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Thursday, May 28, 2015

Hills to Die On

Many of us like to debate theology in a friendly fashion over meals together.  But how do we know which hills are really worth dying on?  How do we know which issues should move beyond friendly debate to true contending for the faith?
Historically, there have been a few things that believers have considered when trying to address this question.  The first: is the issue directly related to the gospel?  The Protestant Reformation represents one of the most serious of theological hills in that it was largely based upon the struggle for the doctrine of salvation by grace alone through faith alone.  The Catholic church had adulterated the gospel to the point that believers of conscience could no longer stand idly by.  They fought for the gospel and that fight changed the course of history.

A few years back, there was a sustained assault on the doctrine of substitutionary atonement in some of the more liberal pockets of the church.  Conservative evangelicals rightly recognized that this doctrine was foundational to the gospel itself, and they contended for their all against the liberals.  I have ten books on my shelves spanning a mere five-year period, all written specifically to address the crisis.  The truth won out and those questioning the atonement are correctly considered outside the camp of orthodoxy today.  We should follow in the footsteps of those who have come before us by contending for any essential component of the gospel.

A second question to consider when determining whether a hill is worth dying on is, does this issue directly impact our view of Scripture?  From the turn of the 20th century to the late 1970’s, the Southern Baptist Convention saw a steady decline in inerrantism in the leadership of the denomination.  Conservatives, unwilling to turn a blind eye on this most important of doctrines, waged a steady campaign from the late 70’s to the early 90’s to re-establish inerrantism as an essential position of the denomination.  We, too, should be willing to die on any hill related to the nature of Scripture. 

A third question: does this pertain to the nature of the Godhead?  Most of the theological controversies of the early church surrounded the orthodox understanding of the members of the Trinity.  This is why all of the early creeds are so heavy on the deity of Christ – they fought long and hard to win that theological battle.  We should be willing to stand anytime there is a movement in the church to downgrade a member of the Trinity from our biblical and historically orthodox understanding of them.

We could say that there are a good many hills to die on out there.  Most of them have already been fought before, but they will undoubtedly need to be fought again.  As we have seen with the crises about the atonement and biblical inerrancy, we can never consider these issues completely resolved, never to be fought again.  Others will come in the future to challenge these essential doctrines and we must always be ready to contend for them as did earlier generations.

At the same time, we need to extend great grace to one another on issues not closely related to these more central issues.  For example, the church has not engaged in sustained, strenuous debate over doctrines such as eschatology or the charismata.  No one has been anathematized for holding to post-millennialism.  It is not that these areas have not been debated at all over the course of church history.  It is simply that they have not received great attention as doctrines essential to the faith.  For that reason, while we are free to debate these things, we should keep them in their proper place, reserving our greatest energy and attention for what the church has long considered first-tier doctrines.

This subject prompts me to consider how strong our stance should be on a couple of issues receiving much attention and energy today: homosexuality and homosexual marriage.  Should we consider these things hills to die on?  Should we be willing to partner with churches that perform same-sex marriages?  Should we be willing to partner with churches that ordain homosexual pastors?  That’s what we’ll consider next time. 

Until then consider: are you currently making a stand on a hill that is not essential?  Conversely, are you falling down on a hill that is essential?

Friday, May 22, 2015

Ungodly Motives for Obedience

In the message on Sunday, we looked at the truth that motive matters.  When we obey, it matters why we are obeying, for our motive is the basis on which our works will be judged on the last day (1 Cor 3:10-15, cf 1 Cor 4:5).  If the fire reveals godly motives, we will receive our commendation from God.

