Let’s talk a little bit about going on in Houston. In case you haven’t been caught up on this, there are really two issues. Issue number one is the HERO ordinance which is really a misnomer but that’s the acronym they set up for the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance which was attempted to be passed by our mayor.
I heard today from an associate member of this congregation who knows one of the homosexual transvestite activists who really put forth this agenda and gave it to the mayor. His name is Ray Hill, I believe. Ray’s understanding of this law is a perfect illustration of when you suppress the truth in unrighteousness and God gives you over to three different stages that we read about in Romans 1. It says God gave them over to lusts in their eyes and all the different stages of deterioration there and then you can’t think clearly any more. When he reads what this ordinance says and when he explained it to the guy who called me today, his understanding is not what it says. They just distort it. They look at data and it’s reinterpreted through their epistemological grid.
I want to talk a little bit tonight about this before we get into our chapter. Maybe we won’t get into our chapter. Something else happened. This morning I got another e-mail with a question that brings all of this to bear. But first, to finish covering the history of this ordinance the ordinance was passed by a large majority of the Houston city council. According to the city charter of Houston there are 30 days to respond to it or it’s just too late. The way to respond is to collect signatures for a petition to call for a referendum that it be put on the ballot. That is the focal point here.
The point of that petition was not to, in and of itself, turn over the ordinance but to put it on the ballot. The whole thing was that the people of Houston ought to have a say in this because it is apparent from many polls that the people of Houston do not support this ordinance. It’s about voting rights. It’s about the freedom of Houston citizens to be involved politically in this decision and not to have it jammed and rammed down their throats by the city council and the mayor. It is not a homophobic issue, per se. It is not an issue related to that. Fundamentally it’s an issue of voter rights.
The petitions were put out and many pastors and churches and a number of other people took those petitions, went around, and collected signatures and did the best they could to validate those signatures. They were presented in a timely manner to the city at the end of June, somewhere around June 28 or 29, according to the standards and the city charter. The signed petitions went to Anna Russell who is the city secretary. She’s been the city secretary since the last decent mayor of Houston, Louie Welch, back in the 70s. At least that’s what I think. I may be mistaken there. Anyway, she’s been around a very, very long time. She’s had a lot of experience in city government.
She was deposed last week and she said what happened was she needed to validate 18,200 signatures. I read someone who said it was 17,200 but it’s around that. What she did was she validated 600 more than needed so she validated approximately 18,800 signatures. She looked at only 19,200 to get the ones she needed so that means she had a 98% authentication rate which shows that the people who collected the signatures before they presented them did their homework and validated and authenticated as many as they could. They turned in these petitions that were properly authenticated. They didn’t have bogus names or bad names. Anna Russell wrote a letter to the mayor, outlining what she had found, coming to the conclusion that there were yes, indeed, enough signatures on the petitions to put this on the ballot on the next city election.
There are copies of that letter. She’s been deposed. It’s in the deposition and over that particular weekend which is the first weekend in August the mayor and the city attorney got together and said, “We can’t let this stand. We’ve got to do something to fight this.” The city attorney looked at all those signatures. They went through a process saying that if you printed out the name, such as Robert Lewis Dean, Jr., and then you looked at the signature and it’s wasn’t legible then it was invalidated. Oliver Pennington, who is one of the city councilmen who signed the signature, his signature is Oli and then just scribbles off. His signature was invalidated. There are a lot of doctors and college-educated people who take a lot of notes, especially if you go to seminary or medical school or law school, your penmanship is the first thing to go. Many people just have a signature that’s maybe a “Z” for Zorro but when you look at that “Z” you know what it stands for. It doesn’t have the whole name there.
What happened was that they invalidated so many signatures and even invalidated the whole sheet if one signature was illegible, that the city attorney came back and said they only came up with about 13,000 signatures so there’s not enough to qualify and they quashed it. There were various maneuvers that were made.
