Religionists have required of would-be converts to Christianity to not only adopt Jesus as Lord, which lordship is not readily comprehended in our current cultural context anyway, but also to adopt another culture that is, in fact, extra-biblical. And “extra” in this sense does not mean MORE (as in “an extra scoop of ice cream” or MORE biblical); it actually means the opposite.

“Extra” means “additional, beyond the usual, outside.” For example, as “extra-legal” means “occurring outside the law, not governed by law, lawless; being beyond the province of authority of law,” Congress is now embroiled in a political effort – a coup, actually – to take down the duly-elected President of the United States. It is not a LEGAL battle – it is extra-legal – in that it is not governed by the law, by that which is legal, by actual written law, but by POLITICS: i.e., it is purely a political act outside of the law. That does not make it IL-legal; it simply means that it is not a LEGAL act, played out in and according to the established, published rules of the legal arena of the law – it is POLITICAL.

In the same manner, “extra-biblical” means something that is outside of, added to, and not actionable pursuant to the clear, indisputable authority of the Bible. For example, insofar as “church” is not an actual translation of the biblical word “ecclesia” but is, in fact, a substitution for it, “church” is an extra-biblical concept. It is outside the Bible, added onto it. That alone does not make it necessarily UN-biblical, but it does mean that one cannot justify the church (an institution, a hierarchy, human leadership with titles or “offices,” definable in any way apart from the pure words of scripture alone) as being BIBLICAL; it is CULTURAL (and/or business, educational, government, even legal).

(And for those who still insist that “church” IS a translation of “ecclesia” [or “ekklesia”], turn to Acts 19, verses 32, 39 and 41 and explain why the KJV uses “assembly” just in those three places, rather than “church,” and explain why, in context, the choice of a different “translation” for the very same word. What is an assembly, and how does it differ from a church? And are churches, thus, more biblical if they simply use the word “assembly” in their names rather than “church”?)

So, church requires new converts to become part of an institutional culture that has been tacked onto what scripture actually says, using biblical-sounding terms as if they are requirements. For example, part of, or concurrent with, “salvation,” the church tells us, are: 1. Accepting Jesus’ gift, 2. Getting baptized, and 3. Joining a “local church” … but no “local church” existed anywhere in the New Testament – nothing in any way resembling any modern definition of church – and, further, each church is different – has a different culture, making the concept of the local church even less defensible from scripture. This has made Christianity as a belief system very resistible to the non-churched for cultural reasons, if not biblical.

It is also why churches, in order to remain relevant, have adapted to the current surrounding culture(s) with changes in music and “worship,” from traditional to contemporary, though “worship” in an institutional setting is almost surely completely foreign to the New Testament, except insofar as I Corinthians 14 may describe a “worship service.”

Many have taken words, phrases and whole passages out of context – things that meant a certain thing in their contemporary context when they were written, but have then overlaid them onto our own modern culture and forced people to adopt their own interpretation of what was then current and is not so now. Church is cultural; ecclesia – what Jesus intended, what He established – while it occurs in cultural settings is outside of, above, that which is cultural. Culture may grow up around it, but ecclesia itself is not simply cultural: it is way MORE than cultural.

For example, our entire treatment of women in the context of “ministry” is something that is based largely on long-standing traditions and our interpretation of a couple of passages that had a specific cultural meaning when they were penned 2000 years ago, but which is not accurately transcribeable into our current contemporary context.

When Paul laid down a chain of command, naming the husband as the head in the body that comprised a marriage, a family, it was not a prohibition against women ever speaking or being heard in any setting wherein any men might be present. If it were, it makes unbiblical a whole slew of female biblical heroes in both the Old and the New Testament. It would be a major change from Old Testament to New – a change that would have to be far more apparent than just that which may be assumed by masculinity-challenged men to be required by I Corinthians 14:34 (which also diverts our attention from God’s ecclesia to man’s “church”) or I Timothy 2:12. And to be consistent, it would require us to treat all women as subordinates in ALL situations, regardless of the discipline – domestic, financial, instructional, legal, etc. – forcing all women to submit to all men at all times. (Unfortunately, believe it or not, there are some preachers out there who preach that very idea, and I’m not talking about Muslims.)

Follow with me. When we read, “Let the woman keep silent in the church,” it has a particular meaning to us that is wholly dependent upon our understanding of the term “church.” But what is the effect on our understanding if church isn't what Paul was speaking of after all? Clearly it was not, as “church” is actually a substitution for “ecclesia,” a term that had specific meaning to Greeks and Romans 2000 years ago – meanings nothing at all like anything church-like. Does understanding what the ecclesia is, was, or was intended to be matter to us? If, in fact, there was no such thing as the church as we know it and ecclesia had a whole different meaning, wouldn't it be important to us to understand what the ecclesia was actually intended to be, especially as, in this case, it’s someplace where women were, uniquely, supposed to remain silent? If we still have that entity, then perhaps a case could be made that its long-standing rules, as part of its very definition, still stand. But if the entity in question does not visibly exist nor operate now under its founding rules, then those rules, if they even exist as rules, cannot just be extrapolated and applied to some other institution that advances itself AS that entity in order to operate in the place of that entity.