We also looked briefly at a number of godly motives endorsed by Scripture.  These included:

-       the desire to please God (2 Cor 5:9; 1 Thess 2:4, 4:1; 2 Tim 2:4; Heb 11:5-6)
-       the desire to have a clear conscience (Acts 24:16; 1 Tim 1:5, 1:19; 2 Tim 1:3)
-       the desire to be a vessel for noble use (2 Tim 2:19-22, cf 1 Tim 4:12)
-       the desire for others to come to know the Lord through our godly example and witness (Titus 1:10-2:15; 1 Peter 3:1-2)
-       the desire to receive temporal blessings from God (1 Peter 3:9-12; cf Phil 4:9;John 15:10-11)
-       the desire to avoid the Lord’s chastening (Heb 12:3-11, cf Acts 5:1-11; 1 Tim 5:20;2 Cor 5:11, 7:1; Eph 4:30; Phil 2:12)
-       the desire for greater heavenly reward (1 Cor 3:10-15; Matt 6:19-21; Luke 19:17-19;2 Cor 5:9-10; 2 Tim 4:6-8; 1 Pet 5:4)

In this post, I’d like to consider a few ungodly motives mentioned or depicted in Scripture.  The first is the desire to earn man’s approval.  Sometimes this is referred to as the fear of man.  Essentially, this is obedience that comes from a desire to impress others or to please people. 

A couple of weeks ago in our study of the first verses of Matthew 23, we noted that this is the desire that motivated the scribes and Pharisees.  Jesus said of them, “They do all their deeds to be seen by others” (Matt 23:5).  He then described how they loved to be exalted before men.  In other words, their obedience was all about their own exaltation. 

This desire to please men stands in direct opposition to the desire to please God.  It is impossible to be motivated by both at the same time.  In John 12:42-43, we’re told that some Jews believed in Jesus but were afraid to confess Him before others because “they loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God.  Similarly, Paul noted the opposition of these two desires when he wrote, If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ (Gal 1:10). 

We are frequently guilty of the desire to please men.  This is what stands behind our tendency to wear masks in front of other Christians.  We behave in more “godly” ways at church than we do in private because we want others to think more highly of us.  We want others to believe that we have it all together.  We want man’s approval.

And what can be expected by those who obey for this reason?  Jesus told us in Matt 6.  Regarding the hypocrites who do their acts of righteousness to be seen by others, Jesus said repeatedly, “They have received their reward” (Matt 6:2, 5, 16).  Lest we miss the personal application, He said, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven” (Matt 6:1).  In that chapter, the Lord uses the Jewish leaders as examples.  They were not saved, so they received no reward whatsoever.  However, it is possible for believers to obey for the same reason, therefore, according to 1 Cor 3-4, they will be saved, but will receive no commendation from God for those works on the last day. 

Another ungodly motive for obedience is envy and rivalry.  Paul told the believers at Philippi that his imprisonment was resulting in the greater spread of the gospel.  He noted that many were moved to speak the truth due to his imprisonment, but for different deeper motivations: Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will.  The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel.  The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment (Phil 1:15-17).

This motive is similar to the previous one in that they both are inherently self-exalting, yet envy/rivalry has the added component of wishing to gain at the expense of others.  It seems that these people mentioned by Paul wanted to hurt him.  How their preaching the gospel would have accomplished this is not clear, however, it is possible that they assumed Paul shared the same motive, that is to elevate himself above others through ministry.  They may have seen his imprisonment as an opportunity to overshadow his reputation as an effective servant of the Lord.  They wanted what he had – a good reputation among believers.  And they weren’t content merely to share it with him, but they wanted to take it from him.

Are we ever motivated in this way?  Certainly.  We can have a tinge of envy when we see someone else serving in a capacity that we desire.  It is especially strong when the other person is receiving recognition for that service.  I’ve heard people in music ministry confess such a motive.  I’ve heard preachers and teachers confess the same thing.  We want what that other person has – both the ministry position and the reputation that goes along with it.  Works done for this motive will not survive the fire.

Another ungodly motive for obedience is the desire to earn our salvation.  This is one that is easy for us to dismiss because we believe in salvation by grace through faith in Christ.  We may think it is a motive only shared by those who do not believe in the perseverance of the saints or who actually believe that salvation is by works.  However, it is quite possible for us to live in a way that does not coincide with the theology that we say we believe.

