Confession to priest?

Is forgiveness through auricular confession necessary ?

In the history of the church the question of forgiveness of sins prompts a consideration of the attitude of the early church towards what came to be known as the sacraments. This word is not found in the Scriptures and was used to translate the Greek word ‘musterion’. Unfortunately the word sacrament is not a good translation for musterion. As used in the New Testament to describe God’s great plan of salvation, the word conceals a mystery which may only be discovered by those to whom the Holy Spirit gives understanding. This mystery was shown to be the gospel of the kingdom, and this ‘musterion’ the written message of the ‘good news’ concealed in the biblical record. Man being what he is soon sought to ‘organise’ the mystery. The gospel and the mystery spoken of in Ephesians began to be attached more and more to the means by which the gospel was proclaimed, rather than the ‘musterion’ itself.

Eph 3:3 (NIV) that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly.4 In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ,5 which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets.6 This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.

Within the Roman church communion certain ceremonies (or sacraments) became highly sacred, being seen as having some sacrosanct quality similar to the way in which the ‘mystery’ cults held to their divine mysteries. (e.g. Mithras) These rites were seen to have of themselves a peculiar capacity to reveal Christ . It was a short step to the idea that these sacred ceremonies or sacraments are replete with grace. Even more, that the sacraments could in fact cause grace (undeserved favour) to appear in the worshipper without reference to the state of the believer’s life. In other words unless the believer erected a mental or spiritual barrier ,the sacrament would automatically convey grace to him/her. Thus the sacraments become sources of divine grace , independent of the Word of God and indeed began to surpass the Word in importance. Due to a falling away from the Holy Spirit’s manifested charismatic expression in the church the clergy began to build up a system of works, under the heading of sacraments, by which the members of the church could continue in the grace of God. Confession, penance, and the idea of priestly absolution were among these. As with much of the early church theology these were moulded to suit the priest/laity concept of church authority. The Latin mind in particular inclined towards viewing sin and righteousness as acts rather than states. This approach inclines one to see relationships with God as debit and credit even though one may hold only grace, as the basis for God’s credit. Consequently water baptism came to be seen to effect forgiveness of previous sins, and penance to effect forgiveness for sins after baptism. Purgatory teaching is an almost inevitable result of such an attitude. How else can we take care of sins ‘unpaid for’ or carried into death without ‘priestly’ absolution.

It is not difficult to see, that from the above development early theologians saw the need for confession as an act to ‘make things right’. Who better than the priest as ‘confessor’? The priests were seen at that time by the largely illiterate laity as God’s agent. It is not surprising that lay persons happily acknowledged in the priesthood a group best equipped to outline the acts needed to satisfy God’s demand for penance. Being also encouraged to see the priest as an intermediary representing them before God, he was also the obvious one to choose to pronounce absolution. These teachings, in the best sense, may have had paternalism and real caring love for the illiterate masses as their motivation. There were so many who had difficulty in organising their lives in accordance with the written gospel. But such caring does not justify the inclusion of new teaching unless the edicts are perfectly in accord with the Word of God. This accord has not been demonstrated.

One of the outworking of these ideas about debit and credit was the thought that the believer could have as it were a ‘piggy bank’ against the possibility of sins in his/her life. Indulgences, as these remissions were called, given by papal decree were to be purchased by service or money. Consider…..

Acts 8:20 (KJV) But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money.
Acts 8:22 (NIV) Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will forgive you for having such a thought in your heart.23 For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.”

This practice began a long history of corrupt misuse of money in the church. Pope Urban 2nd. launched this practice into wide spread use and support is found even in the writings of Aquinas for such opportunities for ‘good works’.

Eph 2:8 (KJV) For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God::9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.

Again the traditions of the church, being accepted as doctrine led to confusion, and the addition of man’s teachings and ideas to the simplicity of the gospel message, brought forth error.

What may we ask is the basic truth?

John 3:16 (KJV) For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

This is the central fact. Jesus saves! No act or thought of man can come between the sinner and the reality of the Saviour Jesus. A jungle of organisation, dogma and formal acts must never be allowed to obscure the words,

Mat 11:28 (NIV) “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.

