Wednesday, July 28, 2010
Monday, July 26, 2010
In the pastoral epistles, Paul gives several requirements regarding the children of elders. These are both discussed and disregarded with great regularity in the church.
At issue is whether the children of ministers and elders must be faithful Christians. In Titus, Paul says of elders that they should be “blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly” (Titus 1:6). In 1 Timothy, he requires that an elder must be one that “ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity” (1 Tim. 3:4). He goes on to add that if a man does not know how to rule in his own house, then he will not take good care of the church of God (v. 5).
When this particular discussion erupts, it is usually in the midst of a particular crisis “the unmarried daughter of the pastor is pregnant, the son of one of the ruling elders is in jail, etc. In that context, feelings usually run high and sometimes careful distinctions can be lost. So although these truths must be applied at some point, it would probably be best if we sought to work through them on the chalkboard first.
It is my purpose to argue that the requirement Paul gives here should be taken at face value, and that if a man’s children fall away from the faith (either doctrinally or morally), he is at that point disqualified from formal ministry in the church. But in order to take this stand, certain questions must be answered in order – exegetical, theological, and pastoral.
First, the exegetical question. Debate on this subject usually revolves around whether the phrase in Titus 1:6 should be translated “faithful children” or “believing children.” Of course, if the proper translation is “believing children” then there is no debate anymore, at least among those who believe the Bible. If an elder must have believing children, then how could there be debate on whether he must have believing children?
So for the sake of discussion, let us grant the translation “faithful children.” It certainly is a legitimate translation, and in the last analysis I would like to argue that it doesn’t really change anything. Faithful in what? Faithful to whom? When the translation “faithful children” is urged, it is generally with the thought that a child could be faithful and obedient in external matters, but still be unregenerate. In this thinking, an elder should be required to run his household with good external discipline, but he cannot be expected to have any control over whether his children come to a saving knowledge of Christ.
But the word pistos is used frequently throughout the pastoral epistles, and while it is commonly translated as faithful, we never see this dichotomy between true heart condition and external conformity introduced (see 1 Tim. 1:12, 15; 3:11; 4:9; 6:2; 2 Tim. 2:2, 11, 13; Tit. 1:9; 3:8). In context, the word faithful means faithful down to the ground. If a son is obedient when his father tells him to take out the garbage, but disobeys when he is told to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, in what Pauline sense can the son be described as faithful?
Nevertheless, a particular theological argument against this view has great force with many. The argument goes that the election of our children is in the hands of God, and not in the hands of parents. As Alexander Strauch has argued, “To say this passage means believing Christian children places an impossible standard upon a father. Salvation is a supernatural act of God. God, not good parents (although they are used of God), ultimately brings salvation.”
Now I have argued elsewhere that parents are invited by God to believe that their children will inherit the promises of God. This is not attained by parental works in any way, but is rather a promise appropriated by faith. But again, for the sake of discussion, let’s grant this point.
To place the salvation of an elder’s children outside his influence says nothing about this particular requirement. Suppose this to be the case, and God in His sovereignty has determined not to save one of the pastor’s children. Unless we alter the wording or meaning of this passage, this would simply mean that the sovereign God has determined to reveal His desire to have the pastor step down from his ministerial responsibilities in this particular fashion.
The pastoral argument involves our understanding of what constitutes a good pastor. We still think in terms of qualifications from graduate school, and professional certification. The pastor cannot step down, we argue, because this is his livelihood. How could we expect him to abandon that? But the ministry is not a profession, and the men who hold office in the church do not hold that office as a matter of divine right.
This is why it is important for us to consider the reason Paul gives for placing this requirement on us (1 Tim. 3:5). We have every reason to believe that a man will shepherd the church in the same way he shepherded his family. This, incidentally, is another reason for believing that the work in the home concerns the fundamental spiritual issues, and not just external discipline. We are evaluating the same kind of work in different realms.
A man is qualified for ministry through many instruments and means. But the spiritual condition of his children is right at the center of his qualifications.
Saturday, July 17, 2010
“I love mankind,” he said, “but I am amazed at myself: the more I love mankind in general, the less I love people in particular, that is, individually, as separate persons. In my dreams,” he said, “I often went so far to think passionately of serving mankind, and, it may be, would really have gone to the cross for people if it were somehow suddenly necessary, and yet I am incapable of living in the same room with anyone even for two days, this I know from experience. As soon as someone is there, close to me, his personality oppresses my self-esteem and restricts my freedom. In twenty-four hours I can begin to hate even the best of men: one because he takes too long eating his dinner, another because he has a cold and keeps blowing his nose. I become the enemy of people the moment they touch me,” he said. “On the other hand, it has always happened that the more I hate people individually, the more ardent becomes my love for humanity as a whole.”
—Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, transl. Peavear and Volokhonsky, p. 57
Or, as the idea comes through in pop culture:
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
Jesus teaches His disciples that we have to exhibit a righteousness that surpassed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees (Matthew ), a demand that is one of the central themes of the Sermon on the Mount. What does it mean? How should a disciple’s righteousness go beyond the righteousness of Jewish leaders?
Perhaps the Torah was God’s will for the Old Testament, but now Jesus brings a new law that is not only different from but contrary to the law of Moses. That explanation doesn’t work, since Jesus Himself says that He has not come to abolish but to fulfill the Torah or prophets. Whatever He means by “fulfill,” we can be sure it doesn’t mean “abolish.”
Perhaps, then, Jesus is emphasizing the internal demands of the law. Instead of focusing on externals, like the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus focuses on the internal attitudes and desires. This doesn’t work either. Jesus does address attitudes, but so did the Mosaic law. More importantly, Jesus commands actions, not just attitudes. When He warns against practicing righteousness before men, He goes on to require a different set of practices concerning alms, prayer and fasting. He doesn’t say, Do these things with a different attitude. He says, Do them differently.
Perhaps, then, the Sermon outlines an impossible ethical ideal that Jesus never really expected us to fulfill. The sermon is the law part of a law-gospel dialectic: It drives us to holy despair about our own sinfulness, so that we throw ourselves on the imputed righteousness of Christ. Much as we might like this to be the case, this reading is not correct. Jesus’ sermon is about right living.
So what does he mean? Let’s start with the term “righteousness.” Though the word often means something close to “law-abiding,” it doesn’t always mean that. When Paul talks about the righteousness of God revealed in the gospel (Romans -17), he refers to the righteous, powerful action of God in Christ that restores sinners to God and mends the world. For God, righteousness is not merely conformity to rules, but redemptive action.
For us too. That’s what Jesus is demanding of His disciples: He has come as the embodied righteousness of God to bring in the restoration of all things, what he announces as the kingdom of heaven. And His instructions show us how we participate in that restoration. The life that Jesus requires surpasses the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees because the practices, habits, and actions of disciples break through the perverse customs and habits of sinful humanity and bring the
To see how this works, we need to notice a structural feature of the sermon. Matthew 5:21-48 is often read as a series of “antinomies.” On this interpretation, Jesus is saying something like this: “The elders teach only an external and visible obedience, but I teach something deeper. The ancients say, Don’t murder, but they imply that we need not worry overmuch about hatred. Don’t commit adultery, but don’t worry overmuch about lust. Jesus deepens the commandment, so that it applies to desires, attitudes of the heart.”
As Glen Stassen has convincingly argued, this section of the sermon is not a series of antinomies but a series of triads. On murder, Jesus doesn’t say, “1) You have heard, do not murder, 2) but I say don’t hate.” Rather, He says: 1) You have heard, do not murder, and those who murder are liable to court; 2) but I say that anger and insults leave you in danger of the court and even of hell; therefore 3) leave your offering and go be reconciled to your brother. Only section 3 is an imperative. Jesus commandment is not: “Don’t be angry.” Jesus’ commandment is: “Go be reconciled.” That is the greater righteousness. Jesus never commands us to avoid anger. He teaches how to defuse anger so that it doesn’t escalate to murder. In that way, we share in the establishment of God’s kingdom of peace.
On lust, we have the same thing. He doesn’t merely contrast the command “Do not commit adultery” with the command “Do not lust.” He does deepen the commandment against adultery by teaching that lust is already adultery, not merely a prelude to it. But the statement about lust is not an imperative. The imperative follows in -30: Cut it off. Remove the offending organ. That is the greater righteousness, the righteousness that shares in God’s redemptive righteousness.
To be righteous as Jesus is righteous, it’s not enough to avoid anger or lust. Jesus is not giving us a transformed set of purity regulations – “Avoid this, avoid that, don’t touch that!” He gives us a set of positive commands. To practice the righteousness greater than that of the scribes we have to obey Jesus’ commands in order to break through the chains of lust so that we can cultivate chaste relations with the opposite sex. It’s not enough to avoid hating enemies; you need to do good to them, to break through the habits of hatred, counter-hatred, escalating hatred, that destroys life.
Similarly, it’s not enough passively to avoid retaliation (-42); we must actively give to those who abuse us. Indifference to enemies is not enough (-48); Jesus demands that we love our enemies, in ways that reflect the righteous generosity of our Father. It’s not enough for us to avoid pride when we give alms, pray, or fast (6:1-18); we should do all these things in secret.
