Myths that Led to Recognition of Same-Sex Marriage in the United States, Part 1

Marriage is what one man and one woman establish when, forsaking all others and pledging lifelong commitment, they found a sharing of life at every level of being—the biological, the emotional, the dispositional, the rational, the spiritual—on a commitment that is sealed, completed and actualized by loving sexual intercourse in which the spouses become one flesh, not in some merely metaphorical sense, but by fulfilling together the behavioral conditions of procreation.

No one has a civil right to have a non-marital relationship treated as a marriage. Marriage is an objective reality—a covenantal union of husband and wife—that it is the duty of the law to recognize and support for the sake of justice and the common good. If it fails to do so, genuine social harms follow.

The Manhattan Declaration, released in 2009—

Key point: The Supreme Court ruling that changed the definition of marriage in the United States to include same-sex couples is based on numerous myths, including myths that have misinformed and misled people in the United States about the role of government, the nature of rights in relation to government, and government’s responsibility to respect the sacredness of marriage.

Now known as the “father of infection control,” Ignaz Semmelweis (1818-1865) wasn’t always well-respected. A native of Hungary, he earned his medical degree in 1844, and in 1847, through an appointment, became an assistant professor at a highly regarded teaching hospital in Vienna. His area of expertise was obstetrics, and he soon became alarmed about the mortality rate at his hospital among the women whose babies were delivered by doctors and medical students. It was between 13 and 18 percent! By contrast, the mortality rate was just 2 percent among the women whose babies were delivered with assistance from midwives or those learning to become midwives.

Ignaz Semmelweis

Noticing that it wasn’t unusual for medical personnel to perform autopsies before delivering babies, Dr. Semmelweis began requiring all doctors and students to wash their hands before assisting the hospital’s patients. The mortality rate plummeted to 2 percent—as low as the rate for the women assisted by the midwives. As wonderful as this was, Dr. Semmelweis wasn’t through. Now, medical instruments would be washed as well. After this requirement took effect, the death rate dropped down to just 1 percent.

Louis Pasteur

The good doctor, though his policies, had saved a significant number of lives. With our modern understanding of infectious diseases, we readily can see this; but at the time, sadly, Semmelweis’s supervisor did not. A new ventilation system had been installed in the hospital, and he believed it was responsible for the improved statistics. Apparently, Semmelweis could not convince him otherwise.

Joseph Lister

Unfortunately, Semmelweis’s appointment to teach and work at the hospital was a 2-year appointment that wasn’t renewed. To his credit, the doctor continued to make his case for handwashing among medical personnel. In 1861, he even wrote a book about it. Dr. Semmelweis was right, but his book was not well written and was met with skepticism. Only a few years later as a patient in a public insane asylum, Dr. Semmelweis died. He was only 47 years old.

Florence Nightingale

We all can be glad the story doesn’t end there. Louis Pasteur (1822-1895) entered the picture not many years later. While Semmelweis’s policies had produced positive results, the good doctor couldn’t articulate the reasons why. Pasteur was able to do this by explaining the germ theory of infectious diseases. Relying on Pasteur’s investigations, Joseph Lister, a British physician who lived from 1827-1912, was able to convince his medical colleagues to adopt effective sanitation procedures. Florence Nightingale (1820-1910), the medical pioneer credited with founding modern nursing, also promoted sanitation guidelines in the medical profession.1

Myths and the Dangers They Pose

It took some time, but Ignaz Semmelweis was vindicated. Many lessons arise from his story—not the least of which is that failure to believe and act upon the truth can be quite costly. While we’ve cited from his story just one false belief in a single situation, false ideas sometimes grip entire cultures. When they do, they can be extremely dangerous and hazardous. Moreover, the more ingrained an erroneous belief is in people’s minds, and the more widespread it is, the greater its potential to harm and destroy. We often call an erroneous belief that has widespread acceptance a myth.


The more ingrained an erroneous belief is in people’s minds, and the more widespread it is, the greater its potential to harm and destroy. Such beliefs often are called myths.


In this and subsequent posts, I’d like to examine at least 16 myths that paved the way for the Supreme Court to redefine marriage two and a half years ago in Obergefell v. Hodges. In the United States we did not arrive overnight, but over time, at a place where judicial decree could redefine marriage. Even so, this process has taken place at amazing speed. Only a scant few decades ago, the idea of same-sex marriage was totally unthinkable. Since then, the culture’s prevailing underlying assumptions about marriage were challenged, attacked and ridiculed, and then pushed aside—both forcibly in the courts and subtly in the culture.


