Marriage as a Blood Covenant?

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In a recent discussion about marriage and the role of the church in performing marriages, a pastor mentioned that he didn’t see the need for the church to perform wedding ceremonies. The way he explained it marriage is a covenant that is ratified when the man and woman consummate their marriage. The important part, to him, is the initial sexual act. That is what makes it a marriage. He went on to say that marriage is a “blood covenant.” Like all biblical covenants, he said, it’s sealed by the spilling of blood.

I was honestly floored by this discussion. I have no problem at all speaking of marriage as a covenant. Vows are made, and there is a legal agreement. Marriage is binding, and there are only a few biblical reasons to divorce. Marriage isn’t to be entered into lightly. It should always be taken seriously.

However, the part about marriage as a blood covenant really took me aback. I did some research into the concept and found a couple of examples of this teaching. As a side note, it does not seem to be mainstream or widely accepted. Many of the pastors and theologians (all reformed) I spoke with had never heard of it. Here are a couple of quotes that explain the teaching. Forgive me for the explicit nature of the following descriptions.

Marriage: A Blood Covenant with a Three-fold Purpose” by Bob Vincent

So as we look at the inception of marriage under the Old Testament, we discover that it involves, as all blood covenants do, the shedding of blood. And we discover that virginity was a very special and treasured thing in the law of God. And it is special and treasured because it is part of the shedding of the blood in this blood covenant of marriage. So important it is, that the parents of the young woman preserve the evidence that she was a virgin on her wedding night, so that if her husband proves to be a scoundrel and accuses her of not being what she said she was — and this is not the case of someone who is honest and up front before marriage, but this is someone presenting herself for marriage, and she is not really that — then the parents produce the evidence of the blood covenant with the garment or the sheet that was … that absorbed the blood in the cutting of the covenant.

The Hebrew word, by the way, for making a covenant is literally, in Hebrew, “to cut a covenant.” We cut a covenant. And so in the marriage act there are two things. There is the couple committing themselves to live together after God’s ordinance, and there is the shedding of the blood, the private act, the cutting of the covenant. Both things are important.

Covenant Sexuality” by Dannah Gresh

The next test is that a biblical covenant is always sealed in blood. The covenant between Abraham and God was sealed with animal sacrifice. There was blood.

The greatest covenant that you and I know is the covenant of Jesus Christ and the cross. It is sealed in blood. Do you know that the gift of marriage is also a covenant sealed in blood? Let me be a little technical with you for a just a moment. There is a small tissue within every woman. It’s called the hymen. It’s within her body.

When she has sex for the very first time, this tissue is stretched or torn, and there is a release of blood. Now, if you grew up in the day and age when Jesus walked the earth, the Jewish wedding ceremony took this so seriously, this covenant of blood, that the first gift that they would have given you, as a young bride, would have been white wedding linens.

And they would want you to seal the covenant on that night, returning from your honeymoon chamber with blood evidence to share with your whole family, that this covenant had been sealed in blood. Somebody tell me you’re glad you’re a woman of the new millennium.

But you know what? They weren’t uncomfortable with that. They celebrated it; they understood the significance of the blood. It was a beautiful thing. Sex is a blood covenant.

To summarize, the idea is that all covenants require a shedding of blood to seal the covenant. Marriage is a covenant that is sealed by the shedding of a virgin’s blood during her first sexual experience with her husband.

I find this teaching to be grotesque and potentially very dangerous. I also think it’s unbiblical for a number of reasons.

First, do all biblical covenants require the shedding of blood to seal the covenant? According to the Westminster Shorter Catechism, God entered into a covenant of life with Adam before the fall:

Q. 12. What special act of providence did God exercise towards man in the estate wherein he was created?
A. When God had created man, he entered into a covenant of life with him, upon condition of perfect obedience; forbidding him to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, upon the pain of death.

Was there shedding of blood to seal this covenant? There was, of course, considerable blood shed as a result of the breaking of this covenant. But nothing is said or alluded to about blood in the ratifying of the covenant of life.

Second, marriage is a creation ordinance instituted by God before the fall. Why would there be a need for the shedding of blood before sin and death had entered the world? Did Eve bleed on her wedding night? Only she and Adam know, but I doubt it. The curse brought pain to childbearing and all it entails. There is no reason for Eve to have experienced that pain before she sinned.

The third reason I think this teaching is unbiblical is that we now live under the covenant of grace after the last, best, and only true sacrifice has already taken place. Christ has paid the penalty for our sins, and there are no more sacrifices. Ever. Why would any Christian who has been bought by the precious blood of Christ teach that a woman must offer a sacrifice of blood to seal her marriage?

Lastly, I want to consider the very practical side of things. Not all women bleed on their wedding night. This can be true for any number of reasons. Does this invalidate their marriage? It doesn’t change the vows they made.

Let’s consider a few different scenarios. First, not all virgins will bleed the first time they have sex. That’s simply medical fact.

Second, not everyone who marries is a virgin. Many people have sexual sins that they have repented of. Some people have been sinned against. (Although in those cases I would still consider them to be virgins.) Are their marriages less valid? Under a covenant of works, maybe. But we live under a covenant of grace with forgiveness and mercy.

Also, the teaching seems to demean second marriages. There are valid, biblical reasons for widowed or divorced men and women remarry. In these marriages, no one is a virgin. Their marriages are biblical and God-honoring. Does it matter that they weren’t sealed with blood? Are they less married as a result?

I understand the desire to strengthen the biblical arguments for marriage. Marriage is under attack in our culture today. But in our attempts to bolster biblical marriage we need to be careful about the unintended consequences of going beyond what Scripture teaches. I see four basic repercussions from teaching that marriage is a blood covenant.

