All things were finished from the foundations of the world (Hebrews 4:3), as God’s character, nature, and words are eternal and unchanging. Therefore, there is no disagreement or contradiction between the examples that God has provided for us in the Old Testament and apostolic doctrine. What we observe today in the New Testament pattern may be found (through patient examination) in the Old Testament. Sometimes, these examples exist as types or shadows of the fullness we see today (Christ openly revealed), but they are evident. There are Old Testament examples of everything we see in the body of Christ at present:
· rejection of Spirit’s leadership in favor of the leadership of men
· a royal priesthood
· plural leadership
· God speaking a corporate message to a corporate body
· the role of women within the assembly
· as full partakers of the promise
· under authority
· assuming leadership functions when male leadership is absent
· false prophets
· a falling away
Rejecting the Leadership of the Holy Spirit
The rejection of the leadership of the Holy Spirit in favor of the leadership of men is not a new sin for it has historical precedence:
“And Samuel called the people together unto the LORD to Mizpeh; And said unto the children of Israel, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, I brought up Israel out of Egypt, and delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians, and out of the hand of all kingdoms, and of them that oppressed you: And ye have this day rejected your God, who himself saved you out of all your adversities and your tribulations; and ye have said unto him, Nay, but set a king over us. Now therefore present yourselves before the LORD by your tribes, and by your thousands,” (1 Samuel 10:17-19).
There is no greater condemnation of the heart of man than the simple fact that it is the nature of the flesh to reject the guidance of the Holy Spirit in favor of the lordship of men: for this is a rejection of our intimacy with the Saviour. And yet, to this day we find saints who want God to establish earthly kings of greater spiritual influence and authority above them whom they can swear allegiance to (by their actions, if not their words), follow, and idolize.
Why then did God grant Israel’s request?
A Royal Priesthood
Just as the story of Abraham offering Isaac on the altar of God is an example of the nature of a full repentance and the coming substitutionary atonement of the Lamb of God, so too are prophets, judges, and kings a type of the coming “better covenant” and “royal priesthood” in which all saints would be filled with a new nature through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 5:17; Hebrews 8; 1 Peter 2:9).
God’s desire has never been for a single man to rule over the saints in His place, no matter how they are gifted to function within the congregation of God. Notice, God sends a group of elders to Pharaoh as spiritual ambassadors representing His people’s welfare. Although it is Moses who speaks, he speaks as part of a greater counsel:
“And God said moreover unto Moses, … gather the elders of Israel together …. and thou shalt come, thou and the elders of Israel, unto the king of Egypt, and ye shall say unto him, The Lord God of the Hebrews hath met with us: and now let us go, we beseech thee, three days journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God,” (Exodus 3:15-18).
Moses was numbered among the elders: for it has always been normative for a group of elders to speak with one voice–and as one people–when expressing God’s will concerning His holy nation. Regardless of gifting and calling, all saints are subject to spiritual accountability within the assembly, and this is great wisdom, as the Old Testament scriptures first declared: “Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counselors there is safety,” (Proverbs 11:14). The God-breathed reality of authentic assembly life is that wise counsel is a product of plural leadership.
A Corporate Message to a Corporate Body
“And he said unto Moses, Come up unto the Lord, thou, and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel; and worship ye afar off. And Moses alone shall come near the Lord: but they shall not come nigh; neither shall the people go up with him. And Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord, and all the judgments: and all the people answered with one voice, and said, All the words which the Lord hath said will we do,” (Exodus 24:1-3).
Even in Moses’ time, God’s message was to a people, not a person. The difference is that now, as opposed to Moses’ time, all saints are equally capable of hearing the voice of God: for this is the very substance and nature of what Christ’s atoning work accomplished (John 10:3, 27).
