The entire basis for Roe v. Wade was built upon false assumptions.
—an affidavit submitted by Norma McCorvey (the Roe in Roe v. Wade) to the District Court of New Jersey in 2000—
Key point: Court cases that prevail in court but that were built on lies result in more lies. Chief among the lies Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton have produced is this one: The unborn child is not a part of the human family.
On January 22, 1973—ten and a half years after issuing Engel v. Vitale and in the midst of the immediate aftermath of the sexual revolution of the 1960s—the Supreme Court handed down its rulings in Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton. As a result, abortion became legal in all 50 states. Most people do not know that that both these cases were built on lies. Significantly, the plaintiffs, who lived to regret their involvement in these legal efforts, have said this. Read about Sandra Cano—“Mary Doe” of Doe v. Bolton here and here, and about Norma McCorvey—“Jane Roe” of Roe v. Wadehere and here.
An analysis of the two abortion cases is available here.
On June 23, 2005, Cano testified before the Subcommittee on the Constitution of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Here is a clip of her testimony, taken from this video.
In the video below, Norma McCorvey—Jane Roe—speaks out.
An effort is underway to present the truth about Roe v. Wade in and through a feature film. You can learn more about that project here.
There’s so much more here that needs to be highlighted, but we’ll limit our remaining space to the case against abortion, or, put another way, the case for life.
The Case for Life
Abortion isn’t about rights, but about this central question: Is the fetus a human being? In other words, What is the unborn?
Abortion is about this central question: What is the unborn?
Pro-life advocates note that there are just four characteristics that distinguish an unborn baby, or a fetus, from other human beings: size, level of development, environment, and degree of dependency (SLED).
Size: Unborn babies are the smallest among us, but does their size determine their worth? It shouldn’t! We don’t deem those who are physically smaller or shorter as less worthy of life than those of us who are larger or taller. Neither should we say an unborn child is less worthy of life because he or she is smaller.
Level of development: One’s level of development shouldn’t make him or her less worthy of life, either. A newborn isn’t a child; a child isn’t a teenager; and a teenager isn’t an adult. All have a right to life. An unborn baby ought to have a right to life as well; we never use level of development as a reason to kill a person who’s already been born.
Environment: Moreover, one’s environment does not make him or her less of a human being. Sometimes you’re outside, sometimes you’re inside—but you’re just as much of a person in both locations. It’s the same with an unborn baby before he or she exits the womb.
Degree of dependency: Finally, we see a difference in degree of dependency. Yes, a fetus depends heavily on its mother for life, but a newborn baby also is heavily dependent on responsible adults to meet his or her needs. This is true for children as well. It’s true even for some adults, depending on their circumstances and physical health. Are those who are more dependent less deserving of life? Of course not!
Spotlighting these qualities helps to demonstrate just how arbitrary society’s values have become—and how abortion is, essentially, discriminatory in the worst short of way. In other words, abortion denies the reality that a human life inside the womb is indeed a human life. Thus, as Dennis Prager asserts in this excellent video, abortion is immoral. Moreover, while it’s true that “[g]ood societies can survive people doing immoral things…a…society cannot survive if it calls immoral things moral.”
Once the government cut off the next generation from acknowledging God in a public setting, as it did in Engel v. Vitale, it wasn’t all that long before it legalized, authorized, and legitimized the “right” of some members of the human race to eliminate—actually, to kill—others. The victims number in the multiplied millions, and they have been the most innocent and defenseless among us! Since 1973, the number of abortions in the United States has reached nearly sixty million!
Once the government cut off the next generation from acknowledging God in a public setting, as it did in Engel v. Vitale, it wasn’t all that long before it legalized, authorized, and legitimized the “right” of some members of the human race to eliminate—actually, to kill—others in Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton.
Love Thy Neighbor
None of these realities eliminates the critical need to demonstrate love through practical help for women facing unwanted pregnancies. Nor does it negate the need to show love and compassion, and to offer help, to women who’ve had abortions already. Men also have been deeply hurt by abortion, and they often need understanding and help as well.
Amazingly, the abortion decisions represent one more step in the America’s decline, a decline that has continued. Yes, things could get even worse—and they did.
Next time, we’ll explore a third crucial Supreme Court decision and its implications.
About “Morality” (see top image; photo credit here)
At the National Monument to the Forefathers in Plymouth, Massachusetts, Faith stands atop the Monument, with Liberty and Morality seated at the base in front of her, and Law and Education seated at the base behind her. Morality is an inseparable part of the formula for freedom from tyranny, as is each of the other four virtues portrayed—faith, law, education, and liberty. The National Monument to the Forefathers was dedicated on August 1, 1889.
[A]s D. James Kennedy once pointed out, in 1935, what was the most educated nation on earth? The answer was Germany. But that didn’t prevent Auschwitz from taking place. So there is such a thing as education, where if it’s devoid of God, it is dangerous.
Key point: In 1962 the Supreme Court denied school children the opportunity to acknowledge God and seek His blessings for their leaders and the nation. America has been paying a heavy price for this ever since.
For summaries of all the articles in this series, go here.
On June 25, 1962, the Supreme Court handed down its ruling in Engel vs. Vitale, a case involving voluntary school prayer. In New York, the state Board of Regents had written a prayer and encouraged students to recite it in school. Participation was voluntary, but in New Hyde Park, New York, a group of students’ families took the matter to court, contending the policy violated their religious beliefs. The group was led by Steven Engel, who was Jewish. The ruling was 6 to 1 in favor of the plaintiffs, and it would have been 7 to 1 if Justice Felix Frankfurter had not suffered a career-ending stroke. Justice Byron White did not participate because he did not take his position on the court until after oral arguments had been made.
Justice Potter Stewart, the lone dissenter, did not believe the prayer was unconstitutional because the Frist Amendment prohibits Congress from establishing an official religion, not from encouraging prayer. Focusing on the Constitution itself, Stewart wrote, “I cannot see how an ‘official religion’ is established by letting those who want to say a prayer say it.”
On the heels of the ruling, Erwin Griswald, former dean of the Harvard Law School, also objected to the majority’s opinion. He pointed out that the First Amendment of the US Constitution had not been violated, since Congress had made no law establishing a state religion. Neither had the State of New York, for that matter. This, he maintained, was a local matter, not a federal one. Moreover, he contended, “In a country which has a great tradition of tolerance, is it not important that minorities, who have benefited so greatly from that tolerance, should be tolerant, too?”
In a country which has a great tradition of tolerance, is it not important that minorities, who have benefited so greatly from that tolerance, should be tolerant, too? —Erwin Griswold, former dean of the Harvard Law School, objecting to the Supreme Court’s ruling against voluntary prayer in Engel vs. Vitale—
What was the prayer that so offended the majority of justices, as well as the plaintiffs? It was this:
Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers and our Country.
The 1962 decision became the basis for other Supreme Court rulings that have further restricted school prayer. Other decisions followed after these, and they’ve affected far more than education: In and through them, “the Supreme Court gave birth to an atheistic tyranny that has bedeviled America ever since.” According to the information site conservapedia.com, “Since the banning of school prayer, there have been a 225 percent increase in amount of children without fathers, a 343 percent rise in illegitimate births, and a 454% enlargement in the violent crime rate. These data are taken from the Index of Leading Cultural Indicators, which in turn relies on statistical data collected since 1960.”
A Departure from Founding Principles
The Founders and early leaders of the United States never intended that God would be separated from government, only that government would not establish an official religion. Consider Noah Webster (1758-1843) who has been called the Father of American Scholarship and Education (also go here), or simply, the Father of American Education.
In some countries the common people are not permitted to read the Bible at all. In ours, it is as common as a newspaper and in schools is read with nearly the same degree of respect.…Select passages of Scripture…may be read in schools, to great advantage.…My wish is not to see the Bible excluded from schools but to see it used as a system of religion and morality.
Returning to Engel vs. Vitale, we note that in this critical decision, the Supreme Court severed an acknowledgement of God—actually, an opportunity, not a requirement, to acknowledge Him—from the younger generation of Americans.
When a nation, in this case through its court system, kicks God out of public life, what happens? We’ve seen evidence that God steps back! We see this not only in the unraveling of American culture since the early 1960s, but also in the other two Supreme Court cases my friend Steve cited when he wrote about America’s decline.
About “Education” (see top image; photo credit here)
At the National Monument to the Forefathers in Plymouth, Massachusetts, Faith stands atop the Monument, with Liberty and Morality seated at the base in front of her, and Law and Education seated at the base behind her. Education benefits a nation to the greatest extent possible when it affirms each of the other four values and ideals portrayed. The National Monument to the Forefathers was dedicated on August 1, 1889.
I respect the courts, but the Supreme Court is only that—the supreme of the courts. It is not the supreme being. It cannot overrule God, when it comes to prayer, when it comes to life, and when it comes to the sanctity of marriage, the court cannot change what God has created.
Key point: Three landmark Supreme Court decisions have helped chart America’s direction and helped define who and where we now are as a country. To help America recover her moral footing, we first need to understand just how far off the stable path these decisions have propelled our country.
For summaries of all the articles in this series, go here.
In Genesis 3:9 (go here for the context), God asked Adam a powerful question: He “called to Adam and said to him, ‘Where are you?’” This question came on the heels of Adam’s and Eve’s disobeying God by eating the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. It came for Adam’s benefit—not because God was looking for either Adam or Eve. Adam needed to assess where he now was in terms of his relationship with God, and, as it would turn out, in his relationships with everything else.
The beginning of a new year gives us a unique opportunity to reflect on where we are in terms of our relationship with God—not just individually, but also as churches, nationally, and culturally. We need to take advantage of this opportunity. Accordingly, this will be the theme of this series of articles.
Steve, a friend and coworker of mine, reads my posts regularly and encourages me a great deal. A few months ago, he told me he would like to write a piece reflecting his own thoughts about where America is right now and what can be done about it. On November 11 of last year, he emailed me an article consisting of 338 words. Steve not as “long-winded” as I am.
My friend began by citing the recent mass killings at the First Baptist Church of Southern Springs, Texas on November 5 and at a Las Vegas concert on October 1. These incidents left 84 people dead and 566 injured. To what can we attribute these horrific events? Are some people just that mean? Do we need stricter gun laws?1 Steve indicated that if we go down these paths, we totally miss the main message of the larger picture. He wrote,
Three events in the USA’s past are keystone moments in the history of our great nation.
First, in 1962, the Supreme Court ruled unfavorably regarding prayer in schools.
Second, in 1973, the Supreme Court made murder of our most helpless citizens legal.
Finally, in 2015, our nation, again through the Supreme Court, declared that people of the same sex could marry.
These three events present a drastic change from the attitudes expressed by the Founding Fathers during the last half of the 1700s.
The Declaration of Independence acknowledges, affirms, and upholds “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God,” yet on numerous occasions, the Supreme Court of the United States has thoroughly rebuffed them.