  • It teaches a repulsive view of the sexual relationship between a husband and wife. What was created to be a beautiful expression of the one flesh relationship should not be twisted into a bloody sacrifice.
  • It idolizes virginity. It is a good and God-honoring thing for women (and men) to wait for marriage. It is a blessing, and it protects against many heartaches. But it’s should not be made into an idol. There is a serious danger of that happening. Consider “purity balls.”
  • It overshadows the grace and forgiveness that we live under as believers in Christ. We are all sinners saved by grace. There are no more sacrifices required.
  • It could be used to promote or excuse abuse. There is so much that could be said here, but I’ll leave it at this. There are despicable men in this world who would use this teaching to hurt women.

Marriage is a beautiful thing. God gave us marriage for our benefit and mutual support and as a picture of the relationship between Christ as His Church. We should work hard to support and protect marriage. But we don’t need to go back to the Old Testament sacrificial system to do so.

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1 ESV)

My 2 Cents: Feminism, Stereotypes, and Experiences

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Last week, I read a post “If I Had a Million Dollars (Why I’m Not a Feminist)” by Shannon Popkin. It’s an article written in response to another post, “If I Had a Dollar (Why I Am a Feminist)” by Anna Fonte. Both women wrote about their experiences: growing up, fathers, mothers, daughters, families, men, fulfillment as a woman. Both articles make some interesting points, but each falls short of getting to the heart of what feminism is and why it should be embraced or rejected.

The terms “feminist” and “feminism” are used often but the meaning is variable. Most historians consider there to have been three waves of feminism. First wave feminism took place in the late 1800s to early 1900s. It was mainly concerned with legal rights. Most people are familiar with the suffrage movement to give women the right to vote. But there were other legal rights that the first wave feminists sought. These include: the right to inherit property, shared ownership of their children, the right to own property, the ability to execute wills and make legal decisions for their children, and the ability to be a legal witness in a court case. The first wave feminists also wanted to improve opportunities for women in education and in the workplace.

While some may argue with me about this, these goals were admirable ones. Before this time women were truly at the mercy of others and often unprotected. A woman whose husband died or left her might find herself with no money, no shelter, and very few good options for employment.

In the 1960s, a second wave of feminism began. While these feminists were also concerned about inequalities in the workplace and in the laws, many were pushing for what would be called “reproductive rights.” Abortion, contraception, and less restrictions on sexuality were part of what this wave is known for. Not all women agreed, however. Many women who were for “equal pay for equal work” were not in favor of abortion. There is still a significant group of feminists who are pro-life.

Other goals from the 1960s-1980s include ending discrimination in the workplace and courts, awareness of domestic violence, and confronting the objectification and exploitation of women through prostitution and pornography.

Second wave feminism is more of a mixed bag when considering the good and bad of the movement’s goals. Abortion and “casual sex” have, and continue to, hurt many women. No fault divorce, along with these, has allowed many men to abandon women and children with little responsibility for their welfare.

Interestingly enough, it was a disagreement among some feminists over issues such as prostitution and pornography that lead to a distinct third wave. The third wave of feminism began in the 1990s and has been well-known for it’s focus on gender and sexuality. Many third wave feminists embrace a very fluid definition of gender and an unrestrained and open sexuality. There is nothing that I can commend in these goals.

Considering the three waves of feminism, there are some good things that have come from the first and second waves. If you are a single woman who lives on her own, owns her own home, and has a good job you have these women to thank for much of that. If you have never been asked in a job interview when your last period was (they wanted to know if you might be pregnant and likely to leave the job) you owe that to these women. If you are a woman who has an education and job opportunities for decent employment, you are benefiting from the work of these women.

But it isn’t all good. As I pointed out above, there are some really awful things that have been brought about by the various waves of feminism. Abortion, casual sex, open sexuality, fluid gender: these are wrong and have brought about nothing but hurt.

There is also a very ugly side to the modern feminist movement: the demeaning and devaluing of men. It is very common today to hear women say that men are worthless, that women don’t need men, that women are better than men. Men are often the butt of jokes as clueless or useless. This is very ugly and completely wrong.

Back to the two articles I mentioned at the start. I believe that both articles are weak because they focus mainly on experiences and on stereotypes. Anna (why I am a feminist) explains how men have hurt her and her mother. She chooses abortion because of what was happening in her life at the time. She uses her life history to show that she doesn’t need a man because from her history men are not to be trusted.

Shannon (why I am not a feminist) explains from her own history how her dad and her husband have cared and provided for her and her family. She and her mother embraced traditional roles as homemakers and mothers. She feels happy and fulfilled because being a mother and homemaker is better and more fulfilling than any career or other way of life. She sees feminists as angry and less happy. She uses her life history to show what it means to be “not a feminist.”

Anna’s piece is very sad to me. She has been hurt by men and lied to by those who told her abortion was the answer. She has scars from her childhood and needs desperately to be loved and forgiven as only Christ can. She’s wrong about men. Some men are wicked and untrustworthy. But that’s not the way it should be.

Shannon’s article is frustrating to me. She’s had a good life. She has a husband and children. Her husband has been able to provide in such a way that she is able to be at home and care for her family. But I’m concerned that her emphasis on fulfillment through husband and children will hurt women who do not have the same experiences.

Is this the only way or even the best way for Christian women to find fulfillment? There are many single women around, godly women who would love to be married and have a family. But God has not provided that for them. Are they less fulfilled? Do they have less value if they serve God through their career and friendships? What about women who help to provide for their families through their work? Are they less worthy of praise? Are they “feminists” because they work outside their homes? And what about the barren women? Are they less fulfilled because God hasn’t filled their arms with children?

While I think it’s very important to stand for good things life family, homes, marriages, and child-rearing, we should not created a checklist of what it means to be a good woman beyond what Scripture teaches. The Proverbs 31 woman, among other examples, was a woman of many talents who was busy providing for her home as well as caring for her household.

So as far as feminism goes, I’m thankful for the good, and I reject the bad. Would I call myself a feminist? No, especially not given the modern feminist movement. My life experiences, both good and bad, are not the reason I’m “not a feminist.” My reasons are based not on stereotypes, but on objective truth.