The head lawyer on that case is Andy Taylor. He’s one of the foremost attorneys. He was interviewed this morning on the Michael Berry radio show. I listened to him when I was out running. The lawyer went through the whole thing and described all the point-by-point material. He’s one of the top lawyers on elections in the state of Texas. So they went back and forth on this. Finally it was taken to court. The judge set a court date in early January when they’re going to hear both sides. The major issue at that time was to halt the application of that ordinance until it finally goes to court which I believe they got. It’s been put on hold until that happens.
All of that happened and now they’re in the process of deposing various witnesses. A suit has been brought against the city of Houston and what is typical in a legal case is that they get to depose the people who are involved. But the pastors are not part of that group that is bringing the lawsuit. It’s not coming from the pastors or from those individuals. I forget who is actually bringing that. What you hear from some people, in fact American Vision which is a post-millennial reconstruction group, which is pretty good on some conservative issues said, “This is typical of depositions. They want to collect materials.” That’s true. During discovery they collect materials on both sides.
This morning the e-mail I got was related to that. The person asked me to explain what I understood because she had gotten information from a lawyer she was familiar with whose name I’m not mentioning and who is running for judge in Harris County on the Democratic ticket. He wrote this. I thought this would be a good teaching tool for everybody in terms of how we, as believers, ought to think.
My study of the Word particularly over the last ten years has brought me to the conclusion that probably the most significant verse in the Bible related to the role of the church, the role of the educational philosophy of the church is Romans 12:2, “Don’t be conformed to the world.” The word there is AIONOS, which is frequently translated zeitgeist, the spirit of the age, the thinking of the age. It’s similar to KOSMOS, which focuses on the orderly arrangement of the thoughts. AIONOS locates that within a time period or an age.
As we go through the history of ideas, every culture goes through these various periods where thought systems change. When thought systems change, everything changes. Your view of music changes; your view of art changes; your view of politics and law changes. Within 20 years of the founding of this country we started going through a major shift in the thought form of this country into what is known as modernism. In the early part of the twentieth century we started shifting into something frequently referred to as post-modernism. Everyone who grows up in a non-theistic culture grows up thinking within the framework of this kind of a thought system. They grow up thinking like a modernist and a post-modernist. Most of you think more like a modernist than you do like a biblical Christian. That’s always the problem. That’s what I’m talking about tonight. Some of you have been around a long time and you’ve made tremendous headway in that but this is one of the battles we have to fight.
Romans 12:2 says, “Don’t be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your thinking.” It’s not easy to renew our thinking. I want to give you a mental picture to think about. I want you to picture building a house. Most of you are used to the house-building analogy in Matthew where the wise man builds on a rock foundation and the foolish man builds on a foundation of sand that can shift. When the storms of life come, the house that’s built on the sand falls down and the house that’s built on the rock stands up.
A lot of Christians still have a sandy soil in their mentality. They still think like a pagan. They may have adopted a lot of establishment truth. They may have adopted a lot of Biblical vocabulary that has entered into their foundation but their foundation hasn’t shifted to the rocky, firm foundation of the Word of God. The foundations are your presuppositions.
Shifting metaphors now to a medical metaphor we could say that presupposition has to do with your mental immune system. If your foundation is still based to some degree on paganism then you’ve got a compromised immune system and you’re going to get sucked into a lot of this thinking no matter how Biblical or doctrinal you think you are. This is what happens here with this woman who e-mailed me. She is a woman who grew up in a church where I grew up and many of you have gone where the Word of God was taught very faithfully and very well, but a lot of people didn’t get it.
It’s not unique to that congregation. More people don’t get it in a lot of other churches. One of the problems with modern evangelicalism is that they have built their Biblical framework in the above-ground foundational thought system in the soil that they had when they were unbelievers. They never changed at the presuppositional level. They still think in terms of being an unbeliever so when the pressure really comes their default is to be like an unbeliever.
What this lawyer wrote illustrates this. This is a guy that sat under the teaching of the Word of God for probably twenty or thirty years. I’ve run into this kind of stuff all my life. He says, “The facts on this issue as I understand it are that the pastors were told by a flyer of a lawsuit how to properly fill out the petitions.” I don’t know what he means by this flyer but we got information one way or another on how to address the petitions, the correct way to do it so they would be legal. That much is correct.