To murder, to not be allowed to pray, and blaspheme the institution of marriage by making legal an act that God calls an abomination is a dangerous set of events. Historically, in the Bible when people take these paths, destruction follows.
In the book of Romans, the last 15 verses of chapter 1 describe the current state of the culture of the United States. Our nation has been given over to itself in its wickedness.
Then my friend essentially said this:
America has a chance to make a change for righteousness and to be saved from destruction, but needed changes will occur, not primarily through the legislative, executive, or judicial branches of our government, as important as the decisions made in all of these institutions are. The changes that must occur to make America truly great again will come when people of faith turn to God.
The changes that must occur to make America truly great again will come when people of faith turn to God.
The church has to be concerned about reaching people—I get that. And it must reach younger generations if it is to survive in the long term. Yet in its well-intentioned efforts to reach the young, it has become a place of entertainment rather than a place where the truth is upheld, a place where people can find a large gym to maintain physical fitness but not discover the gutsy challenges of the gospel, and a place that all too often seeks to be “relevant” over being authentically truthful.
Upholding the Truth in Love
Is there hope for this country? Yes! But to be the lighthouse this nation needs, the church must repent of its entertainment mentality and once again uphold the truth of Scripture, all the while demonstrating genuine love.
To be the lighthouse America needs, the church must repent of its entertainment mentality and once again uphold the truth of Scripture, all the while demonstrating genuine love.
Concluding, Steve cited two verses of Scripture—one from the Old Testament, and one from the New.
In 2 Chronicles 7:14, the Lord declared, “If my people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”
In Matthew 6:33, Jesus said, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”
While we must remember that God’s promise in 2 Chronicles 7:14 was extended to His people—those making up the nation of Israel—and that we cannot assume it applies to America in exactly the same way it applied Israel, the principle behind it does have a measure of application for the church in America in the 21st century. Similarly, in the context of Matthew 6:33, Jesus was challenging His followers not to worry about their material needs but to put God’s kingdom first. Even so, the principle of putting God’s kingdom first and of God’s taking care of everything else still is valid and has points of application for the church and the culture today.
Is Steve right in his assessment? I believe he is, and in future posts, I’ll explain why. We’ll look at each of the Supreme Court cases he cites, and then at the state of the church.
Joseph Integrity, Strength, and Safety: The Legacy of a Father
Joseph, although not the natural father [of Jesus], was the legal father and responsible for Jesus’ safety and well-being.
—Sharon Beth Brani—
Key point: The Gospel accounts of Jesus’ birth and early years demonstrate forcefully that even though Jesus was God in the flesh, He needed an earthly father. Every other child born into this world is unlike Jesus in that he or she isn’t, and never will be, God. Yet each one, like Jesus, needs a dad.
All the articles in this series are available here.
“Joseph! Get up and take Jesus and His mother to Egypt, and remain there until you receive further instructions! King Herod is out to kill him!” The tone of the angel’s voice—not just his words—carried a special sense of urgency.1 Joseph was asleep when he received this message, because the angel appeared to him in a dream; but the young carpenter, who now also was a new husband and father, wasted no time in heeding it. Matthew, the Gospel writer who penned the Christmas story from Joseph’s perspective, tells us Joseph “took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt,” and they stayed there until Herod had died. Then, significantly and somewhat surprisingly, Matthew added, “that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, ‘Out of Egypt I called My Son.’”
A Prophecy Fulfilled
The passage Matthew quoted is Hosea in Hosea 11:1:
When Israel was a child, I loved him,
And out of Egypt I called My son.
Noting that “Hosea 11:1…does not seem to be a prophecy in the sense of a prediction,” Bible scholar Louis A. Barbieri, Jr. observes that Matthew gave Hosea’s words a deeper understanding. Originally, Hosea was not speaking of—or was not aware that he was speaking of—the Messiah, but only of the nation of Israel. Matthew indicates that Hosea wrote of both. The Gospel writer
viewed this experience [of the flight to and return from Egypt] as Messiah being identified with the nation. There were similarities between the nation and the Son. Israel was God’s chosen “son” by adoption (Ex. 4:22), and Jesus is the Messiah, God’s Son. In both cases the descent into Egypt was to escape danger and the return was important to the nation’s providential history. While Hosea’s statement was a historical reference to Israel’s deliverance, Matthew related it more fully to the call of the Son, the Messiah, from Egypt. In that sense, as Matthew “heightened” Hosea’s words to a more significant event—the Messiah’s return from Egypt, they were “fulfilled.”2
Let us not miss the truth that God used Joseph to bring about the fulfillment of Hosea’s prophetic word. As significant as this was, it represents only a small portion of Joseph’s contribution to the Christmas and to the life of Jesus, his adopted Son.
A Child-King Protected—in One Instance After Another
This wasn’t the only time Joseph received a divine message in a dream; it actually was the second of four. Here are all four instances. With the dreams, we mark the phases of Joseph’s journey and his contributions of leadership and strength to his fugitive family.
20 But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”
Luke 1:26-38 and Matthew 1:18-25 provide the context for this appearance. Having become engaged or betrothed to Mary, Joseph discovered she was going to have a baby. Mary hadn’t been unfaithful to Joseph but was pregnant by the Holy Spirit—a once-in-history occurrence. Joseph, however, did not know this, although he knew he wasn’t the father. Thinking Mary must have become pregnant by another man, Joseph resolved to call off the wedding; but as a righteous and caring man he didn’t want to make things any harder for Mary than they already would be. He decided to divorce her quietly.
Joseph was in for a surprise! As “he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”
All of this was happening, Matthew states, to fulfill Isaiah’s prophetic word that a “virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.” While Isaiah’s prophecy could have had an immediate fulfillment that didn’t involve a woman who never had been intimate with a man, it clearly had its ultimate fulfillment in Mary, who became pregnant as a virgin in the absolute sense.
Joseph not only married Mary, but he refrained from having sexual relations with her until after Jesus had been born. About this, Matthew is explicit. While only a few would understand this at the time, the details of this couple’s circumstances would testify that, without any question, Jesus had been born of a virgin!
Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.”
Luke 2:1-38 and Matthew 2:1-18 provide the context for this second angelic appearance to Joseph. Mary and Joseph had made their way from Nazareth to Bethlehem to participate in the census ordered by Caesar Augustus. Soon after they arrived in Bethlehem, the baby arrived. Angels told nearby shepherds about Jesus’ birth, and they made their way to the stable to pay homage to Him.
Eight days later, Jesus was circumcised and officially received His name. At least 41 days following His birth, Mary and Joseph took Him to the temple in Jerusalem to complete Mary’s purification ceremony. It was here that Simeon and Anna encountered Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.
King Herod heard of their search. He felt threatened by all the talk about a newborn king. Herod learned from Jewish scholars that Bethlehem was to be the place of the Messiah’s birth. He asked the wise men to return to him after they had found the new King so he also could go and worship him as well. Needless to say, he was lying! With the aid of an especially bright star, the wise men found Jesus in Bethlehem, and they gave him expensive gifts. The wise men also received a divine message from God in a dream, one in which they were instructed travel home by a way that bypassed Herod. At this point, Joseph also was directed in his sleep to flee with his family down to Egypt.
The wise men heeded their warning, and when Herod realized he’d been ignored, he was livid. He arranged for all the boys in Bethlehem who were two years old and younger to be slaughtered. Talk about feeling threatened! With Herod’s massacre of the boys of Bethlehem, one of Jeremiah’s prophecies was fulfilled. The prophet had written,
A voice was heard in Ramah,
Lamentation and bitter weeping,
Rachel weeping for her children,
Refusing to be comforted for her children,
Because they are no more.
“Scholars” who have been reluctant to believe in the historical accuracy of the Bible have pointed out that no extra-biblical historian records Herod’s murderous tirade against the young boys of Bethlehem. Keep in mind, though, that the absence of a parallel account outside of Scripture does not mean the event did not occur. The truth is that this is exactly the kind of thing that Herod was known for, and it is reasonable to assume other similar actions on Herod’s part overshadowed his slaughter of innocent Bethlehem boys in historians’ accounts.
Originally, Jeremiah’s words referred to children’s deaths at the time of the Babylonian captivity centuries earlier. Once again, innocent children were perishing. Moreover, many thought of Rachel as Israel’s mother. She could not be comforted and wept without restraint.3
Against this backdrop, Joseph was told how he, in his specific situation, could most effectively do what men are divinely equipped to do for their wives and children—protect them from impending danger. Joseph obeyed, and considering that we’re talking about his protecting Jesus from life-threatening dangers, the importance of his role cannot be overstated. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) essentially acknowledged this, stating that Joseph was an essential part of God’s plan to send Jesus to earth as a human being, and a baby in particular. Had Mary not been married, she would have been stoned by the Jews. Moreover, Aquinas affirmed, in the years He grew from boyhood to manhood, Jesus needed the love, care, and protection that only a human father could give.
Joseph was told to do the very thing men are divinely equipped to do for their wives and children—protect them from impending danger.
The Third Appearance: “It’s OK to Return to Israel”
19 Now when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, 20 saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the young Child’s life are dead.”
The context for this appearance is Matthew 2:16-21. Feeling threatened by the recent birth of the One people were calling the “King of the Jews” and having become angry over the wise men’s failure to return to report to him, Herod, as we have noted, “sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men.” Because Joseph had heeded the angel’s warning and had fled with his family to Egypt, Jesus, and Mary as well, were safe. After Herod died in 4 BC, Joseph received divine instructions in a third pivotal dream. The angel told the man who had become Jesus’ father by adoption, “Arise, take the young child and His mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the young Child’s life are dead.”
How long did this special family stay in Egypt before returning to Israel? Putting the pieces together regarding Jesus’ age helps us answer this question. In all likelihood, the Savior was born between 6 and 5 BC, with a time frame of between 6 and 4 BC also possible. This timetable fits, if not with pinpoint accuracy, then loosely; one biblical historian says the family’s flight to Egypt likely took place 2 or 3 years before Herod died (in 4 BC) and that their stay in that land “must have lasted some years.” Certainly Mary, Joseph, and Jesus were in Egypt long enough for their departure to fulfill Hosea 11:1, the prophecy we cited earlier through which God declared, “out of Egypt I called my son.”
Once again, we see Joseph’s strength manifested in his protecting the members of his family, especially his adopted Son. We see his decisive leadership as well, a leadership that put the members of his family first and was dedicated primarily to their well-being. Joseph was a man fulfilling roles given to husbands and fathers by divine design.
Joseph’s strength was manifested in his protecting his adopted Son. It also was manifested in his effective leadership, a leadership that put the members of his family first and was dedicated primarily to their well-being.
The Fourth Appearance: “Avoid Living too Close to Archelaus”
But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea instead of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And being warned by God in a dream, he turned aside into the region of Galilee.
