One Way that Christians should not Speak of Spiritual Warfare

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I can imagine a scenario where a Christian is in some sort of conflict. Things are getting heated and as the Christian works through things internally, he then turns to the matter of spiritual warfare. It is painful to apologize, and it is painful to critique oneself, and so this Christian chalks up the conflict to a matter of spiritual warfare. It is not so much that he is wrong about the spiritual warfare part of things, but he has skipped through the whole process of self-analysis and learning from the conflicts of life. Similarly, he might be focusing on the external nature of the spiritual warfare of the Christian life, meanwhile avoiding the internal aspect of the spiritual warfare of the Christian life.

What is spiritual warfare? The Apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 6:12–13: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.” Spiritual warfare, Biblically defined, is that wrestling against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Screwtape Letters, by CS Lewis, is a good book to read on this matter.

Spiritual warfare consists of both internal and external warfare. The spiritual forces attack the Christian internally, in the sense that they seek to undermine the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control. The spiritual forces will also attack through external pressures, such deceptive friends, compromising family, etc. The same would go for the church. The spiritual forces of evil will attack both from within and without. 

At least one corpus of teaching in the Christian Church, the Heidelberg Catechism, puts it this way: “Moreover, our sworn enemies – the devil, the world, and our own flesh – do not cease to attack us.” Ephesians 6:10-13, would be referring primarily to the attacks of the devil. The world refers primarily to those who do not love God. Our own flesh, refers to that tendency within our own human nature that is inclined to hate God. In our war with the spiritual forces of evil, Satan employs all these things to drag us down. 

But as the Apostle Paul points out in Eph. 6:10-13, we cannot claim to be the victim of the spiritual forces of evil. In fact we are given the way of escape: “Be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might” (Eph. 6:10). Only when we are in the Lord can we stand. We are given the full armor of God so that we can stand (Eph. 6:11). In the process of growing in holiness, the Christian is given a command, is given the responsibility, to utilize the whole armor of God. As the following verses indicate, it is more important to be equipped with truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, faith, salvation, the word of God, prayer, than to intellectually assent to all the ins and outs of the ordo salutis. This can only be done in union with Christ: be strong in the Lord.

Christians can and should talk about spiritual warfare and God gives us this category to analyze the struggles of the Christian life. King David does this as well in many of the Psalms. But King David also says in Psalm 139:23–24: “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” He is not only fighting the spiritual warfare of the Christian life with the spiritual forces of evil around him, but he is also at war with he spiritual forces of evil that are at work to deceive him. He does not want to deceive himself with true words that are wrongly applied.

This is the nature of the Christian life. We are at war. We must ask God that He would not let us go down to defeat. And this war often starts within.

 

Baptism is Warfare

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“Do you renounce the devil and all his works, the vain pomp and glory of the world and all sinful lusts of the flesh?” This is one of the questions that commonly shows up in baptismal liturgies of the early church. This was asked when new converts would come up for baptism. Baptism is no light matter.

“The subjects of baptism are all the covenanted, whether they are truly such or are regarded as probably on account of external calling and profession of faith and communion with the believers, without any distinction of  sex, nation and age.” (Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Vol. 3, 383) In light of this, then would this baptismal vow apply to those who are baptized in infancy? Turretin also writes about baptism with regards to repentance: “Baptism is called the sacrament of repentance; not because it requires that beforehand in everyone to be baptized, but because it binds the baptized to the desire of it, whether in the present (when they are capable of it) or in the future” (Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Vol. 3, 419).

I have heard a number of people tell me that it would be helpful if all young people in Reformed churches could see the baptism of a new convert to Christianity just so that they can understand the full weight of what their baptism calls them too. To see a new Christian make a drastic change from past ways, to defy the works of darkness, to renounce the kingdom of darkness, is an important reminder that Christ has brought us from out of the kingdom of darkness and into the kingdom of Christ (Col. 1:13). This involves a necessary rejection of the patterns of sin. Baptism is warfare.

Of course, no matter what the age, nation, or sex of the one being baptized, the call is to fight. John the Baptist was a man of God, and it seems that he had already undergone a transformation already in his mother’s womb, seeing as he leapt for joy when he heard Mary’s greeting (Lk. 1:41). The Apostle Paul calls on young children in the Church of Ephesus to be faithful in how they honor their parents (Eph. 6:1-3), just as he calls on the young children in the church of Colossae to obey their parents (Col. 3:20). More broadly, they were included in the exhortations to the Christian communities in the New Testament. Indeed, children are called upon to renounce the devil and all his works, the vain pomp and glory of the world and all sinful lusts of the flesh.

How often do we conceive of baptism in this dynamic language? Even Reformed people can fall into the trap of waiting for children in the covenant community to come to a moment of decision or a drastic conversion. But life is conversion. Consider the language of Canons of Dort 3.11:

But when God accomplishes His good pleasure in the elect or works in them true conversion, He not only causes the gospel to be externally preached to them and powerfully illuminates their mind by His Holy Spirit, that they may rightly understand and discern the things of the Spirit of God; but by the efficacy of the same regenerating Spirit, pervades the inmost recesses of the man; He opens the closed, and softens the hardened heart, and circumcises that which was uncircumcised, infuses new qualities into the will, which though heretofore dead, He quickens; from being evil, disobedient, and refractory, He renders it good, obedient, and pliable; actuates and strengthens it, that like a good tree, it may bring forth the fruits of good actions.

The weightiness of this black and white difference between living in the kingdom of darkness and the kingdom of Christ must be impressed upon children as well from the youngest age. When they see other little girls and boys being baptized and ask what it means, they must be reminded who they are and who Christ is. They must also rest in the work of Christ and His Spirit in transforming dirty hearts. They must ask for the Spirit to resist the temptations of the kingdom of darkness. This baptism then really does bind them to repentance.

“Do you renounce the devil and all his works, the vain pomp and glory of the world and all sinful lusts of the flesh?” This is an important question to ask. Not only for the one who is preparing for baptism, but also for the one who is already baptized. Not only does the call of the gospel and knowing Christ go out to them, but they are in fact bound to respond in faith and trust. To reject such a serious call that goes out in the baptism of a Christian is then to incur a greater judgement (Heb. 10:26-31).

The answer of every Christian child, the answer of every Christian adult should be: “Yes! I renounce the devil and all his works, the vain pomp and glory of the world and all the sinful lusts of the flesh.” Or as we confess in LD 52 of the Heidelberg Catechism when explaining what it means to pray “lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one”:

That is: In ourselves we are so weak that we cannot stand even for a moment. Moreover, our sworn enemies – the devil, the world, 3 and our own flesh 4 – do not cease to attack us. Will you, therefore, uphold and strengthen us by the power of your Holy Spirit, so that in this spiritual war we may not go down to defeat, but always firmly resist our enemies, until we finally obtain the complete victory.

Baptism is a call to warfare.