He goes on to say, “That means the sermons are relevant to that issue.” Wait a minute, the verbiage in the subpoena is that all the sermons, all the text messages, all the iMessages, all the chats, all the e-mails, all of the communications of the pastors in relation to homosexuality are included. How many years do you want to go back? Ed Young’s been teaching a long time. I’ve been teaching a long time. A lot of the pastors have been teaching a long time. Homosexuality is a big issue but the issue on the petitions had nothing to do with the issue of the HERO ordinance. They had to do with whether the petitions were valid.
The mayor wants everything ever said or taught about homosexuality, anything they’ve ever said about her, anything ever said about the HERO ordinance, and everything ever said about the petition. They basically put this out there.
What the response is from the other side is that they farmed their defense out to pro bono lawyers. The Biblical word for that is skybalon. Andy Taylor was saying that when he went to court in August and is representing the “good guys,” the city lawyer, David Feldman, came in with 15 pro bono lawyers. So it’s basically sixteen to one in the courtroom. The guy who is sitting second chair for Feldman is one of the top lawyers for one of the biggest, most powerful law firms in the city. I’m not going to mention names. Every one of those pro bono lawyers represented one of the top law firms in this country.
Michael Berry made a good point about that. He used to be a city councilman. He knows the intricacies of how all these systems work. When you and I hear pro bono we think it’s a second rate lawyer who just has to do a charity deal and he’s not putting everything in to it. Michael Berry says that is a complete misunderstanding how the system works. These lawyers are in there donating their time because they’re going to get on David Feldman’s good side. He’s the city attorney and the responsibility of the city attorney is to determine what law firms get the contracts to handle the legal work for the city. So it’s tit-for-tat. If you go in there and donate your time and you do a really bang-up time for the city, then you’re going to get multi-million dollar contracts for your law firm. This is how this system works. They may be pro bono lawyers but let me tell you they’re some of the best lawyers in the country.
What the mayor is trying to say is “Well, I never read it.” Feldman is saying that he never read them either, that the subpoena is too broadly worded. Garbage. Skybalon. That is just bold-faced lying. A tweet from the mayor, Annise Parker, which I actually saw on ABC-13 News this morning, said, “If the five pastors used pulpits for politics their sermons are fair game. Were instructions given on filling out the anti-HERO petition?” She knows that all of these things were asked for in the subpoena and she’s just trying to back-pedal. They’re lying through their teeth. They’re lying to the citizens of Houston and their ultimate game is that the homosexual-gay-lesbian-transgender agenda is to stop anyone, whether you’re an orthodox Jew, whether you’re a Christian, whether you’re just someone with good sense or whether you’re a Moslem, all of these people who stand against this ordinance. The mayor wants to silence anyone who has a system of morality that doesn’t approve of their behavior. They do not want them to be able to say anything. The bottom line is they want to remove the Bible, the Torah, and the Koran from having any influence on the ethics or the thinking of people.
Back to what this lawyer is saying. He’s validating the assumption that it’s a legitimate request to ask for all the sermons related to all those topics. There are about six or seven other topics that they listed in the wording of the subpoena. So he says, “The lawyers and judge will work out the scope of the request. The mayor’s office will issue a statement, which I shared with a previous post. Meanwhile, not widely known, many pastors who want to challenge the Johnson amendment…”
Here’s this guy spreading a lie. This is not true. About this time of year there is a Sunday called Freedom Pulpit Sermon when a lot of pastors will preach on politics specifically and some of them send all their messages from that Sunday to the IRS. Many do not. It’s a small number of white churches who do this. There’s a study indicating this. There are studies saying that about 70% of black churches endorse individual candidates from the pulpit and only about 17% of white churches endorse specific candidates.
