Nehushtan: An Unfortunate Source Of Division

In my 14+ years as a Christian, I have had the opportunity to serve and minister in many various ways. From preaching and teaching from a pulpit, to teaching countless Bible studies at home or in the homes of others, to hundreds of hours in both Sunday School and in outreach, not to mention being a member of a church board, to being a greeter and usher, working as a youth leader, to leading and overseeing various departments and ministries, up to and including a Spanish ministry, while also beginning and overseeing a campus ministry that led to a church planting, I can say without remorse that none of the awesome and amazing things that happened throughout each ministry compare to the simple times when I’ve been alone at the Lord’s feet, feeling His presence, His power, His healing, and His touch.

After about 10 years in the Apostolic Church, I resigned from every ministry and department in which I was involved, except being a board member (although I was going to, I was personally asked by the pastor to stay on, so I did, as a favor to him). There were various reasons, but the real reason, after all was said and done, was because, after the birth of my first child, my wife, with my consent but not my insistence, stepped away from her involvement in ministry to care for our daughter.

But how did my wife stepping away cause me to step away a couple of years later?

It’s simple.

When my wife and I had to make a choice on how we were going to raise our family, including the division of labor and the assigning of parental roles, my wife graciously indicated to me that between the two of us, I had the more important ministries, so that, when in service, between the two of us, she would care for our firstborn so I could serve and bless the people of God to the best of my ability.

This didn’t mean that my wife did everything while I did nothing. I changed diapers, dressed and carried and cared for our daughter, just not as much as my wife did, especially when there was a meeting of the church.

My wife saw her place in the home, following the edicts of Holy Scripture. She saw it her responsibility to be “discreet, chaste, [a] keeper at home, good, obedient to [her] own husband…that the word of God be not blasphemed” (Titus 2:5).

Additionally, since Paul clearly indicated to Timothy that a woman shouldn’t usurp the authority invested into men by Christ (1 Timothy 2:12), my wife realized that in order to continue to serve in ministry meant I would have to be the one to take a backseat in the church in order to perform the predominant care for our daughter. She felt like this was a usurpation of her place as sub-ordinate to me as her head (1 Corinthians 11:3). I understood her reasons, and with my permission, she withdrew.

Jump forward a couple of years. My wife and I had had our second child, a son, who was a baby around the time I resigned.

Here is the reason, now that the back-story is filled in. I was told in no uncertain terms that I wasn’t going to be allowed to be in leadership and serve in the church unless my wife stepped up and got (re)involved in ministry. I was told that my wife’s care for our children bordered on idolatry.[1]

So I had a decision to make. Force my wife to put our kids into nursery/hand them off to someone else to watch during service, and so, be allowed to stay on the church staff as an elder and leader/minister, or say no to the demand and get the boot.

After talking with my wife and agreeing that it wasn’t anyone else’s responsibility to supervise OUR children just so my wife could sing or do whatever little bit of public, visible ministry, I decided to resign.[2]

I wrote a letter explaining my intentions and handed it off. The next week I announced my resignation to the whole church (without going into all of the reasons, just some).[3]

The reason I felt it was ABSOLUTELY OKAY WITH GOD to do so was not because of the unfortunate things that were said to me about my wife, or because of our decision to raise our children the way we wanted, but because after praying about what to do, the Lord spoke to me a word, which, once heard, sealed the deal and let me know I had HIS PERMISSION (I didn’t need anyone else’s) to resign from ministry.

The word was: Nehushtan.

2 Kings 18:4,

He removed the high places, and brake the images, and cut down the groves, and brake in pieces the brasen serpent that Moses had made: for unto those days the children of Israel did burn incense to it: and he called it Nehushtan.

In this verse, we have King Hezekiah instigating spiritual and religious reforms to help bring the nation of Judah back into the will and fellowship of God. So here, among other things, he destroyed the brazen serpent Moses made back in Numbers 21 as a response to a divinely introduced plague as a punishment upon the people of God for murmuring against both Him and also against Moses (Numbers 21:4-5).

In some uncertain way, in the ensuing years, the people of Judah began worshipping the serpent like it was some holy relic of old. Hezekiah smashed it to break the people free from their idolatry towards it, calling it, as it translates from Hebrew “a piece of brass“. Hezekiah’s point in calling the brazen serpent Nehushtan was to remind the people that, as just a piece of brass, it had no innate worth and so, there was no innate need to assign it religious or spiritual value, meaning there was no innate reason for it to be worshipped.

And this is what the Lord used to confirm to me that resigning from ministry was acceptable to Him. He told me all that I was doing and had been doing in ministry was Nehushtan. This doesn’t mean that I was out of the will of God or that I was a failure as a minister—God used me greatly in many different ways and at many different times—but rather, that the ministries in which I was mainly involved in at the time were and are (now don’t get offended) completely man-made and un-Biblical.

