When you are one with your wife — physically, emotionally and spiritually — you bear the image of God. Your oneness reflects the sacrificial love of Christ and His church (Ephesians 5:22-32) as well as the oneness and fellowship between the Father and the Son (John 17:20-23).
This connection is made even more obvious in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians where he explains how sexual sin distinctly wars against God’s design for oneness in the body of faith and in marriage:
Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Corinthians 6:15-20)
Satan is not unaware of this truth. As he prowls around seeking to devour (1 Peter 5:8), he knows he can distort the truth of God’s oneness and love to a watching world by attacking the oneness in your marriage. This is ground zero. Your leadership is essential at this point in order to ensure the area that can bring the deepest joy and pleasure in your marriage doesn’t become the source of Satan’s greatest victory against you, your wife and God’s reflection in your marriage.
Your leadership is crucial in three specific areas: sanctification, redeemed desire and prioritization.Sanctification
“For this is the will of God,” Paul writes to the Thessalonians, “your sanctification.” Sanctification is the essential work that begins after Jesus justifies you before the Father and presents you blameless. It’s the process of growing to be holy as God is holy. In the same breath where Paul says that God’s will is your sanctification, he immediately adds, “that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God;” (1 Thessalonians 4:3-6).
The Spirit is at work to guide your sanctification, but you have to be active in this work as well — especially in abstaining from sexual immorality and in controlling your body. This is where you work with the empowerment of the Spirit to develop self-mastery over the flesh. It involves being watchful, putting distance between yourself and sin and rushing to repent when you do sin.
Be watchful: In our sex-saturated culture, you have to be alert to temptations that can hit you everywhere you turn and can begin to pull you away from oneness with your wife. You have to lead in being watchful (1 Cor. 16:13 and 1 Peter 5:8) of your surroundings and in being on guard where you know you’re most likely to be tempted.
Put distance between yourself and sin: “[M]ake no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires,” Paul writes to the Romans. “Abstain from sexual immorality” he writes to the Thessalonians (1 Thessalonians 4:3b). “But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you,” he writes to the Ephesians (Ephesians 5:3). “Flee sexual immorality,” (1 Cor. 6:18) he writes to the Corinthians. “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire” he writes to the Colossians (Col. 3:5a). Paul’s choice of words — abstain, make no provision, flee, put to death and so forth — makes it clear that you should actively distance yourself from sexual immorality. That means guarding your eyes, words and thought life from any images, conversations or wandering thoughts that could be a gateway to sexual immorality.
Be repentant: As born-again men, we are still prone to sin. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us,” the apostle John writes, but then he adds, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-9). James writes, “sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (James 1:15). Don’t be surprised by the reality of sin in your life as a believer, but don’t let unrepentant sin grow towards death.Redeemed desire
While it’s true that sexual temptation will be with you throughout your life, it is possible to significantly change how you fight temptation by allowing the Spirit to redeem your driving desires.
Desire is a powerful engine when it comes to intimacy in your marriage. The most effective way to fight sexual temptation is to let God do an engine replacement — to change out the engine of fleshly desire that drives you towards sin and death with a Spirit-driven engine that drives you towards abundant life. Paul shows what that looks like in his letter to the Galatians:
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Galatians 5:16-24)
As you crucify the desires of the flesh, you won’t have to keep struggling to throttle the desires that lead to sin and death (James 1:14-15). Instead, you can submit to the Spirit and allow the desires of the Spirit to drive you toward deeper intimacy and oneness with your wife.
As the Spirit leads you and produces fruit in your life and your marriage, remember the wisdom of Solomon to continually cultivate your desire for your wife:
Drink water from your own cistern, flowing water from your own well.
Should your springs be scattered abroad, streams of water in the streets?
Let them be for yourself alone, and not for strangers with you.
Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely deer, a graceful doe.
Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love. (Proverbs 5:15-19)
Enjoy the wife God has given you as a good gift to be received with thanksgiving (1 Timothy 4:1-5). Celebrate your love together. Drink deeply of her love.Prioritization
Finally, lead in prioritizing oneness with your wife. As you faithfully lead in your work, your responsibilities as a father and your commitments in the local church, remember that oneness with your wife is a source of stability to keep you grounded and replenished for all of your responsibilities. She is your helper for the work God has given you to do.
So, prioritize oneness with her. Hold all your responsibilities in tension with your responsibilities to her. Give her the first hug and kiss when you walk in the door from work — even as your kids race to you with updates about their day. Give your kids the security of knowing your marriage is secure and thriving by preserving dedicated time with your wife (that goes for regular date nights as well as regular times at night of uninterrupted time for you and your wife to catch up). This is what it takes to regularly grow in oneness and intimacy — just make it a priority.
By Randy Stinson & Dan Dumas How to serve your wife, how to mold men through baseball, how to make men in the church and more practical theology for cultivating men of God who are doers of the Word for the sake of the Gospel.
- Randy Stinson serves as Senior vice president for academic administration and provost. He is also associate professor of leadership and family ministry. You can follow Dr. Stinson on Twitter at @RandyStinson.
-Dan Dumas is senior vice president for institutional administration at Southern Seminary. He is a church planter and pastor-teacher at Crossing Church in Louisville, Ky. You can connect with him on Twitter at @DanDumas, on Facebook or at DanDumas.com.
I am a longtime admirer of your work. Although I am no longer a Christian, your work as a philosopher and theologian has played a significant role in the formation of my own views and I am fully persuaded of theism, although I still have lots of questions about it. I think your analysis of God's relationship to time is plausible, but I always get stuck on the idea that God is timeless apart from creation, but temporal since creation ...
Editor’s Note: This post is the second installment of a multi-part series reflecting on my recent radio discussion with Brandan Robertson, spokesperson for Evangelicals for Marriage Equality. The audio of that radio “debate” can be found here. The first post can be found here.
In Shakespeare’s classic play, Romeo and Juliet, the “star-cross’d lovers” are destined for a life apart from each other because of a long-standing feud between their families. In act 2, scene 2, Juliet proclaims these famous words to Romeo:
‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What’s Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.
Is Juliet really right? Just by changing his name, can Romeo escape the wrath of the Capulet family for loving Juliet? Would they not still know exactly who he is?
As part of my ongoing interaction with Evangelicals for Marriage Equality (EME), I have become intrigued with their use of the term “Evangelicals” in their name. What makes an evangelical?
The term “evangelical” is admittedly hard to define. Many have taken up the task, and some have reached disparate conclusions. However, there are some common elements that seem to mark the use of the term evangelicalism.
