Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Foolishness of Being Culturally Relevant

In Jared Moore's post titled "We Must Launch Teens Into Culture" dated August 22, 2013, on the SBC Voices blog, he promotes his parenting series called Teaching Story Transitions, but he does not provide biblical reasoning for his charge.  Mr. Moore concludes his article by writing:

"Therefore, let’s train our children to extract grace from idolatry and to connect this grace to its rightful owner: God. Teach them to reject lies of the flesh, the world, and Satan, and to connect God’s truth to Him by the creating, sustaining, and redeeming work of Christ."

First of all, grace is not part of idolatry so that it can be extracted.  Idolatry is sin.  From the Baptist Catechism, sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.  Isaiah readily calls out Judah for the rationalization of sin:  "Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness," (Isa. 5:20).

Secondly, Christians do not reject lies of flesh, the world, and Satan by launching into the culture and taking back what is supposedly theirs.  In the New Testament, Paul warns:  "Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? ...Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you," (2 Cor. 6:14, 17). 

The Bible does not outline a Trojan horse evangelical strategy where we pretend to assimilate and compromise our beliefs with the culture, and later pop out our faith in Jesus, expecting to convert others to Christ.  It just doesn't work that way because we are not of the world, (John 17:16).  The apostle Paul exhorts Christians, as strangers and pilgrims of this world, to follow him as he seeks to follow Jesus Christ because our conversation is in heaven, (1 Peter 2:11; Phil. 3:17, 20).

Just like Christian pastors should not change the worship service to cater to the unregenerate, Christian parents should not change their children to fit in better with the culture.  True Christian parents, who are not of the world, should want their children to be different also.  For our family, one of our goals is to ensure that each boy is "ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh [him] a reason of the hope that is in [him]," (1 Peter 3:15).  If we were to make our boys culturally relevant, the hope that is within them would not be readily seen by others.

Launching teens into the culture is the best way to lose them to our adversary the devil who walks around seeking whom he may devour, (1 Peter 5:8).  All Christians should be salt and light to the world, (Matt. 5:13-16) and witness to our neighbors, (John 4:28-29, 39), but it is foolish advice to require the cultural indoctrination of our children.

"And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues.  For her sins have reached unto heaven, and God hath remembered her iniquities," (Rev. 18:4-5).

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Just a Pilgrim Passing Through

Al Mohler's recent blog post titled "It is the Price of Citizenship”?—An Elegy for Religious Liberty in America" stopped me in my tracks yesterday morning.  Religious persecution for Christians in the U.S. is looming on the horizon, and I can now see why the Puritans left the safety of England for the uncertainty of the New World; it wasn't necessarily for themselves, but for their descendants to follow.  As a mom of 3 godly young men (my youngest isn't that close to adulthood, but he tries), I understand the desire to provide a haven for your children so that you all can worship God as outlined in the Holy Bible.  However, according to the New Mexico Supreme Court, you now have to choose between freedom of religion or citizenship.  Given the choice, I choose, and will continue to choose, Christ above all things.

If you're not familiar with the case of the recent New Mexico Supreme Court decision, I'll briefly outline the details.  In 2006, the owners of Elane Photography refused to provide photography services for a same-sex ceremony in New Mexico.  Other photography companies in the area were willing to offer their services, and the "couple" did secure a photographer for their ceremony.  Notwithstanding, the "couple"  still decided to sue Elane Photography because they wanted all photography businesses to provide services for same-sex ceremonies.  It's important to note that same-sex marriage is illegal in New Mexico, but currently marriage licenses are being issued without recourse from the state attorney general.  The "couple" won the lawsuit and the 2012 appeal, and the 2013 New Mexico Supreme Court decision concurred that the owners of Elane Photography had violated the human rights of the same-sex "couple".

First of all, I'm very concerned that the New Mexico Supreme Court ruling denied the business owners protection under the First Amendment, which allows the New Mexico Human Rights Act (that includes sexual orientation) to usurp the Bill of Rights.  Secondly, New Mexico Supreme Court Justice Bosson insisted that business owners must compromise their religious beliefs for the good of the nation because that's that price of citizenship.


Like the apostles Peter and John, my answer is that "We ought to obey God rather than men," (Acts 5:29).  Compromising my Christian beliefs is not an option.  As our culture spirals into blatant immorality, this stand may require more of a sacrifice in the future; this will be especially true for our boys if they want to own their own Christian businesses (or maybe even just profess Christ as an American citizen).  In light of all of this, I rest in the fact that God is sovereign and His word is truth.