The God of glory has no need, as in the temple religions of Egypt and Babylon, to hide behind priesthood. Nor does the Eternal desire temples built with hands in which to dwell, or a continuing complexity of mysteries with a panoply of richly garbed and ornamented ceremonies to create in the faithful suitable attitudes of awe and fear towards the transcendental god.

Mat 18:20 (KJV) For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.

These words speak of one who is closer than hands and feet. In them we realise that we are the temple of our God. He dwells in us by the Holy Spirit. There is a special need to understand the reality of the omnipresence of the Lord God and His expressed commitment to never again inhabit temples made by hands. Christians are not a people called to worship in a special place, with a special priesthood who alone may offer up a special sacrifice, on a special altar, on a special day.

Mat 18:20 (NIV) For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.
Heb 13:9 (NIV) Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by ceremonial foods, which are of no value to those who eat them.10 We have an altar from which those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat.

Such worship was in order in the days of Moses and the law. Then it was the time of the imperfect offering of bulls and goats but as it is written the law was but a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ. The Lord Jesus is the one who made the perfect sufficient and complete sacrificial offering. Hebrews makes it plain that Christ entered once for all. He died once for the sins of all and by this one sacrifice he made perfect those who were/are being made holy. ( Heb. Chap 10 & 11 speak of this.) He must never be offered again, either in fact or similitude.

These thoughts are central to the question of forgiveness. All men have sinned and do sin and we all would be lost without the cross work of Christ. Essentially without Christ there would be no access to God. The old Aaronic priesthood that offered up sacrifices for the people has been done away with in the church. There is no longer need for a physical sacrifice for we have a better way in the spiritual realm. Cleansed by the blood of Jesus we are able to enter through the veil of His flesh into the very presence of the living God and His eternal forgiveness. Not we note by the priesthood of man but because of our great priest, the Lord Jesus Christ. Note we are brethren; not priest & laity.

Heb 10:19 (NIV) Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus,20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body,21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God,22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.

The question of who forgives is made clear in the gospels. John as he addresses the members of the church says …..

1 John 2:1 (NIV) My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defence Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.

We are clear that the defence on our behalf is addressed to the Father God who is in the primary sense the one who forgives sins. Sin has been judged and its penalty paid in full by the death of our Lord Jesus on the cross. We are pardoned of all sin because of His death, if we accept this truth in faith and repentance.

To bring in another kind of forgiving or another kind of penalty, (e.g. penance and confession.) takes from the sacrifice once offered for all by our Lord Jesus. His was a complete work in every respect, and we are asked to accept its completeness in/by faith alone. By this individual acceptance God is able to give a free pardon to every offender who is by faith founded in Christ. There is no reparation, there is no ill will, for God utterly forgives.

Neh 9:17 (NIV) But you are the living God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. Therefore you did not desert them.
Psa 103:8 (NIV) The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.9 He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever;10 he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him;12 as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
Eph 1:7 (NIV) In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace

As Luther made plain in the statement that began the reformation and began the Protestant movement, ‘The righteous shall live by (His) faith.

Hab 2:4 (NIV) “See, he is puffed up; his desires are not upright– but the righteous will live by his faith
Rom 1:17 (NIV) For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”
Rom 10:16 (NIV) But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?”
Gal 3:11 (NIV) Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, “The righteous will live by faith.”
1 Pet 2:6 (NIV) For in Scripture it says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”

What then is the place of the king/priest ministry given to all believers in regard to forgiveness? Have we, i.e. all born again believer, any authority in this realm. The answer is yes, but in a very special way which involves our submission to the Lordship of Christ and our personal relationship with the Holy Spirit. Jesus said,

John 14:12 (NIV) I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.

He also taught that the person who produces divine fruit may ask anything in His name and the Father would give it.

John 15:16 (NIV) You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit–fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.

The apostle Paul supports this in his letter to the Colossians. Chap.3 He speaks of how the brethren should comport themselves and in verse 17 we read,

Col 3:17 (NIV) And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

We note that the instruction is addressed to every child of God. i.e to the church. We are all admonished to ask, to give, to witness; in faith and in His name.

