Questions of Eternity
The Messianic conference in Jönköping went well. There were of course inevitably those who did not agree with us but Stan took that in good humour as always. It had been a jam-packed weekend and was attended by about 40 delegates. We were surprised on the Sunday by a lightening visit from the Presiding Patriarch of our Holy Order who was making a tour of New Covenant congregations and colonies in Scandinavia which he did at least once a year. He wanted to speak to Stan and Björn about getting together to start a new Swedish community. Stan explained our situation and said that he would probably need at least another two years but would do all he could to get something underway with Björn.
Our eight day trip ended all too soon as far as I was concerned. I enjoyed my break from Poland and even more being with Stan which I knew was a rare treat and that I should not entertain hopes for another one for some time. The others had their turns too. But it was easier for Stan to take those without small children and he wanted to help those of us from North America who could not travel home as often as the others who had family living within a reasonable distance of Raj. I had not been back to the States for two years and my parents were anxious to see me again, as was I them. They naturally wondered, after two years "working" for Stan, why I hadn't saved up enough to travel home. It was a problem that was becoming increasingly difficult to explain. As Stan was due to visit the US in the fall, I didn't want to risk spoiling his public appearances as there was a good chance that I might be able to travel with him if his sponsors were willing to help.
It was hard parting with the Engströms but I was glad to see my sister-wives again and tell them all the news. They wanted to know everything that had transpired, which took me a good three days to cover to everyone's satisfaction. Andreea was especially glad to see Stan back again.
Stan brooded much over the offer to start a firstborn colony with Björn as his No.2 in Sweden and it was clear to all of us that he wished this to happen sooner rather than later.
"I see now how badly we need the fellowship of other families, and how we can be of help to one another," he told us one evening. "This firstborn Gospel is so big that it needs a tremendous amount of continuous instruction and backup ministry if it is to be successful. We saw how Björn had got a false understanding of some theological principles and it was creating major tensions in his home. Sonja and Misha were starved of physical affection because he misguidedly thought that starting a family would detract him from evangelism, and he wasn't willing to risk anything without preventatives. His motive was God-honouring but misguided. Other problems like this are bound to crop up again where our experience is needed on a more or less continuous basis. Would you agree with that prognosis, Hélène?"
I concurred completely. "Absolutely. We definitely need to be a centre where other families can either come for shorter or longer periods of time to experience first hand what we already know about Christian polygamy and to help them along. And we definitely need to move to the next phase of our goal which is to form a permanent colony with other families, even if they aren't all polygamous. But what I don't see is how we can do it practically speaking? Our hands are tied politically and economically."
Sarah-Jane offered her own thoughts. "It seems to me that the Lord has laid a heavy burden on us to get moving. I know it's easier for Hélène and I to say this because we're foreigners and not as attached to Poland as the rest of you are, yet at the same time we've already given up our countries and I think it's necessary for the rest of you to be willing to do the same."
There was an icy silence. Sarah-Jane hadn't been particularly tactful especially given some of the sentiments that had been expressed in the past by Anna and some of the others about moving. Nobody answered her so Stan broke the impasse.
"Well, I agree with Sarah-Jane. We have got to get used to the idea of moving anyway because it's going to happen: And, yes, the Lord has laid a heavy burden on my heart. Before I went to Sweden it was mostly theoretical but since being there I see all too clearly the urgent needs. And we may not have three or more years waiting for Poland, Romania or any other nation from which future wives may come joining the EU so as to make immigration easier. The solution - or a solution at any rate - would seem to me to start some sort of private school in Sweden through an invitation by Björn and to employ most of you lot as teachers and other members of staff."
"What about the mail order company?" asked Kasia. "That's practically our life-bread now. We have to have something else in place there if we're going to survive. It looks pretty hopeless to me."
There were murmurs of agreement, as I expected.
Kasia continued: "And our skills are pretty limited. We seem to have found a niche here which would seem a pity disturbing."
Support for Kasia mounted in the Polish contingent.
"If you don't mined me saying, Kasia," blurted Sarah-Jane, "this sounds like a pessimism born of a lack of faith. The Lord can do anything if He wants to. And if He wants us to move, surely He will pave the way for us."
Kasia did not like Sarah-Jane's rebuke and remained silent the rest of the meeting. There was some chatter between ourselves and then Stan butted in again.
