Beyond Conversion: Taking Salvation Seriously

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.
Vance Havner

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.

Salvation Is a Gift

We need to be crystal clear about one thing before moving ahead. We don’t perform good works for salvation, but from salvation. In a chapel service at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary many years ago, Adrian Rogers put it this way.

You are not saved by keeping the law.

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,

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. 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. 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.

Paul’s Preaching in Ephesus by Eustache Le Sueur, 1649

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.”

Key Meanings

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, are to work out our salvation “with fear and trembling,” indicating reverence for God, 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.

Biblical Context

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 several specific ways we as believers can “work out” our salvation.

  1. Be wise (see Matt. 10:16).
  2. Be ready (see Matt. 24:44; Luke 12:401 Pet. 3:15).
  3. Present your body as a living sacrifice (see Rom. 12:1).
  4. Don’t be conformed to the world but…
  5. …be transformed (see Rom. 12:2).
  6. Be informed (see Rom. 11:25; 1 Cor. 12:1; 1 Thess. 4:13).
  7. Take heed (see 1 Cor. 3:10, context 9-15; 1 Cor. 10:12, context vv. 1-13).
  8. Be faithful (see 1 Cor. 4:2).
  9. Be strong in the Lord (see Eph. 6:10-17).
  10. Be watchful (see Eph.  6:17-18).
  11. Be discerning (see Phil. 1:9).
  12. Focus on the things of Christ (see Col. 3:1-2).
  13. Put to death earthly desires (see Col. 3:5-10).
  14. Be diligent (see 2 Tim. 2:15).
  15. Be careful (see Titus 3:8; context vv. 1-8).
  16. Be serious (see 1 Pet. 4:7, context vv. 7-11).
  17. Be sober and vigilant (see 1 Pet. 5:8).

The Help We Need

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.


Godly Examples

Kelvin Cochran

We can see this quest in the lives of believers today, including religious liberty champions like Jack Phillips, Barronelle Stutzman, Kelvin Cochran, Steve Tennes, and others.

We see it as well in believers’ lives throughout history. John Huss (pictured above in this painting) and Martin Luther, both of whom we’ve recently considered, are powerful examples.

The quest also is evident in the lives of the Pilgrims, Christians who came to North America in 1620.

We’ll examine a portion of their experience next time.

 

The Mayflower, by William Halsall, 1882

 

Copyright © 2017 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture has been taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Adrian Rogers’s quote was loosely based on the King James Version.

 

 

 

 

Painting a Clear Picture of God: Lessons from the Protestant Reformation

Modern man does not like to think of God in terms of wrath, anger and judgment. He likes to make God according to his own ideas and give God the characteristics he wants Him to possess. Man tries to remake God to conform to his own wishful thinking, so that he can make himself comfortable in his sins.
Billy Graham

Key point: Fearing God is a first step toward being made right with Him.

The Protestant Reformation, which we have discussed in recent posts, has countless lessons for believers today. In this article, I’d like to hone in on five, all of which are related.

With a retelling of Martin Luther’s conversion story as a backdrop, we’ll make some fresh observations. You can access a brief account of Luther’s spiritual journey here.

Against the historical historical and biographical backdrop of Martin Luther’s journey to peace with God, I’d like to highlight five principles that ring true down through the centuries to our day.

A Diligent Search and a Priceless Discovery

First, Martin Luther’s salvation experience is a testimony to the principle we see so clearly in Jeremiah 29:13. God declared to his people, You “will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.”


And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.
—the Lord to His people in Jeremiah 29:13—


Jeremiah on the ruins of Jerusalem by Horace Vernet, 1844

We should understand that this verse is part of a message God sent through Jeremiah to “the remainder of the elders who were carried away captive—to the priests, the prophets, and all the people whom Nebuchadnezzar had carried away captive from Jerusalem to Babylon” (Jer. 29:1). Even so, it is not an unreasonable stretch to see in verse 13 an application with regard to salvation and forgiveness of sins. Similarly, Isaiah 55:6-7 states,

6 Seek the Lord while He may be found,
Call upon Him while He is near.
Let the wicked forsake his way,
And the unrighteous man his thoughts;
Let him return to the Lord,
And He will have mercy on him;
And to our God,
For He will abundantly pardon.

Fearing God Is a Key Step to Finding Him

Saint Paul, by Bartolomeo Montagna, 1481

Second—and we must not miss this point—Martin Luther sought peace with God because he was afraid of Him. He knew he was a sinner destined for hell and was compelled to search desperately for divine forgiveness and peace. Luther’s good and noble works didn’t resolve his situation one bit; but all the confessions, prayers, acts of penitence, occasions of fasting, and other disciplines indicated just how earnest he was. Honoring Luther’s search, God, in His grace and mercy, brought Martin to a clear understanding of the liberating truth about salvation. No one can earn it. Rather, it is a free gift received by relying on Christ and the sufficiency of His substitutionary death to pay the penalty for one’s sins. The key verse for Luther in this revelation, as we have seen, was Romans 1:17. In this verse, Paul quoted from Habakkuk 2:4: “The just shall live by his faith.”

Third, the American evangelical church today, as we indicated in items 6, 7, and 86 of our 95 Theses for the Protestant Evangelical Church in the 21st Century, tends to present a lopsided view of God.

  • The church has emphasized God’s love to the point of effectively neglecting his holiness and wrath.
  • The church says very little about hell, yet hell is very real.
  • The church, through a variety of actions and inactions, promotes the idea that God can be approached in a thoroughly casual fashion. Note that this failure is not tied exclusively to music styles or lyrics.

In using the word casual in this last point, I am not at all arguing against the principle that sinners must come as they are to God, with all of their sin, and rely fully on Jesus’ death and the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit for cleansing. I am saying we must never take God’s grace for granted (see Isa. 1:18; John 3:5-8; 1 Tim. 2:5; Rom. 2:4; 1 Pet. 3:18).

Many people say, “God is a God of love who never would send anyone to hell.” Where have they gotten this idea? Ultimately, it is a lie from Satan, but regardless of the avenues through which Satan propagates this distortion, the church seems to make little or no effort to correct it, even among its own people. Yes, God is a God of love, but He also is a holy and just God who must punish sin (go here and here).

Bad News; Good News

Scene from The Last Judgment by Michelangelo

Believers, both individually and corporately, need to present the truth about God’s love and holiness. Yet—and this is our fourth point—we seem to have failed to understand that the good news of the gospel can be seen for how wonderful it is only against the backdrop of its bad news about sin, accountability to a holy God, and certain judgment. Again, God is holy and perfect, and He must judge sin. As we say in our presentation of how to become a Christian, “While we might not think of our violations as being all that extreme, even the smallest infraction in our eyes is enough to make us guilty before God. The penalty for sin is death—and not just physical death, but spiritual death, eternal separation from God forever (see Matt. 7:23; 25:41,46; see these verses in context here; also see Rom. 6:23).”

Oh, we don’t like this! Christian apologist Greg Koukl explains,

It is hard to imagine anything in religion more repugnant to people than the wrath of God, and it is easy to see why.…

[For one thing, t]he notion of a “vengeful” God strikes us as inconsistent with a God of love. This seems right at first, but the complaint is based on a misunderstanding. God’s love is not a thing in itself, so to speak, but is tied, like all of his attributes, to his goodness, the very goodness we are inclined to question when evil runs rampant. “Why doesn’t God do something?” we wonder. Yet we cry foul when we learn God will do something decisive about evil and we are the evildoers.”1

Later in his book, Koukl shows how God’s love, God’s wrath, and Jesus’ death are intertwined.

Jesus came to earth to save sinners. The statement is so common to our ears, it is easy to miss its significance. Save means to “rescue from imminent danger.” Jesus came to rescue us because we were in danger. What was the danger? What was Jesus rescuing from? Here is the answer. Jesus did not come to rescue us from our ignorance or our poverty or our oppressors or even from ourselves. Jesus came to rescue us from the Father.2

Remember, the King is angry. He is the one who is offended. He is the one who is owed. He is the Sovereign we have rebelled against, the father we have disobeyed, the friend we have betrayed. And that is a dangerous place for us to be. Jesus said, “Do not fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul, but rather fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” Later in the Story we learn, “It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”3

But we’d much rather talk about God’s love—and that’s what we do! 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.

Let’s learn a lesson from history. Despite all the distortions of biblical truths about God for which the Church in Martin Luther’s day was responsible, Luther was right to fear Him. In the end, he benefited from this fear because God used it to help him discover the truth that ultimately set him free.

Lightstock

Advocating a Healthy Fear of God

Let me be clear. I am not advocating or affirming the view of God that prevailed in 16th-century Europe. I am saying the church needs to rediscover a healthy fear of God. This is our fifth point.

“But God’s kindness leads us to repentance!” someone might say, citing Romans 2:4—and he or she would be right. Even so, the context for this verse conveys in unambiguous terms that God is holy and divine judgment is certain.

That isn’t all. Read these verses carefully.

  • The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom. A good understanding have all those who do His commandments.His praise endures forever” (Psalm 111:10).
  • The fear of the LORD isthe beginning of knowledge,
    But fools despise wisdom and instruction (Prov. 1:7).
  • The fear of the LORD isthe beginning of wisdom,
    And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding (Prov. 9:10).

In each of these verses, the same Hebrew word is used for the English word fear.