What does this really mean? One thing is plain that central to our walk is the Name of the Lord. This would be a vast subject to explore, suffice to say that His name embodies the triune nature of God and His manifested authority. This name was for the early church not just a theory. It was to them and is for us a real power in spiritual places, and always means the person and nature revealed. In the name of Jesus is found the way of salvation and deliverance.

Acts 4:10 (NIV) then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.’12 Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”

The Lord presences himself in His name. So it is that as we pray for someone ‘in His name’ He is there to minister to the need as advocate with the Father. Through Him and in His name we become channels for this miracle to the needy.

Looking into the Scriptures on forgiveness the following should be read.

(1 Jn. 2:12; Acts.10:43; Jn 20:23; 1 Jn 1:9; Acts 13:38; James 5:16.)

From these readings we find

a. repentance and forgiveness to be preached in His name.
b. sins have been forgiven on account off His name.
c. everyone who believes on Him receives forgiveness of sins through His name.
d. having received the Holy Spirit disciples were able to witness to the forgiving of sins or not forgiving of sins.
e. if we confess our sins God is just to forgive us our sins.
g. through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed.
h. we are to confess our faults one to another. (to each other.)
i. in some cases healing and sins are associated.

From these few extracts we are assured that our heavenly Father will forgive us our sins in the name of Jesus. We are to confess our sins and forgive others as we come before God to seek His forgiveness. Only Jesus as Lord needs to be present as we speak to God concerning these matters.

John 20:23 (NIV) If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

This is a difficult passage to understand, but since the church can only declare that which God has already done, this can read, ‘If you forgive the sins of anyone they have been and continue to be , hence are, forgiven. This is the perfect tense and points to a present continuous state, as the result of a past declaration. To the extent that we are in harmony with Jesus the living Word, we are able to declare with authority the terms under which man can be forgiven and inherit the eternal life found in Jesus the Christ.

But no where can we find a basis in Scripture for authorising auricular confession to a select priesthood, nor can we justify penance or purgatory. These teachings lead to bondage and to a laity who are unable to approach God directly in their priestly calling.

In regard to healing we should note that Jesus said,

Mat 9:5 (NIV) Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’?6 But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins. . . .” Then he said to the paralytic, “Get up, take your mat and go home.”

Similarly the same authority we are given in ministering to the sick is present in the forgiveness of sin ministry. We who are disciples of Jesus may also say, ‘Your sins are forgiven in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ’ or alternatively, by the authority of the believer in the Lord Jesus, ‘arise and walk’. All who are truly disciples have this authority but always under the hand of God in Jesus the Son by the Holy Spirit.

Consider again the confession of sins. Jesus taught us that when we pray……

Mat 6:6 (NIV) But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
Mat 6:12 (NIV) Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

We are to ask forgiveness of our sins and confess them in secret, not to a man, no matter how trustworthy he may be or how reliable. We are to speak directly to the Lord and He will reward us. (not demand penance)

Historically the idea of auricular confession leading to penance came from Irish monks, notably Columbanus, who began the practise of confessing sins as a way of achieving merit within their order. The idea spread throughout the medieval church. The spread of this concept was helped by the illiteracy of the people and the psychological effect of talking out our troubles. Confessing is well known as a way of lowering guilt feelings. The penitent ‘feels’ good in just the same way as a patient attending a psychiatrist ‘feels’ relieved. However such acts engender dependence, and without the skills of psychiatry, can enslave the mind. The person feels compelled to return again and again in order to stay at peace. There is no true deliverance.

This is the hidden problem of habitual or compulsory confession which the Roman church has ordained as dogma. The problem manifests in the mind of man. The penitent has a high dependence on the work of the mind in thinking of sins committed. Both the priest and the penitent are much involved in thinking about what has been done, what will result or has resulted, and in all this the soul life tends to dominate in a series of doing things or works. These works inadvertently enshrine the old Adam, who we recall was made a living soul. The soul is refreshed by this process but the spirit remains as it was before. To be truly cleansed and restored we must touch Jesus, for He was made a quickening Spirit.

The call to us all is to walk in the spirit so that we can at all times hear the Holy Spirit. He can and will guide us into all of the truth. He will give us words to pray, he will keep us in the way of Jesus, He will tell us when we need to confess to our God. We are to be like Jesus who said,

John 5:19 (KJV) Then answered Jesus and said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise.