"The reality of our situation is that we have to move anyway. We are limited by what we can do here. Björn has set up his own company distributing various popular products which is showing signs of some success. Other friends of ours have a number of ideas too. One colony is already distributing CD-ROM's on quite a large scale and we might be able to imitate them in some way, though we mustn't compete with them as a matter of principle. One member is into solar cell distribution and there are a number of other projects being suggested. I'm sure we'll be able to find the right thing if we just trust the Lord. It's a risk, but then so is life. It all boils down to whether we trust the Lord to provide for us or not. As to the question of nationality and homeland, we are all strangers wherever we may be. Our citizenship is in heaven, not here. Poland doesn't love us, and never will. One day it will try to kill us."
The meeting broke up without anything being decided. Stan knew it would take time to move all of our hearts to a complete and enthusiastic agreement, and that it probably wouldn't be a pleasant task. He just hoped we wouldn't be forced out of Poland because of some calamity like bankruptcy but run along smooth rails according to Yahweh's timetable and plan.
An uneasy atmosphere descended upon the house as all sensed the impermanency of our situation which had up til now appeared that it would last forever. Though he never betrayed it voluntarily, Stan was probably the last who wanted to move and had become very attached to Lublin. He was not impressed by the culural milieu of Scandinavia which he considered shallow compared to Central Europe and considered the people there in an even more advanced state of spiritual sleepiness than Poland. But it was a part of the dispersion of Israel, far more so than the Slavic nations, and it was largely free of Catholicism. He anticipated a major awakening there in the future.
"Israel is like a sleeping giant," he once said. "She has lost her identity and has fallen deep in sin just she always did throughout history. She possesses two contrary natures - the one righteous and holy, and the other indescribably wicked. It seems to me that in Sweden these two natures have virtually cancelled one another out leaving an insensible sleep-walker. The Swedes have become a very dreamy people, very nice, very gentle, but the Israelite fire has definitely gone of out most of them. Teaching and leading them in the Conference in Jönköping was like dragging a large sack of coal everywhere, or trying to light a fire with a huge log and a single match. People were interested but I suspect implementing the Messianic program will take them a long time - they like to drag their heels. The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that initially the twelve colonies have to be admixtures of the different tribes just to get the fire going. There is no doubt that there is a lot of Naphtali in Sweden, for it's going to be a struggle to get them going (Gen.30:8). Listen to Jacob's prophetic blessing on her: 'Naphtali is a doe set free that bears beautiful fawns' (Gen.49:21), and the Swedes are certainly a beautiful race."
We all remembered Björn who was certainly very handsome. If we moved to Scandinavia Stan was sure to find himself a Scandinavian wife eventually. I remembered Sonja whom I had got to know well. I had this sneaking suspicion, though I never voiced it, that Stan's plan was to have twelve wives, as this was considered the ideal number for one in his calling, and it also crossed my mind that maybe he wanted a representative from each of the twelve tribes, though this seemed unlikely with so many Poles or at least those with Polish blood in them. But as he reminded me, the Poles like all races had all sorts of races mixed in them, including German and French like myself. And almost none of the Polish wives were pure Polish - Kasia suspected that Anna was partly Ukrainian but I never confirmed this. Only Kryztina seemed be a "pure" Pole, whatever that was.
Anyway, Sonja and I had secretly "plotted" to find Stan a Swedish wife to hasten our move to Scandinavia which I felt was very important. We felt a bit like Sarah plotting to get a son viâ her handmaiden Hagar and wondered if perhaps we should "leave off" in case it got us into trouble. We had all, to be sure, indulged in some harmless matchmaking for Stan which he tolerated but didn't like much for he was of the belief that Yahweh would orchestrate this all on His own, as his experience with Andreea had so beautifully shown. So Sonja and I just agreed to "keep our eyes open", as it were. She and Misha had wanted Björn to take a third wife but he wasn't too enthusiastic, even though they had reminded him that as a Deacon he was entitled to four in our tradition. As a Swede he liked to take things slowly and resented any sort of pressure.
Stan was also cautious but once he sensed the Lord's hand in a matter he wasted no time acting. Isabel and Andreea were proof of that! But inspite of Björn's reluctance, she and Misha were still "fishing". But the waters were not, Sonja confessed to me, good in Sweden, and finding godly women committed to marriage of any kind was becoming harder and harder. The women they had thus far met had not impressed either of them, including those from a Christian background, for they seemed to have very loose morals and a very casual attitude towards matrimony. At least in Poland there was a good Catholic tradition of fidelity. I knew Stan didn't want anyone who would be superficial and not 100% committed for life and eternity.