 

The Christian Discipline of Humor

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Not many would immediately think of humor as a discipline of the Christian life. The Christian disciplines traditionally involve disciplines such as prayer, Bible reading, suffering, cultivating the fruits of the Spirit, etc. But what about Christian humor which at times is responded to by and expressed in the laughter that rings out in the Christian home, church or school?

Martin Luther, the German theologian, preacher and Reformer, once said: “The gospel is nothing less than laughter and joy.” Which brings us to the necessity of defining terms. We are speaking here of Christian humor or gospel-shaped humor. The act of Christian humor is then directed down the channels of the Apostle Paul’s words in Phil. 4:8: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

While Sarah mocked God’s promise to Abraham of a son with laughter (Gen. 18:12), her son is named Isaac, which means ‘laughter’. An ironic twist on sinful laughter. While there is the laugh of unbelief, it is often turned over on its head into belief.

In the Book of Proverbs, the wise man exhorts those listening to have a merry heart, which is good medicine (Prov. 17:22). In the Book of Ecclesiastes, the wise man commends joy in the middle of the vapor of human existence (Ecc. 8:15). In Psalm 126, the fact that the Lord brings his people out of exile, brings joyful laughter to their mouths and shouts of joy to their tongues. Elijah uses irony when mocking the Baals (I K 18:27) and Isaiah uses it when mocking the making of idols (Isaiah 44:12-19). When looking upon the futile attempts of the nations to stop the advance of God’s redemption in history, Psalm 2:4 states that the Lord Himself sits in the heavens and laughs.

I could discuss examples of Christian humor in depth, but the point of this post is to address the fact that there is a Christian discipline of developing humor. It is also linked into the other Christian virtues. Humility means that I can laugh at myself. Love for my neighbor means that laughter should also be unselfish, it should also consider my neighbor and how he/she will respond positively or negatively to my laughter. At times, joy will express itself in laughter. Peace of soul will express itself in a Christian humor that is not consumed by anger and dissonance. Humor is shaped and molded by prayer and Scripture reading as we gain a view of the world and ourselves that is shaped by the clarity of the Scriptures.

The great theologian and philosopher, Thomas Aquinas, once wrote: “It is requisite for the relaxation of the mind that we make use, from time to time, of playful deeds and jokes.” A humor-filled view of the world that is shaped by Scripture, gets our minds off of ourselves. We become small while God becomes great. Through the pain and suffering of human existence, we see something of the sparkle and the crackle of the way that God intended things to be, and we see the kingdom of God break into the darkness of the world.

William Gurnall once wrote: “Hope fills the afflicted soul with such inward joy and consolation, that it can laugh while tears are in the eye, sigh and sing all in a breath; it is called ‘The rejoicing of hope.'” Hope inspires Christian laughter and humor in the middle of human suffering. Out of the fires of human suffering, we see the crackle and spark and the flashes of human joy, which remind us that we have been made for a better world.

Laughter is warfare. Christian humor is warfare. This is not hollow laughter, empty laughter, or wicked laughter. It is simply the deep belly-laugh of a Christian who is aware of the gospel and forgiveness and the love and kindness of the Father. It is a discipline which should be developed as the Christian comes to a greater awareness of how great God is and how small we are.


LGBTQ…C?

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Can you be a gay Christian? As debates over sexuality rage in North America, these debates start coming into strongly evangelical and Reformed denominations. It is interesting to see Christians point the finger at each other, because undoubtedly you can be sure that this debate is coming to a church near you. Satan doesn’t care about denomination, his sole goal is to undermine faithful churches. We must remember this as well in defending the truth about how the gospel transforms sexuality. The Apostle Paul warns the church in Corinth: “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” (I Cor. 10:12)

Nevertheless, the truth does need to be defended. What has been happening in Reformed and evangelical churches in the last 10 years, is an effort to redefine terms. Sure, even the most conservative Reformed and evangelical churches are not beyond criticism in their dealings. But I don’t think that is the point here. The point is a way of speaking and a type of language that is being promoted. I agree with the report from the CREC churches, that while patient pastoral care should be promoted, “any teaching that combines LGBTQ identity with identity in Christ is completely unbiblical.” Of course, if a teaching is not Biblical then it is also not pastoral. 

This really is the debate of our time. It is a debate over identity. One minister who is at the center of this debate in Reformed and evangelical churches is Pastor Greg Johnson. He has taken up this debate in the Presbyterian Churches of America. He is a major voice in the Revoice conferences and at the last General Assembly of the PCA. I simply want to reflect on what he is saying. In particular, I want to focus on what he is saying about identity.

Following the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of America, he tweeted that his “conflict is with Nashville Statement article 7”, not with his “fathers and brothers”. So what does Nashville Statement, Article 7, say about identity? Here the Nashville Statement affirms “that self-conception as male and female should be defined by God’s holy purposes in creation and redemption as revealed in Scripture.” They deny “that adopting a homosexual or trans-gender self-conception is consistent with God’s holy purposes in creation and redemption.”

I am genuinely interested in what his fight with article 7 is. Notice the language that is used in article 7 of the Nashville Statement, that the sense of identity in homosexuality or trans-gender is not consistent with God’s holy purposes in creation and redemption. Notice that the article does not deny the struggle with this fallen world. Like the CREC Statement, the Nashville Statement will not back down on God’s written norm for sexuality: “The CREC affirms the Bible’s teaching on the creation of man and woman and the establishment of the marriage relationship as only between one man and one woman. There are two sexes, male and female. We stand against all attempts to confuse the Bible’s clear teaching in this area.”

The Apostle Paul’s conception of the Christian identity is pretty straightforward. He states in II Cor. 5:17: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” This is the only logic that makes sense to me. Let’s say a pastor struggles with SSA, let’s say a young man in the church is struggling with homosexual temptation. To conceive of one’s own identity as being rooted in the fallen creation really would then be militantly opposed to the pattern of the gospel. On the other hand, to recognize the power of the sinful nature and the need to fight would be to recognize the struggle against sin in a fallen creation. And then to rest in an identity that is found in Christ and fight in Christ would be to live the gospel boldly and faithfully in a fallen world. But it cannot be both an identity in Christ and an identity in sin. Again, the Apostle Paul simply speaks the gospel in Gal. 2:20: ” I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

I have yet to be convinced that a fight with article 7 of the Nashville Statement is consistent with the nature of the gospel. I have yet to be convinced that a fight with article 7 of the Nashville Statement is pastoral. 

I am more inclined to perceive Pastor Johnson’s tweet as being contrary to the pattern of the Gospel described in the New Testament. If the Apostle Paul, in the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, conceives of the Christian as a new creation, then is it right for Pastor Johnson to conceive of a Christian as a homosexual (which is a result of a fallen creation)? If someone were to struggle with anger, then is it right for that one to conceive of himself/herself as an angry Christian? Should a man who has struggled with serial adultery describe himself as an adulterous Christian? Should a pedophile describe himself/herself as a pedophilic Christian? In every case the identities are at odds with each other. The insanity grows when we compare this with less “acceptable” sins.