We also can do nothing of ourselves.

Forgiving, confessing, receiving forgiveness are only possible as we walk in the spirit by faith in Jesus and let the Holy Spirit reveal to us the way.

Mat 15:1 (NIV) Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked,2 “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”3 Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?4 For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.’5 But you say that if a man says to his father or mother, ‘Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is a gift devoted to God,’6 he is not to ‘honor his father ‘ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition.7 You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:8 ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.9 They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.'”

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This is an interesting record in regard to the teaching about the second experience for the Christian believer after salvation.

This little story tells of the enlarging of the experience of certain disciples as Paul the apostle leads them into a deeper walk with the Lord.

Paul was journeying to Ephesus and on arrival he met a party of disciples. We are told that they were disciples, literally a learner or more particularly one who abides in and confesses the words and teachings of their master or teacher.

Some suggest that these were disciples of John since they confessed to having received only John’s baptism. This does not appear to be Paul’s opinion

In regard to baptism, an example is found in the previous chapter of one who had only John’s baptism but was without question a believer in Christ.

Acts 18:25 (NIV) “He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John.”

Clearly he was saved, but he knew only the baptism of John.

Rom 10:9 (NIV) “That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

Pricilla and Aquila were led to instruct him more perfectly in the way.

This example of Appolos and the twelve would have a parallel in today’s churches. There are many between salvation and baptism in water as they walk on with the Lord. They are all, none the less, clearly disciples of Jesus.

Paul recognises this by his ministry to the group of twelve in Acts 19. He begins at the point they have reached in their ongoing walk. Notice particularly his first question. “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”

In asking this question Paul accepts that they are in fact already believers. He uses the word “pisteusantes” (believed) which is a participle which denotes action prior to the action of the leading verb “receive”. This means that the act of believing, must come before the receiving.

Paul was enquiring, “had they received after or since they had come to believe?” In addition the word “pisteuo” (believe) has the added meaning of reliance and trust, not just credence.

Paul recognised that these ones had come to be regenerated by an understanding the full import of the teaching they had received and by believing on the Lord Jesus.

The Scripture is not clear where, or by whom they were instructed, but we know that John’s teaching foretold and pointed to Jesus. John taught there was one to come who would baptise into the Holy Spirit.

Luke 3:16 (NIV) “John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with (into) the Holy Spirit and with fire.”

Is this the pattern Paul is aware of in Acts19? i.e. repentance, water baptism, and Holy Spirit baptism. It seems likely that this is so, for we note that Paul did not begin by instructing them in repentance and salvation in the hope of leading them to new birth. He saw that they were already regenerated (saved)

He acknowledged this in the remark “since you believed”. So his first question is directed to the maturity of their walk in Christ.

What prompted Paul to ask a question about the Holy Spirit ? Did Paul know to ask by revelation, was he just curious, or was he surprised they did not praise the Lord in unknown tongues and sought to find out why. Scripture is silent on these matters but we should note that he felt it important to ask born again Christians this particular question. This sequence of events clearly shows that it is possible to be a born again Christian and have not received the Holy Spirit in the way Paul is speaking of in this passage.

We are made more certain that they are regenerated Christians before receiving the Holy Spirit since Paul accepts them and baptises them all into the name of the Lord Jesus.

Acts 19:5 (NIV) “On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus>.”

Had these twelve disciples been satisfied with their experience up to this point in their relationship with the great apostle Paul we might well have expected the story to end. A moments reflection would lead us to realise that this stage is the experience of many of today’s church members, who are indeed saved, who have been baptised in water and are walking in newness of life and bearing fruit unto His glory.

Yet Paul was no satisfied with this. So following water baptism Paul laid hands upon them. No mention is made but we would incline to say he offered prayer to the Lord. The result that followed was what the church had come to expect and to experience from the day of Pentecost onwards.

Acts 19:6 (KJV) “And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spoke with tongues, and prophesied.”

The teaching of John the Baptist was fulfilled in its completeness as they were immersed in the Holy Spirit.

