A Voice in the
June 28, 2004
What s the real scoop? Why can t I just be involved with the church I meet with and identify with other believers in Christ in fellowship, prayer, etc. and thereby call myself a member of that church? Why am I in the books as an official member ? What would happen if I were to request to be taken off the administrative list and just continue to meet with the church as usual??
There is no Scriptural basis for a 'registry' of membership. Certainly in the O.T. they took head-counts for things like military conscription and service duties regarding the tabernacle and temple. The books of Numbers, Joshua, Chronicles and Ezra/Nehemiah contain many lists of people's names...but none of those were for "membership". Those who preach their membership doctrines today only have passages like Ac1:15 ("the number of names") from the upper room prior to Pentecost, that they base their beliefs upon. But there is no Scriptural teaching regarding membership. And certainly nothing resembling "altar calls" to "join the church". When Paul exhorts to discipline the ones engaged in immorality, he says to "deliver such a one to satan" and to "purge out the old leaven" ; to "not keep company with" (1Co5:5-9) But he makes no mention of removing them from membership roles. How does somebody get removed from something that doesn't exist?
Having said that, there -could- (notice I say "could") be reason to document who is part of a fellowship and who is not...for those groups that are tied to the government through incorporation. It would give them legal protection against outsiders coming in and stirring things up, possibly. But I believe churches should not even be incorporated....if you scroll up to the prior category (house meetings) and check out the link on "church, government and finances". But if somebody were disciplined out of the fellowship, and refused the Lord's Supper, etc. and such a person were to sue in civil court, "membership" protocols could provide civil protection for a congregation against such a non-believer.
But there is no Scriptural/spiritual reason or precedent for it. Our 'official' relationship with God is not through the church board or the pastor. It is the Holy Spirit who "seals" the Believer with God's "promise" of Eternal Life. (Eph1:13) That is -spiritual-, in-the-heart. The pieces of paper where somebody's membership is written down are part of the "works" that will be "burned up" (2Pt3:10)
My name is not written on some congregation's registry, but in God's Book of Life (Rev21:27) I 'joined' Christ's Church when I was saved! And a pastor or deacon did not welcome me, but Jesus Christ provided the means with His own blood (Rev1:5) and says to those at death, "Today you will be with Me in Paradise" (Lk23:43) and again: "...I will come and receive you to Myself..." (Jn14:3) "I (not church membership) am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through..." joining the church? !!No!! Jesus says, "..except through Me" (Jn14:6)
How do you 'join' something, of which you are -already- a member, through the "washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit" (Tit3:5) ??
You ask: "why can't I just...." meet and fellowship with other believers? I agree, "why not!" You asked about my past. Over my lifetime I've been on the actual registries of scarcely a handful of congregations (and I am not now presently; unless there is one of those places I forgot to resign years ago when I moved away or left). And over a lifetime I've been in churches from upper NY state to western California, and many in-between in N.Dakota, Illinois, Iowa, etc...as well as many more when I was doing itinerate concerts years ago. The places where I've done the -most- in ministry (directing choir, preaching, teaching SS, directing VBS, Nativity/Advent programs, etc) oddly enough, I was -not- a member. This includes several baptist churches whose by-laws stipulated that anybody serving in their congregation/s should be official members. Apparently it was -obvious- to them that I was a True Believer and/or they -really- liked my musical leadership, so they ignored (waved?) their own rules.
You ask, "What would happen if..." you got yourself removed from the registry. In God's sight 'nothing'. And if, as you say, you are observing "changes" in the group, that are troubling, you may actually receive 'praise' from God for having "come out of her, My people". (Rev18:4) However, also be prepared for 'politics'...Major-Big-Time!!!! They will likely try to counsel you, try to instill you with 'guilt', and start praying for your "backslidden" condition, asking God to "restore" you to fellowship. If you remove your membership, and keep attending, be sure they will look at you askance, will not trust you, may shun you....and some, likely, will be 'afraid' of you...and will make snide comments to you.