Rather, let us consider what the Apostle Paul says on the radical change in identity that the gospel brings about: “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (I Cor. 6:11)


Pride Parades and Capitulation in Christendom

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Just recently Christian singer Audrey Assad openly said that she loves and celebrates gay communities during Pride Month. Her comment is not alone, and obviously various Christians have given varying levels of approval. To give two more examples, a pastor came out as SSA on Christianity Today and a christian rock star came out as gay a couple years back on Religion New Service. I want to ask a question about Assad’s tweet below: what can be more hateful than this response?

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What is happening among Christians in North America? I believe that we all are aware deep down how destructive this lifestyle is, and that the Word of God speaks out expressly against it. And yet, you can be sure that these are only a handful of examples for the many examples of Christians laying down their arms and capitulating to the culture. There are many more examples that you can find for yourself. So why are Christians giving up?

I want to focus here on the matter of ‘love’. This is because the allegation that disagreement and disapproval means hatred, is one of the most manipulative and oldest tricks of the movement and of the day. Its like the highschool girl who throws a fit when her parents won’t allow her to go to a party where the parents know there will be a lot of drunkenness, and she says “you hate me!” Of course they love you, they don’t want you to get raped by a drunk guy or drive drunk. And that means not approving of an action (in love).

If people are confused about what ‘truth’ is in our culture, then the result is that they are just as confused about the truth of what ‘love’ really is. But truth and love come together. Take the case of a Christian family where one of their sons might “come out” as attracted to men, and then start dating one. They can still say that they love him. But to celebrate him would be a sign of acceptance. To truly love him would be to bind themselves to the truth in love and that means warning him about the destructive nature of that lifestyle spiritually, physically, emotionally, etc.

Are we really just giving in to the oldest manipulative trick in the books? I grew up in Toronto, and my Dad generally advised that we stay out of certain parts of the downtown core during June because the pride parades have been happening as long as I can remember. I never sensed a hatred. As early as the year 2000, my parents had already done a number of Bible studies with a man who had done surgery on his privates. When I was at college, I saw Christians reaching out in love, in Idaho of all places. Have you read Doug Wilson’s blog? Yes, I am pretty sure that he would also have dinner and do a Bible study with any attendee of the gay pride parade in Toronto.

Why are Christians capitulating? Maybe its because we have bought into the lies of the most intense and aggressive manipulation scam of the day. Maybe its because we have left our Bibles at the door and have had our feelings groomed by TV shows, university professors, and teenagers. Maybe its because we want to do our own thing. Maybe it is because we are deathly afraid of any sort of conflict that would make us look like radicals. Maybe it is because we have given up on a culture of repentance and must repent and return to the Lord and to His goodness.

Sure, there is a lot of hatred out there. But more often than not (in the circles that I work in), I have seen rock solid pastors and Christian men and women calling out in love for repentance in a dark world. Sure, we need to kick this up a notch,  we need to be more aggressive in taking the message of Jesus Christ into a dying world. We need to listen to people’s pain and heartache. We need to develop a stronger view of Christian justice in an anti-Christian age. We need to take children into Christian schools who are not Christian, but who are being confused by the gender confusion, and the sexual lies that are being forced down their throats in the public schools. But let us not be convinced of the lie that lack of approval is lack of love. Nothing is more unloving than approving of something that will destroy someone. Nothing is more hateful than flattering a man (or a woman) who is headed to death.

Jude calls us to contend for the faith, to have mercy on those who doubt, to save others by snatching them out of the fire, to show mercy with fear, to hate the garment stained by the flesh. This is rock solid love. The image is used of snatching someone out of a fire. Love fights. Love rescues. Love dies so that another might have life. And that is where Jesus Christ comes on scene as the perfect sacrifice to take away the sin of the world.

Leaders are Forged

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I was recently reflecting publicly on the importance of developing strong leadership skills among men in the church (also in myself). In the conversation below a friend dropped this comment: “Leaders are not built, they are forged.” The comment was made in the context of men who lead in worthy causes, such as pro-life, church, etc. What I have written below is a collage of wisdom I have received from various leaders in my family, the workforce, the church, and academia. And of course, primarily Scripture.

I find it interesting that certain secular writers I have listened to – like Jordan Peterson and Mark Manson – value the growth qualities of suffering in some ways more than many Christian leaders. But remember that the Scriptures are chock full of the call to joyful suffering in service to Jesus Christ.

The value of enduring suffering is one of the more important values that I have learned from my parents. A man does the hard thing before the easy thing. A man doesn’t take the easy route, but the faithful route. A man works faithfully and he works hard. He picks his battles carefully. He gives a hit and takes a hit. He rolls with the punches. Men are given broader shoulders so that they can carry heavier loads. An important lesson that we must learn in our age of entitlement and ease, is that to grow and serve greater, a man must endure suffering. If he walks away from the suffering, from the conflict, he loses an opportunity to grow and to help those around him to grow. One pastor encouraged me: “Always take the red pill.” Essentially, a man is called to love God, love his neighbour, and to work his butt off. Much more could be said from the Book of Proverbs.

One thing that I should emphasize is that the Apostle Peter calls the Christian to suffer – not for his own stupidity – but for being a Christian (I Peter 4:16). This is because suffering is not meaningless, but it is part of our warfare on the forces of Satan. As Peter says earlier: “For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does.” (I Peter 4:6)

This also outlines the necessity for men who repent and who repent quickly. It is in the conflicts of life that a man should open his Bible and see how God speaks to his own sins against his brother and against a Holy God. It is from the Scriptures that the Holy Spirit teaches a man to be self-honest and to take responsibility for how he has responded wrongly to evil and the evil that he has done. It is also from the Scriptures that the Holy Spirit works courage in the heart of a man to do what is noble and right and good no matter how much pain and suffering it will involve (i.e. the fierce joy of Christian martyrdom).

The image of being forged is excellent because it moves us away from the image of fame and empty power to the scalding hot furnace where razor sharp weapons are made and silver is tried. While some men may seek to destroy, God can use their destructive purposes to build leadership qualities among His people. One of the Psalms uses this imagery: “For you, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried.” (Ps. 66:10) It is used in the book of Revelation as an image of the need for God’s people to repent: “I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see.” (Rev. 3:18) We might also consider the promise of the Refiner in Malachi 3:3: “He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the LORD.” Do we love this idea of being refined in the forges of suffering?

Consider the testing point of King David’s kingship when he was on the run from King Saul. Or maybe Nehemiah who had to stand before the great king and ask for permission to go back to his homeland, following which, he takes flack from numerous surrounding kings. I think of the Apostle Paul who is stoned and thrown out of the town and promptly scrapes himself off the ground and charges into another city to preach the gospel and get beat up again.

