DEAR PAUL:

TIMOTHY’S RESPONSE TO I TIMOTHY

(modified version of an article first published on suite101.com) 

Dear Paul,

Greetings from your son in the faith, Timothy. I have received, and greatly appreciate your letter.  It is very encouraging and holds some instructive value. I do say some with regard to instruction, though. The churches of this region feel that what you attempted to set forth in your letter was more of a suggested guideline than a detailed dictation of universal truth. You must realize that all churches are not the same and that all cultures have different value systems. The fact that you were raised Jewish becomes apparent when reading your communications. Due to the cultural differences between churches, most have taken liberty in interpreting your instructions, and some have even modified them. I have allowed this because I believe it was done in order to preserve peace and harmony. This I know you would respect.

I did as you requested and stayed in Ephesus to instruct certain men against teaching false doctrines. They were, at first, very hostile towards me and my rebuke. After a while, a few of these men got together and started several types of institutions upon the claim that God commanded them to do so. They gave them names like “The First Church of Truth” and “The Real Church of God.” Many people from the church of Ephesus followed them and are now members of these new institutions. Since there is nothing else we can do about it, I suggest we just accept them as brothers and agree to disagree. 

Thank you for your encouraging words about God’s grace working in your life. I really enjoy reading about it, but I think others consider you a fanatic. In any case, I like it, so please keep writing. Oh, by the way, since you mentioned Hymenaeus and Alexander, I must tell you that I recently ran into Alexander’s mother. She feels you were a little harsh on her boy and many others agree. She told me that your attitude is not consistent with Christian love. I tried to explain to her how you are zealous for truth and all, but she would not receive any of it. She is encouraging Alexander to join the “First Church of Truth” that I mentioned earlier. Hymenaeus, however, has completely fallen away.  He left town and no one has heard from him since.

Well, enough about that. I really want to address some of your instructions. This thing about praying for and thanking God for those in authority has really caused some problems. You see, too many Christian men and women prefer to ridicule, criticize, and protest against those who are in powerful political positions. Please don’t think they are totally against praying for governmental leaders. They are just against praying for the ones who disagree with them. Some have even gone as far as to think that certain political groups are righteous and others are evil. This makes them feel good and gives them some focus for their anger, so I guess it’s OK. I told them to at least pray that the groups they dislike would change opinions. In that way, they can fulfill your request.

A question was raised concerning your statement about women dressing modestly. What is modesty after all? I think all would agree that provocative dress is not appropriate for a church gathering, but what is your gripe with hairstyles, jewelry, and expensive clothes?  Some women really look nice with those things and look forward to those institutional gatherings I mentioned earlier so they can be admired. I know that a worship gathering shouldn’t be a fashion show, but these institutional meetings are different. A big part of the effect is to dress up in fine things. I mean, you give the impression that Christians shouldn’t call attention to themselves at all. If a woman can’t show off at a worship gathering, where can she go to be noticed?

This modesty thing would have been the most controversial subject of your letter if not for your next statement. Why in the world did you ever say that you don’t permit women to teach or have authority over men? Boy, this statement is not going over big at all. There are many women in the church who feel your views are unreasonable, while many men are taking the statement totally out of context and creating “anti-women” doctrines from it. Your example regarding Adam and Eve doesn’t help explain things either. Many feel it is an outdated situation that has no relevance for today.

Oh, by the way, I’m going to spare you from the things I heard from the women about your “saved through childbearing” comment. All I know is that you’re lucky to be miles away right now. Paul, forgive me for asking this, but did you ever really wonder why you are not married? I mean, give me a break. I know you claim that it is because of your apostolic calling, but please don’t rule out the fact that you appear a little anti-female. There is a lot of talk around Corinth about your male superiority complex, but please don’t tell anyone you heard it from me. I have enough trouble when I visit there.

In addition to the difficulty you put me through with your unadvised comments about women, you really put me on the spot concerning the recognition of elders and deacons.  I read and reread the characteristics. I even made a checklist and several charts to aid in the process. But Paul, I have to tell you, I can’t find anybody like that. I’ll find someone who is temperate and self-controlled, but not able to teach. Then I’ll find this great teacher who doesn’t drink and is not violent, only to discover that he has an appetite for money. The part about elder’s children needing to be obedient and respectful has caused me to rule out entire groups of men, such as the fathers of teenagers. Once I thought I found the ideal elder.  He fit the requirements perfectly. Then I found that he was a recent convert and told him I couldn’t recognize him for lack of years in the faith. He became violently angry, threw me out of his house, went off to get drunk and eventually left his wife and kids.