For all the claims by baptists for not being "protestant", but tracing their heritage back to John-the-baptist through the anabaptist movement, for everything they behave like catholics and lutherans. Catholics believe it, and I've heard Lutherans give True Believers a bad time, as they were leaving after they got saved, and removed their membership: "Don't you want to go to Heaven???" equating "church-membership" with the 'ticket' in through the pearly gates. Baptists typically do the same thing... They may not come right out and say the person has "lost" their salvation; after all, most of them believe in that protestant doctrine of 'once-saved-always-saved'. But the person is surely terribly "backslidden". And with many congregations they subsequently become black-listed.
You didn't say -what- denomination you are dealing with. I only speak of "baptists" because that is my past experience in things dealing with "membership". I've been in likely more baptist churches in the past, as all other denominations combined....primarily, because they traditionally have tended to stick to God's Word the best of anybody...in spite of them labelling so much of Scriptural church polity as "b-a-p-t-i-s-t"...even though that term does not exist in the Scriptures, except in 'translations' as transliterated from the Greek.
"If this woman actually 'teaches' the Bible in her sermons, I wonder if she will ever gravitate towards 1Tim2:12-14 or 1Cor14:34....and if so, 'what' she will have to say about them? Or will she be like that fellow....what was his name? ....John Hagge (I think?) ....I used to watch him regularly quite a few years ago, weekly, on TV. On a couple occasions he lambasted fat/obese women -for- being so fat/obese. Well, do you know who he is....and seen him? (I haven't seen him lately) If I had to guess, at the time that he was condemning fat women, he looked to be over about 300 lbs himself."
Kinda like Rom2:21-24
22 You who say, Do not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?
23 You who make your boast in the Law, do you dishonor God through transgressing the Law?
24 For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you, as it is written.
Women can't talk or do anything?
Woman pastors: a women's group linked with the (Baptist) church of which I'm a part is going to be studying a book about the role of women. It's against the "submissive" role, but tries to interpret Paul in a way compatible with women's leadership - emphasizing that there cannot be a division between the secular world (where women lead) and the church (can they be expected to defer to their husband, although he may not be as scripturally knowledgeable (don't say it!)or bright as her (that is not actually said! And I must say also that I've not read more than 1/8 of the book).)
But do you think Paul teaches that women should not speak in church at all? Not to read, pray, give a testimony or give out the notices? There are references to woman prophets, but should they prophesy only outside the church meeting? These would be radical changes were this Baptist church to implement them . Not wanting to be "odd" (in men's eyes) for the sake of it, but wanting to adhere to the Scripture...
What about "bright, dynamic Christian women", some of whom are certainly capable of teaching (I have read books by women which have helped - difference from preaching/leading in church?). But should they teach only women?
I note 1Cor 14 vv37 and 38 which solemnly backs up what Paul has just written about the silence of women in church. So, if we prove our love for God by obeying His commands, this matter is not a trivial one.
I should be grateful for your thoughts.
The name "Miriam" often comes up in the pro-women-leadership arguments. We have observed this before, but let's repeat: Miriam was a "prophetess", but notice that when she led out in worship with a "timbrel in her hand", it was "all the WOMEN" who followed her in song and dance. (Ex15:20) She was doing as Paul, later, would exhort: the "older women" with "reverent behavior" to "admonish the young women". (Tit2:3-4) It was when Miriam got a streak of independence and thought to be in authority as highly as Moses, that God struck her with leprosy, for her rebellion. (Num12:1-11)
The name "Deborah" also comes up. It is apparent that when all the men are wimps, that God has been known to use women, as Deborah was judging Israel. (Judg ch4) But again notice, that when it was time to go to war, she did not play Joan-of-Ark and lead the troops to battle; she called upon Barak. But Barak was such a mamma's boy that he would only do so, clutching Deborah's apron strings. (vs8) If -such- was the male chosen to leadership, what were the rest of the men like ?!?
The names Rahab, Ruth, Abigail, Esther are also bandied about. In Scripture they are mentioned as Godly women...but notice that there is no mention of them usurping leadership over men. They were submissive, Godly women, whom today's women "professing Godliness" (1Ti2:10) would do well to emulate.
Notice that Priscilla did not teach Apollos alone; it says that both her and her husband, Aquila, did so. But, also, this did not happen in public, in the meetings, but they "took him aside" to do so. (Ac18:26) They did not exercise leadership/authority over him in the public meetings.