Matthew 2:16-23 showcases the context for this, Joseph’s fourth angelic encounter. The danger had not completely subsided following Herod’s death. Herod’s son Archelaus ascended to the throne, and he, too, was exceedingly cruel. Wisely, having heard of Archelaus’s ascent to power and having received a divine warning in a dream, Joseph returned to Israel—but not to Bethlehem. Instead, he and Mary made their home in Nazareth, a town located in the region of Galilee in the northern part of Israel. This was Joseph’s hometown, the place from which he and Mary had traveled to Bethlehem just before Jesus was born.
The family’s moving to Nazareth fulfilled yet another Old Testament prophecy regarding the Messiah: “And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, ‘He shall be called a Nazarene.’” These specific words
were not directly spoken by any Old Testament prophet, though several prophecies come close to this expression. Isaiah said the Messiah would be “from [Jesse’s] roots” like “a Branch” (Isa. 11:1). “Branch” is the Hebrew Word neser, which has consonants like those in the word “Nazarene” and which carry the idea of having an insignificant beginning.4
Born in a stable and placed in an animal’s feeding trough, Jesus, we can see, did have an insignificant beginning by conventional standards. However, appearances often deceive. He would grow up to live a sinless life and to offer Himself as a sacrifice that would pay the price for human sin. What Jesus would accomplish would be infinitely significant and consequential.
At this point we cannot help but connect the dots! Joseph was involved in Jesus’ life in ways that made it possible for his adopted Son to live beyond childhood. Thus, it’s difficult to see how Jesus’ adopted father’s role could have been any more significant than it was.
Summary and Conclusion
In the New Testament, we hear only a tiny bit more about Joseph after he and Mary returned to Jerusalem in search of Jesus and found Him in the temple conversing with the teachers of the law. This information is contained in the first of these two statements made by Luke. Luke referred to both Mary and Joseph with the pronoun them. He also made an important but sweeping, general statement about the years that remained in Jesus’ life before He entered His public ministry. It would be the last thing Luke would write about Jesus’ youth.
51 Then He [Jesus] went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them, but His mother kept all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.
What happened to Joseph between this event and the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry? Most likely, he died at some point during the “silent years” of Jesus’ life. Yet Joseph’s role in God’s plan to pave the way for the salvation of humanity is both critical and foundational. For starters, as we have said, Joseph’s actions protected Jesus from life-threatening dangers. Furthermore, it is crystal clear that “Joseph was a devout follower of the customs of his religion with his observance of Passover.…[It also is apparent that] Joseph made certain of good spiritual training for the children in his family. Joseph proved his integrity and willingness to be obedient to God’s direction and guidance.” Therefore, Joseph’s influence enhanced Jesus’ increase “in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Luke 2:52).
That’s just the beginning. Much, much more can be said about both Mary and Joseph and what their roles in Jesus’ life imply about the needs of children everywhere, in every culture.
The events leading up to and surrounding Jesus’ birth demonstrate that even God’s Son needed a male and a female parent when He came into the world and during His early years. Although He was God, Jesus also was a human being who made His entrance into the world, not as a powerful king, but as a helpless baby—in the same way as all of us have made our entrances. Inherent to healthy journeys through babyhood, toddlerhood, and childhood—stages all people go through—are a mother’s loving nurture and a father’s protective strength. We readily acknowledge that in a fallen world not every child can have both of these positive influences. Even so, the Christmas story demonstrates that even Jesus needed them.
Inherent to healthy journeys through babyhood, toddlerhood, and childhood—stages all people go through—are a mother’s loving nurture and a father’s protective strength. We readily acknowledge that in a fallen world not every child can have both of these positive influences. Even so, the Christmas story demonstrates that even Jesus needed them. If He needed them, then so does every child.
If He needed them, then so does every child. To he greatest degree possible, individuals and society must work to affirm and uphold the essential contributions of both moms and dads in parenting—for the benefit of of both children and society at large.
All Word Foundations Christmas posts and articles are available here.
The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.
—Gabriel to Mary in Luke 1:35, announcing to her she would become Jesus’ mother—
Key point: Only a woman could be Jesus’ mother, and Mary was God’s chosen individual to fill that critical role.
All the articles in this series are available here.
One aspect of the Christmas story that sermons and Bible studies often overlook is the contrast between the responses of Mary and Joseph to the birth of Jesus and the differing roles that each individual filled. Such information is extremely insightful in light of our current series on myths that led to the Supreme Court’s redefining marriage in the United States. One overarching myth is that gender differences are irrelevant in parenting. The biblical account of Jesus’ arrival on earth as a helpless baby, as well as Joseph’s responses to subsequent efforts to kill Him, demonstrate that even God’s Son needed both a mother and a father—just as all children do.
What do Mary’s and Joseph’s unique roles in Jesus’ arrival and earliest years teach us? In this post we will consider Mary; next time, Joseph. In all but one instance—Mary’s Quiet Reflections—we’ll mark Mary’s journey with the names of individuals who played important roles in her life.
Gabriel and Elizabeth
Mary was taken aback when, in the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, the angel Gabriel appeared to her suddenly and announced that she was highly favored and would become the mother of the Messiah. Luke records the events from Mary’s perspective.
Mary was submissive to God’s plan, readily expressing a willingness to fulfill her role in it—as awesome as that role was. In fact, she rejoiced in being given both the responsibility and the privilege of being mother to God’s Son.
The woman who could understand her situation best was her relative, Elizabeth, of whom Gabriel had declared, “Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible.” While it was true that Mary’s and Elizabeth’s situations were more different than alike, they were similar enough to provide the foundation for a special bond between the two women.
Mary was indeed favored by God, but her situation also involved great risk. She was certain to be misunderstood. Pregnancies occur as a result of intimacy between a man and a woman. This was going to be a once-in-history exception—but only Mary and a select few in her life would have to understand this. Of course, Joseph, Mary’s husband-to-be, would have to be one of those select few. Many people never came to understand. Years later, the Pharisees would subtly accuse Jesus of having been conceived illegitimately (see John 8:41; context vv. 31-41).
Joseph would believe and support Mary and marry her as planned, but understandably, God had to intervene to confirm to him what actually had happened. Joseph would be used of God to meet some very critical needs that arose in the early years of his adopted Son’s childhood.
We’ll consider Joseph’s roles of husband and father next time. For now, let’s reflect the swirl of events that culminated in Jesus’ birth and the arrival of shepherds at His bedside. The events we recount here are recorded in Luke 2:1-52.
Caesar Augustus issued a decree that the Roman world would be registered, and residents had to travel to the places from which their ancestors came. Joseph, who had descended from David’s line, traveled with Mary, his wife, to David’s hometown, Bethlehem. Mary was quite far along in her pregnancy by this time, so the journey had to be difficult. After arriving in Bethlehem, the couple faced an urgent situation. The time for Jesus’ arrival had come! Unable to find lodging in a local inn, they had to settle for a stable, and there God’s Son was born into the world as an innocent, helpless baby. Let’s put it another way. Mary became the “doorway” through which Jesus, God’s Messiah, entered the world. Only a woman could be used of God in this way.
That same night, as shepherds were keeping watch over their flocks in nearby fields, a messenger from God—an angel—suddenly appeared! The shepherds were astonished, but the angel reassured them,
10 “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. 11 For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”
After making his announcement, the angel no longer was alone, but joined by an army of angels who praised God and spoke of peace on earth “to those on whom his favor rests” (vv. 13-14, NIV). The shepherds wasted no time in making their way to Bethlehem and finding Mary, Joseph, and the Baby, who was lying in an animal’s feeding trough, just as the shepherds had been told.
The shepherds’ lives were forever changed! Surely they talked for the rest of their lives about this otherwise ordinary night when the sky had split open and an angel announced the birth of the One who was the Savior, the Christ, and the Lord. Momentarily, we’ll see evidence of their inability to keep quiet. “Lying in a manger,” He Himself would be a sign to them!
The shepherds found things exactly as the angel had described them. After seeing Him, they “made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds” (vv. 17-18). In addition, Luke tells us, “Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them” (v. 20).
Mary’s Quiet Reflections
“But Mary,” Luke writes in verse 19, “kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.” The translators of the New International Version render this verse this way: “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”
I believe Mary was doing something here that’s is especially characteristic of women. Their ability to do this is such a wonderful trait! It isn’t that men never reflect on things; but, generally speaking, men are practical—action oriented. Joseph had to be. Next time we will see this when we consider him.
Mary, of course, had a great deal to ponder. Author and Bible teacher Beth Moore writes this of her reflection.
Pondered. It is a wonderful word. It is the practice of casting many things together, combining them, and considering them as one. In that moment, a host of memories must have been dancing in Mary’s head. The angel’s appearance. His words. Her flight to the hill country of Judea. Elizabeth’s greeting. Their late-night conversations. The first time she noticed her tummy was rounding. Joseph’s face when he saw her. The way she felt when he believed. The whispers of neighbors. The doubts of her parents. The first time she felt the baby move inside of her. The dread of the long trip. The reality of being full-term. The first pain. The fear of having no place to bear a child. The horror of the nursery. The way it looked. The way it smelled.
The way He looked. God so frail. So tiny. So perfect. Love so abounding. Grace so amazing. Wise men bowed down. Shepherds made haste. Each memory like treasures in a box. She gathered the jewels, held them to her breast, and engraved them on her heart forever.
Soon Jesus’ mother would have even more on which to reflect—some very heavy realities, indeed.
Mary would be called by God to endure a much, and she soon would hear an aged man of God speak of her burden. The Lord had promised Simeon that he would not die before seeing God’s Anointed One. When he saw Jesus at the temple following His birth, Simeon rejoiced and declared to the Lord he was ready to “depart in peace.” He’d now seen God’s salvation, prepared for people everywhere,
“A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles,
And the glory of Your people Israel.”
Mary and Joseph marveled at what was said about Him. Simeon blessed them both, but then he spoke directly to Mary. “Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”
How would Simeon’s prophecy be fulfilled? Bible scholar John A. Martin writes,
Throughout His ministry Jesus proclaimed that the only way to the kingdom, something the nation had long sought, was to follow Him. The ones who did so would receive salvation; they would “rise.” But the ones who did not believe Him would not receive salvation; they would “fall.” These consequences would reveal what they thought about Mary’s Son.1
New Testament scholar William A. Hendricksen observes,
In a parenthesis Simeon, in addressing Mary, states that a sword would pierce her soul; in fact, as the original indicates, a large and broad sword, the symbol of intense pain, of frightful and piercing anguish. For the fulfillment see John 19:25-27.…
What Simeon said was true. But he did not see everything. He did not see that even in the midst of Mary’s sorrow she would receive a measure of comfort. At the suggestion of the crucified Savior the disciple whom Jesus loved would take her to his home. Is it not possible that the very memory of Simeon’s prophecy strengthened Mary in the moments of her deepest agony, proving to her that this too was included in God’s plan and would therefore work together for good? Best of all, because of the resurrection on the third day Mary’s sorrow would subsequently be changed to rejoicing and strengthening of faith.2
There was much that neither Mary nor Joseph understood. Yet Jesus’ parents—His mother and his father by adoption—sought to be the parents to Jesus God wanted them to be. When “they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own city, Nazareth. And the Child grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him” (vv. 39-40).