Some of you have seen the clips I have shown from the rally I was at on the steps of city council, as well as when they were in the city council chambers and you saw there were a number of black pastors who were speaking but not one black pastor was named in the subpoena. Now I think that’s kind of racist. They don’t want to anger the black community but there were a number of black pastors who were up on the stand today when Ted Cruz had a press conference at First Baptist. I was there but I didn’t get the word early enough to stand on the platform with all the other pastors. I was in the back of the room which may be good because when they’re all in jail I’ll be the only one preaching the Word.
I was glad to see that two of my former students from WHW were up there on the platform. Of the 36 pastors who were on the platform I counted 7 or 8 who were black. That’s almost 25%. That’s a higher demographic percentage than the black representation of the city so I was very glad to see that. The city has avoided that.
Anyway, the city lawyer goes on to blame the pastors that they’re making a big deal out of this and that it’s really not a First Amendment issue at all, when it is. Let me tell you why he’s gotten confused in his thinking. Let’s go back to the analogy of the two houses. On one side there’s the thinking of the unbeliever; on the other, is the thinking of a weak believer. The unbeliever on the left’s foundation is that there’s no God. Whatever he’s coming out of, whether it’s atheism or Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witness or any other religious system where’s there’s a distortion he doesn’t have a Biblical God as his foundation. That’s what philosophers call “metaphysics”. Everything comes out of your view of metaphysics but no one ever talks about it anymore.
People get involved with debates about behavior, law, politics, and policy and they fight at this level but they never talk about the foundation. This is all underground. Your view of God is going to influence your view of knowledge, which is called epistemology, your view of truth and your view of authority. How do you know something is true? What’s your authority for saying x, y, and z is true? That’s what connects what you say is true to the foundation. Your authority is what you think the ultimate reality is but if the ultimate reality is just matter then there’s nothing to go to.
If your ultimate reality is impersonal there’s nothing to appeal to and you become the ultimate reality. This is what we see in Judges. Since there was no belief in God in Israel everyone “did what was right in his own eyes”. So you become your own authority and it is out of that you develop your values. You develop what’s right, what’s wrong and what your norms and standards are, what your ethics are; all of that flows out of your understanding of knowledge and truth and authority. If you’re an unbeliever, it’s going to be consistent with your view that there’s no Biblical God. Then your behavior, your practice, what you do, the laws that you sign on to practice, your political theories, and your policies all flow out of your values, your norms, and your ethics.
What we do so often when we talk to people we just argue at the level of behavior, law, politics, and policy. We never get to the real issue. If someone is consistent as an unbeliever, they’re going to end up way out in left field. Many times I’ve mentioned Thomas Sowell’s book Conflict of Vision where he points out that liberalism is grounded on a utopic view that man is basically good whereas conservatism is based on a realistic view that man is basically evil. That defines the difference between the two views.
The liberal view sees everything as perfectible and the conservative view just sees you can make things more orderly but you can’t perfect them. So they’re not trying to get engaged in social activism and progressivism, which characterizes almost everyone who’s a thoughtful Democrat. About a third of the Republican Party is based on a view that we can bring in some kind of utopic state and we should be engaged in social activism.
If you become a believer, then all of a sudden your foundation is no longer no Biblical God but you have a diluted view of God. You now say that you believe in a Triune God, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit but if you’re a baby believer you really don’t have a clue what that means or how that impacts your understanding of knowledge and truth. Now if you hang around for a while you’re going to start picking up some biblical knowledge, which may be exchanged for the knowledge you had before. You’re going to at least superficially think you’re under the authority of the Word of God but because you really don’t have a well-grounded theology proper where you understand God and His essence and His plan and His purpose, then your view of authority is going to be diluted.
Sometimes you’re going to base your decisions on experience, reason, and mysticism rather than exclusively on the Word of God. The Word of God is not the sole and exclusive authority in your life. It takes a long time for a baby believer to get to the point where he understands how exclusive that authority is, in every area of thinking. Then that changes his values.