Jesus said:  "Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me.  In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you.  I go to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also," (John 14:1-3).

Monday, August 26, 2013

Puritan Imagery

One of the many reasons that I like to read the Puritan writers is their ability to create vivid word pictures.  Jeremiah Burroughs is no exception; he is a master at this literary device and uses it quite often.  Here are just two examples from his books that I've recently read:

From The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, Chapter 5 'How Christ Teaches Contentment' (p.91):
"Many men think that when they are troubled and have not got contentment it is because they have but little in the world, and that if they had more then they should be content.  This is just as if a man were hungry, and to satisfy his craving stomach he should gape and hold open his mouth to take in the wind, and then should think that the reason why he is not satisfied is because he has not got enough of the wind; no, the reason is because the thing is not suitable to a craving stomach."

From Gospel Worship, Sermon XII 'What Is Required in Receiving the Sacrament?' (p.242):
"If you saw the knife that cut the throat of your dearest child, would not your heart rise against that knife?  Suppose you came to a table and there is a knife laid at your plate, and it was told to you that this is the knife that cut the throat of your child.  Fathers, if you could still use that knife like any other knife, would not someone say, "There was but little love to your child?"  So when a temptation comes to commit any sin, this is the knife that cut the throat of Christ, that pierced His sides, that was the cause of all His suffering, that made Christ to be a curse.  Now will you not look upon that as a cursed thing that made Christ to be a curse?  Oh, with what detestation would a man or woman fling away such a knife!  And with the like detestation it is required that you should renounce sin, for that was the cause of the death of Christ."

If you're not already doing so, I would encourage you to read at least one of the Puritan authors on a regular basis.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Needs Perspicuity for Proper Tipping

On the SBC Voices blog, Jared Moore offered 200 free electronic versions to anyone who would read his new book 10 Sacred Cows in Christianity That Need To Be Tipped (hereafter referred to as 10 Sacred Cows) and review it on Amazon and/or their blog.  I offered to do a review, and Mr. Moore sent out his book on Saturday, August 10, 2013.

Let's look at the forest first, before we tackle the trees.  Overall, 10 Sacred Cows has some valid points, but it is poorly written with unsupported generalizations about the church.  I don't disagree with the points (in their nebulous state), but Mr. Moore continually makes sweeping statements based on his personal perception.  No research is noted--no informal polls, no national statistics, no cited sources, nothing.  His contentions are all based upon what "some people" think.  I don't allow personal opining and speculation in the essays that my high school students write; it's definitely not acceptable in a published book written by a PhD student in Systematic Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  He offers an introduction to his book, but provides no overall conclusion; and therefore, there is no call to action to correct the problems that he sees in Christianity.

The major points of 10 Sacred Cows are very basic and not well-developed.  Mr. Moore is very repetitive throughout the book.  He states that the book is about 3,000 words in length; being that short, it's obvious when he uses overlapping ideas and arguments.  Positively, he does cite many Bible verses, but he does not explain how those verses support his argument.  Some of the supporting verses are obvious in their connection to his statements, but some are not.  For example, at the end of the chapter 'Sacred Cow #1', Mr. Moore cites only the references for Matt. 7:21-23 (which deals with the judgment of nominal Christians), Rom. 3:23 (which tells us that all have sinned), and John 14:6 (which states that Jesus is the only way to salvation).  However, in the preceding chapter, Mr. Moore did not expound on any of these topics.  He assumes a Christian audience with knowledge of the scriptures and an understanding of the gospel.  In today's Christian world, neither of these premises can be assumed.

Now let's look at the trees.  First, the artwork of a hand-drawn stick cow on the cover and at the beginning and end of each chapter is very, very amateurish.  The childish figure indicates a lack of seriousness for the topic at hand.  The  book title itself is long and cumbersome.  Because of the contradiction noted in the next paragraph, along with Mr. Moore's admission that "cow tipping" is an urban legend, it appears that the title and drawings were forced into the book so that a continuing theme could be used by Mr. Moore to hang his points on.