Over time, the culture’s prevailing underlying assumptions about marriage were challenged, attacked and ridiculed, and then pushed aside—both forcibly in the courts and subtly in the culture.


In this article, we will examine 4 myths about government, law, and the US Constitution. In subsequent posts we’ll examine the remaining myths on our list, these having to do with the nature of marriage itself. We will see how these myths, both individually and especially through Obergefell, actually are a threat to the well-being of individuals, society, and individual liberties. Proponents of same-sex marriage are not exempt from these threats. Those who worked hard to promote the redefinition of marriage are not as free as they think they are. Falsehoods enslave, but the truth liberates!

Here goes.

Myth #1: Marriage is a government construct over which government and government alone has oversight.

Fact: Marriage—the lifelong union of one man and one woman—is not at all a government construct, but an institution that preceded government, and an institution that preceded the United States government by thousands of years. Moreover, marriage and the family is society’s most important and most basic institution. Despite any and all appearances and sentiments to the contrary, without healthy marriages and healthy families, societal stability cannot be maintained.

This is not to say that government ought to have nothing to say about marriage. It is to say that government should respect marriage for what it is rather than seeking to manipulate it to meet the demands of a select few.

Charles Colson, one of the drafters of the Manhattan Declaration

In the Manhattan Declaration (2009), the section on marriage first cites two Bible passages—Genesis 2:23-24 and Ephesians 5:32-33.  Then, the initial paragraph on marriage begins with these three sentences.

[1] In Scripture, the creation of man and woman, and their one-flesh union as husband and wife, is the crowning achievement of God’s creation. [2] In the transmission of life and the nurturing of children, men and women joined as spouses are given the great honor of being partners with God Himself. [3] Marriage then, is the first institution of human society—indeed it is the institution on which all other human institutions have their foundation.


Marriage…is the first institution of human society—indeed it is the institution on which all other human institutions have their foundation.
—The Manhattan Declaration—


Clearly from the context, the word first in the term “first institution” means both first in time and first in importance.

Similarly, the Pledge in Solidarity to Defend Marriage states,

On the matter of marriage, we stand in solidarity. We affirm that marriage and family have been inscribed by the Divine Architect into the order of Creation.

Marriage is ontologically between one man and one woman, ordered toward the union of the spouses, open to children and formative of family. Family is the first vital cell of society, the first government, and the first mediating institution of our social order. The future of a free and healthy society passes through marriage and the family.

Marriage as existing solely between one man and one woman precedes civil government.

In the spring of 2015, Dr. James Dobson wrote the following in a letter to supporters of his ministry, Family Talk.

The institution of the family is one of the Creator’s most marvelous and enduring gifts to humankind. It was revealed to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and then described succinctly in Genesis 2:24, where we read, “For this cause, a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife, and they shall be one flesh.” With those 20 [-plus] words, God announced the ordination of male-female marriage, long before He established the two other great human institutions, the church and 
the government.

At least 5,000 years have come and gone since that point of origin, yet every civilization in the history of the world has been built upon it. Despite today’s skeptics who claim that marriage is an outmoded and narrow-minded Christian concoction, the desire of men and women to “leave” and “cleave” has survived and thrived through times of prosperity, famine, wars, peace, epidemics, tyranny, and every other circumstance and human condition. It has been the bedrock of culture in Asia, Africa, Europe, North America, South America, Australia and even Antarctica. [Note that this has been true even in countries that aren’t predominantly Christian.]…

Admittedly, there have been various societies in history where homosexuality has flourished, including the biblical cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, in ancient Greece and in the Roman Empire. None of these civilizations survived. Furthermore, even where sexual perversion was tolerated or flourished, the institution of marriage continued to be honored in law and custom. Only in the last few years has what is called “gay marriage” been given equal status with biblical male-female unions.…God help us if we throw the divine plan for humankind on the ash heap of history.

In the months prior to the Supreme Court ruling of June 26, 2015, that redefined marriage nationwide, the dominoes were falling in states where the people had amended their state constitutions to say unambiguously that marriage was between one man and one woman. Judges—especially members of the federal judiciary—were overruling the people almost en masse. Observing this judicial tyranny, Dennis Prager lamented,

Society is no longer being permitted to define marriage in the only way marriage has ever been defined in the annals of recorded history. Many societies have allowed polygamy, many have allowed child marriages, some have allowed marriage within families; but none in thousands of years has defined marriage as the union of people of the same sex.