An immature believer can have a lot of values change at a surface level but as Jesus points out, when the storm comes, when you come under the peer pressure of society or when you’re involved in certain professions and you work for certain companies and your human resources people come down and say you have to validate same sex marriage and you have to do other things, then what will you do? Or you work for a company that says various other social engineering schemes are handed down from the government or from various legislative decisions have to be implemented and you have to implement them. Then as an immature believer without enough confidence in the Lord you say, “Well, I’ve got to keep my job. I’ve got to be able to work here. I’ve got to provide an income for my family and this really isn’t going to hurt too much. I just have to do what my boss says. I don’t really have to believe this but it’s my job.”
Usually it’s not that much of a compromise at first. But it’s increased more and more over the last thirty years. I had a situation in Dallas about 25 years ago when I had a man in my church who worked for what was then Southwestern Bell. They were required to go to sensitivity training and basically New Age mysticism, guided imagery, and all of these kinds of things. He said absolutely not, along with other Christians. They got away with it. You couldn’t get away with that today. What happened is that too few people raised objections to that so now they’ve compromised and compromised and compromised.
We have a generation that those who are under 35 just don’t understand why these old fogies who are Christians are making such a big deal about this. Then you hear the Libertarian crowd come in and they say they just want to be economic conservatives. They think the Republican Party cannot survive with these Christians in here because it’s the social issues that are dividing the country. Well, you can’t do that. You’re a fool Biblically if you think that if this HERO ordinance goes into effect, it won’t matter. What do you think the economic consequences will be? It’s going to be huge. It’s going to force every business in this city to have a third restroom for those who are gender confused. It’s going to have all kinds of legal cases that are going to come up where people are going to be fined. It’s going to have all kind of economic consequences throughout business.
You can’t make a social decision that doesn’t have economic decisions. It’s clearly illustrated in the Mosaic Law. God said that if the Israelites gave themselves over to idolatry and perversion and disobedience there will be certain consequences. Now you can’t go into a laboratory and say there’s a direct correlation between the fact that if you go into immorality then a drought is going to start and your crops are going to fail and you’re going to have depression and you’re going to fall apart militarily. You can’t draw a one-to-one correlation unless you have the God of the Bible who is controlling both aspects.
If you have an impotent picture of the God of the Bible and you don’t believe He’s controlling both sides, then you have nothing. The reason bad social decisions impact economics negatively isn’t because it’s a direct correlation but it’s an indirect correlation because God’s in control of both. People don’t understand that and they think they can play with that.
This is what’s eviscerating constitutional conservatives in this country. They have compromised their thinking at a foundational level. They are thinking like pragmatists and relativists, presuppositionally. You can’t even talk to most Christians about this because they can’t think their way through it. They haven’t been taught enough to be able to understand these kinds of issues. Many people believe they have to do these things to get along. People who are on faculties sometimes fight these things and they win. It’s not pleasant. There are a lot of people who aren’t fighters. They’re not going to fight and die on these hills. The problem is that for every hill you don’t fight and die on sooner or later you’ve lost a lot of hills. You’re in trouble. You have to make judgment calls. I know there are a few people here who never saw a hill small enough they wouldn’t fight and die for.
We have to make good decisions. This is one that’s important. What’s at stake here is the First Amendment. A problem you see is that a lot of Christians don’t understand it because they don’t want to think about it. They just want to be about their business. They’re working for some law firm and as part of their responsibility for the firm they have to go and defend a lot of clients that are engaged in unethical conduct and they have to compromise. Or they’re working as a teacher or a professor somewhere and they have material they have to communicate in their curriculum that is contrary to the Bible.
People don’t make compromises in one big jump. They compromise one small step at a time. The next thing they do is they look around and all of a sudden they find that they’ve shifted from claiming to be a conservative Bible-believing Christian to being someone who’s not convinced about the Bible and has joined the other side. After explaining some of that to the person who sent that to me, a person who spent years under sound doctrinal teaching, but he never made it is because of a term I love. It’s a term 99% of the people who heard this term never understood it. It’s epistemological rehabilitation.
Epistemological rehabilitation isn’t changing what’s at the surface level. It’s hard. It takes place at the foundation. The problem is most Christians never change those basic presuppositions that they pick up when they were growing up, when they were being influenced by their peers, when they were being brain-washed by the secular school system, and being brain-washed by atheist college professors.
