I recently read an article of a Russian man who told of how his family and many others were led out of Russia just before communism took over many years ago. The Holy Spirit impressed many people with the truths of Scripture even though nearly no one had a Bible. Those who were open to listening were receiving instructions from the Spirit with specific messages which they shared with others. As a result a great revival took place in which thousands of people were converted and began living holy lives.
This all happened just before communism took firm hold of the country. As the time approached when authorities planned to crack down severely on the population resulting in horrific scenes of bloodshed and forcible enslavement of everyone, the Spirit began prompting different people that He would lead them to another country for their own safety if they would only follow His instructions and trust God.
Of course no one had any notion of what was about to happen. Their lives were still reasonably comfortable. Most of them were farmers and nothing had yet indicated how evil communism would be, so it was easy to question whether these impressions were actually from God or were simply delusions. It took great faith for people to be willing to leave their farms and livestock and possessions and begin traveling with no idea as to where they were going. Like Abraham they were to simply follow one step at a time as the Spirit would direct them. Yet even so, about two to three hundred families obeyed the leading of the Spirit and began moving from one village to the next as the Spirit directed them.
Over time they ended up on the border of China where they experienced a time of severe testing of their faith in the Spirit's leading. It appeared that they were stranded there unable to cross the border while no one was hearing any more instructions from the Spirit. Times were much tougher at this point, yet they wanted to obey God. So the families went to a nearby mountainside and dug caves into the ground where they all lived while existing with odd jobs just to survive.
At this point a large number of people began feeling resentful about their situation and started complaining like the Israelites in the desert. The more they complained and doubted the more they questioned the validity of the impressions that had led them thus far. Finally a great majority decided they would return to their homes where they believed they could return to normal living as they had previously enjoyed. But before they left a strong message from the Spirit warned them that any who chose to return would suffer terribly.
The Spirit said that if they returned to their homes that all the fathers would either be sent to Siberia or would be killed. He also warned that their children would be forcibly taken from them by the government and that the mothers would end up eating their own babies. Yet in spite of these warnings from the Spirit a large number decided to turn back since external evidence did not seem to support such warnings.
Sadly, upon their return everything predicted took place exactly as the Spirit had foretold. There was forced starvation of thousands. However, because news did not travel much in those days those who chose to remain did not know what was happening elsewhere in the country as communism brutally crushed the masses. They waited in humility and much prayer at the border for further instructions.
Finally after several months the Spirit told them it was time to move across the border. He instructed them to break into four groups of ten families each. There were only forty families who had stayed from the several hundred who originally left with them. The Spirit even identified who was to be the leaders of each group and the Spirit then led each group of families by different routes as they followed His impressions while they walked along roads and paths.
Many amazing miracles took place during their journeys and some near disasters when some resisted following the Spirit's specific instructions. But at last they all ended up in the same small town in remote mountains of China where they lived in relative peace for several years, spreading the gospel in that region as well. But again the Spirit instructed them that this was only a stop along the way and that He would eventually lead them out of China to safer places to live.
After a few years they were miraculously led again all the way across China to Shanghai where they were able to immigrate to other countries. During all of their travelings they had to rely on the Spirit of God to guide and provide for them through insurmountable obstacles and severe restrictions . Through all of this story the emphasis was on the need for intense devotion to prayer and strict adherence to what was being taught by the Spirit. Those who became lax and began to doubt were either drawn into unbelief and fell away only to suffer terrible disasters, or they realized their danger and humbled themselves again in deep repentance and returned to a life of earnest prayer and strict obedience.
This story made a deep impression on me, yet at the same time raised serious questions in my mind. Some of the things the Spirit apparently shared with these people related to lifestyle differences including gender issues that are currently creating enormous debate. And as I pondered how to relate to this story I realized there is a lot of pressure against even raising questions about such explicit instructions claimed to have been received directly from God by someone else. When anyone says that God has told them something directly and it seems to be confirmed by a simplistic reading of Scripture, there can be an implied threat that if others do not accept these ideas without question that they too will be in danger of severe punishments or disasters from God just as those in the story experienced.
I have pondered this troubling aspect of this story for several days now as I began to compare it to what God has been teaching me also for a number of years now regarding the truth about His character and the nature of His methods in dealing with sin and sinners. There is no doubt that what I have come to see about God is very different in some respects from the picture of God as viewed by the man telling this story. At the same time I do not want to be fighting against God simply because I am too proud or stubborn to listen to His Spirit of truth. I guess I am struggling to find possible reconciliation between how God has been leading me for so many years with the opinions and assertions I find in this story and that are held to by many today.
One of the things emphasized in this story had to do with how women were to act and dress. I certainly have no issue with the need for modesty, but this brother kept making a strong point that they had been taught that women must wear a head covering and walk in shamefacedness, to use a very old term. I do not claim to be an expert or to even have explored much into this issue of women having to wear a head-covering, though I have a number of friends who feel convicted on this point. Yet what has caught my interest is this word shamefacedness. The more I think about this the more I resist simply accepting this idea at face value. So I decided this morning to look into this more carefully to see what the Bible really says about this.
Of course there are very few versions of the Bible in which you can even find this word given it is not a term generally used any longer. The old English used in the King James Version contains a number of such words that not only are obsolete but in current usage sometimes mean the very opposite. This has long been a source of frustration for me, for people who cling to assuming the KJV is somehow more authoritative and reliable than any other translation usually do so because they use it to support traditions and oppressive practices that are not so easy to support using other versions.
I checked for the usage of this word in the KJV and to my surprise it is only used once. It shows up in a verse used by many to subjugate women to an inferior position to men and as such has often been used even to support abuse of women.