First, evangelicals typically stress the authority of the Bible. They believe that it is the inspired Word of God and is profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness (2 Tim 3:16). The first half of the doctrinal statement of the Evangelical Theological Society reflects this emphasis as it states, “The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs.”
Second, evangelicals stress the atoning work of Christ in personal salvation. The term itself derives from the Greek word εὐανγγέλιον (evanggelion), which means “gospel” or “good news.” It should come as no surprise that a people who claim to be gospel-focused exhibit a concern for personal salvation.
Third, evangelicals tend to stress preaching and proclamation of the Word. This goes hand-in-hand with being gospel-focused people. Part of this preaching would involve calling people to live in accordance with the Scriptures.
In light of these basic characteristics of evangelicals, I find it difficult to reconcile the use of the term “evangelical” for a group of people who are promoting a lifestyle inconsistent with Scripture.
I have written in a number of places about the immorality of homosexuality, but I do not want to focus on that particular activity here. Instead, I want to focus on Jesus’ definition of marriage compared to the statement of belief from Evangelicals for Marriage Equality (EME).
The EME statement concludes, “You can be a faithful evangelical Christian and at the same time support civil marriage equality for same-sex couples.” They specifically avoid making a theological case for same-sex marriage and intentionally choose civil marriage as their battleground.
As we saw above, however, evangelicals stress the authority of God’s Word. If we go to Scripture, we find a very clear statement from Jesus on the nature of marriage. He says, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate” (Matt 19:4–6). If Jesus declared that marriage is between male and female, just as God designed it from the beginning, I find it difficult to imagine how self-proclaimed evangelicals could promote something that Jesus expressly excluded from marriage.
The reason for EME’s promotion of same-sex marriage, in my opinion, comes not from their desire to adhere to the authority of God’s Word, but instead from a hermeneutical commitment to elevate experience over Scripture. In most of my conversations with Christian proponents of same-sex marriage, they make an appeal to the personal experience of a friend who was (or could be) hurt by the church’s opposition to his desire for same-sex marriage. While I do not doubt the other person’s experience, I do question the wisdom of allowing our experience to subvert the authority of the text. If we elevate experience over Scripture, then there is no limit to what behavior we can justify.
In addition, Brandan Robertson and others have appealed to a standard of love as the reason that evangelicals should support same-sex marriage. They believe that showing love will win over those who would not otherwise want anything to do with the church. However, I am drawn back to the definition of love in 1 Corinthians 13. In the midst of his extended treatise on love, Paul declares, “[Love] does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth” (1 Cor 13:6). Since Jesus stated that marriage is between one man and one woman for a lifetime, then we know that to be truth, and in that we rejoice. Any departure from the pattern made clear in Jesus’ words is a departure from the truth resulting in unrighteousness. In this we cannot rejoice. So EME is left with a choice. They can either rejoice in the truth of what Jesus has said about marriage or rejoice in unrighteousness. To rejoice in unrighteousness, however, is not to express love in a biblical sense.
In many respects, this conversation about a name comes down to the authority of Scripture. If that is truly a mark of evangelicals, then we must abide by what Scripture says. EME cannot consistently use the term evangelical and also promote something that Scripture forbids. To do so is internally inconsistent, unless of course they mean something entirely different by “evangelical,” a term not defined in their statement of beliefs.
Perhaps Malcolm Yarnell has already provided us some insight into their use of the term. In his book, The Formation of Christian Doctrine, Yarnell traces the changes to the word “evangelical” and concludes that “the term has lost the substantive meaning it once possessed” (xvi). In fact, he cites Darryl Hart’s opinion that “‘evangelicalism’ is little more than a marketing construct demanding a minimalist understanding of the Christian faith” (xvi).
If that is how EME uses the term “evangelical,” then it is no different than their use of “marriage” that I discussed in the previous post. Thus, it is a term with no meaning. It is a name with no substance. It does not describe who they really are.
I, on the other hand, am happy to claim the characteristics of evangelicalism, not the least of which is to stand on the authority of God’s Word.
For further discussion of the term evangelical, see Malcom B. Yarnell III, The Formation of Christian Doctrine (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2007), xiv–xvi; and James Leo Garrett, Jr., “Who Are the Evangelicals?” in Are Southern Baptists “Evangelicals”? eds. James Leo Garrett, Jr., E. Glenn Hinson, and James E. Tull (Macon: Mercer University Press, 1983), 33–63.
The release of the movie Left Behind has again drawn attention to the Christian belief in the rapture. The movie tries to portray the chaos in the world as millions of Christians suddenly disappear. This image has interested Christians for quite a while. I recall watching the Thief in the Night series of movies back in the 1970s (the Antichrist had sideburns!). But I am interested in a question that is often overlooked: what is the point of the rapture in the Bible?
Editor’s note: This week at Southern Seminary we are celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Ministry. In light of this, the following article is adapted from Billy Graham’s message at the Oct. 14, 1993, worship service held at Freedom Hall in Louisville during inauguration ceremonies for R. Albert Mohler Jr. as Southern Seminary’s ninth president.
I recently asked a university president what he thought was the greatest need of our hour. And after careful consideration, the president responded, “I may surprise you, because I’m not a religious man. But I believe that the greatest need we have at this hour is a spiritual awakening which will restore individual and collective morals and integrity throughout the nation.” I agree with that.
But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel:
And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy: And I will shew wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke: The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord comes: And it shall come to pass that whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved (Acts 2:16-21, KJV).
Young men will have visions. You have elected a young man here with a tremendous vision, not only for the future of this theological seminary but for the future of evangelism and missions in the Southern Baptist Convention and the world.
Old men will dream dreams. In our context, where I’m an old man, that means that they will know how to support the vision of the young.
Here’s a young man, and I want to tell you, I support him with all my heart and will pray for him daily from now on. I think we need to support these young men that God is raising up. It’s not easy for an old generation to hand the torch to a new generation that’s coming up, but that’s what’s happening here tonight and I thank God for the young men and the young women that he has raised up, not only in this seminary but in other parts of the world. There are those on the board and the faculty and among friends that will support you in their prayers and their gifts and their love.
There will come hard times; there will come difficult times. It always happens, whether it’s in marriage or you’re taking a new position or whether you’re in a seminary.