Secondly, Mr. Moore uses poorly constructed, and at times confusing, sentences with improper punctuation or word usage.  He starts off 4 of his 10 chapters with the words, 'There is'.  This structure is weak, passive, and does not provide a strong foundation for his arguments.  Mr. Moore also contradicts himself in the very first paragraph of the Introduction, when he states that "A 'sacred cow' in the church is a tradition", but then 3 sentences later, he states that "The sacred cows mentioned in this book are fairly recent phenomena."  So which is it? Are sacred cows based on tradition, or are they newly established church practices?  Another confusing area is in the chapter 'Sacred Cow #1' when Mr. Moore talks about "some church leaders", but then goes on to identify with them by using the pronoun 'we' rather than 'they'.  Mr. Moore does not define his terms, and since his vocabulary is vague, it's difficult to determine who he is talking to or even what he's talking about at times.

In conclusion, Mr. Moore seems to be trying to point out the problems with running a church like a business venture.  I agree that these problems are evident in today's Christian world; however, I think that Mr. Moore's cursory, superficial treatment of the issues does not clearly define or express the problems.  Without specifically stating it, he is outlining the problem with the Normative Principle of Worship, which is the position in Christian theology that states that the worship of God can include anything that is not specifically prohibited by Scripture.  However, Mr. Moore does not offer any helpful insight on how to combat this problem in today's churches.  If he is somehow trying to promote the idea of the Regulative Principle of Worship, which is the position that Christians are to worship as instructed in the Bible, I think he would do well to start with (or at least refer to) The Baptist Confession of Faith Chapter 22, paragraph 5:  "The reading of Scriptures, preaching, and hearing the Word of God, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing with grace in our hearts to the Lord; as also the administration of baptism, and the Lord's Supper, are all parts of religious worship of God, to be performed in obedience to him, with understanding, faith, reverence, and godly fear."  Mr. Moore alludes to this view of Christian worship in 'Sacred Cow #4', but like the rest of the book, he does not clearly and logically lay out the problem, nor propose any solution.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Need for Biblical Discernment

I'm generally perplexed when I read a statement like this:
"Yesterday I saw yet another website dedicated to accusing a prominent pastor.  This one did not strike me as savage, the way other such websites have.  It seemed more mature.
But I wonder if this is doing the Lord’s work at all.  Even if every accusation against this pastor is true, I am unconvinced God wants us to set up websites for such a purpose."
This is the same sentiment held by modern-day ecumenical groups who think that we "Christians" should all just get along without what they perceive to be criticism or judgment. The Bible does call us to love one another, but it also calls us to discernment and possible separation, (Eph. 5:11; 2 Thess. 3:6).

The above quote is from Pastor Ray Ortlund's article "Are We Doing the Lord's Work?" posted on his Gospel Coalition blog on August 17, 2013.  Pastor Ortlund questions the need for public, biblical discernment and offers three emotional cautions.  However, if a fellow Christian has true accusations against a prominent pastor regarding improper biblical teaching, then that pastor needs to be called out in a public manner.

With the plethora of mobile devices, the world we live in today is, and will continue to be, on-line.  By definition, a prominent pastor has an on-line presence.  Therefore, if a pastor has strayed from biblical doctrine, then a blog post is an acceptable way to counteract his false teaching, and the on-line forum is precisely where the unsound doctrine or practice needs to be addressed.

Ironically, Pastor Ortlund has done exactly what he is criticizing when he calls out the rogue blogger in his blog post.  Yet, unlike the blogger who has true accusations, his critique seems more concerned with the possibility of a wrong motivation behind the questionable blog post rather than the content.  According to the Bible, only the Lord can see the heart, (1 Sam. 16:7); therefore, Christians should not be focusing on motivation, but like the Bereans, we should be receiving the word with all readiness of mind, searching the scriptures daily, and determining whether those things are in-line with God's word, (Acts 17:11).

As a society we are overloaded with information, some good and some not so good.  An unfortunate reality is that many modern-day churches lack true discipleship.  At the same, there is an overwhelming availability of so-called Christian books, sermons, podcasts, YouTube videos, etc.  Consequently, the growing population of illiterate Christians needs the help of on-line discernment ministry websites and blogs to weed out non-biblical teaching.  Without this on-line help I would still be reading what I consider "junk" Christian books and not growing in Christ.

Obviously, there's never a need to attack or malign a prominent individual who needs to be corrected, but public chastisement is proper and necessary because masters (or teachers) shall receive the greater condemnation, (James 3:1).  It's actually the loving thing to do.

"Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin," (James 4:17).

