How Women are Viewed in the Holy Bible

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What does the Bible say about women? How are the followers of Jesus Christ supposed to treat women? How does God view women?

This goes right back to the very first chapter of the Holy Bible. In the Book of Genesis, in chapter 1 and verse 27, God tells us how He views men and women: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Man is created in the image of God. Those who are male and female are created in the image of God. Like those who are male, a female has been created in the image of God.

What does it mean to be created in the image of God? One Christian document intended for teaching people in the church defines it this way: “God created man good and in his image, that is, in true righteousness and holiness, so that he might rightly know God his Creator, heartily love him, and live with him in eternal blessedness to praise and glorify him.” This first man and woman, both walked with God and talked with God.

But then sin came into the world. The woman listened to the words of Satan and the man listened as well. Because of that, everything went wrong. Women sought to rule over their husbands. Men became abusive and domineering and lazy in leading and loving their wives. The natural duty of man was to die for his wife, to sacrifice himself for her, to lead her by dying for her. But instead he made her die for his sin, and he hid behind her in cowardice. He sent women into battle in front of him and did even worse to her by treating her poorly himself. He even went so far to blame his sin on her.

But God had a plan to begin to right what went wrong in those first couple chapters of the Bible. He gave a promise to send His Son from eternity, Jesus Christ, to die for the sins of His sons and daughters. He told Satan in those verse 25 of chapter 3 of the Book of Genesis: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” God chose that it would be through the childbearing of a woman that He would bruise the head of the Serpent. Eventually, the Virgin Mary would have a Son, Jesus Christ, conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, who would deliver the death blow to Satan. A death blow that the first man Adam was unable to execute upon Satan.

Old Testament

In the first 39 books of the Bible (the Old Testament), you will find stories of women who raise godly young sons and support strong and good husbands. You will find women who love their God and seek to do what is right. There are beautiful women, strong women, intelligent women. In one passage, you will find God’s prophet Moses defending the property rights of the daughters of a man named Zelophehad, who at that point had no brothers and were unmarried (Numbers 27).

On the other hand, you will also find many wicked women. Two very wicked women even became queens in the nation of God’s people: Jezebel and Athaliah did a lot of harm to the kingdom of God. Women need to be saved from their sins as well as men. For example, one lady named Rahab was a prostitute, but she protected a couple men of God, and she became one of the ladies in the ancestry of Jesus Christ. She was forgiven of her sins because she turned to God from her sins.

One chapter in the Bible, Proverbs 31, presents the ideal woman that many Christian women aspire to be like. She is strong, she is industrious, her husband trusts her. Most importantly she fears the Lord and not men. She serves the Lord first and she serves her husband in a way that will make him want to serve God. I will give you a couple verses of this chapter here: Proverbs 31:28–30 “Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: ‘Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.’ Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.”

New Testament:

The last 27 books of the Holy Bible (the New Testament) present a very similar picture. Our Father in Heaven sent His Son to redeem His daughters who believe in the Name of Jesus Christ. Mary, the mother of Jesus, calls herself most blessed among women. She calls herself a maidservant of God. She is blessed, because as a virgin, she will bear the Savior of the world. She is not proud. Instead she gives all the glory to God!

Jesus treated women with the utmost respect. At one point a group of men who were pretending to lead His people, dragged a woman before Him who was caught in adultery. They wanted to stone her. But He did not condemn her. Instead He sent her away without stoning her, and told her to sin no more (John 8). This is a beautiful story about what it is like for a woman to be loved by Jesus Christ. When she feels that love she finds true fulfillment and also turns away from her sins.

Those who follow Jesus are called to treat their daughters and wives well. A husband is called to love his wife just as Jesus loves His Church and died on a cross for her (Ephesians 5). At the end of this chapter God gives a strong call for men to act like men. To act like a man means to love your wife, to listen to her thoughts, to hear what she is worried about. It sometimes means to defer to your wife’s opinion. We hear these words in Ephesians chapter 5, verse 33: “However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.” Notice that the man is told to love his wife before she is told to respect him.

Conlcusion

Jesus and His apostles healed women, promised forgiveness to women, and treated them with all respect. They set the bar high for how women are to be treated in the followers of Jesus. Yes, there is sin, but men who follow Jesus are called to fight for a high standard of treating women, while understanding that Jesus forgives our sins: “Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive” (I Timothy 2:1-4). In those who follow Jesus seek to look more like Jesus.