Luke 3:16 (NIV) “John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”

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Acts 2:2 (NIV) Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.

Acts 2:3 (NIV) They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.

These happenings occurred on the day of Pentecost, at the time most see as the birthing of the New Testament church, From this moment on the disciples began to minister in the power and demonstration of the Holy Spirit. This experience was the fulfilment of the command of Jesus.

Acts 1:4 (NIV) On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.”

Acts 1:8 (NIV) But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Not, we might point out to receive the Holy Spirit in salvation, as this had already happened.

John 20:22 (NIV) And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit“.

Notice this was not just to the twelve but to all of the disciples who had gathered in the upper room. About 120 in number. We find this number in other references, for example, the 120 trumpets that blew at the dedication of Solomon’s temple and the 120 years of the life time of Moses. Symbolically 120 points to the end of flesh life or fleshly ministry and the beginning of life in the Spirit. It numbers a significant moment in time when the presence of the Lord is often shown forth.

Deu 34:7 (NIV) Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died, yet his eyes were not weak nor his strength gone.
Gen 6:3 (NIV) Then the LORD said, “My Spirit will not contend with man forever, for he is mortal ; his days will be a hundred and twenty years.”
2 Chr 5:12 (NIV) All the Levites who were musicians—stood on the east side of the altar, dressed in fine linen and playing cymbals, harps and lyres. They were accompanied by 120 priests sounding trumpets.

John the Baptist spoke prophetically about the Pentecost experience.

Mat 3:11 (NIV) “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. [12] His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

In this allegory is portrayed the usual method of extracting the wheat by winnowing. The harvested stalks of wheat are tossed up into the air and the wind blows away the chaff leaving the wheat to be gathered. A similar analogy is found in the Old Testament.

Isa 41:15g (NIV) “See, I will make you into a threshing sledge, new and sharp, with many teeth. You will thresh the mountains and crush them, and reduce the hills to chaff. [16] You will winnow them, the wind will pick them up, and a gale will blow them away. But you will rejoice in the LORD and glory in the Holy One of Israel.

In a similar sense the glory of men and their flesh strength is like grass.

Isa 40:6 (NIV) A voice says, “Cry out.” And I said, “What shall I cry?” “All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field. [7] The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the LORD blows on them. Surely the people are grass.

In the episode described in Acts 2:2 the sound like wind was violent or mighty and the word used, ‘pnoe’ literally means a blowing or a blast. The same word is used in Acts.17:25 to mean the breath of life.

So we have a mighty breath of life coming upon the church and as this spiritual life comes the chaff of man’s fleshly endeavours is swept away and the fire of God consumes it. As in Solomon’s temple this was the end of flesh ministry in the church of the living God.

2 Chr 5:14 (NIV) and the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled the temple of God.

Peter clarifies this idea and makes clear that any work for God that comes from the fleshly nature and the ego of man will not stand.

1 Cor 3:11 (NIV) For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. [12] If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, [13] his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. [14] If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. [15] If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.

The church must be built on the foundation of the Lord Jesus Christ in order to survive. When God comes for his own, fire is involved and the church must be a bush that burns, but is not consumed.

Ex. 3:2 (NIV) There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up.

Is. 31:9 (NIV) Their stronghold will fall because of terror; at sight of the battle standard their commanders will panic,” declares the LORD, whose fire is in Zion, whose furnace is in Jerusalem.

Heb 12:29 (NIV) “God is a consuming fire.”

The fire that consumed the flesh ministry in the church fulfilled the type shown to us in the Moses tabernacle. This was the initial setting up of the tent of meeting as the Lord commanded Moses on Mt Sinai. When all the offerings were set out fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed the flesh of the offering. This was never repeated. The Lord sent forth His fire for the use of the priesthood in His meeting place. This type was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost when the fire of God lit up His NEW dwelling place, ‘the church’. No longer a building, but a people in which the fire of the Spirit was to burn from that day and forever more.

The Mighty God revealed Himself to His people as God the Father in the fire, God the Spirit in the wind, and God the Son in the Word revealed as sound to the church.

Acts 4:20 (KJV) For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.
1 John 1:1 (KJV) That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life.

