear as themes in their writing. Therefore, when we read a statement that seems to be in conflict with other New Testament passages, we must look beyond the words and the Greek meaning, seeking to understand the theme of the concept as it is expressed in the whole of the New Testament.
1 Corinthians 14:33-35 KJV 33 For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints. 34 Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. 35 And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.
We have all read this passage and many of us have wrestled with how it can coexist with scriptures like, ‘Everyone of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation (1 Corinthians 14:26).â€ Or how can the scripture that says, every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head (1 Corinthians 11:5) fail to be in conflict with the one forbidding women to speak? These are only two, but there are many other scriptures that suggest women MAY speak in the church.
When considering all the scripture together, it becomes obvious that women should NOT be silent in the church. Then there are the practical questions that arise. For instance, if the primary churches of that era were â€œhouse churches,â€ then were not women already at home? So how do we reconcile these scriptures and the practical issues to 1 Corinthians 14:33-35?
Here is what we see: it comes back to themes. The theme that best explains this is that the founders of the New Testament knew they did not have all the answers. So at times they implemented temporary structure to address a certain problem with the intention that eventually such structure would no longer be needed as the people grew in the maturity of the Spirit.
Structure can be anything that people impose to replace a function of the Holy Spirit. Paul and the other apostles at times imposed structure in the absence of spiritual maturity. They recognized that the church sometimes lacked spiritual maturity and therefore needed some form of temporary structure to shore up its weaknesses. We find it with the church at Corinth. They were not spiritually mature enough to operate under the spiritual authority of the Holy Spirit. So Paul imposed temporary rules for them, especially the women, to follow. The apostles found that temporary structure was sometimes necessary to bring discipline and order until the church matured enough spiritually so that the structure was no longer necessary. Structure was never intended to be a permanent condition of the church or individual Christians.
Let’s be clear about this: the Holy Spirit working in the church does not produce structure. Structure may be a by-product of the Spirit moving on the Church (in that man imposes it due to spiritual immaturity in the people’s use of spiritual gifts), but structure is something created by man, not the Holy Spirit.
Acts 6:1-4 KJV 1 And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration. 2 Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables.
3 Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. 4 But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.
Even though both the apostles and Jesus taught that it was an imperial mandate to feed and care for the poor and that no person or group was above another, it wasnâ€™t being practiced here. Certain groups seemed to be receiving preferential treatment. Consequently, the apostles implanted a structure to address what is obviously the spiritual immaturity of the church.
When we consider the solution the apostles used to address this problem, we get an idea of how they used structure. Consider the quality of men. They were to be full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom. It is clear that structure should be intended to mimic as closely as possible the work and leadership of the Holy Spirit that it temporarily replaces. Consequently, church structure (and the hierarchy that developed under it) was never meant to be a permanent condition in the church but instead was meant to exist only until the church could reach a maturity level where it was no longer necessary.
Disagree? Then consider these next examples:
Ephesians 4:11-13 KJV 11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; 12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: 13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:
Notice the word till. According to this scripture, ministry itself is a form of structure that was intended to be temporary. It is imposed upon the church till the Body of Christ grows into spiritual maturity, at which time it is no longer necessary. The scripture here explains that it is a temporary mimicry of the operation of the Holy Spirit.
So, there are two uncontroversial facts that define whether ministry is operating in accordance to the design established by the apostles:
1) Does it mimic the operation of the Holy Spirit?
2) Is it bringing the church closer to spiritual maturity and thus its own obsolescence?
Even the gifts of the Spirit are a temporary structure of the church. Both they and all ministries must eventually go away if the operation of the Spirit is to completely mature. Consider the following:
1 Corinthians 13:8-10 KJV 8 Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. 9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. 10 But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.
Do we believe that the church has reached a level of spiritual maturity (perfection) such that it no longer needs the structure of spiritual gifts or ministries? Absolutely not! Nor can we imagine what it would be like to have every believer functioning at a level of spiritual maturity that makes structures no longer necessary, but it should nevertheless be our goal. The point is this: we must not universally impose upon all Christians a structure that was meant to address an issue in a single church or culture.