Our instinct is, Get real, Jesus! His demands may all be great for a perfect world, but we don’t live in a perfect world. We live in a hard world, and you’ve got to cut some corners, break some eggs, defend yourself, take a little bit of vengeance, if you’re going to survive. Jesus says, No. The whole issue comes down to trust. Do we trust our Father to give us what you need? Do we trust that we’ll still have clothes if we keep giving them away, that we’ll still have bread if we are generous, that we’ll still have a face if we keep letting our cheeks be used as a punching bag, that we’ll still have dignity if we give things away to our enemies?
Jesus says: Trust your Father, and obey my commandments. Trust your Father, and live out the righteousness of that faith. Trust your Father, and live the redemptive, transforming righteousness that surpasses the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees.
Reflecting on discussion of Jesus’ statement, “Without me you can do nothing,” Stephen A. Long writes, “If one denies that the human will receives not only its being, but also its natural motion and application to action from God, one makes the will a demiurgically unmoved first cause. Divine providence extends only so far as the divine causality. It follows that if the human will is not subject to divine power then naturally it is not subject to divine government. . . . Thus our free acts escape dependence upon God for their coming-to-be, it will be an axiomatic inference to separate the governance of these acts from the divine government. Human action then comes to represent a zone of being and good beyond the divine power and outside the scope of divine government.”
Thus, “the denial of God’s causality over human freedom . . . appears to be a critical intra-Catholic contribution to the evolution of secularist anti-theism in the moral realm. For what do we mean by secularism save the claim that the public order is outside the jurisdiction of divine rule? And what could more directly imply this posture than the claim that our free actions are outside the divine government?”
Monday, July 12, 2010
This is the challenge: If you don’t contextualize enough, no one’s life will be transformed because they won’t understand you. But if you contextualize too much, no one’s life will be transformed because you won’t be challenging their deepest assumptions and calling them to change.
Becoming “all things to all people”, therefore, does not mean fitting in with the fallen patterns of this world so that there is no distinguishable difference between Christians and non-Christians. While rightly living “in the world,” we must avoid the extreme of accommodation—being “of the world.” It happens when Christians, in their attempt to make proper contact with the world, go out of their way to adopt worldly styles, standards, and strategies.
When Christians try to eliminate the counter-cultural, unfashionable features of the biblical message because those features are unpopular in the wider culture—for example, when we reduce sin to a lack of self-esteem, deny the exclusivity of Christ, or downplay the reality of knowable absolute truth—we’ve moved from contextualization to compromise. When we accommodate our culture by jettisoning key themes of the gospel, such as suffering, humility, persecution, service, and self-sacrifice, we actually do our world more harm than good. For love’s sake, compromise is to be avoided at all costs.
As the Bible teaches, the Lordship of Christ has a sense of totality: Christ’s truth covers everything, not just “spiritual” or “religious” things. But it also has a sense of tension. As Lord, Jesus not only calls us to himself, he also calls us to break with everything which conflicts with his Lordship.
Contextualization without compromise is the goal!
read the rest
Tuesday, July 6, 2010
I was asked the following question by a Facebook friend: “How do you argue against gay marriage when pro-gay marriage activists say that gay [sic] marriage is forbidden in the Old Testament, but so is [eating] shellfish. They try to say that along with gay marriage that other stuff like shellfish is also forbidden. How do we as Christians respond?
Arguments like the “shellfish game” fill the internet, and many people are duped by them. Even Christians. In an interview published in Christianity Today magazine, Christian music artist and self-avowed lesbian Jennifer Knapp used the shellfish argument. (The interviewer did not challenge her on it.) There are several ways to argue against this false analogy. First, sexual relationships are defined in the earliest chapters of Genesis. Adam’s solitude was remedied with the creation of Eve, a female, someone designed specifically for him (Gen. 2:18–25). God didn’t create another man and also a woman so Adam could choose. He created a woman, a human complement designed sexually literally to fit with Adam. This is why Paul described homosexuality as “unnatural” (Rom. 1:26–27). The physical side of homosexuality is unnatural, like trying to pound a square peg into a round hole. The shellfish argument has no validity since sexual identity (male and female) and the definition of marriage (man and woman) are creation ordinances. There is no prohibition in Genesis regarding shellfish (Gen. 1:28–31).
Second, the New Testament follows the Old Testament creation ordinance of marriage defining it as between a man and a woman. Jesus confirms this in Matthew 19:4–6: “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? ‘So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate’” (also see Eph. 5:25–33; cf. 1 Cor. 7:2–3, 10–16; 1 Tim. 3:2, 12). There is no homosexual option. Jesus does not go to Leviticus to make His case; He goes back to Genesis.