I have mentioned our belief in eternal marriage before, a principle the Engströms liked but had problems reconciling with Scripture. While we were in Jönköping Stan had explained it to them more fully and challenged them to explain Paul's otherwise odd advice to widows to remain single, especially the young ones, unless they couldn't control themselves and might be led into fornication. He virtually forbade the older ones to remarry at all even though according to the Torah they were perfectly entitled to, and a brother of the deceased husband had the duty of marrying her if he (the late husband) had no male heir (the Law of Levirate).
"Why," Stan had argued, "did Paul say to Timothy that younger widows who wished to remarry had 'broken their first pledge'? (1 Tim.5:12) To whom was this pledge made? It could not refer to the Law because remarriage is not a sin per se, because it is justified by the Torah. It can only refer to marriage covenants - they were pledged to their husbands and to no-one else for the rest of their lives and, I maintain, for eternity. Of course this passage has been explained in other ways too.
"Some say that when a widow was added to Paul's special list she entered into a covenant of devotion to Christ, which remarriage would have broken. This seems hardly likely to me because there is nothing like this in the Torah or anywhere else in the New Testament for that matter. That would be tantamount to denying a person's right to marry, which elsewhere Paul says is a doctrine of demons! Others say this passage simply refers to a believer's basic trust in Christ, which would be compromised if a widow married outside the faith. But that is pure speculation since there is no reference to marrying unbelievers here, which had been condemned by Paul elsewhere. The story of Jephthah teaches us that we should not enter into unscriptural covenants."
"But it must have been pretty hard for a young widow to lose her husband, perhaps in the prime of her life?" I had suggested.
"Oh, I'm sure. It must have been tough when they were blossoming sexually. But I can't believe that this was the only problem. It seems to me that what Paul is concerned about is not just their inability to control their passions but their whole character disposition. These women aren't very deep in the faith at all. He says:
"'They get into the habit of being idle and going about from house to house. And not only do they become idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying things they ought not to. So I counsel younger widows to marry, to have children, to manage their homes and to give the enemy no opportunity for slander. Some have in fact already turned away to follow Satan' (vv.13-15).
These are women who are weak in the faith, whose first marriages were almost certainly not very spiritual and not therefore of the eternal type. They had taken a covenant to yield themselves 100% to Christ and their husbands but had evidently not done so. The widows' list clearly consisted of an entirely different category of woman, those who had been 'faithful to her husband, and was well known for her good deeds, such as bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the saints, helping those in trouble and devoting herself to all kinds of good deeds' (vv.9-10). He evidently thought that the gentiles whom Timothy was ministering to were not very spiritually deep at that time and that a safe bet was that there would be few spiritual women under 60 who were widows.
"It's sometimes hard to grasp the dynamics of the early Church because in some respects there were two different Churches. The gentiles who were brought to the Gospel were at a double disadvantage for not only did they have to make a dramatic turnaround in their lives as far as the New Covenant teachings about salvation were concerned but they had to make a complete readjustment as far as the practical details of day-to-day living were concerned.
"The Church Council of Jerusalem decided not overburden these new pagan converts with too many new rules and so created a very watered-down Gospel to enable them to grow up into Christ in manageable stages. Only gradually were they introduced to the Torah that their Jewish Christian brethren knew and loved."
"Then what was the controversy with the Judaisers about?" I had asked.
"Quite simply there was a segment of Jewish Christians who wanted to force Talmudic Judaism upon the gentile converts which Yah'shua had so vehemently condemned. They also wanted to force them to be circumcised, which ordinance had been abolished. And finally, perhaps the greatest heresy of all, they were introducing a false spirit into the churches by teaching that we are saved by works, thus annulling the atonement of Christ.
"These gentiles to whom Timothy was ministering had been introduced to a simplified version of the Law to enable them to make the necessary but difficult transition to a completely different way of life. Israel had been living Torah for thousands of years - it was deeply engrained in them. But they had been living it with a view to trying to save themselves, which was impossible. It was adjudged by the Council of Jerusalem that since a new dispensation had arrived in which the Old Covenant, minus the priesthood system, animal sacrifices and circumcision, had to be written on the heart - to start from within - and since only Christ could do that through the Ruach haQodesh, it was best that the gentiles start with that inner working, as indeed all new converts had now to do. In a way, the Jews had to view the Gospel in a completely different way. Why burden the gentiles with the Old Covenant way when they could start afresh from the inside out? They could then learn the Torah gradually as they went along.
