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Monday, June 30, 2014

Terminal Taboos

We read in Scripture, "Confess your sins one to another" (James 5:16) and "Bear one another's burdens" (Gal 6:2) and the like. Good stuff, too. I mean, if we were open about admitting our sin and rightly expected that this openness would result in someone to help share the burden, it might make a big difference. Might. Because we don't typically confess our sins to one another and we don't typically expect anyone to help share the burdens of those sins, unconfessed or otherwise. Oh, no, these things are taboo.

Christians can be schizophrenic. We readily admit that we are sinners. Christianity is, in a way, a Loser's Club. The first prerequisite to get in is the clear admission that we are dead in sin and without hope if Christ doesn't intervene. Losers. Christianity holds that all have sinned and warns "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us" (1 John 1:8). And yet ... once we're in this environment that starts with bad news -- our sinfulness -- and continues with the certainty that we will not achieve perfection this side of heaven, we don't seem to want to admit that we're sinners saved by grace. We seem to want to appear better than we are.

We are commanded to love each other, to bear each others' burdens, to confess our sins to one another, to pray for one another, and all of that, but we have a higher command. "Never let them see you sweat." Well, something like it. So we place conversational taboos in place and we just won't talk about it. Obviously if you have some sort of sexual attraction to the same sex, it isn't something you can talk about with fellow Christians. Feeling attractions to someone other than your spouse? Not allowed in discussions. Worse if it's a minor. Never coming out in conversation. There are just a pile of "really bad" sins that we do not have permission to struggle with. Pornography a problem? Well, that would be a relationship killer if it ever got out. Are you a smoker trying to kick the habit? That probably shouldn't become public knowledge at church. Alcoholic? Oh, definitely not something you can talk about, at least not with Christians. And there are regional issues as well. American Christians won't typically discuss beer drinking or dancing because, well, there's something wrong with those things, right? Not all Christians think so, but many American Christians do, so we won't discuss it and, if we do partake of a beer or a dance, we won't admit it.

Of course, it's not just that we're not willing to talk about this stuff. It's also true that one of the reasons we're not willing is because of the reaction we know we'll get. We may roll our eyes at those silly Amish who practice shunning at the drop of the hat because someone violates their sense of propriety, but, as it turns out, we do it ourselves. Try admitting to a porn problem or, worse, same-sex attraction and see how many will talk to you after that. Somehow it appears that you become the only sinner in church and they're afraid they might catch it.

So, we've decided that, although we know that the Great Commission is to "make disciples" and we know that we are to confess our sins and bear one another's burdens and all that, looking good to other believers is far better than being obedient to God. As a result, lots of us struggle in silence. We think we're the only ones, that no one else is struggling with the same thing and we're just going to have to tough it through on our own. It's wrong, but that's the way it is.

Brothers, these things ought not be. It is a cheap trick of the devil that he shared with African predators. Cut out the weak ones of the herd and take them down. So we let the "roaring lion" (1 Peter 5:8) fool us into thinking we can find safety away from the crowd and the crowd into thinking that they need to stay away from the weak ones and we go down in a heap. It's not necessary. But it's common. So where do we go to eliminate these terminal taboos? Where can we find those who are willing to share genuine burdens and admit real sins and struggles? Is there a safe place for this? It's not biblical. Will it continue to be our practice?

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Totally Awesome

"Awesome." Yes, we know that word. "Totally awesome, dude!" Like "Wow! That's really cool." Yeah, well, like so many other words (and their associated concepts) in the English language, this is another one we've managed to cheapen. In our day it refers simply to enthusiastic approval. It has not always been so. Originally the word meant more. Something that was awesome was certainly impressive, but it had another attribute as well. It was frightening. "Awe" is a mixture of reverence, respect, wonder, and dread. The dictionaries agree that this mixture of feelings is overwhelming.

So in the New American Standard Bible we read, "For the LORD your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God who does not show partiality nor take a bribe" (Deut 10:17). "Awesome God." Yes, we get that. But that same verse in the King James reads differently. "For the LORD your God is God of gods, and Lord of lords, a great God, a mighty, and a terrible, which regardeth not persons, nor taketh reward." Do you see, where the NASB says "awesome" the KJV says something different? "Terrible" is their word. Because "terror" is included in "awe".

Is God terrifying? We don't think so. We think He's our "bud", our "pal", the "Big Guy Upstairs". Lots of things, but not terrifying. I suspect that the primary reason we don't see Him as terrifying -- the complete sense of "awesome" -- is that we haven't seen Him. The responses in Scripture to those who have are consistent. When Moses realized that the bush he went to see was God, he "hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God" (Exo 3:6). When Israel, miraculously freed from slavery in Egypt, got the chance to hear God tell them what He expected of them in person, the Bible says, "They trembled and stood at a distance. Then they said to Moses, 'Speak to us yourself and we will listen; but let not God speak to us, or we will die'" (Exo 20:18-19). When Isaiah, God's prophet, got a heavenly vision of God in His Holiness, he responded, "Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts" (Isa 6:5). When Jesus told His disciples where to fish and they caught more than they could handle, Peter replied, "Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!" (Luke 5:8). In Mark 4 Jesus and the disciples crossed the Sea of Galilee and ran into a storm that scared the seasoned fishermen. When Jesus stilled the storm, they weren't relieved. The Word says, "They became very much afraid" (Mark 4:41). Over and over again when humans -- even friends of God -- get a clear glimpse, the response is not "Totally awesome, dude!" It is fear.

God is, indeed, awesome. His majesty inspires reverence, respect, and wonder. But if you see Him as He is, it also inspires fear. Part of awe is dread. And the lack of this kind of fear is a problem (Psa 36:1; Rom 3:18). Fear God (Eccl 8:12; 12:13; 1 Peter 2:17). He is indeed totally awesome.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Marriage 101 - Conclusion

Imagine a marriage constructed like this. A husband assumes the God-given role of "head of household" and launches himself into seeking the best for his wife. He performs this by loving her as Christ loved the Church, without conditioning it on her response. He seeks to know her, to understand her, and is careful always to show her the utmost respect and honor. In turn, the wife holds her husband up as God's instrument in her life, His director of operations. She submits to him as God's representative in her life and seeks to show him the respect the position of head deserves, without regard for his "respectability".

Together, these two leave off clinging to their families and become one in spirit as well as flesh. They have a common direction, a shared heart. They stand by each other. Problems that he faces meet with her ever-present support, and difficulties in her life are shouldered by his unflagging provision. They are not two individuals, but a unit. They are not entangled with cares for their own welfare, but devoted to the welfare of the other. Neither is deterred when their partner staggers because each is seeking the best of the other. Instead of a 50-50 marriage, they have a 100-100 marriage, where 100% of the aim of each is to meet the needs of the other.

This is marriage. This is God's intent. If we are to call ourselves "disciples of Christ", it must be ours as well.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Marriage 101 - Mutual Submission

Now we're back together, both husband and wife, and ready to discuss some of the mutual aspects. Notice that a husband is never commanded to make sure his wife submits to him, and a wife is never commanded to make sure her husband loves her. Those were specific commands to specific people, and not to be confused with commands to both.

One of the most popular objections to "Wives, submit to your husbands", as it is found in Eph. 5, is the verse prior to this command. Here we find Paul saying,
"Be subject to one another in the fear of Christ" (Eph 5:21).
There you have it! Wives may need to submit to their husbands, but husbands must also submit to their wives, right? There is a problem with that notion. If both of the members of a family are in submission to each other, how are any decisions made? Some have suggested that the submission be "one at a time". In some cases, the husband submits, and in others, the wife. But this would run counter to the passage, which doesn't offer the "one at a time" approach. Further (and this is obscured by the chapter break), the next statement is "Children obey your parents." Thus, if carried to its logical conclusion, parents must submit to their children. Now, an argument can be made that this is precisely what has happened in our generation, but that's not a good thing, nor is it rational in light of the text. Paul goes on to instruct father so "bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord." Thus, the idea of "everyone submits to everyone" just isn't feasible.

What is intended by "be subject to one another"?

The concept of "subjection" is the idea of "ranking under". Paul puts it this way:
Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others (Phil 2:3-4).
"Regard one another as more important than himself." What a concept! While we scramble about trying to meet our needs, the call of Scripture is "regard one another as more important than himself."

So how would this work itself out in a marriage, given that wives and husbands have been assigned differing roles? In this environment of regarding others as more important than self, the two partners in this marriage would be most interested in looking out for the interests of the other. When a husband fulfills his role as head of household, he does so with his "self" disconnected. Instead, his direction is "What would be best for her?" And a wife, recognizing that she is called to submit to her husband, and recognizing that her husband is responsible, would be seeking to support him in his efforts to provide the best.

Now, do not be mistaken here. The question "What would be best for her?" does not always mean, "What would she like best?" Sometimes "best for her" entails difficulty and trial. He will be forced to make some hard choices, and she will not always be happy about them. But the goal must always be "What would be best for her?"