None of this matters to these judges or to all those who seek to redefine marriage and can’t convince a majority of their fellow citizens to agree.


Many societies have allowed polygamy, many have allowed child marriages, some have allowed marriage within families; but none in thousands of years has defined marriage as the union of people of the same sex.
—Dennis Prager—


Given what marriage is, and what it has been for millennia, and the good that results when it is respected and honored, it is fitting that the Pledge in Solidarity to Defend Marriage would say forthrightly to the Supreme Court of the United States,

Our highest respect for the rule of law requires that we not respect an unjust law that directly conflicts with higher law. A decision purporting to redefine marriage flies in the face of the Constitution and is contrary to the natural created order. As people of faith we pledge obedience to our Creator when the State directly conflicts with higher law. We respectfully warn the Supreme Court not to cross this line.

Myth #2: The federal government, especially through its court system, has absolute authority over marriage.

Chief Justice John Roberts

Fact: This myth is completely unconstitutional. Courts do not have authority to make laws. Moreover, the Tenth Amendment of the US Constitution states, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.” The Constitution is silent about the matter of marriage, and that alone places marriage out of the reach of the federal judiciary, including the Supreme Court.

In his dissenting opinion in Obergefell, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote,

[T]his Court is not a legislature. Whether same-sex marriage is a good idea should be of no concern to us. Under the Constitution, judges have power to say what the law is, not what it should be. The people who ratified the Constitution authorized courts to exercise “neither force nor will but merely judgment.” The Federalist No. 78, p. 465.

Justice Scalia, dissenting, wrote,

Associate Justice Antonin Scalia

Today’s decree says that my Ruler, and the Ruler of 320 million Americans coast-to-coast, is a majority of the nine lawyers on the Supreme Court. The opinion in these cases is the furthest extension in fact— and the furthest extension one can even imagine—of the Court’s claimed power to create “liberties” that the Constitution and its Amendments neglect to mention. This practice of constitutional revision by an unelected committee of nine, always accompanied (as it is today) by extravagant praise of liberty, robs the People of the most important liberty they asserted in the Declaration of Independence and won in the Revolution of 1776: the freedom to govern themselves.

Associate Justice Samuel Alito

Justice Alito, dissenting, wrote,

Today’s decision shows that decades of attempts to restrain this Court’s abuse of its authority have failed. A lesson that some will take from today’s decision is that preaching about the proper method of interpreting the Constitution or the virtues of judicial self-restraint and humility cannot compete with the temptation to achieve what is viewed as a noble end by any practicable means.

Myth #3: The government bestows rights; therefore, the government can take them away.

Fact: The Declaration of Independence is correct when affirms the self-evident truths

that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed….

The government never will admit to taking away rights—only to granting them. Yet, in the very act of creating rights outside its authority, it tramples on the inherent, God-given rights of others.

This isn’t all. In state after state, unable to convince the people to change the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples, advocates of same-sex marriage went to the courts to get the judiciary to reshape and change marriage. They demanded that the courts make of marriage something it is not, and in doing so, they relied on government to create rights it has no authority to create.

In his dissent, Justice Clarence Thomas was especially articulate in highlighting this myth and warning of its dangers. Thomas, dissenting in Obergefell, wrote,

Associate Justice Clarence Thomas

The Court’s decision today is at odds not only with the Constitution, but with the principles upon which our Nation was built. Since well before 1787, liberty has been understood as freedom from government action, not entitlement to government benefits. The Framers created our Constitution to preserve that understanding of liberty. Yet the majority invokes our Constitution in the name of a “liberty” that the Framers would not have recognized, to the detriment of the liberty they sought to protect. Along the way, it rejects the idea—captured in our Declaration of Independence—that human dignity is innate and suggests instead that it comes from the Government. This distortion of our Constitution not only ignores the text, it inverts the relationship between the individual and the state in our Republic. I cannot agree with it.

Thomas went on to demonstrate just how far out of bounds the Court went when it changed the definition of marriage to grant “rights” to same-sex couples. He also emphasized the threats to religious liberty and rights of conscience the court’s overreach created. Please read more from Justice Thomas’s brilliant and articulate dissent here.

Go here to read about the differences between the Founders’ view on rights and the contemporary American view. Unfortunately, we have exchanged the Founders perspective on rights—a view of rights that fosters genuine liberty—for one that eventually will give way to tyranny. All the while, this has been done under the mantra of freedom and rights!