Jesus as a 12-Year Old Boy
The family made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to participate in the Feast of the Passover. When Jesus was 12, Mary and Joseph discovered Jesus was missing on the journey back. Returning to Jerusalem and finding Him in the temple actively engaged with the teachers there, Joseph and Mary were amazed. Mary asked Him, “Son, why have you done this to us? Look, Your father and I have sought You anxiously” (v. 48).
Luke records, “And He said to them, ‘Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?’ But they did not understand the statement which He spoke to them” (vv. 49-50).
Had Mary and Joseph not been bewildered enough already, they sure were now. But the time for the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry was still years away. Scripture implies that even then, Mary would not fully understand her Son. Yet for now, He “went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them, but his mother [—again—] kept all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man” (vv. 51-52).
Living with His parents, Jesus “increased in wisdom and stature, and win favor worth God and man” (Luke 2:52).
It’s important to understand that we cannot be faithful to the Scriptures and attribute any divine characteristics to Mary. She was a sinner in need of a Savior like every other human being. Yet she was God’s instrument to bring Jesus into the world and to provide the nurture and assistance only a mother could provide. God needed her in this sense, and He used her to accomplish these wonderful purposes.
Moreover, as the Anointed One of God who came to earth as a human being to die to pay the penalty for human sin, Jesus needed Mary as well.
Mary was God’s instrument to bring Jesus into the world and to provide the nurture and assistance only a mother could provide.
Next time, we’ll consider Joseph. As a man and as Jesus’ adopted father, he was well-equipped to protect and provide for his family. And he did these very things in this real-life, cliffhanger drama.
All Word Foundations Christmas posts and articles are available here.
Several years ago I had the honor of hearing one of the world’s most distinguished scholars of natural law expound the nature of the basic good of marriage. Considering the times, a great portion of his lecture had to be devoted to why marriage is intrinsically heterosexual. The talk was perfectly logical, but to most people it would have seemed esoteric. During the discussion period, therefore, I asked him how he would make the case to ordinary people.…He thought for a little while, and then said, “I think it makes its own case.”
Exactly. And that is the classical approach. One cannot convince people of what they grasp already; one can only draw it out of them.
Key point: Same-sex marriage denies the importance of male and female differences in the marriage relationship itself, in parenting, and in the nurture and upbringing of children. Also, it robs children of either a mother or a father. By contrast, all of these are affirmed and upheld in natural, man-woman marriage.
Go here for summaries of all the articles in this series.
We are considering myths that led to the Supreme Court’s redefinition of marriage in Obergefell v. Hodges two-and-a-half years ago, a decision that departed a great distance from sound legal reasoning. Last time we highlighted four myths related to the Supreme Court, government, and the law, including the US Constitution. Here is a review.
Myth #1: Marriage is a government construct over which government and government alone has oversight.
Myth #2: The federal government, especially through its court system, has absolute authority over marriage.
Myth #3: The government bestows rights; therefore, the government can take them away.
Myth #4: The Supreme Court is the final arbiter of disputes in the United States.
While in this article we will refer to the decision of the Court in at least one instance, I’d like for us mainly to think logically about marriage itself, including what nature tells us about it and the implications that arise for marriage when a same-sex relationship is considered a marriage.
Nature Has a Great Deal to Say About Marriage
In the 1970s and even into the 1980s, a series of advertisements featuring Dena Dietrich as Mother Nature promoted Chiffon Margarine. The ads told us that Chiffon Margarine tasted so much like butter, it fooled even Mother Nature herself. She was incensed! It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature! Here is one of those ads.
The truth is that no one ever can fool Mother Nature. Efforts to do so, however well-intentioned they may be to produce outcomes believed to be beneficial, backfire anyway. Such is the nature of reality when we push against it by pretending that it is something it is not or that it is not something it is. This is the situation with regard to the redefinition of marriage in the United States.
No one can fool Mother Nature. Efforts to do so, however well intentioned they may be to produce outcomes believed to be beneficial, backfire anyway.
Myth #5: Gender is absolutely meaningless in marriage.
Fact: Gender and gender differences—physical, emotional, psychological, and relational—form the bedrock foundation on which marriage rests! The innate differences between men and women
set the stage for interdependency in a marriage, and thus a journey away from selfish independence and toward oneness;2
set the stage for practical needs to effectively be met within the family unit, which often includes innocent, vulnerable, and helpless infants and children;
set the stage for God to display His image through the couple’s relationship. While this is true especially in Christian marriages, even non-Christian marriages offer a picture of God’s qualities and character.
Men are strong and independent and often are initiators. Women are intuitive, relational, patient, and supportive. This doesn’t mean that men can’t be relational or that women can’t ever lead. It does mean that, generally speaking, the husband is better suited to be the protector and provider of his family, and the wife is better equipped to be the nurturer and the source of warmth and encouragement in the home.
From Christian psychologist W. Peter Blitchington, we gain a great deal of insight into how male-female differences help foster emotionally healthy individuals and a healthy society—and how, from a Christian perspective, certain aspects of God’s image are reflected in each partner.
To Eve, and to women in general, God gave this important role—the ability to create new life; to deliver a unique human being, fashioned after his initial design. Woman represents the life-giving, nurturant side of God’s nature. Her capacity to give birth to a child represents God’s ability to give life to an entire universe. She represents God as the life-giver. The roundness and softness of woman were not designed just for the enjoyment of man alone (although that was part of the plan); they are also symbols of God’s tenderness and gentleness.…
But God didn’t stop there, for he is the life-sustainer as well as the life-giver. He could have made us without the capacity to create children after our own image; or he could have made us so that we give birth to independent, self-sufficient children who need no care or nurturance from their parents. But God chose to create us so that we would produce helpless, dependent children who needed our care and love in order to grow and develop. And so a woman’s breasts were created not to be mere ornaments but as life sustaining organs—reminders that every object in God’s creation is not made just to be selfishly admired and enjoyed (as important as beautiful things are), but to be used for others in some capacity. And appropriately, he placed those life-sustaining organs right over the heart of woman.
But the woman’s nature didn’t reflect God perfectly because it didn’t contain his power and strength, his initiatory activity and energy—in short, his masculinity.
So God created Adam—man—to reflect this side of God’s nature. He made Adam taller, more muscular, signifying the man’s role as the protector of his family. He was to be the first link in God’s chain of authority. God also created man to be more aggressive and dominant, more logical and analytical. All of these traits complemented the female traits perfectly. Adam submitted to God and Eve to Adam. All were in harmony. Since neither sex could fully represent God’s character alone, a unity between the two was required. Thus by his plan of marriage, God insured that there would be an opportunity for continual growth within the family.3
Let’s be sure we don’t overreact to the word submitted in this last paragraph. According to Christian teaching, within the Godhead—God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit—the Father is the decision-making member of the Trinity, or the initiator. For the Son and the Spirit to submit to the Father causes no strife or resentment. Thus, since marriage is to reflect the diversity and unity within the Godhead, the idea of submission ought not to create strife in a marriage.
Also in Christian teaching, marriage depicts Christ’s relationship with His bride, the church. Is it a burden for the church to submit to Christ, the One who laid down His life for her? Not at all! It is a joy to submit to Christ. Christ is Lord, but He doesn’t “lord it over” anyone. Similarly, since the husband is to love his wife as Christ loves the church and gave himself for it, there should be no bitterness on the part of the wife responds positively to her husband’s leadership. Would any woman married to a man who truly loves her as Christ loved the church have difficulty responding positively to his leadership? How could she, unless she already has resolved to remain independent of him? Yet marriage is about unity and oneness, not individual independence.
Myth #6: The fact that procreation occurs naturally only through heterosexual intercourse has nothing to do with marriage and the family.
Fact: The fact that procreation occurs naturally only through heterosexual intercourse is a part of nature’s testimony that marriage can only be between a man and a woman. In 2003, a BreakPoint commentary by Chuck Colson emphasized this strong testimony. The commentary read in part,
The first line of yesterday’s Associated Press story says it all: “An appeals court ruled that Canada’s ban on homosexual marriage was unconstitutional, and hours later two Canadian men tied the knot in the country’s first legal same-sex wedding.”
This is the beginning of a vast social experiment initiated by judicial fiat. Canadian Justice Harry LaForme wrote in his opinion, “The restriction against same-sex marriage is an offence to the dignity of lesbians and gays because it limits the range of relationship options available to them. The result is they are denied the autonomy to choose whether they wish to marry. This in turn conveys the ominous message that they are unworthy of marriage.”
The argument, you see, is that to deny homosexuals marriage is manifestly unfair. But it’s not unfair. Gays and lesbians are not unworthy of marriage; they are incapable of marriage.
Gays and lesbians are not unworthy of marriage; they are incapable of marriage.
In his wonderful new book, What We Can’t Not Know, University of Texas professor J. Budziszewski states that the purpose of marriage is procreation—the begetting and rearing of children. The future of the human race depends on marriage understood as the union of one man and one woman. Relationships between two men or two women are by their very nature sterile and, thus, not marriage.
Budziszewski writes, “To call procreation the purpose of marriage is not arbitrary; alone among all forms of human union, the union of the sexes produces children.…A legislature [or a court] can no more turn sodomitical unions into marriages than it can turn dogs into cats; it can only unravel the institution of marriage by sowing confusion about its purpose.”
A legislature or court can no more turn sodomitical unions into marriages than it can turn dogs into cats; it can only unravel the institution of marriage by sowing confusion about its purpose. —J. Budziszewski—
Budziszewski makes this case for heterosexual marriage on page 188 of his book.4 Just prior to making it, he describes the cultural backdrop with regard to the debate over marriage and shows how it has been rigged. A noble ideal, marital purity, in this case—the self-evident meaning of marriage as a permanent commitment between one man and one woman—is attacked in the name of another noble ideal, that of fairness. It isn’t fair, we’ve been told, to honor the request of a heterosexual couple desiring marriage while denying the request of a homosexual couple saying they, too, want marriage. We see this idea in Colson’s commentary in this sentence: The argument, you see, is that to deny homosexuals marriage is manifestly unfair. Yet this argument distorts the true nature of fairness. The principle of fairness in its truest form does not forbid treating people differently, but arbitrarily treating them differently. Likewise, fairness prevents us from arbitrarily treating people the same. Context is important.
Here’s an illustration. If we totaled up the score between two opposing football teams at the end of a game, divided it by two, and awarded each team the same score, that would not be fair. Why? Because competition is one of the inherent purposes of football. Such an approach would obliterate competition from the mix and change the very nature of the game.