In this mindset, there is one serious lack from which very few marriages currently suffer – the "I". This concept of mutual submission, of always seeking the best for the other, is entirely outward focused. There is no sense of "looking out for Number One". This is a "faith fall", releasing myself to the sincere belief that "since God put this together, God will support me – therefore, I can throw myself wholeheartedly into seeking the best for my spouse." This mindset balks at "you deserve a break today" and learns instead to be satisfied in whatever circumstance befalls (Phil 4:11-13).

This, in fact, is the primary point. Those who study such things have concluded that there are certain factors that are the primary problems in most marriages. At the top of these lists are things like money, communication, and sex. I am suggesting that these are all secondary. Instead, the single most common problem in any troubled marriage is "I". Think about it. Isn't the primary problem that "I" have expectations of what I should be getting out of this marriage, and my spouse is not meeting those expectations. If I remove the "I" factor in my marriage, I remove my conflict. How many times have you heard someone complain, "He just won't let me love him" or "I want to treat her well, but she won't let me"?

Now look back at those things commanded by God for wives and for husbands. In any instance does it say what to expect from a marriage? No! It says what each should do, but it doesn't say what each should expect. That's because the focus is outward, not inward. The thought process is "I will trust God for my well-being and ..." either "submit to my husband" or "love my wife" regardless of the response. That is "mutual submission."

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Marriage 101 - The Role of the Husband, Summary

Husbands have a high calling from God. They are the ones that God holds responsible in a marriage. They are the ones that God calls to be the head of the family. He is responsible to God to be the leader without being the lord. It is a relationship defined by love that is conditioned not by her response to him or what he gets from her, but by a life-long commitment to honor and understand his wife. The goal is to value his wife and to be satisfied with his wife as a gift from God, a fellow heir. The husband's role is not a small one, and not necessarily an easy one, but neither is it an optional one. Failure to be the husband you ought will have ramifications in your relationship with God as well as your wife, your other relationships, and the rest of your life.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Marriage 101 - The Role of the Husband, Part 3

It would seem obvious from these three responsibilities that one of the primary jobs of a husband is to provide for his wife (and family) (1 Tim. 5:8). God calls husbands to be the "head", and, in that, the provider. We are the responsible party, the one whom God expects to manage things. Wives may certainly contribute (as in the Proverbs 31 example of a good wife), but it is not her God-given task to do so – it is the husband's.

Solomon calls us to enjoy life with your wife (Eccl. 9:9), to "rejoice in the wife of your youth" (Prov. 5:18). Of course that would require that we be faithful to her; this should go without saying. But it takes it a step further. Enjoy life with the woman you love. Drink from your own cisterns (Prov. 5:15). In Solomon's own graphic words:
Let her breasts satisfy you at all times; be exhilarated always with her love (Prov 5:19).
This seems such a simple request, but the fact is that husbands spend much of their time in fantasy. Perhaps it isn't "evil" fantasy – "Oh, I wish I could be with her." More often it is more "benign" – "I wish my wife was more like her." But it is in direct opposition to these commands to enjoy your own wife. It is, therefore, wrong to think in those terms. Let me state that in another way: It is sin to think in those terms. Instead we are to heed Paul's instructions on thought-life:
Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things (Phil 4:8).
Note that there is nothing in that list about "If only she was more …" or the like. This is a call to a radically different thought process for most husbands.

"Now, you know there will always be issues when it comes to sex."

I won't spend a lot of time here. I think the previous information – loving her as you love yourself, placing her interests before your own, being responsible to God, etc. – should really answer most of these questions. If they don't, you haven't been paying attention. Go back to the beginning. I do need to bring up one other pertinent, important passage for us to consider:
The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife's body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband's body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control (1 Cor 7:3-5).
Our first response is to read the "wife's body does not belong to her" and get enthusiastic. But remember, I'm not talking to wives here. I'm talking to husbands. Thus we must see most clearly "the husband's body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife." When this sinks in, it might radically alter your bedroom approach. Your body does not belong to you! Biblically, sexual relations between husband and wife are a surrendering, not a taking. Let that sink in. (How often is the complaint "She doesn't want to do what I want to do in bed"?)

This theme runs far beyond the bedroom, too. Your body does not belong to you! She needs someone to help her and your body will do fine. She needs someone to clean toilets and your body will do fine. She needs a hand with dishes and your hands will do fine. Just as we are to love as Christ loves, surrendering our lives, we are also to surrender our bodies as Christ did. It isn't about our egos or preferences or wishes. It's about our responsibility to God in regards to this wife that He has given us.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Marriage 101 - The Role of the Husband, Part 2

"So what are the responsibilities of a husband?"

I'm so glad you asked. God has listed several tasks for husbands. Unfortunately, we husbands have spent so much time pointing out how our wives are supposed to submit and lording it over them, or bemoaning the fact that none of this is working like that, that we seem to have missed that God has a list of things to which we are supposed to pay attention.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her; that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless. So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body (Eph. 5:25-30).
Now, when was the last time you read that whole passage and tried to take it all into account?

We understand the "love your wives" part. We have wives who remind us of that. (I would suggest, however, that you go read 1 Cor. 13:4-8 to see God's perspective on just what "love" means.) But look at the explanation of how we are to love our wives – "as Christ also loved the church". If our example of love is as Christ loved the church, how did Christ love the church? He "gave Himself up for her". And why? His aim was to "sanctify her" and cleanse her, presenting her with "no spot or wrinkle", "holy and blameless." Get hold of that for a moment. That is a large task. It is, in fact, larger than any human husband can accomplish. But according to Paul, it is our example. That is, our love should be volitional, intentional, and purposeful. It should exceed mere "warm feelings" and seek instead for every corner of good you can provide for her. Every corner of good, including physical, social, and spiritual endeavors. You are to help to "unwrinkled" her, to "sanctify" her (or set her apart). Her best interest in everything should be your first priority, even at the cost of your life. And when I say "at the cost of your life", I include "at the cost of your pride, your comfort, your convenience, your preferences." It's a funny thing about many guys; we would willingly give our lives for our wives, but would we inconvenience ourselves? After all, it was a hard day. She should be able to do those dishes herself. We are, after all, the head of the house, right? Not when her best interest is your first priority.

Fortunately, Paul takes it down a notch from there. Here is his explanation in human husband terms: We are to love our wives as our own bodies. Now, here is a common mistake. "You can't love others until you love yourself." Apparently, according to Paul, we already do love ourselves. His proof is that we take care of ourselves. We eat, we sleep, we nurture ourselves. We may have self-image issues, but we definitely love ourselves or those issues wouldn't bother us. We already love ourselves. The way in which we love ourselves ought to be the way in which we love our wives.

Now, think back. When was the last time you made yourself skip a meal because you had made a mistake? Or when did you fail to dress yourself because your boss chewed you out at work? Why, then, do we condition our love for our wives on their response to us? When we base our method of loving our wives on her attitudes and actions toward us, is that "giving yourself up for her"? Note that our example, Jesus, gave His life for people who were hiding and even denying they knew Him. This love we are to give to our wives is not conditioned by her response.

Responsibility #1, then, is to love your wife. That love is not conditioned by her response to you. It is conditioned, instead, by Responsibility #2:
You husbands likewise, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with a weaker vessel, since she is a woman; and grant her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered (1 Peter 3:7).
The second responsibility of a husband is to "live with your wives in an understanding way." Now, any guy can tell you that this is an impossible request. Is it even remotely possible that a male can understand a female? The obvious answer, according to Peter, is "Yes!" Therefore, we must. We must become students of our wives. We must learn what makes her tick. We must find out her likes, her dislikes, her needs and desires. This is our task as husbands. Learn her!

This information, gathered over time, will condition the first responsibility of loving our wives. We humans have a tendency to get confused and try to please others by doing what pleases us. This seems logical on the surface, but it fails to accomplish its goal (pleasing others) because it doesn't take into account the "others" we are seeking to please. Most of us know, for instance, that giving a wife a power tool for her birthday, something that would likely please us immensely, will produce the opposite response in her. Instead, when we seek to love our wives informed by our understanding of her, we can begin to meet her needs rather than our perception of her needs through our desires. What we normally do is so convoluted. "I would want/need that. She must. So I'll give her that … because I would want it regardless of what she would want." No! Our love must be conditioned by our understanding. Sometimes that means giving her not what she wants, but what, based on sound understanding, she needs. But for love to be most effective it must be conditioned by understanding, and the argument that "Who can understand women?" must be discarded.

Responsibility #3 is also included in Peter's remarks. He says, "Grant her honor". Now, we guys, having read the information written to our wives, know that it is their responsibility to respect us. But somehow, amidst all the confusion, we missed the part where we are supposed to honor her. So while wives are supposed to revere their husbands (not your responsibility, guys!), husbands are supposed to honor, esteem, value, consider of great worth, our wives. She is to be treated as "a weaker vessel", not because she is weaker, but because she is of great worth. She is a "fellow heir". She may be constructed like Corning ware, unbreakable, but treat her like fine china. She is valuable.

Before going on, it is important to note that this responsibility carries with it a warning. Husbands, take note! A failure to do this – to learn to understand and to honor your wife – will hinder your prayer life. It is not possible to stand in defiance of God's command to love your wife (which includes these aspects) and then expect to have your dialogue with Him unperturbed. So when your prayer life seems to suffer, check into how you are viewing and responding to your wife.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Marriage 101 - The Role of the Husband, Part 1

Okay, guys, it's time to look at God's idea of what a husband should be. If you read the role of the wife, you were reading someone else's mail. Shame! Set it all aside and let's examine what the Bible says about the role of a husband. (Ladies, you're peeking, aren't you! None of that!)