Because of these circumstances, I am forced to tone down the requirements. Many churches have already adopted a method that more suitably fits their developing institutions. The terms “elder” and “deacon” are being applied to particular offices, or positions within the church rather than referring to functions or tasks. This allows for a much more practical set of guidelines to be used in the selection process of candidates for those positions. If an individual is well respected, well educated, or financially stable, and is willing to serve, he is accepted as either an elder or deacon.  The positions are made prestigious and honorable in order to encourage the right men to serve.  These guidelines just mentioned are much more practical than your set of instructions and must be adapted if churches are to be the social and business organizations they seem destined to become.

You wrote that you hope to come soon. Well, you can’t be hoping as much as I am.  I had no idea that this letter was going to cause so much controversy. At least with you here I wouldn’t be the focus of everyone’s anger. Do me a favor. Next time you have instructions to be given, send Apollos.

One thing did surprise me though. Many church leaders readily accepted the statement that the end times will produce demonic teachings from hypocritical liars. You see, all teachers and leaders believe that their doctrines are right and that the criteria for discerning demonic teaching is whether or not the teaching agrees with them. Consequently, there has been a lot of division among true believers. I know that some things are critical to the faith, but many are using your statements as justification to call any contrary opinion demonic, and to accuse those in opposition of being hypocritical liars. They tend to confuse their own pride with the Spirit of God in their lives and have exalted their own teachings as dogmatic truth. Even so, they are very likable people, and most have strong followings.

In spite of the fact that I may be considered just another strong willed, opinionated fanatic, I want you to know that I have preached as you have commanded. I have warned against calling any of God’s creation evil, taught peace and liberty, and pointed out truth.  However, it is very difficult to avoid “godless myths” and old wives tales when these things tend to be the most popular conversations at the weekly gatherings and small group meetings. I have put my hope in God and him alone, but I really am concerned about the future of the churches you have established. They do get sidetracked on some weird subjects.

Please don’t be concerned that people will look down on my youth. They tend to respect me, even though they do stereotype me as a youth leader or children’s church pastor. I don’t think I’ll overcome that until I’m older.

Thank you for your encouraging words about watching my life and doctrine closely. I intend to do so earnestly. I also intend to treat the older men like fathers and would never think of rebuking them harshly. I have noticed that many church leaders, however, tend to treat the older men as outdated relics not to be taken seriously. They also treat the younger men as servants instead of brothers, older women as maids instead of mothers, and younger women as members of their fan club rather than sisters. I assume that they feel their position in the institutions they call “church” gives them the right. The members of the congregation accept this type of behavior as natural, so I guess there is no harm to let it continue.

The next subject you address is the care we should take for the widows. The idea that responsibility should fall on the immediate family first, then on the church is not very popular. Both church and family would prefer to leave the responsibility for care of the elderly to the government and other social agencies. Most families are too busy building their own lives and careers to be burdened with their parents. Many families have taken the noble task of partially paying for their elderly parents to live in some form of home for the aged, but the idea of caring for them fully is out of the question. As far as church care goes, most fellowships have their money tied up in building projects, new carpet for the sanctuary, pastor salaries (which I’ll tell you about shortly), and other necessities. They really have no extra money to care for the aging members.

Counseling younger widows to marry sure does fly in the face of a woman’s independence. I agree with the practice most of these new organized churches have embraced. No one gets involved in anyone’s personal life at all. Most leaders and elders prefer to leave those issues alone. Also, it does seem pretty stereotypical of you to single out young widows. They really are able to look out for themselves, you know. I do worry about the children though.