The name "Lydia" is mentioned. Again, notice that when they met along the "riverside", it says that they were the "women who assembled there". (Ac16:13)
What about Philip's "four virgin daughters who prophesied" (Ac21:8-9)? First of all, the passage doesn't say TO WHOM they -preached-. (They were 'preachers'. They were -not- having charismatic spirit-fillings, and tongues babblings! That's what most Biblical "prophesy" means... "preaching".) Judging from everything else we typically see in Scripture, they were most likely preaching to other women. Remember, in those societies the genders were typically more segregated for meetings, than they are in our today's climate of hand-holding and cuddling in public. The men sat together, and the women by themselves. Note how when Jesus fed the multitudes with the multiplying bread, that the numbers given are of the "men". (Jn6:10) Matthew gives the numbers of the "men" and then says, "besides women and children" (Mt14:21, 15:38) And notice those numbers of "church-growth" in Acts, are numbers of "men" who came to Christ. (Ac4:4) On Pentecost it says "three thousand souls" (2:41), but in 4:4 as there is growth, the number of the "men came to be about five thousand". (how many women and children? it doesn't say. But we can be certain the total number was way more than 5000. The Church was 'exploding' in growth.)
Also notice that Philip's daughters were not usurping husbands, because the passage makes a point of saying they were "virgins", yet under their father's authority, and apparently they had their father's blessing, seeing as how he was a preacher, himself. The passage doesn't say, but drawing from what we know of culture... perhaps Philip preached to the men, and his daughters preached to the women who were gathered in their own groups, separate from the men? After all, cannot -women- also hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ? They did not have PA systems back then, such that Philip's voice could be heard by all. But this is supposition.
It was asked: What about the so-called "bright, dynamic, (don't forget "vivacious")" women? Please allow another observation from my own earlier years. I remember as a younger person, being in a lot of different churchs. This came about from being an MK (missionary's kid) as we were visiting supporting churches; in Bible school in musical groups 'ministering' in many different churches; post-graduate as I did itinerate church concerts; and through several moves throughout life. Typically, you walk in and sit down... and there was always this 'busybody' (1Ti5:13) woman, all bubbly, going around and smiling, shaking everybody's hand; making everybody -feel- 'welcome'. Eventually you would come to discover that she was the pastor's wife. It was pretty much -expected- (unspoken) that this is how a pastor's wife was supposed to behave. She typically also pretty much 'ran' all the social activites of the pot-luck dinners, and all such things. If the pastor's wife was -not- like this, she was castigated as not fulfilling her proper role.
My observation: Yes, there were churches where the pastor's wife did -not- behave in this manner. In fact, I remember a couple of specific places where I was attending regularly at the time a new pastor was called to the congregation, and he would make a special point of announcing that his wife was -not- going to be his "assistant pastor"; that the congregation would -not- be seeing her "take charge" of this and that and the other thing. In some places, such announcements greatly upset the congregation: after all, we are "hiring" the pastor, we want his wife, too. (Of course, at only the pastor's salary!!) Other places accepted it. I remember a couple of places where, as I began attending, I wasn't really quite sure -who- the pastor's wife was...she blended into the woodwork.
Well guess what...! Another thing I noticed about the pastors, where his wife was not a busybody... those pastors also tended to be the good, faithful Bible -teachers-! They tended to expound upon "Thus says the Lord". They did book study series, and their studies were verse-by-verse, "line upon line" (Is28:10), word-by-word. If the congregation was accepting of his teaching ministry and didn't polick him out, those were also typically the more spiritually 'healthy' congregations, not having the factions that plague many groups; and the -men- were the congregational leaders. The pastor and his wife were not a ministry "team" (a concept you don't find in Scripture; it is not recorded anywhere in Scripture that God called a man AND HIS WIFE to be a ministry 'team'; God always called the 'lone/individual' man.), but he was a man-of-God. And if you visited in their home, they obviously loved each other, and had a 'calm' household. The wife was a "helper to complement him". (Gen2:20) This is what I've observed.