As a result they’ve got a split personality almost. They have inclinations at their foundation that are pagan. They know they ought to think like Christians and they don’t know why they have this conflict. When the pressure comes and when the culture starts really putting pressure on them through their jobs, their careers, and their retirement they think, “Wait a minute. I just can’t go there. I don’t want to raise my head up. I don’t want anyone to notice me. I just have to make it. I’m not going to get into a fight because…”
What they’ve done is they’ve compromised and compromised and compromised. They didn’t even know it. It wasn’t something big. There were no big red flags. They just didn’t know how to think Biblically and they got snookered by the cosmic system again and again and again until they’re basically a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
There’s a problem. It’s the job of the pastor and I’m concerned because not enough pastors are showing up at these things and it’s the job of the pastor both to teach the Word of God and to protect the sheep that are in his sheepfold. Part of my job is that I need to protect you and at times that means I need to go out into the civic world and be involved in protecting us so that we can have a ministry that is not being interfered with by the government.
This is what gave the foundation to the United States, the pastors that took their stand during the American War for Independence. One of my favorite stories is about Peter Muhlenberg and his brother, Augustus. He was a well-known lieutenant colonel taking his commission in the Continental Army. He stood up in the pulpit of his Lutheran church. His father was a major preacher in the First Enlightenment. Peter stood up and pulled off his clerical robes and underneath was his lieutenant-colonel’s uniform. He basically asked who was going to follow him into battle. He recruited his battalion from his congregation and off he went. One of his most vocal critics was his brother, Augustus. Augustus was a pastor in New York. Augustus told Peter he was wrong, that it’s not the role of the pastor to be involved in civic affairs. That it’s not the role of the pastor to be involved in politics or in the fight.
That was Augustus Muhlenberg’s point until the British captured New York. The British knew that the greatest enemy they had in the colonies were the pastors so they burned the churches. They burned Augustus Muhlenberg’s church. Boy did he repent. Later he became the first Speaker of the House. We have to understand there’s a time when we just stick to our knitting but part of our knitting as pastors involves protecting the congregation and being out there and making our voice heard.
People in the congregation need to hear that. This is such a battle. It’s not one I wanted. I’m much happier staying in my study and working through a lot of Greek and Hebrew and studying the text but if I’m going to continue that in ten, fifteen, twenty years and if I’m going to continue to teach men who can teach your children and your grandchildren then we have to have the freedom to do it. If this doesn’t change, we’re not going to have the freedom to do it. What we do in terms of Bible study and Bible teaching today without being involved in these situations and trying to correct them then we won’t have a future and we won’t have the opportunity to teach the Word of God because there will be government officials not allowing it.
Now this is just one battle. There are going to be a hundred battles like this. It’s very possible that the mayor is going to be forced to back down and they’re going to restrict this and they shouldn’t be coming after anything that a pastor says. That’s the church’s intellectual property and it should be completely off-limits according to the First Amendment. But they’re going to try to back off of this and come out with a lot of rationalizations. They may end up being completely defeated on the issue because there’s been an enormous hue and cry raised against the mayor and the city council.
This is only the first shot across the bow. This is just the beginning. This is a long war. The war started about a hundred years ago. For a lot of people they’re just waking up to the fact that there’s something going on. The war’s been going on since progressivism reared its ugly head in the beginning of the 20th century. So we need to learn that this is part of the angelic conflict. It’s part of our spiritual warfare and it’s part of the battle, whether we like it or not. When 9/11 occurred, one of my first thoughts was, “Oh no, I’m going to have to study Islam. I hate studying Islam. I’m going to have to become an expert on Islam.” But that’s where the battle is today. Martin Luther said that if we don’t reinforce and fight the battle at the point at which the fortress is being attacked then we’re going to lose the battle. We don’t get to choose where the enemy attacks us. This is where we are being attacked. We have to fortify ourselves. The only way we can do that is with the Word of God.