My own list would look like this:

  • Men and women are both created in the image of God and equal in Christ
  • Husbands and wives are different and need each other
  • Husbands are called to be the spiritual leaders of their homes and wives are called to submit to that leadership
  • Ordained leaders in the church should be men
  • Men and Women are fulfilled by glorifying God in all they do through the callings and gifts that God has given them individually
  • What that looks like will be different for each man and woman
  • Abortion is always to be rejected.
  • Sexuality is to be expressed in marriage.
  • Marriage is between one man and one woman.
  • Divorce should only be the result of adultery, abandonment, or abuse.

When we move past experience and stereotypes to biblical truth, we find that there are some things that are absolutes on which we should not budge. And there are other things that are matters of discernment and liberty. We should be kind but firm on the one, and gracious and flexible on the other. May we build each other up in Christ.

The Sociology (or Freudian Psychology) of Hats?

Over at the blog-that-must-not-be-named, the boys are at it again. This time it’s a short excerpt from a much longer piece that attempts to draw some sociological conclusions from the changes in hats during the 20th century:

I’ll just leave you with one sociological note. I love this. It’s James Laver’s sociology of hats. In the Victorian period, says Laver, men’s hats were very tall and very stiff, like John D. Rockefeller’s shiny silk toppers in all the old cartoons, while women were wearing kerchiefs, pieces of thin pale fabric that lay limply on top of the head with no superstructure to give them shape.

As you get to the early 1900s, instead of standing up erectly and boldly like the topper, men’s hats begin to shrink in size, stiffness, and assertion. The crowns shrivel to less than half the size of the topper’s—in some cases, as with the trilby, less than a third. They begin to be made of felt, with dents and creases and wrinkles that make it obvious just how soft and diffident they are. And today, a century later, men’s hats have been reduced to…oh yes, pieces of fabric that lay limply on the head with no superstructure to give them shape: baseball caps, gone-fishing caps, little-kid caps, snow caps with no pom-pom balls sewn on top, no balls at all…in other words, pre-puberty hats, while women’s hats, so-called garden party hats, become huge, with great brims of intimidating diameter and decorations gaudy as a peacock’s, which means—well, all I can say is that great theories have been induced from much less!

Okaaaay . . .  wow.

So if I understand it correctly, back when men were men in the Victorian times, men’s hats were tall and straight and manly. Then over time, men hats have become less impressive and somehow less masculine. The implication being that men’s hats reflecting the role of men in society, I guess.

As a student of history and someone who enjoys historical fashion, I decided to have a little fun with this. What follows is a brief study of hats across the centuries.

First, despite the author’s statement that Victorian women wore kerchiefs, Victorian ladies wore very impressive hats:

victorian hat

Victorian Women Hats Victorian lady with fabulous

Women even wore “top hats”

On the other hand, men also wore a variety of hat depending on the occasion:

In the 1600’s, women’s hats were impressive, and men’s hats were not so much:

Of course, since Elizabeth was reigning at the time, it might be argued that men’s hats expressed the angst men felt at being ruled by a woman.

Let’s move on to an earlier time. In the 1400’s women wore very impressive hats:

And what were the men wearing? Let’s just say it’s not as impressive:

Hmm. Maybe hats don’t reflect societal changes and gender roles. Maybe fashion has always been a bit silly. However, let’s consider one last thing.

Men here in Texas wear this kind of hat:

But then, so do the women:

Christians, Businesses, and the Brave New World

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There have been several stories in the news lately about Christian business owners who are being sued for refusing to provide their services for same-sex weddings. A handful of Christians have lost their businesses as a result of their stance. On Sunday, I read an article about how Christians in business should act towards the LGBT community. “Mission, Ministry, and Same-Sex Ceremonies” was written by an unnamed PCA pastor who believes that it is unbiblical for Christians to refuse goods and services, like flowers or a cake, for same-sex ceremonies:

Namely, this florist—and many other Christians involved in providing the trappings of  the American wedding industry—are incorrect regarding the biblical principles for providing their goods or services for a same-sex ceremony. I believe they are in error due to a misunderstanding of the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers, due to a conflating of a personal “ick” factor with biblical morality, and due to an unhealthy fixation on the individual rights of Christians versus the corporate calling of the Church.

The author writes that by refusing to provide goods and services Christians are failing to show love to their homosexual neighbors and are hurting the mission and work of the church to spread the gospel:

I understand the well-intentioned efforts of Christians to honor God with their work, and I applaud them for it. However, when Christians misunderstand the nature of their work by loading it with all sorts of ministerial freight that it just does not have, they don’t serve the mission of the gospel. When we serve certain sinners but not others because we’ve baptized our “ick” factor as a biblical standard, we are not being the salt and light we think we are. When we slip into asserting our rights instead of living as those “bought with a price,” we do not serve the good news of Jesus Christ.

I believe that the author is completely and utterly wrong. I believe that he has misunderstood and misrepresented the beliefs and motivations of these Christian business owners. I’ll explain why I disagree with each of his points, but first, I think it’s worth noting that the pastor is clear that he would not perform a same-sex wedding ceremony. I’m glad that we agree there. I do wonder what the author’s stance is on attending a same-sex wedding. I agree with those who have argued that we shouldn’t attend, because it’s a sign of support and approval of the ceremony and what it stands for.

The author’s first point is that the refusal to provide services for these ceremonies is a misunderstanding of the “priesthood of believers.” While all work is ultimately to God’s glory, he writes that there is a difference between the role a minister plays in the wedding ceremony and the role business owners play in providing flowers, music, cakes, etc. He believes that only the minister represents God’s authority. Therefore, according to the author, there is no “religious” reason for Christians to refuse.

While it is certainly true that flowers and cake and music and decorations are merely “trappings of the American wedding industry,” it’s not necessarily true that Christians who refuse are doing so based on a misunderstanding of their role. Is it not possible that these Christians hold personal convictions that providing services for same-sex ceremonies would be participating in a celebration of sin?