If we totaled up the score between two opposing football teams at the end of a game, divided it by two, and awarded each team the same score, that would not be fair. Why? Because competition is one of the inherent purposes of football. Such an approach would obliterate competition from the mix and change the very nature of the game.
A fundamental inherent purpose of heterosexual marriage is producing children. While it may seem fair recognize a same-sex relationship as a marriage, doing so obliterates from marriage one of its inherent purposes. Same-sex couples, by the very nature of their relationship, cannot procreate! Yet they can be married? This stands contrary to reality!5
Myth #7: Gender is absolutely meaningless in parenting.
Fact: Mothers are not fathers, nor can they be fathers to their children. Similarly, fathers are not mothers and cannot act, in any ongoing way, adequately in the mothering role. This is not to say that moms can’t ever challenge their children to take reasonable risks or that dads can’t ever be nurturing. It is to say that men are equipped physically, emotionally, and relationally to be dads, and women are equipped physically, emotionally, and relationally to be moms. Men and women parent differently, and children of both sexes need the nurturing love of a mother and the strength, safety, and challenge a father will give. Children need both parenting styles for emotional balance and healthy development.
What are some specific ways men and women parent differently? Glenn Stanton, social researcher at Focus on the Family, names several in a must-read article. Here we summarize some of his major points.
Moms and dads tend to approach their children’s play differently. From Mom a child learns the importance of equity, security, and building bonds through shared experiences. From Dad the child receives encouragement to compete and to strive for independence. Also from Dad, a child learns how strength and safety can be intertwined. Roughhousing with Dad teaches the child that Dad is both strong and safe. This is foundational for self-assurance and confidence.
Moms tend to encourage and offer security while dads tend to push their children to move beyond their comfort zones to accomplish what they’re capable of achieving.
Moms are verbal and personal in their communication style; dads use fewer words than moms and tend to be more direct or “bottom line.”
“Dads,” Stanton writes, “tend to see their child in relation to the rest of the world. Mothers tend to see the rest of the world in relation to their child.”
Moms provide a gateway for their children to view the world of women; dads provide the gateway for them to view the world of men. Because all children are, generally speaking, surrounded by women in infancy and in their earliest years, it is understandable that dad’s connection to the world of men is especially important for young boys. In another article, Stanton discusses the truth that boys must learn to be men. How else can they learn this essential skill unless they spend time in the company of other men?
When children see their opposite-sex parents interact in healthy ways with each other, they learn much more than the relational dynamics involved when two people interact; they get to observe the core qualities and subtle nuances of interaction between the sexes. Though this interaction, kids learn what mutual respect for members of the opposite sex looks like and feels like.
Stanton’s conclusion offers this key statement: “When we disregard the gender distinctions of parental influence as unimportant or unnecessary, we seriously diminish the proper development of children.” In addition to Stanton’s article, this piece is well-worth reading.
Myth #8: Marriage is really all about adults—not children.
Fact: You won’t find advocates of same-sex marriage actively promoting this idea as expressed here. In fact, a focus on the needs of children has been at the forefront of the arguments for same-sex marriage. Read this portion of Justice Kennedy’s decision in Obergefell. Writing for the majority, he said,
[M]any same-sex couples provide loving and nurturing homes to their children, whether biological or adopted. And hundreds of thousands of children are presently being raised by such couples…Most States have allowed gays and lesbians to adopt, either as individuals or as couples, and many adopted and foster children have same-sex parents…. This provides powerful confirmation from the law itself that gays and lesbians can create loving, supportive families.
Excluding same-sex couples from marriage thus conflicts with a central premise of the right to marry. Without the recognition, stability, and predictability marriage offers, their children suffer the stigma of knowing their families are somehow lesser. They also suffer the significant material costs of being raised by unmarried parents, relegated through no fault of their own to a more difficult and uncertain family life. The marriage laws at issue here thus harm and humiliate the children of same-sex couples.
We readily acknowledge that the first sentence we have cited here is correct: A great many same-sex couples do indeed provide loving and nurturing homes for their children. This and a generous number of other statements in the majority opinion reflect concern for children’s well-being. Even so, the question is not whether homes with same-sex parents can meet a wide range of children’s needs and offer a loving and caring environment. They can and they do! The question is whether we are willing to acknowledge the critical element that is lacking for children in every same-sex-parent home.
Every home run by same-sex parents not only fails to provide a fundamental need children have; it actually denies children this need. Children need both male and a female parents, parenting together, and only an opposite-sex couple can meet that need. Please reread our discussion about myth #7 and consider it in light of myth #8. As noble as statements about the needs of children sound, it is crystal clear that same-sex marriage, because of what it is, shortchanges children by placing the desires of adults above the needs of their children.
Same-sex marriage shortchanges children by placing the desires of adults above the needs of their children.
I cannot express it any better than Katy Faust and Dawn Stefanowicz have in this video, which is produced by Alliance Defending Freedom. You can learn more at marriageisourfuture.org. You can hear them tell their own stories of growing up in homes with same-sex parents here.
There are even more aspects to this myth. This isn’t just about the impact of same-sex marriage in homes with same-sex couples; it’s also about the message that society sends to everyone in the culture, especially to members of future generations. In their excellent book, Marriage on Trial: The Case against Same-Sex Marriage and Parenting, Glenn T. Stanton and Dr. Bill Maier answer the question, “How could same-sex marriage harm my children?”
Same-sex marriage teaches children and their generation that marriage is merely about fulfilling adult sexual and emotional desire, nothing more. Many approaches and philosophies of heterosexual marriage already teach this, and same-sex marriage will only help solidify it.
Same-sex marriage—like easy divorce, cohabitation, pre- and extramarital sex, and unmarried childbearing—relativize family relationships. It promotes a smorgasbord mentality for family life: choose what suits your tastes, and one choice is as good as another. But no society has ever been able sustain itself with such a view of family life.
Same-sex marriage will teach little boys that the idea of being a good family man—caring and sacrificing himself for one woman and their children—is not expected or even virtuous, but merely one’s lifestyle choice among many. Same-sex marriage teaches our daughters that being committed to and helping socialize a husband and bearing and raising children with him is also only one family lifestyle choice among many.
In short the entire meaning and significance of marriage itself, and what it means to be male and female, will be radically changed. So will the choices and behaviors of those who grow up within that altered social context.6
We now have considered eight myths, but we’re only about halfway through our list. Next time, we’ll turn our thoughts toward Christmas, but soon thereafter we’ll resume our quest to expose the harmful myths responsible for redefining marriage.
Marriage is what one man and one woman establish when, forsaking all others and pledging lifelong commitment, they found a sharing of life at every level of being—the biological, the emotional, the dispositional, the rational, the spiritual—on a commitment that is sealed, completed and actualized by loving sexual intercourse in which the spouses become one flesh, not in some merely metaphorical sense, but by fulfilling together the behavioral conditions of procreation.
No one has a civil right to have a non-marital relationship treated as a marriage. Marriage is an objective reality—a covenantal union of husband and wife—that it is the duty of the law to recognize and support for the sake of justice and the common good. If it fails to do so, genuine social harms follow.
Key point: The Supreme Court ruling that changed the definition of marriage in the United States to include same-sex couples is based on numerous myths, including myths that have misinformed and misled people in the United States about the role of government, the nature of rights in relation to government, and government’s responsibility to respect the sacredness of marriage.
Go here for summaries of all the articles in this series.
Now known as the “father of infection control,” Ignaz Semmelweis (1818-1865) wasn’t always well-respected. A native of Hungary, he earned his medical degree in 1844, and in 1847, through an appointment, became an assistant professor at a highly regarded teaching hospital in Vienna. His area of expertise was obstetrics, and he soon became alarmed about the mortality rate at his hospital among the women whose babies were delivered by doctors and medical students. It was between 13 and 18 percent! By contrast, the mortality rate was just 2 percent among the women whose babies were delivered with assistance from midwives or those learning to become midwives.
Noticing that it wasn’t unusual for medical personnel to perform autopsies before delivering babies, Dr. Semmelweis began requiring all doctors and students to wash their hands before assisting the hospital’s patients. The mortality rate plummeted to 2 percent—as low as the rate for the women assisted by the midwives. As wonderful as this was, Dr. Semmelweis wasn’t through. Now, medical instruments would be washed as well. After this requirement took effect, the death rate dropped down to just 1 percent.
The good doctor, though his policies, had saved a significant number of lives. With our modern understanding of infectious diseases, we readily can see this; but at the time, sadly, Semmelweis’s supervisor did not. A new ventilation system had been installed in the hospital, and he believed it was responsible for the improved statistics. Apparently, Semmelweis could not convince him otherwise.
Unfortunately, Semmelweis’s appointment to teach and work at the hospital was a 2-year appointment that wasn’t renewed. To his credit, the doctor continued to make his case for handwashing among medical personnel. In 1861, he even wrote a book about it. Dr. Semmelweis was right, but his book was not well written and was met with skepticism. Only a few years later as a patient in a public insane asylum, Dr. Semmelweis died. He was only 47 years old.
We all can be glad the story doesn’t end there. Louis Pasteur (1822-1895) entered the picture not many years later. While Semmelweis’s policies had produced positive results, the good doctor couldn’t articulate the reasons why. Pasteur was able to do this by explaining the germ theory of infectious diseases. Relying on Pasteur’s investigations, Joseph Lister, a British physician who lived from 1827-1912, was able to convince his medical colleagues to adopt effective sanitation procedures. Florence Nightingale (1820-1910), the medical pioneer credited with founding modern nursing, also promoted sanitation guidelines in the medical profession.1
Myths and the Dangers They Pose
It took some time, but Ignaz Semmelweis was vindicated. Many lessons arise from his story—not the least of which is that failure to believe and act upon the truth can be quite costly. While we’ve cited from his story just one false belief in a single situation, false ideas sometimes grip entire cultures. When they do, they can be extremely dangerous and hazardous. Moreover, the more ingrained an erroneous belief is in people’s minds, and the more widespread it is, the greater its potential to harm and destroy. We often call an erroneous belief that has widespread acceptance a myth.
The more ingrained an erroneous belief is in people’s minds, and the more widespread it is, the greater its potential to harm and destroy. Such beliefs often are called myths.
In this and subsequent posts, I’d like to examine at least 16 myths that paved the way for the Supreme Court to redefine marriage two and a half years ago in Obergefell v. Hodges. In the United States we did not arrive overnight, but over time, at a place where judicial decree could redefine marriage. Even so, this process has taken place at amazing speed. Only a scant few decades ago, the idea of same-sex marriage was totally unthinkable. Since then, the culture’s prevailing underlying assumptions about marriage were challenged, attacked and ridiculed, and then pushed aside—both forcibly in the courts and subtly in the culture.