The basis of the role of the husband is found in the initial creation of the human being. God made Adam. God made Adam first (1 Tim 2:13). Now, while this may give a feeling of superiority, make no mistake. The position is not one of superiority, but of responsibility. Look at the first sin.

You all know the story. Eve was tempted by the serpent and "ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate" (Gen. 3:6). Now, we can all see that Eve started this, but who does God hold responsible? It is Adam who gets the first inquiry from God (Gen 3:9-12). It was Adam that bears, to this day, the responsibility for bringing sin into the world (Rom 5:12-14). Paul says that "Eve was deceived", which implies that Adam was not. So it is that God has ordained that "Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman" (1 Cor 11:3). God gives men authority and holds men responsible.

First Principles

This would, to me, seem painfully obvious, but it appears from experience that it is not as obvious as I would think. Let us examine for just a moment the biblical definition of marriage.
"A man shall leave his father and mother and shall cleave to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh" (Gen 2:24).
Perhaps it's too cliché, but the obvious factors are "leave and cleave". Step 1: Leave. There is a separation that occurs in marriage, a cutting of apron strings. A man is, by the very definition of marriage, to leave his parents. Now, we have a phrase for the guy who does not do this. We call him "a momma's boy". One would think that, between the natural ego of a male to be independent, and the sheer embarrassment of this title, this is would be a certainty. What we find, unfortunately, is guys who "stay home" when they marry. Dad is their support. Mom is their comfort. Any issue between husband and wife is often taken home first. But the definition of marriage is "leave and cleave". Leave home, family, mother and father, and cleave to the wife. "Cleave" is an interesting word. It has the concept of glue at its root. There is to be a solid, unbreakable bond between man and woman that replaces that bond that was just broken with Mom and Dad. In this, then, "the two shall become one".

Jesus puts another light on the very same topic. When He quotes this verse, He is responding to the question of divorce. Jesus says, "What God has joined together let no man separate." It would appear, from Jesus' words, that this unique "leave and cleave" is a product of God's work. Therefore, marriage occurs from the basis of "God has joined together", which ought to give it far more seriousness than too many afford it.

It is, in fact, from this framework that God calls husbands to be what He wants. They are to love, to understand, to be the "head" from the basis that the two have become one, joined together by God.

What is "Headship"?

Headship is not the same as lordship. In 1 Peter 5, Peter speaks to the elders, the "shepherds of the flock". He tells them they are "over" the flock. As such, they are responsible and have the appropriate authority. However, he specifically tells them not to lord it over the flock (1 Peter 5:3). Instead, they are to be examples. Thus, headship is leadership by example. We find the same concept in 2 Cor. 1:24, when Paul the Apostle says, "Not that we lord it over your faith, but are workers with you for your joy." Co-workers – that's the concept. Husbands are to be the heads that do the dirty work, not the lords of the castle.

It is important to note in our retreat from "lordship" to "headship" that we don't pass too quickly from "leadership". Biblically, it is the husband's duty to God to be the leader of the house. By all means, any wise leader takes into account the wishes, desires, and ideas of others, and certainly those of his wife would be high on his concerns, but ultimately husbands are responsible to God and must, therefore, be the "tie-breakers", the deciding factor. They must place their comfort on the line if need be and lead with integrity, even when the going gets tough.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Glory of God

"All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom 3:23). That's what it says. And we all get that. I mean, it's quite clear, even in human thinking, "To err is human." We all sin. No exceptions. But, wait! What about that second phrase? "Fall short of the glory of God." What does that mean?

We are made to glorify God. Face it. Everything is made to glorify God. The heavens declare the glory of God (Psa 19:1). We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God (Rom 5:2). Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all for the glory of God (1 Cor 10:31). It doesn't stop. Our job is to glorify God. We fall short. That's a colossal failure.

But, wait! What is this megalomania? I mean, if God is glorious, what does it matter if we see it or reflect it? We can't improve on it. We can't increase it. What's this all about?

In truth, God is indeed utterly glorious. His glory is His nature. That is, all that He is defines His glory. His wrath and His mercy, His justice and His grace, His Omniscience, His Omnipotence, His Omnipresence, His Sovereignty ... the list goes on and all. God's glory is defined by who He is. And we don't change that. We don't add to it. We can't detract from it. All we can do is point to it.

And that's our job. "Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven" (Matt 5:16). See how that works? You do good works and they glorify God for it. And that, in fact, is the point. We don't add or subtract; we point. We encourage from ourselves and others the glory God deserves. Because He deserves it. All of it. I suppose that is our sticking point, isn't it? Because we want some of it. And He assures us "My glory I will not give to another" (Isa 48:11). So let's glorify God. It is right. It is useful. It is the purpose for our existence. And, face it, it's something really easy to do, given His glorious nature.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Presbyterian Church USA Rejects Christianity

Okay, that's not what the headlines read. They should. What the stories did say was "the nation's largest Presbyterian denomination voted Thursday to change its definition of marriage." (Emphasis mine, but it is in just about every story on the event that I read.)

It's not like I'm surprised. Just dismayed. I mean, the PCUSA has pastors that believe that there never was an actual Jesus, that there was no Resurrection, that are avowed atheists. Why would I be surprised if they reject all the biblical and historical teaching on marriage? But it can be said of them, "The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you" (Rom 2:24).

I am stunned ... still. I'm stunned by the massive arrogance. "Yes, we know (because we are purposely and consciously changing it) that the definition of marriage is the union of a man and a woman. We know that it has always been this. We know that the Church has always held this. We know that the Bible is uniformly opposed to homosexual behavior as sin. We know that historical orthodoxy opposes our move. We know that the Bible claims that Jesus was sending the Holy Spirit to lead us into all truth. We acknowledge all that. We just think that all of history, the entire historical Church, the Bible (which we still refer to as "the Word of God"), and the Holy Spirit have been wrong for all time and we have figured out the truth."

Someone? Anyone? Is there a person out there that can explain to me how this can be considered reasonable, rational, or Christian? Can one consciously reject the Word of God and not reject the Word which was made flesh and dwelt among us? Is that possible? Clearly I don't think it is.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Marriage 101 - The Role of the Wife, Summary

Remember, the goal here is to be the wife as commanded in Scripture. Read over Proverbs 31:10 and following for a presentation of a wife of noble character. Look to the many passages directed to women regarding their overall behavior. Take, for example, Paul's command for older women to "encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be dishonored" (Titus 2:4-5). (Note that the purpose of such encouragement is "that the word of God may not be dishonored". This view of "outside myself" is the theme of biblical thinking.) Look at 1 Cor. 13:4-8 to see God's definition of exactly what it means to love. I think you will find that it clashes with today's romance novels and current views of love.

Most importantly, ensure your aim is submission first to the Lord and, as a result, to your husband. That submission includes love, respect, and support. Once you have achieved that simple instruction, you will have removed the log from your own eye and can proceed to remove the speck from your husband's eye.

Now, wives, you must stop reading here. The next section is to husbands. It is not addressed to wives. You can start reading again when I start the "Mutual Submission" section to get the rest of the story.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Marriage 101 - The Role of the Wife, Part 3

"But we all know husbands and their sex drives; do I need to put up with that?"

Again, the answer to this type of question all depends on whether or not you wish to submit to God. The question here is not, at the bottom level, submission to husbands, but to God. If your intent is to submit to God, then the answer is very simple:
The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife's body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband's body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control (1 Cor 7:3-5).
This is the principle: "Do not regard your body as your own." Now, that may sound odd, even frightening, but remember the previous topic. As long as he is not suggesting sin (and you are checking carefully to be sure it is sin, not just something you don't like), you can be confident that it is God who is in charge. There is a section of this passage addressed to husbands (He is not to regard his body as his own), and if he is reading the next section as he should and following through, it gets even easier for you, but his acceptance of God's principles is not the guideline for you to follow God's instructions or not.

And this principle goes beyond the bedroom. "Do not regard your body as your own" when it comes to getting him something to drink or cleaning the house. "Do not regard your body as your own" when it deal with how he likes you to wear your hair, for instance. Again, I'm not including any demands for sin. But let's face it, the normal objection is not to a sinful request, but to an inconvenient one. And if you are intending to submit to God, inconvenience is not the line to draw.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Marriage 101 - The Role of the Wife, Part 2

Husbands ... you're still not supposed to be reading this. Now, be good!

"What about the husband who is not what he should be?"

I said, "If Christ is the head over the husband ... " What if He is not? What if the husband is not in submission to Christ? This is often the complaint, partially from a failure to properly read Paul's words in Ephesians 5. Some seem to think Paul says for wives to submit to their husbands "as they submit to the Lord". But that's not what the verse says. Instead it says that their submission to their husbands should be the same type of submission they are to offer to God. Not "as they submit to the Lord", but "as to the Lord". Thus, the wife is to submit to her husband "as the Church submits to Christ". How is that? It would appear to be total submission, if Christ is Lord.