May the church rediscover, preach, and proclaim a healthy fear of Almighty God!

 

A quick review:

  1. Martin Luther’s salvation experience is a testimony to the principle we see so clearly in Jeremiah 29:13. God declared to his people, You “will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.”
  2. Martin Luther sought peace with God because he was afraid of Him.
  3. The American evangelical church today tends to present a lopsided view of God. Its emphasis on God’s love overshadows any affirmation of His holiness and wrath.
  4. The church apparently has failed to understand that the good news of the gospel can be seen for how wonderful it is only against the backdrop of its bad news about sin, accountability to a holy God, and certain judgment.
  5. The church the church needs to rediscover and preach a healthy fear of God.

 

Copyright © 2017 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture has been taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Scriptures marked NASB are taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960,1962,1963,1968,1971,1972,1973,1975,1977,1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Notes:

1Gregory Koukl, The Story of Reality: How the World Began, How It Ends, and Everything Important that Happens in Between, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017), 97.

2At this point, Koukl provides this clarification in a footnote: “Jesus saves us from the Father, but His intention is not at odds with the Father since it was the Father who out of love, sent Jesus to rescue the world in the first place.”

3Koukl, 117. Scripture quotations are from Matthew 10:28 and Hebrews 10:31, respectively, New American Standard Bible.

image credit: top image: www.lightstock.com

Echoes of the Reformation

We must realize that the Reformation world view leads in the direction of government freedom. But the humanist world view with inevitable certainty leads in the direction of statism. This is so because humanists, having no god, must put something at the center, and it is inevitably society, government, or the state.
Francis Schaeffer

Key point: As in Martin Luther’s day, if one’s conscience is held captive to God’s Word, then to go against it is neither right nor safe.

 

Martin Luther is believed by many to have posted his 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, on October 31, 1517. Even if he didn’t nail them there, his list of concerns about Catholic Church practices originally was written in Latin, but it was translated into German and disseminated throughout Luther’s home country within a scant two weeks. The printing press, which had been invented less than 100 years earlier, made this possible. By the end of 1517, all of Europe had access to the 95 Theses in pamphlet form.

The disenchantment and frustration with the church over its abuses grew even more intense as a growing number of people learned of Dr. Luther’s objections. Within a few years, the Protestant Reformation had become a widespread movement.

Frederick the Wise of Saxony

On June 15, 1520, Pope Leo X issued a papal bull, or edict, refuting Luther’s teachings and demanding that he renounce them. The Wittenberg professor refused, and a few months later, on December 10, publicly burned a copy of the Pope’s declaration. On January 3, 1521, Luther was excommunicated in Rome.

Luther had a ally in his powerful sovereign, Elector of Saxony Frederick the Wise. Frederick demanded a hearing for Luther. An assembly, called a “Diet,” was scheduled for April 17  in the town of Worms (pronounced “Verms”), Germany.

Two Searing Questions

Martin Luther was a controversial figure—loved my many, yet hated by many others. On the first day of the Diet, Luther was asked two questions.

  • Were the books and other writings on display before the assembly his? He admitted they were.
  • Would he or would he not recant? The renegade professor asked for a day to consider the matter, and his request was granted.
John Huss at the Council of Constance

Luther knew his life was at stake in these proceedings, even though he had been granted safe passage (transport) by Emperor Charles V. One hundred years before, John Huss had attempted to address similar concerns in the church and had been burned at the stake. What would happen to Luther if he, like Huss, were to refuse to renounce his views? Huss, too, had been guaranteed safe passage to the Council of Constance, where he was tried, found to be a heretic, and condemned to die. Obviously, Huss’s guarantee of safety was withdrawn.

Emperor Charles V

The next day Luther again stood before Charles V. Would he now recant? Luther explained that his books and other writings could not be placed in a single category. Even his critics, Luther said, welcomed some of them, and he would not retract what he’d said in those. A second category of works addressed abuses that were occurring within the Church. Luther contended he could not change his mind about these without risking a continuation of the very abuses he had opposed. Finally, other writings, he said, were about certain people. Although he expressed regret for the harsh tone of some of these, he did not retract any of the teachings they contained.

Here I Stand

Challenged at this point to give a direct positive or negative answer to the question of whether or not he would recant, Luther is said to have declared,

Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well-known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. God help me. Amen. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise.

Even if Martin Luther didn’t utter these words exactly, they represent the substance of his response. Disorder erupted, and the Emperor brought the Diet’s proceedings for that day to an end. Officials were divided about what steps to take next, but on May 26, they issued an edict that branded Luther a heretic and banned his writings. Now he was an outlaw, and it generally was understood that he soon would be arrested and punished. Execution, of course, was a real possibility.

Luther, however, had gone into hiding before the Edict of Worms could be drawn up and published. Frederick the Wise of Saxony had arranged for the Wittenberg professor to be “kidnapped” and hidden at Wartburg Castle. It was there that Luther began translating the Greek New Testament into German. This volume would fan the flames of the Reformation as would no other book.

Luther’s Bible, 1534

Our Consciences Are Captive to God’s Word

The entire story is fascinating, and I urge you to learn more about the Protestant Reformation. For now, let’s reflect on Martin Luther’s refusal to recant at the Diet of Worms. Read again his declaration.

Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well-known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. God help me. Amen. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise.

This is the kind of conviction we need to see in 21st America today. Dr. Erwin Lutzer, Pastor Emeritus of Moody Church in Chicago, said as much on the morning of October 8, 2017 at Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee, in this presentation. Here is an audio clip of his words.

I have good news for Dr. Lutzer, although I must hasten to qualify it.

  • The qualifier, of course, is that we do not have enough people like these! We need many more—and we need many more Christians who comprehend and appreciate the stands these Christian statesmen are taking. Also, we need many more who will stand with them.

Just as the Word of God guided Martin Luther to a clear understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ, so too has Scripture guided these men and women to a clear understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ as it relates to, among other things, the true meaning of marriage. You see, marriage is all about the gospel!

“But wait!” someone will object. These people and their convictions are controversial! Yes, they are. Martin Luther was controversial too, and so was Jesus!

Controversy is not the issue, but adherence to the truth of God’s Word.


I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. God help me. Amen. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise.
—Martin Luther—


Remember—especially if it is held captive by the Bible, it is neither right nor safe to go against one’s conscience.

If we as believers will stand together on the Word of God, speaking the truth lovingly and with conviction but refusing to renounce any of our core beliefs, we just might have another Reformation on our hands!

 

Copyright © 2017 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture has been taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

95 Theses for the Protestant Evangelical Church in the 21st Century

October 31, 2017 is the 500th anniversary of an action that sparked a movement that changed the world. On All Saint’s Eve in 1517, Augustinian monk Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church at Wittenberg, Germany. The document challenged the Roman Catholic Church with regard to its abuse of authority and departure from biblical teachings.

1509 woodcut of the Wittenberg Castle Church

Today, 500 years later, the American evangelical church needs a reformation of its own. I do not pretend to be a second Martin Luther, but out of love for God, love for the church, and a love for truth, I am compelled to offer my own list of

95 Theses for the Protestant Evangelical Church in the 21st Century.

It’s important to note that these trends and practices are not evident in all Protestant evangelical churches, but in many of them—and in some cases most of them—they are.

Recalling Lincoln’s words, “with malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right,” let us work for biblical change where it is sorely needed. May God purify, bless, and direct His church in these challenging days!

Soli Deo Gloria!

—B. Nathaniel Sullivan, October 31, 2017—


 

For years I have spoken about what I consider to be the worldliness of the liberal churches, accusing them of four things: pursuing the world’s wisdom, embracing the world’s theology, following the world’s agenda, and employing the world’s methods. What has hit me like a thunderbolt in recent years is that what I had been saying about the liberal churches at the end of the 1960s and in the 1970s now needs to be said about the evangelical churches as well, since many of them have become as liberal as the larger mainline denominations before them.…Evangelicals have embraced worldliness in the same ways that it was embraced by the liberal churches.
James Montgomery Boice (1938-2000)—

 