You know I was called when I was about that same age to be president of a small Bible school and college in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I learned very early that it’s not always easy. There are many decisions that you have to make. One of the things that will be difficult for Dr. Mohler will be the great expectancy there is of him at this moment. And he’ll have to make hard decisions that not everyone will like. There’s no decision that you can make in that work that will please everyone. He knows that better than anyone. I believe God has raised him up for such an hour as this.
I remember the first time I came here Dr. Duke McCall was president. And he and I had become very close friends. I remember the thrill and the joy it was to stand before that student body and faculty and talk about Christ and realize that they were going to the ends of the earth with the gospel of Christ as professors and as evangelists and as pastors. That’s what happened. Wherever you go throughout the world you’ll see Southern graduates and people that have come from here. Dr. Roy Honeycutt followed along with the same pattern and now comes Dr. Mohler. Now he has come young enough to be here at least 40 years. I’ve tried to figure out how old I will be 40 years from now. I will have been in heaven a number of years. But if we’re able to look down here, I will be watching and praying up there for him and for you and for all of us because I think he’s laid out a tremendous vision of what can be done with the largest Protestant denomination in this country. It’s making an impact all over the world.
The place we are meeting is called Freedom Hall. Nearly 60 years ago, President Franklin Roosevelt gave a speech and he said, “When the war is over, there will be freedom of speech everywhere, freedom of worship everywhere, freedom of want everywhere, freedom from fear everywhere.” Freedom? Where have those freedoms gone?
I find that people today are lonely. When I preach on loneliness on television, we get thousands of letters. So many people are in marriage alone, in school alone, people on every block in the city are lonely. They need joy and hope and fellowship. I find that there’s despair in this country. In addition, people in the midst of a very impersonal computer age are hungry. They’re hungry and thirsty.
Did you know that in the next three or four years, we’re going to be able to get 500 channels on your TV set? And the TV set is going to be hooked to the telephone and to all the different instruments in your home, it will be all one big package and you will have more information flowing into your house and into your mind than you could ever dream about. This is going to cause us to become a sardine village, we’ll be so packed together and so much information that we could destroy ourselves.
Some of that information we’re going to be getting is going to be pornographic. It’s going to be full of crime. We’re going to be taught how to commit every sort of crime there is. We’re already seeing that.
There is a hole in our heart that only God can fill. Pascal, the great 17th century scientist and philosopher, stated, “In every human heart is a God-shaped vacuum that only God can fill.” Jesus said, “Put God first and everything will fall into place.” We as a nation need to put God first. We’ve taken God out of the schools and put sex in — sex education for kids and taken out prayer.
Yes, our nation can be changed. It can start with you. Revivals start in the heart of somebody. Somebody asked if you want to eat an elephant, how would you eat an elephant? One bite at a time! Are you willing to make that kind of commitment today, that you will be in your place, faithful, loyal, a yielded mind, the mind of Christ dominating your thinking, a body that is yielded? Are you willing to make a commitment to evangelism? That you will go out as a believer and help to witness to other people about Jesus Christ?
I know that we need a spiritual awakening. Can we organize one? There are generalizations about awakenings. First, there’s the recognition of the sovereignty of God. Sometimes we don’t understand. Awakenings just start. But it is of God.
Secondly, there seems to be a fullness of time. In Habakkuk, he must have realized that God has a time for awakenings. He prayed “O, Lord, revive thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make it known” (Habakkuk 3:2).
Thirdly, there’s the spiritual power of a minority. The awakenings seemingly never occur without concern by burdened, dedicated people and it always starts with prayer and the study of the Scriptures.
Finally, there seems to be a sense of unity necessary for revival. Tom Phillips informs me that they’ve found 20,000 prayer groups in America praying for revival right now — 20,000 prayer groups praying for one specific event: a revival.
I don’t find any Scripture that would indicate we cannot have a revival anytime. But we need God’s conditions for revival. And I believe Governor Jones that we are going to see that revival. I believe we are going to see an outpouring of God’s spirit on a scale we have not seen in many years.
You know there was something wrong with the church at Ephesus. And when John wrote to them under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he said, you’ve lost your first love. Television pouring into our homes, newspapers to read, radio — every kind of thing is drowning out the voice of God. We can’t pray anymore. We can’t think anymore. We’re afraid to be alone anymore. We have to have something going all the time. The moment you get into your room, the television is on. The moment you get in your home, the radio has to go. The moment you get in your car, the radio is on.
I used to hear sermons about separation from the world. We don’t hear that anymore very much — being separated from the world so that our hearts can hear God. If God spoke, would we hear him? I’m sure he’s speaking now through his word and I’m sure God is speaking at Southern Seminary through the professors and the students and certainly through this brilliant young president that you’ve called. God is going to speak and God is going to use you.
Dream for a moment about revival. What would happen?
First, there would be moral reform. Everyone is asking how can we turn the tide? The answer is spiritual revival. Secondly, we must get our priorities straight: get back to the Bible. Thirdly, awakening could be the basis of restoring our first love and reconciliation and a unity within the Southern Baptist Convention. We need to love one another. We can disagree, of course, but we need to love one another. And some of the things that people have said on all sides and the controversies that have gone on, I cannot believe would be from the mouth of Jesus. I think that we need a love that we have never known before and I am praying for a baptism of love that will sweep this convention and it can start in Louisville at the seminary.
This seminary is looked upon as the leading educational institution perhaps in the world for Baptists. You have a tremendous responsibility. That doesn’t mean that you give up your convictions at all. There comes times when you have to stand. There come times when there has to be confrontation. But it must be done in a spirit of love and I think that it can be. I think that can be recovered by the Holy Spirit. We’re praying that the Holy Spirit will come in mighty powers like he came at Pentecost. And we may speak different languages but our hearts are bound together by our faith in Christ.
Since the 1970s, the Center for World Evangelization has been at Southern Seminary. And Dr. Mohler has informed me that this center is being expanded to a graduate school of missions, evangelism, and church growth, as you’ve heard tonight. And I am greatly encouraged by the seminary’s renewed commitment to leadership and training ministers of the gospel to go out in evangelism. An awakening can bring about evangelization of the world in our generation.
We need your prayers and we want to join hands with Southern Seminary in both theology and evangelization. We will do everything we can in our power to support Dr. Mohler and the faculty and the staff and the trustees of this great institution. You certainly have my love and my prayers. May God bless you.
This article was originally posted in the Fall 2014 issue of Southern Seminary Magazine.
I am often asked my opinion of the mega-church model of ministry. I find the model lacking, frankly, but not for the reasons you might think.