One item that was supported by all was your insinuation that some elders should get paid. A problem does arise when a congregation tries to decide which elders should get paid and which ones should serve as volunteers. In order to settle the matter, we have decided to create a “professional eldership” and call it “The Ministry.” If someone has a gift, or in some cases just a desire to preach or teach, we will place a title before his name (like reverend or bishop) and pay him a salary. We will have one head elder per congregation and pay him the most. He will be allowed to choose subordinate elders to work with the youth, lead church music, coordinate church school programs, or just generally do anything the head elder considers too menial. Some churches suggest that we refer to the head elder as “Senior Pastor” and that his assistants be called “Associate Pastors.” All unpaid elders and deacons will be given certain token tasks and duties, but the real dirty work will be the job of the associates. The “Senior Pastor” should maintain full control of the church and will be the primary, if not sole speaker at all church meetings from a podium we will refer to as “The Pulpit.” If anyone disagrees with his decisions or questions the level of his control, the senior pastor could easily dispel the opposing view by using the pulpit to accuse the dissenter of rebellion. If an associate pastor should ever oppose the senior pastor, he will be asked to leave the church immediately. 

The positions of “the ministry” will be given a great deal of prestige and should become a career sought by many.  I am not sure if any of this was your intention. I mean it wasn’t as if you made it as clear or direct as your instruction regarding the care for widows. In fact, it seems to be the same people that jumped on the idea to pay elders who totally ignored your instruction to provide for widows. In any case, it seems to be the direction this “paid elder” suggestion is headed. I’m not sure I can stop it.

The issue of entertaining an accusation brought against an elder has seemed to take two separate directions. Some churches will accept virtually any accusation brought against any elder. Other fellowships will not believe two dozen witnesses, especially if the elder accused is highly respected and well liked. As far as a public rebuking is concerned, forget it. Sins of elders and of the newly created “ministry” are much more likely to be covered up than exposed. Unless the secular media finds out, the chances of even a grievous sin being exposed is unlikely. You see, members of the church prefer to view their leaders as heroes. Some even become idols of sort. Exposure of sin would not only shatter that image, but could affect the life of a church community. Also, we can never forget the fact that a public rebuke could bring about a lawsuit, and church finances are much more important than some ideal commitment to holiness. Thanks for your suggestion, Paul, but we must remain practical.

With all due respect to your command to keep your instructions, I must tell you that most of your letter is being interpreted as the readers see fit. As far as partiality goes, the only favoritism I have seen is toward the talented, rich, intelligent, good looking and influential. All others are treated equally.

On a personal note, I intend to stay pure in all. Thanks for your motivation. Also, thanks for your concern over my stomach problems. I also think it is the water.

The next thing you brought up seemed pretty evident to me. I have always been aware that the sins of some are obvious. The good deeds of many, however, are not as obvious. It seems many people are afraid that their good works will go unnoticed. This has caused some fellowships to adopt “good-deed-awareness” programs. Suggestions have been made to place plaques and other communications around church meeting places acknowledging donations and other good works. For example, a plaque on the pulpit stating “Donated by Brother Jonathan” or a note in a church bulletin saying, “Flowers contributed by Sister Sarah” could give proper commendation.

I’m sorry if I appear to be going from one subject to another, but your letter did cover a wide variety of topics. The command for slaves to obey masters went over very big with the masters. The slaves still struggle with it though. I guess it will work itself out eventually.

When I read aloud the next portion of your letter concerning money, many took exception. Your criticism of those who teach godliness as a means to gain has caused half of our leadership a great deal of embarrassment. Most of the teaching leadership of the church is made up of professional men and woman who have displayed the ability to make money. It is only natural for them to attribute their wealth, at least in part, to their godly life and ability to follow godly principles. Since most people want to get rich, it is easy for these teachers to gain a following.

Teaching against the desire to be rich is not very popular at all and a church class on contentment would never attract a crowd. In all honesty, Paul, many consider this the most difficult portion of your letter. You see, many church leaders and “ministers” like to live extravagantly. How can they justify the money they take from followers who make less without espousing some type of “God-wants-you-rich-too” doctrine? I hope you can grasp the conflict and avoid dwelling on the money things. Between that and the women things, almost every congregation in the region will probably reject me.

In closing, please know that I have taken to heart your encouraging words and will continue to fight the good fight. Commanding the rich to put their trust in God rather than their wealth is easier said than done. They say their hope is in God, but I feel that they are merely hoping that God will keep and protect their real source of trust, which is their money. Often, they contribute to the church with expectations of special privilege or treatment. I must say that they are seldom disappointed.

Well, once again, thank you for your encouraging words. Hope to see you soon. 

Your son in the faith,

Timothy

(P.S. I just received your second letter, but as of yet I have not had a chance to read it.)