The following essay was compiled from assorted 'mental notes' whilst I was lying hooked to an intravenous drip in a hospital bed and was quickly cobbled together once I was well enough to get to a keyboard. I hope it is reasonably comprehensible.
Ask anyone what the qualifications for church (assembly) leadership are and you will invariable be pointed to a couple of passages in Titus 1:6-9 and 1 Timothy 3:1-12 where the callings of elders (overseers, bishops, pastors) and deacons are discussed quite fully. In a previous article I suggested that there is a functional and pastoral equivalence between the polygamist Patriarch-Husband-Father and the Pastor of a Local Congregation or Assembly. If this thesis is accurate, then the qualifications for patriarchal marriage and one aspiring to be the shepherd of a flock should likewise be the same. I am further making the assumption that as the Deaconate is the office of less matured and experienced leaders, and as one walking in his discipleship must begin as a Deacon before being called as an Elder, that the Deaconate is a good representation of monogamy and the Eldership of polygamy.
Qualifications of the Deacon - Type of the Monogamist
"Deacons (shammashim), likewise, are to be men worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons. In the same way, their wives are to be women worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything. A deacon must be the husband of one wife [i.e. he must be married] and must manage his children and his household well" (1 Timothy 3:8-12).
To get married - even monogamously - implies, on the part of a Christian/Messianic man, a willingness and an ability to properly take care of his family flock in the manner ordained by Christ. The list of qualifications are not those expected of a wife which, though similar, are not presidential. Worthy of immediate note is the fact that a man does not qualify to be a Deacon if his wife is not held in high regard; and if she is a malicious gossiper then he is not qualified to lead, as she is lawless. If she is not temperate and trustworthy in EVERYTHING, the job of deacon simply isn't his.
And what if he were to retort, 'Oh, her behaviour isn't my fault - she is her own free agent!' or some such similar excuse? Well, like it or not, if her behaviour is correctable and if he is truly the patriarchal head of his household, then when it comes to the ministry, Yahweh is holding the man accountable! If he picked the wrong woman using wrong criteria then the responsibility is his - he should have chosen her (in Yahweh's will) to be his help-meet in the ministry … if it's a minister he truly wants to be. And if he has an unsubmitted wife and is still called into the ministry, then it is his job to point out that she in preventing him from carrying out his calling and to get her act together.
What this is telling us if that if you want to become a polygamist you had better make sure that not only is this Yahweh's will but that you have picked the right first wife! Though we are all free to make mistakes, the same grace does not extend when it comes to a man and his wife being called into a ministerial office or into polygamy!
Might this be a reason many first wives are so resistant to their husband's 'call' to polygamy? Might it in fact be that he selected his first wife apart from Yahweh's will? And if he did this, what should he now do? What he should not do is force that woman into polygamy. If she is hostile to polygamy, then it may not be entirely her fault - it may be that such a woman was not called into polygamy! And if he definitely was, and he picked her out of lust or some other ungodly reason, then the dilemma is (in this case) entirely of his own making. He has boxed himself into a corner.
Man's impatience and impetuosness so often overwhelm him at this point. Finding himself in a Catch 22 situation and caught between the horns of a real dilemma, he may lunge in the direction of trying to force his unwilling and resentful wife into a lifestyle she neither wants nor is called into, and end up losing her for certain (and possibly bearing the responsibility for her subsequent adultery if she thereafter remarries), or he may decide to turn his back on his call to polygamy and make do with her. Neither is a satisfactory solution but there really are no other options.
Which of the two is the right choice - force his 'call' into polygamy and force his wife to choose, or follow in her footsteps and remain monogamously married to her? I must say at this point that you are either revealed as a caring, Yahweh-fearing man with leadership ability (as would qualify you for polygamy in the first place) or not - and that if you are, there really is only one answer, and more than likely not the one you think.
I am pretty sure that in the minds of many men reading this article is the passage of scripture admonishing us to follow Yahweh rather than men. Removing the human aspect (a wife) and all its complexities is, however, often just an excuse for recruiting Yahweh into a private flesh-project. The New Testament furnishes one such example in the case concerning corban (Mark 7:11). So today I want to offer yet another consideration in the on-going discussion of what to do when we face such dilemmas as the one posed above, by taking a concrete biblical example. As I go through the example, please bear in mind that the two principal 'actors' each have different responsibilities and that the same sin committed by both has different consequences.
