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.

 

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

Challenging a False Assumption

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Assumptions Matter

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


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


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

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

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

What then, is the solution?

Affirm the Obvious!

Walt Heyer

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


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


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

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

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

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


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


Even so, it is just as Ashley McGuire says:

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


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


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

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

Actually, it’s just common sense.

 

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

Related articles:

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

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