It is asked: What about women authors and speakers? I believe it is Scripturally clear that any such thing would be ministries TO WOMEN. But, can a man not happen to pick up and read a woman's book? Can a man not happen to be in the vicinity and hear a woman speak, as she is doing so predominantly to women? I suspect the men of Israel observed and listened as Miriam led the women in praise. How would Paul's party have known about Lydia, if not for 'hearing' them as the women were meeting? If a man, in conversation, asks a Christian woman about her beliefs, is the exhortation to be "ready to give a defense" (1Pt3:15) only limited to men?
But please, don't send me names, and ask me to critique. I do not follow what everybody else is doing out there today. The Lord did not send me to continually monitor and ask, "what about this man (or woman)?" but He says, "you follow Me". (Jn21:21-22)
Certainly, men will hear the Gospel from the mouths of believing women. It was a girl who testified to the "prophet who is in Samaria" (2Ki5:3), which led to Naaman's healing, and subsequent faith in God. (vs15-17) But the Scriptural mandate is for women to NOT "usurp authority" in leadership over the man. She is not to be a 'teacher' over the men. (1Tim2)
And as for the 1Co14:34 exhortation: please, please, please remember the CONTEXT. (Remember in the recent study 'methods' series we spoke of "context"?) What is the primary topic of that chapter? Paul is addressing charismania, using his characteristic "reasoning" (Ac17:2) approach to the topic for those not accepting what we here at VW label, straight-out, DEMON-POSSESSION. Charismania's primary modus operandi is to "empty the mind" in order to become "spirit-filled"; which Jesus addresses in Mt12:43-45 as being the realm of the "unclean spirit". Paul exhorts that true worship very much INCLUDES the -MIND-. (vs14-15) When the mind has been emptied, what is left? Emotions. And who are most adapted to emotions? By their God-given design... Women.
Until the more recent years where men have learned to be in touch with their "feminine side", pentecostal and charismatic services originally years ago typically tended to be -led- by prominent -women- of the congregation; often, the pastor's wife. If they had been obedient to Paul's exhortation in 1Co14:34, those services would never have gotten off the ground, because they would have kept quiet, and THE PASTORS COULD HAVE -PREACHED-THE-WORD-, like they were supposed to!!! (2Ti4:2)
Next time you go to a fair, and see all the little booths for the psychics, tarot card and palm readers, gazers into the crystal balls, fortunetellers...make note if you see any 'men' doing those things. I've never-yet seen one. Typically it is women...delving into the spirit world through the gateway of the mind-emptied emotions.
Another 'observation'? I've stereotypically noticed that women who balk the most militantly and vehemently against any exhortation that they shouldn't be leading or teaching in the church, also tend to have hearts immersed in charismania. (each parameter requires the other, for the whole to exist and be sustained) Just as they twist the Scriptures regarding tongues and spirit-fillings, they equally twist the Scriptures regarding women in leadership roles. And being servants to satan in that way, they "twist" the Scriptures "to their own destruction" (2Pt3:16)
However, that verse (1co14:34) isn't suggesting that, ladies, as you enter the building, put a piece of tape over your mouths and don't utter a peep. I don't see any Scripture that says women cannot join in singing, praying, fellowship, etc. If women are to lead out in prayer during prayer meetings, perhaps the older way of splitting into separate men's and women's prayer groups is in order? But how is passing out programs, or greeting people a 'usurping' of male leadership?
It is asked about "testimonies"? Here, it would seem to me that 'care' is in order. There are simple testimonies of what the Lord has done in one's life; and then there are the !!-T-E-S-T-I-M-O-N-I-E-S-!! where the person waxes eloquent in pride, where the testimony takes over the entire service and they might as well call it a "sermon". Since the N.T. church met in homes they likely didn't have platforms, so what I'm going to suggest here is just some common-sense advice from PB. If a woman is invited to share a personal testimony, she should likely do it from where she is situated in the congregation... or if it is a big room where she is invited to the platform because that's where the PA mic is, the male leadership should not leave the platform while she speaks (briefly); the figure of 'authority' should remain visible to all. But really, I should think this would be more the 'rare' event, rather than the norm. Also, it might be a measure of 'wisdom' for the male leadership to know 'what' she intends to share with the group, before giving her carte blanche with an open mic. There's an aweful lot of "gossip" that goes on in churches in the name of -sharing- "prayer requests"...as supposedly saved women whine about their unsaved husbands, saying things that are inappropriate. (1Ti5:13) Forethought and planning, to keep things "decently and in order". (1Co14:40)
Is there also not a difference between -THE- "reader" who primps and preens, gets sweaty palms, worries if every hair is in-place and lipstick isn't smudged, to be up front to read the Scripture passage for the day; and the situation where the Scripture is read in-turn amongst everybody assembled, where one reads a verse, the next person reads the next verse, the next, the next, where depending on how everybody is seated, men and women, alike, read successive verses? In the first case the "reader" is acting as a "leader" and the woman should not do it; whereas in the second everybody is 'jointly' participating, each-in-order. I don't think we're picking at straws here; I really do believe these are legitimate differences.