It is a fundamental datum of our experience that we all long for meaning; we long for a narrative in which to make sense of our lives, our passions, and our beliefs. But, if God doesn’t exist, the cold, hard truth is there is no meaning. We have a scratch, but no way to itch it. In an interview with Harper’s Magazine Christopher Beha, the atheist philosopher Alex Rosenberg states:
There is … in us all the hankering for a satisfactory narrative to make ‘life, the universe and everything’ (in Douglas Adams’ words) hang together in a meaningful way. When people disbelieve in God and see no alternative, they often find themselves wishing they could believe, since now they have an itch and no way to scratch it.
What is the atheist to do? It seems there are three options, three atheist camps on the question of how to make sense of our longing for meaning in a godless world:
Camp 1: Dissatisfied Atheism. The nonbeliever in this camp works hard to salvage the splendor of the religious view in a godless world.
Camp 2: Anesthestic Atheism. The nonbeliever in this camp tries to anesthetize the desire for meaning, to rub it out, to reduce or explain it away.
Camp 3: Apathetic Atheism. The nonbeliever in this camp tries to ignore the desire for meaning.
I think the attempt of the dissatisfied atheist to salvage the splendor of the religious worldview in a godless world is doomed to fail. The best non-theistic option is some kind of Platonic atheism where objective values are identified with various Platonic Forms or abstract objects. The problem is Platonic atheism does not sufficiently ground moral duty, nor does it help in providing an over-arching story or compelling narrative for my life. To see why consider: we owe moral obligations to people, not things. For example, I have a moral obligation to tell you the truth, or to not steal your wallet. I don’t have a moral obligation to my chair to not (say) weigh 500 pounds. But, on the Platonic atheist story, I am told that my moral obligation is to a thing—a Platonic property—and this makes no sense. Further, on Platonic atheism, the Platonic Forms are just a brute non-personal reality. Like the universe, there is no explanation for why they exist; they just do. But then, they offer no hope of providing a story, a satisfying narrative, in which to find meaning in life.
It seems that atheism is best understood as naturalistic and a consistent atheist will find herself in Camp 2 or Camp 3. Alex Rosenberg firmly locates himself in Camp 2 and recommends anti-depressant drugs as a way to rub out the itch. Others simply try to ignore our longing for meaning and purpose. Apathy is the new virtue of the 21st century. The problem is we seem hard-wired for the itch. We long to live a life of meaning, purpose, and value. One could reasonably say this is a fundamental longing of the human heart. Perhaps it is time for us to take our longings seriously—for they reveal something about us and the world.
In his classic book, Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis put it this way:
Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. 1
Perhaps we can’t rub out or ignore the itch because the object of this itch (or: longing/desire) is God himself. Perhaps this is why, as I’ve argued in previous posts, religion is not going away—because God exists and is the object of our longing for meaning. It’s time to encourage our atheistic friends to stop trying to rub out or ignore the itch—it is remarkably resilient to our strivings … and to pay attention to it instead. If so, it may lead us, like a kind of ontological argument, to the ultimate object of our desire—God.
- C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 2001 ed.), 136-137. ↩
In the midst of Paul’s argument for the bodily resurrection of believers, he offers a proverb: “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals.’” (1 Cor 15:33). At first it seems a bit out of place—why would Paul be concerned about who the Corinthians are hanging around? Isn’t his focus on what they believe? Paul’s point is that your associations can influence what you believe, and what you believe influences your behavior. That’s one of the reasons why God instructs his believers to practice separation. A failure to separate from false teachers can lead believers to be corrupted by that false teaching—even if they currently have their doctrine correct.
In a sermon on this passage, Alistair Begg gives his pastoral exhortation to believers who do not separate from false churches, urging them to apply this verse.
If you hang around with these people who say there is no resurrection of the dead, although you think there is, you’ll start to believe just as they do. And when you start to believe as they do, then you will start to behave as they behave. And he said “I want you to understand it, bad company corrupts good character.”
Incidentally and in passing there is a word here I believe that had never struck me in studying this passage before. But there is a word here for these solid Christians who determine that they are going to stay in liberal churches where the minister does not believe the Bible and does not teach the Bible. And they’re staying there, they say, because they’re going to turn it around. I admire their zeal. I call in question their strategy. Why? Because of this statement: “Bad company corrupts good character.” You cannot sit and listen to nonsense week after week after week without imbibing a significant amount of that nonsense. And over twenty years of observation, I have yet to see a group turn a church around but I have seen many within those groups lose their flame, lose their passion, lose their light, lose their edge. Cause they wouldn’t apply the proverb clearly. It is the responsibility of every straight-shooting Christian to sit consistently under the effective, useful, clarifying, relevant preaching of the Word of God (33:26-34:49 of If There Is No Resurrection).
Recuerdo que mi padre solía decir con frecuencia “cada cabeza es un mundo” cuando se refería a las diferentes maneras de pensar y actuar entre las personas. Por esta razón, la comunicación es parte básica de las relaciones humanas. No se puede establecer ninguna relación importante y duradera sin que exista una comunicación fluida en la que se intercambien ideas y opiniones. La diversidad de percepciones nos abre la puerta a las relaciones saludables a través de la comunicación, pero al mismo tiempo crea la posibilidad de conflicto. Así que, es importante que todos en general, pero esencial para los líderes, que aprendamos a disentir sin ofender.
The corporate prayers of a worship leader are amplified through microphones and sound systems. We carefully think through what words that will be prayed and how our congregation will interpret these words. These prayers are public and congregational in nature. This kind of praying is biblical and mandated by Scripture.
The personal prayers of a worship leader are offered away from the church platform. We approach the throne of grace with no preliminary thinking other than pursuing personal communion with God. In this praying we are more raw and unfiltered. These prayers are private and personal in nature. This kind of praying is biblical and effective.
As worship leaders, we are participants in prayer first. Secondly, we are teaching and modeling in our prayers. Our language is informed by scripture and God’s word molds the contours of our prayer life. We learn the prominence of prayer through its practice. We call this spiritual discipline a practice because we are continually learning its centrality to the Christian life.
Related: Join Matt Boswell at the Doxology and Theology conference November 13-15, 2014.
Below are five things that I have prayed for myself as a worship leader over the last seventeen years of leading congregational worship. I invite you to write your own prayers, or to augment and amend these. I also invite you to pray. Pray that God would go before you, keep you and use your life for his eternal glory.
