I may have an opportunity to attend my 45th high school reunion. In looking over the Facebook pictures I realize everyone has dramatically changed from the old school days. I look in the mirror and see just a little more gray hair and a couple of extra pounds of weight, but not much difference in my looks.
Hopefully I can recognize all my old friends, at least the ones that posted pictures to their Facebook accounts.
I plan on taking a whole week and renewing old friendships that have dwindled over the years. I also plan on eating some hoagies and Philly Cheesesteak sandwiches with fried peppers and onions along with those tangy Italian cherry peppers.
So many things in the past I have missed and look forward to experiencing and seeing again. The old tunnel in my home town of Glenolden which goes under the train tracks had a slippery pipe which we would walk, sometimes slipping into the accompanying creek and getting soaked. I hear they put in a concrete walkway now. Still it might be interesting to walk through and yell to hear the echoes.
Maybe I will have a chance to visit the Liberty Bell in Philly and run up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, posing in my favorite Rocky Balboa pose when I reach the top!
Being older, I expect those steps to be a bit more challenging than I remembered in my youth. However, it will be an experience.
Since I might be spending a Sunday there, I thought of finding a Church of Christ in the Philadelphia area and attending the service on Sunday.
This is where my search became interesting. The first thin that popped up on Google was the “Ex Church of Christ support group” that offered solace and comfort for those who have left the Churches of Christ. This was interesting, but not exactly what I was looking for.
I found several Churches of Christ in the Greater Philadelphia and Delaware County area, and every one of them claims to be based upon the teachings of Jesus and God’s Word.
One Church of Christ says “We aspire to be like the church that you can read about in the New Testament, doing nothing without Bible authority. There is nothing smaller or larger than the local church according to the word of God, so we have no headquarters as man-made churches do, because such isn’t taught in the word of God.”
They meet in a store on Sundays. They describe themselves as “A small group of friendly people, devoted to following the New Testament as their only authority of practice without denominational affiliation.”
It looks like they skipped over Matthew 5:17 where Jesus tells us he didn’t come to overthrow the law.
The do have a local preacher. They do not have any elders or deacons.
Another church celebrates their diversity and has two pastors – one male and one female. They also have a board of elders, but no deacons. They have many ministers (not to me confused with pastors) both male and female, most of which are dedicated to community outreach.
They claim “that each person is on a personal spiritual journey, so only he or she can describe what he or she believes.” They also say “We take the Bible “seriously,” but not literally.”
Yet another has no pastor, no ministers, elders nor deacons – they have priests. Yes, you heard that right: they have priests.
No, they are not a radical break-away faction of the Catholic church. What is even more unusual, is that all members of the church, both male and female, are called priests – and everyone can preach in front of the congregation.
You have noticed that being based on Jesus, His Father and the Holy Spirit along with the Bible, we get a wide range of church structures.
I still haven’t decided on which church to attend.
I didn’t think much more about this until I was reading through Romans. As I read through Chapter 16, I realized what I saw among these churches: the roles of women in the church.
One church had the women delegated to cake sales and pot lucks. At the other end, there was one church that had a woman as a pastor. In the middle, there was a church with a pair of pastors – a husband and wife team, sort of like the C3 Silicon Valley church that meets at the Jewish center, although they don’t claim to be a Church of Christ.
I thought: “Here is a great topic for a sermon.” Then a chill ran up and down my spine and the hairs on the back of my neck stood upright like I was zapped by a Van de Graaff generator.
The title of this sermon appeared in my mind: “Where Angels Fear to Tread.”
No, this is not in the Bible. In fact, if you read the Bible from cover to cover you would not find a single instance of angels being afraid of anything. Of course you could infer the fallen angels fearing the fiery pit when Jesus returns.
Now, I ask you to imagine a situation where a fearless angel would fear to tread. I am jumping into that situation with both feet by tackling this sermon.
The roles of women in the church has been hotly contested for nearly 2,000 years. So I invite everyone to travel back to the early church and look at what they practiced.
Romans 16:1-2 (NIV)
1 I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church in Cenchrea.
2 I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been a great help to many people, including me.
This is very interesting that Paul decides to introduce Phoebe first. This is an indication that women played important roles in the early church.
Since she is mentioned first, some biblical scholars believe that Phoebe may have personally delivered this letter to the Romans. There are other things Paul said that support this belief.
When Paul introduces Phoebe, he calls her a servant of the church in Cenchrea. He uses the Greek word diakonos. Diakonos means deacon.
So we see that Phoebe plays an important role in the church. Deacons do many things. They are entrusted to do the all-important grunt work of the church. They help minister to the members of the church.
They also help and advise the higher-ups in the church such as the elders and the pastor.
Female deacons are pretty special as they can perform some tasks that men deacons could not. Female deacons could help the females in the church in areas that would have been taboo for men to even talk about.
The female perspective comes in real handy in the church. I can show you how this outlook can help.
How many parents remember how three-year-old children act? This is positive proof that a mother’s unconditional love makes it possible for them to reach four years old and hopefully adulthood.
I babysat a three-year-old once. I had some nice dining room chairs with woven rattan backs. He had a cookie and proceeded to use the chair as a cookie grater. I got a coil of rope and placed it on the chair. The three-year-old looked at me, then the rope than the cookie and back to the rope. He then decided not to continue.