The Apostle Paul passes on this wisdom of hardness or toughness to his student Timothy (and Titus). There is not a lot of fanfare or psychologizing. The Apostle Paul simply calls on Timothy to share in suffering as a good soldier of Jesus Christ (II Tim. 2:3). They are allies in suffering. The analogy extends to him serving the one who has enlisted him (vs. 4). As an athlete he must compete according to the rules (vs. 5). As a hard-working farmer who aims at receiving the first of the crops (vs. 6). Timothy is supposed to act in this way so that he can pass on the message of the Apostle Paul to other men: “You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.” (vs. 1-2) Another Pastor gave Pauline advice when he said: “we need men with hard heads and soft hearts.”

All of these men of Scripture are refined by suffering, sometimes through fierce conflict. And similarly, we are called to be faithful to our Lord’s orders today.

Think about this toughness from a military angle. Lord Nelson wrote before the Battle of Trafalgar: “England expects that every man will do his duty.” General Stonewall Jackson warned his men: “Never take counsel of your fears.” He also wrote: “Captain, my religious belief teaches me to feel as safe in battle as in bed. God has fixed the time for my death. I do not concern myself about that, but to be always ready, no matter when it may overtake me. Captain, that is the way all men should live, and then all would be equally brave.”

There is a mental toughness that is developed in the thick of battle where a man learns to trust in His Maker and follower orders from his King, also through repentance and forgiveness. The aim is not to get the fleeting accolades and flattery of foolish men who boast in worldly strength that passes away with sickness and death. Its aim is that when we have passed through the billows and forges of life (Psalm 66:12), to receive the deep and abiding praise of Jesus Christ because we have been found in Jesus Christ: “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” (Matt. 25:23)

Do You Work Wonders for the Dead? A Book Review of Depression: A Stubborn Darkness

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Introduction:

“Do you work wonders for the dead? Do the departed rise up to praise you? Selah… Are your wonders known in the darkness, or your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness? (ESV)”1 (Psalm 88:10, 12). This Psalm of the Sons of Korah captures the powerful emotions in the despair of the Christian who must travel through the dark paths and alleyways of depression. Does God remember? Is there love? Must I suffer on this lonely island of despair? Even the closing words of this beautiful psalm express these words of struggle and wrestling: “You have caused my beloved and my friend to shun me; my companions have become darkness.” (Psalm 88:18)

Dr. Edward T. Welch writes about the difficult matter of depression in his book Depression: A Stubborn Darkness. He brings the expertise of years as a Christian counselor and as a teacher at Christian Counseling Educational Foundation (CCEF) to the table. He is also an example of a mature family man, with a wife and two daughters. In this book, he focuses on the spiritual aspect to depression, while recognizing and encouraging his readers to see that there may also be medical and other factors at play as well. As a Christian counsellor, he ensures that the good news of Jesus Christ will play a prominent role in the wreckage and brokenness of the mind. As such, that gospel does not only provide hope in the middle of physical brokenness, but also lays out the path of healing and transformation from sinful patterns of the mind and the heart.

Summary:

a. Introduction

In the introduction, Dr. Welch does three things: he explains the path, the feeling of depression, and gives some definitions and causes. He paints a positive picture of the one who suffers depression as a pilgrim following the call of God and even shares the example of Psalm 88 as a prayer which one might speak to God along the way. The feeling of depression is often described as “Hell,” as a place of abandonment. The images are full of darkness, pain, meaninglessness, lifelessness, numbness sometimes leading to thoughts of suicide. The preacher, Charles Spurgeon, wrestled with episodes of depression and once said: “I could weep by the hour like a child, and yet I knew not what I wept for.”2 Dr. Welch also explains the types of depression. From less severe to more severe they are described as: discontent, dysthmic disorder, situational depression, hopelessness, major depressive disorder, clinical depression.3 It is important for the Christian to describe his/her feelings. Depression should also be approached carefully, and while medication might be one aspect to the answer, Dr. Welch does not want this to become the only plan of attack.

b. Part One: Depression is Suffering

Depression is suffering and we see many cases of suffering in the Scriptures and in the world with various causes including ourselves, other people, our bodies, Satan, and even God’s will brings us through suffering (most of these causes are unknown at the time). Often God is challenged and questioned during this time of suffering, and the one suffering should recall the sufferings of Christ for an unworthy people as well as the goodness of God at the cross of Jesus Christ. And so the response to suffering (like the men of Psalm 88) should be to cry out to God, after all, this is what Jesus Christ also did on the cross. We can put the words of these Psalms in the mouth of Jesus on the cross (like Psalm 22). While depression turns inward, the Christian response is to call out to God and make war in Christ. This is done by realizing the lies of Satan and speaking the truth of forgiveness and life in Scripture. The depressed individual must remind himself/herself of the promises of God daily. In those promises the Christian finds purpose in glorifying God and loving Him and keeping His commandments. And so, while depression is calling for complete surrender, the Scriptures are calling the Christian to persevere through the battle.

c. Part Two: Listening to Depression

There is a necessary self-honesty as the Christian listens to what his/her depression is saying: where does what my depression is saying to me depart from the truth revealed in Scripture? Here, Dr. Welch works with the various causes for depression while recognizing also how the fall of Adam has affected our physical bodies and not just our spiritual health. He speaks about how a culture of decisions, individualism, self-indulgence, the idolatry of happiness, and entertainment/boredom affects us as Christians. He then discusses the natural inclinations of the heart: pride, autonomy, various lusts, covetousness. In his discussion of the unveiling of the heart, he talks about the wilderness of depression, and finding joy in Christ in the wilderness. In chapters 15-20 he responds to a number of issues that might factor into causes for depression: fear, anger, dashed hopes, failure and shame, guilt and legalism, and also death. In all this, he returns to the central comfort of the Christian life. Even in times when the Christian turns to suicidal thoughts, the only comfort is Jesus Christ (HC, LD 1).

d. Part Three: Other Help and Advice

Here, Dr. Welch first deals with the matter of medical treatments. This is important for those who might feel threatened by his spiritual-oriented approach. He does indeed recognize the person in his/her entirety, including body and soul. He remarks that antidepressants have helped many people but not all people. He then admits that it is unclear whether medication or counseling works better. He cautions about long-term use, side-effects, and thinking that medication is the answer. Obviously, this might be linked to other medical problems, so medical examinations are important. He follows this with some encouragement for how to help as a community: including thoughtfulness, seeking help, and working on a positive lifestyle (I.e. structure in exercise and sleep). He then lays out some strategies and suggests that people should expect to be surprised by the power of love.

e. Part Four: Hope and Joy: Thinking God’s Thoughts

In this final section, Dr. Welch encourages the reader to develop specific virtues as they press forward in hope and joy. He offers the example of a comedy, where Jesus really does triumph in the end, which then gives cause for humility in the face of suffering. This humility also comes accompanied by hope in the final return of Jesus Christ after His triumph at the cross and resurrection. This hope and humility is accompanied by gratitude for what God is doing even in the difficult situations of life. Finally, Dr. Welch concludes with a warm note of encouragement to the reader as he expresses his love and desire that the grace of God would be with readers in their suffering and as they assist others in their suffering.