Monday, August 19, 2013

Of Baptism

I was really taken aback by Mike Bergman's article on "The Priority of Baptism" posted on 08/15/13 at the SBC Voices blog.  The SBC is known for its focus on numbers; mainly on how many members a church has and how many baptisms were performed that year.  Mr. Bergman's call to baptize professing Christians sooner is not in the best interest of the individual and can be detrimental to the visible church.  I definitely agree with Mark Dever's view in the article that baptism should wait until the profession of faith is confirmed.  Sometimes the decision for baptism is an emotional response or an outcome of peer-pressure.  Unfortunately, once the person is baptized, it is not politically correct to question that person's salvation; therefore, if there's no fruit in that person's life, (Matt. 7:17-27), that person becomes resistant to further evangelization because he's been baptized.

Mr. Bergman's concludes:
"Instead, the testimony of Scripture is that baptism belongs as the proper response to the gospel—it is a profession of one’s faith in and allegiance to Christ and not an event that should come after a profession. Practically, this means we should seek to perform baptisms as soon as possible after a person hears the Gospel and is moved to repent and follow Jesus."

This is a very weak and passive view of the requirements for baptism.  Hearing the gospel is required for faith, (Rom. 10:17), but just because someone hears the gospel does not mean that they have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit.  In addition, the phrase "is moved to repent and follow Jesus" is not the biblical requirement.  I can be moved to do a lot of things, but actually following through and acting on that motivation is another story.  This goes back to my post about heart motivation; in that post I talk about how Christians cannot just sincerely desire to follow the word of God, but they must do it.

The 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith, Chapter 29 "Of Baptism", paragraph 2, specifically outlines the proper candidate for baptism:
"Those who do actually profess repentance towards God, faith in, and obedience to, our Lord Jesus Christ, are the only proper subjects of this ordinance."  (Emphasis mine)

"Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them," (Matthew 7:20).

Friday, August 16, 2013

Synergistic Sanctification

On August 13, 2013, Mike Leake posted an article on the SBC Voices blog titled, 'The Gospel's Root Work and Axe Work'.  Here's his conclusion:
"Here is my point. If you and I are sinning we need to grab an axe and deal with it. The gospel is what causes us to grab an axe and get to work. And the gospel also causes us to grab a shovel and start digging out roots. But we must never confuse the gospel’s axe work with gospel’s root work. They aren’t the same but they are both necessary to our sanctification."

Mr. Leake states that the fundamental answer (to any sin) is the gospel, but I want to stress that combating sin is a synergistic process. Therefore, in his analogy, it’s not just the Christian alone chopping down the tree of sin, but the Holy Spirit is there helping as well, (Rom. 6:14; Gal. 5:17-18). It’s also important to note that the Christian must truly want to turn away from or repent of the sin, (Rom. 7:18-25); otherwise, the effort to change is in vain. Using a rubber axe is just as ineffective as leaving the roots.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

A Call for Biblical Restoration

On August 11, 2013, David Miller posted an article on SBC Voices titled, 'We Need to Stop Talking About "Restoring America"'.  In his concluding paragraph he states:
"But I think, for the sake of our brethren from different ethnicities, and for the sake of our testimony in this world, we ought not talk about restoring America to what it was, as if that perpetrated on Blacks, Native Americans and the other ethnic groups was insignificant."

So he's saying that we can't go back to the Christian foundation of our forefathers because it might offend someone, even though it was the moral foundation of Christianity that spurred the Civil War which ended slavery in the U.S.  It's important to note that slavery existed world-wide; it was not isolated to the American colonies alone.  Slavery, as with all sin, has been a part of the world since The Fall.  Restoring a biblical worldview in American leaders is not synonymous to restoring slavery to our economic system.  To make this claim is an informal fallacy called post hoc ergo propter hoc or faulty cause/effect (X happened then Y happened; therefore, X caused Y).

So what did our forefathers actually say?

First, let's look at what George Washington said in his 'Farewell Address' of 1796:
"Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports...Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle."

Next, Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, stated the following in 'A Defense of the Use of the Bible as a School Book' in 1798:
"The only foundation for...a republic is to be laid in religion.  ...Christianity is the only true and perfect religion; and that in proportion as mankind adopt its principles and obey its precepts they will be wise and happy."