You don’t have to believe that flowers and cake are somehow redemptive to believe that your participation in a same-sex ceremony would be an approval of the ceremony itself. If these Christians believe that their participation is sinful because it would appear to be giving approval, then should we force them to act against their consciences? Isn’t that contrary to what Romans 14:23 teaches?

The author’s second point is that Christians who refuse services for same-sex ceremonies are conflating their personal “ick” factor with biblical morality. His argument is a combination of two common objections: we’re just grossed out by homosexuality and we’re singling out this particular sin to object to. The author wonders whether these business owners are making sure they aren’t participating in other types of sins when providing their services. As an example, the author writes that since pride, gluttony, and not caring for the poor are sins, are business owners refusing services to most of the middle class and all the upper class in America?

I have three points in response here. First, we should be concerned about all sin. If we aren’t as concerned about adultery, abortion, hatred, gossip, etc. as we are about homosexuality, then we should work to root out sin in all facets of our own lives. The answer is not that we should therefore be lax on homosexuality.

Second, it isn’t wrong to be repulsed by sin. Heaven help us, all to often we are completely at ease with sin. That said, many of the Christian businesses in question have gladly and willingly provided general services to their homosexual neighbors. They have cultivated relationships and friendships. They have shown no indication that they find their neighbors to be “icky.” They have simply refused to participate in a ceremony that celebrates sin and mocks the biblical origin and purpose of marriage.

Third, the author is concerned that Christians aren’t investigating whether or not their services might be used in to promote sin. I believe that 1 Corinthians 10:25-29 addresses the issue here:

Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. For “the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.” If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience. But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience—I do not mean your conscience, but his. For why should my liberty be determined by someone else’s conscience? (1 Corinthians 10:25-29 ESV)

We should go about our business dealings doing our best to honor God in all we do. We do not need to investigate the background or purposes for every transaction. However, if someone comes to us and says they want our services for something sinful, we should refuse, gently and with humility, but we must refuse.

As an example in the beginning of his article, the author poses a question from a medical professional about needing to provide services to any and all with very few exceptions. However, would that medical professional provide an abortifacient to a pregnant woman? I hope not.

Unlike the example in 1 Corinthians (eating meat or not), homosexual behavior is not adiaphora. Scripture clearly condemns it in many places. This is not a matter of Christian liberty, or an area where Christians can simply agree to disagree. Christians should interact with sinners, but we shouldn’t participate in their pagan ceremonies. And it is a pagan ceremony, what god is honored in a same-sex ceremony?

The author’s last point is that refusing to provide services for a same-sex wedding is an “unhealthy fixation on individual rights” vs. the “corporate calling of the church.” He writes that American Christians are too focused on individual rights. As slaves to Christ, we must be willing to set aside our rights for the good of the church and the advancement of the gospel. According to the author, we should be focused on the power of the gospel for the salvation of sinners and not on our boycotts.

My question is what gospel are we proclaiming if we cater to sin and promote it through our actions? If we show our approval of same-sex marriages by providing our services, are we truly loving our neighbors? This is the major issue of our day. Our stance on homosexuality, same-sex marriage, and related topics matters very much. We are to be kind and at peace with others to the best of our abilities, but when we are asked to participate in sin, we must refuse.

The first century Christians were asked to offer a pinch of incense on the altar to the Emperor. Many refused. They were deemed intolerant and unloving. Why didn’t they offer the incense so that they could continue to spread the gospel? Because it was a sin.

I believe Christians are right to refuse to participate in these ceremonies. They are acting on their convictions that same-sex weddings are inherently sinful and that participating would be approving of and promoting sin. We should be supporting and encouraging these believers instead of binding their consciences by telling them to participate in something they believe is sinful. The mission of the church is not harmed by their refusal. These Christians are standing firm on the issue of our day. We must do the same while offering the hope we have that we are all sinners and that Christ is our only salvation.

If I profess, with the loudest voice and the clearest exposition, every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christianity. Where the battle rages the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battle-field besides is mere flight and disgrace to him if he flinches at that one point. — Elizabeth Rundle Charles

Rewriting the Westminster Shorter Catechism? Not so fast

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Over at Reformation 21, Mark Jones has written a post on why we should rewrite the question and answer to question 1 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Instead of this being the q and a for the first question:

Q. 1. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

Mark Jones wants us to rewrite the question and add a second part:

Q. What is the chief end of God?
A. To glorify Christ, through the Spirit, and enjoy him forever.

Q. What is the chief end of man?
A. To glorify God and Christ and enjoy them, through the Spirit, forever.

His stated purpose for making the change is that he believes the original language does not focus us on Christ’s work, since Christ is not mentioned in the answer. I have a couple of thoughts about that that I want to address here.

First, I’m uncomfortable with saying that we know what God’s chief end is. We should be extremely careful when it comes to speculating about the things of God, especially when those things are not addressed specifically in Scripture. While it is demonstrably true that God the Father glorified Christ Jesus the Son and that the Father loves the Son, it is less clear if we can therefore infer that we know God’s chief end.

Calvin warned against speculating into the essence of God beyond what is revealed to us in Scripture:

Hence it is obvious, that in seeking God, the most direct path and the fittest method is, not to attempt with presumptuous curiosity to pry into his essence, which is rather to be adored than minutely discussed, but to contemplate him in his works, by which he draws near, becomes familiar, and in a manner communicates himself to us.

Book 1, Chapter 5, section 9, Calvin, J., & Beveridge, H. 1997. Institutes of the Christian religion.

I believe that we should tread lightly when discussing intra-Trinitarian workings.

Second, I have a concern about Jones’ underlying assumption. Jones says:

But, as I read the Scriptures, it could be more accurate. Sure, we are to glorify God and enjoy him forever. But any question and answer on the chief end of man must explicitly refer to Christ, as well as God.

“Christ, as well as God.” Does he believe that “God” only means the Father? Isn’t Christ God? When we worship and glorify God, do we not worship and glorify Father, Son, and Spirit? When the catechism and confession speak of the will of God does that mean only the will of the Father? Is there a hierarchy in the Godhead?