  1. The church has focused on attracting people and keeping people, and it has failed to challenge them. This corresponding “focus and failure” often is manifested in the church’s efforts to entertain. Chuck Swindoll said, “Some time ago a group of church leaders decided that they didn’t want to be hated. They focused just on attracting more and more people.” He also said, Today, “many churches masquerade as entertainment centers, where the leadership primarily concerns itself with making people feel good.”1 These teachings of Jesus are excellent examples of the kinds of challenges believers need.
  2. The church has equated loving people with not offending them (see Mark 10:17-22; Eph. 4:11-16).
  3. One specific manifestation of this last point can be found in the church’s reluctance to uphold biblical marriage for fear of offending those who have been divorced, those who have been divorced and remarried, and homosexuals and their friends and loved ones (see Hebrews 13:4 NIV). Here is an exception; the exception, however, does not negate the rule. We will consider the matter of the institution of marriage more fully in items 51 through 63.
  4. The church has failed to address the issue that represents the front lines of spiritual warfare today—homosexuality. The Bible is clear about this issue, but the culture sends a completely different message. Not only is there an urgent need to encourage, assist, and equip homosexuals’ loved ones (especially parents) to cope with and deal appropriately with the challenges they and their families face, but there also is a critical need to help everyone dealing directly with this issue within themselves, from those struggling with same-sex attraction to the person who identifies and lives as gay. See these helpful websites for more information—here and here.
  5. The church tends to focus on how to help its members succeed and achieve fulfillment rather than how to pursue godliness and engage unchurched people with the gospel (see 1 Tim. 6:6-16; James 1:27; 1 John 2:15; Mark 16:15).
  6. The church has emphasized God’s love to the point of effectively neglecting His holiness and wrathHyper-grace churches manifest this trend most strongly, but many others lean in this perilous direction.
  7. The church says very little about hell, yet hell is very real. Vance Havner once said, “When I pastored a country church, a farmer didn’t like the sermons I preached on hell. He said, ‘Preach about the meek and lowly Jesus.’ I said, ‘That’s where I got my information about hell.’”
  8. Related to point #7, in its evangelistic presentations, the church emphasizes the themes of purpose and meaning in life and fails to appropriately uphold the certainty of God’s judgment of sins.
  9. The church has endeavored to win converts and failed to make disciples.
  10. The church has upheld the benefits of salvation and avoided talking about its demands. Here are a few of them (also go here).
  11. All too often, the church has emphasized that salvation comes through faith without clarifying that saving faith must have a specific object. This omission has contributed to a critical lack of understanding of biblical faith. This failure has several aspects to it. The church has neglected to emphasize, among other things, the truths reflected in items 12-14.
  12. Strictly speaking, it is not faith that saves, but faith in Jesus Christ and His substitutionary work on the cross to pay for humanity’s sins.
  13. Furthermore, biblical faith isn’t just believing in one’s head the truth about Jesus’ death; it is actively relying on Him as sufficient to save, and relying on His death as adequate payment for one’s sins before a holy God.
  14. In addition, the Christian faith is not a blind faith, but a reasonable faith that is warranted by adequate evidence. Watch speaker and author Jonathan Morrow explain what biblical faith is. Christian apologist Greg Koukl gives a more thorough explanation in this article.
  15. The church quotes Ephesians 2:8-9 while ignoring the “good works” portion of the context of this passage—verse 10 (see 2:8-10). Salvation is free—a gift from God. However, once we partake of it, we become the property of Jesus Christ. That truth has profound implications for the way we live our lives.
  16. The church has failed to acknowledge or emphasize the principle found in James 1:27: “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.”
  17. The church effectively has redefined the word worship. This term used to apply to every part of the church service; now it refers exclusively to music.
  18. The church has presented Christianity in terms of its implications for individuals alone and overlooked its benefits for the culture.
  19. While recognizing that Jesus was compassionate, loving, and kind, the church has largely ignored the fact that He was controversial.
  20. The church has failed to emphasize the true meaning of repentance and the critical need for believers to live holy lives.
  21. The church has failed to stress the need for repentance in its evangelistic presentations.
  22. The church has failed to see just how serious it is that followers of Christ are at war with the forces of evil.
  23. The church has failed to equip God’s people for spiritual warfare. Moreover, it hasn’t effectively engaged in spiritual warfare itself. Usually it fights defensively and rarely is on the offense. This is not how Jesus portrayed the church. In warfare, both offensive and defensive maneuvers are essential.
  24. The church has failed to understand that the forces of evil never will be appeased (also go here).
  25. The church has failed to understand the ominous implications of a belief that random processes resulted in the origin of life, and eventually humanity. The idea that these processes gave rise to life, especially human life, has atheistic implications. In other words, the church has failed to understand the self-contradictory nature of the idea that God used random processes in creating the world and humanity. Any processes that are directed by God cannot truly be random.
  26. The church has been quick to try to make Scripture fit the so-called “scientific evidence” for an old earth rather than weighing the theological implications for an old earth and acknowledging its problems. For example, if the earth is millions of years old and “evolutionary” processes led to man’s existence over a super-long period, then death must have entered the world before humanity sinned. This is not what Scripture teaches.
  27. Yet ironically, the church has failed to emphasize scientificarchaeological, and historical (also go here) evidences for the reliability of the Scriptures. The principle of “Sola Scriptura,” or “Scripture alone” does not preclude pointing to evidence of the Bible’s reliability. In fact, it welcomes it.
  28. In relation to item 27, it is no wonder Christians compartmentalize their faith, treating it as applicable only to things that have been deemed “religious.” The church has modeled how!
  29. The church has failed to understand that taking a stand for righteousness, even though it is unpopular at the moment and can incite accusations of hatred and bigotry, actually can attract people to the Christian faith. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, “When the church is absolutely different from the world, she invariably attracts it. It is then that the world is made to listen to her message, though it may hate it at first.”
  30. The church has failed to understand the important role of apologetics in winning converts.
  31. The church has failed to understand the important role of apologetics in making disciples, including those who are teens and young adults.
  32. The church has failed to understand and defend the biblical nature of truth.
  33. The church thinks in terms of individual issues rather than foundational belief systems from which the issues arise. In other words, for the most part, the church neither understands worldviews nor thinks in terms of the biblical worldview. The situation is urgent. Church leaders must become proficient in the biblical worldview to a point of being able to train its people in it. Here is an article introducing the subject. Here is an informative video that explains.
  34. The church has failed, even in appropriate contexts, to affirm America’s Christian heritage and to show the relationship between this country’s affirmation of Christian truth and the freedoms its people have enjoyed (here is but one example). Patriotism as expressed on holidays like Independence Day, Memorial Day, and Veterans Day does not count, because such patriotism is not the same thing educating the people about America’s Christian heritage.
  35. The church has failed to train its members to be good citizens. This includes but is not limited to failing to emphasize the principles set forth in items 36 through 42.
  36. Any government’s authority is delegated by God and therefore not absolute.
  37. The primary role of government is to promote order by affirming right behavior and punishing wrong behavior.
  38. Rights are God-given. Here is but one example. Government is not authorized to bestow rights; nor is it authorized to take them away. It is responsible to protect and maintain them.
  39. Rights from a biblical perspective are freedoms that afford citizens opportunities; not “entitlements” that result when governments engineer outcomes. The former are referred to by social scientists as “negative rights”; the latter as “positive rights.”
  40. Governments overstep their God-given authority and trample on the legitimate negative rights of their citizens when they seek to implement positive rights for a select few.  Obergefell, the Supreme Court decision that redefined marriage nationwide, is a prime example of judicial overreach.
  41. Biblically speaking, governments are responsible to protect and preserve God-given rights. For a thorough study of rights from a biblical perspective, go here.
  42. The church always has a duty to promote the ideals of righteousness and to eschew evil within and outside its walls, but this is especially true when government no longer understands the difference between right and wrong behaviors.
  43. The church has failed to understand the difference between liberalism and leftism, and it has failed to see the threat that leftism poses to its own work and ministry.
  44. The church has all too often used the excuse that an issue should not be addressed because “it is political.” Since when does the fact that an issue is being discussed in Washington or in the halls of local government move it off the table for discussion by church leaders and congregants?
  45. The church has been all too quick to support non-controversial charities and ministries while being basically unwilling to support and participate in biblical, but controversial, ministries and efforts.
  46. The church has failed to understand, appreciate, and teach the biblical concept of civil disobedience—what it is, its biblical and historical bases, and when and why it may be necessary.
  47. The church has essentially neglected the fight to preserve religious liberty in the United States, including the fight to preserve laws and policies that make civil disobedience unnecessary. The names of champions of religious liberty like Barronelle Stutzman, Aaron and Melissa Klein, Jack Phillips, Carl and Angel LarsenJoanna Duka and Breanna Koski, and others should be on the lips of evangelical Christians everywhere, but most believers don’t have a clue as to who these people are. Jack Phillips’s case will be heard at the Supreme Court on December 5, 2017.
  48. “But the church just needs to ‘stick to evangelism,’” someone will say. “Only the gospel can change people’s minds and hearts.” When seen against the backdrop of a clear understanding of what is really happening in our culture, these statements demonstrate that the church, as well as individual Christians, need to think of evangelism in broader terms.
  49. The church has failed to see the connection between the threat to conscience rights (as in the cases represented by the names mentioned in item #47) and its own right and the right of individual Christians to share the gospel.
  50. The church, generally speaking, has failed to become aware of and failed to educate her people about the legal work involved in preserving and defending marriage, life, and religious liberty. Groups like Alliance Defending FreedomLiberty Counsel, the American Center for Law and Justice,” the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the Rutherford Institute, and the Pacific Justice Institute are on the front lines in these important battles. The church must encourage and support them. We said earlier the church needs to see evangelism in broader terms (see item #48). This includes being engaged in the fight for religious liberty and supporting in appropriate ways organizations that are on the front lines.
  51. While being ready and willing to help couples improve their individual marriages, the church has been not just reluctant, but all too often silent in defending and upholding the institution of marriage as one man and one woman committed to each other for life. Hebrews 13:4 does not say, “Marriages should be honored by all,” but “Marriage should be honored by all” (emphasis added). The Bible does not just affirm marriages, but also marriage as an institution.
  52. While it’s true that same-sex parents can be, and often are, very loving; and while they absolutely do meet a great many of their adopted children’s needs, the church has failed to speak for the children of same-sex parents regarding a critical need that all of them have and that no same-sex couple ever can meet—the need for both a mother and a father.
  53. The church has failed to understand the strong connections between marriage and the gospel.
  54. Related to the above item, the church has failed to understand that one of the most important ways to uphold and advance the gospel is to uphold the biblical definition of marriage, because…
  55. …it has failed to see that losing the definition of marriage as a lifelong commitment between one man and one woman means losing a means by which non-Christians—including the individual who appears to be totally uninterested in the Christian faith—can get a glimpse of the gospel.
  56. The church has failed to emphasize evidence that God Himself designed marriage. This includes but is not limited to its failure to emphasize, in appropriate contexts and ways, the principles set forth in items 57 through 61.
  57. Marriage is the lifelong union of one man and one woman, attested to by the way the male and female bodies fit together physically, in sexual intercourse.
  58. Marriage is the lifelong union of one man and one woman, attested to by the way the male and female bodies work together during and immediately after sexual intercourse to enhance the chances of pregnancy.
  59. Marriage is the lifelong union of one man and one woman, attested to by the fact that only a heterosexual union can result in a pregnancy and the birth of a child.
  60. Marriage is the lifelong union of one man and one woman, attested to by the theological truths that (1) God created both males and females in His image, (2) men and women are different, and (3) in marriage a man and woman can present to the world and to their children a more complete picture of God. This includes depictions of unity and diversity within the triune Godhead, as well as God’s attribute of faithfulness.
  61. Marriage is the lifelong union of one man and one woman, attested to by the fact that marriage is a picture of Christ’s relationship with His bride, the church.
  62. The church has failed to teach the next generation of Christians (teenagers and young adults) the rich theology of marriage and why, from theological and biblical perspectives, marriage can only be the lifelong commitment of one man and one woman.
  63. The church naïvely assumed that with the definition of marriage redefined, gay rights activists now have what they want and hopefully they will allow Christians to follow their religious convictions in this matter. Princeton Professor Robert George refutes this assumption in this clip from a 2015 speech. (See item #24.)
  64. Even as it has expressed legitimate concerns about the need to reach younger people with the gospel, and even as it has made efforts to do so, the church has all too often failed to appreciate history and heritage, including the contributions of its own faithful senior adults. Throughout Israel’s history, God established reminders to help His people recall His mighty deeds. It’s also important to be familiar with church history. Apart from the Lord’s Supper, the evangelical American church has very few “memorial stones.” This does not make the establishment of memorials an ordinance like the Lord’s Supper, but God’s people surely need reminders of His past blessings.
  65. The church apparently is content to teach Bible stories to children without emphasizing that the stories represent events that really occurred. In fact, the term story often carries an unintended connotation at church. A great many stories a child hears didn’t really happen. Bible stories, however, are different and should be presented as historically true.
  66. The church has failed to understand and educate its people about the difference between biblical justice and social justice, a term that essentially means government redistribution of wealth to achieve desired outcomes.
  67. The church honors celebrities rather than servants.
  68. The church has ignored its duty to issue biblical warnings to the culture or to its own people.
  69. The church has failed to appropriately emphasize that Christian training is primarily the responsibility of the home—not the church. The church has a role, certainly, but it is a supplemental and supportive role—one that involves, but is not limited to, coaching and equipping parents. The church never can provide adequate Christian training when it is lacking at home.
  70. The church speaks of “full-time Christian service” as if ministry vocations were the only avenues to serve God through one’s vocation. Actually, every honest vocation is an avenue for Christian service and ministry. J. Gresham Machen declared, “For Christians to influence the world with the truth of God’s Word requires the recovery of the great Reformation doctrine of vocation. Christians are called to God’s service not only in church professions but also in every secular calling. The task of restoring truth to the culture depends largely on our laypeople.”
  71. The church has failed to emphasize that God didn’t just reveal Himself through the prophets, His Word, and His Son, but also in various divine acts in history. This is important because it underscores that God is engaged in the “big picture” of what is happening in the world, not just in individuals’ lives.
  72. The church has failed to adequately educate its people regarding the facts and lessons from church history—not just in Acts, but beyond it as well. There are appropriate times and places for churches to do this. This doesn’t mean abandoning Scripture. In fact, studying what God has done in the past is one way we teach lessons learned in history about the Bible and Christianity as a whole. The Protestant Reformation, for example, is brimming with these kinds of lessons. In this one-minute audio clip, Dr. Erwin Lutzer, Pastor of the Moody Church in Chicago for 36 years, explains the importance of knowing church history.
  73. The church is more interested in being liked than in being respected for its convictions.
  74. The church appears to equate success with large numbers, and failure with small or declining numbers. Jesus gained followers during His ministry, but He also lost them. Moreover, He had just 12 in His inner circle, and one of those betrayed Him—yet the eleven who were left changed the world.
  75. The church has failed to comprehend or address the problem of biblical illiteracy. It must do so.
  76. The church has failed to understand and train its people in solid principles of biblical interpretation. Here are a few such principles.
  77. The church typically does not encourage its people to read good books. Great books, however, challenge God’s people to love Him with all our minds. Go here,  herehere, and, here for a few suggestions.
  78. The church has failed to encourage the study of the lives of great Christians (also go here).
  79. The church has been too willing to jettison hymns from its worship services.
  80. The church has failed to see the value of hymns in teaching deep theological truths to God’s people, including the next generation of Christians.
  81. Without any biblical justification, the church darkens its sanctuaries, hiding natural, God-given light and even turning down electrical lighting. Does it do this to create a more “intimate” atmosphere? This is worldly thinking. This is what nightclubs do. This is not to say the lights never should dimmed, but to dim the lights as a habitual pattern seems contrary to the spirit and message of 1 John 1:5: “This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.”
  82. In its worship services, the church tends to cultivate and present an atmosphere of upbeat celebration and effectively neglects the need for qualities such as fear and awe in the hearts of its people before God.
  83. The church selects music for its services that is, generally speaking, upbeat and celebratory in sprit and tone. There is a place for this, but this type of music should not be used exclusively.
  84. Typically, if a hymn is sung, it is a hymn in a major key. There should be room in worship service for the more serious moods elicited by hymns written in minor keys.
  85. Typically, if a church uses a contemporary style of music in its services, if hymns are sung at all, they have been “retooled” with a new tune, a new rhythm, the addition of a musical bridge, or some other new feature. On what basis are all other hymns jettisoned and never used at all? Read “8 Reasons the Worship Industry Is Killing Worship.”
  86. Related to items 82 through 85, the church, through a variety of actions and inactions, promotes the idea that God can be approached in a thoroughly casual fashion. Note that this failure is not tied exclusively to music styles or lyrics.
  87. The church has lost the ability to avoid applauding after a baptism or musical presentation. Sometimes, however, silent reflection (also see Psalm 37:7, CSB) and meditation are the most appropriate responses to these and other elements in the worship service.
  88. The church has abandoned a specific time for Scripture reading as a part of its worship services. Yes, the pastor or preacher usually will read Scripture as a part of his sermon, but as a general rule, a separate time of Scripture reading no longer is  planned.
  89. Generally speaking, responsive readings of the Scripture no longer are a part of worship services in the American evangelical church.
  90. Personal testimonies are presented less frequently in worship services today than in years past.
  91. The reporting of God’s work around the world must not be neglected, and all too frequently, it is.
  92. Fearing that they might offend Christian parents who send their children to public schools, Christian educators who teach in the public school system, or other Christians involved in the public school system in some way, church leaders have failed to become knowledgeable and to warn parents about the powerful evil influences their children will encounter and are encountering in public schools. While it clearly is not the job of the church to dictate to parents where and how to educate their children, the church does have a duty to inform, encourage, equip, and warn parents and families when the danger is real—and it is real. Go here for more information.
  93. Related to item #92, the militant LGBT movement is targeting America’s children and is succeeding in indoctrinating them. The movement is using America’s institutions, including the public schools, in their quest. The church has failed to educate itself regarding this specific threat, has failed to warn parents, and has failed to equip them to protect their children from the onslaught. Again, for more information go herehere, and here.
  94. In part because of love of various college athletic teams and in part to refrain from offending supporters of various schools and Christian families who are involved in them, the church has failed to warn parents, older students, and young adults about the evil influences surrounding students in both public and private colleges in America. Go hereherehere, and here for more information.
  95. The church has failed to stand with and pray regularly for its persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ.