Two New Testament books come to mind when I think about the temptation to introduce works as a basis for our salvation.  Galatians and Colossians both address the heresy of adding things to the work of Christ as a basis for acquiring or maintaining our right standing before God.  Paul calls this a “different gospel” (Gal 1:6-7).  This heresy taught that you need faith in Christ and other outward works in order to be saved. 

To this, Paul responded: Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?...Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith…? (Gal 3:2-5).  The clear message is that salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone.

We would all deny the legitimacy of works as a basis for salvation, yet many of us live as if our performance either acquires or maintains our salvation.  We obey hoping that God will love us more.  When we disobey, we believe that God loves us less.  In a way, this motive for obedience is similar to the others in that it elevates self – it says that I and not Jesus determine my standing before God.  For this reason, it’s possible that this motive is the most offensive to God – it degrades the work of Jesus on the cross.

The reason that this motive is so difficult to avoid is that the NT does repeatedly call us to obey.  It does describe the necessity of good works on the last day (Matt 7:15-23, 12:33-37, 25:31-46; John5:28-29, 15:8; Acts 26:20; 2 Pet 1:5-11; Rev 20:11-15).  Many wrongly assume that this means good works are in some sense the basis for our salvation.  But a biblical understanding is that good works are the outward evidence of an internal by-grace-through-faith salvation.  The basis of our salvation, both our receiving and retaining of it, is the finished work of Jesus Christ.  Works are the outward evidence that this has taken place.  It takes great discipline to think rightly about these things and the most effective way to do so is to rehearse the gospel everyday, understanding that works are the result of salvation not the cause of it.  As with other ungodly motives, works done for the purpose of earning salvation will not survive the fire on the last day. 

It is quite possible and even common to do good things for wrong reasons. Let’s continue to consider the reasons we do the things we do.  And may the Lord bless us this Sunday as Pastor Rick teaches us how we can grow in that greatest of all godly motives – love for God.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

A "Christian" Attack on Complementarianism

I saw an article yesterday entitled, “‘Bible-Believing’ Pastors and the Enabling of Domestic Violence.”  Of course, the provocative title piqued my interest and I read the article.  In it, the author tells of a conversation he had with a self-proclaimed ‘Bible-believing Christian’ pastor whose daughter was trapped in an abusive marriage.  The author (who identifies himself as a Christian on another website), after confirming that the pastor raised his daughter to believe in complementarianism, identified complementarianism as the reason the woman was in this situation.  In other words, the author asserted that believing in biblical complementarianism led to this woman being in an abusive marriage.

The reason I bring this up is that as the culture becomes more and more anti-Christian, we can expect to hear more self-professing Christians condemn biblical Christianity.  It is essential for us to be able to spot the errors in their thinking so that we are not persuaded to abandon the truth in favor of ‘plausible arguments’ (Col 2:4).  So I would encourage you to read the original article and look for problems in the argument, then come back here and consider some of them with me.

First, the author seems to believe that modern liberal “Christians” are the first ones to have understood the Bible correctly on the issue of marriage.  He writes that the phrase “Bible-believing Christian” is “code for the kind of anti-gay, anti-science, anti-women, anti-thinking Christian who ruins Christianity.”  One might assume, based solely on this article, that the author rejects the Bible altogether.  However, in his other writings, it does appear that he believes the Bible in some sense.  He simply has a completely different way of reading the relevant biblical texts, the plain reading of which has lead inevitably to complementarianism for the first 2,000 years of the church. 

If his is the right understanding of biblical teaching on marriage, are we to believe that for 2,000 years Christians have been wrong?  Modern liberals are the first to understand the Bible rightly?  This is arrogant and makes no sense.  It is far more reasonable to believe that cultural pressure, not the biblical text itself, has led to an alternate reading of these clear biblical passages.

Second, he misunderstands and therefore mischaracterizes biblical complementarianism.  He equates submission with inferiority by characterizing the command for a wife to submit to her husband as being synonymous with “you were born inferior…”  In this, he demonstrates a shallow understanding of the theology that undergirds complementarianism.  Complementarianism is not a first-century, culturally-specific concept.  It is a timeless one rooted in the creation narrative, the gospel, and the relationships within the Trinity. 