Also, Daniel Webster said the following at an oration in Hanover, New Hampshire, on July 4, 1800:
"To preserve the government we must also preserve morals.  Morality rests on religion; if you destroy the foundation the super structure must fall.  When the public mind becomes vitiated and corrupt, laws are a nullity and constitutions are waste papers.

Finally, Charles Carroll, another signer of the Declaration of Independence wrote the following in a letter to James McHenry dated November 4, 1800:
"Without morals, a republic cannot subsist any length of time; they therefore who are decrying the Christian religion...are undermining the solid foundation of morals, the best security for the duration of free government."

Our country was founded on Christianity and morality to produce a republic that is governed by a proper agent of God to punish evil and condone good by aligning its laws to the word of God, (Rom. 13).  Not all of the American forefathers were Christian, nor have we always had Christian leaders nationally or locally; but generally, our past leaders were influenced by Christian principles.  We can see the difference in our laws and court decisions as we continue to elect men and women who are not Christians and/or do not hold to Christian principles.  "Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil," (Isa. 5:20).

The Christian religion is foundational to the success of our country.  However, the solution is not to focus on promoting America or even American history, but to focus on Jesus Christ.  Specifically, American Christians need to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, to pray for leaders with a biblical worldview, and to live as a witness Jesus Christ's work in their life.  We can throw out the baby with the bathwater as Mr. Miller suggests, but we will continue to reap the consequences of an ungodly nation.

"If the foundation be destroyed, what can the righteous do?" (Psalm 11:3).  "And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose," (Romans 8:28).

Monday, August 12, 2013

On Free Will

I recently listened to Pastor Walter Chantry's sermon 'The Obedience of Christ' from the Association of Reformed Baptist Churches of America General Assembly 2013 dated April 25, 2013.

Pastor Chantry begins by reading Matthew 5:16-20 and states that these verses show us Jesus' purpose and the significance of the law and the prophets.  He notes that there has a been a reformed movement of the New Calvinists in the evangelical world who have decided to ignore certain laws or even all of God's laws.  But as we read further into Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, we see that the way is narrow and not broad, and that believers should beware of false prophets in sheep's clothing, (Matt. 7:13-15).  Or, we should beware of the New Calvinists falsely wearing Calvin's robe.

The Academy of Saumur in western France was founded in 1593 and existed until 1683 when King Louis XVI ended the toleration of Protestantism in France.  During its short existence, the Academy was influenced by the humanistic philosophy of Ramus and was the home of Amyraldism.  Moses Amyraut, a French Protestant theologian, became a leading faculty member at the Academy in 1633.  However, his Calvinistic beliefs were being criticized, so in response to the secular objection to the doctrine of predestination, he modified his beliefs while still maintaining his association with Calvinism.  He developed Amyraldism or the doctrine that God's design is to save all men through Christ's sacrifice.  However, His sacrifice is not effectual to salvation unless man accepts it when God offers the free gift of grace.  Therefore, man's will is the key, and the purposes of God's will cannot be fulfilled unless man exercises his will.  This perversion of God's word leads to the untenable position that man has a natural ability to receive the free gift of God, but a moral inability to receive it.

In the 1730's, the First Great Awakening swept through the American colonies with the preaching of men like Jonathan Edwards.  Subsequently, Edwards was dismissed from his church in Northampton, Massachusetts, and called to direct an Indian mission.  While he was there he wrote a treatise on 'The Freedom of the Will' and argued that "man has a natural ability, but a moral inability".  This exact phrase was used by Moses Amyraut in his writings.

Pastor Chantry speculates that Edwards was reading the theological work from the Academy of Saumur including the works of Moses Amyraut.  Jonathan Edwards died in 1758, and the Second Great Awakening swept through the United States in the 1790's.  The students of Edwards, including his sons, moved openly toward Amyraldism and claimed that they got it from Edwards (if anyone has access to Yale's archives, Pastor Chantry encourages you to study Edwards' connection to Amyraut).  They promoted the teaching that God intended to save all men, that Christ died for "you", but you must believe to receive it, and that you have have a free will capable of receiving the free gift.  This teaching led to the moral influence theory of the atonement which says that God has a wonderful plan for your life if only "you" will accept it.  Does this sound familiar?  I recently saw this on the website of a local church...

Modern day Amyraldians claim to be the true Calvinist.  I had never heard of Amyraldism before hearing pastor Chantry's sermon, but I have seen the bifurcation of the human will discussed by modern day theologians such as R.C. Sproul in his book Essential Truths of the Christian Faith.  Quoting Edwards is usually a safe bet, but with this background information, I'll be more discerning when the topic is free will.