However 1Co14:35 should also be kept in mind: "And if they desire to learn something, let them question their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church." How many times is it not the case that the woman of the (above) 'busybody/gossip' spirit speaks up, asks questions, actually diverting the topic away from what the Holy Spirit gave to the teacher to teach, because her emotions or spirit is in disagreement with it. The passage speaks of several "prophets" (preachers) speaking in-turn (vs29-33); but does not give a similar provision for free-for-all "sharing". It is this alpha-course type "sharing" where people introduce false doctrines, and often-times the leadership is loathe to 'correct' the error publicly, for fear of 'offending'. Thus, the wisdom of letting the teacher/preacher teach/preach...uninterrupted. After all, the Holy Spirit has given them the burden to proclaim God's Word to the people gathered together for the purpose. Let the people keep quiet and listen.
And then, there's an issue that nobody else has raised, that I don't really want to get into at this time, but as a musician I've been pondering over the past months/years; which is about solos and other forms of so-called "special music". I've not come to any definite conclusions yet, but the more I hear these pop-star wanna-be's on the local Moody station, the more I'm being inclined to think there shouldn't be such a thing as female solos in church. But equally, seeing what music has become, I also wonder about -any- special music. (Remember, I say this, having had a background in -being- a soloist) I really question the true spiritual benefit of special music. It has been sooo many years since I've heard -anything- that was God-honoring, let alone exhortative to a congregation who might hear it. But at the top of this list is the -female- solo...of any kind. (The pop star goddess) But like I say, this paragraph is included just to 'sprinkle' this concept into this discussion. I don't really want to get into 'music' full-bang right now. It's just something I ponder, since I've done it in the past, and once-in-awhile wonder if anything like it would ever re-develope for the future; so then I try to visualize 'what' I would do, and nothing 'appropriate' seems to present itself. So, anyway....
Yes, if today's churches began implementing Scriptural guidelines, it certainly would be RADICAL to the norm. God did not call us to Himself for the purpose of blending and "fitting-in" with the world! Just quite the opposite!! We are NOT SUPPOSED TO do things the way the world does them! Just because the world is militant for feminism, that does not excuse the Christian to be like them. We are called to "come out" and "be separate". (2co6:17) That is the very definition of "holy". To be "different" and "distinct". "..you shall be holy men unto Me.." (Ex22:31) "...but as He who called you is holy, you also become holy in all conduct, because it is written, Be holy, because I am holy." (1Pe1:15-16) The "glorious church" is to be "without spot or wrinkle"; it is to "be holy and without blemish". (Eph5:27)
If a congregation is teaching that there cannot be a "division" between the world and the church, BY DEFINITION that congregation is rebelling against "holiness". The WHOLE POINT of the Church is to be the "light of the world". (Mt5:14) What the world does in rebellion against God's order (God, Jesus, man, woman 1co11:3) is one of the reasons the Light of Jesus Christ (Jn8:12) needs to shine through His Church, doing things God's Way!
And if they insist they need to adopt the world's ways in order to win the world, they need a dose of 2Co10:4, "For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty through God for pulling down strongholds"
Beyond that, if a person does not accept Scripture's clear teaching, the reference you gave is in order....
"If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord. But if anyone is ignorant, let him be ignorant." (1Co14:37-38)
Hand Scanning: Mark of the Beast?