 

Recommended reading: 10 Theses for a New (Critically Needed) Reformation by Dr. Michael Brown

Copyright © 2017 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.

Note:

1Charles R. Swindoll, Hope for Our Troubled Times, (Plano, TX: Insight for Living, 2009), 8.

Unless otherwise noted,  Scripture passages are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Scripture passages marked CSB are taken from The Christian Standard Bible, copyright © 2017 by Holman Bible Publishers. Christian Standard Bible®, and CSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers, all rights reserved.

Scripture passages marked NIV are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

image credits: top image, hymn, and statue: www.lightstock.com

 

 

 

Igniting Reform—Then and Now

Tormented by the fear that he never would be able to please God and be admitted into heaven, Augustinian monk Martin Luther immersed himself in a host of spiritual disciplines, including prayer, fasting, and the ascetic practices of flogging himself, denying himself sleep, and staying out in frigid temperatures without a blanket or other adequate cover. Luther said, “If anyone could have earned heaven by the life of a monk, it was I.”

Martin Luther, in a portrait by Lucas Cranach the Elder

Initially, Luther’s study of Scripture only reinforced the terror he felt at the thought of standing before a holy God. Romans 1:17 later would bring him relief, assurance, and hope. The passage declares, “For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last,  just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’” Martin didn’t yet see that faith comes before righteousness. Focusing on the last portion of the verse — “the righteous will live by faith,” — Luther felt condemned. He knew he wasn’t righteous. How, then, could he live by faith?