But what about husbands who don't submit to Christ? What about husbands who don't even know Christ? How can a wife submit "as to the Lord" when he doesn't even know the Lord? Or, at least, isn't the man he should be? Peter has answered that. When Peter tells wives to submit, he refers specifically to husbands who "do not believe the Word". Now, that could be non-Christian husbands, or it could be husbands who are failing to follow the Word even though they are believers. In either case, Peter allows for no "out". The command is to submit.

Peter assures wives that there is a good purpose in this submission: "So that ... they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives." And of what type of behavior does Peter speak? First he refers to their purity and reverence. Then he points to the "unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit". Wives, ask yourself, are you known for "a gentle and quiet spirit"? Is your approach an inner beauty or is it with a frying pan. Are you "a wife of noble character" (Prov. 31:10ff), or "a quarrelsome wife" (Prov. 21:9)?

Neither Peter nor Paul, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, give room for a failure to submit. Peter specifically addresses the ungodly husband. Paul elsewhere offers some hope on the subject of "How can my husband lead me in the will of God if he doesn't know God or is not in the will of God?" According to Paul:
There is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted (Rom. 13:1-2).
Now, if you are a woman who loves God, that statement should give you pause. Having seen that God is the head over Christ and Christ is the head over men, we see the authority structure established by God in the home. According to Paul, if you defy that structure, you defy God . No longer is it a matter of failing to submit to that man. It's a failure – a refusal – to submit the God's authority. Now, to make things easier, you can have this confidence from the words of Solomon:
The king's heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He wishes (Prov. 21:1).
There is blessed assurance in that statement. While the authorities that God has ordained over us may or may not be what they should be, or even aware of God, we can have absolute confidence, not in them, but in Him that He is in charge and will direct the authority as He sees fit.

There are, of course, those instances in which the authority placed over anyone may call for the one in submission to sin. We can see that is unacceptable and a valid reason to refuse to submit. We see it in Acts when the Sanhedrin ordered the disciples to stop preaching the Gospel. Peter replied, "We must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29). This is valid, but there is a strong caution here. Only in the case of a command to sin can we say that we must not submit. Only when instructed to defy God can we choose to defy the authority God has placed over us. If we were to be honest, the actual incidences in which husbands are commanding their wives to sin are very rare. Before invoking this exception clause, check carefully to determine if this is a sin being commanded. You will find it to be very uncommon.

Please note that in this sin-sick world there are also going to be times that the husband is, well, dangerous. I just saw a news show about a husband who tried to poison his wife, and she worked hard at both submitting to him and not ending their marriage. Clearly this would be a case for the authorities that God has placed in society, and not submitting to being murdered is not considered "disrespectful" or evil in some way. The same is true for other conditions. A wife cannot submit to a husband who teaches their children lies. She can be respectful, but it is not in her husband's best interests or her children's best interests to simply "go along" with it. Again, however, the danger here is in their exceptional nature. Once we admit these exceptions - and we do - it becomes likely that they will be used incorrectly. "I don't like it" is not necessarily a reason to take this exceptional path.

The other common error is in the word "respect". Wives are to "respect" their husbands (Eph. 5:33). So what about if he is not worthy of respect? This is a failure to understand the word used. First, respect is aimed at the position, not the person. As God's representative in the house (regardless of his godliness), the position deserves respect. More importantly, the root of the word used in Eph. 5:33 is not so much "respect" as it is "reverence", "fear", "be in awe". The Amplified Bible says, "Let the wife see that she respects and reverences her husband [that she notices him, regards him, honors him, prefers him, venerates, and esteems him; and that she defers to him, praises him, and loves and admires him exceedingly]." When you conquer that list, you have arrived at "respect".

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Marriage 101 - The Role of the Wife, Part 1

I only approach this one first because it is, in fact, simpler than the role of the husband. Carrying it out may entail a large amount of effort, perhaps, but the instructions are fairly plain and straightforward. In fact, almost every husband can tell his wife the initial requirement of a wife: "Submit to your husband." Plain and simple.

Of course, almost no wife would say "Plain and simple." There is so much more to discuss, to be sure. So let's address the primary issues.

"Why should I?"

Always important in biblical commands is the principle behind it. In some cases the principle is "Because God said so." In others, God kindly explains why He said so. This is one of the latter. Paul says, "The husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church." There you have it. Perhaps Paul says it clearer elsewhere.

Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God (1 Cor 11:3).
God has established a hierarchy. It goes like this:
God at the top => Christ => husband => wife.
Now, before you women jump up and down and talk about how demeaning this is, notice that Christ is not at the top. That means that He is in submission. Now, certainly we would not say that Christ is "demeaned" for being in submission to God. So it would seem that the perception that "submission is demeaning" is incorrect. In fact, there is no connection of "submission" to "value". It is not a valuation, but a ranking in terms of leadership or authority. Just as a janitor is every bit as important as a president, so is every person in this chain important. It is not demeaning to be outranked.

So, God has ordained that God be head over all, followed by Christ who is head over husbands who are then to be head over their wives. I see three important points here.

First, this hierarchy is God-ordained and, as such, good. If we say, "It's not good for women to submit to their husbands", we are saying "It's not good of God to have set things up that way.

Second, it places men in an interesting position, ladies. If it is true that God has ordained a hierarchy of authority and responsibility, then it is men whom God holds responsible. On the plus side, this decreases the responsibility of wives. On the minus side, when wives fail to allow men that authority and responsibility, you diminish them. But they don't answer to you for that; they answer to God.

Finally, it places wives in a very enviable position. If God holds husbands responsible, then the wives get a unique situation in which they can know God's will for their lives in ways that others cannot. That is, if Christ is the head over the husband, then the wife can be sure that his leadership is the precise equivalent to God's will. Of course, this naturally leads to the next issue.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Marriage 101 - Introduction

I do not claim to be an expert. I have no accreditation, no degrees, no "divine knowledge", no superior intellect in this particular field. I'm just drawing from what I see in Scripture. I'm thinking, however, that given the assault on marriage which started long ago and that is only today ending with the complete redefinition of the term, it might be helpful to provide biblical input to those who wish to follow God's instructions and don't wish to succumb to the world's lies on the subject. (Besides, it's June, the month when lots of marriages take place. You who are new or soon to be ought to see this.)

(Note: This is "101". It is not intended to be in any way complete or comprehensive. There is so much more to be said on the subject. This is just a starting point.)

I have an idea. We need to revisit marriage counseling and take a different approach. The approach I am going to recommend is not necessarily new, but it is counter to the current method and, as such, perhaps revolutionary.

I'm speaking of a biblically-based counseling. It would have no bearing on those who do not recognize God's Word as a valid rule of life. But let's look at the structure of biblical instruction on marriage to find my "biblical approach to marital counseling". First we have Paul’s input:

22 Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church- 30 for we are members of his body. 31 "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh." 32 This is a profound mystery-but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. (Eph. 5:22-33)
Then there is Peter’s point of view:
1 Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, 2 when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. 3 Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. 4 Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight. 5 For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful. They were submissive to their own husbands, 6 like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her master. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.

7 Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers. (1 Peter 3:1-7)
Here we have the two major, explicit teachings on husband/wife relationships. It only takes a brief moment to see an immediate pattern, but it's not the pattern you might expect. Notice that the first paragraph in each case has an addressee: "Wives". Notice that the second paragraph in each case has an addressee: "Husbands". Here we see a biblical pattern that must not be ignored. These authors, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, have addressed specific information to specific people. We cannot afford to skip over that.

The problem today is that it seems that all husbands know that wives are to submit, but most husbands don’t know what husbands are to be. The reverse is also true. All wives know that husbands are supposed to love them, but wives seem to have a real problem with the "submit" part. The problem is we keep reading other people’s mail.

So here's my new approach. How about if we agree that until you (husband or wife) actually meet the expected conditions addressed to you, you are not allowed to complain about your spouse's failure to meet the conditions addressed to them?

Now, as we proceed, we want to keep this idea in mind. Therefore, if you are a husband, do not read the sections entitled "The Role of a Wife". Instead, wait for "The Role of a Husband". Do not read the next few installments. They aren't addressed to you. Wives, you read the sections entitled "The Role of a Wife", but stop at "The Role of a Husband". That is not addressed to you. At the end we will see what we can do about letting you each see how the role of the other might be of some importance to you, but not yet.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Father's Day, 2014

When I was first examining in biblical depth the topic of God's Sovereignty, I was struck with its absolute nature. "Given the Scripture's clarity," I said to myself, "then I can only conclude that our current president was God's ultimate plan." I mulled that over. It wasn't easy. But, given the Bible texts, I was forced to agree. "Given the Scriptures," I continued, "then I can only conclude that Hitler was God's plan." That one stuck worse. I don't know ... that's ... I don't ... but, if the Bible claims "there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God" (Rom 13:1), then I can only end up ... gulp! ... agreeing. Not as clear. Not as easy to swallow. But, it must be. Finally, "Given the Scriptures, then I can only conclude that God's best choice to be the father of my children was ... me." Oh, no! Now you've gone too far! Ridiculous! Seriously, I found it easier to agree with the Bible on Hitler than on me as father of my kids.