The experience of Pentecost typifies the individual experience in salvation and equipping for service. The Holy Spirit places new life in our hearts. We are born of the Spirit. Fruit grows and seed is manifest as wheat in our character, but a fire and a mighty wind is needed to blow away the chaff, and allow the Word of God to burst forth in power. Self, works, are to be swept away to clear the threshing floor of the temple for service by and in the Spirit.

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This subject has been the basis for a great controversy by thinkers through the ages since the early years of the church. From being a slave to man as shown even in present day India, Africa and some Muslim countries, to the so called liberation of humanistic philosophy; discussion rages about this question.

Yet there is a place for the Christian to look for the answers. For biblical Christians the Word of God is this source. A balanced view based on Scripture must be argued as the only answer. This is not so simple to achieve. This discussion attempts to provide some of the answers.

It is possible to justify all kinds of doctrines from Scripture hastily read and so lacking balance in terms of the complete record. This has often been done by many oft times sincere Christians, in order to establish a set of doctrines which suit their own ends, The place of women in the church is one such area of contention.

The writer does not believe that tradition has equal authority with the accepted canon. (As for example in the Roman congregation.) In the discussion to follow the Word of God is accepted as the absolute and final authority and is taken to be complete and sufficient for the establishment of basic doctrine.

Additions to the Word as in the case of the Mormon heresy, or the false teaching regarding infallibility of the Pope, or the establishment of a separate priesthood and many, many more examples cannot be accepted as source teachings and hence binding on the saints of the living God.

There are also many practises and modes of behaviour that are accepted by denominational groups as being convenient and perhaps useful for facilitating the function of the particular congregation for a time but we must not be deceived into thinking that such things are necessary or binding doctrine. Examples are, clergy being the only persons permitted to preach or minister communion, the wearing of robes, using prayer books, liturgy, candles, buildings of any kind, monolithic organisations such as denominations, to mention but a few. These ideas and structures are subject to change and decay. Only the Word of the Lord will stand forever and only the Word can determine immutable doctrine.

It follows also that allowing any practise to continue in defiance to the revealed truth and example of the Word should never be considered as valid. A separate celibate priesthood is one such questionable practise and the excluding of women from the ministry may well be another.

Consider then:

Gal 3:28 (NIV) There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Acts 10:34-35 (NIV) Then Peter began to speak: “I now realise how true it is that God does not show favouritism

God does not play favourites nor does He take note of labels but all are one in His sight. These two verses seem to be clear about the equal status of man and woman. We are one in His sight.

When God created Eve she was to be a help who was “meet” (suitable) for Adam. This word is a compound preposition meaning “corresponding to” or “opposite” him. It expresses the complementary nature of a person equal to him and able to respond to him or even challenge him. This word is not used anywhere else in the Old Testament and its use underlines the unique nature of the perfect husband-wife relationship. This relationship also has implications for the church when we consider the idea of the church as the bride.

Discussion on the subjects of authority, headship and ruling must recognise the importance of the above teachings in deciding the equality of men and women in spiritual matters. The equality concept is the beginning of understanding and is the one idea that has been subjected to constant attack since the very beginning.

Gen 3:15 (NIV) And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”

The serpent has not changed the subtlety of his attack nor is the enmity dead.. There is within the present day move to deprive women of their rightful place in the church the same method that brought Eve to a place of sinning before God. The use of the truth in a manner that conveys a lie is still Satan’s way.

Inherent in the present day argument against women as ministers is this same use of truth to deceive. The relationship within the natural family that came because of the fall is not definitive when considering the relationship in the church family. Yet it is often used in this way. The Ecclesia family has been set free from the law of sin and death and is different because of this liberty. Separation of natural family and Ecclesia family is necessary if we are to produce a balanced interpretation.

As the church moves nearer and nearer to the acceptance of the true pattern being built by the Lord the less effect Satan’s wiles will have on essential truth. There is to be a restoration of ALL things and we need to be clear on what that implies.

Acts 3:20-21 (NIV) and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus. 21 He must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets.

Restoration is an ongoing process and the building of His church is continuous until all things have been restored to that state which has been always in the heart of God. Notice that the full revelation and appearing of Jesus Christ is part of this restoration. The important question is what are the all things that are being restored.