For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last,  just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”
—The apostle Paul in his letter to the Roman Christians, in what we now know as Romans 1:17—


Luther became a professor at the University of Wittenberg. In 1513 and 1514 he presented lectures on the Book of Psalms. He also continued studying Paul’s letter to the Romans—and then the truth of Paul’s words dawned on him. Luther later would testify,

Day and night I was pondering this question: What about this gift of righteousness given in response to faith? When I began to see that there is a righteousness you receive by sheer faith, and I receive that righteousness, it was as if I walked through the gates of Paradise.


When I began to see that there is a righteousness you receive by sheer faith, and I receive that righteousness, it was as if I walked through the gates of Paradise.
—Martin Luther—


Faith in Christ, Luther learned, comes first, and then righteousness—a righteousness from God appropriated by faith—follows. It was a liberating insight, the first of many. Martin Luther would share his insights in his role of priest for Wittenberg’s Castle Church, which he assumed in 1514. People flocked to hear him.

Portrait of Leo X by Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino

We should remember that at that time there was only one Church—the Catholic Church headquartered in Rome. Leo X was the Pope. Martin Luther began to see clearly a host of ways the Church had been abusing its power and authority. He came to understand that God, not the Church, had the authority to dispense salvation and forgiveness. Yet through the sale of “indulgences” the Church was raising money for various building projects. Buy an indulgence for yourself or a loved one, the Church claimed throughout its spokesman-salesman Johann Tetzel, and you will have brought forgiveness to yourself or to another. The purchase of an indulgence, Tetzel declared, even could free a departed loved one from purgatory!

Luther could not reconcile these teachings with Scripture, and he drew up a list of 95 statements that refuted the Church’s teachings and practices and presented the biblical doctrine of salvation by grace alone through faith alone. Three other doctrines that would arise from the Reformation are Scripture alone, Christ alone, and to the glory of God alone. These are called the “five solas,” since sola in Latin means “alone.”

On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses on what essentially was the University’s bulletin board—the door of the Wittenberg Church.

A Printing Press, depicted in a 1568 woodcut

The printing press, which had been invented during the previous century, made it possible for news to spread quickly and reliably—and Luther’s 95 Theses went viral. It was the spark that ignited the Protestant Reformation, a movement of which you and I are direct beneficiaries even today, 500 years later (also go here).

This coming Tuesday, October 31, 2017, is indeed the 500th anniversary of Luther’s act of posting his 95 statements challenging the Church with regard to its abuses and its departures from Scriptural truth and practice.

I encourage you to learn more about Martin Luther, other Reformers, and the Protestant Reformation as a whole. Here are a few resources you might find helpful.

Now, fast forward 500 years. Yes, we still are benefiting from the Protestant Reformation, but it is becoming increasingly evident that the evangelical church in the 21st century needs a reformation of its own. The abuses and problems aren’t the same as those Martin Luther challenged 500 years ago, but problems are present that must be addressed.


The evangelical church in the 21st century needs a reformation of its own.


I do not pretend to be a second Martin Luther, but a variety of beliefs and practices within evangelicalism need to be challenged. The 500th anniversary of Luther’s action is a fitting occasion for me to express my concerns.

Therefore, on Tuesday, October 31, I will post my own 95 Theses for the Protestant Evangelical Church in the 21st Century.

Look for it here, at www.wordfoundations.com.

 

Copyright © 2017 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.

95 Theses for the Protestant Evangelical Church in the 21st Century

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture passages are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

top image: Hot off the press! The first two pages of Luther’s 95 Theses as a pamphlet

Upholding Clarity in an Age of Confusion: The Nashville Statement, Part 7

Male and Female Differences Are Blessings from God

Why didn’t God make us all a combination of male and female, so we wouldn’t be so dependent on one another? Why not make us each complete in ourselves? For one thing, we wouldn’t have been as happy if we were complete in ourselves. God made us so that we would have a need for him, and this need would impel us to grow to be like him. He also made us so that we would need one another, and thus would grow together toward unity. By design, all of God’s creation is constructed to avoid self-sufficiency. Everything about our earth and its inhabitants is designed to promote harmony, interdependence, and unselfishness.
—W. Peter Blitchington1

 

You can view summaries of all the articles in this series here.

Key point: Not only Article 4 of the Nashville Statement affirm the truth of Scripture; human experience does as well.

 

For the past several weeks, we have been considering various articles of the Nashville Statement on Biblical Sexuality. This week we will briefly consider Article 4, which states,

WE AFFIRM that divinely ordained differences between male and female reflect God’s original creation design and are meant for human good and human flourishing.

WE DENY that such differences are a result of the Fall or are a tragedy to be overcome.

Thomas Cole, Expulsion from the Garden of Eden

How do we know these things? Let’s consider the affirmation portion first.

First, we know that male-female differences have existed as long as there has been at least one man and one woman on earth, because God created the first man and the first woman with complementary traits, qualities that differed in order to make them an effective team (see Gen. 2:18,21-24). The differences remain in men and women today, and so does the complementarity. This doesn’t mean that any man and any woman are compatible in the sense we would consider an individual couple’s compatibility. It means that generally speaking, when a man and a woman come together in marriage, before anything else is taken into account, innate male-female differences set the stage for the two of them to fit together, work together, and “do life” together effectively. Out of their diversity, a oneness, a unity, arises—if the husband and wife accept and cooperate with the differences between them.

Second, after numerous creative actions on God’s part, God saw the things He had made, and they were good, but He went on to declare it was “not good” for man to be alone. Then, significantly,  after creating both the man and the woman—and everything else—God saw everything He had made and proclaimed it to be “very good.” This included His design of the man and the woman as different in complementary ways.

Third, we know that male-female differences “are meant for human good and human flourishing” because right after creating the man and the woman, God gave them special instructions. Genesis 1:27-28 reports,

27 So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. 28 Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

While a variety of factors are involved in the situation described in verse 28, the differences between the man and the woman are an inseparable part of this mix.

Now let’s consider the denial portion. How do we know that male and female differences did not result from the Fall and are not a tragedy to be overcome?

In this, our fourth point, let’s reiterate our first: Male-female differences were a part of God’s original design.

Fifth, God created men and women alike in that both are human, yet different from each other in both obvious and subtle ways. At the same time, He also made both men and women in His image. A man reflects God’s image in ways that a woman cannot, and a woman reflects it in ways a man cannot. All of this was and is God’s original design. While the Fall of humanity into sin marred God’s image in both men and women, it did not eliminate it. We see evidence of this in Scripture following the Flood.


Sin distorted but did not eliminate God’s image in members of the human race.


Daniel Maclise, Noah’s Sacrifice

In Genesis 9:6-7, God declared to Noah,

6  “Whoever sheds man’s blood,
By man his blood shall be shed;
For in the image of God
He made man.
And as for you, be fruitful and multiply;
Bring forth abundantly in the earth
And multiply in it.”

Had the Fall obliterated God’s image from people, killing someone wouldn’t matter. But it does matter! Moreover, it is male-female differences that make it possible for humanity to “be fruitful and multiply.”

Sixth, even though the consequences of the Fall for men and women were gender-specific, they weren’t the source of male and female differences. No longer would the marriage relationship, childbearing, or work be free of frustration. Rather, they would at times produce tension and strife. Figuratively speaking, sin threw obstacles onto the path of the marriage relationship!

Ironically—and this is our seventh point—we see evidence that God’s image has been marred and distorted by sin, not in the innate differences between men and women, but in the efforts of some to treat men and women as identical. This is what is creating confusion, difficulty, tragedy, and all sorts of problems (also go here).

By contrast, consider the words of Peter Biltchington at the top of this post. When a husband and wife understand that each one needs the other, each is poised not only to receive encouragement and help from his or her spouse, but also to offer these. We grow when we give of ourselves, and many people benefit, not just us! As Dr. Blitchington affirms, God’s design discourages an unhealthy independence, and it promotes, in his words, “harmony, interdependence, and unselfishness.”2 If we are honest, we are compelled to admit that our observations and experiences validate this truth. God’s design is very good, just as Scripture affirms.

The effect of sin still is evident, but so is the image of God in people everywhere—an image that includes male and female differences.

Next week, we will take a break from our series on the Nashville Statement and recognize the 500th birthday of the Protestant Reformation. On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Church in Wittenberg, Germany. This document challenged the corruption of the church and urged reform and renewal. Thankfully, Luther’s action set the stage for many of the reforms Luther sought. We are beneficiaries of it even today.

 

Copyright © 2017 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture has been taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

1,2W. Peter Blitchington, Sex Roles and the Christian Family, (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 1981), 51.

Upholding Clarity in an Age of Confusion: The Nashville Statement, Part 6

An Open Door

[A] marriage with Christ at the center of it pulls you right out of yourself. It teaches each partner, the husband and the wife, to forget about self for a while in care and sacrifice for the other. We come to ourselves by losing ourselves.
J. Budziszewski

 

Key point: The teachings of nature and the Bible offer release from the confining and false ideas that males and females are interchangeable and that one’s gender is not biologically determined. True freedom is found in embracing rather than denying reality.

 

You can access summaries of all the articles in this series here.