Titus 1:5 KJV For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee:
Here we find that the need for elders were because of that which was wanting, or lacking, in the church. The institution of elders was not a measure of church maturity, but of its immaturity. The imposition of authority is the mark of underdevelopment.
Galatians 4:1-3 KJV 1 Now I say, That the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all; 2 But is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father. 3 Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world
We raise our children with Christian values, imposing a Christian structure in their lives. This structure becomes no longer necessary when they choose to serve the Lord. The structure is discarded in favor of a real relationship with God. The Christian structure we teach our children is nothing more than the same temporary replacement of the Holy Spirit that is used in the church. When people impose structure in the church, they are treating the congregation as children. And just as structure stands in the way of children maturing, so does it in a church.
The Pluses And Minuses Of Structure
Structure can be a good thing. It can bring order to chaos. That is why teachings like Bill Gothard’s can be so valuable to some Christians. Structure is used well when
1) the Body of Christ receives proper teaching about why it is imposed and how they must mature so that such structure is no longer necessary, and
2) there is a clear understanding with all involved that it is temporary, and finally,
3) it is clearly understood that it is structure, not a spiritual ordinance.
Also, when considering structure and its usefulness in the church, it is important to understand that there must be a plan for structure to go away. Call it an exit strategy.
For instance, if a structure is put in place to address a problem like the following:
1 Corinthians 14:23 KJV If therefore the whole church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those that are unlearned, or unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad?
Structure might be imposed as follows:
1 Corinthians 14:27-28 KJV 27 If any man speak in an unknown tongue, let it be by two, or at the most by three, and that by course; and let one interpret. 28 But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God.
Then as people grow spiritually and come to understand that spiritual gifts are subject to the individual, this form of structure may be no longer necessary.
But structure can also have the opposite affect: it can become a barrier if it is not discarded as the Body matures. We see this with the Old Testament. It was given as a temporary structure to provide us with examples of spiritual things, but it has now become a barrier to the Orthodox Jews, and many Christians as well. They refuse to discard it, and now it serves to prevent them from true spiritual maturity. The same thing is true concerning children. The control and structure we impose upon the lives of our children must diminish as they mature. If not, there will eventually be a clash of wills.
Structure is nothing more than the use of natural authority in the church. Whenever natural authority is used, it replaces the authority of the Holy Spirit and impedes spiritual development. If used improperly, it will suppress and even choke out spiritual growth. No amount of structure can replace the work of the Holy Spirit in the church.
A Note About Rule
Hebrews 13:17 KJV Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.
Set aside for a moment that the word rule means to stand before, and therefore to lead, and consider it in the context of this scripture. Paul was obviously referring to leaders who were responsible and accountable. Now consider the audience to whom he wrote.
Hebrews 5:11-13 KJV 11 Of whom we have many things to say, and hard to be uttered, seeing ye are dull of hearing. 12 For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. 13 For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe.
These Hebrew Christians (who, after experiencing salvation, chose to regress back into the law) had already rejected the spiritual authority of the Holy Spirit by reverting back to the law. These were people who were spiritually immature and could not hear the voice of the Holy Spirit or follow His leading. Strong leaders were necessary to break them free of the natural authority of the law. Paul’s instructions were, therefore, that they obey their leaders and turn away from their fixation on Jewish law that held them back.
Not all churches want to grow spiritually. The vast majority of churches in the west actually enjoy their spiritual immaturity. They like not needing to prepare themselves for a meeting. They enjoy have no responsibilities other than attending and enjoying the show. They like the fact that they can pay some man to go to God and hear from God for them. In churches such as these there will always be a ruling class, just like Paul wrote of in Hebrews. Consequently, just because Paul addressed the Hebrew church about their rulers does not mean that this is the way God wants it to be.