Genesis 1-2 shows that the gender-roles in marriage taught in the New Testament are rooted in the creation account.  Gen 1:27 teaches that God created male and female in the image of God.  They are both God’s image-bearers, which indicates that they are equal before God.  True complementarianism affirms this.  Gen 2 shows that God ordained different roles for the husband and wife in marriage.  (To learn more about this, read this article, paying close attention to the NT cross-references.  Many of the NT passages that teach complementarianism ground it in the events of Gen 2.)  According to Genesis there is no contradiction between equality before God and differences in authority within marriage.

Likewise, Ephesians 5:22-33 affirms that gender roles in marriage are timeless in that it relates the authority structure within marriage to the gospel.  The wife submits to the husband as the church submits to Christ.  The husband lovingly leads his wife as Christ lovingly leads the church.  If complementarianism were a culturally-specific concept, we would also have to say that the church is no longer required to submit to Christ.  This is a ludicrous notion.  Paul teaches in that passage that one of the purposes of complementarianism in marriage is to point people toward the gospel. 

Further, New Testament teaching regarding the nature of the relationships in the Trinity indicates that complementarianism is not only timeless, but that submission does not equate to inferiority.  In 1Cor 11:3 we find that the husband is the head of the wife in the same way that the Father is the head of Christ.  Jesus Himself repeatedly affirmed His submission to the Father (John 4:32-33; 6:38;8:28-29), yet the Scriptures also clearly teach the Jesus is fully God (John1:1-4; 20:25-28; Col 2:9; Heb 1:1-12; Isa 40:3, cf Matt 3:3).  Submission does not equal inferiority.  And that this relationship of authority and submission exists within the Trinity eternally, 1 Cor 11:3 would indicate that this is a permanent component of biblical marriage.

The author misunderstands complementarianism, but also mischaracterizes it when he uses the word “subservient,” a word not used in the biblical exhortations to submit to authority.  His use of this word may stem from his equation of submission with inferiority.  But the idea of a woman taking a beating from her husband while keeping her mouth shut is a gross caricature of biblical complementarianism, not an even remotely honest depiction of it.

Third, the idea that complementarianism results in spousal abuse should lead us to wonder how the author would account for spousal abuse in egalitarian marriages.  Surely he would admit that spousal abuse takes place in both contexts.  How can this be if complementarianism is the breeding ground for domestic violence?  

Also, how does the author account for the countless complementarian marriages where there is no spousal abuse?  If complementarianism is inherently misogynistic and “anti-women,” shouldn’t we expect to find abuse in most if not all marriages committed to complementarianism? 

Fourth, both the author and the pastor he quotes believe that high self-esteem is a positive thing.  That alone indicates that he has an errant worldview.  I’ve written and said much about this over the years, so I don’t want to repeat all of that here.  If you’re interested in the subject, here is an article to consider.  We all suffer from high self-esteem and low God-esteem, which is our fundamental problem.

Which leads to the fifth problem with the article.  The author seems to believe that this woman’s main problem is complementarian teaching, which leads to low self-esteem, which leads to the danger of spousal abuse.  The real reason spousal abuse exists, whether in a complementarian marriage or an egalitarian marriage, is because wives and husbands marry unrepentant sinners.  Yet, by attacking “Bible-believing” theology and complementarianism, the author jettisons the only existing remedy for sin – the biblical gospel. 

All people are born bent toward rebellion against God.  For this reason, they deserve His eternal condemnation.  But God sent His Son into the world to live a perfect life on behalf of sinners and to die a sinner’s death on behalf of sinners.  Though He knew no sin, He became sin that man might become the righteousness of God.  Anyone who repents of sin and trusts in Christ is freed from his bondage to sin, forgiven, given the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, and made co-heirs with Christ of all the blessings in the heavenly places.  This alone is God’s remedy for sin – not egalitarian philosophy or high self-esteem.  Without Christ, without the biblical gospel, there is no hope.