Now let’s get into the opening part of Romans 16. I’ve always thought Romans 16 is unusual. This is the longest closing of any of Paul’s epistles. It contains a lot of personal information and a lot of personal greetings. There are a huge number of names here that are unfamiliar to everyone. They’re not mentioned anywhere else so they’re virtually unknown. There are a few that are known but most of them we don’t know anything about.
We can learn some things just by way of overview. One of the first things we see here is that Paul had a wide variety of colleagues and friends and associates and people who loved him. He was very much a personal person. What you see so often in psychological characterizations of the Apostle Paul is that he is this obsessive, detailed-oriented theologian that’s more concerned with truth than with people. That’s how the modern mindset wants to approach the Bible. Here we see that Paul is very personal.
Another thing that you often hear from liberal and neo-liberal and neo-orthodox and neo-evangelical [how’s that for a lot of neos?] individuals is that Paul was a misogynist, that he hated women. Yet what we see here is that Paul mentions a number of women and praises them for of their involvement in the ministry and the local church. Paul clearly recognizes that there are role distinctions between men and women but there are no equality distinctions between them. They are equally in the image of God but God designed men and male souls for one purpose and women and feminine souls for another reason.
Another thing we should note here is that God the Holy Spirit saw fit to preserve these names down through 2000 years of church history and on into eternity. If every word of the Bible is inspired by God, and it is, then there’s a reason for this and we ought to spend some time trying to think through why this is important. I think part of this is because it shows us the kind of people who are involved in the congregation in Rome. There are probably other reasons, some of which we’ll see when we go through this chapter.
Paul is writing to the Romans. We’ve gone through a lot of what people would consider to be heavy theology and doctrine. Paul wasn’t writing to Dr. Dean or to Dr. Ice or to Dr. Walvoord or to Dr. Ryrie. He’s writing to Bill and Sue and Mary and Jane. The names in this chapter are the common names in Rome. Some of these are considered to be predominant names you would find among slaves, according to certain scholars. I think that’s a certain amount speculative but that’s the conclusions that many have reached. They’re people who have come from the whole spectrum of life, some of them are servants, some are slaves, some are in the military, some are merchants, some are community leaders but they’re the everyday people of the Roman Empire. They’re not Bible scholars. They’re not professional theologians.
Paul expects all of these everyday people to fully comprehend and understand and implement what he has written in Romans. It gives us a little bit of a picture of the people that Paul is writing to and ministering to. He starts off in Romans 16:1 with a commendation for Phoebe. The word that is used here is a word that is used in two or three other places. For example 2 Corinthians 3:1 has a similar word and Romans 3:5 talking about a recommendation of an individual to the congregation.
He identifies her as Phoebe, our sister. She’s not a biological sister but she’s a fellow member in the body of Christ, the royal family of God. He refers to her as a sister just as he referred to other male believers as brothers. We are all in the body of Christ if we are a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ.
We don’t know a lot about her. The name is a pagan name. It’s the feminine form of the Greek word PHOIBE which was one of the alternate names for Apollo. It means the bright one. Apollo was this sun god in the Greek pantheon. Such names were often given to the slaves who of course retained them even if they were set free. Phoebe was more likely a free woman.
She is called a “servant of the church” which has caused a lot of discussion. It is the feminine form of the word DIAKONOS from which we get our English word “deacon”. There are a number of people who have sought to establish a doctrine on this and say that the apostolic church had an office of deaconesses. There’s absolutely no support for that anywhere in the New Testament. There are only a few verses that people go to to support that. This is one of them. The other one comes up a little further down in verse 2 and later on in verse 7 where it will come up again.
Paul talks about her as one who has been a helper of many and of myself also. We’ll talk about that word in just a minute. This word refers to someone who functions as a servant. Now in the early church, you basically had two offices. You had the pastor who is sometimes called an elder and sometimes called an overseer, depending upon his function. The pastor focuses on leadership and the fact that he’s an elder focuses on his spiritual maturity, the fact that he’s called an overseer emphasizes the fact of his oversight over the congregation. Then you had deacons. Deacons were responsible for carrying out various day-to-day functions in any local church or any kind of organization. They didn’t have a “board” like we have. We think of the board of deacons who meet once a month. There’s a treasurer and different offices on our boards. That’s sort of an outgrowth and development from the development of corporations in western civilization. In the early church we think the model was closer to this.