Let’s look at a list of various ministries and departments that exist in the modern Apostolic Church and see if any of them are found in the Holy Scriptures.

  • Pulpit Sermonizing
  • Music Ministry
  • Audio/Visual Ministry
  • Greeter and Usher Ministry
  • Outreach Ministry
  • Spanish Ministry
  • Sunday School
  • Nursery and Family Ministry
  • Church Board
  • Altar Call Working
  • Building Maintenance

Did I miss any? I was involved in and in many instances, in charge of all of the above, and yet, not a one is found anywhere in the Bible. To be sure, preaching and teaching is, but not from within a church-owned building from a pulpit. And yes, we are to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16), but not using a praise team leading while everyone else passively sings along. Reaching out to the lost is a key component of the faith, but not in a systematic, door to door, hand out a flyer and hope someone comes to church way. And while the Bible has much to say about the deaconate, it doesn’t have anything to say about church boards created by by-laws to manage the funds of a limited liability company and 501(c)3 tax exempt entity. Parents, and not Sunday School teachers, are expected to raise their own children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Ephesians 6:1-4). There never were any such things as altar calls in the Book of Acts. Rather, men of God, i.e. the Apostles, preached the Gospel to an audience and the Holy Spirit fell or It didn’t. People believed the preaching and responded in faith and so, were saved, or they didn’t. No one was given an overly emotional, manipulative verbal pull to step out into the aisle and come down to the front of the church’s building and kneel before the pulpit so the preacher and other ministers could lay hands on them. In fact, the early church didn’t even own buildings in which a pulpit could be constructed!

This being so, then what is all of this “stuff”? Simple. This “stuff” is just a piece of brass. It’s Nehushtan. And this Nehushtan, unfortunately, is a major source of division in the church. So many brothers and sisters are jockeying for position and platform, to build spiritual resumes and impress each other, it’s as political as any race for office.

I’ve had so many people, upon meeting me, want to know, first thing, whether or not I’m “licensed”. No one wants to know if I’m filled with the Holy Spirit, walking in the Spirit, living by faith and not by sight, honest in my dealings, upright and faithful to God and His call on my life. Nope, none of that. Just whether or not I have a piece of paper with some signatures on it.

And while I’m not knocking anyone for being licensed with any organization—if that’s what God wants for them, or if they need it for their ministry, then so be it—but let us also admit that such things are not Scriptural, either. Are they Nehushtan? I’m not going to say. That’s for another blog.[4]

But let’s face it. We judge each other based on how much WE DO for the Lord, as opposed to who WE ARE in Christ. And when someone thinks another someone isn’t doing enough for the Lord in terms of the Nehushtan of un-Biblical ministries, they say all kinds of dumb, hurtful things. And if they are in a position to do so, they do a lot of spiritual damage and ruin a lot of reputations when they open their mouths and get their way because they’re the only ones who get to have their say.[5]

Luke 10:38-42,

Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word. But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me. And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.

Much could be said about this passage, but I want to focus on only a few things.

1.) Luke’s use of the word “cumbered“. In Greek, the word is perispao. It is a compound word made up of two parts: peri– meaning all around or through, and spao meaning to draw, i.e. pull along (as opposed to the art form). The literal meaning is to drag all around. Figuratively it means to be distracted.

This inspired text is trying to tell us that Martha was, to use a colloquialism, running around like a chicken with her head cut off. If ever you’ve hosted a party or large dinner, and you were in charge of the provisions of food and drink, you know just how busy you can get. Martha was drawn this way and that, all over the house, trying her best to take care of everyone. And in the process she became distracted (from what? from whom?).

2.) Luke’s use of the word “serving“. In Greek, it’s the word diakonia, and is the main word used in the Bible to mean or indicate ministry, or to minister. Do I need to say more? Martha was insistent that in order to take care of the Lord and His students, she had to minister much, just to please Him and His students, even though doing so caused her to be distracted (Again, from what or who?).

3.) Distraught at the amount of ministering she was doing, she became angry, even jealous of her sister, who didn’t appear to be doing anything but sitting at the Lord’s feet hearing His Word.

4.) In her anger and jealousy, she even dared accuse Jesus of not caring. Very literally, she challenged the Lord with the following: Doesn’t it matter to you? Who was Martha to challenge Jesus about anything?[6]

5.) Jesus politely and gently reminded Martha of what was more important, something her sister already knew: Spending time with the Lord at His feet hearing His Word matters more than ministering. Martha was running around trying to serve Jesus and His students so much, she allowed her “ministering” to distract her from the One (and ones) she was supposed to be serving. In fact, she got so worked up, she became “careful” and “troubled“.

In sum, Martha wasn’t really ministering to the Lord and His students; it wasn’t Christ or the Church she was serving. She was serving herself, thinking that her great efforts to minister would please the Lord and make Him appreciate her more, when just the opposite was true. Yes, Jesus loved her. Make no mistake. But being “cumbered about much serving” or becomingcareful” and “troubled” didn’t make Jesus love her more. Not serving at all didn’t make Jesus love Mary less.