The basic gist is that an employer is implementing hand-scanning technology to aid in the time-clock record-keeping procedures. In other words, as employees "punch" in-and-out for their shifts, they will be required to have their hand scanned. The question was: 1) is that the 'mark' of the beast, and 2) should a Christian submit to it?
The following answer seemed to give the person peace about the matter. (I have, since, added a bit more to what I first mailed them)
You know....there are all sorts of scanning technology out there. Some read the retina of a person's eye, some the voice, some scan the hand for its blood vessel patterns, some scan for finger/thumb prints, etc. If they are merely scanning your (God-given) 'hand', as it's attached to the end of your arm, without them adding a mark or device to it, that's not the same as "receiving" a mark, is it. (Rev13:16)
Also, the "beast" (or "man of sin") hasn't yet been "unveiled", has he. (2Th2:3, Rev13) The time hasn't yet come when "everybody" ("all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and slave" vs16) has been required to receive this mark. Nor has this same individual/entity required 'worship' of the image. (vs12,15) I get the distinct impression from the passage that, when the time comes, it will be a package deal....the 'mark' as well as 'worship' (civil and religion). while we see things progressing to make such things possible, we haven't yet crossed that threshhold. The Church hasn't yet been rapture, the 7-year covenenant hasn't yet been ratified with Israel, etc.
I remember close to 20 years ago, when PCs were first making inroads into regular use in businesses and for personal use (back in the days of 360k dual-floppies and no hard drives, and the battle for dominance was between IBM and PC/M), there were some Christians who were scared that "the computer" was part of the 'mark' of the beast, and they wouldn't use a computer. Well, computer technology may-well-be part of what makes the 'mark' work....but in-and-of itself, the computer -is- not the mark. By the same token, while all these ID cards, and scanning technologies are being developed, and some aspect of them might end up being the 'mark', right now I don't believe we have yet crossed that threshhold. Even some who have gotten themselves implanted with the various 'chips' that are being developed and experimented....I don't believe those are -yet- THE 'mark'. THE 'mark' is required by the "beast" (Rev13)....and it/he hasn't yet been unveiled. There is not yet the included religious component, to worship the image (idolatry against God). Right now it's -merely- 'technology'.
Let's not forget Paul's reasonings about "meat", which I think applies here. They didn't have all our current electronic technology in his day, but they did have the gist of a parallel concept to what the beast's 'mark' will be about.
He exhorts: Eat whatever meat is sold in the markets. (1Co10:25) Don't go around digging into the 'origins' of the meat, JUST IN CASE it -MIGHT- have been used in sacrifice at pagan temples. Remember that an idol is nothing (8:4); being made out of materials that must be carried about, and have no powers. (Ps115:4-8, Jer10:5) And so, also, meat-is-meat. It comes from the carcasses of dead animals, that fed on grass, hay, grain; of which Paul says, "..for the earth is the Lord's, and all its fullness" (1co10:26)
But the difference is in the mind/heart of the pagan (and weak Christian) who -view- the meat as having been sanctified in the pagan temple. (vs28-29) Their hearts are such that they reverence the pagan temple, venerate the pagan priests, and view the meat as a sort of holy edible amulet. Their eating of such meat (they think) imbues them with holiness and whatever other characteristics their beliefs are characterized by. And so, they invite you to partake with them in this holy activity. -That- is what a Christian cannot do; not because the meat itself is anything special; it is not. But because of the observation of the unbeliever, who by your participation will 'attribute' to you the same pagan worship they are engaged in. They will see you as worshipping their pagan deities... not the Most High.
Thus, until the 'beast' is unveiled, and this 'religious' connection is made to the 'mark'... scanning technology is 'technology', just like we drive cars, use computers and calculators, fly in airplanes, talk over the telephone, etc. It's all just 'things'....not a pagan 'allegiance'.
This is the way it appears to me.
When the time comes, the 'mark' is going to be more like that -thing- on Tyouk's (sp?) forehead (Stargate SG1), from his prior days when he was in pledged loyalty to Apafus (sp?) the 'god' of the Guaould. (sp?) Interesting, isn't it, how Hinduism and catholicism (Ash Wednesday) already have their little marks for the forehead for certain religious observances. Yes, the 'mark' will be involved in commerce, but its -primary- function, the reason God's followers would not receive it, will be a sign of pagan -loyalty- to the 'beast'.