Maybe instead of critiquing and rewriting the catechism we should recover a more robust understanding of who God is. Interestingly enough, the catechism goes on to explain this in questions 3-6:

Q. 3. What do the Scriptures principally teach?
A. The Scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.

Q. 4. What is God?
A. God is a spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth.

Q. 5. Are there more Gods than one?
A. There is but one only, the living and true God.

Q. 6. How many persons are there in the godhead?
A. There are three persons in the Godhead; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory.

And there you have it. There is one God, three persons “equal in power and glory.” By simply continuing to read the catechism we see that in glorifying God, we are glorifying Father, Son, and Spirit.

If Mark Jones does not see Christ in the q and a for question 1, that is a product of his own misunderstanding, and not a failing in the catechism. Because if Jones is correct and “God” refers only to the Father, then the rest of the catechism becomes incomprehensible and grossly inaccurate.

My recommendation is that we leave the catechism alone and continue to teach all of it. Each question and answer builds on the others. Each references Bible verses to help us understand in greater depth. And if we have any doubts as to who we are to glorify forever, we can always sing the Doxology:

Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, ye heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

And Gloria Patri:

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost;
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be,
World without end. Amen, Amen.

The He-Man Women Haters Club has met again and declared me an “angry feminist”

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The boys over at the “Blog-that-must-not-be-named” have their shorts in a knot again over things I’ve written. Their most recent concern is a small excerpt from The Soul-numbing Dangers of Patriarchy where I write:

I believe patriarchy to be emotionally abusive because it creates an antagonistic relationship between husbands and wives, men and women.

They responded with the following:

“Patriarchy [is] emotionally abusive?” Does she mean the rule of God the Father over all His creation—that Father-Rule? Does she oppose the rule of Adam, our federal head? The rule of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob?

Since they are obviously reading my blog, I find it doubtful that they missed the places where I answer those very questions:

I absolutely believe that God is our Father and that He rules everything. If that’s all that’s meant by patriarchal, then I can agree. However, God is more than our Father. God is Father, Son, and Spirit. Besides being our Father, He is also our Husband, Redeemer, Creator, Savior, Teacher, Comforter. My concern is that we can limit our understanding of God by seeing Him ONLY as Father.- Is Complementarian Just Another Word for Patriarchy

And again, here:

I hold to the position mentioned above called Complementarianism. I believe that men and women are equal before God and that husbands and wives are made to complement each other. I also believe that men are called to be the spiritual leaders of their families and that women are not called to be officers in the Church. I believe that I am to submit to my husband’s leadership and that my husband is to love me sacrificially like Christ demonstrated by dying for the Church. I also believe that my husband and I are both to submit to the leadership of the elders that God has placed over us. – What’s Wrong with Biblical Patriarchy?

But this is really not about whether or not I’m an “angry feminist” who decries God’s fatherly rule over creation. This is what happens when someone dares to stand up against bullies, especially the patriarchal sort. They deny patriarchy, as practiced by today’s “Biblical Patriarchy” movement, is inherently abusive. But then they treat women who disagree with them in this way.

Of course, it’s worth noting that I’m not the only one to have experienced the impotent rage of the Bayly boys. Anyone who confronts them on anything may expect to receive similar treatment. As another recent target explains:

As you can see the Bayly Boys like to mix it up with others. But they don’t like it much when others mix it up with them.

Check out Bill Smith’s post in the link above. It’s well worth a read. I completely agree with his conclusion, “the only way to deal with a bully is to stand up to him.”

Maybe it would be worthwhile to consider if our behavior is more in line with this passage:

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21 ESV) emphasis mine

than with this one:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Galatians 5:22-24 ESV)

If it’s true that you are known by your enemies as much as your friends, then I count it a badge of honor to have been singled out by these guys. They have done nothing more than prove my point on the Gospel denying, soul-numbing dangers of patriarchy.

Nearly Everything Wrong with N.T. Wright Summed Up in One Chapter Heading

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John Walton, Professor of Old Testament at Wheaton and author of the Lost World of Genesis 1, has a new book coming out this Spring. The new book, The Lost World of Adam and Eve: Genesis 2-3 and the Human Origins Debateis summarized this way by the publishers:

For centuries the story of Adam and Eve has resonated richly through the corridors of art, literature and theology. But for most moderns, taking it at face value is incongruous. And even for many thinking Christians today who want to take seriously the authority of Scripture, insisting on a “literal” understanding of Genesis 2–3 looks painfully like a “tear here” strip between faith and science.

How can Christians of good faith move forward? Who were the historical Adam and Eve? What if we’ve been reading Genesis—and its claims regarding material origins—wrong? In what cultural context was this couple, this garden, this tree, this serpent portrayed?

Following his groundbreaking Lost World of Genesis One, John Walton explores the ancient Near Eastern context of Genesis 2–3, creating space for a faithful reading of Scripture along with full engagement with science for a new way forward in the human origins debate. As a bonus, an illuminating excursus by N. T. Wright places Adam in the implied narrative of Paul’s theology.

The Lost World of Adam and Eve will be required reading for anyone seeking to understand this foundational text historically and theologically, and wondering how to view it alongside contemporary understandings of human origins.

While there is much to be said about this book and the theological positions taken by the author (you can read the chapter headings here), what caught my attention was the “illuminating excursus by N.T. Wright.” Here is the full heading for Wright’s chapter, “Paul’s Use of Adam Is More Interested in the Effect of Sin on the Cosmos Than in the Effect of Sin on Humanity and Has Nothing to Say About Human Origins.”

This single chapter heading is truly amazing. It has successfully encapsulated almost everything that’s wrong with Wright’s theology. Let me explain what I mean. This chapter heading contains Wright’s low view of Scripture, his re-interpretation of Paul’s writings, his minimizing the importance of the salvation of individuals, his emphasis on the redemption of the cosmos, and his belief in the evolutionary origins of humanity.