Unfortunately, we have exchanged the Founders perspective on rights—a view of rights that fosters genuine liberty—for one that eventually will give way to tyranny.


Myth #4: The Supreme Court is the final arbiter of disputes in the United States.

Fact: The Founders of our country never intended that the Supreme Court of the United States would acquire the power it now has. Often, we hear that the Framers established “equal” or “co-equal” branches of government—executive, legislative, and judicial. Even if it were true the Founding Fathers intended for them to be equal, our government has departed from this principle. The courts have stepped way beyond their constitutional authority.

In the Federalist Papers—initially anonymous articles published by a New York newspaper that encouraged New York to ratify the proposed US Constitution—Alexander Hamilton wrote,

Alexander Hamilton

It proves incontestably, that the judiciary is beyond comparison the weakest of the three departments of power; that it can never attack with success either of the other two; and that all possible care is requisite to enable it to defend itself against their attacks. It equally proves, that though individual oppression may now and then proceed from the courts of justice, the general liberty of the people can never be endangered from that quarter; I mean so long as the judiciary remains truly distinct from both the Legislature and the Executive. [Federalist Paper #78].

James Madison said this: “In republican government, the legislative authority necessarily predominates” [Federalist Paper #51].

Thomas Jefferson

Another Founding Father, Thomas Jefferson, became alarmed about the growth of judicial power he himself was witnessing, and he openly expressed his concerns. Each of the following is a quote from the third US President.

  • We already see the [judiciary] power, installed for life, responsible to no authority…advancing with a noiseless and steady pace to the great object of consolidation. The foundations are already deeply laid by their decisions for the annihilation of constitutional State rights and the removal of every check, every counterpoise to the engulfing power of which themselves are to make a sovereign part.
  • [T]he opinion which gives to the judges the right to decide what laws are constitutional and what not, not only for themselves in their own sphere of action but for the Legislature and Executive also in their spheres, would make the Judiciary a despotic branch.
  • To consider the judges as the ultimate arbiters of all constitutional questions; a very dangerous doctrine indeed, and one which would place us under the despotism of an oligarchy.…[T]heir power [is] the more dangerous as they are in office for life and not responsible, as the other functionaries are, to the elective control. The Constitution has erected no such single tribunal, knowing that to whatever hands confided…its members would become despots. It has more wisely made all the departments co-equal and co-sovereign within themselves.…When the legislative or executive functionaries act unconstitutionally, they are responsible to the people in their elective capacity. The exemption of the judges from that is quite dangerous enough.
  • It has long been my opinion, and I have never shrunk from its expression…that the germ of dissolution of our Federal Government is in the constitution of the Federal Judiciary – an irresponsible body…working like gravity by night and by day, gaining a little today and a little tomorrow, and advancing its noiseless step like a thief over the field of jurisdiction until all shall be usurped from the States and the government be consolidated into one. To this I am opposed.

In an extremely insightful Prager University video titled “Why We’re Losing Liberty,” Dr. Robert George, Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University, explains that the Founders never foresaw that the Supreme Court would become the entity it is today, exercising unrestrained power. He says that “now, most Americans think of the Supreme Court as the ultimate arbiter of almost every social and political dispute. The Founders never envisioned the court in this role.” Go here to watch this excellent presentation.


Now, most Americans think of the Supreme Court as the ultimate arbiter of almost every social and political dispute. The Founders never envisioned the court in this role.
—Professor Robert George—


These four myths not only led to the Obergefell ruling; they also are being reinforced by that ruling. It is time for the American people to understand the limitations the Constitution has placed, and places, on the federal government, particularly the judiciary. Furthermore, it is time for the people to demand that these restraints be honored and respected.

It is difficult to think of a matter that could be more out of bounds for the federal government to manipulate than marriage.

Next time, we’ll expose several myths that relate to the nature of marriage itself. Be sure to return for our critically important discussion.

 

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

Note:

1Safe Exit: Balancing grace and truth on the complicated subject of same-sex attraction, (PFOX—Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays, 2015), 56. Go here for more information.

 

 

 

Practical Christianity: Strangers and Pilgrims on this Earth



Note: On this coming Tuesday, December 5, 2017, the US Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, a case about which I have written extensively at Word Foundations. Alliance Defending Freedom is representing Jack Phillips, owner and operator of Masterpiece Cakeshop, in this case. Like the Pilgrims, Jack is risking everything for religious liberty and rights of conscience. The ruling will have profound implications for the First Amendment rights of every American. You can learn more about Jack’s journey and his convictions here and here. Please be in prayer for this case and its outcome. A ruling is expected in the late spring of next year.