See, if it were up to the men, the number of survivors would be few.
This is just one of the many female strengths the church needs to survive. You see, God created women with abilities that are meant to compliment the abilities of men.
For instance: a woman can look at a woman, observe their manner and dress and come up with a very accurate assessment of what that person is like. Men on the other hand, would just see if the woman was pretty or not and that’s the end of it.
Men are good at tearing down walls and building new ones, or even renovating a room. Just don’t let them near the color chart for paint.
Paul and other smart men in the church saw the value of women in the church.
Phoebe lived in Cenchrea, which is an important seaport that leads to the Aegean Sea, so she was probably a businesswoman who traveled to Rome.
Phoebe loved Jesus! That is evident by Paul asking the Romans to “receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints.”
Now, I ask you, who are the saints? [wait for responses]
Saints are the believers, the Christians in the church. So Paul is also asking the Romans to accept her as a worthy and genuine disciple of Jesus.
Paul goes even further in describing Phoebe’s importance. He tells the Romans that “she has been a great help to many people, including me.” Phoebe must have provided much support to Paul, the apostles and other Christians. She would also be a good contact person when the Roman church members visited her home area.
During this period in time, women, as a whole, were overlooked in the male society. When Jesus fed thousands with fish and bread, the number of people reported were the men, even though there were also women and children present.
Phoebe was a very powerful and smart woman. To own and run a business was primarily a male domain, but Phoebe transcended this. And Paul entrusted her enough to deliver and present his important letter to the Roman church.
Paul also asked the Romans to assist her in any way they could. So they probably helped her with whatever she may have needed for her business dealings when she was in Rome.
Romans 16:3-4 (NIV)
3 Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus.
4 They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them.
Priscilla and Aquilla were a Christian married Jewish couple and they were tent makers. They left Rome when there was some anti-Semitism stirred up when Cornelius ordered the Jews to leave. They settled in Corinth.
Paul was a tent maker too, and he had met and worked with them. Paul taught them the ways of Jesus and they accepted Jesus as their savior. In Acts 18:1, they are introduced as Aquila and Priscilla. Now, Paul places Priscila at a higher position in the church than her husband.
They were also very helpful to Apollos. Turn to Acts 18:26
Acts 18:26 (NIV)
26 He [meaning Apollos] began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.
So Priscilla and Aquila acted like tag-team wrestlers and whipped Apollos into shape in preaching the Good News of Jesus. Here we have a Christian woman instructing a Christian male preacher.
Paul goes on to say that Priscilla and Aquila had even put their lives at risk to help him. He even goes further by saying that all of the Gentile churches are grateful to this Jewish couple.
We have a power team here and Priscilla is the prevailing person in the spiritual matters. They are both exceedingly hard workers for Jesus.
Romans 16:6 (NIV)
6 Greet Mary, who worked very hard for you.
Mary is the Jewish name Miriam. It is amusing that her name means “rebel.” You can see how accepting Jesus can dramatically change your life. Mary was transformed from a rebellious kid into an ardent worker for Jesus and the church.
Romans 16:12 (NIV)
12 Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, those women who work hard in the Lord. Greet my dear friend Persis, another woman who has worked very hard in the Lord.
Even though Tryphena means “delicate” and Tryphosa means “dainty”, don’t let those names make you think of pot lucks and quilting bees. Paul says they work very hard in the Lord.
Back in Paul’s time “very hard work” doesn’t even come close when you come home and say “I had a really hard time at the office today.” These two women were very hard workers in supporting Paul and the church.
Persis is in the same category as a very hard worker in Christ. Her name refers to a horsewoman or traveler, so I find it amusing that she is travelling to Rome. It is a name that is associated with a freedwoman or freed slave. As a former slave, it would be safe to say that she knew the meaning of really hard work.
Romans 16:13 (NIV)
13 Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too.
Paul has a special place in his heart for the mother of Rufus. When Paul was first converted, every Christian feared him. They would have nothing to do with him. They thought he was trying to trick them into admitting they followed Jesus.
Rufus’ mother saw through his reputation and saw he was truly a changed person. Remember what I mentioned earlier about women having gifts that men don’t have?
The Christian men couldn’t believe that the biggest persecutor and murderer of Christians was a changed man.
Rufus’ mother took Paul in and it was through her involvement that men started to accept Paul. Imagine what would have happened to the church if none of the Christian men accepted Paul!
Romans 16:15 (NIV)
15 Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas and all the saints with them.
Paul also mentions Julia, the sister of Nereus and Olympas, all women Christians that traveled to help the Roman church.
Let’s not forget Dorcas!
Acts 9:36 (NIV)
36 In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (which, when translated, is Dorcas), who was always doing good and helping the poor.
Dorcas was a disciple of Jesus. She dedicated her life to helping the poor and doing good.
Dorcas was important for the church. When she died, Peter came and raised her from the dead and presented her to the other disciples that were around her.
In fact, many people who heard about this accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior.
We can see that women are a valuable part of the early church and this has continued to today.
Even I do fear to tread into the subject of women pastors. Maybe that is an opportunity for a future Bible study.
Let us pray.