First, the chapter heading illustrates Wright’s low view of the inspiration of Scripture. He speaks, here and in his other works, of “Paul’s use” as if Scripture is mainly the work of the human authors. It may seem like a stretch, but over and over again the repeated use of “what Paul means” or “Paul’s use of the Old Testament” or “Paul’s purposes,” etc. emphasizes the human author and de-emphasizes the work of the Holy Spirit in the writing and preserving of Scripture.

As far as inerrancy is concerned, Wright would not call himself an inerrantist and views the debate on inerrancy and inspiration to be an American preoccupation:

“…the insistence on an ‘infallible’ or ‘inerrant’ Bible has grown up within a complex cultural matrix (that, in particular, of modern North American Protestantism) where the Bible has been seen as the bastion of orthodoxy against Roman Catholicism on the one hand and liberal modernism on the other. Unfortunately, the assumptions of both those worlds have conditioned the debate. It is no accident that this Protestant insistence on biblical infallibility arose at the same time that Rome was insisting on papal infallibility, or that the rationalism of the Enlightenment infected even those who were battling against it.” Simply Christian (183)

Of course, Wright also believes the debate over the historicity of Adam is mainly an American preoccupation, so I’m not sure why he felt called to address it now.

Second, re-imagining and re-interpreting what Paul really meant is what Wright does. Wright has made his mark as part of the New Perspective on Paul. It should come as no surprise that Wright’s contribution to Walton’s book would be to explain to us how we’ve misunderstood and misused what Paul wrote.

What have we misunderstood this time? Two main things are mentioned in the chapter heading:

  • The effect of sin on the cosmos is more important than the effect of sin on humanity.
  • Paul had nothing to say about human origins.

I read an article this week that critiqued Wright’s “overstatement” on the importance of the cosmos as compared to humanity. The author is convinced that Wright simply overstated his case and that everyone knows that Scripture teaches that humans are more important than things. Unfortunately, the overemphasis on the importance of the cosmos is part and parcel of Wright’s theology.

Wright truly does believe that the cosmos are more important in the grand scheme of things. He believes that we have become way too focused on saving people and lost sight of our role in redeeming the cosmos:

to insist, in other words, that what happens eventually to individual humans is the most important thing in the world – may be to make a mistake similar to the one made by the Jewish people in the first century.

To focus not on the question of which human beings God is going to take to heaven and how he is going to do it but on the question of how God is going to redeem and renew his creation through human beings and how he is going to rescue those humans themselves as part of the process but not as the point of it all. Surprised by Hope (164 ebook)

Not only have we misunderstood the purpose and overarching theme of redemption, we’ve misunderstood the Gospel. When Scripture says that Jesus came to save His people from their sins, Wright believes that it’s not so much about individuals being saved from their moral failures, but rather, that Jesus had to come to put God’s rescue plan for creation back on track.

God has made a plan to save the world. Israel is the linchpin of this plan; but Israel has been unfaithful. What is now required, if the world’s sin is to be dealt with and a worldwide family created for Abraham, is a faithful Israelite. This (Jesus) is what God has now provided. Justification (68)

And,

Embedded within the earliest strands of Christian tradition we find an already formulaic statement: the messiah died for our sins according to the scriptures. … It was not, first and foremost, a way of saying that the moral failures of individuals had been atoned for in some abstract theological transaction. That would come, and quickly; we find it already in Paul’s mature thought.

But in the beginning it was a claim about what Israel’s God had done, in fulfillment of the scriptural prophecies, to bring Israel’s long night of exile to its conclusion, to deal with the “sins” that had kept Israel enslaved to the pagan powers of the world, and to bring about the real “return from exile,” the dawn of the new day, for which Israel had longed (The Meaning of Jesus, 98).

And that is how we get to the final point from the chapter heading, Paul’s use of Adam has nothing to say about human origins. In a review of Wright’s book, Surprise by Scripture, the author explains how Wright’s understanding of salvation and his re-interpretation of Paul’s use of Adam are connected:

There is a commonly held approach to salvation which posits that a perfect creation was marred through Adam’s sin, and Jesus came to pay the penalty for sin, thereby allowing us to go to heaven when we die. Adam’s role in that story is crucial: “no Adam” means “no reason for Christ to come.” But according to Wright, that is not the story that Paul tells, and it is a distortion of the Gospel. Instead, Paul connects our salvation to the story of Israel—their being placed in the Promised Land, given a commission to bless all nations, then breaking the Law and being exiled. Paul uses Adam to retell Israel’s story: “placed in the garden, given a commission to look after it; the garden being the place where God wanted to be at rest, to exercise his sovereign rule; the people warned about keeping the commandment, warned in particular that breaking it would mean death, breaking it, and being exiled. It all sounds very, very familiar” (p. 37). Not much hinges on the historicity of Adam on this account. Lots of other Jewish authors around the time of Paul appropriated Adam to get their points across too. The genre of this literature was not historical journalism.

So there you have it. According to Wright, there’s no need for a historical Adam. Of course, it shouldn’t be too surprising that the review appeared on the BioLogos website. Wright and Walton both are featured on BioLogos and share their belief in an evolutionary explanation for human origins. For all three, Wright, Walton, and BioLogos, I truly believe their interpretation of Scripture is driven by their commitments to science, politics, and their own worldviews rather than the reverse.

And that brings us back full circle to the first point. Everything hinges on your view of Scripture. Either Scripture will be the lens through which you view the world or the world (science, politics, worldview, etc) will be the lens through which you view Scripture. Ultimately one or the other will be your authority.

Top 10 Posts of 2014

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Looking back through the past year’s posts, I realize I haven’t had much time for writing. I hope to make more time this year. Here are the top 10 posts for 2014. Some were published in previous years, but they continue to receive a number of hits. Thank you all for your support and encouragement. May God bless!

10. Fifty Shades of Grey: Harmless Fun or Spiritual Warfare?

I’ve come across three basic arguments supportive of Fifty Shades and similar books:

  1. Who are you to judge? Why are you so concerned about consenting adults having sex when there are real problems in the world?
  2. Reading Fifty Shades is just harmless fun. No one is getting hurt. It’s just fantasy.
  3. It might be sinful to read Fifty Shades, but we all sin in so many ways. What’s the big deal about this one sin?