Over time, the culture’s prevailing underlying assumptions about marriage were challenged, attacked and ridiculed, and then pushed aside—both forcibly in the courts and subtly in the culture.
In this article, we will examine 4 myths about government, law, and the US Constitution. In subsequent posts we’ll examine the remaining myths on our list, these having to do with the nature of marriage itself. We will see how these myths, both individually and especially through Obergefell, actually are a threat to the well-being of individuals, society, and individual liberties. Proponents of same-sex marriage are not exempt from these threats. Those who worked hard to promote the redefinition of marriage are not as free as they think they are. Falsehoods enslave, but the truth liberates!
Myth #1: Marriage is a government construct over which government and government alone has oversight.
Fact: Marriage—the lifelong union of one man and one woman—is not at all a government construct, but an institution that preceded government, and an institution that preceded the United States government by thousands of years. Moreover, marriage and the family is society’s most important and most basic institution. Despite any and all appearances and sentiments to the contrary, without healthy marriages and healthy families, societal stability cannot be maintained.
This is not to say that government ought to have nothing to say about marriage. It is to say that government should respect marriage for what it is rather than seeking to manipulate it to meet the demands of a select few.
 In Scripture, the creation of man and woman, and their one-flesh union as husband and wife, is the crowning achievement of God’s creation.  In the transmission of life and the nurturing of children, men and women joined as spouses are given the great honor of being partners with God Himself.  Marriage then, is the first institution of human society—indeed it is the institution on which all other human institutions have their foundation.
Marriage…is the first institution of human society—indeed it is the institution on which all other human institutions have their foundation. —The Manhattan Declaration—
Clearly from the context, the word first in the term “first institution” means both first in time and first in importance.
Similarly, the Pledge in Solidarity to Defend Marriage states,
On the matter of marriage, we stand in solidarity. We affirm that marriage and family have been inscribed by the Divine Architect into the order of Creation.
Marriage is ontologically between one man and one woman, ordered toward the union of the spouses, open to children and formative of family. Family is the first vital cell of society, the first government, and the first mediating institution of our social order. The future of a free and healthy society passes through marriage and the family.
Marriage as existing solely between one man and one woman precedes civil government.
In the spring of 2015, Dr. James Dobson wrote the following in a letter to supporters of his ministry, Family Talk.
The institution of the family is one of the Creator’s most marvelous and enduring gifts to humankind. It was revealed to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and then described succinctly in Genesis 2:24, where we read, “For this cause, a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife, and they shall be one flesh.” With those 20 [-plus] words, God announced the ordination of male-female marriage, long before He established the two other great human institutions, the church and the government.
At least 5,000 years have come and gone since that point of origin, yet every civilization in the history of the world has been built upon it. Despite today’s skeptics who claim that marriage is an outmoded and narrow-minded Christian concoction, the desire of men and women to “leave” and “cleave” has survived and thrived through times of prosperity, famine, wars, peace, epidemics, tyranny, and every other circumstance and human condition. It has been the bedrock of culture in Asia, Africa, Europe, North America, South America, Australia and even Antarctica. [Note that this has been true even in countries that aren’t predominantly Christian.]…
Admittedly, there have been various societies in history where homosexuality has flourished, including the biblical cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, in ancient Greece and in the Roman Empire. None of these civilizations survived. Furthermore, even where sexual perversion was tolerated or flourished, the institution of marriage continued to be honored in law and custom. Only in the last few years has what is called “gay marriage” been given equal status with biblical male-female unions.…God help us if we throw the divine plan for humankind on the ash heap of history.
In the months prior to the Supreme Court ruling of June 26, 2015, that redefined marriage nationwide, the dominoes were falling in states where the people had amended their state constitutions to say unambiguously that marriage was between one man and one woman. Judges—especially members of the federal judiciary—were overruling the people almost en masse. Observing this judicial tyranny, Dennis Prager lamented,
Society is no longer being permitted to define marriage in the only way marriage has ever been defined in the annals of recorded history. Many societies have allowed polygamy, many have allowed child marriages, some have allowed marriage within families; but none in thousands of years has defined marriage as the union of people of the same sex.
None of this matters to these judges or to all those who seek to redefine marriage and can’t convince a majority of their fellow citizens to agree.
Many societies have allowed polygamy, many have allowed child marriages, some have allowed marriage within families; but none in thousands of years has defined marriage as the union of people of the same sex. —Dennis Prager—
Given what marriage is, and what it has been for millennia, and the good that results when it is respected and honored, it is fitting that the Pledge in Solidarity to Defend Marriage would say forthrightly to the Supreme Court of the United States,
Our highest respect for the rule of law requires that we not respect an unjust law that directly conflicts with higher law. A decision purporting to redefine marriage flies in the face of the Constitution and is contrary to the natural created order. As people of faith we pledge obedience to our Creator when the State directly conflicts with higher law. We respectfully warn the Supreme Court not to cross this line.
Myth #2: The federal government, especially through its court system, has absolute authority over marriage.
Fact: This myth is completely unconstitutional. Courts do not have authority to make laws. Moreover, the Tenth Amendment of the US Constitution states, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.” The Constitution is silent about the matter of marriage, and that alone places marriage out of the reach of the federal judiciary, including the Supreme Court.
In his dissenting opinion in Obergefell, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote,
[T]his Court is not a legislature. Whether same-sex marriage is a good idea should be of no concern to us. Under the Constitution, judges have power to say what the law is, not what it should be. The people who ratified the Constitution authorized courts to exercise “neither force nor will but merely judgment.” The Federalist No. 78, p. 465.
Today’s decree says that my Ruler, and the Ruler of 320 million Americans coast-to-coast, is a majority of the nine lawyers on the Supreme Court. The opinion in these cases is the furthest extension in fact— and the furthest extension one can even imagine—of the Court’s claimed power to create “liberties” that the Constitution and its Amendments neglect to mention. This practice of constitutional revision by an unelected committee of nine, always accompanied (as it is today) by extravagant praise of liberty, robs the People of the most important liberty they asserted in the Declaration of Independence and won in the Revolution of 1776: the freedom to govern themselves.
Today’s decision shows that decades of attempts to restrain this Court’s abuse of its authority have failed. A lesson that some will take from today’s decision is that preaching about the proper method of interpreting the Constitution or the virtues of judicial self-restraint and humility cannot compete with the temptation to achieve what is viewed as a noble end by any practicable means.
Myth #3: The government bestows rights; therefore, the government can take them away.
Fact: The Declaration of Independence is correct when affirms the self-evident truths
that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed….
The government never will admit to taking away rights—only to granting them. Yet, in the very act of creating rights outside its authority, it tramples on the inherent, God-given rights of others.
This isn’t all. In state after state, unable to convince the people to change the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples, advocates of same-sex marriage went to the courts to get the judiciary to reshape and change marriage. They demanded that the courts make of marriage something it is not, and in doing so, they relied on government to create rights it has no authority to create.
In his dissent, Justice Clarence Thomas was especially articulate in highlighting this myth and warning of its dangers. Thomas, dissenting in Obergefell, wrote,
The Court’s decision today is at odds not only with the Constitution, but with the principles upon which our Nation was built. Since well before 1787, liberty has been understood as freedom from government action, not entitlement to government benefits. The Framers created our Constitution to preserve that understanding of liberty. Yet the majority invokes our Constitution in the name of a “liberty” that the Framers would not have recognized, to the detriment of the liberty they sought to protect. Along the way, it rejects the idea—captured in our Declaration of Independence—that human dignity is innate and suggests instead that it comes from the Government. This distortion of our Constitution not only ignores the text, it inverts the relationship between the individual and the state in our Republic. I cannot agree with it.
Thomas went on to demonstrate just how far out of bounds the Court went when it changed the definition of marriage to grant “rights” to same-sex couples. He also emphasized the threats to religious liberty and rights of conscience the court’s overreach created. Please read more from Justice Thomas’s brilliant and articulate dissent here.
Go here to read about the differences between the Founders’ view on rights and the contemporary American view. Unfortunately, we have exchanged the Founders perspective on rights—a view of rights that fosters genuine liberty—for one that eventually will give way to tyranny. All the while, this has been done under the mantra of freedom and rights!
Unfortunately, we have exchanged the Founders perspective on rights—a view of rights that fosters genuine liberty—for one that eventually will give way to tyranny.
Myth #4: The Supreme Court is the final arbiter of disputes in the United States.
Fact: The Founders of our country never intended that the Supreme Court of the United States would acquire the power it now has. Often, we hear that the Framers established “equal” or “co-equal” branches of government—executive, legislative, and judicial. Even if it were true the Founding Fathers intended for them to be equal, our government has departed from this principle. The courts have stepped way beyond their constitutional authority.
In the Federalist Papers—initially anonymous articles published by a New York newspaper that encouraged New York to ratify the proposed US Constitution—Alexander Hamilton wrote,
It proves incontestably, that the judiciary is beyond comparison the weakest of the three departments of power; that it can never attack with success either of the other two; and that all possible care is requisite to enable it to defend itself against their attacks. It equally proves, that though individual oppression may now and then proceed from the courts of justice, the general liberty of the people can never be endangered from that quarter; I mean so long as the judiciary remains truly distinct from both the Legislature and the Executive. [Federalist Paper #78].
James Madison said this: “In republican government, the legislative authority necessarily predominates” [Federalist Paper #51].
Another Founding Father, Thomas Jefferson, became alarmed about the growth of judicial power he himself was witnessing, and he openly expressed his concerns. Each of the following is a quote from the third US President.
We already see the [judiciary] power, installed for life, responsible to no authority…advancing with a noiseless and steady pace to the great object of consolidation. The foundations are already deeply laid by their decisions for the annihilation of constitutional State rights and the removal of every check, every counterpoise to the engulfing power of which themselves are to make a sovereign part.
[T]he opinion which gives to the judges the right to decide what laws are constitutional and what not, not only for themselves in their own sphere of action but for the Legislature and Executive also in their spheres, would make the Judiciary a despotic branch.
To consider the judges as the ultimate arbiters of all constitutional questions; a very dangerous doctrine indeed, and one which would place us under the despotism of an oligarchy.…[T]heir power [is] the more dangerous as they are in office for life and not responsible, as the other functionaries are, to the elective control. The Constitution has erected no such single tribunal, knowing that to whatever hands confided…its members would become despots. It has more wisely made all the departments co-equal and co-sovereign within themselves.…When the legislative or executive functionaries act unconstitutionally, they are responsible to the people in their elective capacity. The exemption of the judges from that is quite dangerous enough.
It has long been my opinion, and I have never shrunk from its expression…that the germ of dissolution of our Federal Government is in the constitution of the Federal Judiciary – an irresponsible body…working like gravity by night and by day, gaining a little today and a little tomorrow, and advancing its noiseless step like a thief over the field of jurisdiction until all shall be usurped from the States and the government be consolidated into one. To this I am opposed.