The Role of Women within the Assembly
A thorough reading of the Old Testament reveals that female leadership, while present, was not normative (for the accounts are rare): and as such, it conforms to every aspect of the New Testament teachings concerning the role of women within the assembly. First, the very presence of the prophetess Miriam and judge and prophetess Deborah (as two examples) are evidence of the fact that women are (every bit as much as men) New Testament members of our royal priesthood: and not behind men in intimacy and access to the Holy Spirit in any way. One characteristic of the apostate church is a profound lack of elders: and today, as in Deborah’s time) it is not unusual to find godly women demonstrating more faith within the assembly than the men. Notice in the following account, however, that God’s desire was not for Deborah to lead His army, but Barak: God does not press women into roles (elder) He reserved exclusively for men; rather, He uses Deborah’s faith to bolster the weak faith of Barak. The simple fact that Deborah does not usurp Barak’s God-ordained role, but merely supports him in his task, is proof of God’s will concerning these things: that those whom He ordains to rule over the assembly well (by serving God and others) are exclusively male. (Further documentation concerning the role of women in the assembly is found as an appendage at the end of this article.)
“And the children of Israel again did evil in the sight of the LORD, when Ehud was dead. And the LORD sold them into the hand of Jabin king of Canaan … and Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, she judged Israel at that time. And she dwelt under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in mount Ephraim: and the children of Israel came up to her for judgment. And she sent and called Barak the son of Abinoam out of Kedeshnaphtali, and said unto him, Hath not the LORD God of Israel commanded, saying, Go and draw toward mount Tabor, and take with thee ten thousand men of the children of Naphtali and of the children of Zebulun? And I will draw unto thee to the river Kishon Sisera, the captain of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his multitude; and I will deliver him into thine hand. And Barak said unto her, If thou wilt go with me, then I will go: but if thou wilt not go with me, then I will not go. And she said, I will surely go with thee: notwithstanding the journey that thou takest shall not be for thine honour; for the LORD shall sell Sisera into the hand of a woman. And Deborah arose, and went with Barak to Kedesh,” (Judges 4:1-9).
It is a sign of the Lord’s displeasure with Israel that He judges them by the prophetess, Deborah: for apostates are often ruled over by ungodly women who desire to rule over men in the flesh (violating the clear command of 2 Timothy 2:11-12), rebelling against what God has ordained. Of course, the apostate church is full of men weak in the faith who refuse to heed the clear commands of the Lord–and these invariably turn to their own wisdom–affirming themselves by their own traditions (women elders). Where women lead and likewise assume authority in their homes that God has not granted them, children often become unruly, difficult and unrestrained (undisciplined). Consider the words of Isaiah who witnessed a similar time:
“As for my people, children are their oppressors, and women rule over them. O my people, they which lead thee cause thee to err, and destroy the way of thy paths,” (Isaiah 3:12).
False Prophets and the Falling Away
Whenever believers turn from the word of God to embrace their own desires and traditions, inventing their own commandments, they are stripped of their strength–for the fruit of the word of God is mature disciples and just as faith matures—so too does the word of God grow up elders to stand like mighty oaks along the stream of living water (Matthew 4:28). Likewise, where this water no longer flows, spiritual malnourishment results: and men’s strength (God’s wisdom) is stripped away. It is the Lord who keeps our homes and fortifies our cities, and if we should forget this, He will remove the operation of His divine influence from among us (Psalm 127:1): “I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent,” (Luke 12:48; Revelation 2:5). This echoes the words of Jesus who said to those whom rejected Him face-to-face: “The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof,” (Matthew 21:43). It may be a reliable principle to consider that God will remove even their former (spiritual) knowledge from those who have chosen to pursue other lusts: “For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them,” (2 Peter 2:21). (See also, Job 12.) Therefore, it is no wonder that we find no strong men among the apostate assembly of Isaiah 3:
For, behold, the Lord, the LORD of hosts, doth take away from Jerusalem and from Judah the stay and the staff, the whole stay of bread, and the whole stay of water, the mighty man, and the man of war, the judge, and the prophet, and the prudent, and the ancient, The captain of fifty, and the honorable man, and the counselor, and the cunning artificer, and the eloquent orator,” (Isaiah 3:1-3).