Review:

I would highly recommend the work of Dr. Welch to Christians who are wrestling with the various degrees and causes of depression. He recognizes the person as body and soul rather than reducing the matter of depression to one issue. Not only is he deeply aware of the human condition, but he also has a grasp of the gospel and how that applies to the human condition. He expresses an awareness of the thoughts and doubts that those going through depression have to wrestle with. He shows a sensitivity to the trials of those suffering depression and provides goals and hope in the middle of the intense suffering of depression.

I appreciated Dr. Welch’s focus on helping people work through the spiritual questions at play. After all, he is not a psychiatrist or a doctor, but a Christian Counselor. One of my concerns with the modern movement against depression is that there is a tendency to think of it as purely physical. The classic analogy that I have heard from Christians is that depression is akin to a broken arm. While this comparison works in the sense that the brain and an arm are both physical, the brain is also affected by things such as stress and fear in a way that an arm is not affected by stress and fear. The point is not to make the Christian feel guilt and shame as a result of physical things such as a lack of iron in the blood or a thyroid that is malfunctioning, but to help the Christian be self-honest with other factors that may be at play in this depression.

While Dr. Welch talks briefly about antidepressants towards the end of the book, as well as other matters on how to deal with the physical side of depression, I would encourage those who read this book to read broadly. This could include articles on the Gospel Coalition and Desiring God websites, but also to find resources on antidepressants, psychotropic drugs, and other ways of dealing with depression. This could include talking with doctors and nurses where possible. I appreciate that Dr. Welch brings out the fact that people are both positively and negatively affected by antidepressants, and that in spite of either effect, he wants to help them deal with whatever spiritual matters are at play.

While he does make remarks on goals to make in the middle of depression, I believe that there could be more practical advice in the area of not just thought patterns, but also lifestyle. Sleep, eating and exercise patterns are all very important things to think about in the area of depression. In this area, good friends are important as well. Finding friends who avoid both flattery and who refrain from harsh criticism, are also necessary for a positive approach to self-honesty. Finding time to walk in nature and good company to fellowship with, do amazing things to lift a heavy heart. I have found a lot of practical advice in this area in the Book of Proverbs, and I would suggest Proverbs as a good place to start in Scripture in examining the matter of depression. It gives clarity for how to live life in the middle of the fog and those who are committed to following its path will find clarity even in the brokenness of the mind.

A Brief Thought on Psalm 88:

Reading Psalm 88 can provide biblical expression for the pain that a depressed person is feeling. It also lays out the path to cry out to God in the midst of suffering. But without interpreting it with Christ at the center, it can be hard to understand. Christ suffered everything and worse than what the depressed person is going through. On the cross, He really was forsaken by His father. When Jesus finds Himself alone and when the Father turns His face away, these words could describe His state of mind: “O LORD, why do you cast my soul away? Why do you hide your face from me?” (Psalm 88:14) But because He rose from the dead, we now know that the end experience of the Christian life is not the cross, but the resurrection of the dead.

Conclusion:

Depression: A Stubborn Darkness is an excellent book for Christians to read as they reflect on how the gospel applies to their suffering. It might be a long path ahead, with many twists and turns, through dark paths marshes which reek of death. But even during those times, we see an objective promise for the sufferer to cling to in Scripture. This promise is that the Great Shepherd will be with His faltering sheep: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4) God is often at work in our darkest times, guiding us with His staff and disciplining us with His rod. This is the great comfort that Dr. Welch brings out in this book, and it is a comfort that every man and woman can experience.

1 All Bible references will be from ESV.org.

2 Edward T. Welch, Depression: A Stubborn Darkness (Greensboro: New Growth Press, 2004), 21.

3 Ibid., 28.

Some Ethical and Pastoral Thoughts on Masturbation

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It is hard to find an explicit reference to masturbation within Scripture. Joel Hesch offers a few good points: “The Bible doesn’t mention arson, child abuse, drug-trafficking, forgery, pornography, or vandalism either. Does that give you free reign to sell cocaine on the corner or demolish your hotel room when you’re on vacation?”1 We agree with Jason DeRouchie’s conclusion: “I believe that anyone who masturbates outside the marriage bed sins and insults God’s glory in Christ.”2 We plan to explain this point and why men and women should turn from sin and shame and take the path of Christian virtue. This virtue begins with an encounter with the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ.

Here we define masturbation from Merriam-Webster’s dictionary: “erotic stimulation especially of one’s own genital organs commonly resulting in orgasm and achieved by manual or other bodily contact exclusive of sexual intercourse, by instrumental manipulation, occasionally by sexual fantasies, or by various combinations of these agencies.”3 The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines masturbation: “By masturbation is to be understood the deliberate stimulation of the genital organs in order to derive sexual pleasure.”4 This is a very broad definition, but it focuses on the stimulation of the organs by something including the internal thoughts of the mind. Essentially, it defines masturbation as linked to sexual arousal.

Planned Parenthood openly condones the act of masturbation, and even encourages it: “Masturbating is totally normal and totally healthy. Most people don’t talk about it, but almost everybody does it.”5 Their basic ethical principle is: well, everybody does it anyways, and then they leave it up to a personal decision. The decision to masturbate is essentially up to the person to decide. They base their ethics on relativistic ethics. And as Christians we seek to find different foundations for our ethical system.

The Deontological Problem Behind Masturbation:

We already mentioned that the Scriptures do not explicitly condemn masturbation itself. But a deontological principle can be drawn from Scripture’s condemnation of lust (Matt. 5:28, 2 Tim. 2:22, I John 2:16, Prov. 6:25, Gal. 5:16, James 1:14-15). Deontological ethics “are principle-based systems, in which actions are intrinsically right or wrong, dependent on adherence to the relevant moral principles or values.”6

Planned Parenthood encourages us to have sympathy for all those who think masturbation is dirty. They feel people have been unnecessarily shamed. According to Scripture, we believe that bodily functions are natural. Adam had semen in the Garden of Eden, and he and Eve had sexual relations. There is no reason to believe that they didn’t have the ability to orgasm. He wonders in her beauty, and she in his strength, and then they seek to fulfil God’s mandate to fill the earth and subdue it. But at the very root of His identity, Adam was a son of God.