Today what people should shun is not so much -technology-, as those other symbols; like the Southern Baptist minister who came into my store a couple weeks ago wearing a well-worn (from many years of membership and allegiance) 'ring' of Freemasonry on a finger of his 'right' hand. Those symbols represent what is in the -heart- of man. The 'heart' of allegiance to the sun-worship of Freemasonry, represented by wearing such a ring, will condemn a person; where simply having one's hand (technologically) scanned will not.
Heaven: where is it?
"For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air..."(1Th4:16-17)
If the Lord descends from Heaven where He resides until He descends to dwell with us, I don't suppose I can say if I meet Him between here and there, that I have gone to Heaven. So this passage in 1Thess is not evidence that I go to Heaven.
Then I run into John 3:13: "No man has ascended into Heaven, except He that came down from Heaven". So we can confidently state: up until this point in time, no one- from Adam to Enoch to Elijah to whomever had passed away just prior to Christ saying these words- had ascended upon death to Heaven where God resides. Evidently this passage in John also speaks against anyone going to Heaven.
It's usually phrased thus: "Spending eternity in Heaven". Heaven is where God currently resides. I see evidence the new Jerusalem will be established as a kingdom on the new earth, with Christ dwelling and ruling there (probably another reason His name is Emmanuel). The current Heaven, which I presume most Sunday School pupils believe is their final and eternal destination, will evidently pass away, as both Peter and John the Revelator seem to indicate. Then I see Solomon notes the heaven of heavens can't contain Him (1Ki 8:27) so it would appear the old heavens are done away with for a reason.
I don't seem to be able to find evidence that anyone other than Christ goes to Heaven. What am I supposed to think?
At the resurrection and rapture, believers go to (the third) Heaven. Notice that you truncated the part of that passage that would have answered your own question. "And thus we shall always be with the Lord" (1Th4:17b) where is the Lord? Where is God's dwelling? (Gen24:7, 2Chr20:6, Dan2:28,etc) Heaven. Jesus promised to "prepare a place" for His Believers and to come again and to "...receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also." (Jn14:3) If Believers are resurrected and raptured to "be with" the Lord, we (including myself) will be 'with' the Lord, 'where' He dwells...which is Heaven... 'wherever' that may be.
It is true that Jesus will come and rule from (old) Jerusalem for 1000 years.
But what you refer to, the "new Jerusalem" is not coming to -this- earth. It is coming to the "new heavens and earth", because the "first heaven and earth had passed away" (Rev21:1) Remember the "three" heavens we observed above? The heaven that is passing away is not the "third Heaven". The Third Heaven does not pass away. The Third Heaven is the place of God's 'throne' (Is66:1), and "Your throne, O God, is forever and ever" (Ps45:6) The heaven that is passing away is the one connected to the earth....the universe of the stars and planets....the one comprised of "elements" that gets burned up (2Pet3:10-13)
So yes, the Believer does go to be with the Lord (in Heaven) forever....whether in the "Third Heaven" or the "new heaven and earth" with its "new Jerusalem". God hasn't given us all the details of eternity, because it is only for those who have been cleansed by Jesus' shed blood. (Rev1:5) Jesus promised, and we believe His promise...and accept the presently-unknown details by faith.
We know we can go to Heaven because Jesus came down from Heaven (Jn3:13), redeemed the sinner and promised to take the Believer back to be with Him. (Jn14:3) The O.T. saints went into God's presence under the same rules, through faith and the precursory animal blood sacrifices. (Heb11:4, Gen4:4)
Scripturally these people make a claim that the word "was" in vs2 should -really- be "became". They suggest that vs2 should read: "and the earth -became- without form..." They also quote about God's creation, "...who has not created it empty, but has formed it to be inhabited..." (Is45:18) That word "empty" there is rendered "vain" in KJV...which they equate with the Gen1:2 word "void" (which, in fact, it is...."formless, emptiness, nothingness, empty space, wasteland, wilderness"). (If KJV rendered it "void" in Gen1:2, it SHOULD have in Is45:18, also, because it's the same word. void and empty mean the same thing; whereas void and vain do not)
Thing is, the word in Gen1:2 , "was", has a couple of forms. One form truly does mean "to come about, to happen, to be done" corresponding with their desire to say "became". But the form that actually appears in vs2 also means variations of the form "to be". To exist. To be situated.