The bottom line is that all Christians should beware of false teachers.  For those of us in the reformed camp, we should watch for those who claim that they are Calvinist, when they are not.

"But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction," (2 Peter 2:1).

Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Purpose of Life

As a new Christian, the question of 'What is my purpose in life?' was continually on my mind, and I read plenty of popular books to try and answer it, but to no avail.  I was looking for an action plan, but what I needed was sound, biblical counsel.

Over time, I finally found the answer as I studied the reformed Christian faith, but Willem Teellinck has the sound, biblical answer concisely stated in The Path of True Godliness (p.127):
"Clearly, the glory of God is the most important purpose and goal of our life.  We were created and re-created for that purpose (Isa. 43:7, 21).  The only way we can accomplish this is by following God's counsel and his Word (Jer. 23:22)."

Then on pages 143-146, he warns us that our spiritual enemies seek to distract us from our true purpose in life by:
  1. Persuading us to live in total wantonness, just as we please, without ever knowing the true purpose of life.
  2. Persuading us to pursue the wrong purpose in life by holding the wrong goal before our eyes and minds so that we will not be moved from it.
  3. Persuading us to halfheartedly pursue the right purpose that fails to look sincerely at God and does not end in God.
Mr. Teellinck concludes by exhorting believers to "think how terrible and monstrous it would be if the sun, created to give light to the world, were to spread thick darkness instead...Consider further what it means when a Christian, created and regenerated to let his spiritual light shine and so glorify God, misses the purpose of his life and, in place of letting his light shine by his godly walk in the midst of a crooked and sinful generation, exudes the foul fumes of an offensive life and conduct."

"Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God," (1 Cor. 10:31).

Monday, August 5, 2013

Is Heart Motivation Enough?

After several recent conversations, I've been plagued with the question:  Do believers have to obey with their actions, or is their heart motivation enough?  God's word is clear, but not necessarily easy to obey.  Even so, believers are to keep (action verb) his commandments:  "And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments," 1 John 2:3.

In 1 Timothy 3:2, Paul outlines the requirements of a bishop (or elder) of a church which includes 'being the husband of one wife'.  In his 1 Timothy commentary on page 111, Philip Ryken states that this "phrase is probably more general: elders must be morally accountable for their sexuality," (emphasis mine).  Mr. Ryken's statement is subjective and vague.  How are they held accountable?  What does sexuality entail?  He then talks about the moral degradation of the Greeks and Romans during that time (which is unnecessary contextualization), but the details are really no different than today's society:  gross sexual sin, polygamy, divorce, adultery, homosexuality.  He goes on to say that God wants "the leaders of a church to be living examples of biblical marriage:  one man and one woman in a love covenant for life."  I think that this is exactly what the requirement for elder (or deacon) is, but in today's Christian world it's not politically correct to exclude a candidate for elder (or deacon) because a man has been divorced, nor is it pragmatic since divorce is common inside the church.

In a similar vein to Mr. Ryken, I've recently heard it preached that the husband of one wife refers to a man who has a heart for one woman; this one-woman man does not have a roaming eye or lustful thoughts of other women.  However, the 1 Timothy 3 passage does not refer to or imply the allowance of the heart motivation to substitute for any of the requirements.  More importantly, these requirements cannot be subjective (they MUST be objective) because other believers need to be able to discern that they are being met in order to establish elders (and deacons) in the church.  "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?" (Jer. 17:9); no one can see the heart, but God, (1 Sam. 16:7).

Both Mr. Ryken's commentary and the sermon try to divorce (pun intended) the believer's heart motivation from his outward actions.  However, God's word is clear that the heart is tied to outward actions when Jesus says,  "If ye love me, keep my commandments," (John 14:15).  Therefore, a man who has gone through a non-biblical divorce should not be an elder or deacon in a Bible-believing church; his heart may have been motivated to be a one-woman man, but his actions did not follow through.  It is important to note that the Bible does allow for (but does not require) divorce in two instances:  (1) adultery, (Matt. 19:9), and (2) when the non-believing spouse leaves, (1 Cor. 7:15).  Therefore, it could be inferred that an elder or deacon MAY be a biblically divorced man assuming he is the faithful spouse or the abandoned believer, but this should be the exception and not the rule:  "Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth.  For the Lord, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away," (Mal. 2:15-16).