This is an article that I wrote for the Christian-Muslim Forum section of the Sunday Times. The Sunday Times is a Pakistani-Canadian Magazine.


Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

A prayer of Thanksgiving at Thanksgiving

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Almighty God, we come before you with an overflowing sense of gratitude. We have seen your hand at work over the last year and we are humbled by the mercy that you show to your servants. 

We thank You for the great gift of salvation that is found in Jesus Christ. We see the multiple beams of his glory shining out in the darkness and we are both humbled and amazed. You have displayed Your righteousness in Jesus Christ and we fall to our knees in wonder. You have confronted our self-righteousness and unrighteousness in the display of His perfect righteousness and we say: “What wondrous love is this.” We have seen the radical change that this knowledge and truth brings about in our lives and we say “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound.” We consider the depth of Your love towards us in Jesus Christ. And when we reflect on the ingratitude that we have shown, we ask that You would pour out Your Holy Spirit and bring us to a true sense of gratitude at Your grace and mercy.

We thank You for the mercy that You have shown in filling our tables in the last year. We know how often we have worried and yet You have given us food and clothing. We thank You that the harvest continues as farmers get out in the fields and harvest their corn and potatoes. We thank You that the hurricane did not do any more damage. We thank You for all these things.

We thank You for the gift of new life in our church over the last year. We thank You for the little babies born and we thank You for the children that run around in the basement of the Church. We thank You for the little faces streaked with food and for the hands that are raised to praise Your Name. We know that You have established your strength in the mouths of these infants and children because of Your foes to still the enemy and the avenger. We thank You that we can learn a simple trust from them.

We thank You for the trials that we have experienced in the last year. We know that this is hard to do, but we know that You love the one You chasten and we know that all things work together for good. We repent of our ingratitude, and we ask that you would teach us to be grateful in prosperity, patient in adversity, giving thanks in every situation knowing that this is your will in Jesus Christ. 

We thank You for our church community, for the weekly gathering of the saints, for the weekly fellowship in men’s bible study and women’s bible study. We thank You for the hospitality and fellowship that is shown and shared in this communion of believers. What a supreme gift that we have and share in a lonely world. 

We thank You for the challenges that we have to face as a church community, challenges that drive us into Your Word, challenges that teach us to love you more. Thank You for the bumps and bruises, for your gift of repentance. Thank-you for giving us a love for Jesus Christ, that when we see the scars and the wounds in our lives, that we can see the glory of the scars in His hands and His side from the supreme display of love that He showed to us on the cross. 

We thank You for our dinner tables laden with food, we thank You for our marriages, and for a church community. We thank You for the times of raking gravel, and scraping manure. We thank You for the dishes in the sink, for the poopy diapers, for the late nights of work, for our children who sometimes give us a hard time but bless us in so many other ways, for our parents in spite of their weaknesses. We thank You for the rolling hills, for the sandy beaches, for the fall colours. We thank you for the time spent in the milk parlour, in the fields, and in the office. We thank you for young limbs and creaky limbs, we thank You for fresh air, clean water and the coming of winter. 

We thank You for the gift of Jesus Christ and the fact that He helps us to put the things of this world into proper perspective. We thank You that the gospel changes everything and that because of the gospel we can enjoy this world and love the little moments of every day in light of our vision of the city that is yet to come. We pray this all in the Name of Jesus Christ, Amen.


This is a prayer of Thanksgiving that I wrote for the Thanksgiving Day service in the URC in PEI.

Some Reflections Following the #MeToo Era

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A quick Google search shows that even though the media has largely gone quiet on the #MeToo movement, there are still some lingering Tweets and articles on it. It has now been dubbed the #MeToo era and many have been left to scratch their heads over its lingering effects. I do believe that the whole debacle is worth reflecting on briefly.

The explosive nature of its eruption on social media brought on many injustices. As always, when there are “revolutions”, these movements bring on mixed emotions. In one case a woman may have lied, in another case the facts may have gotten skewed after 20 years of emotional turmoil, in yet another case the procedures may have fallen far short of anything judicious.

But lets say that we take a step back and analyze the #MeToo era at arms length. A massive movement like this doesn’t happen out of nowhere. We might critique the excesses of the movement. We might critique the litigious desire of certain women. We might critique the lack of judicial process. But the fact is, the Movement happened. And we would do well to self-reflect on their critique in the after math.