God help me to love your glory, more than the fleeting praise of men. The glory of God is God’s primary and deepest passion. His greatest faithfulness is to himself. Our faith and salvation depend on that truth. (Isaiah 42:8) The glory of God is the goal of biblical worship. As worship leaders, it is central for us to understand that we are agents of provoking affections and calling attention not to us, but to the glory of God. We apply the gospel to our lives by remembering we are accepted solely on the work of Christ, not by our own merit.
God, help me to love the people I lead more than the songs I sing. Make it your practice to not love people for what they can do for you, or to help further your “ministry”. Love people because this is central to the Gospel. (John 13:34-35) John the Baptist joyfully pursued a smaller platform. Most of us grasp endlessly for a larger one. Avoid the tendency to love the experience of music more than your experience with the people of God. Invest in what is eternal.
God, help me to value the word of God above the creativity of man. Biblical truth in worship is our foundation. (John 4:24) Sift through the endless resources and choose songs that are grounded in truth and accessible for your church. Christian worship is built upon, shaped by and saturated with the word of God. Value art for what it is: a common grace God uses to glorify himself. However, value the word of God as preeminent in congregational worship.
God, help me to view the whole scope of Christian worship, not just the worship service. As a worship leader, your role is to call your church to the entire scope of worship practices: corporate, family and personal. (Deuteronomy 6:5-9) Don’t let the idea of worship end with liturgy. If we underestimate corporate worship, we do our people a disservice by not honoring the sacredness of our gatherings. If over estimate the corporate experience, our people will not be taught the invaluable experience of walking in communion with God in the inextricable practices of family and personal worship.
God, help me to walk in character, not to operate out of gifting. Gifting in the church today will give you a platform to gain the praise of men. Character will give you the enduring reward of leading the people of God. Gifting is vital to the function of leading worship, but character is central to its practice. Without character, gifting is reduced to an entertaining skill set. Our greatest calling is not to be a “gifted” people, but people who are holistically impacted by the sustaining joys of the Gospel. (John 14)
Join Matt Boswell and many others including Bob Kauflin, Matt Papa, Keith Getty and more at the Doxology and Theology conference at Southern Seminary November 13-15, 2014.
Are you as concerned about the growing problem of biblical illiteracy as I am? We Christians have more Bible-focused resources available to us than has any generation of Christians in the history of the world. Despite this we are literally—from a spiritual standpoint—starving ourselves to death. Would you like your church, adult Bible class, youth group, or small group to reach Bible fluency by pursuing an Old Testament Fluency in 12 Weeks class or a New Testament Fluency in 12 Weeks class using the free resources at biblefluency.com? Here’s how.
The Mid-American Conference begins this Thursday, October 16, at the Inter-City Baptist Church, 4700 Allen Road, Allen Park, MI. The theme is “Striving Together for the Faith of the Gospel.” The speakers are:
- David Doran, Pastor, Inter-City Baptist Church & President, Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary
- Jim Newcomer, Associate Pastor, Colonial Baptist Church, Virginia Beach, VA
- Chris Anderson, Pastor, Killian Hill Baptist Church, Lilburn, GA
- Brian Fuller, Pastor, Trinity Baptist Church, Concord, NH
- Lukus Counterman, Gospel Grace Church, Salt Lake City, UT
- Ken Endean, President, International Baptist College, Chandler, AZ
- Mark Brock, Pastor, Crossway Baptist Church, Bakersfield, CA
- Mark Snoeberger, Associate Professor of Systematic Theology, Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary
- John Aloisi, Assistant Professor of Historical Theology, Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary
- Ben Edwards, Executive Pastor, Inter-City Baptist Church & Instructor in Pastoral Theology, Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary
- David Doran, Jr., Pastoral Assistant for Outreach, Inter-City Baptist Church
- Exalting Christ in Everything at All Time (Philippians 1:18-30)
- A Gospel Disregard (2 Corinthians 5:16-17)
- Grace Works (Ephesians 4:1-6)
- Fellow Workers for the Truth (3 John)
- Properly Set Apart for the Gospel (Acts 13:1-3)
- Cultivating Mission-Minded Unity in the Congregration
- Cooperation Without Compromise?
- 2:42 Life Groups: An Idea for Small-Group Discipleship
- Multi-Ethnicity in the Local Church
- Guarding Moral Integrity
- Building a Culture of Evangelism
- In the Word Together: One to One Bible Reading
- Factors for Building a Cohesive Church from 1 Corinthians 12-14
- The Gospel and Sanctification
- Building Unity Around Historic Confessions
- Worldview Evangelism: Understanding and Engaging Underlying Beliefs
For more info see here.
I'm growing more skeptical about Christianity and was wondering if you could answer a question about the gospel.
When Jesus was on the cross He either paid for all sin or some sin. To pay for some sin would mean limited atonement which is not what scripture teaches. But if Jesus paid for all sin then why are some people who are in Hell paying for their sin? ...
This is the second post in a two part series by Hershael York. You can read part of of this series here.
When Paul described the burden of ministry that God has given us, he concluded by asking the question, “Who is equal to such a task?” (2 Cor 2:16) After reviewing the challenges of leadership in the church, we might ask the same thing. We must remember, however, that wherever God calls, He also enables. God did not call us to be fruitless and unprofitable. He has a plan and purpose for His leaders, and leadership can be more effective if we follow some very practical and thoroughly scriptural guidelines.
First, know where you are going. Jerry Vines and Homer Lindsay Jr., served together as co-pastors of the First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, Fla., for many years. When he was appearing in a seminar I taught I once asked Dr. Vines what they did when they did not agree on the direction to take in a given matter. Vines replied that he and Lindsay had three options whenever they had a disagreement about how to proceed. “Either I will defer to him,” he said dryly, “or he will defer to me, or we just do nothing. There are a lot of times,” he confessed, “that we just do nothing.” As I reflected on his words, I kept in mind that First Baptist of Jacksonville is one of the greatest churches in America. They ministered the Word to thousands every week. Yet here was the pastor confessing that many times they seemed to do nothing.
If two great men of God who love one another and seek God with all of their hearts cannot always discern the will of God, then it certainly follows that such uncertainty is not an unusual circumstance. That doesn't mean, though, that in those moments the pastor's ministry grinds to a halt. To the contrary, the pastor will find the routine matters of ministry are more important than ever. A pastor will find it far better to do the obvious things that one knows God wants — preach the Word, visit the sick, witness to the lost, build relationships--than to proceed with a plan that he is not confidently convinced is of the Lord.
Don’t have a building program just because others are doing it. Don’t follow the latest trend because you read it in a book and it seems to be working for another church. If you lead the church down too many blind paths, the price you pay will be ineffectiveness and irrelevant leadership. Be certain that you know where God wants the church to go.