The Extraordinary Adventures of Ordinary Believers Who Worked Out Their Salvation with Fear and Trembling
Part 2

These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.
Hebrews 11:13

 The Pilgrims made up a single local church who, with their pastor, determined to move the church from England to Holland to America. Thus, you could say that America began as a church relocation project.
—D. James Kennedy1

 

Key point: Because they remained true to their God and took necessary steps to honor Him with their resources and their lives, the Pilgrims influenced, and continue to influence, the entire world. Our circumstances aren’t the same as theirs, but like them, we have manifold opportunities to die to self and to use our resources for God’s glory. God can use us, just as He used them!

 

In this two-part series, we’re exploring how the Pilgrims, together, “worked out their salvation with fear and trembling” (see Phil. 2:12) until the time they decided to leave Holland for the New World. This working-out process certainly would continue, and perhaps at some point we can explore how it played out on their voyage across the Atlantic Ocean and in North America. For now, there is a great deal to learn from the experiences they shared up until the time they left Holland in 1620.

In part 1 we examined some of the challenges this Separatist congregation faced in Scrooby in England as they sought to live out their faith in a hostile environment. Weary of being harassed and persecuted and longing for freedom in their religious practices, the group fled England for Holland in 1608. They first resided in Amsterdam, then moved to Leyden a short time later.

17th-century houses still standing in Leyden

The Holland Years

In Holland, the little group of believers enjoyed the freedom that had eluded them in their native land. They lived there for over a decade but in the end were compelled to leave. In addition to the increasing possibility that war would erupt between Holland and Spain, two other factors motivated the congregation to take serious steps to depart for North America—

  • the moral well-being of their children and
  • their desire to spread share the good news of Jesus Christ in distant lands.

The Separatists’ concern for their children was related to the economic pressures they faced in their adopted land. In relocating as they had already, they had exhausted their financial resources. Also, typically, immigrants could not find work that paid well, and a family’s poverty invariably put pressures on both parents and children, who essentially had to mature faster than they would under more ideal circumstances. Some children were being heavily influenced by loose moral values in the culture. According to William Bradford, who later would serve as the governor of Plymouth Colony,

[O]f all sorrows most heavy to be borne, was that many of the children, influenced by these conditions, and the great licentiousness of the young people of the country, and the many temptations of the city, were led by evil example into dangerous courses, getting the reins off their necks and leaving their parents. Some became soldiers, others embarked upon voyages by sea and others upon worse courses tending to dissoluteness and the danger of their souls, to the great grief of the parents and the dishonour of God. So they saw their posterity would be in danger to degenerate and become corrupt.2

Bradford continues,

[T]hey [also] cherished a great hope and inward zeal of laying good foundations, or at least of making some way towards it, for the propagation and advance of the gospel of the kingdom of Christ in the remote parts of the world, even though they should be but stepping stones to others in the performance of so great a work.3

Keep the phrase stepping stones in mind, because we will return to it shortly.


The Christians who had fled England for religious freedom and had spent over a decade in Holland now felt compelled to leave Holland for the New World. Chief among their concerns were the moral well-being of their Children and their desire to take the good news of Jesus Christ to, in William Bradford’s words, “the remote parts of the world.”


A Bittersweet Departure

The painting at the top of this page is titled The Embarkation of the Pilgrims. Created by artist Robert Weir, it was commissioned by the United States Congress in 1837 and placed in the Rotunda of the US Capitol in late 1843. The portrait depicts the Separatist congregation’s last service aboard the Speedwell in Delft Haven, Holland, just before the departure of those who were sailing for the New World. More about the painting is available here, but let’s focus in on one of the painting’s central figures for a moment.

The congregation’s pastor, John Robinson, who would remain in Leyden, is kneeling in the foreground with his face turned heavenward. Here is a record of his farewell address to those of his congregation who were about to leave. Robinson also would write this farewell letter to those departing. He hoped he and other members of the congregation soon would be able to join them in North America.


The Pilgrims weren’t simply a group of individual Christians, but a congregation that together drew on God’s strength to live out their faith in the world in which the Lord had placed them.