When people joke about the #MeToo movement, and laugh at emotionally vulnerable women, I am left scratching my head. Yeah but… these kind of things don’t happen out of nowhere. I would wager that for as many abuses as were perpetrated by the #MeToo Movement, there are many many more skeletons that we have never seen, because women are too scared of the potential lash-back.

Women tend to receive the short end of the stick in the pro-life movement. I think of how in many of the stories I know of, a pregnant woman gets up on stage by herself to repent for her abortion. But she didn’t get pregnant by herself. Where did the man go? There are actually guys who blur and push boundaries. There are guys who actually manipulate women into having sex with them. There are guys who rape. There actually are drunken parties where bad things happen. I would wager that many members of conservative Christian churches are quicker to minimize these stories than confront them head on in love and mercy and… justice. Why? Because, everybody is a sinner, they say. Not sure when that became a justification…

Yes. Both men and women are sinners. But lets be honest with ourselves. Even conservatives believe the lie of equality when it comes to protecting themselves. Women are the weaker vessel (I Peter 3:7). There is nothing sexist about this statement. It is simply a recognition of basic biology to notice that it was far easier for Joseph to flee the grasp of Potiphar’s wife (Gen. 39) than it was for Dina to flee the grasp of Shechem (Gen. 34).

Yes, a man must not give his strength to the women who destroy kings (Prov. 31:3). And that includes not giving his strength to many of the women in the #MeToo Movement. But he is also called to stand up and open his mouths for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute, to open his mouth and judge righteously, to defend the rights of the poor and the needy (Prov. 31:8). He is called to be a humble servant of Jesus Christ.

Habakkuk writes in 1:4: “So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted.” I am sure that many women in the #MeToo era would have identified with this statement. I argue that #MeToo happened, because in many parts of North America, the law is paralyzed and justice is perverted. I would also argue that if the Church doesn’t take responsibility for her role in the situation, this situation will go from bad to worse. Hosea ran into the problem in his day that there were many whores among the women. But what does he say in 4:14? “I will not punish your daughters when they play the whore, nor your brides when they commit adultery; for the men themselves go aside with prostitutes and sacrifice with cult prostitutes, and a people without understanding shall come to ruin.” Men don’t get a free pass on their lusts after the #MeToo era.

I can imagine many situations which are very appropriate to speak out loud and clear and to take the appropriate avenues for criticism. I would suggest that #MeToo revealed a massive problem that has gone unaddressed for far to long. I am glad that it got people talking and thinking about the issues. It may be good that a lid was put on the excesses. But we should not allow the excesses to become a straw-man for the real issues at stake. We should not allow wicked men to put a lid on any criticism. Remember for all the excesses of the women in the #MeToo movement, the abuses of many men are just as excessive. And more. I would simply say: if there is something wrong, work and pray. Keep fighting and trusting. Love would say something. Love would fight.


Photo by Mihai Surdu on Unsplash

Just Societies Need Just Men

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The words of King Lemuel. An oracle that his mother taught him:

What are you doing, my son? What are you doing, son of my womb?

What are you doing, son of my vows?

Do not give your strength to women,

your ways to those who destroy kings.

It is not for kings, O Lemuel,

it is not for kings to drink wine,

or for rulers to take strong drink,

lest they drink and forget what has been decreed

and pervert the rights of all the afflicted.

Give strong drink to the one who is perishing,

and wine to those in bitter distress;

let them drink and forget their poverty

and remember their misery no more.

Open your mouth for the mute,

for the rights of all who are destitute.

Open your mouth, judge righteously,

defend the rights of the poor and needy. (Proverbs 31:1-9)

When I was in College, my Dean told me that it is really important for young men to read Proverbs. And when they are done it, they should read it again. And again. Seeing as it is addressed to a young man, there’s a point to what he was saying. The fact was, I was always mystified by a lot of the comments that were held in there. Lady wisdom seemed elusive. If we are saved by grace through faith and not of works, why this call to pursue lady wisdom with such passion and yearning? Just consider the passion with which we are called to seek Lady Wisdom in Proverbs 2.