Far worse than a famine of bread and water, however, is a famine of “hearing the words of the Lord”: the antichrist will rise in a time of general apostasy in which elders of the faith will be few, and it will be common-place for them to be attacked with careless, malicious words as the wicked are given over to a strong delusion (Amos 8:11; 2 Thessalonians 2:10-11). The fact that the son of perdition will “oppose and exalt himself above all that is called God … so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God” is an indication that he will rise within the church (so-called), attributing to himself the Divine character and honor that is reserved for God alone (2 Thessalonians 2:-4). As forerunners of his demonic ministry, Nicolaitans will prepare the way for this deception, being tares among us: notice, they claim to love God, while actually opposing Him; and they overcome the people with false doctrines that establish traditions and commandments that God has not inspired (Revelation 2:6, 15). Filled with a hunger for worldly things, the self-appointed leaders of this time will divide and feast upon the church of God (denominationalism), leading men to themselves rather than to God (personality cults) (Matthew 23:2; 1 Corinthians 1:10-13, 3:3-5). The apostolic record suggests that the final state of the apostate church will be one that is absent of believers—for the ungodly will speak against the words of the prudent (the revelation of Christ)—and eventually remove those who profess Christ from their midst:
“I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not. Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he doeth, prating against us with malicious words: and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth them out of the church,” (3 John 1:9-10).
Appendage to The Role of Women within the Assembly
Mature women, of course, are commanded to “teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed,” (Titus 2:4-5). Men may teach women concerning the words of God, but they are obviously not fit to model the role of wife or mother as an example for younger women to follow: and so mature women are the most fit teachers of younger women concerning the words of God in these things. God’s words establish boundaries for both men and women within the assembly. (This is not to infer that women in New Testament assemblies cannot speak or teach out of the context of their relationship with God at all, but rather that they must acknowledge that God has not called them to function as the overseers of men: and any who attempt to function in this way may be commanded to silence, per 1 Timothy 2:11-12.) In Acts 18:26, Priscilla assists her husband, Aquilla, in expounding the word of God more perfectly to Apollos: yet, it should be noted that this was private conversation in the Lord and not public teaching.
“Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives; while they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear. Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price. For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands: Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement,” (1 Peter 3:10).
Immediately after demonstrating his authority to command silence on the part of women who were not adorning themselves with a meek and quiet spirit, being in subjection to their husbands, Paul writes, “If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord. But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant,” (1 Cor. 14:37). Just as the commands of the Lord concerning a man’s conduct in his own home either qualifies or disqualifies him as an elder of the faith among the assembly (1 Timothy 3), so too does the influence of the Lord’s commands concerning the appropriate conduct of women within their homes and in their marriages extend to the assembly. Women are as much to be in subjection within the assembly as they are within the home. Therefore, where women adorn themselves with godliness, we are certain to find three examples of the divine influence working in their lives: a reverence for their husbands, a pure heart and chaste conversation in the Lord, and a ready willingness to defer to the operation of the Lord’s authority through elders of the faith.
As proof of this, consider the daughters of Philip who, although prophetesses, were not led of the Lord to prophesy to the apostle Paul; rather, the Lord brought a prophet to their home when He desired to speak to Paul through the divine unction:
“And the next day we that were of Paul’s company departed, and came unto Caesarea: and we entered into the house of Philip the evangelist, which was one of the seven; and abode with him. And the same man had four daughters, virgins, which did prophesy. And as we tarried there many days, there came down from Judaea a certain prophet, named Agabus. And when he was come unto us, he took Paul’s girdle, and bound his own hands and feet, and said, Thus saith the Holy Ghost, So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man that owneth this girdle, and shall deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles” (Acts 21:8-11).