The point here is that these believers weren’t simply a group of individual Christians, but a congregation that together drew on God’s strength to live out their faith in the world in which the Lord had placed them. They also drew strength from one another, but now the realities of life dictated that some of them separate from others in the group. Their good-byes were bittersweet—difficult, yet encouraging for both those leaving and those who felt they needed, at least for now, to remain. We cannot discount the underlying, yet real, influence of the ones remaining on those departing. Because they were a part of this congregation that had endured so much together, the ones staying in Leyden left their mark on the New World as well. God would be with and would guide both groups in the years ahead.

Let’s return now to William Bradford’s account. Having stated the primary reasons the group felt they must leave, Bradford went on to add,

These, and some other similar reasons, moved them to resolve upon their removal, which they afterwards prosecuted in the face of great difficulties, as will appear. The place they fixed their thoughts upon was somewhere in those vast and unpeopled countries of America….4

A Working-Out Process

Their difficulties in Leyden and the struggles they would have in preparing for and making their transatlantic journey notwithstanding, the time the Pilgrims spent in Holland would prove to be extremely beneficial for them and for future generations of North Americans. Robert A. Peterson writes,

[P]erhaps… [the] greatest contribution [the Dutch people made] to America was the 11 years of freedom they gave the Pilgrims—crucial years that helped America’s founding fathers work out their philosophy of freedom and prepare for self-government in the New World.

Free men. For the Pilgrims, this was a new idea. Just what did it mean to be free? With the external pressure of persecution lifted, would the Pilgrims remain true to their original calling? Or would they turn liberty into license and lose their distinctive identity? Time would show that the Pilgrims took seriously their responsibilities of self-government. Indeed, the Dutch experience would prove to be an excellent half-way house to the freedom the Pilgrims would find in the New World. For the next 11 years, the Pilgrims took advantage of all the opportunities that Dutch society offered.…

The 11 years the Pilgrims spent in Holland saw them grow in responsibility, adaptability, and self- government. As Bradford Smith put it in his biography of William Bradford, “The libertarian tradition at Plymouth, with its profound influence on American life, is not primarily English. It is Dutch. Simple justice demands that we acknowledge this…. Thus, during their Leyden years, were the Pilgrims perfecting themselves for the undreamed of work of founding a new nation. In religion, they grew milder and more tolerant. In business and craftsmanship they learned a great deal from the thrifty, ambitious and highly capable Hollanders. Too, the Dutch flair for efficient government and record keeping, the spirit of republicanism and civic responsibility were to bear unsuspected fruit in a distant land.”5

Working out one’s salvation with fear and trembling (see Phil. 2:12) has implications for every area of life. We see this so clearly in the Pilgrims’ journey. Most noteworthy, these believers consistently took the long view, just as did the heroes of the faith in Hebrews 11. They made the most of their opportunities in the present, even as they were mindful of how they might influence the future for God’s glory. Both of the factors that compelled the Separatist congregation to push forward to travel to the New World were centered, not in the present, but in the future.

Investing in Future Generations—and Eternity

We see the Pilgrims’ passion for evangelism later reflected in the text of the Mayflower Compact, which speaks of the signers’ having come to America “for the Glory of God and advancement of the Christian Faith and Honour of our King and Country….” You can read the entire text of the Mayflower Compact here, and you can read about the document here and here.

Accordingly, Bradford, as we already have noted, wrote that his party wanted to carry the good news of Christ to “the remote parts of the world, even though they should be but stepping stones to others in the performance of so great a work.”6

Lightstock

Our children, it has been said, are our links to the future. Moreover, the spread of the gospel is not primarily about building a better world here and now, even though that is a side benefit. It is about eternity!

The Pilgrims would, in their efforts to secure religious freedom for themselves, to spread the gospel to “remote parts of the world,” and to guide their children to live lives of purity and integrity before God, change the course of history and sew the seeds that eventually would become the United States of America.

Their contributions to the betterment of civilized life continue in America to this day. This isn’t just in the ideals they upheld, but in people. The descendants of those who came over on the Mayflower number in the tens of millions! It’s readily understood that not all of these are Christians; in fact, a great many are not. But others are.

Daniel Brewster and his family

I am honored to have in my circle of friends one Daniel Brewster, a direct, thirteenth-generation descendant of the Plymouth Colony’s Elder William Brewster, through his son Jonathan Brewster. Dan is a devout believer who is active in his church, often operating the sound system for its services and special events. When he lived in Ohio, Dan was involved in vocational ministry through Child Evangelism Fellowship. Currently he works in ministry at the distribution center of LifeWay Christian Resources, one of the world’s largest providers of Bible study materials and Christian services.