You see, I know good fathers. I know my dad. Great father. Growing up, he lived Christ in front of me. While other dads were teaching their kids to play baseball or fix cars, my dad was taking me with him to witness to people on skid row. Other dads wanted to make sure you learned the rules of football; my dad was making sure I memorized Scripture. Other fathers demonstrated their fathering skills by holding too tight; mine did it be letting go and being there when I fell. Now in his 80's, I still know my dad is there as a living example of "Christian", a genuine "good father" still at hand.

I have a great father, but I know a better one. I know our Heavenly Father. That's, actually, not so easy to contemplate. I mean, we get "King of Kings" or "Master" or "Creator" and the like, but ... Father? But that's a biblical description In terms of the authority of a father, He is the ultimate and perfect authority. Human fathers make poor decisions. He doesn't. Oh, let's see. What else do we know about the Father?
"Your Father knows what you need before you ask Him" (Matt 6:8).

"If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!" (Matt 7:11).

"All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out" (John 6:37).

"In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I will request of the Father on your behalf; for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me and have believed that I came forth from the Father" (John 16:26-27).
Just a smattering. Just a taste. Just a peek at ... the perfect Father. He shapes us to be conformed to the image of His Son (Rom 8:29). He gives us what we need (Matt 6:32; 7:11). He brings us to salvation (John 6:37). He is the perfect Father.

I guess, to the extent that I see my heavenly Father in my father is the extent to which I recognize him as a good father. And I do. And, I suppose, that's the reason why I balk at the idea that I would be considered God's choice as father to my kids. Well, I suppose some families need a trial to shape them the way God wants. Maybe. But I sure got a good dad.

Happy Father's Day to all fathers.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Existence

I've always enjoyed the little exercise in philosophy where R.C. Sproul proves that God does not exist. Yes, Sproul is a true believer. Yes, he argues that God does not exist. The argument comes from the roots of the word "exist" and the origins of its idea. The word from its Latin origins means most literally ex -- out of -- and stere -- to stand. Plato's belief system argued that there was genuine being and there was the imperfect reflections of it that we see. So, he argued, there is a chair and there is "chairness", the actual being of "chair". The chair was an imperfect representation of the reality. The idea of the word is that there is something and existence is that which stands out of that which is. Since God stands out of nothing but Himself, He does not exist in the most literal use of the word. God is (Exo 3:14), but He is the essence out of which everything else exists -- stands out.

We actually get a little confused about that, in fact. I mean, we intellectually acknowledge that it's true, and then we tend to think of "justice" as something to which God must adhere or "good" as something to which God must align Himself. But if He is and does not technically exist, then things like "justice" and "good" are not things out of which He is, but they exist because of Him. So when we try to say that God appears to fail to align with our sense of good or justice, it's because we're confused about God's existence.

All well and good, but if you think that idea around to our end of it, you should gain a little different perspective ... on you. You see, God does not exist in that most literal use of the word, but you do and I do. That is, you ... stand out of God. Yes, I suppose that sounds a little funny. Let's try it in other terms. Paul told the Athenian philosophers, "In Him we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28). Or we read, "He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together" (Col 1:17). When it says "In Him all things hold together" it demands that outside of Him nothing holds together, nothing consists, nothing exists. It's like the hymn, I Sing the Mighty Power of God, says. "All that borrows life from Thee is ever in Thy care." That, perhaps, gets it across. We do not own ourselves. We are not, ultimately, free agents. We borrow life from God. We exist. We stand out of that which God is, an imperfect representation of Him. He holds us together, moment by moment. In Him we live and move and have our being.

Paul warns us "not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment" (Rom 12:3). Sound judgment would include this factor. We exist. God is, but we exist. Out of Him. So while you're thinking of complaining against your Maker about how He treats you (or doesn't treat you), perhaps you ought to warn yourself about that. Everything we have and are belongs to Him and is a gift from Him. That's actually pretty amazing.

Friday, June 13, 2014

The Wiles of the Devil

Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the wiles of the devil (Eph 6:11).
Wiles ... schemes. Just what are the schemes of the devil?

In Scripture, we first meet Satan in the Garden of Eden in the form of a serpent. He was "more crafty than any beast of the field" (Gen 3:1). We can see his primary schemes in his exchange with Eve.

"Did God say ...?" (Gen 3:1). Step One: Question God. Oh, not likely an overt questioning. Not an outright denial. Today's version is more like "Is that what God said, or is that your opinion?" Very popular is "Jesus never said ..." The current trend is "Just how reliable, authoritative, or sufficient is the Bible?" They will sprinkle nice sounding phrases where they assure us that being too reliant on clear Scripture is "arrogant" and it's best not to be certain. The humble man will always be questioning. It all amounts to the same thing. "Did God say ...?"

"You surely will not die!" (Gen 3:4). Step Two: Having brought into question the reliability of God's Word without actually denying it, it is time now to play off that question and get to the point. You may have thought God said something, but it is abundantly clear that it's not true. We are inundated with this these days. The Bible (read "God") was wrong when it said God created the world (because, as Science well knows, the world created itself) and wrong when it spoke of the myth of the Flood and wrong with that whole Israel/Egypt thing and ... well, you get the idea. Science and its sister, History, assure us that none of this actually happened. And if it did, God (and this time it's overt) was wrong when He commanded Israel to kill every man, woman, and child (and their animals, the deaths of adulterers and homosexual offenders, or regulations on marriage, slavery, and other things we all know are wrong. I mean, the Bible says "There is none who does good; no, not one" (Psa 14:1, 3; 53:1, 3; Eccl 7:20; Rom 3:12) but we all know that people are basically good and everyone does something good at some time or another. So we end up in genuine denial. "Did God say sexual relations between two people of the same sex is sin? He was wrong!" Just a current example. Pick your own.

"Your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God" (Gen 3:5). Step Three: Nature abhors a vacuum. You can't rip out the truth and just leave a hole. Fill it with a lie. The best translation of Rom 1:25 -- "They exchanged the truth of God for a lie" -- would actually be "for the lie", because there is really only one necessary. That lie is "You will be like God." It filters through in various forms, of course, but it's the same in the end. You'll be wiser, better, stronger, richer, happier, more powerful, better liked ... fill in the blank. Having established that you're not clear on what God actually said and having denied that God is right in what you're not clear He said, it's just a small step to appeal to your lusts (James 1:14-15; 4:1-3). You want it. You know it. You can take it from God because, after all, He can't be trusted. Isn't that clear? So, do it!
When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate (Gen 3:6).
The response echoes John's description of all that is in the world.
"For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world" (1 John 2:16).
She saw it was good for food -- lust of the flesh -- and that it was a delight to the eyes -- lust of the eyes -- and desirable to make one wise -- pride of life. She swallowed it, hook, line, and sinker. She gave it to Adam. She succumbed to Satan's simple yet effective wiles. 1) Question God. 2) Deny God's reliability. 3) Affirm that something is better than He is. I guarantee that when you struggle with sin in your life, you're struggling with the same thing. Perhaps if you understand the basic mechanism, you can come up with a better response than Eve did. Jesus's response was "It is written" (Matt 4:4, 7, 10). "God did say ..." Agree with God. Deny the denial. Affirm God's supremacy. But, as Paul indicates in Ephesians, you may need some armor for that.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The False Dilemma

Perhaps you've heard of this logical fallacy. It's also called oversimplification or "black and white thinking"1. In the False Dilemma, you are given a limited number of choices (usually only two), but, as it turns out, there are more. And it qualifies an argument as fallacious. Of course, if there are only the choices offered, then it isn't a fallacy. So "Either you're an American or you're from the Moon" would be a False Dilemma and "Either you're dead or you're alive" would be accurate. My favorite False Dichotomy is the lawyer's question in court. "Mr. Jones, answer 'yes' or 'no'. Have stopped beating your wife?" Of course, if Mr. Jones never beat his wife, there is no right answer to the question. False Dilemma.

On the topic of homosexual behavior we often face this dilemma. It is particularly difficult for a large number of people when it comes to a member of your own family. Is it true that there are only two options? Either you embrace homosexual behavior or you reject the homosexual. For Pastor Danny Cortez, it was either embrace his son as gay or embrace the Bible. Many choose the former and call it love. But even if it's not a family member, we are told that we are either "tolerant", by which they mean "embrace the behavior", or we are intolerant, meaning we are opposed to it2. Welcome to the False Dilemma.

Culture is not at stake here. Public opinion isn't the criterion. Consensus isn't the final answer. What is at stake here is Christianity. Like Satan in the Garden of Eden, we are first asked, "Did God say ...?" (Gen 3:1). Regardless of our response (because many today have already been poisoned enough -- the Bible calls it "blinded" (2 Cor 4:4) -- not to know the obvious answer), they follow up with "You shall not surely die" (Gen 3:4) and even "Your eyes will be opened" (Gen 3:5). Having carefully and deliberately denied God, His declared values, and His authority, it is not possible to follow with "But I'm still in favor of Christianity." The Gospel is based first on the problem of Sin, and denying the problem doesn't solve it; it only removes the Answer.