Over the last couple years, I have done some research on the Book of Proverbs. It has always bothered me that this book is so scattered. Is there no rhyme or rhythm? Is it a collection of Proverbs like the book of Psalms is a collection of songs? Or is there some sort of thematic organization of these Proverbs. It is probable that most of them were written by Solomon. It may be that Solomon wrote Proverbs 31 under Lemuel’s name. It may be that Solomon compiled the Proverbs of various men in the power of the Holy Spirit. All we have in the immediate text is that Proverbs 30 was written by Augur and Proverbs 31 was written by Lemuel.

I have pieced them together my research from the meager resources in this way. In Proverbs 1, we see that Solomon is speaking to a young man, a prince in this setting. Seeing as young men are rash and easily go astray, all this wisdom is crucial for his development. Over the course of this “narrative” or “drama,” this young man comes in contact with strange women, with rulers, with bands of fools who want him to join their number. Every young man can identify with all these temptations. Through all these various temptations, the young man is called to pursue lady wisdom, a metaphor for Christ. As he pursues Christ, there are some very practical applications in the way he approaches the table of a ruler, the way he deals with fools and conflict, and the way he responds to women and wine.

The height of this “drama” is when he choses lady wisdom as displayed in the choice of a good wife: the Proverbs 31 woman. He has not chosen the wicked woman, he has chosen lady wisdom. Here, it seems that King Lemuel is relating the words of His mother in the form of a Proverb. He is writing, but he is writing down her words. It seems that there are several layers to this passage: this woman of Proverbs 31 summarizes the themes of Proverbs, she represents wisdom, but she also represents the bride of christ, the Church. I also find it interesting that the Hebrew Bible places Ruth right after Proverbs 31. But we shan’t speculate too much.

Our text:

In Proverbs 31 our primary focus is the man, Prince, or King of Proverbs 31. Sure, Proverbs 31 has become cliché in evangelical culture, but we have to remember that the writer of this passage wrote down the Words of God in the power of the Holy Spirit. We must realize the powerful imagery and wisdom which is presented in the first 9 verses of this text. King Lemuel’s mother is the voice of wisdom. She knows that her son is a King. But as a lady of wisdom she also knows what is the making or breaking of a man or a king. Seeing as she is the king’s mother, or Queen, she has probably seen a number of kings come to destruction. We’ll turn quickly to her first two admonitions and dwell for longer on the last one, since I believe that this one is in great need of emphasis in our culture. Remember Proverbs 1: 20-23 in this context:

Wisdom cries aloud in the street,

in the markets she raises her voice;

at the head of the noisy streets she cries out;

at the entrance of the city gates she speaks:

“How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?

How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing

and fools hate knowledge?

If you turn at my reproof,

behold, I will pour out my spirit to you;

I will make my words known to you.

There are two things which King Lemuel is called to avoid: women who destroy the ways of kings, and wine. This is directly opposed to the culture’s view of masculinity. In our culture, a strong man gets in bed with as many women as possible and can down more shots of whiskey on a Friday night than the other men around him. He drops the F-bomb, if not often, at least on occasion. Donald Trump is a real man to many men. He is considered strong because he is a bull in a China shop.

We could call these the negative commands in this passage, but the verses post vs. 9 show quite the opposite. The result of obeying these commands is glory. These are very positive commands. There is real strength and glory in being a one-woman man, there is real strength in avoiding the abuse of booze. Proverbs has made abundant use of contrasting the way of death to the way of life. “Wisdom is a tree of life to those who embrace her” Often the things that promise life bring death, but the promises of God in Proverbs are true. There is only life in Proverbs. Wisdom will pour out her spirit on you.

One of the reasons we are called not to be given to strong drink is that when we drink to much, we “drink and forget what has been decreed and pervert the rights of all the afflicted.” The commission of a King is to defend righteousness and to defend the rights of those who are afflicted. This is revealed in the third imperative: “Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.”

This is the positive task of the King. Throughout proverbs the true King is called not “to put yourself forward in the king’s presence or stand in the place of the great,” for as the following verse says, it is better to be raised up than put down. The focus of a King is not upon money, power, or fame, his focus is on service. He is called to be sensitive to the needs of those suffering in his kingdom. But he is also called to not allow this sensitivity to cripple him. He must stand up. He must open his mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and the needy. This is what it means to have royal authority.

Such is the state of Paul in 2 Corinthians as he sees himself as a servant of the congregation through Jesus Christ. The way of authority in the new testament goes through the cross. And often what you see there are nails, and torn skin, and the Son of God stretched out on a cross, suffering for the sins of the world. For the mute, for the destitute, for the poor and the needy. Christ did it so that we could take up our cross in His strength. He calls us to take up our cross and follow Him.