In an extremely insightful Prager University video titled “Why We’re Losing Liberty,” Dr. Robert George, Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University, explains that the Founders never foresaw that the Supreme Court would become the entity it is today, exercising unrestrained power. He says that “now, most Americans think of the Supreme Court as the ultimate arbiter of almost every social and political dispute. The Founders never envisioned the court in this role.” Go here to watch this excellent presentation.
Now, most Americans think of the Supreme Court as the ultimate arbiter of almost every social and political dispute. The Founders never envisioned the court in this role. —Professor Robert George—
These four myths not only led to the Obergefell ruling; they also are being reinforced by that ruling. It is time for the American people to understand the limitations the Constitution has placed, and places, on the federal government, particularly the judiciary. Furthermore, it is time for the people to demand that these restraints be honored and respected.
It is difficult to think of a matter that could be more out of bounds for the federal government to manipulate than marriage.
Next time, we’ll expose several myths that relate to the nature of marriage itself. Be sure to return for our critically important discussion.
Note: On this coming Tuesday, December 5, 2017, the US Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, a case about which I have written extensively at Word Foundations. Alliance Defending Freedom is representing Jack Phillips, owner and operator of Masterpiece Cakeshop, in this case. Like the Pilgrims, Jack is risking everything for religious liberty and rights of conscience. The ruling will have profound implications for the First Amendment rights of every American. You can learn more about Jack’s journey and his convictions here and here. Please be in prayer for this case and its outcome. A ruling is expected in the late spring of next year.
The Extraordinary Adventures of Ordinary Believers Who Worked Out Their Salvation with Fear and Trembling
These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them,embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.
The Pilgrims made up a single local church who, with their pastor, determined to move the church from England to Holland to America. Thus, you could say that America began as a church relocation project.
—D. James Kennedy1—
Key point: Because they remained true to their God and took necessary steps to honor Him with their resources and their lives, the Pilgrims influenced, and continue to influence, the entire world. Our circumstances aren’t the same as theirs, but like them, we have manifold opportunities to die to self and to use our resources for God’s glory. God can use us, just as He used them!
In this two-part series, we’re exploring how the Pilgrims, together, “worked out their salvation with fear and trembling” (see Phil. 2:12) until the time they decided to leave Holland for the New World. This working-out process certainly would continue, and perhaps at some point we can explore how it played out on their voyage across the Atlantic Ocean and in North America. For now, there is a great deal to learn from the experiences they shared up until the time they left Holland in 1620.
In part 1 we examined some of the challenges this Separatist congregation faced in Scrooby in England as they sought to live out their faith in a hostile environment. Weary of being harassed and persecuted and longing for freedom in their religious practices, the group fled England for Holland in 1608. They first resided in Amsterdam, then moved to Leyden a short time later.
The Holland Years
In Holland, the little group of believers enjoyed the freedom that had eluded them in their native land. They lived there for over a decade but in the end were compelled to leave. In addition to the increasing possibility that war would erupt between Holland and Spain, two other factors motivated the congregation to take serious steps to depart for North America—
the moral well-being of their children and
their desire to spread share the good news of Jesus Christ in distant lands.
The Separatists’ concern for their children was related to the economic pressures they faced in their adopted land. In relocating as they had already, they had exhausted their financial resources. Also, typically, immigrants could not find work that paid well, and a family’s poverty invariably put pressures on both parents and children, who essentially had to mature faster than they would under more ideal circumstances. Some children were being heavily influenced by loose moral values in the culture. According to William Bradford, who later would serve as the governor of Plymouth Colony,
[O]f all sorrows most heavy to be borne, was that many of the children, influenced by these conditions, and the great licentiousness of the young people of the country, and the many temptations of the city, were led by evil example into dangerous courses, getting the reins off their necks and leaving their parents. Some became soldiers, others embarked upon voyages by sea and others upon worse courses tending to dissoluteness and the danger of their souls, to the great grief of the parents and the dishonour of God. So they saw their posterity would be in danger to degenerate and become corrupt.2
[T]hey [also] cherished a great hope and inward zeal of laying good foundations, or at least of making some way towards it, for the propagation and advance of the gospel of the kingdom of Christ in the remote parts of the world, even though they should be but stepping stones to others in the performance of so great a work.3
Keep the phrase stepping stones in mind, because we will return to it shortly.
The Christians who had fled England for religious freedom and had spent over a decade in Holland now felt compelled to leave Holland for the New World. Chief among their concerns were the moral well-being of their Children and their desire to take the good news of Jesus Christ to, in William Bradford’s words, “the remote parts of the world.”
A Bittersweet Departure
The painting at the top of this page is titled The Embarkation of the Pilgrims. Created by artist Robert Weir, it was commissioned by the United States Congress in 1837 and placed in the Rotunda of the US Capitol in late 1843. The portrait depicts the Separatist congregation’s last service aboard the Speedwell in Delft Haven, Holland, just before the departure of those who were sailing for the New World. More about the painting is available here, but let’s focus in on one of the painting’s central figures for a moment.
The congregation’s pastor, John Robinson, who would remain in Leyden, is kneeling in the foreground with his face turned heavenward. Here is a record of his farewell address to those of his congregation who were about to leave. Robinson also would write this farewell letter to those departing. He hoped he and other members of the congregation soon would be able to join them in North America.
The Pilgrims weren’t simply a group of individual Christians, but a congregation that together drew on God’s strength to live out their faith in the world in which the Lord had placed them.
The point here is that these believers weren’t simply a group of individual Christians, but a congregation that together drew on God’s strength to live out their faith in the world in which the Lord had placed them. They also drew strength from one another, but now the realities of life dictated that some of them separate from others in the group. Their good-byes were bittersweet—difficult, yet encouraging for both those leaving and those who felt they needed, at least for now, to remain. We cannot discount the underlying, yet real, influence of the ones remaining on those departing. Because they were a part of this congregation that had endured so much together, the ones staying in Leyden left their mark on the New World as well. God would be with and would guide both groups in the years ahead.
Let’s return now to William Bradford’s account. Having stated the primary reasons the group felt they must leave, Bradford went on to add,
These, and some other similar reasons, moved them to resolve upon their removal, which they afterwards prosecuted in the face of great difficulties, as will appear. The place they fixed their thoughts upon was somewhere in those vast and unpeopled countries of America….4
A Working-Out Process
Their difficulties in Leyden and the struggles they would have in preparing for and making their transatlantic journey notwithstanding, the time the Pilgrims spent in Holland would prove to be extremely beneficial for them and for future generations of North Americans. Robert A. Peterson writes,
[P]erhaps… [the] greatest contribution [the Dutch people made] to America was the 11 years of freedom they gave the Pilgrims—crucial years that helped America’s founding fathers work out their philosophy of freedom and prepare for self-government in the New World.
Free men. For the Pilgrims, this was a new idea. Just what did it mean to be free? With the external pressure of persecution lifted, would the Pilgrims remain true to their original calling? Or would they turn liberty into license and lose their distinctive identity? Time would show that the Pilgrims took seriously their responsibilities of self-government. Indeed, the Dutch experience would prove to be an excellent half-way house to the freedom the Pilgrims would find in the New World. For the next 11 years, the Pilgrims took advantage of all the opportunities that Dutch society offered.…
The 11 years the Pilgrims spent in Holland saw them grow in responsibility, adaptability, and self- government. As Bradford Smith put it in his biography of William Bradford, “The libertarian tradition at Plymouth, with its profound influence on American life, is not primarily English. It is Dutch. Simple justice demands that we acknowledge this…. Thus, during their Leyden years, were the Pilgrims perfecting themselves for the undreamed of work of founding a new nation. In religion, they grew milder and more tolerant. In business and craftsmanship they learned a great deal from the thrifty, ambitious and highly capable Hollanders. Too, the Dutch flair for efficient government and record keeping, the spirit of republicanism and civic responsibility were to bear unsuspected fruit in a distant land.”5
Working out one’s salvation with fear and trembling (see Phil. 2:12) has implications for every area of life. We see this so clearly in the Pilgrims’ journey. Most noteworthy, these believers consistently took the long view, just as did the heroes of the faith in Hebrews 11. They made the most of their opportunities in the present, even as they were mindful of how they might influence the future for God’s glory. Both of the factors that compelled the Separatist congregation to push forward to travel to the New World were centered, not in the present, but in the future.
Investing in Future Generations—and Eternity
We see the Pilgrims’ passion for evangelism later reflected in the text of the Mayflower Compact, which speaks of the signers’ having come to America “for the Glory of God and advancement of the Christian Faith and Honour of our King and Country….” You can read the entire text of the Mayflower Compact here, and you can read about the document here and here.
Accordingly, Bradford, as we already have noted, wrote that his party wanted to carry the good news of Christ to “the remote parts of the world, even though they should be but stepping stones to others in the performance of so great a work.”6
Our children, it has been said, are our links to the future. Moreover, the spread of the gospel is not primarily about building a better world here and now, even though that is a side benefit. It is about eternity!
The Pilgrims would, in their efforts to secure religious freedom for themselves, to spread the gospel to “remote parts of the world,” and to guide their children to live lives of purity and integrity before God, change the course of history and sew the seeds that eventually would become the United States of America.
Their contributions to the betterment of civilized life continue in America to this day. This isn’t just in the ideals they upheld, but in people. The descendants of those who came over on the Mayflower number in the tens of millions! It’s readily understood that not all of these are Christians; in fact, a great many are not. But others are.
I am honored to have in my circle of friends one Daniel Brewster, a direct, thirteenth-generation descendant of the Plymouth Colony’s Elder William Brewster, through his son Jonathan Brewster. Dan is a devout believer who is active in his church, often operating the sound system for its services and special events. When he lived in Ohio, Dan was involved in vocational ministry through Child Evangelism Fellowship. Currently he works in ministry at the distribution center of LifeWay Christian Resources, one of the world’s largest providers of Bible study materials and Christian services.
Do not misunderstand. A believer does not have to be involved in vocational ministry to serve God through his or her work; he or she can honor Him in any reputable job—and reputable jobs are available in all kinds of work. I’m simply relating ways Dan Brewster has served the Lord through his career.
Dan and his wife Tammi have four sons, and they are effectively passing the baton of their Christian faith on to them, just as the Pilgrims sought faithfully to pass along their faith to their own children.
Building a Heritage and Leaving a Legacy
You may not have a Christian family heritage stretching back through the years. If you don’t have such a heritage, start one! The past is the past. It is done—but from this point forward, you can build a Christ-centered legacy to bequeath to future generations. If you already have this kind of heritage, make sure you are faithful to keep it alive and healthy on the watch the Lord has entrusted to you.
The lessons the Pilgrims offer 21st century believers truly are manifold. Of course, the Pilgrims were imperfect people who did not get everything right. Even so, they got enough right and were willing, with God’s help, to lay everything on the line for treasures of eternal worth.