Do not misunderstand. A believer does not have to be involved in vocational ministry to serve God through his or her work; he or she can honor Him in any reputable job—and reputable jobs are available in all kinds of work. I’m simply relating ways Dan Brewster has served the Lord through his career.

Dan and his wife Tammi have four sons, and they are effectively passing the baton of their Christian faith on to them, just as the Pilgrims sought faithfully to pass along their faith to their own children.

Building a Heritage and Leaving a Legacy

You may not have a Christian family heritage stretching back through the years. If you don’t have such a heritage, start one! The past is the past. It is done—but from this point forward, you can build a Christ-centered legacy to bequeath to future generations. If you already have this kind of heritage, make sure you are faithful to keep it alive and healthy on the watch the Lord has entrusted to you.

The lessons the Pilgrims offer 21st century believers truly are manifold. Of course, the Pilgrims were imperfect people who did not get everything right. Even so, they got enough right and were willing, with God’s help, to lay everything on the line for treasures of eternal worth.

They even were ready to become “stepping stones” to further God’s work.

May we, relying on divine help as well, also do the same!

 

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.

top image: The Embarkation of the Pilgrims by Robert Weir, 1837

Notes:

1Jerry Newcombe, compiler, The Wit and Wisdom of D. James Kennedy, (Fort Lauderdale, FL: Truth in Action Ministries, 2013), 150.

2William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation, Harold Padget, ed., (Kindle Locations 588-593). Portcullis Books. Kindle Edition. Original print release, 1920; Kindle edition, 2016.

3William Bradford, Kindle Locations 593-595.

4William Bradford, Kindle Locations 595-598.

5Bradford Smith, Bradford of Plymauth, (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1951), 78, 93.

6William Bradford, Kindle Locations 594-595.

 

 

Practical Christianity: A Holy Nation

The Extraordinary Adventures of Ordinary Believers Who Worked Out Their Salvation with Fear and Trembling
Part 1

But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.
1 Peter 2:9

The Pilgrims comprised one of the most remarkable congregations that has ever existed on the face of this earth.
—D. James Kennedy1

Key point: Members of the Separatist congregation in Scrooby, England in the 1600s — believers who later became known as “Pilgrims” — serve as examples not only of how to “do Christianity,” but also of how to “do church.”

Last time we explored the importance of taking salvation seriously, of “working out one’s salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12). It’s fascinating to note both individual and corporate manifestations of this process. Not only must individual Christians work out their own salvation, churches and other Christian groups frequently must do the same. In the Pilgrims—believers who fled England for Holland, then Holland for the New World during the early 1600s and established the Plymouth Colony in what is now Massachusetts—we see evidence of the “working out process” at a congregational level. In this two-part series, I’d like to consider how this process was manifested in the Pilgrims’ decisions and actions up until the time they resolved to leave Holland for North America.

The Church in England

King Henry VIII

The Protestant Reformation is considered to have officially begun in 1517 when Martin Luther, a German monk, released his 95 Theses, a document in which he pointed out and objected to numerous abuses by and within the Roman Catholic Church. The Reformation soon became a movement that spread throughout Europe, wielding its influence in numerous countries beyond Germany.

King Henry VIII, who ruled in England from 1509 to 1547, officially pulled his country away from the Roman Catholic Church in 1534. In that year he declared himself sovereign over a new national church, which, not surprisingly, he called the Church of England. His actions weren’t theologically motivated, but we can’t fully consider that part of the story at this point. Suffice it to say that the move was a very big deal. King Henry, and eventually his daughter, Queen Elizabeth I, who ruled from 1558 to 1603, instituted a number of changes that made England’s new national church distinct from the Church headquartered in Rome. Even so, some of Henry’s subjects didn’t believe enough had been changed. These Christians wanted to see and experience forms of worship that were simpler and less elaborate. Appealing to the Book of Acts, they called for a return to the worship practices of the early Christians. These men and women became known as Puritans, because they advocated purifying the church in this way.

William Bradford, years after he was involved in the Separatist congregation in Scrooby

Another group of believers went further. Seeing the Church of England as beyond reforming, they sought to break away from the national church and form congregations of their own. In a day when church and state were intertwined, departure from the national church would be deemed treasonous. Thus, these men and women were risking a great deal, both individually and as a group of believers.