In considering how to answer these kinds of questions and how to answer more generally why I’m not reading Fifty Shades or going to see the movie, I came across a recommendation for a book that seeks to provide the answers:Pulling Back the Shades: Erotica, Intimacy, and the Longings of a Woman’s Heart.

9. Divorce, remarriage, and abuse

The third, and final, part of my review of Pastor Jeff Crippen’s book, A Cry for Justice: How the Evil of Domestic Abuse Hides in Your Church, deals with the somewhat controversial topic of divorce and remarriage. There are a wide variety of interpretations on this subject, even within the conservative, evangelical world.

8. Keller: “Noah’s flood … was a regional flood”

One of the hot debates over how to interpret Genesis is what to make of Noah’s flood. Is it myth or history? Was is worldwide or local? Here is Tim Keller’s answer: “In order to be true to my own principle, I won’t bother you with information about the different views of the flood. Let me just lay out my own assumptions. I believe Noah’s flood happened, but that it was a regional flood, not a world-wide flood.”

7. Why I Don’t Celebrate Halloween

“So, what are your kids dressing up as this year?” This question always gives me pause. You see, we don’t “do” Halloween. Never have. While I don’t have any reservations about our decision not to participate, I hesitate about the right way to answer the question. I don’t enjoy making people uncomfortable, and I’m not trying to convince anyone to change their own minds about it. We just have decided that Halloween celebrations are not for us.

6. Why I Don’t Wear Skirts all the Time

I read an article today over at the Aquila Report by a woman on why she wears skirts all the time. Caroline Allen, author of the Modest Mom blog and owner of the Modest Mom line of clothing, gives three main reasons for why she prefers skirts over pants: because they are feminine and easily portray the fact that she is a woman, because they are easy to be modest in, and because they are comfortable.

While I appreciate her concern for modesty, and I commend her dedication, I have to disagree with her basic premise.

5. Is N.T. Wright Wrong on Jesus?

Early on in my reading, I began to wonder if Wright really believes that Jesus is/was God. This article is the result of two years of research into what Wright believes, or at least has written, about Christ. The books and articles I’ve read and will quote here are: Surprised by Hope, The Meaning of Jesus, Simply Jesus, Jesus and the Victory of God (I’ve read portions, but not the whole of this one), “Jesus and the Identity of God“, and “Jesus’ Self Understanding“.

4. The Soul-numbing Dangers of Patriarchy

In her article, Vyckie discusses each type of abuse she experienced in the patriarchy movement. I would like to go through her points and address each of those points. My argument is not that it isn’t abuse, but rather that what she experienced was not Christianity. I understand why she equates patriarchy with Christianity, but I would urge others who read her post to consider that what she was taught was a twisting of Scripture. Most of all, I would like to encourage those interact with anyone who has experienced abuse and rejected Christianity to treat the abuse survivor with gentleness and much mercy. May God show them His love.

3. Why I’m Not Using Susan Wise Bauer’s Curricula: A Review of Peter Enns’ Bible Curriculum

Telling God’s Story is a multi-year Bible curriculum aimed at children of all ages. It is published by Susan Wise Bauer’s Olive Branch Books, a division of Peace Hill Press. Given all of the controversy over Dr. Enns and his well-published views on Scripture and evolution, it is Susan Wise Bauer’s defense and support of Dr. Enns that has convinced me that her curricula are not what I want to use.

2. What’s Wrong With Biblical Patriarchy

As a homeschooling family, we come in contact with people from a wide variety of backgrounds and beliefs. One of the groups that is fairly common within the homeschooling community is the modern patriarchy movement, or as they refer to it “Biblical Patriarchy.” Some of the big names in this group include, R.C. Sproul, Jr., Doug Phillips of Vision Forum, and Doug Wilson of Credenda Agenda magazine. R.C. Sproul, Jr. and Doug Phillips have put together a list of tenets to help define Biblical Patriarchy. They define the reason for the movement this way:

1. If it looks like Rome …

In the end, I’m not sure why so many Catholic practices are finding their way into Reformed Presbyterian churches. It seems to me that these things have the “feel” of worship, and maybe that is the attraction. Maybe there is boredom or discontent with our own traditions. Maybe there is a desire to “do church” differently. Whatever the reason, maybe we should stop and reconsider. All of these things are part of a religious tradition that our spiritual ancestors broke away from. Maybe we should give more thought as to why.

Fourteen years ago

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In January 2000, I was working for the best University in the world, Texas A&M, and living in College Station. I was planning to go to grad school in Houston later that year, and I had been visiting a church in Houston. One day at work my pastor in College Station called. He told me that he was setting up a new small group Bible study for the singles group at church and that he wanted me to be a part of it. I was reluctant to agree since I was pretty sure there were almost no single men in the church, aside from college students. He assured me that there were single young men at the church that were invited as well. I agreed to go mainly to see if he was right.

The small group started out meeting at the house of our youth pastor and his wife. The first week I went and enjoyed myself. I met a very nice couple who would become very dear friends, and a few other people. No single guys, but I had a great time and decided to go again the next week. That night is engraved in my memory.

I was sitting in an armchair facing the front door. A few others were there, and we were visiting when in walked this very, very tall handsome young man. I’m pretty sure I stared. I remember thinking that it wasn’t possible that he went to church with me because I was SURE I’d remember seeing him. He was wearing a Penn State sweatshirt and jeans. His hair was almost black. Truly, he was tall, dark, and handsome. I don’t remember much else about that Bible study. I doubt I paid much attention to anything else that night. Needless to say, I didn’t miss a Bible study after that.

Matt was in his second year of grad school working on his PhD in Inorganic Chemistry. He came to Texas from Pennsylvania for graduate school. That winter we got to know each other through those small group get-togethers. I was both intrigued and irritated when he asked for prayer about a girl he was pursuing that didn’t seem to be interested in him. (Intrigued to know who she was and irritated that there was a girl other than me that he was interested in.) I started to sit with him and his friends at church.