Second, be honest with the Scriptures. Too many pastors have twisted Scripture and assigned meaning foreign to the text and to the author just to get their people to conform. One church was experiencing a steady hemorrhage of members who were leaving and joining another congregation that was larger and seemed to be on the move. The pastor of the smaller church did everything he could to stop the bleeding, but when he sensed that he was unsuccessful, he finally played his trump card — he made it a scriptural issue. His text, however, had nothing to do with churches or membership. He preached about Jesus walking on the water and Peter getting out of the boat, only to sink in failure. The pastor then proceeded to compare the boat to the church, and he said that Peter would not have sunk had he remained in the boat. The lesson was not left for inference. “You better stay in this boat,” he told them.
Whatever a church leader does, he must never compromise the Scriptures for his own purposes, no matter how noble they may seem at the time. And if he does yield to that temptation and contort a text to lend a false sense of biblical authority to his bad decisions, it will surely come back to haunt him. If a pastor can twist the text, so can the deacons and the church members, often to justify ousting him.
Third, live a godly, holy life before the people. Godly living is simply right, but it also has the practical value of earning the trust and confidence of the congregation. Once when I was a pastor, I had to make a very difficult decision that I knew would be misunderstood and questioned. Some weeks later a couple in the church came to me and told me that they weren’t sure they could stay in the church because they disagreed with the decision I had made. I asked them a pointed question: “Do you believe that I was at least trying to do the right thing and to honor the Lord?” Without hesitation they responded, “Of course. We never doubted that you were doing what you believed to be right. We just think you missed it.” I confessed to them that since the matter was not clearly spelled out in Scripture they just might be right. I might get to heaven and discover that I missed it. But at the very least, God would not rebuke me for not seeking and desiring to do His will. “If you trust my heart,” I told them, “then you are free to question my decisions, and we still have no problem. As long as you feel that I am seeking God, we can work together, even when we disagree.”
Fourth, don’t be threatened by disagreement. When the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron because they had no food and water, Moses did not get mad at the people. Rather, he marveled that they should grumble at him. In the mind of Moses, blame and credit were equally misplaced because he was merely God’s servant and instrument. “Who are we,” he asked, “that you should grumble against us?” (Exod 16:7). Too often, church leaders are incensed that they should be disputed. Instead of emulating Moses, they ask, “Who are you to question us?” Realize that disagreement is healthy, inevitable and one of the ways God confirms us in His will and His likeness.
Fifth, keep negative emotions in check. Leaders can feel anyway they want, but they cannot afford to show the feelings of fear and anger. If they smell fear or anger on the leaders, a congregation will respond in the same way. If attacked in a business meeting, a leader needs to learn the meekness of Moses and the confidence of Nehemiah. In fact, leaders should study biblical leaders like Nehemiah, Moses, David and Paul to see how they responded in times of adversity and still managed to accomplish the objectives God had given them.
Sixth, choose your battles carefully. Some battles need to be deferred to a better time, and some need to be ignored completely. Pastors who move onto a church field and immediately make it their goal to “straighten out” every problem they notice either lose their members or lose their job. Never let the direction of your leadership be motivated by your own annoyances. Prioritize and be selective, especially in timing, in what you notice and attempt to change.
Related: Learn about our Master of Divinity degree with a concentration in pastoral studies
Seventh, be willing to apologize. There is something very powerful about a leader who is willing to humble himself before his people and say, “I was wrong. Please forgive me.” They already know it, but they feel encouraged to see that the leader knows it and does not live under the delusion that he is infallible.
Eighth, focus on the Word and the lost. Churches who are well-fed are usually more content, and churches who are evangelistic have no time to major on minor issues. Keep the Word and the world on their hearts, and they will be much more easily led. As Max Lucado said, "When fisherman fish, they flourish, and when they don't, they fight."
Ninth, develop lay leadership. Use the natural units in your church (Sunday School, life groups, deacons, students, women’s ministry, etc.) as training grounds for leadership development. Organize five levels of activities that will: 1) build relationships, 2) present the gospel, 3) study the Bible, 4) develop leaders and 5) practice leadership. Just as Moses discovered that he could not do it alone, church leaders must constantly broaden their base of development and ministry sharing.
Finally, stay put. I've said it before, but this is perhaps the single greatest factor in pastoral leadership. The average tenure of a Southern Baptist pastorate is less than four years. Then the church spends six months to a year searching for a pastor. The people develop a resistance to leadership because they see no continuity and feel like they have heard it all before--and often they have because a new pastor has no regard or even knowledge of what his predecessors taught.
The strongest churches in America are those who have enjoyed continuous and strong pastoral leadership. Regardless of denomination or leadership model, the most obvious common denominator is that leaders persisted and stayed long enough to harvest the vision they planted. People trust leaders they believe will be there in the future.
Hershael W. York serves as Victor and Louise Lester Professor of Christian Preaching at Southern Seminary. He is also pastoring at Buckrun Baptist Church. This article was originally posted on York's blog: Pastorwell.com
Every pastor is called to be a theologian. This may come as a surprise to some pastors, who see theology as an academic discipline taken during seminary rather than as an ongoing and central part of the pastoral calling. Nevertheless, the health of the church depends upon its pastors functioning as faithful theologians — teaching, preaching, defending and applying the great doctrines of the faith.
—R. Albert Mohler Jr.
An opportunity for expressing the complementarity of men and women in the church is to promote women to the office of Deacon. Controversy accompanies the question of women and the office of Deacon, so the opportunity is lost in many churches. In what follows, I will present the arguments about 1 Timothy 3:11 (as referring to women Deacons or not) and propose a way this office can be promoted for greater expression of complementarianism in the church. In a companion post to follow soon, I will present the related question of what the Deacon role is.
Efesios 4 y la Descripción Sobre Cómo Debe Funcionar la Iglesia de Dios / Ephesians 4 and How It Should Function In the Church
La carta del apóstol Pablo a los Efesios representa uno de los documentos doctrinales más importantes del cristianismo. En los primeros tres capítulos Pablo explica lo maravilloso del amor y la gracia divina que nos dio vida a través de Jesucristo cuando todos estábamos muertos en nuestros pecados. En Jesús también, el Dios de toda gracia nos ha bendecido con toda bendición espiritual. Los cristianos somos adoptados en la familia de Dios, encontramos aceptación, redención, perdón, sabiduría, una herencia eterna que está garantizada por el Espíritu Santo.