Third, Leviticus, in addition to prohibiting homosexual relationships (Lev. 18:22; 20:13), also prohibits eating certain foods (Lev. 11:2–31). Unlike homosexuality, there are no civil penalties attached to eating from the prohibited food list. It’s obvious, in terms of the sanctions, that eating shellfish is not the same as engaging in homosexual relationships. With the coming of Jesus, the Second Adam, we are back to the creation ordinances where all foods are once again “clean” because the gospel is for the world (John 4:42; Acts 1:8):
And He said to them, “Are you also as lacking in understanding? Don’t you realize that nothing going into a man from the outside can defile him? For it doesn’t go into his heart but into the stomach and is eliminated.” (As a result, He made all foods clean.) Then He said, “What comes out of a person—that defiles him. For from within, out of people’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immoralities, thefts, murders, adulteries, greed, evil actions, deceit, promiscuity, stinginess, blasphemy, pride, and foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a person.” (Mark 7:18–23)
We learn from Peter’s encounter with the “unclean foods” that he was told by God to eat that they represented the nations (Acts 10:9–48; 11:5–9): “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy” (10:15; 11:9). To eat foods that were set aside as unclean is an acknowledgment that the gospel is not just for Jews: “‘Therefore if God gave to them [Gentiles] the same gift as He gave to us [Jews] also after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?’ When they heard this, they quieted down and glorified God, saying, ‘Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life’” (11:17–18).
Fourth, from Jesus’ comments in Mark 7 and God’s instructions to Peter in Acts 10, there is direct special revelation given that changes a number of laws from the Old Testament. In addition to unclean foods, there is no longer any use for the temple, animal sacrifices, and circumcision. How do we know this? Because we are told that these ordinances and laws no longer apply or are fulfilled in the person and work of Jesus Christ. We’re even told that there needed to be a change in the law, but in this case only as regarding who can be a priest (Heb. 7). Anyone familiar with the Bible knows these things.
Fifth, like the laws prohibiting homosexuality found in Leviticus, the New Testament prohibits homosexuality (Rom. 1:26–27; 1 Cor. 6:9–11; 1 Tim. 1:8–11), and if it prohibits homosexuality, then it prohibits homosexual marriage. Notice what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:9: “And such were some of you.” Some might claim that the Bible does not use the word “homosexual.” The definition is inherent in the Leviticus passages (18:22; 20:13): “You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female.” That is, it is forbidden to engage in sexual relations with someone of the same (Latin: homo) sex. Paul uses similar language: “woman . . . burned in their desire toward one another, men with men [same sex with same sex]. . .” (Rom. 1:26–27).
Sixth, the same “Holiness Code” that condemns homosexuality also prohibits adultery (Lev. 18:20), child sacrifice (v. 21), and sex with animals (v. 23) and promotes loving your neighbor as yourself (19:18), a law repeated numerous times in the New Testament (Matt 19:19; Mark 12:31; Luke 10:27; Rom 13:9; Gal 5:14; James 2:8). Are the “shellfishers” telling us that adultery, child sacrifice, and sex with animals are now acceptable alternative lifestyle choices that should be protected by law? If his answer is yes, then let them say so. The New Testament promotes the Holiness Code law regarding loving one’s neighbor as well as laws prohibiting homosexual activity (Rom. 1:26–27; 1 Cor. 6:9–10; 1 Tim. 1:8–11). It seems that the New Testament writers do not have problems applying the Holiness Code legislation in the New Covenant.
Leviticus 19 (still part of the Holiness Code)—between the anti-homosexual passages of Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13—prohibits stealing and lying (v. 11), oppressing neighbors and robbing them (v. 13), withholding wages from a laborer (v. 13), cursing the deaf and tripping the blind (v. 14), showing partiality in judicial matters (v. 15), slandering (v. 16), and taking vengeance (v. 18). Leviticus 20 repeats prohibitions against child sacrifice (vv. 2–5), adultery (v. 10), homosexuality (v. 13), and bestiality (vv. 15–16). Are we to conclude, using shellfish logic, that these laws no longer apply today because they are found in the Holiness Code?
Some Christians will argue against the “shellfishers” on the basis that under the New Covenant we are not “signatories to the Sinaitic Covenant.” On the surface, this might seem like a good approach to take, but in practice it breaks down since the New Testament writers appeal to laws found in the covenant given at Sinai. Jesus quotes Leviticus 19:18 (Matt. 19:19; Mark 12:31; Luke 10:27) and 20:9 (Mark 7:10). Paul also quotes Leviticus 19:18 (Rom 13:9; Gal 5:14), as does James (James 2:8). Paul took the Old Testament law seriously enough to apply a law that seemingly was only applicable to animals (Deut. 25:4) and applied its principles twice to humans (1 Cor. 9:9; 1 Tim. 5:18). If Paul could find contemporary application of a law that applied to oxen, then certainly the rest of the legal corpus has similar applicational force, even if we might not always know how to apply it.