It is necessary to remember that the word of God discerns the intents of the heart and not the other way around, (Heb. 4:12).  When man starts modifying the requirements and commands of the Bible by opening them up to the subjectivity of the heart (such as a one-woman man), then that allows the congregation to do the same for other passages even though the word of God is plainly expressed.  

Keeping God's word is difficult because believers are still sinners, and we will be until we are glorified.  We do break God's commandments, but through the conviction of the Holy Spirit, we repent of our sins and Jesus is "faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness," (1 John 1:9).  However, there are consequences for sin, and sometimes that includes not holding a church office when the person is not qualified.

In Gospel Worship, Jeremiah Burroughs writes:
"The next thing [in sanctifying God's name] is a humble subjection to the Word that we hear.  Our hearts must bow under the Word that we hear.  It is a very remarkable Scripture that we have in 2 Chronicles 36:12.  There it is said concerning a great king, Zedekiah, "He did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord his God, and humbled not himself before Jeremiah the Prophet, speaking from the mouth of the Lord."  It is a very strange expression we have in the book of God, as strange as we have, that Zedekiah, a great king, should be charged with this as a great sin, that he did not humble himself.
To have a congregation lie down under the Word of God that is preached to them is a most excellent thing, and God's name is greatly sanctified."

Allowing God's word to say what it says, exhorts the congregation to humble themselves under God's word and submit to it without excuse.

"He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him," (1 John 2:4).

Friday, August 2, 2013

Keepers at Home

For the past two Sundays, our pastor has preached on Titus 2: 3-5 which says, "The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things; That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed."

This past Sunday, our pastor exhorted the congregation to believe and obey all of God's word--including the woman's role of keeper at home.  This exhortation is definitely counter-cultural in America today.  For the members and visitors sitting in our congregation, this message offended some (see Rom. 8:7), affirmed some, and confused some; some were justified by their circumstances and some looked to their heart motivation rather than their outward actions.  In Gospel Fear Jeremiah Burroughs writes:
"...when such a one has heard the Word, it dares not cavil against it.  It's true, you may examine the Word that you hear preached, but not cavil against it.  Before the heart is brought to this trembling frame, it will be ready to rise against the Word and to entertain cavils, and vain objections against the Word; but when the heart is brought to tremble at the Word, it dares not cavil and object as before."

Growing up in a non-Christian home, I strove to succeed in high school so that I could go to college and get a "good" job.  I never really thought about marriage or children (or God for that matter), although I assumed I would be married one day and have at least one, maybe two kids.  Even after I became a Christian, it really did not immediately change my career focus; I just put church on top of my already existing lifestyle.  But in December of 2001, God began to work on my heart and within 18 months, I stopped working, gave birth to our 3rd son, and began homeschooling our boys.  It was not an easy transition, but it wasn't incredibly difficult either.  Looking back, my move from work to home has been the best thing my husband and I have done for our personal growth as Christians, for our relationship as a couple, and for our affinity as a family.

Unfortunately, our society continues to mold how Christians view working women so that it is accepted as normal and the biblical view of being a keeper at home is seen as outdated, culturally irrelevant, and even offensive.  This accepted view of working women has also spilled over into the role of women in the church so that a woman can now preach and teach, which is not biblical, (see 1 Tim. 2:12).

In addition, the current evangelical push for missionary service (a la Radical by David Platt) has negatively affected the Church by inflating the status of a missionary so that if a believer does not serve as a short-term or long-term missionary, that person is viewed as a second-class Christian.  This push for missionary service along with the acceptance of working women has convinced young women to enter the missionary field, even though it's not allowed in Titus 2 and 1 Timothy 2.  The biblical picture is for a married woman to follow her husband in missionary service or a young woman to follow her father.  I recently read a blog post of a Reformed Baptist pastor who recounted the heart-break he felt 4-years ago when his 20-year old daughter was sexually assaulted on an airplane as she headed to serve as a missionary to an unreached people group. I'm not saying that the father or the daughter was at fault for the assault (her attacker will one day stand before the Almighty God and give account for his sins), but I am concerned because the need for father's protection over his daughter until marriage and the biblical view of a woman's role as keeper at home were not even addressed in the aftermath.

"For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass.  The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: But the word of the Lord endureth for ever.  And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you," (1 Peter 1:24-25).