- In your opinion, what are the 5 best things about the church? What would the average person in the church say is the best thing about the church?
- In your opinion, what are the 5 biggest problems in the church right now? What would the average person say is the biggest problem in the church right now?
- What has been the biggest conflict in the church in the past 5, 10, 20 years? What is the biggest conflict in the history of the church?
- Has there ever been a church split? What were the issues involved?
- In your opinion, what was the best quality about the former pastor? What was the worst quality about the former pastor?
- Who is the favorite pastor in the history of the church and why?
- Why did your previous pastor leave? How long did he serve the church? Over the last 30 years of the church how long is the pastors average tenure?
- What do you think he would say was the biggest difficulty in pastoring this church?
- What portion of church is most happy with direction the church has been going and why? What portion of the church is least happy with the direction the church has been going and why?
- How are decisions made in the church (formally and informally)? What decisions in the church demand a congregational vote?
- If I was your pastor, and wanted to change the small group (Sunday School) curriculum, would that be easy or difficult? What would be the appropriate process to do so, in your opinion? What if I wanted to change the times of the worship services?
- What was the most contentious congregational meeting (business meeting) you can remember? What was the disagreement about? How was the issue settled? What matters do you normally talk about during your congregational meetings? How often do you have them?
- What is potentially the most divisive issue in the church (practical, doctrinal, personal)?
- What caused you to be interested in me as a candidate?
David Prince serves as assistant professor of Christian preaching at Southern Seminary. Is is also the pastor of preaching and vision at Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington Ky. You can read more by David Prince at his blog: Prince on Preaching. Also follow him on Twitter at: @davideprince. This article originally appeared on his blog.
Looking for a pastorate or looking to find a pastor? Visit our Ministry Connections office to find current opportunities.
You can also follow the Ministry Connections Twitter account, @SBTS_Connect, to learn about new opportunities as they come available.
What does it take to achieve Bible Fluency? In my next two posts I will guide you through how to use a brand new free resource called Bible Fluency: Sing it, See it, Study it, found at biblefluency.com. This first post seeks to answer the question: How can I use music, visuals, and a workbook to help me learn to think my way through the Bible?
A few weeks ago, Mark Snoeberger had a post arguing that in the matter of salvation, especially the issue of regeneration, there are only two possible options, which he labeled as Calvinism and Arminianism. As might be expected, there was some push back to the idea of this two-option-only proposal. Mark also alluded to an ongoing series of blog posts on this issue titled “Why I’m Not a Calvinist…or an Arminian,” which is currently up to five parts. I would like to try and reinforce the point that Mark was making.
The real issue comes down to the question of who saves us. Does God save us, or do we, with some help from God, save ourselves? That’s rather stark, so let me expand upon that. What I mean, and what I’m trying to get at, is who is the ultimate decider in the matter of our salvation? Is God the one who ultimately decides if I end up in heaven or hell, or am I the one who ultimately decides if I end up in heaven or hell? Quickly, someone will say that both God and I decide. There is truth there, but there can be only one ultimate decider, one person who makes the final determination.
This binary choice I am insisting on is nicely captured in the U of the acronym TULIP, where the U stands for unconditional election. Grudem says, “The reason for election is simply God’s sovereign choice…. God chose us simply because he decided to bestow his love upon us. It was not because of any foreseen faith or foreseen merit in us” (Systematic Theology, 679). Calvinists of all persuasions believe in unconditional election: “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world” (Eph 1:4). God’s choosing or election of the individual to salvation is not conditioned on anything within the individual himself—thus unconditional.
The other, and the only other possibility, is conditional election, which says God’s election is conditioned on something within the individual. God is said to elect those to salvation whom he foresees will have faith in Christ. This is the viewpoint of Arminianism.
In Calvinism faith is the result of election; in Arminianism election is the result of faith. All evangelicals, whether Calvinist or Arminian, believe in salvation by grace. All agree that we are sinners and because of depravity need God’s grace: efficacious grace in the case of the Calvinist, or prevenient grace in the case of the Arminian. In Arminianism prevenient grace is given to all people, or at least to all who hear the gospel, and enables them to be saved by cooperating with God’s grace (synergism), but this prevenient grace may be rejected. Again, there are only two choices. Either God’s grace is efficacious and ultimately overcomes the individual’s depravity and brings him to faith in Christ (Calvinism), or God’s grace is just prevenient, that is, it is sufficient to overcome depravity, but the individual may reject this grace (Arminianism).
This binary choice is untenable, unthinkable for many. There must be another way, a third position (tertium quid), particularly a middle way (via media) between these two harsh extremes. But there is none. In Calvinism God ultimately chooses (unconditional election) and gives grace (efficacious) to bring the sinner to Christ. The sinner makes a real, genuine choice for Christ, but only because of God’s prior choice. God is the ultimate decider. In Arminianism the sinner cooperates with grace (prevenient) and chooses God (conditional election). In Arminianism God is not the ultimate decider. If the sinner chooses God, God must choose to save the sinner, but if sinner rejects God, God cannot choose to save the sinner. God simply ratifies whatever decision the sinner makes. God is not deciding anything. The sinner is the ultimate decider.
Both Calvinists and Arminians agree that the sinner chooses Christ. The sinner is not coerced into a decision for Christ. The major difference between Calvinism and Arminianism is what ultimately and finally causes a depraved sinner to choose Christ. Imagine Joe and Jack, identical twins, attend church together and sit together in the same pew week after week listening to the gospel being proclaimed. Maybe their hearing of the gospel goes on for many years. But Joe eventually responds to the message, receives Christ, dies, and goes to heaven. Jack rejects the message, never receives Christ, dies, and goes to hell. Why does Joe go to heaven and Jack to hell? What is different about these two similar, in many ways identical, men, who both heard the gospel over many years? Why does Joe say “Yes” and Jack say “No”? What rational person wants to go to hell?
One answer is that God chose Joe (unconditional election) and gave him grace (efficacious) that caused him to believe. He owes his salvation completely to God (monergism). Joe cannot boast in his salvation (1 Cor 1:28–29; Eph 2:8–9). This is Calvinism.