In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works. (1 Timothy 2:9-10 KJV)
When I check other versions I do not find the intensity conveyed in this strong word shamefacedness. I find modesty, discreetness and other such terms, but the idea of the need to wear shame on the face is something I not only find repulsive but completely foreign to everything God has been teaching me. I simply cannot reconcile that the God I have been coming to know wants anyone to live in shame and to even do so in obedience to His Spirit.
Shame is a very destructive emotion that I have been learning about for a number of years. The more truth I learn about shame the more convinced I am that shame is extremely opposite to everything God wants for His children. There may be a place to temporarily feel ashamed when one finds themselves out of harmony with God's instructions, but that kind of shame is more along the line of guilt or conviction. But true shame involves the stripping away of a person's sense of value and self-worth which I have been learning is one of the weapons of God's enemy and thus has no part in the kingdom of God. So whatever this word means, to believe that it involves God's will that women should wear shame on their face all the time is something opposite to everything I have been learning about God.
I decided to look up this word in the dictionary. I realize that can be hazardous at times when seeking to study the Bible, for dictionaries generally use the modern meaning of a word based on common usage, not the original meaning. But looking at dictionary definitions online can provide the history of a word that can at times be very helpful. And in this case it was extremely useful. Here is what I found in the history of this old English term.
Shamefaced. Literally "restrained by shame," or else "firm in modesty." (Online Etymology Dictionary)
Suddenly the lights came on as I read this. Throughout the entire war between Christ and Satan there have been two competing principles at work. One system involves the life-giving way of seeing things and defining terms, the other is a counterfeit system that leads to death. Clearly in these two ways of defining the word shamefaced can be seen a stark contrast between what is life-giving and what is destructive. To be restrained by shame involves the techniques of the enemy leading us to think this is God's will for those who subjugate themselves to His strict authoritarian demands while the second definition clearly is more in line with what God wants not only for women but for all who follow the example of Jesus. To be firm in modesty does not mean living in constant shame but rather puts the emphasis on firmness and consistency rather than shame as the motivation for living modestly.
I decided to do a bit more checking and performed a word search in the Bible for the Greek word behind this to see if it might have been translated in some other way. Sure enough, I found one more verse, and I also found evidence for the typical translator bias and prejudice that so often shows up in the King James Version. This same word in the Greek shows up only one other time and clearly in this context it applies to everyone. But curiously the translators chose to use a completely different English word when it applied to men as well as women.
Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: (Hebrews 12:28 KJV)
As I have prayed about this story many times since reading it, I find some of its conclusions seemingly dissonant to what God has been teaching me. I have also felt the Spirit impressing me to recall how He has been teaching and leading me in my own experience. It can be very easy to allow someone else's experience with God to throw one into fear, confusion and consternation if we fail to remind ourselves of God's leading in our own lives. That is not to say we should resist learning something new from others. But it does mean that, like Bible writers particularly in the Old Testament, our perceptions and opinions about the meaning of God's impressions as He inspires us may come out looking somewhat different than how God may be leading others. And simply because something can be proven from something in Scripture does not always prove it is present truth, though we must take Scripture seriously.
What I find myself going back to when something seems confusing or disturbs my peace in God is the most important truth that must always retain more priority than any other truth.
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, "Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah."
While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, "This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!" When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, "Get up and do not be afraid." And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. (Matthew 17:1-8 NRSV)
I need to be reminded again and again that whatever I come to believe about God and His will for my life must always be filtered primarily through the teachings and example of Jesus. The Spirit of Jesus will always be in harmony with what I find in the teachings and example of Jesus, for He said that when the Spirit would come He would remind us of the words of Jesus. So it all comes down to one simple answer to any question about what is right or wrong – Jesus and His version of God.
Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God's glory and the exact imprint of God's very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. (Hebrews 1:1-3)
Did Jesus every encourage anyone to live in shame? Absolutely not! Jesus was about as anti-shame as anyone could possibly be. Humble, yes, but never shame oriented. Shame is a counterfeit of humility and is inherently destructive. The notion that God requires women to live in shame all their live is one of the worst schemes of the enemy, for it not only destroys the lives of women but infects the hearts of men and leads them into sinful abusive practices as well.
Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil which includes the tyranny of shame with all its associated abuses. That does not mean we throw out everything God teaches us about living modestly, rather we need to better understand the life-giving ways in which He wants us to live in relation to each other. Modesty involves reverence and temperance, meaning that we discover what it means to live in joyful submission to the will of God that produces life and grace and freedom for all of our lives.
One of the best clichés I have learned as a shorthand tool for measuring an idea quickly is to ask if it is something life-giving or does it tend to tear down and produce pain and suffering. It is true that standing for right may often result in pain and suffering, but that is something very different. The resistance we will inevitably encounter in the world for living in God's love will always result in persecution, for the enemy hates anyone who exposes his lies and schemes and will work to discredit and attack them.
But when seeking to know if any practice or doctrine is from God, one of the best ways to determine this is to ask God to show us how this fits into His plan to bring us into life, a life that is more abundant. Is the practice of intense devotion to prayer and restricting myself from exposure to unnecessary negativity from the world around me in harmony with the principles of life as God designed them? I believe that is very true and is something I can learn from this inspiring story. But when it relates to some of the conclusions by this man and his family about things that require living with self-imposed shame, I have to reject the shame part unequivocally while seeking God's wisdom as to what He would have us do regarding traditional related practices.
I believe when we resist to embracing the increasing light about God's character and methods that can move us beyond our current living in favor of what has been traditionally accepted by religion in the past, we may well remain trapped by our beliefs and in fear of moving deeper into the fresh light of glory that is starting to expand in our day. We must be willing to rethink previous assumptions in the light of Jesus and His demonstration of the real truth about God's heart as exposed on the cross where He loved His enemies even as they were shaming Him to the full extent of their ability.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)