"Most of the gentile women in Paul's and Timothy's day still had a pagan mindframe. Yes, they had put their trust in Christ and were saved, but there was a long way for them to go before they began to resemble the Israelites into whose tree they had been grafted. It's hard to say how old these congregations were, certainly no more than 20 years old, and probably less. These young widows had probably not been born into Christian families but were mostly converts. The older women, recruited into the widows' list when they were 60, obviously had spent most of their lives as pagans. But they were much maturer disciples, bringing forth the fruits of a complete salvation.
"Finally, there is no evidence that this "list of widows" was ever more than a local Ephesian innovation. It is never mentioned anywhere else, though that doesn't mean other congregations didn't follow suit after hearing Paul's letter read to them.
"There is something else that is interesting about these "widows", namely, that they are required to fulfil the same qualifications as those required of the deacons and deaconesses - they were what in Hebrew is called shammash - they were priestesses - ministers of the Gospel!"
I had been fascinated by Stan's exposition of these passages and had asked: "So we have another defintion of female priestly rôles here, then?"
"Absolutely. We see that the qualifications of a priest - whether Elder or Deacon (which are described in chapter 3 of the same epistle) - are nearly exactly the same as for a priestess, whether Eldress of Deaconess: she must have been (or is still) married, being a faithful wife - she must have a reputation for good deeds, including bringing up children in the fear of the Lord, showing hospitality (which includes meal preparation, housekeeping, etc.), washing the feet of the saints (not the ordinance, but literally cleaning them after a journey along dusty roads), helping people in trouble, and doing all kinds of good deeds. Here we have a wonderful description of some of the callings of the Deaconess!
"Thus to qualify to be on the widow's list would indicate priesthood service. The young widows clearly have not qualified for this list because they have given no ministry to the Church - therefore it was not the Church's responsibility to take care of them
"So what, in the light of this, was these widows' 'first pledge´ [NIV]? Different versions render the Greek pistis as "faith" (KJV), "trust" (JNT), "fidelity" (Griesbach), and so on. It's a word that has a very broad meaning, making it hard to translate precisely. It implies a continuing steadfastness, something that does not end, just as our faith in Christ is, or should be, everlasting.
"My only conclusion as to the meaning of Paul's words is that these sisters had to be true to their marriage vows in Christ - a pledge jointly made to Christ and their former husbands. I don't think anyone would care to deny that a pledge to Christ is an eternal one, would they?"
I knew, of course, that most Christian marriage vows include the concept of "until death do you part" though this is not to be found in the New Testament. Stan did not care for traditions which could not be absolutely proved from the Scriptures.
I knew we were in a minorioty as regards the doctrine of eternal marriage but I had seen its fruits which were good. We were all pledged to Stan for ever, though wives did not have to enter this covenant if they did not want to. If they entered a covenant only for this life then it was understood between us that they were free to remarry after Stan's death, if he went first, but that they could make no claim on him in the next life or for that matter on his family of extended wives and children. Nobody had wanted this, though Stan had seriously talked to us younger wives who might find ourselves widows whilst still relatively young, warning us that we might have problems unless we were really 100% committed to this vision.
Isabel had seen a vision of the family in the afterlife which was important to all of us, and had witnessed that marriages continue into eternity provided Yahweh sanctions them, His decision being apparently based on our degree of faithfulness both to each other and to Christ - Christ was the linking factor. The vision had surprised Isabel as much as it had us because seership was not a gift that she normally had - but on the few occasions the Lord had spoken to her directly by His voice or in a vision, it had been dramatic.
In Isabel's vision Stan had gone to talk with the Lord before His Throne and his wives were all waiting anxiously for his return. There were, Isabel told us, many, many more wives than he had today. Stan had to be judged before the rest of us, and to present us to Him as a single Bride. Isabel didn't see what happened afterwards so we still don't know the result. If she had been shown, Stan said, he would have known it was a false vision (because nobody knows their final judgment in this life). But what was important about this vision was that it confirmed what had otherwise just been by faith for us: namely, that we were truly a family in Yahweh's eyes and destined to remain so into the eternities if we stayed faithful to our Lord.
That eternal bond was of vital importance because it gave us a cohesiveness that was to be vital in the days that were to follow when the tempest of change came our way. The blow that was to fall upon us did so swiftly and unexpectedly.
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