If you read ch1 from the VW-edition, it will quickly become apparent that the chapter has a unique way in which it is written. It is that way in the Hebrew. But most translations have "smoothed" out the passage in English, making it into a 'narrative' (like a 'story' that is told), rather than a 'record' of events. It is very much a 'record' of events, as each day progresses, as it also says about the passage, "these are the generations of the heavens and earth when they were created" (2:4)
Thus, a person might view (outline) the first few verses such:
Paul "reasoned" with people from the Scriptures (Ac17:2); and God invites: "come and let us reason together...." (Is1:18) Science continually spends its time looking for signs-of-life "out there" in the universe. One of the main reasons they send missions to Mars is to look for "signs of life". But all their cameras send back is pictures of barren wasteland, not inhabited. And everyplace else they look, the same thing. Every other place in the universe is "without form and void". Yes, the planets are all 'globe' shaped, due to the laws of physics and gravity. But when they look upon them, there is no "form" of anything planned and designed by intelligent residents. The rocks on Mars are all strewn about in random fashion. The storms on Jupiter go sweeping across the planet; it is uninhabitable. But God chose the -earth- upon which to place man. Yes, God created the entire universe with its suns and planets. And as He flung the universe into existence with His "fingers" (Ps8:3), earth was amongst it all. Just as all planets are "without form and void" (a barren wasteland), so was the earth. (Gen1:2) But God did not leave earth that way. His 'plan' was to populate earth with mankind. (Is45:18) And thus Genesis 1:3, and following, is a record of how God took earth, a planet not unlike any other "void" planet, and created out of it a place suitable for life, and placed man and other living creatures and plants on it.
Earth is the only planet of its kind. Science can keep looking, but they will never find another "M-class" planet out there. Science rejects earth's uniqueness, because they reject God. And unfortunately, there are many Christians who have immersed themselves in the "wisdom of this world" (1co1:2, 3:19) so much, and accepted (as fact) the 'theories' science has never been able to prove, and even go against their own "scientific method" of investigation, that they find ways to twist the Scriptures to conform to the world's 'theories'.
I don't know if your relatives are in this camp, but there is an entire belief system called "theistic evolution". They claim to believe in God, and believe that God created the universe; but rather than accepting Scripture's clear record that God -spoke- things into existence (Gen1:6,9,etc; Jn1:1-3), they suggest that God used evolutionary means to bring everything about, rather than believing the Genesis account that He created all life "according to its kind" (Gen1:11,21,24,25)
I know, you didn't say anything about 'evolution'. But, the reason the so-called "Gap" theory even exists, is to account for the millions/billions of years evolution claims. According to a mailing from David Cloud (the very day, after this answer was mailed to this person), he documents how the Gap Theory had its start around the same time as Darwin. Pember (1876) and C.I.Scofield (1917) propounded the Gap Theory, and Darwin's "Origin of the Species" was (1880) Evolution is based on the theory of "uniformitarianism", a false doctrine prophesied by Peter would exist in the "last days". (2Pet3:4) And as Peter continues in vs5-6, evolution rejects the clear evidence of Noah's flood, instead, using that evidence to go down their evolutionary path. (Most of the so-called 'proof' they claim supports evolution, is actually proof of Noah's flood) Also, their carbon-dating methods are greatly flawed...the methods by which they postulate m/billions of years for fossils and rock formations. It is because of those m/billions of years necessary to make evolution fly, that such a thing as a "gap" is necessary to theistic evolutionists; because without such a gap, Scripturally the earth is only around 6000 years old.
A good place to get more scientifically oriented Scriptural support on this topic is at the "Answers in Genesis" website. www.answersingenesis.org They include many articles written by Christian scientists, using scientific terminology, understanding scientific formulae, etc. that I expect could be quite useful for sharing with those of a scienfic mind-set.