So they leave us with a False Dilemma. Either embrace the sin or embrace the Word. And I deny that fallacy. I deny that a person is defined by their sinful propensities. We all have them, but they do not define us. And I deny that we must reject the person because he or she is a sinner. If the reason for such a claim is vague, it's because you aren't thinking of the reality that all of us are sinners. Rejecting a person who sins would require rejecting everyone ... including yourself.

I would argue, instead, there is indeed a "Third Way", although not the one being offered (which is no such thing). That way would be Jesus's way. "Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more" (John 8:11). In Matthew 9 we read that Jesus ate with sinners and tax collectors (Matt 9:10), but not because He accepted their behavior. What He told His detractors was, "It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick" (Matt 9:12). Did you get that? They weren't "just fine". They were sick. This "Third Way" is where you stick around because you love them enough to help. Of the Christian sinner we read, "Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted" (Gal 6:1). And for those who are not believers we need to be there to offer the Gospel, speaking the truth in love (Eph 4:15).

This is not "embrace the behavior" nor is it "reject the sinner". It does embrace the Word and side with God, but not against the sinner. It is a better option. Because the "either-or" fallacy we are offered is a false dilemma. It is, therefore, incorrect.
________
1 Let's not forget other terms for it, like false dichotomy, the either-or fallacy, either-or reasoning, fallacy of false choice, fallacy of false alternatives, the fallacy of exhaustive hypotheses, bifurcation, excluded middle, no middle ground, polarization. In case you thought it was simple.

2 In case you fail to see the problem with this idea, "tolerance" requires a difference of opinion. If we agree, their definition of "tolerant", then there is no tolerance required. "Tolerance" requires a difference of opinion that we, nonetheless, allow to continue. It is not embracing the opposite opinion.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Comfort One Another

In Paul's first epistle to the church at Thessalonica he tells them to "comfort one another with these words" (1 Thess 4:18). What words? The Lord will return and we will rise along with the dead in Christ to be with Him (1 Thess 4:13-17). That's comforting when you have one who was in Christ who died, isn't it? And encouragement and comfort are good, aren't they? I think so.

Recently a coworker who does not know Christ lost his mother to cancer. Very sad. But I was at a loss to comfort my coworker. "It's okay," we always want to say, "they're in a better place." That works well for a Christian who dies. Not so much when either the person you're trying to encourage doesn't believe it or the person about whom you're trying to encourage them may not be in a better place. Where do you go in these cases to provide comfort?

It's odd that many of these events -- funerals, memorial services and the like -- are held at churches under the care of a pastor or priest even when the deceased or their survivors are not religious. You see, regardless of how much the world shakes its collective fist in the face of God, at times like this we really don't want to think that it's just ... over. But without Christ there is no other conclusion. Still ... there they are, asking us to comfort them with these words.

The loss of a loved one is devastating. My mother, bless her heart, tells me to celebrate when she leaves to go be with Jesus. "Yeah, Mom!" Not gonna happen. Not because she won't be in a better place, but because I'll miss her. But I can have the comfort of knowing that she is in a better place and "since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep" (1 Thess 4:14). There is comfort there. But I'll sure miss her. What, then, do those without Christ do for comfort at these times?

In John 6, Jesus was saying some disquieting things (like "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you") and even some of His disciples were leaving (John 6:66). We read, then, "So Jesus said to the Twelve, 'Do you want to go away as well?' Simon Peter answered Him, 'Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life'." (John 6:67-68). I get that. They didn't understand and they didn't get the ramifications and eventually Peter himself would deny he even knew Jesus, but I get that. Where else shall I go? He is my only hope.

Comfort one another with these words.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Ultimate Raw Deal

"My parents went to the Bahamas and all I got was this lousy t-shirt." Talk about a raw deal! Poor baby. Of course, there are genuine cases of people who get the short end of the stick, so to speak. It has been suggested that the ultimate raw deal was when God the Father arranged God the Son's marriage with ... the Church. The close contender for this ultimate raw deal was when Jesus died on the cross to save us. Great for us, but lousy for Him. Is this true? Did Jesus get the ultimate raw deal when He laid down His life for us?

It requires someone with an overinflated ego to think that "When Christ died on the cross, He gained me, so that's a good deal for Him!" Any biblical perspective on the nature of humans would make it clear that we are no prize for Him. Indeed, He makes it clear, "Every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is Mine. If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are Mine" (Psa 50:10-12). He doesn't need us. So it was a raw deal for Him, right? Well, that's only if you consider us as all Jesus gained at the cross.

There is a passage in Genesis known as the protoevangelium. It refers to the very first mention of the Gospel. God, addressing the serpent (Satan), says, "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel" (Gen 3:15). This is the first indication of what Christ gained at the cross. He crushed the serpent's head.

What else did He gain? Having accomplished the Atonement and Resurrection, Jesus told His disciples, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me" (Matt 28:18).

According to Paul, God's will included a demonstration of His wrath and power on "vessels of wrath prepared for destruction", but in Christ's death He is also willing to "make known the riches of His glory for vessels of mercy" (Rom 9:22-21).

In Titus we learn that God's grace brings salvation as well as training in godliness (Titus 2:11-14). This grace, a product of Christ's death, is the source of our sanctification and brings glory to the Father (Matt 5:16). According to Paul, we are "predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers" (Rom 8:29). So, our salvation and sanctification brings glory to God and "many brothers" -- conformed to His image -- to Christ.

In His death and resurrection, Jesus gained victory over death (1 Cor 15).

In His sacrifice on the cross, Jesus made God "just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus" (Rom 3:26).

This is just a short list. As it turns out, we gained much (obviously) in Christ's sacrifice, but we didn't gain the most. Christ did. And that "most" is not us, the loveable. It is so much more. It is authority and victory, a demonstration of the character of God, glory for the Father, glory for Himself ... a short list, but not a small list. I don't know about you, but I wouldn't classify that as a "raw deal". A tough price to pay, to be sure, but clearly it was to His advantage to pay it.

Monday, June 09, 2014

Homophobia

In today's world if you speak up in opposition to homosexual behavior you are homophobic and if you stand in favor of the longstanding, historical, traditional definition of marriage you are homophobic and if you do not embrace these behaviors -- sex relations between those of the same gender and a redefinition of "marriage" to include those of the same sex -- you are homophobic. When Paul writes, "Men who practice homosexuality ... will not inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Cor 6:9-10), he was a homophobe, and when God inspired him to write it, He was a homophobe. What is this thing called "homophobia"?

Homophobia is a relatively new term. Psychologist George Weinberg coined the term in the 1960's. He merged "homosexual" and "phobia". He meant by it that men who were opposed to homosexuals were opposed because they were afraid they might be homosexual themselves or might be thought to be. He was addressing the sense in some that associating too much with "that kind of person" might be contagious, like you could contract homosexuality from them. And from Dr. Weinberg's original use of the idea, the term made sense: a fear of -- phobia -- homosexuals.

Of course, we aren't a society that leaves words alone. It's not as if "marriage" is the first word we've decided to redefine. English is a living language, and most of our language has evolved over time. Today, not even 100 years from its origins, the word no longer refers to the fear of homosexuals. Here are some definitions from a couple of sources:
Unreasoning fear of or antipathy toward homosexuals and homosexuality. (Random House)

Intense hatred or fear of homosexuals or homosexuality. (World English Dictionary)
We see that fear might be a component, but that two other components have been added, so much so that they have taken precedence. First and foremost, it isn't mere fear; it is hatred. It is intense hatred. Second, this sense is "unreasoning". If you are "homophobic", it is an intense hatred and it is without cause. Merriam-Webster says it is "irrational".

Using the word as defined, then, it would stand to reason that if a person is opposed to homosexual behavior for a reason or if they are opposed to the behavior without hate (or fear), that person would not be classified as homophobic (or a "hater" or ...). And, of course, now I'm just spitting in the wind, because those who throw the pejorative about aren't going to listen. You don't classify people as "homophobic" because they are, but because it puts them in a bad light and people won't like them.

I have to be honest, though. I can see how the term might be more loosely thrown about than I would like. I mean, I don't hate people who practice homosexual behavior and I'm not afraid of them, nor am I opposed to such behavior without reason, but I am concerned that I'm an extreme minority. You see, I suspect that many, perhaps most, of those who are opposed to the behavior or to "gay marriage" are opposed precisely because of either irrational hatred or fear. Here, consider the first, most common evidence I might offer. To those who are opposed to homosexual behavior just from the world (as opposed to those from a religious perspective), I would guess that most of them would be offended by male homosexual behavior but happily endorse female homosexual behavior. You see, that's not an opposition on principle or with reason. It is ... irrational. Then there are the many Christian opponents who are, at the bottom, more offended by the act than the sin. They say it's immoral, but what they're thinking is "It's yucky." They are not offended by the fact that God hates it; they're offended because it violates their particular taste. Among some opposed to "gay marriage" it is because they are opposed to the "evils of homosexuals" and others because "What if they make churches offer gay weddings??!!" or the like. That is, it's not principle; it's preference. In other words, there are lots of people opposed to homosexual behavior and "gay marriage" who are, in fact, homophobic under its current definition. So I can see why the term is so liberally applied, even if not always accurately.