I think the Word of God is broad enough and flexible enough to be adapted to a lot of different cultures but the primary leader of the congregation is the pastor. He’s the one who has the spiritual gift. He’s not a lone ranger. He doesn’t run it all himself and he has help. They had deacons. You look around a church and you have someone who needs to take care of the money so the pastor would appoint someone who was trustworthy and had integrity who would function like a treasurer. Then you’d have someone else who might need to take care of the distribution of the money to the widows and the orphans so that person would be qualified spiritually and would be a deacon. You might have someone else who would take care of the physical facilities. There might be two or three other responsibilities and so the pastor would appoint men to carry out those responsibilities. So they would carry out those responsibilities and report to the pastor. That was the rudimentary structure in the early church.
Now if there was a deaconess, it would be a woman who was appointed to carry out responsibilities to women and needs that were particularly associated with women in the congregation. I don’t have a problem with that but there’s no evidence until the late 2nd century or the 3rd century that the deaconess idea is an office. Certainly a woman did not have the authority over anyone, any man, especially, and was not allowed to teach. That wasn’t a part of the role. It was simply to carry out certain responsibilities.
I can think of some things in this church that are comparable. Ann does a wonderful job as a church hostess. That would be that kind of a position. Judy does a great job in terms of the nursery and some other things in the kitchen. That would be that kind of a job. That would be what a deaconess did. It wasn’t something that was an official leadership type of position. There’s no evidence in Scripture that it was anything official and I think the word would best be translated servant. She served the church in Romans 16:2 as “helper of many” and Paul says, “Of myself also.”
The word that’s used here is the feminine singular of PROSTATIS. Notice that the last two letters are “is”. The masculine form of the noun ends in “es” and that would indicate something completely different. In fact, in a study of the word, the word PROSTATES has the idea of a leader or a chief or a ruler. I’m quoting from John Murray who was head of the seminary at Westminster from his commentary on Romans. He said, “The feminine form PROSTATIS related to the masculine PROSTATES as a guardian or defender. The masculine is not used of Phoebe as one who rules. In Jewish literature the masculine word took on the meaning of the feminine which meant patroness or helper so in Jewish literature whether it’s masculine or feminine it picked up this idea of a patroness or someone who helped someone.”
In a pagan context the masculine had the idea of a ruler of a leader but that meaning is completely foreign here so she apparently was an independent businesswoman. She had some financial resources and was able to help the Apostle Paul and other believers financially. She is coming to Rome so Paul recommends her to them and encourages them to receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints. In other words be gracious and kind to her. Show her every bit of hospitality. She has need of you because she has been a helper of many, including myself. So he’s encouraging that.
That’s something that should be a part of any congregation, to help those who are traveling through. We had an example of that last summer where a family from Cornerstone Bible Church up in Lubbock were down here. The woman was fighting cancer and she had to go through a bone marrow transplant several different congregations organized to provide meals for them. That is a tremendous function of the local church. It shows grace orientation and it shows the function of the body of Christ in ministering to one another. There are a lot of different ways that can take place. That was the role of Phoebe.
Next time when we come back I’m going to talk about the next couple who are mentioned here. We do know a little more about them. They’re Priscilla and Aquila. This gets us into another little issue related to the role of women in ministry that we need to talk about because this example is often given by people. They say that Priscilla taught and that means Paul was not consistent in 1 Timothy 2:8-12 when he talks about not allowing women to teach. Priscilla and Aquila, people say, shared the gospel and straightened out Apollos. They insist that’s an example of a teacher. But that’s just such a perverted way of understanding and reading Scripture. I’m just amazed that people do that but when you don’t have a foundation, when you haven’t completely developed a solid foundation of Biblical truth as your authority, then you’re always going to be swayed and compromised by the culture around you. It will destroy your spiritual life and you will become completely ineffective in it. Next time we’ll come back and talk about that.