My example is an old classic - the fall of Adam and Eve. Who caused the Fall? Well, we know it was the woman (and unfortunately all women are still blamed by men who ought to know better). So Eve fell. Once that had happened, she and her husband were two different species of spiritual human being - one fallen and the other innocent. So what was Adam now to do? Should he, against his better judgment, follow suit and so remain together with her (since they were now separated by sin) or should he "obey Elohim (God) rather than men" and refuse her offer to eat the forbidden fruit, and so remain in fellowship with Yahweh but separated from his wife?
Well, he chose to follow his wife (for reasons not disclosed) and then blamed her by saying that she FORCED him to eat (what an ironic twist on the polygamy wars of today). Was he right to sin, remain with her, raise the human family, and cause his posterity to await the Redeemer? Or would it have been better to have stayed behind leaving Eve to fend for herself alone and uncovered in Satan's world? What would Yah'shua (Jesus) have done in such circumstances?
I want to suggest that Adam had to follow Eve into sin - not because there wasn't a higher, obeyable law, but because he was under a one flesh covenant to see it through to the end with his disobedient wife. She was him. They were one person. She was created from him. She was an extension of him. He had to go with her, not because what she did was right but because Adam is himself a type of the Second Adam, the Redeeming Adam, Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ). And Christ voluntarily descended into this filthy world in order to save His wife, the Body.
Those men who are willing to cast off their first wives out of supposed obedience to the 'higher call of polygamy' are proving in most instances that they are neither like the first Adam nor the Second. Yahweh may cause us to individually lay down our own lives for Him or others but He does not cause us to lay down the lives of others. Worse than even this, He does not cause us to abandon someone who is under our covering as the weaker of the two vessels.
'Polygamy' can never be the reason for abandoning a wife - however wrong she is - whom we have covenanted to cover. Yes, as Christians/Messianics we are under an obligation to teach the biblical truth about polygamy. We can't compromise with the Word - ever. But so long as a wife wants to main under our covering we can never throw her out of the marriage. Our obligation like the second Adam is to love profoundly and profusely; and our obligation like the first is to stay with the first.
None of this contradicts the positions I have made before. The mechanism is so complicated and so fragile, and fraught with so many instabilities and dangers that could wreck a marriage (especially a weak one), that no mortal man could ever make the right decision when faced with such dilemmas. He has to get his daily instructions from Yahweh and be prepared to wait. Just as the firstfruit of Adam and Eve - Cain - was a disaster, and just as the secondfruit (Abel) was destroyed by the first, so we, when facing marriage conundrums such as are introduced by polygamy, must be prepared to walk through some hellish places. And I know that many of you reading this have been through, or are presently going through, such places.
The verdict on the first generation of latter-day Christian/Messianic polygamists will almost certainly be 'a major disaster' because impetuous men didn't do their homework and thought only to take their own counsel or that of blind guides. They neglected a whole score of checkup procedures that are detailed in scripture. They didn't realise just what a complicated and delicate thing Christian polygamy is.
In the list of qualifications given by Paul for the Deaconate he said that they first had to be tested. In light of what I have just written, I would think the need for some sort of examination was essential for aspirant patriarchs, and especially first generation ones until their own fathers can teach them. Note that the test isn't for the women because they aren't the ones in leadership - the men are supposed to test their own wives by making sure they choose right and not just marrying any pretty set of legs they chance upon. But who likes being tested? How many of you men would voluntarily escape from an examination if you could? Again, the way you respond to this really determines whether you are patriarch material or not.
(Many with itching ears will, of course, turn away to other ministries who supposedly offer an 'easier' way … but there's usually a cultic trap somewhere along the line, so beware. There are plenty of bogus short-cut gospels just as there are routes to polygamous living).
Now if I were training to be a doctor (physician) and I cared about human life, I would want to be tested for my own good and the good of my future patients. Anyone with a conscience, a heart for people, and a love of Yahweh wants to be tested. Scripture makes it plain that we are both to test and be tested. In sorts, the Word of Elohim (God) demands that we be accountable.
Some of the most dangerous and unstable patriarchs I know have been those who are not accountable to anyone on earth but themselves. If confronted with sinful behaviour, they either 'disappear' or accuse others and seek partisan alliances with which to undermine those who are guiltless. Such patriarchs are lawless (Torahless) and are sowing the whirlwind, for the only unaccountable patriarch is our Heavenly Father, Yahweh. Even our Saviour Yah'shua (Jesus) is accountable to Him.
Almost from the very beginning of my own ministry I have been pleading for patriarchs to place themselves under accountability and testing. This is not some KGB or CIA-type grilling that I am speaking of but of friendly counseling with a father-figure. Even I, who have my own ministry and pastorate, used to have a number of patriarchs from different assemblies and denominations to whom I gave account. (Since closing the ministry (2003) I have become accountable to two patriarchs in our own community).