A Note On Authority
Authority is defined as the power to determine and settle disputes; the right of control and command; mastery in execution and performance; an expert on a subject. When we set people as authorities in our lives, we often set them up for failure. Most people rarely live up to our expectations of them because they are like us: imperfect. It is for this very reason that wives are often bitter toward their husbands. Their husbands fail to live up to their expectations of an authority. It is also the reason why children and parents often end up in a generation gap (i.e., parents quite often fail to measure up to the standard of an authority). It is also the reason why we often hear children/young people use the words hypocrite/hypocrisy when describing their parents. Being an authority carries with it difficult responsibilities.
The worst thing you can do to a person is to consider them an authority in your life. When you do this, they will cease to be your friend, partner, or spouse. The relationship that we should have with one another is one of friendship. You treat friends with respect and longsuffering. You submit to the will of your friends. In fact, as much as we would normally give to authorities, we give much more willingly to friends.
When we set others up as authorities as with typical pastors, for instance – it forces them to act the part. They set themselves apart from others and sense the pressure to have all the answers. They feel the need to be flawless in order to preserve their rank. However, in a real body of believers, such would not be the case. A person with a pastoral gifting would play their part along with everyone else.
Setting people as spiritual authorities in our lives just does not work. It has resulted in multitudes being hurt and spiritually abused. It is responsible for church splits. It is even responsible for many becoming bitter toward their parents, their spouses, and the true authority of the Holy Spirit.
A Note On Apostles
Many Christians cannot get past the idea that the apostles functioned in a ruling capacity. They point to Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5) as examples of their authority. Ananias and Sapphira died because they chose to lie to the Holy Ghost (Acts 5:3), not because they lied to Peter. They did not have to give their money to Peter. Their sin was in misrepresenting their gift to God. Peter was merely God’s oracle to expose their sin.
Paul offered one of the clearest descriptions of apostles when he wrote, And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision (Gal 2:9). He describes the apostles as pillars. This word (Greek: stulos) actually means “pillar,” and therefore, figuratively, “support.” Paul did not describe them as rulers but as those who support others. This is important because rulers have command and control while one who supports enables others to command and control (e.g., their own lives).
Jesus had a message for the seven churches in Revelation. It is amazing how different they saw themselves from how Jesus saw them. The church at Laodicea thought they were rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing. But Jesus considered them wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked. How could there exist such a disparity? No church believes itself wrong. The seven churches in Revelation believed they had the truth and were doing the will of God. They all seemed to be saying, I am spiritually rich. Had it not been for this letter being sent to these churches, would they have ever known Jesus’ assessment of them? Could they not hear the voice of the Spirit speaking to them?
The churches in Revelation thought they were obedient to the Spirit, but they were not. Not only had they had missed it, but many were in opposition to the direction of the Spirit. How is it that Christians and churches can be virtually in opposition to God and not know it? The answer is simpler than it may seem.
When a church uses any form of structure, it faces the danger of becoming out of sync with the Spirit like the churches Jesus addressed in the book of Revelation. Nothing. Nothing! Nothing can replace the voice of the Holy Spirit in the church. If structure must be imposed to address an issue, then it must be used only temporarily until the Body of Christ matures enough so that control can be turned over to the Holy Spirit as quickly as possible. Remember, structure is at best a crutch; it can never do the work of the Holy Spirit, nor should it be implemented with such an intention. Structure and other barriers will always block the voice of the Holy Spirit.
Churches today are just like these churches of 2,000 years ago. They are not listening! Most churches do NOT know how to hear the voice of the Spirit. Instead we have allowed presumption, our cultural values, and our intellectual knowledge of the scripture to dictate our direction rather than actually hearing what the Spirit is saying. Most ministers serve only to convolute things by creating more noise so that it is virtually impossible to hear the voice of the Spirit today. Instead of getting us to hear from God, they have succeeded in replacing the voice of the Spirit in the church.
It is the voice of the Holy Spirit in the church that is true spiritual authority, NOT the voices of those in leadership positions. For the church to mature fully to the stature of Christ, these leaders must step aside and yield to the influence and direction of the Holy Spirit in God’s people.