I don't oppose homosexual behavior because it's yucky. I am not offended by the act or afraid that it might infect me somehow. I'm not hateful toward those who practice such things. I do believe that marriage has a definition, that this definition has existed since the beginning of the human race, and that changing that definition now would only serve to destroy it. And I believe that original, longstanding, historical, traditional definition is critical, so destroying it would be a bad thing. But more importantly, I believe that God is opposed to the act of sex between people of the same sex. I believe it is clear from Scripture that this is God's opinion. And since I stand on God's side, I would have to be opposed myself to the act, not the actors. As for those who engage in the act, since God promises damnation for those who practice and encourage such behaviors as sexual immorality, homosexual behavior, adultery, drunkenness, theft, murder, idolatry, and so much more, I would encourage them to avoid such things. Indeed, when I encounter these things in myself, I would encourage me to avoid such things. It is not irrational. It is not fear. It is not hate. I understand that many operate on those very principles, but not everyone does. And I would personally urge extreme caution about labeling as "homophobic" a God who opposes homosexual behavior. That's a bold and foolish approach (Job 40:8).

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Fear Not

How many times in the Bible do we read the words (or something like them), "Fear not!"? God assured Abram "Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great" (Gen 15:1) because Abram was afraid he would die childless. He told Isaac, "I am the God of Abraham your father. Fear not, for I am with you and will bless you and multiply your offspring for My servant Abraham's sake" (Gen 26:24) because the Philistines kept kicking Isaac out of his encampments. After the awesome display of Exodus 20 when God shows up on the doorstep of all Israel and expounds to them His Ten Commandments, the people were terrified. Moses told them, "Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of Him may be before you, that you may not sin" (Exo 20:20). Michael, the archangel, told Daniel, "Fear not, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand and humbled yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words" (Dan 10:12) because Daniel had seen a troubling vision and was praying for three weeks. Jesus told His disciples, "Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows" (Matt 10:31) when they were warned that they would be opposed by the world. He told His disciples, "Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on ... Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom" (Luke 12:22-32). Paul comforted Timothy when he said, "God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control" (2 Tim 1:7). When John the Apostle saw his vision of Christ while on the Isle of Patmos, he "fell at His feet as though dead", so Christ told him, "Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades" (Rev 1:17-18).

Fear not. A very common message in Scripture. Typically the comfort is based directly on the character of God. He is able. He can handle it. He cares. He knows. He loves you more than you realize. And we can be so fearful, can't we? We're afraid of loss of job or home, family or friends, reputation or things, health or happiness. We worry about our marriages and our churches and our communities and our country. We have lots of fears, some irrational and many, many much more reasonable. So God wants to tell us, "Fear not." And He tells us not to fear because He is at work and can handle whatever comes our way. So we read
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me (Psa 23:4).

For I, the LORD your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, "Fear not, I am the one who helps you" (Isa 41:13).

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God (Phil 4:6).

"The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?" (Heb 13:6).
And that's just a mere smattering. "If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Rom 8:31). That's the idea. What do you have to fear if God is on your side? What can go wrong if "we know that God causes all things to work together for good for those who love God, for those who are called according to His purpose" (Rom 8:28)?

There is an answer to my question. What have we to fear? Jesus said, "Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul," going right along with all these comforting passages about not fearing, but Jesus didn't stop there. "Rather fear Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matt 10:28). Oh, see? There is something to fear: God. The psalmist assures us, "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom" (Psa 111:10). Jehoshaphat warned his judges, "Let the fear of the LORD be upon you" (2 Chron 19:7). David said that the wicked were wicked because "There is no fear of God before his eyes" (Psa 36:1) and Paul affirmed that natural man suffered from the same problem (Rom 3:18).

Fear for this life is not for Christians. We have a better God than that. He is Sovereign, Omniscient, Omnipotent. He loves us and cares for us and will produce the best. Fear of God, on the other hand, is indispensable for Christians. Without that, you're going to be in a bad place. That fear is a good thing. A really good thing.

Saturday, June 07, 2014

Making Atheists

Meet Dr. Peter Boghossian. He is a member of the Philosophy Department at Portland State University and at Oregon Health Science University and the author of A Manual for Creating Atheists. Here's Amazon's description of the book.
For thousands of years, the faithful have honed proselytizing strategies and talked people into believing the truth of one holy book or another. Indeed, the faithful often view converting others as an obligation of their faith--and are trained from an early age to spread their unique brand of religion. The result is a world broken in large part by unquestioned faith. As an urgently needed counter to this tried-and-true tradition of religious evangelism, A Manual for Creating Atheists offers the first-ever guide not for talking people into faith--but for talking them out of it. Peter Boghossian draws on the tools he has developed and used for more than twenty years as a philosopher and educator to teach how to engage the faithful in conversations that will help them value reason and rationality, cast doubt on their religious beliefs, mistrust their faith, abandon superstition and irrationality, and ultimately embrace reason.
There you have it, folks. Since most of my readers are Christians, you must realize by now that you are part of "a world broken in large part by unquestioned faith" and that your beliefs are the product of "proselytizing strategies" and a failure to "value reason and rationality". You are in dire need to doubt your beliefs, mistrust your faith, abandon your superstition, and embrace reason because, after all, reason and rationality are directly opposed to any belief in the Divine. The weakness of your religion is your reliance on faith rather than evidence, and Dr. Boghossian is here to set you free. Whew! Don't you feel better? And how will he do that? Well, his plan is to have faith declared a mental illness and now they can force you into treatment and get rid of these delusions. Thank you, Dr. Boghossian. His plan is to make atheists by force.

On one hand his plan to "ultimately eradicate faith" is pointless. Faith is not something you can eradicate any more than sin is something that we can eradicate. Humans are, by nature, religious. Even in today's more anti-religious climate atheists and agnostics occupy only about 20% of the world population. Statistically, then, regardless of what religion they follow, 80% of humans on the planet believe in some religion and atheism is not the norm.

But that's just a statistical statement, a rational evaluation. From a Christian perspective, Dr. Boghossian is just a clanging symbol. It is not human reasoning that makes believers even though belief is reasonable. We don't have faith because of the evidence even though there is sufficient evidence to believe. Christianity doesn't exist because of a lack of logic; in fact, logic agrees with Christianity. Jesus claimed, "I will build My church" (Matt 16:18). No Boghossian or self-styled "street epistemologist" or human government (like the Soviets or the Communist Chinese government) or even the American Psychological Association with their Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) can change that. Faith is reasonable, but it starts as a gift from God, and arguing, treating, or torturing it away won't make a difference.

Friday, June 06, 2014

This Means War

In a day when many voices are begging us to "just get along", these words from Paul's letter to Titus seem somewhat jarring.
Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you (Titus 2:15).
So, what is it that Paul is so ardent about? He tells Titus to "declare", "exhort", and "rebuke". Not "get along" terms. These are war terms. He follows it with "Let no one disregard you", a universal war term, so to speak. What is so important to Paul that he calls for rebukes, exhortations, and declarations without mercy?

Okay, this will get interesting, but, first, let's look at context. The chapter starts with Paul telling Titus, "As for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine" (Titus 2:1). What accords with sound doctrine? Older men are to have a certain character (Titus 2:2). Older women are to have a certain character (Titus 2:3). Older women are to train younger women (Titus 2:4-5). Titus (and, it is assumed, the older men) is to train younger men for self-control (Titus 2:6). Titus himself was to have a certain character so as to lead by example (Titus 2:7-8). Interestingly, Paul then tacks on servants and the character they should have (Titus 2:9-10). Why is all this "what accords with sound doctrine"? That's where we get to the passage at hand.
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession who are zealous for good works (Titus 2:11-14).
What is the sound doctrine in view throughout this passage? It starts with the appearing of the grace of God. There is a purpose to this appearing. What does the Bible say is the purpose of the grace of God? Well, it brings salvation. We were all pretty clear on that point. But it has a second purpose as well. That is to train us "to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ."

Now, wait a minute! That sounds a lot like that evil, anti-Christian concept, "works". I mean, we all know that "by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast" (Eph 2:8-9). It is the great distinction between Christianity and other religions. Not saved by works. Good news! We are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. That's great! And it's true. But it is not a grace that is alone through a faith that is alone. Paul says that the purpose of grace is twofold: 1) salvation -- we get that -- but also 2) renouncing ungodliness. The purpose of grace is to save and to sanctify, to declare us clean and then make us clean. As James says, faith without works is dead (James 2:17, 26).

To the constant question, "Are we saved by grace, or is Christianity a religion of works?", the answer is "Yes!" Paul told Titus that grace appeared bringing salvation. Saved by grace. Beyond that, however, the grace of God trains (that's the word Paul used) the saved to godliness, self-control, and purity. Thus, if one is not becoming godly, one is not under grace. We are not saved by becoming godly, but we are indeed becoming godly because of grace. And, if we had bothered to read the next verse from Ephesians 2, we would have seen just that there, too. "For" (the reason for the statement about saved by grace through faith) "we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them" (Eph 2:10).