One such thing is emphasised in Ephesians that appears to suggest that the restoration of the perfect relationship held by Adam and Eve before the fall is part of the restoration of all things.

Eph 5:27 (KJV) That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.

It is interesting that in this present time we are experiencing a revival of the move towards “women’s liberation” Many books have been written about this subject and a great controversy rages as strongholds of male domination are threatened and much loved traditions brought into question. There has been much “natural” thinking about this subject and this can lead to excess. liberty is one thing but excess of zeal can lead to licence and distortion of the very liberty we all seek. However it is true to say that often natural things come into being before the spiritual so perhaps this movement is a harbinger of better things for the Ecclesia.

1 Cor 15:46 (KJV) Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual.

To return to Adam and Eve notice the way in which God instructed them.

Gen 1:28 (NIV) God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

This instruction was addressed to both Adam AND Eve. Adam was to rule AND Eve was to rule. They both had dominion.

Dominion means…… lordship, control, and right of possession

So God’s commission to the heirs of the earth was that He made them male and female and gave to them BOTH dominion.

But wait, what about the fall. Yes the fall did distort the picture. However, consider….

Acts 3:21 (NIV) He must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets.

This restoration includes the place of both man and woman in authority ordained by God from the beginning.

Equal and complementary in authority and dominion within the perfect church without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, This is the balance that Satan has sought to destroy from the very beginning for the coming forth of the Bride in perfect fullness is the harbinger of his destruction.

The typical pattern has always been to attack the woman and history displays this truth at every hand. From the very first confession of Eve to the present day humankind has been the tool in Satan’s hand to seek the destruction of the Bride of Christ by the persecution of women.

Gen 3:13 (NIV) Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

Incidentally let’s not forget that both Adam and Eve sinned. Eve took the fruit (commission) and Adam did nothing to stop her (omission). Eve was punished by having Adam rule over her; Adam was punished by having to work for his living. It’s no different now….

Gen 3:15 (NIV) And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”

Here begins the pattern of the attack on the women of succeeding generation to this day. The enmity of the serpent is against the woman. This reaches its peak against the perfect church i.e the Bride.

Gen 3:12-13 (NIV) The man said, “The woman you put here with me–she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” 13 Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

Notice the difference between the man’s answer and the woman’s answer. This is a very significant little story. Remember the church is likened to a woman.

For those who have not the mind of the spirit be they in the church or a worldling the man’s answer is typical.

The woman YOU gave me, SHE gave me of the tree; blame God and blame the woman.

Typical also in many families when children are “caught out” … blame Mum.

Notice that Eve’s answer is the one that the church should take particular notice of…

The SERPENT beguiled/deceived me and I did eat.

She humbled herself, recognised her enemy and confessed her fault.

1 John 1:9 (NIV) If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

What followed is a picture for today. As soon as Eve came into a relationship with the Lord by confessing her fault the enmity of the deceiver was assured. In verse 15 the Lord God makes this a fact

Gen 3:15 (NIV) And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” (Enmity = hatred, hostility.)

This in seed form was a prophecy on one hand for the church and eventually the coming forth of the Son of God and it had prophetic implications for natural womankind also.

There can be little doubt that the prophecy has been fulfilled. With fierce hatred the deceiver has attacked women until they have experienced over the ages the injustice of many. Despised, belittled and condemned to be non-entities and without rights in most societies yet in that very suffering bearing a witness to a great truth. We are reminded of…

Isa 53:3 (NIV) He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Women have been oft times treated as chattels, bought and sold and given no rights and in every sense thought inferior to men. Even today this can be found in many countries of the world. There is no true liberty or cultural freedom in Muslim countries for women.

Where this bondage is happening Satan is having a field day.

Some historical examples of this:

Babylon

“If a husband say unto his wife “thou art not my wife” he shall pay half a mina and be free. If a wife repudiate her husband she shall be drowned in the river.

Jewish Talmud.

“Let the words of the Law be burned rather than be delivered to a woman.”

“The testimony of 100 women is not equal to that of one man.”