If, for example, the ecclesia was more like a men's club, then it might make sense in cultural context for Paul to tell women to not be speaking there. If it was, in fact, a governmental apparatus, and culture then was similar to the American culture before women had the right to vote, then, too, women’s required silence, while not fitting into our culture today, could be historically understood. But, in fact, few today have but a small inkling of what the ecclesia actually is and was understood to be in the time of its cultural context. Therefore, to just assume that Paul was telling women to be quiet in “church,” when there was in that day no such thing as “church,” misses a very important point. We simply cannot judge a woman to be in violation of scripture that forbids her speaking out in “church” when “church” itself is not even mentioned in scripture! Much more the case when that man-made institution violates any number of scriptures on its face by simply existing and by twisting scripture to justify its existence as authoritative.

Church is not ecclesia. But what if the ecclesia, as it truly was and was intended, did have rules that were to be obeyed? Ecclesia was a government structure (see Acts 19), and such things do commonly have rules and protocols. For example, Queen Esther was forbidden to come before the king unless he summoned her. It was a matter of cultural understanding that she could not go there. Women were forbidden. Also, there are or were until recently no women members allowed at certain golf courses. I once heard that “golf” is an acrostic that stands for Gentlemen Only, Ladies Forbidden. If it's true that golf was started as a men's game, to give men a place to go and something “sporting” to do outside of the house away from their lady folk, then the women-forbidden idea would, in that context, make sense. We just don't know (and we won’t know until we get serious about understanding the term “ecclesia,” with all of its largely unknown cultural and legal nuances). But the point is that there may be cultural contexts in which women were excluded 2,000 years ago that made sense then that wouldn't make sense the same way today. So, when we're talking about church, something that did not even exist in reality until 300 years after the close of the New Testament Canon, then we are ill-served to impose upon the top of that our own judgments based on our own misunderstandings of what the term even meant. If we want to go back to being the ecclesia as God intended it, then, yes, absolutely, let us pursue it with all of our hearts, but let’s not try to get there by seeking to apply institutional rules that made sense and have application only within the bounds of that institution itself, especially when we can clearly identify no scriptural nexus for the rules in the context of the true ecclesia and when such application runs counter to the rest of scripture.

We praise the Proverbs 31 woman, but she wouldn’t fit into our convenient church culture creation called the “submissive woman.” What if a modern woman has a gift of prophecy like Miriam, Deborah, Anna or Mary, all celebrated prophetesses in scripture? Should we shut her up and disregard what she has to say, which by definition comes from the Holy Spirit, simply because we judge her ministry to be in violation of our understanding of scripture, which (mis)understanding convinces us that a woman is to be seen and not heard in “corporate assembly”? What are we missing from the Lord if that is, indeed, our response?

If we have a home Bible study, would a woman be permitted to speak there? Can we men sit and listen to what the lady has to say and appreciate the wisdom and Holy Spirit revelation therein? Well, sure, but that’s different from church! Says who? In the New Testament, all that followers of The Way had was the equivalent of the home Bible study. They had no church – no church buildings, no regular weekly Sunday morning services, no prepared sermons – none of that stuff that we think of today when we think of church. They met house to house daily and in passing in the marketplace. And we have no problem with the ladies talking and serving meals in private homes, do we? See, it’s only in context – in the artificial setting of “church” – where we start to have a problem with women’s participation, and that context didn’t even exist until Constantine meddled with the ecclesia after 300 AD.

Out of the church context centuries ago in Massachusetts, women were executed upon mere accusations of witchcraft – accusations without substance that led to the contemporarily-common term “witch hunt.” Looking back now at the record of the day, we realize that those women were murdered without law, without sense and without God's blessing. Yet how do we not do the same today when we deny women the opportunity to speak God's voice to us, which voice they are often far more apt to hear and to be attuned to the nuances of than is any man? (And who else do we shut up, in violation of I Corinthians 14, because he hasn’t “qualified” by way of seminary, “ordination,” or some other man-made test or imposition of human judgment?)

Look at the number of times that Jesus spoke directly to and with women as opposed to men. Yet today, if a woman hears from Him and wants to share it with us, “clergymen” respond as if That Woman has leprosy. Oh, but she’s preaching in church, and Paul clearly forbade that in the New Testament! Nonsense. She’s heard from JESUS, dude! Who the heck are YOU to deny her telling us what He said to her?

We make a fuss over protecting a man-made office in a man-made institution, neither of which is biblical, and as we misread, misapply and misinterpret the words of scripture itself, we think nothing of making half (or the vast majority, if we include all “laity” in the prohibition) of God's dear children, the ultimate in His creation, to be less than His servants by our obtuseness. But men scrabbling for their tenuous hold on power fight back fiercely against women who dare speak to us the voice of the Holy Spirit with apparently little (and long overdue) disregard for traditional institutional boundary lines. How is this (resistance with an insistence that it’s spiritual) not the very sin of witchcraft?

Let him who has ears hear what the Spirit says to the ecclesia.

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Mike Scruggs