This is the true heart of “Bible-believing” Christianity.  We believe in the gospel because we believe the Bible.  We are complementarians because we believe the Bible. 

Bible-believing Christians are increasingly under attack, not only from the openly secular world, but also from some who claim to be Christians.  I encourage you to intentionally view every article, every book, every news story, every item on social media from a biblical worldview.  Just because someone says that they are a Christian does not mean that you can trust what they say or that they have a truly biblical worldview.  The article I read had extremely obvious logical and biblical errors in it.  Not every article is like that.  We must have keen eyes and minds saturated with biblical truth.

Sermon Excerpt Regarding Gender Roles in Marriage

The following is an excerpt from a sermon given prior to our men's leadership training.  It is posted here as a supplement to the following blog article.

Here are five reasons to believe that it was God’s pre-Fall design for man to lead his family.  First, the man was created before the woman. Look with me at Genesis 2:7.  It reads, “then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed in his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.”  The woman was not created until vv21-22.
And it may seem like we’re making something out of nothing here.  “Big deal if he was created first.  Does that mean that he has authority over the woman?”  Yes, it does.  It does because the NT says it does.  In 1 Timothy 2:11-13, Paul confirms that the order of creation is a significant indication of God’s plan for male leadership of the family. There Paul requires that women “learn quietly with all submissiveness,” not exercising authority over a man. One of the reasons given for that command is that “Adam was formed first, then Eve.”
Additionally, the significance of birth order throughout the Bible and especially in Genesis would indicate that the order of creation is important.  In a sense, man was the firstborn of the two, therefore, he was given the right and responsibility of leadership in the family.
 Second, that male spiritual leadership was God’s original design follows from the fact that God gave his very first commandment to the man. This is recorded in Genesis 2:16-17, which reads: “And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, ‘You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.’” It is likely the case that the man then gave instruction to the woman regarding this law.  How do we know?  She was able in 3:3 to quote the law and the consequences for breaking it.
Adam’s reception of God’s law and subsequent instruction to his wife is similar to Moses’ reception of the law and later instruction to Israel in Exodus. God gave the law directly to Moses in Exodus 20-31 both orally and in the form of the two stone tablets and commanded Moses to teach it to the people (Deut 4:14). Moses then obeyed, passing the law on to the people beginning in Exodus 35.  Moses’ reception of the law carried the automatic responsibility to convey that law to the people of God.
That this same responsibility applies to the relationship between a husband and wife seems to be validated by Paul in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35a, which reads: “The women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home.”
Here, Paul connects the woman’s role of submission to the role of learning from her husband. This implies that the headship and submission roles of marriage include the tasks of teaching and learning, respectively. It could be argued then that male headship and female submission are indicated by man’s reception of the law of God in Gen 2 and his subsequent passing of that law to the woman.
Third, that male spiritual leadership in the home was God’s design before the Fall is indicated in that God made the woman for the man.  Look at Genesis 2:18 with me.  It reads, “Then the LORD God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make a helper fit for him.’”  The word “helper” in this context suggests that while the man and woman are dependent upon one another, the man has “authority.” 
 Is that interpretation validated elsewhere in Scripture?  Yes, it is in 1 Corinthians 11:9, where Paul notes that man was not created for woman, “but woman for man.” He asserts this in support of the notion that wives are under the authority of their husbands. 
Fourth, it is clear that God intended male spiritual leadership in the home because the woman was made from the man.  Look at Genesis 2:21-22.  It reads, “So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man.”  Again, 1 Corinthians 11 provides the divine perspective on this.  Paul teaches that the “head of a wife is her husband” (11:3) and that “woman is the glory of man” (11:7). He supports this point by noting that “man was not made from woman, but woman from man” (11:8).
 Fifth, that man named woman indicates that male spiritual leadership was God’s design from the beginning.  After God had created the woman from the rib taken from the man’s side and brought the woman to the man, the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man” (Gen 2:23).
 Later, in 3:20 the man “called his wife’s name Eve.” This two-fold naming of the woman implies man’s authority over the woman. “In ancient times, the authority to name implied authority to govern.”  That the initial naming of the woman took place before the Fall in Genesis 3 indicates that it was God’s original design for man to assume the role of spiritual leader with the wife as his submissive helper.
Each of these features of the Genesis 2 narrative reveals a clear difference of role between the man and the woman. From the beginning man was called to bear the responsibility of headship, while the wife was called to be the man’s perfectly suitable helper.  This was intended to be the normal relationship between the man and the wife. Male spiritual leadership in the home is God’s ideal.  This is what God wants in our homes.  This is what He calls us to.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