When Adam and Eve fell into sin and therefore acted in unbelief and pride, this confused their sexuality. There were sexual consequences to their sin. One of these consequences was misaligned desire. Lust became an issue. Both Adam and Eve proceeded to cover their nakedness with leaves. Sexual sin and various forms of sexual deviancy became part of the life of God’s people in the Old Testament. In Exodus 20, God commands His people not to commit adultery, and throughout the first 5 books God lays out principles for the sexual purity for His people. When Jesus preaches from the mountain in Matthew 5, He explains the true extent of God’s command in Exodus 20. Jesus says even he who looks at a woman lustfully commits adultery. In Matthew 5:28, lust is equated with adultery.

We argue against Planned Parenthood.  The primary reason people feel shame in masturbation is not because the human body or sexual fluids are dirty or that sex is dirty in and of itself. Sometimes orgasms happen at night without any thoughts or dreams, and this can even be healthy for the body. Men and women feel shame when they masturbate because they know that they fall short of the glory of God. In their hearts they had an illicit partnership with another woman (or man). This is why Joel Hesch asks men about their thoughts in the days previous to masturbation.7 He points out that lust can be fought, even in a sexualized culture where women “hit on” men.8 The problem with masturbation goes much deeper than masturbation itself: the problem is ultimately lust. Jesus’ prohibition of lust means that masturbation is highly problematic in biblical deontological ethics.

Joel Hesch also draws a strong link to God’s explicit prohibition of coveting. Masturbation is a sinful acting out on the sinful desires within, and a man or a woman will act on these desires by seeking the “peace of mind” that they think comes from an orgasm.9 “Failing to believe God is good and failing to trust him with your life can lead to a perceived need for fantasy or the release of masturbation.”10 Masturbation often acts out on the desire for what is not yours.

But to fight lust, we must move past deontology to virtues. Fighting lust is more than mere actions, in fact it is primarily a way of thinking and being.  Therefore, we must consider virtue ethics as well.

Masturbation in Virtue Ethics

A virtue ethic is defined by Scott Rae: “Virtue theory, which is also called aretaic ethics (from the Greek arete, “virtue”), holds that morality is more than simply doing the right thing.”11 In this section we want to focus on patterns of thought connected to masturbation. Most importantly we want to understand how these patterns of thought and life can be reformed by the power of the Holy Spirit.

a. Selflessness

We defend and encourage the virtue of selflessness both within and outside of marriage, based on the principle of the love that Christ has for His Church. The Apostle Paul draws from the creation ordinance of marriage to speak about the love between Christ and His Church. He then draws application for this intimate relationship between a man and his wife: “‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.” (Eph. 5:31-33).

The willful act of masturbation intent on arousing sexual desire outside of the marriage bed, is an act of solo sex. Whether inside or outside of marriage, it does not reflect the submission or love between Christ and His Church. A man deciding to masturbate is effectively saying that Christ doesn’t need to love His Church. A woman deciding to masturbate is effectively saying that the Church doesn’t need the love of Christ. The individual only sees himself or herself in a vacuum, they don’t recognize the need for two to become one flesh, and the glory of the union of marriage.

b. Self-control and Patience

1 Thessalonians 4:3–7 “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: 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; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness.”

God desires our sanctification. This means that we must increase in holiness. Holiness means abstaining from sexual immorality. But holiness goes a step further. It means controlling your own body in holiness and honour. It means not giving into urges like the lust of the Gentiles who don’t know God. This principle has massive implications for the discussion of masturbation.

When a Christian believes in the Name of Jesus Christ and is saved, then he or she is given the gift of the Holy Spirit. But even with the Spirit, Christians don’t live in a state of perfection yet. But when they have the Holy Spirit, the Spirit begins to produce the Fruits of the Spirit (Gal 5). One could call them the ‘virtues’ of the Spirit. These are the virtues in the heart of a man, each of which urge him towards godliness, or away from sinfulness, which would include the act of masturbation. Two fruits of the Holy Spirit are important for our purposes here: self-control and patience. Others are important too, but these two are the most applicable.

Christians are called to ‘control’ their bodies. Self-control is the development of an ability to control urges and desires. This could mean that an angry man controls his urge to lash out in anger. He doesn’t need to lash out in anger for cathartic release, and that anger only fuels more anger anyway. Someone who eats too much might learn to control their appetite. Self-control in sexuality is to control the mechanical urge to create arousal outside of the marriage bed. It means controlling the urge to masturbate.

Self-control in masturbation also involves the virtue of patience. Singles are called to patiently wait for the union of marriage (i.e. Song of Solomon). As Solomon’s bride says to young women (which applies to young men as well) in Song of Songs 8:4: “I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, that you not stir up or awaken love until it pleases.” Masturbation with the hope of orgasm is a potential way to stir up or awaken love before it is meant to be awoken. Married couples should exhibit this patience within the marriage: “Love is patient” (I Cor. 13:4).

Ultimately, masturbation is a sin because 99.5% of the time it is conducted in the passion of lust. It does not reflect the virtues men and women are called to cultivate in their lives. A person who masturbates regularly is under the control of lust. This is why masturbation is so tied up with shame. But the virtues of patience and self-control provide a better way to wrestle with the passions that so exemplify our sinful nature. The only way to cultivate patience and self-control is through the power of the Holy Spirit.  When we fight sin, then, we rely on the internal work of the Holy Spirit to cultivate these virtues from the inside. At the same time, we look to the forgiving blood of Christ; who not only forgives our sexual sins but our sinful sexual desires as well. And fight we must.

Consequential Utilitarian Ethics

“Utilitarianism is what is known as a teleological system (taken from the Greek word telos, which means “end,” “goal”), in which the morality of an act is determined by the end result.”12 Of course, this does not give the why for morality, but it does offer a warning. Neither does it really give the primary motivation for doing what’s right. We would argue that Proverbs is more about virtues, but Solomon warns his son about consequences: “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death” (Proverbs 14:12).

Bill Smith writes:

As idolatrous man gives himself over to idolatry, he is given over by God to dishonoring his body in male-female sexual relationships. As this becomes the normal course of life, God eventually gives man over to “dishonorable passions.” These dishonorable passions are same-sex sexual passions; women exchanging the Creator’s design for sexual relations in order to be with women, and men inflamed in their passions toward one another doing that which is shameful with other men. These are unions that are fruitless by design. They are unions of death; death to individuals and death to society.13

Lust goes primarily against the virtue of love. Thus, when lust takes root, it begins to squeeze love out. Lust sets up an idol – such as sexual pleasure – and begins to squeeze out honorable passions with dishonorable passions. We must realize that either sin is growing, or holiness is growing. There is no status quo of no growth. There is no neutral ground. A lazy man or woman is not fighting against lust and is instead giving in by masturbating.