The whole point of the story is to teach us to stop trying to “serve” the Lord with our ideas of how to minister, and just sit at His feet. To do otherwise is to become encumbered, i.e. dragged around and distracted, to become careful, i.e. anxious, and troubled, i.e. disturbed.

About a year before I resigned, and then about a year after I resigned, two different times, once before and once afterward, a man in the church, the same man each time, became offended at me and my wife for not living up to his expectations in regards to ministry. He felt like we weren’t pulling our own weight when it came to the success of the church (i.e. we weren’t doing as much as him and his wife).[7] The first time he went through the pastor, who, after realizing he couldn’t disagree with our Scriptural reasons for why my wife stepped down, calmed the man down, presumably explaining things to him. The second time, the man reached out to me personally, again with the same judgmental gripe. But at least, as before, so again, he apologized and repented and asked for my forgiveness. I readily forgave both times, taking no personal offense.

But after the second time, as I prayed about it on the way home, the Lord made it plain to me that this man should have known better, but allowed himself to fall victim to something He had already dealt with him about. During the drive home, I felt the Lord impress upon me that this man was going to suffer some things as a form of chastisement—not because of how he had judged me and my wife—but because he had offended the Lord. The next month, something major did happen with him and his family, health related, that I won’t relate here, but suffice it to say, but for the Lord’s mercy, it could have been devastating. As it was, it was still pretty bad, intense, scary, and etc.

Jump forward from then. A couple of years after I resigned from my ministries, I had a conversation with someone who accused me of being a “super-spiritual Pharisee who sits in the back row pretending like he doesn’t need anything, like he’s arrived…(I don’t remember the quote word for exact word) during worship and song service.[8]

Afterward, I calmly explained to this person that I sit in the back row with my family, with my children on my lap or in my arms and I quietly sing the songs we sing together as a church, to THEM, and talk to THEM about the Lord, and that’s the reason why I’m not out in the aisle, running and jumping and dancing and shouting during worship and song service.

We are no longer members of that assembly. My wife and I chose to sit at the feet of the Lord Jesus. We chose the “one thing” that was “needed“. We decided the “good part” (i.e. the best portion) on the table we call the Christian faith can’t be experienced if we’re not sitting down to eat.

We chose against distraction and anxiety and perturbation. Like King Hezekiah before us, we took that piece of brass, that Nehushtan the modern church calls ministry, and smashed it.

And the sad fact of it is, since I resigned, even before ever departing from that assembly, as should be obvious, it’s caused nothing but division. But God wants us where we are at, and so, we sit at the Master’s feet, even though “Martha” is still out there berating and angry with us, as it were. I just wish “she” knew and understood that it’s not us “she’s” challenging, it’s “her” Lord and Savior, “her” Immanuel, Jesus of Nazareth, she’s challenging. It’s the Son of God, and not this son of God, with whom “she” is upset and annoyed.

Perhaps someday, if He has not already done so, Jesus will politely and gently remind “her” of what is more important, something my wife and I and our family already know: Spending time with the Lord at His feet hearing His Word matters more than “ministering”.

Everything else is just a piece of brass.

_________________________________________________________________________________________

[1] Many other things were said but I’m not going to go into them here in this blog.

[2] Before that happened, I sent off an email explaining just how much my wife did in and for the church and for me as a husband, even though much of it was unseen since it was done in our home in the form of hospitality and in the hosting of Bible studies. That email was never addressed.

[3] Additional reasons included my work schedule and health concerns, which while playing important roles in my decision, weren’t the only reasons, as I’ve indicated in the body of this blog.

[4] Since I was not and am not a “licensed” minister at the time of my resigning, the word the Lord gave me, i.e. Nehushtan, doesn’t cover something I was not.

[5] A senior pastor once complained to me about one of his assistant pastors, who, even though he and his wife had two young children, nevertheless were not doing enough for the church as assistant pastors, that they needed to step up and do more, despite having children, even as the pastor and his wife didn’t have any children to speak of (at the time). This is the kind of real life story that for me, helps prove the overall assertion I am making in this blog: that these un-Biblical ministries can cause division in the church.

[6] Martha was one of Jesus’ closest friends. In fact, we read in John 11:5 that Jesus loved Martha (along with her sister Mary and brother Lazarus). Perhaps it was this closeness which caused her to think she had the right to be indignant at Him for not making Mary get up and help her? I suppose we’ll never know this side of heaven.

[7] By the way, this “man” was the assistant pastor mentioned in footnote #5, who, along with his wife, wasn’t doing enough for the church according to the pastor who opined to me about him. Do you see what happened there?

[8] I am thankful to say that my explanation caused the man to receive understanding, and he backed off. We ended the chat with a great big, teary eyed hug, which is to say, we reconciled!

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~ by votivesoul on 04/07/2017.

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