More Important Reminders Regarding Spiritual Leadership

Last week, we reviewed a few of the principles we covered in the men’s spiritual leadership boot camp.  Keeping these things in front of us is a necessity if we are going to continue practicing the disciplines essential for spiritual leadership in our homes.  As the men’s breakfast approaches (at which we will take the follow-up survey), lets consider the rest of the main principles.
Remember how crucial it is to understand how sanctification works so that we can pursue godliness and lead our families to do the same.  Remember that understanding the gospel is central to understanding sanctification. God is holy (Lev19:2); Man is sinful (Rom 3:10-18,23); God is wrathful (Rom 1:18, 2:5); Man is doomed (Matt 7:19; Rom 6:23); God is gracious (Eph 2:4-10); Christ was given (John 3:16; Gal 4:4-5); God was satisfied (Rom 3:25-26); I am redeemed (Eph 1:7; Col 1:13-14).
Have you spent any time recently meditating on these truths? The gospel gives us the right power, motive, and desire to change. Therefore, true sanctification cannot happen in isolation from the truths contained in the gospel.  If we would lead our families to grow in their knowledge of Jesus and in Christlikeness, we must be men of the gospel.  This begins with saturating ourselves with it, so that we might saturate our families with it. 
Remember that the Bible calls us to actively strive in the power of the gospel to kill sin and put on godly living.  The Holy Spirit uses the warnings and exhortations of the New Testament to spur us on to holiness.  Sanctification involves God working in us and us working out our own salvation (Phil 2:12-13).  We do this by using the resources He has given us to put off sin and put on righteousness.
Have you been actively putting to death the deeds of the flesh according to the plan of attack we discovered together?  Is there a particular sin you are regularly putting off and replacing with the opposing godly virtue?  Remember that we must be experts on this kind of spiritual battle if we are going to lead our families in the fight.  The best way to learn how to fight is to engage in it ourselves.
Remember the importance of leading our families in regular times of devotion.  It is our responsibility to establish the Lord as the sole object of worship in our homes (“As for me and my house, we will serve the LORD” Joshua 24:15).  There is no more important way to do this than to actually worship Him together there.  Family devotions are an indispensable component of leading our families to worship God alone.
Have you continued this practice?  Are you regularly seeking to point your family to the Lord?  Remember that the Bible commands formal instruction and it assumes that regular devotion takes place there.  It doesn’t have to be a major production requiring hours of preparation.  Simply reading the Word and praying together is extremely valuable.
Remember that it is our joy and responsibility to evangelize and disciple each individual in the family.  God doesn’t save families, but individuals. It is not a certainty that all members of the family will trust the Lord at an early age or at all. Likewise, not all members of the family will journey toward Christlikeness at the same rate.  We must know where every member of the family is on the journey toward justification and sanctification so that we can provide individual help along the way.
Have you continued to give individual attention to the spiritual needs of your wife and kids?  If asked, could you describe what is weighing on the heart of each of them?  If asked, could you describe how you are helping them?  Remember that we literally have nothing better to do than to shepherd our families.  It is part and parcel of our own devotion to the Lord. 

Please make every effort to attend the men’s breakfast on May 16 at 7am at the church.  It will be a great time of fellowship and spiritual refreshment.  May the Lord use it to stir up us all to love and good works and to greater faithfulness in leading our families.  I hope to see you all there.  (Again, please RSVP to Ted Knecht [] so that we will know how much food to prepare.)