What is really important at the end of all this discussion is that we keep the ultimate end of grace in mind. Why does the grace of God provide salvation and sanctification? It is "to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession who are zealous for good works." For Himself. If you think you can earn salvation by works, you're missing the point. If you think that you can achieve good works by your own effort, your missing the point. If you think that God simply wants us to be good, you're missing the point. And if you think that we are saved because God just loves us so much, you're missing the point. We are His workmanship. We work out our salvation because He is at work in us to will and to do His good pleasure (Phil 2:12-13). And we are redeemed, saved, and sanctified for Him. On this Paul tells Titus to go to war. "Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you."

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Deleting Distinctives

Dr. Mohler writes about concerns for the demand of some for a "Third Way" that would include affirming homosexual behavior in the Southern Baptist Church. I talked about the concept yesterday. The Southern Baptist pastor hasn't decided that Scripture demands embracing homosexual behavior as good; he suggests that his circumstances and experience make it necessary. So the pastor has decided to affirm that which the Bible condemns and calls it "Southern Baptist" just the same.

This is what strikes me as odd. And it's not just this case. It is a common perspective, it seems. The Baptists, for instance, have distinctives. There are things about the Baptists that set them apart from, say, the Episcopalians or the Lutherans or the Methodists. What makes a Baptist a Baptist? Well, the name is one clue. They hold to believer's baptism which includes immersion and, well, faith. They don't baptize babies. After that it gets a little ... hazy. You see, usually the distinctives aren't singular. Usually it's a group of things stuck together, a particular doctrinal set that, as a whole, causes one group to differ from another. So what makes Baptist different than others? Baptists share a common theology, common ecclesiology (church government), and a shared emphasis on missions. Their common theology includes the Lordship of Christ, the authority, sufficiency, and inerrancy of Scripture, the ability of each human to relate to God without a priest (called "soul competency"), salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, the priesthood of each believer, the symbolism (vs efficacy) of baptism and Communion, and others. So now we come to this Southern Baptist church in La Mirada whose pastor has decided that, in the matter of homosexual behavior, the Bible and all of Church history is wrong and he's right. What does he do? Does he step down? "Look, I get that this flies in the face of Southern Baptist beliefs, so I'll get out of the way." No! His call is to delete the distinctive authority, sufficiency, and inerrancy of Scripture and call for a "Third Way".

That's the Southern Baptist example, but it's not the only one. The most common arena is the whole of Christianity. What makes Christianity different than every other religion on the world market? I mean, why do we send missionaries to bring people to Christ if Islam or Mormonism or Hinduism or the like are all suitable substitutes? What's the difference? The primary difference between Christianity and every other religion is, of course, Christ. (That's an "of course" because He's in the name.) Every other religion operates on the basis of "Be good enough" (defining that in various ways) and you'll get to heaven. Christianity begins with "You'll never be good enough" and offers, instead, Christ. We have the Atonement of Christ while everyone else is working it off. We have the call to exclusivity by Christ (John 14:6). "No one comes to the Father except through Me." Every other religion is a religion, but Christianity is a religion built on a relationship with God through Christ. And, of course, we have the unique death and resurrection of Christ. Totally unique. And no other religion has a true Trinity -- a three-in-one God. And all of this is attested to by the highly unusual book, breathed by God through human authors, that we call the Bible. These together, along with other items and corollaries, make Christianity unique.

So, what do we get? We get people that argue that Christ is not the only way. We get people -- Christians in name, mind you -- who suggest that Christ's death was not a substitionary atonement. I know of pastors of Christian churches that deny the deity of Christ and even the existence of Christ. People inside churches ask us to stop this exclusivity thing. Some suggest we are saved by works "as everyone knows" while others suggest that obedience to Christ is pointless. And a loud contingent are quite certain that we need to drop this whole stance on the reliability, authority, and sufficiency of God's Word.

These people are attempting to delete those things that make Christianity distinct from other religions. They don't say, "Well, you go ahead and keep that and we'll go with our differences elsewhere." No, it is their aim to dismantle that which makes Christianity different and still call it "Christianity". It's the same problem Paul addressed in the church in Galatia with "another gospel" which was not another gospel (Gal. 1:6-9) where they suggested we were saved by works or in the church in Corinth where they suggested that morality wasn't an issue (1 Cor 5:1-13; 6:9-10, etc.). It has been the case throughout Church history that some who wished to change Church doctrine have sought to dismantle the things that make the Church the Church and Christianity Christianity. For some reason, they don't simply move on to their own brand of religion and leave Christianity alone. They seem to want to have both -- delete what makes it Christianity and call it "Christianity".

It doesn't work. You can't change what defines a thing and call it the same thing. You can't redefine "black" to mean "red" and still call it "black". You can't redefine "murder" to not include a particular group of humans and not call it "murder". You can't delete the sufficiency of Scripture, the resurrection of Christ, the Deity of Christ, or the other distinctives that make Christianity what it is and call it "Christianity". I don't mind people who wish to leave these distinctives and start their own. Just don't call it "Christian."

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Why Can't We Agree to Disagree?

You all know that phrase. It's typically the religious version of "Can't we all just get along?" Well, kind of. It is the easy way out of an impasse, the way to avoid a fight when neither side can see any way of getting the other to change. In theory, it seems like a good idea. And, in practice, it often is.

"I like spinach." "I hate spinach." "Let's just agree to disagree." See? That works fine. There is no intrinsic value in defending (or attacking) personal taste in spinach. It's not a life-or-death matter. There isn't much of a need to come to blows here, so to speak. But try this one. "I hate water; I'm not drinking any more water." "You need to drink water." See? Now "Let's just agree to disagree" doesn't quite work. Water is essential for life, so simply setting aside differences and being friends on this one will kill someone.

Meet Danny Cortez. Danny is the pastor of a Southern Baptist church in La Mirada, CA. Now, Southern Baptist is one of the very conservative groups, so when Pastor Cortez decided to put this letter on the Internet, it wasn't a small thing. Here he writes, "I recently became gay affirming after a 15-year journey of having multiple people in my congregation come out to me every year." So, what was it that changed Danny's mind? Was it the biblical instructions, the clear texts, the historic teachings, the careful examination of Hebrew and Greek culture and terminology? Well, no. "It was especially the testimony of my gay friends that helped me to see how they have been marginalized that my eyes became open to the injustice that the church has wrought." And, of course, the ultimate confirmation of his new "theology" came about when he told his 15-year-old son about it and his son told him that he was gay. Hallelujah! The truth shall set you free! Danny thought he might lose his job, but he had fortunately managed to move his congregation away from a biblical basis, so they voted instead to become a "Third Way"1 church. The "Third Way"? It's this whole "Let's just agree to disagree" thing, only much warmer. He's not accurate in calling it "agree to disagree", however, since he isn't disagreeing with homosexual behavior. He is (his words) "gay affirming". So I suppose if he and his congregation are agreeing to disagree, it would be with the Bible and all of Church history and his own Southern Baptist denomination.

But, seriously, why can't we just agree to disagree on this one? I hate spinach; you like it. Why not just agree to disagree? You embrace homosexual behavior; I call it sin. Why can't we just admit that we have differing viewpoints and let it go? Well, first, logically it doesn't work. In the pastor's own letter he understood that people would stand to embrace homosexual behavior or separate, and, in that same letter, there were some who could not agree to embrace that behavior, so they were separating. That is, "You can either agree with us and embrace the behavior or you can disagree with us and leave." That's not "Just agree to disagree." More importantly, biblically it is the same issue as the "I like water" question above. "Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Cor 6:9-10). You see, this isn't a matter of preference such as liking spinach or not. It's a matter of life or death -- eternal life or death2. We cannot embrace what God says will prevent you from inheriting the kingdom of God and simply "agree to disagree". That kind of disagreement will kill. And don't be confused about my words. I'm agreeing with Jesus here: "Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matt 10:28).

In some issues like spinach or not, there is plenty of room to agree to disagree. We can get along if you believe that it's wrong to drink any alcohol and I believe that a little wine is good for the stomach. (That's an example; it happens I do not drink alcohol, but not on principle.) Paul gives examples of being a vegetarian or a carnivore (Rom 14:1-4) or eating meat offered to idols (1 Cor 8). There is room in biblical Christianity to agree to disagree. But in matters of life or death, of being in the faith or out of it, of inheriting the kingdom of God or not, to agree to disagree and to embrace the latter -- out of the faith and not inheriting the kingdom -- is not "Can't we just get along?" Agreeing to disagree about the morality of remaining in sexual immorality, idolatry, adultery, stealing, greed, or the rest of that list (and others like it) will simply exclude someone from the kingdom, and the list includes those who practice homosexual behavior. It is a matter of eternal significance that no caring person can just ignore. It is not injustice; it is nothing less than hate to set aside this difference or others like it.
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1 This erroneous concept of a "Third Way" is discussed at length by Dr. Mohler of the Southern Baptist Convention and Tony Jones. Tony Jones is a "Progressive Christian Channel" blogger at Patheos, not a conservative like Dr. Mohler. That is, they disagree on what the right way is, but agree fully that there is no "Third Way".

2 Jesus said, "This is eternal life, that they know You the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent" (John 17:3). Thus "eternal death" would be an eternity not knowing "the only true God, and Jesus Christ."