I find it fascinating that this is his Mom saying this to him. What? Submit myself to a woman? Sure, men are the ones called to have authority in the church. But it is the wisdom of a wise Mother like Lemuel’s Mom which endows authority with wisdom. But listening to a woman!!!! How is this possible? Here, once again is the importance of a King not giving his ways to the ways of women who destroy kings or to the false promises of the bottle. It is the wisdom of a voice like that of his mother which leads him down the path of righteousness. The woman who does not destroy Kings calls him to serve, to stoop down, to defend the needy. Sometimes she has to scream at him from the market square as he goes to his death. So that she might save him from death. This is a very high view of women in the church! They help us to see the need for humility, to see the need for the Kingly task of service.

There is a wisdom that the Lord calls His Princes to, that the world might scoff at, but is the mark of a King: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8). This is the way of the cross. But it is also the way of joy, true joy. As seminarians let us rejoice and delight in this path of service that the Lord calls His princes too. “It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.” (Prov. 3:8) “Get wisdom; get insight; do not forget, and do not turn away from the words of my mouth. Do not forsake her, and she will keep you; love her, and she will guard you.” (Prov. 4: 5-6) “But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day.” (Prov. 4:18)


I wrote this as a chapel message in the first semester of the 2016-2017 school year at CRTS.


How Shall We Then Fight?

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Reformed and Presbyterians, at least of the more conservative brand, are known to be scrappy. J. Gresham Machen, one of the founding pastors of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, wrote in his book Christianity & Liberalism: “In the sphere of religion, as in other spheres, the things about which men are agreed are apt to be the things that are least worth holding; the really important things are the things about which men will fight.” While Machen’s “Warrior Children” took this a little too far when they began to scrap over the type of wood in the pews of the sanctuary, Machen’s point itself is one that should not be easily dismissed.

It is a Biblical point that Machen begins to formulate here in his polemic against liberalism in the church. Jude writes, calling on Christians to contend for the faith (Jude 3). Paul’s letter to Titus and Timothy are both a code of conduct in the battles that they must fight in the church and the world. Especially when it came to really important matters like Jewish people eating with Greek people in the church, the Apostle Paul was willing to stand up and confront his colleague the Apostle Peter (Gal. 2:11-14). I’m sure I could come up with many more examples of a call to conflict. We must contend for the truth.

Of course, I can already hear cheering from the bleachers, but you might realize that it is mainly the church foot ball team and a few farmers. On the other hand, there are a number of people who are wondering if this is tactful and helpful for the church. This group refers to Christ’s blessing on the peacemakers. Or as The Apostle Paul states in his letter to Timothy: “I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling;” (I Tim. 2:8). This is probably one of the most unpopular verses in Scripture among the anti-effeminacy crowd. Remember, even King David says: “Your gentleness made me great.” (Psalm 18:35)

Calvin’s exposition of the Sermon on the Mount was helpful for me. I recall that he explains that the word ‘peacemaker’ is a compound one. It involves peace, but it also involves an active making of peace. Machen realized that the peace of his time was a false peace. But he was also very careful making distinctions between members and office-bearers. Although Presbyterian, he was careful to recognize his solidarity with other variations of Protestantism and even Roman Catholicism to some degree against liberalism.

So if fight we must, how shall we then fight? Obviously any warfare in the church should engage with the whole counsel of God including Paul’s command to lift holy hands without anger or quarreling. This mean that we should also engage with the whole counsel of God for Christian living. So asking the question “how shall we fight?” brings up other questions “who shall we fight?” “what ideas shall we fight?” “when shall we fight?”. Is direct confrontation always the best mode of attack? Much more could be said about what is a hill to die on and what exactly is worth dividing over.