Joel Hesch tells the story of a man whose pastor gave him the permission to masturbate since his wife would only have sex with him every 3 months – the qualifier was that he had to think about his wife when he was masturbating. With sadness in his eyes, this man told Joel Hesch that he should have never started. Masturbation only fueled his desire for sex, it compounded his lust.14

Willingly giving in to masturbation is tantamount to acceptance of the sin. If sin is not fought through the battle for new virtues such as self-control and patience and true love, then it will metastasize like cancer. It will grow bigger. It will search for a new rush, a new thrill. It will see a pretty woman, made in the image of God, as an object to unclothe and release sexual desires with. Rape in the mind, if not reversed by the power of the Holy Spirit, ends in a rape culture.15 It will begin to make a man feel dead to the touch of his wife or a wife feel dead to the touch of her husband.

Natural Law/Human Flourishing

The secular psychologist Jordan Peterson asks the question of young people whether they stand up straighter and feel proud of themselves for masturbating. He then states that deciding to masturbate is the admission that you are a second-rate player.16 Another secular psychology website permits masturbation, but they recognize the close link between pornography, masturbation, and compulsive sex addiction. They even go so far to connect this to the importance of human relationships over pornography and masturbation.17 Compulsive sex addiction and therapy are one of the battles of our day. Winston T. Smith from Christian Counselling Educational Foundation takes a similar approach to human flourishing when he emphasizes the beauty of human relationships over the selfishness of masturbation.18

We have already grounded our ethical reasoning in creation ordinances and in the path of following Christ. We have seen that human flourishing in sexuality is found within God’s creation ordinance of marriage. Solomon also says in the book of Proverbs: “Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.” (Prov. 3:7-8) There are also good consequences to making good decisions. There is healing in the path of wisdom.

Coming to Grips With the Grace of God

We can imagine numerous scenarios where serious Christian individuals, or couples are already fallen, taken up in the sins of pornography or masturbation. Ethics must be understood in the context of Jesus’ work, otherwise every one of us is damned to Hell. There are a million situations of sin and shame and guilt including pasts of sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, legalism, and cheap grace. There are many young men and women, Christian or not, neck-deep in porn habits, masturbation, and sex outside of marriage.

We emphasize strongly that no sin is beyond Christ’s healing.  Even if the conscience is numbed your conscience to the weight of sin, the Christian can still go to Christ. Rev. Lane Keister states: “There is only one way to deal with this kind of guilty feeling: take it all to the cross, to Jesus. Burdens are lifted at Calvary, as the hymn says.”1 As the Apostle Paul states in 2 Corinthians 5:14–15: “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”

Another important emphasis is the excessive guilt many people carry. In legalist cultures, where sexuality is a ‘do not touch’ topic, sexuality itself becomes a source of guilt.2 But we must emphasize that sexuality was created by God in the Garden of Eden. There are natural functions for male and female genitalia, which are pure and holy. The Song of Solomon, for example, is a celebration of the beauty in sexual relations. Christians are permitted, nay, obliged to rejoice in this. Even more important the Scripture gives a much larger picture of love than the area of sexuality. Marriage is even more glorious in its sense of companionship, support, including in areas of emotional and spiritual connection.

For example, a boy or a man should not feel guilty for a desire for marriage. Proverbs 18:22 says: “He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the LORD.” It is a noble thing to seek a wife, contrary to the raunchy comments of young men on this issue, or the unnecessary exhortations of older men.

We read in Titus 2:11-12 “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age,” Those who seek this way of living should pray earnestly for these fruits of the Holy Spirit, and to fight for them in the power of the Holy Spirit. Once again, as the author of Proverbs 2:3–5 urges his son: “yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God.” Of course, this prayer includes action as well. As Jesus says in Mark 9:43: “And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.”

In the fight, we also recognize that it is not always good to focus exclusively on the fight. Rather we should pursue new, pure desires. First, we pursue Jesus Christ that we may know the power of His resurrection and share in His sufferings (Phil. 3:10). We pursue something wholesome (like a good wife). While a little broader, this passage from Philippians can also be applied within sexuality.

Philippians 4:8–9 “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”

Scripture depicts the life of true flourishing. Jesus is the ultimate good that we aim for.  When our loves are “rightly ordered” towards the telos of our first Love, then we also begin to find the good of human flourishing. Psalm 128 describes the Christian family gathered around the dinner table, as a true picture of fellowship.  We can love the goodness of sexuality within marriage, and the goodness of sexuality outside of marriage. The Christian can love his or her body in a wholesome way. Christians can delight in the goodness within God’s created world, and delight in serving Him and others within that world. There are good works of literature and theology, good cigars, sports like hockey and rugby, and rich whiskey. There are women who fear God and men who serve Him. And because of the work of the Holy Spirit, life (including sexuality) is possible to enjoy before the face of a holy God.


I wrote this section of the paper in a larger paper on pornography-masturbation. If you have any feedback on where I go wrong, I always appreciate good feedback. In Christ, Nathan Zekveld


1 Lane Keister, “What you do with your guilt,” Green Baggins, https://greenbaggins.wordpress.com/2018/02/07/what-do-you-do-with-your-guilt/ (Accessed March 31, 2018).

2 Keister, “What you do with you guilt.”

1 Joel Hesch, Proven Men: A Proven Path to Sexual Integrity: Straightforward help with issues of lust, Pornography, Masturbation or other forms, (Lynchburg: Proven Men Ministries, 2013), pg. 201.

2 Jason DeDouchie, “If your right hand causes you to sin,” Desiring God, https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/if-your-right-hand-causes-you-to-sin (Accessed March 31, 2018).

3 Merriam-Webster Dictionary, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/masturbation (Accessed March 31, 2018).

4 Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed., (1997), n 2352. https://www.kofc.org/en/catechism/index.html#.

5 Planned Parenthood, “Masturbation” Planned Parenthood https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/teens/sex/masturbation (Accessed March 31, 2018).

6 Rae, 77.

7 Hesch, 204.

8 Hesch, 205.

9 Hesch, 206.

10 Hesch, 207.

11 Rae, 91.

12 Rae, 72.

13 Bill Smith, “The Maturation of Sin,” Kuyperian Commentary, http://kuyperian.com/the-maturation-of-sin/#more-14686 (Accessed March 31, 2018).

14 Hesch, 207-208.

15 Hesch, 204.

16 Jordan Peterson, “The link between Birth Control, Pornography, and Masturbation,” YouTube Video 3:10, published October 3, 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tIXw5lqLwZY.

17 Alexandra Katehakis, “Is Masturbation Bad for You,” PsychCentral, https://psychcentral.com/blog/is-masturbation-bad-for-you/ (Accessed April 2, 2018).

18 Winston T. Smith, It’s all about me: the problem with masturbation, (Greensboro: New Growth Press, 2009)

Biblical Reasons for Prayer Groups

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In Reformed Churches, we have the practice of praying in public/corporate worship. Typically, our practice looks like the pattern laid out in Scripture, in that one individual prays to God before the assembly. We see David pray to God before the assembly when the men and women dedicate their gold for the building of the Temple (I Chron. 29:10-19). We see Solomon pray for the dedication of the Temple, standing before the people (I K 8:22-61). Ezra publicly confesses the sin of the people in intermarrying with unbelievers in Ezra 9. We have built our practice of public prayer in public worship on texts like these. Of course, we also find a rationale within the old testament for praying form prayers together in public worship. But that argument is for another day.