(N.B. Beware of a 'revisionist' and quite useless form of 'accountability' which has appeared amongst certain patriarchs who are saying that because as polygamists they are open about who they are - their names, locations, families, etc. - that they are the truly 'accountable ones'. It has been said of me that because I use a pseudonym for my public ministry and choose not to share family details with any but the most trustworthy of believers that I am somehow less accountable than they are. However, these self same persons almost never receive counsel or criticism from anyone and are only too happy to disfellowship or pubically malign anyone who disagrees with them).
The reason Yah'shua (Jesus) set up an apostolic authority was, amongst other things, to place pastors under accountability. An example of a rogue pastor called Diotrephes is found in John's third epistle. He excommunicated all detractors to his politic and refused the apostles admission to his congregation. He is typical of your tyrannical, unaccountable patriarch of today. And - typical of all rebels - they accuse their detractors of that which they themselves are guilty.
The Qualifications of the Elder - A type of the Polygamist
"Now the overseer (elder, pastor, presbyter) must be above reproach, the husband of one wife (i.e. married), temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of Elohim's (God's) church (assembly)?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil's trap" (1 Timothy 3:2-7).
If fewer are called to be pastors than deacons, then fewer still are called to be polygamists. And no wonder when you see what the qualifications are. For who else but those men with such characteristics could possible be able to manage a plural family that is full of love and thus truly gives honour to Yahweh?
Notice that nothing is said of the Pastor's wife. The Deacon's wife is both visible and her own qualifications detailed. The assumption is made that the prospective Pastor's wife has already fulfilled the requirements of the Deacon's wife and that this is therefore the minimum requirement. In other words, both the Deacon's and Pastor's first wife must be deaconesses at the very minimum.
I ought to add a footnote here on the word we often render as the "deacons' wives" for it may also be translated "deaconesses":
On the basis of this ambiguity, some denominations ordain Deaconesses in their churches, and yet others Eldresses too, a practice consistent with the New Covenant (and one which our fellowship observes - two of my wives are currently (2001) Deaconesses) so long as this does not undermine the patriarchal order. If the admonition of scripture is that we should be married (the Genesis Mandate), and if men cannot be ordained to the offices of Deacon or Elder unless one (the first) or perhaps all his wives are of at least Deaconess material, then it becomes immediately obvious that the choice of marriage companions by prospective polygamists must follow a very strict selection process based on the lifelong calling of that Patriarch. In short, the wives must be chosen by Yahweh and not by the lusty, roaming eye.
"Women deacons (deaconesses) likewise must be serious, not slanderers, but temperate, faithful in all things" (1 Tim.3:11, NRSV)
Mostly men are out hunting for more wives because they want more companionship and intimacy, and/or a pal for their other wife or wives. As my fourth wife has written elsewhere in an article, if one wife isn't "enough", something is wrong with the Patriarch. Whilst more companionship, intimacy and friendship are definite payoffs of this lifestyle, this is not the reason anyone should be living it as a Christian/Messianic. The grand and only justification for polygamy in Christ is the enabling of the Patriarch to complete his, and therefore his wives', calling as Kingdom-builders on earth and in the eternities. The reason Christ gave the talent that had briefly belonged to the steward who had only received one to the one who had many was because the latter was about his Master's business and the former wasn't. Polygamy is the tool given to those men and women who wish to entirely give of themselves for the Kingdom of Yahweh and who are not pursuing self-interest.
Of course, some will enter it for the wrong reasons but when the Master "comes home", guess how the talents will be redistributed? Those who accumulated wives in order to please themselves will lose them and they will be given to those who were utterly dedicated to Yahweh, just as Saul's wives were given to David by Yahweh Himself (2 Samuel 12:8).
The way unbelievers treat this life as a time to enjoy it for themselves (the result being destruction) is not at all unlike those Christian/Messianic men who go hunting around for plural wives for their own pleasure (the result being they won't have any at the end of the day anyway). Marriage in the eternal sense - the sense that passes into the next world - is 100% connected to the work of the Kingdom. In fact, true marriage in the New Covenant of Christ isn't remotely like any kind of marriage that preceded the cross. That type, Christ told the Sadducees when they tried to trap him over a question of the Law of Levirate and the resurrection, has no continuation after death where we shall all (relative to the earthly kind) be "single like the angels" (Matthew 22:20; Mark 12:25).
Although in the past plural marriage may have also existed for the occasional need to raise large families, and whilst it may today be used (for the duration of this life) as a means of taking unprotected singles and abandoned mothers under the umbrella of patriarchal covering, in its primary, eternal and spiritual meaning it is far, far more. And that core is indeed the very essence of creation and the Creator.