But there are other important questions. In your fights, is your speech exemplary and are your actions just as exemplary? Is your combat shaped by bitter jealousy and selfish ambition (James 3:14), or is it shaped by the wisdom from above which “is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial, and sincere” (James 3:17)? Again, James permits an active “peacemaking” here, but it must have a goal: “And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” (James 3:18)

I am thankful for the battles that Machen fought almost 100 years ago. I am thankful for the battles that leaders in the Christian Reformed Church fought 25 years ago as they worked to form the United Reformed Churches. But in a church of splinters and fragments we should not forget to ask the question “how should we then fight?” Yes, we must fight, but we must also lift holy hands without quarreling and anger, as well as submit to the wisdom that is from above in all our contention for truth. Machen himself wrote at the close of his book on Christianity and Liberalism:

Is there no refuge from the strife? Is there no place of refreshing where a man can prepare for the battle of life? Is there no place where two or three can gather in Jesus’ name, to forget for the moment all those things that divide nation from nation and race from race, to forget human pride, to forget the passions of war, to forget the puzzling over industrial strife, and to unite in overflowing gratitude at the foot of the Cross? if there be such a place, then that is the house of God and that the gate of heaven. And from under the threshold of that house will go forth a river that will revive a weary world.

I have more questions than answers here. But I believe that some of the Biblical principles laid out above are a good start. One thing that I have learned is that if men who love the Holy Bible don’t contend for peace, those who love brawling and error/heresy and sin will win the day. So yes, the word ‘peacemaker’ does indeed involve contention.


 

 

Setting the Bar for Dating: But Everybody Kisses!

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Dating culture has to be one of the more awkward aspects of striving to be a Christian in North America. Even in the Church, different communities have set various expectations and boundaries. Some communities set the bar high and some set the bar low. Others promote various forms of legalism, while others mislabel appropriate boundaries as legalistic. Let us begin this discussion with the assumption that Jesus Christ is Saviour and Lord.

Take kissing as an example of a boundary. Everybody loves kissing a person that they are attracted to. This is where confusion begins to happen. My parents made it simple and (wisely) cautioned against all and every form of kissing on the mouth before marriage. And no, they never apologized for this position. I am thankful for that faithful and direct leadership. Not all evangelicals feel the need to apologize for their fight for godliness. In spite of that position, by and large, I would wager that kissing is commonly accepted and even assumed in many United Reformed and Canadian Reformed communities.

Now, someone might ask, what is your problem with kissing? The Bible does not speak much of it. Obviously, the clearest references are to sex outside of marriage. That is why the Apostle Paul encourages men and women to get married (I Cor. 7:2). That’s why sex is limited to the marriage bed (Heb. 13:4). That is why Paul commands Christians to flee sexual immorality (I Cor. 6:18-20). This is why sex before marriage is condemned in Deut. 22:13-19. But what does any of this have to do with kissing? What does this have to do with the 19 year old guy who wants to move to first base on his first date and his girlfriend feels uncomfortable because she has never kissed before? Nathan, you Pharisee! You holy roller! You Bible thumper!

Jesus goes deeper than the legalistic leaders in Israel who add line upon line and measure upon measure (Isaiah 28:13). He challenges the problem of lust in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus not only says that the one who lusts commits adultery (Matt. 5:28). But he also encourages young men to do anything to avoid that lust: “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.” (Matt. 5:29-30) This teaching of Christ was promoted in Lord’s Day 41 the Heidelberg Catechism in the 1500s: “Therefore he forbids all unchaste acts, gestures, words, thoughts, desires,and whatever may entice us to unchastity.”

I become more and more convinced of the relevance of the Letters to Corinth to the Church in North America. We live in a culture dominated by entertainment, wealth, and laziness. The laissez-faire attitude toward sin in the culture is absorbed by the church. Reformed Christians talk about Christian liberty, and we often use this as a justification for our perversions. As a friend once pointed out to me: right theology does not guarantee right living.

The Apostle Peter warned the church about an abuse of Christian liberty in I Peter 2:16 “Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.” The Apostle Paul launches an argument back against the self-justifications of the Corinthian church: “‘All things are lawful for me,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful for me,’ but I will not be dominated by anything.” (I Cor. 6:12) This principle was important enough to the Apostle Paul and so necessary for the church in Corinth that he repeats it in reference to serving one another: “‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.” (I Cor. 10:23-24)

Since the first cavil against someone who tries to establish boundaries is that they are graceless, I may as well refute this argument asap. Sexual immorality before marriage does not turn you into damaged goods. Jesus dispenses His grace to sexual sinners who believe in His Name. But then His grace confronts old identities: “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) The Apostle Paul himself engages with the culture in Thessalonika for a Christian culture: “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” (I Thess 4:3-5)

So here is my appeal to the 19-year-old guy who is evaluating the wisdom of making out with his girlfriend in the back of his pick-up at 1:00 in the morning. No the Bible does not condemn that in those words. It’s cool though that you care so much about what the Bible exactly says. When did you become a Biblicist? I know she is cute. But lets think this through rationally. Are you free from lust? Is this helpful for your spiritual life? Is this truly beneficial to your girlfriend? Are you controlling your body in holiness and honour? Does this provide strong Christian leadership? Does this show the strength of Spirit-filled self-control? I know, you think you are strong. But you won’t be the first guy to cross home base and make a home run. Why not do that honorably (ie within the bounds of marriage)?