Last time we highlighted an event from Harry Houdini’s career that illustrates a vitally important truth. It was the one time in Houdini’s career when he was unable to pick a lock. Why? The door to the safe from which he was trying to escape was closed, but not locked at all! Houdini had difficulty because his assumptions in the situation did not coincide with reality.

Similarly, the prevailing cultural narrative regarding sexuality and gender identity is based on a false premise. The door already is unlocked! Walking through the doorway to freedom involves accepting reality as it is. Males and females are alike in that both sexes are human, but they are different in countless ways. Accepting these differences—and accepting one’s own biological sex as indicative of one’s gender—is not ultimately confining. In fact, it’s liberating! This truth will be difficult for many, and even extremely difficult for some, to accept. We do not make light of these difficulties. Yet we declare forthrightly that this is the way to freedom for both individuals and society.

One does not have to be a Christian to affirm what nature teaches about the sexes, but believing in the God of the Bible affords people a sense of purpose and meaning that eludes others. Why? Because God created human beings —both males and females—in His image.

Article 3 of the Nashville Statement emphasizes this truth.

WE AFFIRM that God created Adam and Eve, the first human beings, in his own image, equal before God as persons, and distinct as male and female.

WE DENY that the divinely ordained differences between male and female render them unequal in dignity or worth.

Invisible Realities

It’s especially important for Christians to understand and affirm, not only the innate differences between males and females, but also the purposes the Creator had in instilling sex differences in the members of His highest creation. God’s purposes are invisible realities manifested in visible ones. Dr. Adrian Rogers has done a masterful job of explaining male and female differences from a theological perspective. I encourage you to listen to his sermon on the subject at your earliest convenience.

For now, I’d like to briefly mention ten important truths Christians need to understand and appreciate about God’s creation of humanity as male and female. Genesis 2:18-25 tells us

18 And the Lord God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.” 19 Out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to Adam to see what he would call them. And whatever Adam called each living creature, that was its name. 20 So Adam gave names to all cattle, to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper comparable to him.

21 And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam, and he slept; and He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh in its place. 22 Then the rib which the Lord God had taken from man He made into a woman, and He brought her to the man.

23 And Adam said:

“This is now bone of my bones
And flesh of my flesh;
She shall be called Woman,
Because she was taken out of Man.”

24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.

25 And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.

The Creator’s “Fingerprints”

Consider these truths. While we have stated many of them previously, we reiterate them here because Article 3 sets the stage for emphasizing them. These principles testify to God’s having left His “fingerprints” all over humanity. While sin has marred the ways in which members of the human family reflect God’s nature, these reflections still are evident and discernible.

  1. “God created Adam and Eve, the first human beings, in his own image, equal before God as persons, and distinct as male and female.” This the first part of Article 3 of the Nashville Statement. Men and women, boys and girls, did not evolve out of a random-chance process. God created them. Moreover, He made them different as males and females, and He did so by design.
  2. At the same time, it is not true that “the divinely ordained differences between male and female render them unequal in dignity or worth.” The second portion of Article 3 rightly refutes any notion that either sex is superior or inferior to the other. Women have been the direct beneficiaries of the Christian view of the sexes. Throughout history, Christianity has elevated the status of women in the home and in society. That’s not to say the church always advocated treating women according to the biblical ideal. Even so, the ideal has existed throughout history and remains today.
  3. Since males and females are different, men reflect God’s image in a variety of ways that women don’t, and women reflect His image in a variety of ways that men don’t. Both are fully human, and both reflect God’s image—but neither does so in any complete sense.
  4. God made the woman as a helper “comparable to” the man (see v. 18). The strong implication is that he also is comparable to her. Differences make for compatibility. In other words, the man and the woman make a great team because of their differences. She is better at doing some things, and he is better at doing others. They are different, but neither is inferior to the other. Although we can mention it only briefly here, these differences have implications for gender roles in the family. Christian psychologist W. Peter Blitchington has said, ““The strength of a nation can be fairly effectively gauged by the strength of its families, and the strength of a family can be estimated by the quality of its sexual roles.”If we as Christians cringe at this, we are demonstrating that to a significant degree, we have been influenced by politically correct thinking.
  5. In creating human beings as male and female, God also created and established the institution of marriage.
  6. Marriage is the arena where a man and woman come together to form a family. In that family, the two together can reflect God’s image in a much more complete way than either the man or the woman could as an individual.
  7. Building off of our observation in point 5, we affirm that marriage and family reflect the unity and diversity we see in the triune Godhead. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not the same, yet each is God. Similarly, the husband and wife are not identical, but each is a member of the same family. This also can be said of any children resulting from their marriage union.
  8. No same-sex relationship, no matter how loving or committed, ever can showcase this kind of unity and diversity.
  9. Children form their initial view of God in their early years, and they do so primarily through their experiences of interacting with their parents, as well by observing their parents’ interactions with each other. Only kids with two married parents of the opposite sex can get the kind of picture of God that He Himself ordained they would receive when He established marriage as the world’s first and most basic institution.
  10. As Adrian Rogers declared, “These differences, believe it or not, shouldn’t divide us. They should unite us. God made us different that He might make us one. These are more than mere psychological proclivities; they are there by divine design. Aren’t you glad that God made us different? It’s time to stop trying to be the be the same or resenting each other because of our differences. It’s time to start celebrating the difference!”

With an understanding and appreciation of these theological truths, as well as the scientific truths we highlighted in part 5, Christians can confidently point others to the open door that nature and the Bible affirm.

Ashley McGuire

Ashley McGuire says it well.

The sexes are different.

Rather than trying to quash this reality, which can only lead to more needless confusion and suffering, not less, we should step back and marvel at it. And enjoy it. Male-female differences are among the most wonderful things in life.

 

image credit: top photo—www.lightstock.com

Copyright © 2017 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture has been taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Note:

1W. Peter Blitchington, Sex Roles and the Christian Family, (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 1981), 13.

 

Upholding Clarity in an Age of Confusion: The Nashville Statement, Part 5

Challenging a False Assumption

[I]t is not an act of justice but of foolish injustice to pretend the sexes are the same.
J. Budziszewski

 

Key point: The idea that both sexes are identical and that individuals can choose which sex they will be places both individuals and society in bondage.

 

You can access summaries of all the articles in this series here.

Harry Houdini (1874-1926) had reputation of being able to escape from any cell, box, trap, cage, or chamber—no matter how tight or secure. As an expert locksmith and escape artist, he would challenge anyone and everyone to find a means of confinement from which he could not break free.

A British bank heard of the challenge. Having installed a safe its officers believed to be completely secure, the bank’s leadership got in touch with Houdini and offered to let him try to crack their safe. The world-renowned performer confidently accepted and made his way to England.

On the appointed day and hour, Houdini was bound and placed inside the safe. The door then was closed, and the skillful showman began his normal routine. Houdini firmly believed breaking out would be a cinch. Why shouldn’t he? He’d perfected his craft through the years and had escaped confinement in one spellbinding scenario after another.

This time, though, a different situation emerged. After an hour, Houdini’s confidence began to weaken. He’d tried every approach he normally used, but to no avail. He continued working relentlessly but was unsuccessful at every turn. Sweat poured down Harry Houdini’s face as the master showman kept at it, but his efforts produced no breakthrough. Finally, after two hours of nonstop effort, Houdini was totally exhausted and leaned against the door to the safe. To his amazement, it swung open. It had been unlocked all along!

It’s true that several different versions of this story can be found—go herehere, and here for three additional versions—and some believe the incident never occurred. Others have found it plausible, however.

Assumptions Matter

Either way, the story illustrates a truth all people—Christians and non-Christians alike—would be wise to heed. Houdini was trying to open a door he assumed to be securely locked, only to find out it was merely shut—and not locked at all! Have you ever tried to complete a project and worked at it unsuccessfully, only to discover that your primary assumption about the situation was totally wrong?


To successfully and effectively accomplish a task, the person performing it needs to hold correct assumptions about it.


I believe this is what people who have embraced politically correct teachings on sexuality and gender identity are doing. Many, perhaps most, are doing this without understanding the ominous implications of their beliefs for themselves and society. Assuming the door to satisfaction and fulfillment regarding sexuality and gender to be locked, they’re trying to “pick the lock” with the false assumption that males and females essentially are the same. In this brand new Prager University video, Ashley McGuire, author of Sex Scandal: The Drive to Abolish Male and Female, explains. You can download a transcript of this video here.

I first want to echo Ms. McGuire’s plea for respect, compassion, and practical help for everyone experiencing gender dysphoria. Yet, as Ms. McGuire forthrightly declares, “we don’t need to overturn biologically defined sex differences to” preserve people’s dignity or to assist them. Misinformation on this subject abounds, and people need to hear the truth, both individually and corporately.

The cultural rhetoric on gender identity not only creates an atmosphere of frustration and confusion; it also exacerbates it! Moreover, it incites fear in the hearts of those who might otherwise consider challenging the politically correct line. Still, this is a dead end street! In the language of our illustration, it is a lock that cannot be picked!

What then, is the solution?

Affirm the Obvious!