The other, and only other possible, answer is that God chose Joe because Joe chose God (conditional election). God looked down the corridors of time and saw that Joe would one day believe the gospel, so he elected Joe. But actually God did not make any independent choice. If Joe chooses God, God must choose Joe, but if Joe rejects God, God cannot choose Joe. God simply ratifies whatever choice Joe makes. Joe has the same grace (prevenient) necessary to believe the gospel as his brother Jack. According to this view, everyone who hears the gospel has the prevenient grace necessary to believe the gospel. But if that is so, how do we explain why Joe accepted the gospel and Jack rejected it? The only answer is that there is something in Joe, something superior in Joe (intelligence, merit, goodness—something) that caused him to believe—something that Joe had but Jack lacked. This difference between Joe and Jack is not due to God. God does exactly the same thing for both Joe and Jack. They had the same opportunity, the same grace (prevenient). The only conclusion that can be drawn is that in some way Joe must be better than Jack. Joe did not do it all, or most of it, but he deserves some credit. This is Arminianism.
One may not like the labels Calvinism and Arminianism and can rail against them all day long. But they historically represent the two evangelical options for the salvation of sinners. Either God is the ultimate decider: He gets all glory. Or the sinner is the ultimate decider: he deserves to share in that glory.
— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —
Even though in conditional election God does not really elect anyone—he simply ratifies the sinner’s decision—some Arminians have rejected conditional election since for them any sense of God choosing individuals for salvation is too repugnant and contrary to their concept of man’s free will, which is the animating principle behind Arminianism. They promote what they call corporate election, which insists that God does not choose individuals, but the church. But as Arminian Brian Abasciano admits: “Nevertheless, corporate election necessarily entails a type of individual election because of the inextricable connection between any group and the individuals who belong.” In other words, corporate election is a form of conditional election since membership in the elect church is conditioned upon the individual’s faith.
Roger Olson, who is probably the most prominent Arminian theologian in America, has said: “Isn’t there a ‘middle ground’ between Calvinism and Arminianism? A: No, there isn’t, not that is logically coherent. In fact, Arminianism is the middle ground between Calvinism and ‘semi-Pelagianism,’ which is the heresy (so declared by the Second Synod of Orange in 529 and all the Reformers agreed) that sinners are capable of exercising a good will toward God unassisted by God’s grace” (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogereolson/2014/07/arminianism-faq-1-everything-you-always-wanted-to-know).
Editor’s Note: This post is the first installment of what will be a multi-part series reflecting on Lenow’s recent radio discussion with Brandan Robertson, spokesperson for Evangelicals for Marriage Equality. The audio of that radio “debate” can be found here.
Words have meaning. In order to have a conversation with another human, there must be some sort of shared language by which ideas can be communicated. This language can include everything from words to sounds to non-verbal expressions. The key, however, is that it has to be a shared language. If it is not, then communication will be misunderstood or not received at all.
In my discussion with Brandan Robertson of Evangelicals for Marriage Equality (EME), our shared language was clearly the spoken English language. In that language we used terms that have easily recognized meaning. However, it became clear early on in the discussion that we were using one particular word in a different way. That word was “marriage.”
As part of the discussion, we were both asked to define marriage. On behalf of EME, Brandan said:
We do not take a single theological view on the sacrament of marriage. . . .
Civil marriage is a marriage solemnized with a civil contract by the government without a religious ceremony. It is a legal status afforded by the government to individuals who contract to live with one another and form a family unit with one another.
Let me offer a few observations about Brandan’s definition. First he used the word to define the word. He said that “civil marriage is a marriage. . . .” This is a subtle, but circular way to avoid defining a term. It exacerbates the mystery of the word because it never defines the word. If civil marriage is a marriage, then what is marriage?
Second, he inserts another similar term into the definition without offering an explanation of what he means. He says that marriage is “a legal status afforded by the government to individuals who . . . form a family unit with one another.” What is a family unit? Historically, a family unit is formed by marriage and expanded through procreation and the rearing of the next generation. In this instance, though, Brandan has excluded procreation from his definition of marriage because same-sex couples are biologically inhibited from procreation. The act of procreation requires a man and a woman. Thus, it is probably a safe assumption to say that Brandan does not believe procreation and the rearing of the next generation to be a public good of marriage. I could be wrong on this point, but it would require Brandan to offer a definition of the family unit to prove so.
Third, Brandan’s definition of marriage diminishes it to a legal status afforded by the government. Limiting marriage to a legal status actually diminishes the importance of marriage. If marriage is just a contract affording a legal status, why does the government make it so hard to get a divorce? If marriage is just a legal contract, then is it more significant than my cell phone contract? I have agreed to enter into a relationship with AT&T for cell phone service, but breaking that contract is relatively easy by comparison. Even if EME only want to talk about civil marriage, there should be recognition that marriage is much more than simply a contract that grants a legal status.
Fourth, even though Brandan and EME claim no single theological position on marriage, they are still making theological commitments. In their very name and the words of their statement of beliefs, they declare that Bible-believing Christians should support marriage for same-sex couples. This requires at least two theological commitments. First, it requires that one not view homosexual behavior as a sin. If it were a sin, like any other sin we read about in Scripture, Christians should not encourage and support others in the practice of that sin. Second, it requires a hermeneutical commitment to prioritizing experience over Scripture. EME constantly returns to the refrain of justice or fairness. However, such calls are based upon personal experience, not the Word of God. In a future post, I will work out a biblical understanding of justice that demonstrates that these current calls for justice come from a weak theological perspective of God’s attribute of justice.
In contrast to Brandan’s definition of marriage, when asked to give my own definition, I said:
Marriage is a comprehensive union of a man and a woman in an exclusive, monogamous, covenant relationship designed to endure for a lifetime and directed toward the rearing of the next generation.
As I mentioned on the radio, there is no fear on my part admitting that my definition of marriage flows from a theological context. I believe we can see all these elements of marriage in Genesis 2. I also believe my definition is consistent with Jesus’ teaching about marriage in Matthew 19 and Mark 10 and Paul’s teaching on marriage in 1 Corinthians 7 and Ephesians 5.
In addition, I also believe that my definition of marriage is consistent with the government’s civil understanding of marriage. Marriage laws in civil society have historically limited marriage to a relationship between one man and one woman. The relationship is considered to be on-going until death unless the individuals take legal action to end it. Marriage laws limit the age and consanguinity relationships of those who can get married in large part due to legal consent and procreation. All of these limitations are consistent with my definition of marriage. I believe my definition actually offers a more robust understanding of marriage even from a civil perspective.
Even civil marriage is much more than Brandan offered in his definition. But as an evangelical, I also declare from the rooftops that marriage is not simply a civil ordinance—it is a creation ordinance instituted by God. Since God is the one who created it, he is the one who has the right to set the parameters. I, for one, am not ashamed to admit that.