The Church and The Stranger – Ezra and Nehemiah

Why the building for the Ekklesia?

A prominent Baptist pastor blogger has posted an interesting blog calling into question

the actions and pronouncements of Ezra of at the end of the book of Ezra. A reading of the blog hints that his position may be as a justification for welcoming a cross dresser into his church.

This brings up an on going debate within ‘the church’ today: Is the church (building) exclusively for believers or should the church building be the evangelistic platform where unbelievers encounter the gospel? Should the building be a place for the Sheep or the seekers?

Unfortunately, in mehumbleopinion, his answering of this question has led him to endorse the teaching of a paper presented at the Evangelical Theological Society where the author calls into question the actions of Ezra and Nehemiah and challenges their decision and pronouncement.

“A conservative biblical scholar and Hebrew professor named Ray Lubeck has written a superb article on this issue. Dr. Lubeck presented his paper at the 2010 Evangelical Theological Society Called Ezra-Nehemiah Reconsidered: Aiming the Canon at “Godly Leaders, Ray Lubeck’s paper takes the same position that Shabbethai took against Ezra and Nehemiah.” https://www.wadeburleson.org/2019/10/i-find-myself-in-levite-priest-named.html

2 Kings 17 is the key introduction to this.

ESV Ezra 9:1 After these things had been done, the officials approached me and said, “The people of Israel and the priests and the Levites have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands with their abominations, from the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites. Shall we break your commandments again and intermarry with the peoples who practice these abominations? Would you not be angry with us until you consumed us, so that there should be no remnant, nor any to escape? O LORD, the God of Israel, you are just, for we are left a remnant that has escaped, as it is today. Behold, we are before you in our guilt, for none can stand before you because of this.” (Ezr. 9:14-15 ESV)

I am sorry but the pastor is following a teaching that argues rather forcefully that the the text has been badly misinterpreted for millennia and in fact Ezra and the leadership got it wrong when it called for the divorcing and shunning of the foreign wives and children after the intense confessional prayer of chapter 9. Daniel makes a similar pray in chapter 9 of his book, I might add. The entire episode is one of recognized sin and deep, prayerful repentance.

And the repentance is not due, as very poorly argued in the paper cited, because they married foreign women. It is due to the fact that was recognized after reading God’s Word that “The people of Israel and the priests and the Levites have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands with their abominations, from the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites. Shall we break your commandments again and intermarry with the peoples who practice these abominations? Would you not be angry with us until you consumed us, so that there should be no remnant, nor any to escape? O LORD, the God of Israel, you are just, for we are left a remnant that has escaped, as it is today. Behold, we are before you in our guilt, for none can stand before you because of this.” (Ezr. 9:14-15 ESV)

Contrary to what the paper so badly argues, Ezra did not get it wrong. Shabbethai and those with him did. More about this later.

The pastor’s argument exposes the major problem with a pervasive trend in Evangelical church – the Seeker Service. Thinking seems to have cropped up that only the church is the place for evangelism and presenting the Gospel along with the idea that only professional clergy are qualified to do the presenting of the Good News.

The problem is etymology and history. The word “Church,”[1] is derived from an Old English word meaning, “place set aside for Christian worship.” Its foundation is as a place of worship for the ekklesia (εκκλεσια) “the ones who are called out.” It is not “those who are possibly thinking about being called out” or “those who we think might think about being called out” but those who are indeed “called out.” The Ekklesia is not for the lost but for the saved. So too, it is a place of worship and training for those who have been called out, it is not the evangelistic center for the ‘might bees.’ Salvation is an off site endeavor. Meetings at lunch, in your home, or other places conducive for those who are truly considering repenting of their sins and following the LORD.

If someone claims to be saved and yet appears at in the midst of the gathering of those who are “called out” but openly living in disobedience to God’s Word – especially in a sin that is clearly labeled an “abomination” then they are to be shunned until they repent and return to obedience. Scripture is clear on that. If it is argued that the church is full of sinners or those who keep their sin hidden, that is a different matter. You can’t deal with that until the sin is exposed. But for one openly being disobedient then they do no belong in the fellowship. Again, Scripture is clear on this.

Back to the original blog post and the text under exegesis. The argument from the poorly written paper that is endorsed and followed by the pastor is that Ezra and Nehemiah got it wrong – they should not have shunned the wives from the nations practicing abomination but should have welcomed them in with open arms as fellows followers of the God of Abraham even though the text is clear that they were continuing in the abominbal practices. Rather, the paper argues that the text of Ezra and Nehemiah do not endorse their pronouncement but rather sides with those who opposed them; Jonathan son of Asahel and Jahzeiah son of Tikvah along with Meshullam and Shabbethai.

When you approach this particular pericope found in chapter 10 of Ezra, the text concerning the sin and prayerful confession takes up 43 of 44 verses. There is only one verse noting any opposition, vs. 15 and it is presented as periphral information grammatically.

But, the pastor follows a paper that ignores this evaluation of the text and ignores that the writer of the paper ignores the very clear indications that those who are not of Israel but who are to be welcomed are those who “And foreigners who bind themselves to Yahweh to serve him, to love the name of Yahweh, and to worship him, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant” and not those who still “practice abominations” as was noted several times in the Ezra passage. There is a clear distinction between those who follow the LORD and those who do not! And when Nehemiah encounters the same sin he relates it to the sin of Solomon in Nehemiah 13.23ff. In Ezra and Nehemiah this is a major sin and recognized as such and repented of.

So, today’s churches. As is noted above, the church is for the LORD’s people! Those who love him and follow his ways. It is not for those who do not know him and especially for those who do not know him and very openly live a life that is called by Scripture repeatedly “an abomination.”

The Great Commission enjoins us “where ever we are/go” to present the Gospel. It is a responsibility of all who call on his name and is to be done out where we are going. Once salvation is found then such a person should be welcomed into the church and there taught better the ways of the LORD.