So yes, you may not know of a single girl who has not kissed within the first couple dates. Sure, you may think that it is totally fine to kiss a girl and to kiss as many girls as you date. But maybe, just maybe, the bar is set too low and that is why there is so much sexual immorality in our churches. Maybe we have to think of boundaries less as legalisms and more as that act of tearing out the eye and cutting off the hands so that the whole body will not go to Hell.


A Culture of Repentance in the Church

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I can imagine a scenario where a wife challenges her husband on some sort of hurtful word or action, for some aspect of laziness, or maybe for some sort of self-destructive behavior. In that scenario her husband responds, not with careful thought and reflection and then an apology that fits the actual sin, but with a number of critical remarks about her. Either that or he thinks up a number of excuses or self-justifications. Of course, the reason that I can imagine this scenario, is because I have been in this scenario.

Marriage maximizes the struggles that happen between Christians as well. Marriage, when done rightly, can actually be the most important battle ground for interpersonal conflict between Christians. To put it another way, it is rare that there will be a culture of repentance in the Church if there is no culture of repentance in marriages and in the Christian home.

So what do I mean by ‘a culture of repentance’? I will simply define culture here as: “the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization” (link). It is a way of life, and each community is either getting better at it or worse at it.

The Apostle Peter calls on men and women to repent to the Lord: “Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out,” (Acts 3:19) King David confesses his sin first before God: “I confess my iniquity; I am sorry for my sin.” (Psalm 38:18) But Christian repentance does not only happen before God but also before His image bearers. The Apostle James emphasizes this in his excursus on the Christian life and life together as a Christian community: “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” (James 5:16)

Repentance, of course, involves both words and actions. It can involve a very simple formula “I am sorry, I have done you wrong.” Speaking in Biblical terms, repentance also involves a u-turn, a transformation in action. It means: “to repent, to change any or all of the elements composing one’s life: attitude, thoughts, and behaviors concerning the demands of God for right living” (link). Repentance is not just self-centered grief, but it is a godly grief: “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter.” (2 Cor. 7:10-11)

In order to work towards a culture of repentance we should also recognize the attitudes and values that characterize a culture of unrepentance.

If I am the one being approached, there are certain words and actions that discourage a culture of repentance. While these words may indeed be true and can be brought out at an appropriate time, red herrings, like “you are too sensitive” or “you are reading into things,” are more often than not inappropriate at the moment of conflict. Rather than the more appropriate act of self-reflection and the act of taking the log out of my own eye before I take the speck out of the other’s, I fixate on the speck in other’s so that I can ignore the log in my own. I capitalize on the weakness and emotional vulnerability of the other, so that I can avoid any sort of repentance and real change in my own life. My pride, my selfishness, is all that matters.

But the principle of taking the log out of my own eye first, is also important in confronting a sin. In any sort of confrontation, Christians struggle with impure motives and often lack self-reflection. King David was perhaps one of the more confrontational characters of Scripture, and yet he 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!”

King David says in Psalm 7:12 “If a man does not repent, God will whet his sword; he has bent and readied his bow;” Obviously, if things are not right with God, then they will not be right with men. But having made things right with God, He is also in the process of renewing our relationships with our brothers and sisters. Sometimes that renewal must wait until heaven, but some of the most humbling times of my short life have been when I have seen Christians recognize their own sin and reconcile with one another. Even more humbling is when I recognize my own sin and have to apologize to a brother or sister.

Much more could be said about apologizing for actual sin, hyper-sensitivity, etc. But here I want to say that a culture of repentance also gives rise to a culture of forgiveness. Christians can suffer the harsh judgements of some Christians in expectation of the forgiveness of God and in hope of a healthier environment of repentance within the church. These are not easy issues, but they are necessary to wrestle with.

 

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.