William Brewster, an imaginary likeness

In the town of Scrooby in Nottinghamshire, England, between 1586 and 1605, a Separatist congregation was formed that included William Brewster (1568-1644) and a young man by the name of William Bradford, who had been born around 1590. Brewster previously had served as a diplomatic assistant to the Netherlands. Because of the congregation’s convictions about the need to separate from the national church, the group faced ridicule, harassment, and in some cases, arrest and imprisonment.

Costly Convictions

William Bradford later would describe the situation by saying members of the congregation

were hunted and persecuted on every side, until their former afflictions were but as flea-bitings in comparison. Some were clapped into prison; others had their houses watched night and day, and escaped with difficulty; and most were obliged to fly, and leave their homes and means of livelihood. Yet these and many other even severer trials which afterwards befell them, being only what they expected, they were able to bear by the assistance of God’s grace and spirit. However, being thus molested, and seeing that there was no hope of their remaining there, they resolved by consent to go into the Low Countries, where they heard there was freedom of religion for all; and it was said that many from London and other parts of the country, who had been exiled and persecuted for the same cause, had gone to live at Amsterdam and elsewhere in the Netherlands. So after about a year, having kept their meeting for the worship of God every Sabbath in one place or another, notwithstanding the diligence and malice of their adversaries, seeing that they could no longer continue under such circumstances, they resolved to get over to Holland as soon as they could….2

Weary of the persecution and longing for freedom in their religious practices, the group fled England for Holland in 1608. They first resided in Amsterdam, then moved to Leyden a short time later.

Lessons from Godly Ancestors

The Separatist congregation stayed in Holland for over 10 years. We’ll consider those years next time, but for now, let’s reflect on the Pilgrims’ journey up until the time they made their decision to leave England. Several observations are in order.

First, these believers knew what it was like to face ridicule and persecution because of their faith, yet they refused to compromise. Their consciences were beholden to their God. Today, we need more believers like that. Persecution was just one aspect of the price they paid.


The Pilgrims’ consciences were beholden to their God.


Second, the Pilgrims apparently didn’t expect their Christianity to bring them ease and comfort. I list this as a separate item because the hardships they endured strengthened rather than derailed them. It’s never fun to endure persecution, but when we expect resistance from the world, we do not become disillusioned. Jesus said, “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Third, they took their relationship with God so seriously that they even were willing to relocate to another country in order to worship Him as they believed they should. How precious to you is your relationship with the Lord? How important to you is your worship of Him?

Fourth, they acted, not individually, but as a church. This not only served to encourage them as individuals and families; it also increased the impact of their strategic actions. In Acts, we do not see an emphasis on accepting Christ as one’s personal Lord and Savior to the extent we hear that emphasis today. Certainly accepting Christ into one’s life is legitimate; in fact, it is absolutely necessary. Yet in Acts, there was a corporate element that we seem to have lost.


Believers today need to rediscover the importance of corporate Christianity.


Jesus was and is Lord of the church. This theme permeated Charles Colson’s classic book, The Body. The Body later was revised, updated, and retitled Being the BodyWe need to rediscover and reapply the corporate Christianity the Pilgrims practiced and Colson upheld. This is biblical Christianity. The Pilgrims knew God had called them out as “a holy nation” (see 1 Pet. 2:9). They lived out the principle set forth in 1 Peter 1:22: “Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart.” Wouldn’t this perspective, if it fully were applied in our churches today, bring God’s people together in ways that profoundly would change both the church and the world? 

The Pilgrims would continue to desperately need their God and one another. Holland would offer them the religious freedom they sought, but also a variety of daunting challenges.

Next time, we’ll explore some of those challenges and how the Pilgrims responded. Their example will inspire and encourage. I promise.

 

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

top image: birthplace of William Bradford in Austerfield, South Yorkshire, England

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.

Notes:

1Jerry Newcombe, compiler, The Wit and Wisdom of D. James Kennedy, (Fort Lauderdale, FL: Truth in Action Ministries, 2013), 150.

2William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation, Harold Padget, ed., (Kindle Locations 425-432). Portcullis Books. Kindle Edition. Original print release, 1920; Kindle edition, 2016.

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, we are to work out our salvation “with fear and trembling,” indicating a reverence for God, a respect for the things of God, gratitude for the salvation He has provided, and a desire to please Him with our lives because He’s been so good to us.

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 some of the postures and actions we take as we “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 and 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.