Walt Heyer

The solution is both simple and profound, but it will be difficult for many to accept. In fact, it will be extremely difficult for some, and not instantaneous, but a process. The door already is unlocked! Fulfillment and satisfaction in this area of life can be found in accepting reality as it is. This means accepting one’s biological sex and affirming it as good. It further means enjoying the characteristics one possesses as a boy or girl, man or woman—and celebrating the innate differences between males and females. Walt Heyer agrees. Born a man, Walt transitioned to a woman, then later, back to a man. He now has a website dedicated to promoting the truth about the transgender movement. Its address is www.sexchangeregret.com. (Also go here and here.)


Fulfillment and satisfaction in the area of gender identity is found in accepting reality as it is.


Article 3 of the Nashville Statement states the liberating reality from a biblical perspective.

WE AFFIRM that God created Adam and Eve, the first human beings, in his own image, equal before God as persons, and distinct as male and female.

WE DENY that the divinely ordained differences between male and female render them unequal in dignity or worth.

We will unpack this statement and consider some of its theological implications next time, but for now we need to be clear that a person does not have to be a Christian to acknowledge what nature teaches about the sexes. Being a Christian helps, certainly; because ultimate purpose and meaning in life are rooted in an understanding of having been created by a personal and loving God, in His image.


Ultimate purpose and meaning in life are rooted in an understanding of having been created by a personal and loving God, in His image.


Even so, it is just as Ashley McGuire says:

The idea that gender-identification is now a personal choice might sound enlightened to some, but it’s actually a very anti-scientific view of one of the essential facts of life: men and women are inherently different. Their brains are different, their hormones are different, their chromosomes are different, and, of course, their bodies are different (emphasis added).


Denying the differences between males and females is anti-scientific!


It doesn’t help, and it even is harmful, to deny the undeniable or to try to change the unchangeable. Here are 50 documented differences, generally speaking, between males and females.

To acknowledge the differences between the sexes readily can, but doesn’t have to rest on any religious principle or sentiment.

Actually, it’s just common sense.

 

Copyright © 2017 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.

Related articles:

Toxic Masculinity? Not in Las Vegas
A Boy’s Life with Unisex Scouts

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture has been taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Upholding Clarity in an Age of Confusion: The Nashville Statement, Part 4

Spiritual Warfare Is Serious Business

“Cheshire Puss,” she began, rather timidly, as she did not at all know whether it would like the name: however, it only grinned a little wider. “Come, it’s pleased so far,” thought Alice, and she went on. “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”

‘That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat.
—Lewis Caroll in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

There is a way that seems right to a man,
But its end is the way of death.
Proverbs 14:12; 16:25

[B]ecause of sexual immorality, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband.
—the apostle Paul to the Corinthian Christians in 1 Corinthians 7:2

 

Key point: Article 2 and many other elements of the Nashville Statement not only affirm God’s plan for humanity but also expose the stark contrast between God’s way and man’s way. The conflict between these two perspectives constitutes the great cosmic battle of the universe.

 

You can access summaries of all the articles in this series here.

In several recent posts we have been considering various elements of the Nashville Statement on Biblical Sexuality. This declaration not only seeks to uphold God’s plan; it also exposes just how distant man’s way is from the Creator’s. We see this divergence in many places in the statement, including Article 2.

WE AFFIRM that God’s revealed will for all people is chastity outside of marriage and fidelity within marriage.

WE DENY that any affections, desires, or commitments ever justify sexual intercourse before or outside marriage; nor do they justify any form of sexual immorality.

Note the phrases that describe the two opposing sides in this spiritual fight-to-the-finish:

“God’s revealed will” versus individual “affections, desires [and] commitments.”

The Cosmic Battle

The collision of these two ideas represents what Christian leader and educator Del Tackett calls the great cosmic battle. Did you think the cosmic battle was between God and Satan only? Not so. Members of the human race have the opportunity to choose whether they will follow God’s way or their own—and their own prideful way mirrors Satan’s. An individual is on one side or the other; no one can escape or opt out of the cosmic battle.

Note carefully: Not all sexual activity is sinful. As Article 2 states, “God’s revealed will for all people is chastity outside of marriage and fidelity within marriage.” With this in mind, ask yourself this: What else are “affections, desires, and commitments” but “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life”? (See 1 John 2:16 in the context of vv. 15-17.)


Affections, desires, and  commitments that attempt to justify sexual immorality are what the apostle John calls “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” in 1 John 2:15-17.


The divergence between these two opposing sides brings to mind an overlapping conflict—the one between relativism and absolute truth, We have explored this contest frequently in weeks past.

  • Relativism is the idea that everyone can make up and live according to his or her own truth, which, relativism says, is no more or less valid than the “truth” created by anyone else. According to this perspective, truth is subjective; it is inside each person and therefore conforms to individual preferences and whims.
  • Contrast that to absolute truth, which has truth as its object. In other words, absolutes are objective, or outside individual preferences, feelings, opinions, and inclinations. Moreover, absolute truth is based on God’s character and will. As such, it involves principles that apply to everyone, everywhere, at all times, and in all circumstances. Absolutes represent “God’s revealed will,” as Article 2 puts it.

God’s Way or My Way

Best-selling author Frank Peretti also is a riveting speaker who actually performs when he talks. His vocal gymnastics are mesmerizing! Peretti exposes the folly of relativism in this minute-and-a-half clip from his classic message, “God’s Way or My Way.”


With what does relativism ultimately leave you? Just feelings!
—Frank Peretti—


Mr. Peretti has nailed it! Thankfully, he has the courage to point this out forthrightly and without apology. Do we have the courage to openly agree with him? Read on to find out why we must join Mr. Peretti in his affirmations.

Pervasive Misinformation

We find relativism promoted everywhere in popular culture. Not only that, but it has been promoted for decades. Consider this pivotal scene from the 1977 blockbuster Star Wars. Because the term Star Wars became the name for the entire series, this movie later was renamed Star Wars: Episode IV—A New Hope. Keep in mind the Star Wars movies promote Eastern religious ideas as well as the relativistic concept of “getting in touch with one’s feelings.” In this first Star Wars installment, we vividly see the overlap between these in more than one scene. This clip depicts Luke’s lightsaber training abroad the Millennium Falcon.

So, what about “stretching out with one’s feelings”? Frank Peretti warns against this specifically in his presentation.

Going “with the fuzzies” ultimately will exact a high price, but apparently not in Luke Skywalker’s world. Remember that we don’t live in Luke’s world! Moreover, Luke doesn’t even exist!

Even so, despite the obvious stupidity of essentially blindfolding oneself and fighting according to instincts and feelings, Luke not only successfully fought the remote satellite during his training but also dealt a deathblow to the Empire’s Death Star at the end of the movie. Do you remember what happened? Luke ditched his targeting computer to rely on his feelings and “the Force flowing within him.” You can watch the scene here.

Don’t be taken in! If reality had been allowed to play out, this episode in the Star Wars saga would have been named A Dashed Hope rather than A New Hope. It is, after all, science fiction!


Had reality been allowed to play out, this episode in the Star Wars saga would have been named A Dashed Hope rather than A New Hope.


Human feelings are not reliable guides for life! This isn’t what we hear in our culture, though! Follow your feelings! Only you can determine what’s best for you! If it feels right it must be right. These ideas, as compelling as they are, simply are not true!

Relativism’s Enticement

Despite its gaping flaws, relativism remains popular and widely accepted. We explored numerous reasons why when we began our series on this subject. We do well to revisit that discussion here. The following is a summary. Go here for a more complete presentation.

Why is relativism so attractive?

  • First, it appeals to people’s emotions. The notion that everyone can be right in what he or she believes sounds good and noble.
  • Second, relativism appeals to people’s imaginations. As a philosophy, it offers people the opportunity to create their own world of “reality.” Here’s the harsh truth, though: Visiting Fantasyland with an intention of exiting is one thing, but relativism invites people to live there. Fantasies can’t survive long-term in the real world.
  • Third, social pressure to espouse relativism is extremely intense. This factor has at least two aspects. First, to reject relativism is to reject a belief held by “everyone else.” Who wants to be different from the crowd?
  • Fourth, add to the loneliness of being in the minority the difficulty of taking an unpopular stand. Who among us doesn’t want to be viewed as magnanimous? Moreover, the person who says absolute truth exists has taken a position that makes him or her a target of vicious criticism. It’s ironic, though, that the very people who say no one ought to judge will, in a heartbeat, judge advocates of absolute truth!
  • Fifth, believing in absolutes not only puts a person at risk for vitriol and strong criticism; it also requires a person to think through his or her position and to defend it intellectually, at least in his or her own mind. Put another way, believing truth to be relative is the “PLR”—the “path of least resistance.”
  • Sixth, relativism appeals to human pride. Let’s face it. Anyone making up his or her own truth and following it actually is playing god, even if he or she doesn’t realize it. Either way, it has tremendous appeal!

The Bottom Line

So, Article 2, like just about everything else in the Nashville Statement, places God’s way right beside man’s way and exposes the stark contrast between the two.

Dr. Michael Brown is very much on target in his assessment of the situation. He cites numerous vehement objections to the Nashville Statement from non-Christians; then he says,

The problem [these people are having] is not with the Nashville Statement. It is with the Bible, since the statement only reaffirms what the Bible clearly teaches, namely that: 1) God made humans male and female; 2) marriage, as intended by God, is the lifelong union of a man and a woman; 3) homosexual practice is always sinful in God’s sight; 4) God offers forgiveness for all human beings through the cross of Jesus; and 5) those who struggle with same-sex attraction or gender identity confusion can be welcomed into the Body of Christ like any other struggling individual, as long as they do not celebrate or affirm that which is wrong.