One day in the spring the group was over at my apartment for a party. I called from the kitchen for someone to come help me, and guess who arrived. He’d shaved off his mustache and goatee that week. (yes, he actually had a goatee when we met; he finally regrew it one summer, after almost 10 years of me asking him to.) Sunday after church I went out to lunch with him and the couple I mentioned earlier, Sam and Joanne. The waiter asked if there would be separate checks, and as I started to say mine was one it’s own, Matt indicated that he and I were together. I protested mildly. Mainly I was ticked that if this was a date he hadn’t asked me out.

Monday he called to ask me out. I was out with a friend test-driving cars. Tuesday he called back. I knew he was calling to ask me out, but I still played dumb. We talked for TWO HOURS on the phone. For those of you who know my husband, you can appreciate how amazing this is. Finally he asked me out. That was mid-April of 2000.

By May we were talking about marriage. It was amazing. We just knew it was right. We started planning our wedding in June, and on July 4th, Matt gave me my engagement ring. It was a whirlwind romance. I decided not to go to grad school in Houston. We really didn’t want to wait until either he or I were finished with grad school to get married.

On December 22, 2000, Matt and I said our vows. It was a beautiful ceremony. The church was decorated for Christmas. All of our family and many of our friends were there. It truly was a family affair. My Aunt Lou played piano for us. Matt’s sisters read scriptures. My friend, Cara, did all the flowers for cost, and her husband, Pete, did our cakes for cost. My aunts, mother, and grandmother did all of the food for the reception, and Matt’s mother and sisters did the food for the rehearsal. Such a wonderful time.

On that day, I married my best friend. We’ve been through a lot in the last eleven years, and I love him more every day. I pray that the Lord will bless us with many more years together. Matt truly is everything I didn’t know I wanted. I love you sweetheart.



Christian, Where is Your Joy?

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Four common themes discussed during the Advent/Christmas season are Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. Last week, I posted a devotional that I wrote last year on the source of hope in a Christian’s life. I’ve also written before on the meaning and significance of peace to a believer. Today, I want to consider joy.

What is joy? As Christians, what is the source of our joy? What does joy look like in our daily lives? Should a believer’s life be marked by joy? And what if it isn’t?

Merriam-Webster defines joy this way, “the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires.” I think this is a useful definition. Joy is that wonderful feeling we get when our children smile for the first time. It’s that sense of happiness when our family is gathered together for the holidays. Joy is that emotion we feel when we get a raise or a promotion at work. It’s the feeling comes with knowing we are loved. It’s even that sense of anticipation we have when we look at the presents under the Christmas tree.

Of course, ultimately, joy is more than a transient emotion or feeling. Consider this:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23 ESV)

Joy is a fruit of the Spirit’s work in the life of believer. That means that it is something more than an emotion we have in the right circumstances. Our joy, as Christians, is rooted in something much deeper. It’s source is in the work of Christ for our salvation.

Consider the angel’s declaration when Jesus was born:

And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:10-11 ESV)

What is this “good news of great joy?” The Savior has come! Jesus has been born. Of course, that’s not the whole story. Jesus’ birth was just the beginning. He lived and died for us. And most importantly, He rose again. Through His life, death, and resurrection, He has saved us from our sins! What a glorious thing! We are forgiven. We are made new. He has won the victory and secured our future. Nothing can separate us from His love.

The Savior has come, and He will come again. In the face of this truth, how can we be anything but joyful? No matter our circumstances, no matter the pain, sorrow, grief, fears, dangers, heartaches we face, we are His, and He will never leave us. And one day, He will come and take us home. That is the source of our joy. And it can’t be shaken.

As a side note, I do not mean to suggest that Christians do not struggle with sadness and depression. Christians can and do suffer from depression. But even in the depth of depression, it is possible to turn our eyes to the source of our joy and to remember that depression doesn’t separate us from Him. We can have joy in the knowledge of our salvation even when we don’t feel it.

Joy doesn’t mean that we go through life with happy-clappy attitudes and smiles plastered on our faces. There is a time for rejoicing and a time for sorrow. It’s appropriate to grieve and cry at times. But in those times, we have not lost our joy. We still have that sense of anticipation. Christ is the only joy that lasts.

So what should joy look like in our daily lives? First, our lives should be filled with worship and praise. We have been saved from our sins. They are remembered no more. We are loved, adopted, children of God. We have hope in our resurrection. Our response should be to worship the One who has called us, redeemed us, atoned for us.

Second, we should share our joy with others. Because of how much we love our families, friends, and neighbors, we must share with them the source of our joy. There is no gift more precious in the world than the salvation we have received through Jesus. There is nothing more joyful in this life than seeing others come to Christ. How can we keep silent?

Given the source of our joy, the reality of His resurrection, the security of our salvation, how can we not be joyful? But what about Christians who aren’t? I’m sure we all know Christians who don’t exactly embody joy.

From grumps and cranks to Eeyores and curmudgeons, there are some believers who seem to be happiest when they’re miserable, cantankerous, and grumbling. While I can appreciate that there are those who are naturally pessimistic and grouchy, I don’t think it’s right to revel in those character flaws. The image of the cranky old man yelling at the kids to “get off his lawn” is comedic, but who wants to live that way? It doesn’t seem to fit with the picture of the believer that we see in the fruit of the Spirit.

The world around us is full of reasons to fuss and complain. Our jobs aren’t going well. Our families are crazy. Our health is failing. The government isn’t doing a good job. The politicians we voted for didn’t get elected. The ones we elected broke their promises. The weather is bad: too hot or too cold. The drivers on the roads are idjits. There are so many reasons to be in a bad mood. But when we’re tempted to give in to our emotions, let’s remember the source of our joy.

Let us sing for joy this Christmas! Joy to the world, the Savior has come! And He will come again!

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