We also have a strong tradition of private devotion. There are many, many prayers in Scripture which reflect a relationship between an individual and God. These include many of the Psalms, the prayer of Hannah (I Sam 2), and the prayer of Jonah (Jonah 2). In this matter of private devotion, Jesus Himself commanded His disciples to go into their closet and pray rather than showing of through putting personal piety on public display by praying on the street corner for all men to see (Matt. 6). I would suggest that public prayer is grounded in the close relationship with God that happens behind doors, otherwise, it is just show. In public prayer we learn from wise and godly leaders how to pray in private.

What might be termed as “popcorn prayers” or just simply praying together as prayer groups (taking turns praying) is something that is done less frequently in the Reformed circles that I spend time in. We might say “I will pray for you”, but it is less common to hear “let me pray with you.” Is there good reason for this discomfort? In the case of showing off piety, I understand the discomfort. But then we should be concerned about this showing off in all areas, including private prayer and public prayer. We are not to be like the Pharisees who pray on the street corner(Matt. 6:5-8). Instead our righteousness is to exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees (Matt. 5:20), and that can only happen when Jesus Christ gives us a new heart. With a new heart we can sit together in Christian fellowship and call out to God in prayer from the bottom of our hearts. In this way we spur one another on, not because one is better than another because of what we do, but because Jesus is Saviour and Lord. Bad examples do not negate the good, but only show themselves to be faulty examples that we should avoid. The question should be: how can we help one another, also in prayer?

There are many commands to pray in the New Testament. We are to devote ourselves to prayer (Col. 4:2), to pray continually (I Thess. 5:17), to confess our sins to each other and pray for each other (James 5:16), bring prayers for all people (I Tim. 2:1-2), to be faithful in prayer (Rom. 12:12), to watch and pray (Matt. 6:7), to pray for our persecutors (Matt. 5:44), to pray when someone is in trouble (James 5:13), to pray in the Spirit in all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests (Eph. 6:18), etc. Many of these examples could take place in a setting of Christians praying together such as when the believers pray together for boldness in Acts 4:23-31. We also see the Church come to pray over the sick (James 5:14-15). We are to spur one another on to love and good deeds (Heb. 10:24-25), how about spurring one another on to prayer? We can also encourage one another and build each other up by the act of praying together (I Thess. 5:11). Much more could be said.

At the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary, groups of students and a mentor will meet at the beginning of every week to pray with one another, for one another, and for issues in the church and the world. This is fitting as we seek to support and encourage one another in following Christ also in the act of prayer. As leader of the family is common for the father to pray, or he will ask his wife to pray. But it would be fitting for the father to ask various children to pray after him, or to do a form prayer as a family. A Christian youth group might do well to break off into groups to pray and encourage one another in prayer or to pray a form prayer together. The same could be said of other gatherings of believers outside of public worship.

In conclusion, Christians praying together is a beautiful expression of Christian fellowship and community, primarily as an act of fellowship with God. When we listen closely to what God is saying in His Word and respond by addressing our prayers to the Father in the Name of Jesus Christ and in the power of His Spirit, this prayer brings us together into the very presence of the Triune God. In His presence, we lose sight of one another, we lose sight of ourselves, and we find ourselves caught up in praising Him.

Servant Leadership. Without Permission.

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I recently read an article by Pastor Douglas Wilson criticizing the usage of the term servant leadership. Of course, that wasn’t the main point of the article, and I recognize that he wasn’t criticizing the spirit of servant leadership. The main point of the article was to defend the necessity of being masculine without permission. In the spirit of pastor Wilson’s article, I want to defend servant leadership without permission. I will do it with all due respect.

I would define servant leadership as an imitation of Christ who was a servant. And a leader. I really appreciate Pastor Wilson’s definition of masculinity: “masculinity is the glad assumption of the sacrificial responsibilities that God assigned to men.” Now, the main place where we can understand better what it meant for Christ to be a servant leader is in the book of Mark and in Phillipians 2. Mark 10:45 reads: “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  The Apostle Paul recognizes this pattern in Phil. 2:8 “And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

Here is my argument. The term ‘masculinity’ is not used in the Book of Mark, the term ‘servant’ is. I’m not even sure if the term ‘masculinity’ is used very much in the Bible. We hear about being a man, but our cultural fascination with ‘masculinity’ is a bit strange. To say the least. Now, to not use the term ‘servant leadership’ any more, is to ‘dumb down’ all the glory of the Book of Mark. Of course Jesus had a back bone, and yes, he was being a servant leader without any permission at all. Even his disciples totally misunderstood what it looked like, hence, His reason for explaining it so thoroughly in Mark 10. Jesus cast out demons, healed the sick, rebuked the Pharisees, took a whip to those who turned the temple of God into a den of thieves. He was a leader. He was a servant. He was the Son of God. He was the Servant King.

We see the pattern of this Servant King in the lives of men who follow Him. Men (as well as women) are called to take up their cross and follow Christ. The “masculine” men of this world can turn this joyful life of service into a pale, vapid, and sickly image if they want (ask Nietszche for his thoughts). But James says to count it all joy (James 1). And of course Jesus commanded it. He also exemplified it. And if Christians call it vapid, then they are confused.

Jesus sent out His disciples to be servants. He also sent out His disciples to be leaders. He never sent them out to be masculine. Yes, male leadership is an important and necessary principle to be drawn from Scripture. And yes, there are male roles: i.e. servant leadership. And yes, homosexuality is sin (I Cor. 6:9) as well all the deviations of character (and of course actions) and sexuality that lead to it.

Yes, Timothy was called to be tough: definitely spiritually (2 Tim. 2:3-5). But of course, we are not disembodied spirits and so spiritual toughness is connected to emotional, mental, and physical toughness. This does not mean that a man who cries or an academic type cannot be a leader. Having emotions disciplined by the Word is manly. Having massive academic abilities disciplined by the Word is manly. Read Paul’s writing. While physical discipline is of some gain for Timothy, the spiritual disciplines are the most valuable (I Tim. 4:8). This means that a man with brawn and bluster and no discipline is a hollow shell of worldly glory that reeks of dead flesh.

If someone mocks you for being a “servant leader,” don’t back down. Use the term. Without permission. Be a servant without permission. Be a leader without permission. Be proud of it. Be joyful. Cultivate discipline in all areas of life, but keep Christ right at the center or it is all worthless anyways. Service means humility, not the false ‘servant leadership’ which seeks to get accolades from women and some men. Be a man and act like a man (2 Sam. 10:12, I Cor. 6:10), which means Christ calls you and me to serve. And He calls us to lead. And He calls us to stand firm.