The way of man is deeply flawed. Some weaknesses are so glaring that, as we have seen, they’re easy to point out.

Are we willing to try to point them out? Are we willing to exercise love and compassion as we do? Are we willing to uphold God’s way over man’s?

If we are, we truly will give our neighbors, family members, and friends in this country and in the world a new hope!

Let these words from Frank Peretti inspire you and encourage you as you take your stand.


When you know the Lord—when you know the transcendent, personal, loving God—you’ve got something that you can carry with you and pass on to your children. Something they can be sure of, solid ground that they can walk on. You’ve got something that is true!
—Frank Peretti—


 

Copyright © 2017 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.

top image: www.lightstock.com

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture has been taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 

 

Upholding Clarity in an Age of Confusion: The Nashville Statement, Part 3

Flawless Design

Marriage is based on the truth that men and women are complementary, the biological fact that reproduction depends on a man and a woman, and the reality that children need a mother and a father. Redefining marriage does not simply expand the existing understanding of marriage; it rejects these truths.
Ryan Anderson

 

Key point: Marriage cannot function as God intended it to function and bring its manifold benefits to individuals and society if its design is rejected or changed.

 

An abbreviated version of this article is available here.

You can access summaries of all the articles in this series here.

We have been considering The Nashville Statement on Biblical Sexuality. This declaration is critical not only as a statement for Christians within the church, but also as a statement to the world about what human sexuality is, what it should be, and about how people ought to relate to one another, for the good of all.

Biblical Clarity

The Bible speaks without ambiguity about maleness, femaleness, human sexuality, and marriage. Quoting Genesis, Jesus asked the Pharisees, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh”?'” (Matt. 19:4-5; Gen. 2:24). As we observed in a previous post,

For what reason, then, shall a man “leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24; Matt. 19:4-5; Mark 10:6-8)? The answer is clear. It first is stated in Genesis and then restated by Jesus in Matthew and Mark: Because God created human beings as male and female!

God-ordained marriage unites two separate individuals from two separate families into one, new family; and the children the couple produces from their union also are a part of that same family. The family, with man-woman marriage as in integral part of it, was not an afterthought in God’s mind as one of several alternatives for social order in human societies. Rather,

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.

Since marriage was established when God first created human beings as male and female, it is appropriate that Article 1 in The Nashville Statement would focus on what marriage is and what it is not.

WE AFFIRM that God has designed marriage to be a covenantal, sexual, procreative, lifelong union of one man and one woman, as husband and wife, and is meant to signify the covenant love between Christ and his bride the church.

WE DENY that God has designed marriage to be a homosexual, polygamous, or polyamorous relationship. We also deny that marriage is a mere human contract rather than a covenant made before God.

The Workings of a Watch Showcase the Brilliance of Design

Many insights can be gleaned from this excellent article, but here I’d like to focus on the word “designed” and its implications. To design is “to create, fashion, execute, or construct according to [a] plan.”

To better understand and appreciate what it means to design something, we should take a close look at an item that has been designed. A pocket watch is a great example. A three-and-a-half-minute video is available that uses 3-D animation to demonstrate the five elements that make the watch function. Those elements are

  1. energy,
  2. wheels,
  3. escapement,
  4. controller, and
  5. time indicator.

You can view this video here.

As an alternative, the following presentation is just one minute long. While it doesn’t name the parts of a watch, it also uses 3-D animation to visually demonstrate how all the separate pieces work together. Keep in mind the parts work—and so does the watch—because the right components have been created and placed in strategic relationships with one another. In other words, the watch was designed, and built according to the design.

Notice that a builder cannot duplicate some parts and leave others out and expect everything to work smoothly—or at all. Nor can he or she put the parts together “any old way.” The design must be followed for the item to function as it should.


A watchmaker cannot duplicate some parts and leave others out and expect everything to work smoothly—or at all. Nor can he or she put the parts together “any old way.” The design must be followed for the timepiece to function as it should.


Divine Design

How can we realize these things about mechanical items but miss parallel principles with regard to marriage? God’s design is perfect! Marriages don’t always function as they should, but this is because of human imperfection and sin, not because of the design!


God’s design is perfect! Marriages don’t always function as they should, but this is because of human imperfection and sin, not because of the design!


The One who created human beings as male and female established marriage as a lifelong commitment between one man and one woman. He did this, not to frustrate, but to benefit—to benefit the couples directly involved, their children, and society at large.

Inherent in God’s design for marriage is the complementarity of men and women, who are alike in that both are human beings, yet different from one another in a variety of ways, including physically, emotionally, relationally, and mentally (go herehere, herehere, and here). For example, male and female brains are different. And it isn’t just Christians who recognize these differences. Moreover, it’s noteworthy that male-female differences are the source of a great deal of humor.

The writers of two blockbuster television sitcoms—I Love Lucy and Everybody Loves Raymond, used these differences as a basis for countless episodes.

From the Very Start

The differences between men and women provide wonderful advantages for a couple and their children. We see these benefits underscored even at the beginning of time. Genesis 2:18 indicates the first man and the first woman were suitable partners.

And the Lord God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.”

The New International Version renders the verse this way.

The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”

“Suitable helper” is the typical English translation of the Hebrew phrase

‘ēzer kenegdô, 

says Old Testament scholar and seminary professor Dr. Daniel Kim. In a thorough discussion about the best way to translate the phrase, and consequently the entire verse, Dr. Kim reaches this conclusion.

I suggest a meaningful translation of Gen. 2:18 in today’s context might be: “I will make for him a helper, as one who is his counterpart.”  There are other methods by which one can convey the right meaning, such as shifting word order, using other synonyms, or even employing more words. Some examples are: “I will make a helper for him, one who is his perfect match,” or, “I will make a counterpart for him, one who is able to help in his time of need.”

You can explore a few of the linguistic and interpretative considerations that led Dr. Kim to reach this conclusion here. Yet, as helpful as they are, even these renderings don’t convey all the ideas the Hebrew words do, and that’s why we need scholars and teachers who can explain the depth of meanings represented in various passages of Scripture. In addition, in this instance in particular, they can help us come to appreciate in new and fresh ways how God designed marriage and how, when we follow His plan, countless people benefit.

Unfortunately, society has rejected God’s model for marriage, and it even is denying obvious realities in nature and in the human experience about what it means to be male or female. The church needs to rediscover God’s design for marriage, appreciate it anew, and encourage society at large also to understand and appreciate its benefits.

Parallels

Returning once more to the watch illustration, we repeat what we said earlier about  its design: A watch maker cannot duplicate some parts of the watch and leave others out and expect everything to work smoothly—or at all. Nor can he or she put the parts together “any old way.” The design must be followed for the watch to function as it should.

Against the backdrop of a functioning mechanical watch, we now will note four parallel traits that are true of both the watch and of marriage.

First, the parts fit together. Gear teeth interlock. Hubs hold wheels and gears in their proper places. Springs have the necessary space to be tightened and to loosen as the watch carries out its planned function. A husband and wife also fit together. We see this most obviously in the physical realm, but it also is true on a multitude of other levels as well. In neither the watch nor in marriage are the players or parts identical, but they are compatible.

Second, the parts work together to accomplish a positive purpose. Gears turn with other gears; springs tighten and then unwind slowly, and hands move because they perform their functions in harmony with all the other parts. Likewise, in a marriage as it was designed to function, a husband and his wife also work together. These beautiful words from Ecclesiastes 4 come to mind. While friendship is one context for these verses, marriage is the most fitting scenario. Note that verse 12 hints at God’s role in strengthening the couple’s partnership.

Two are better than one,
Because they have a good reward for their labor.
10 For if they fall, one will lift up his companion.
But woe to him who is alone when he falls,
For he has no one to help him up.
11 Again, if two lie down together, they will keep warm;
But how can one be warm alone?
12 Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him.
And a threefold cord is not quickly broken (Eccl. 4:9-12).

Third, as the parts work together, they also work against each other—not in an adversarial way, but in a way that enhances the function and role of each, as well as the overall performance of the larger item of which they are parts. How have we missed this? Because of the differences between components, each one is able to fulfill its role of pushing, prodding, nudging, and halting various other parts when actions like these are necessary. In marriage, we see this in that the husband and wife counterbalance each other when needed. Consider this pivotal scene from the move Rocky II. Rocky is lethargic and unmotivated to train for his upcoming fight with Apollo Creed, but then his wife Adrian comes out of her coma, they see their baby together, and…

A Lesson Arising from Article 1

To these three observations we now add a fourth. This is the insight we dare not miss! It’s a principle inherent in Article 1 of the Nashville Statement. We must resolve to find positive ways to share it with society at large.

Just as the most effective way to ruin a watch would be to reject or to try to reshape or redefine its design, the most effective way to ruin marriage is to reject, alter, and/or redefine its design.


Just as the most effective way to ruin a watch would be to reject or to try to reshape or redefine its design, the most effective way to ruin marriage is to reject, alter, and/or redefine its design.


It isn’t hateful or unloving to declare this. Rather, withholding the information would be unloving.

How fitting, then, that the first article in The Nashville Statement reaffirms and upholds God’s flawless design for marriage!

Part 4 is available here.

 

Copyright © 2017 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise marked, Scriptures have been taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

The passage marked NIV has been taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.