They even were ready to become “stepping stones” to further God’s work.
May we, relying on divine help as well, also do the same!
The Extraordinary Adventures of Ordinary Believers Who Worked Out Their Salvation with Fear and Trembling
But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. —1 Peter 2:9—
The Pilgrims comprised one of the most remarkable congregations that has ever existed on the face of this earth.
—D. James Kennedy1—
Key point: Members of the Separatist congregation in Scrooby, England in the 1600s — believers who later became known as “Pilgrims” — serve as examples not only of how to “do Christianity,” but also of how to “do church.”
Last time we explored the importance of taking salvation seriously, of “working out one’s salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12). It’s fascinating to note both individual and corporate manifestations of this process. Not only must individual Christians work out their own salvation, churches and other Christian groups frequently must do the same. In the Pilgrims—believers who fled England for Holland, then Holland for the New World during the early 1600s and established the Plymouth Colony in what is now Massachusetts—we see evidence of the “working out process” at a congregational level. In this two-part series, I’d like to consider how this process was manifested in the Pilgrims’ decisions and actions up until the time they resolved to leave Holland for North America.
The Church in England
The Protestant Reformation is considered to have officially begun in 1517 when Martin Luther, a German monk, released his 95 Theses, a document in which he pointed out and objected to numerous abuses by and within the Roman Catholic Church. The Reformation soon became a movement that spread throughout Europe, wielding its influence in numerous countries beyond Germany.
King Henry VIII, who ruled in England from 1509 to 1547, officially pulled his country away from the Roman Catholic Church in 1534. In that year he declared himself sovereign over a new national church, which, not surprisingly, he called the Church of England. His actions weren’t theologically motivated, but we can’t fully consider that part of the story at this point. Suffice it to say that the move was a very big deal. King Henry, and eventually his daughter, Queen Elizabeth I, who ruled from 1558 to 1603, instituted a number of changes that made England’s new national church distinct from the Church headquartered in Rome. Even so, some of Henry’s subjects didn’t believe enough had been changed. These Christians wanted to see and experience forms of worship that were simpler and less elaborate. Appealing to the Book of Acts, they called for a return to the worship practices of the early Christians. These men and women became known as Puritans, because they advocated purifying the church in this way.
William Bradford later would describe the situation by saying members of the congregation
were hunted and persecuted on every side, until their former afflictions were but as flea-bitings in comparison. Some were clapped into prison; others had their houses watched night and day, and escaped with difficulty; and most were obliged to fly, and leave their homes and means of livelihood. Yet these and many other even severer trials which afterwards befell them, being only what they expected, they were able to bear by the assistance of God’s grace and spirit. However, being thus molested, and seeing that there was no hope of their remaining there, they resolved by consent to go into the Low Countries, where they heard there was freedom of religion for all; and it was said that many from London and other parts of the country, who had been exiled and persecuted for the same cause, had gone to live at Amsterdam and elsewhere in the Netherlands. So after about a year, having kept their meeting for the worship of God every Sabbath in one place or another, notwithstanding the diligence and malice of their adversaries, seeing that they could no longer continue under such circumstances, they resolved to get over to Holland as soon as they could….2
The Separatist congregation stayed in Holland for over 10 years. We’ll consider those years next time, but for now, let’s reflect on the Pilgrims’ journey up until the time they made their decision to leave England. Several observations are in order.
First, these believers knew what it was like to face ridicule and persecution because of their faith, yet they refused to compromise. Their consciences were beholden to their God. Today, we need more believers like that. Persecution was just one aspect of the price they paid.
The Pilgrims’ consciences were beholden to their God.
Second, the Pilgrims apparently didn’t expect their Christianity to bring them ease and comfort. I list this as a separate item because the hardships they endured strengthened rather than derailed them. It’s never fun to endure persecution, but when we expect resistance from the world, we do not become disillusioned. Jesus said, “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Third, they took their relationship with God so seriously that they even were willing to relocate to another country in order to worship Him as they believed they should. How precious to you is your relationship with the Lord? How important to you is your worship of Him?
Fourth, they acted, not individually, but as a church. This not only served to encourage them as individuals and families; it also increased the impact of their strategic actions. In Acts, we do not see an emphasis on accepting Christ as one’s personal Lord and Savior to the extent we hear that emphasis today. Certainly accepting Christ into one’s life is legitimate; in fact, it is absolutely necessary. Yet in Acts, there was a corporate element that we seem to have lost.
Believers today need to rediscover the importance of corporate Christianity.
Jesus was and is Lord of the church. This theme permeated Charles Colson’s classic book, The Body. The Body later was revised, updated, and retitled Being the Body. We need to rediscover and reapply the corporate Christianity the Pilgrims practiced and Colson upheld. This is biblical Christianity. The Pilgrims knew God had called them out as “a holy nation” (see 1 Pet. 2:9). They lived out the principle set forth in 1 Peter 1:22: “Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart.” Wouldn’t this perspective, if it fully were applied in our churches today, bring God’s people together in ways that profoundly would change both the church and the world?
The Pilgrims would continue to desperately need their God and one another. Holland would offer them the religious freedom they sought, but also a variety of daunting challenges.
Next time, we’ll explore some of those challenges and how the Pilgrims responded. Their example will inspire and encourage. I promise.
A soft and sheltered Christianity, afraid to be lean and lone, unwilling to face the storms and brave the heights, will end up fat and foul in the cages of conformity.
If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily,and follow Me.For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it. —Jesus in Luke 9:23-24—
Key point: The journey to faith in Christ culminates in both an end and a beginning. At conversion, we have arrived at a place where, figuratively speaking, we plant the seed of our faith into the ground of the truth about God, Christ, sin, death, salvation, heaven, and hell. Yet from that point forward, the seed needs to germinate and grow into a sturdy, fruit-producing plant.
As I have studied and reflected in recent weeks on Martin Luther’s journey to salvation and on the Reformation as a whole, I have become impressed with the importance of revering God and having a healthy fear of Him, both on individual and corporate (church) levels. We said this in our last post:
While the Church in the 16th century made the mistake of emphasizing God’s wrath over His love (and didn’t really talk about His wrath in full accordance with biblical teaching), the church today is making the opposite mistake. We do need to talk about God’s love, but in the context of a proper emphasis on His justice and wrath.
The point here is the value of a healthy fear of God. As believers, of course, we no longer need to be afraid of God’s judgment, because we know Christ endured God’s judgment and wrath for our sins on the cross. Even so, we still must love, respect, and revere God, being ever thankful for the salvation He has provided for us in Christ.
The law says, “Do this, and thou shalt live.”
The gospel says, “live, and thou shalt do.”
The law says, “Pay me what thou owest.”
The gospel says, “I freely forgive all.”
The law says, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy soul, with all thy heart, with all thy mind” [Matt. 22:37].
The gospel says, “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” [1 John 4:10]
The law says, “Cursed is every one who continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them” [Gal. 3:10].
The gospel says, “Blessed is the man whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered” [Ps. 32:1].
The law says, “The wages of sin is death” [Rom. 6:23].
The gospel says, “The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” [Rom. 6:23].
The law demands holiness.
The gospel provides holiness.
The law says, “Do!”
The gospel says, “Done!”
The law places the day of rest at the end of the week.
The gospel places the day of rest at the beginning of the week.
The law makes blessing the result of obedience.
The gospel makes obedience the result of blessing.
The law says, “Run!” but it doesn’t give us any legs.
The gospel says, “Fly!” and it give us wings.
Oh, thank God for the gospel! What the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, Christ, dying for sinful flesh, brought to us light and life and immortality in the gospel” [Rom. 8:3; 2 Tim. 1:10].
The contrasts between legalism and grace are very similar. All of these remind us that God gives us salvation as a free gift, and nothing we do or ever could do can earn us a place in heaven.
A Tough Journey
Even so, with salvation secured by Christ and with heaven as his or her eternal destiny, every Christian must grapple with, and we even can say struggle with, the implications of having new life in Christ. Accordingly, the apostle Paul wrote the believers in Phillipi, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12).
Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.
—The apostle Paul to Philippian believers in Philippians 2:12—
How are we to understand this? The context of the verse helps us greatly. Paul wrote what we now know as Philippians 2:12 on the heels of writing his statements in verses 5-11. He told his brothers and sisters in Christ,
5 Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, 7 but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. 9 Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
This was a tall order, indeed! It still is! Just as no one can save save himself, no one can acquire the mind of Christ, or adapt the perspective of Christ, without divine assistance. The believer has to cooperate with God, drawing on the supernatural power Christ makes available to all who are His. Such cooperation—dare I say it?—requires work and sacrifice—not to earn salvation, but to live out the realities now in place in the believer’s life.
This is why Paul began his admonition in verse 12 with the word therefore. It also is why he went on to instruct his readers, including us, to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling. The Christian life is a life of joy and numerous other Christlike qualities, but it also is serious business! Living according the mind of Christ goes against every natural inclination we have. The apostle Paul admitted this was true in his own life in Romans 7:7-24. At the same time, he also pointed to supernatural power in Christ to live a life of victory over sin (see 7:24–8:13). It’s vital for us to realize that as long as we are alive physically, the supernatural strength available to us may enable us to live victoriously, but it won’t eliminate the struggle within us between the flesh and the spirit.
Keeping Philippians 2:12 in mind, let’s make five observations.
First, Paul did not say work for your salvation, but work out your salvation. We do not belong to ourselves, but to Christ, and the implications of this truth are manifold. We need to explore these implications and apply them to our lives. This process is a process of “working out.”
Second, the Greek term translated work out means to do something that brings about a result. Here are the instances in which the Greek word is represented in our English translations of the New Testament. We might say that working out our salvation means participating in spiritual workouts—exercises and struggles that foster spiritual maturity and that strengthen our spiritual sensitivities.
Third, we are to work out our salvation “with fear and trembling,” indicating a reverence for God, a respect for the things of God, gratitude for the salvation He has provided, and a desire to please Him with our lives because He’s been so good to us.
Fourth, Philippians 2:12 is just one of many New Testament passages that encourage believers to be attentive to their walks with God and with how they live their lives. The following admonitions and the passages from which they come do not make up an exhaustive list, yet here are some of the postures and actions we take as we “work out” our salvation.
Fifth, we have supernatural help in this “working out” process (see Phil. 2:13, context vv. 12-13). On the heels of verse 12, Paul went on to say, “for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.” I love the way the New Living Translation renders this verse: “For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.”
The bottom line? The Christian life isn’t a life of coasting, but of meeting challenges in God’s power and cooperating with Him as we grow in service to Him, in Christlike service to others, and in spiritual maturity.
The Christian life isn’t a life of coasting, but of meeting challenges in God’s power and cooperating with Him as we grow in service to Him, in Christlike service to others, and in spiritual maturity.