The biggest barrier to understanding the Bible is built on the foundation of false Western epistemology. Getting your head inside the biblical epistemology will help you understand a whole raft of issues far more accurately. The greatest barrier built on that false epistemology is conflation of spiritual and earthly things. It requires a living spirit (Jesus used the term “born again”) to handle spiritual issues. There is a degree to which some parts of it can be understood intellectually, but the full meaning is a matter of imperative, and dead spirits cannot process a spiritual imperative.
However, there is an earthly element to revelation which is enshrined in the Law Covenants (Noah and Moses) as something within reach of mere intellect. You can’t really get the finer points without the spiritual capability of symbolic logic, but you can still manage to obey. You can obtain the lower covenant blessings, which include social stability, reasonable prosperity, safety and security from most threats, etc. Only those with living spirits can see how those things symbolize a higher spiritual reality which cannot be put into words. The Bible is the written expression, mostly narrative, which serves to point living spirits to the unspeakable and ineffable spiritual truths. Do not conflate the ultimate truth of things in Heaven with the contextual manifestation here on earth. They are related, but hardly identical.
Every human organization is just that — a human organization. One person can freely operate according to his own convictions, but involving two or more people always requires coordination, negotiation, and some surrender of prerogatives and freedoms. All churches are human organizations. They should serve a divine purpose, but you cannot conflate the two. A church is a political institution, and nothing about the thing itself is divine. The commands regarding how we operate within that organization are not spiritual, but a matter of Laws. Not in the sense we slavishly obey the Law Covenants, because that was never the intent. It’s a start, but the whole idea was to steer you to an awareness of higher things, things which cannot be enshrined in holy writ, since anything you can touch with hands cannot be truly holy (divine), but can only be ritually pure. Ink on paper, even with a leather binding, is not spiritual. It’s just a physical object with a specific economic value. Nothing in Heaven can be valued in human economic terms. So, any church is merely human politics as the framework in which we attempt to live by divine imperatives.
The Pharisees made a serious mistake of conflating spiritual and worldly things like that. To them the physical structure of the Temple was itself sacred and holy, like touching God’s own face. That was a heresy, one of the things which caused them tremendous grief when Jesus used proper symbolic language in saying something about tearing down “this temple.” The living human as temple is a parabolic image, and was closer to the ultimate truth than the image of an inanimate structure as God’s home. Likewise, they were absolutely certain money offerings to God were concretely sacred, and that all real property in Jewish hands was somehow too good to taken as Roman taxes, that it was somehow obscene. It might be wrong in terms of the Law Covenants, but that was of little importance when viewed from the mystical, other-worldly viewpoint Jesus taught. The Law Covenants had limited application, and as the Son of God, Jesus was the true expert in such matters.
The Hebrew culture assumes you will read Scripture spiritually, reading between the lines, and not cripple your understanding by insisting on a pedantic literal rendering of everything. When you approach things from the proper epistemology, you realize there is only one possible way to satisfy the demands of the Law regarding human government: all people had to belong to a tribal-extended household social structure. The spiritual truth is it need not be a matter of DNA or marriage — that was symbolic — but the way humans relate must of necessity be within that sort of structure. The first church in the New Testament was organized around the standard extended family household, and each was led by an elder. The meaning of the term is rather flexible, because he was seldom the oldest living male in the group. He was presumably the most able to provide the earthly leadership, keeping things reasonable and stable, and holding the whole thing together in close familial ties. He wasn’t an autocrat, and fairness and equality as we think of them would be sinful intrusions. No two people in any family are alike, so no two can be treated the same. And so it goes; we can easily understand how the Jerusalem church was simply a new clan, and quickly became big as any tribe, artificially constructed across bloodlines, but still very much of that structure. Even the first “deacons” were actually appointed elders over disassociated foreign-born households lacking the local native natural ties. Since elders were the means by which the church was governed on the human level, this gave the non-native families a fair representation in the councils.
It didn’t seem necessary to tell us concretely, but wherever the gospel went across the Mediterranean Basin in Acts, this was the way churches were organized. They became households, with elders. The roles were fuzzy to our minds, because elders might also be preachers and teachers, but not necessarily. Pastors were never elders, but distinctly spiritual leaders with no real say in church government, per se. They surely held a somewhat prophetic office in addressing conduct, but didn’t govern. Their function was more priestly in that sense.
We make a grave error when we assume any other structure, regardless of our cultural orientation. There is one correct polity for the church and it is tribal. All others are perversions read back into the Bible, typically from a false — even Pharisaical — epistemology. God’s ordained proper human political structure is tribal in all things, including civil government. That’s how humans were designed to associate. Everything else is a rejection of God.
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