“It is a shame for a woman to let her voice be heard among men. Women are but made to bear children”

The Talmud is a collection of writings by many Rabbis designed to “explain” Scripture. i.e. The Old Testament. They doubtless contain many wise sayings after the wisdom of men. They are also a summary warning to us not to fall into the trap of believing the “traditions” of the church We are so fond of saying “we have always done it this way so it must be right”

Mark 7:13 (NIV) Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.”

In the Old and New Testament the Lord shows His respect and points out the place of women in authority, in ruling and in teaching. The Word of God is filled with stories of many great women who arose within the people of God to guide them in the Way.

Mothers were to be honoured, respected, feared and obeyed.

Ex. 20:12 (NIV) “Honour your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.
Lev. 19:3 (NIV) “‘Each of you must respect his mother and father, and you must observe my Sabbaths. I am the LORD your God.
Deu 21:18 (NIV) If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will not listen to them when they discipline him . . . Then all the men of his town shall stone him to death. You must purge the evil from among you. All Israel will hear of it and be afraid.
Lev 20:9 (NIV) “‘If anyone curses his father or mother, he must be put to death. He has cursed his father or his mother, and his blood will be on his own head.

Mothers were to be reckoned with within the household, naming the children and being responsible for their early education.

The same sacrifice was offered for both male and female children. Mothers attended the religious gatherings for worship and brought their offerings. Women could take the Nazarite vow.

Num 6:2 (NIV) “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘If a man or woman wants to make a special vow, a vow of separation to the LORD as a Nazirite,

All women were exempt from Sabbath labour and if sold for a slave was freed in the same manner as a man on the seventh year.

Ex. 20:10 (NIV) but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates.

Deborah was prophet who judged Israel. As a prophet she taught, as a judge she ruled with authority over both men and women, including her husband.

Judg 4:4 (NIV) Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading Israel at that time.

She was named as a “mother in Israel” which is a title of distinction and authority.

Huldah the prophetess, wife of Shallum, was also accepted as one from whom the Word of the Lord came forth. All of the priests, princes and the king over Judah gave heed to her prophecy. Consequently the judgement of the Lord was withheld during the life of the king and a great cleansing of the land resulted.

2 Ki 22:” 14 Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam, Acbor, Shaphan and Asaiah went to speak to the prophetess Huldah, who was the wife of Shallum son of Tikvah, the son of Harhas, keeper of the wardrobe. She lived in Jerusalem, in the Second District. 15 She said to them, “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: Tell the man who sent you to me, 16 ‘This is what the LORD says: I am going to bring disaster on this place and its people, according to everything written in the book the king of Judah has read.

2 Ki 23:1-4 (NIV) Then the king called together all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem. 2 He went up to the temple of the LORD with the men of Judah, the people of Jerusalem, the priests and the prophets–all the people from the least to the greatest. He read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant, which had been found in the temple of the LORD. 3 The king stood by the pillar and renewed the covenant in the presence of the LORD–to follow the LORD and keep his commands, regulations and decrees with all his heart and all his soul, thus confirming the words of the covenant written in this book. Then all the people pledged themselves to the covenant. 4 The king ordered Hilkiah the high priest, the priests next in rank and the doorkeepers to remove from the temple of the LORD all the articles made for Baal and Asherah and all the starry hosts. He burned them outside Jerusalem in the fields of the Kidron Valley and took the ashes to Bethel.

Esther was called to become the deliverer of her people. The very existence of the house of Judah and the end of the messianic line was possible at that time and her intervention saved Judah..

In Numbers 27 is found he story of five women who challenged Moses concerning their portion among the people. The Lord supported their cause.

No distinction is made between the sexes in regard to prophecy in Joel’s prophetic utterance. It is as well to remember that prophecy is the speaking forth of the Lord’s message under the anointing of the Holy Spirit. It includes forth-speaking, for telling and preaching.

Joel 2:28 (NIV) ‘And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.

This prophesy was applied to the new testament church by Peter (Acts2:17) and this usage clearly indicates that women were expected to minister in the church as ambassadors of God in prophetic utterance.

Further support is found in Paul’s exhortation to the Corinthians.

1 Cor 14:26 (NIV) What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church.