Reconcile before worship?

I have been critical of nouthetic counseling in this blog before. I admit that I get overwhelmed at the sheer number of cases of injustice that take place in the church. Men, women, and children are cast out, shunned and slandered for reporting crimes, complaining about assault and objecting to being devoured by wolves.

In the past few years, two things have struck me. There are from time to time reports of huge numbers of people who have become sick through food-borne illness. And huge numbers of people report crimes committed against them by officers or leaders in the church. The reported numbers coming out of Protestant churches is as large as the numbers that came out of the Roman Catholic Church.

In the first scenario, the authorities do whatever it takes to discern the cause of the growth of food-borne pathogens, so that they will not continue to fester and cause illness. Chemicals, heat, proper safe food handling techniques are implemented or devised. The solution to food borne illness is to create a hostile environment for food borne pathogens.

I would suggest the same principles be applied to crimes committed in the church. Unlike food-borne illness, we pretend it doesn’t happen, excommunicate the one who got sick, and cover up and deny all traces.

Instead, it seems to me, we should make our churches hostile towards wolves. We should remove those teachings and those cultural assumptions that cause wolves to thrive and sheep to be destroyed.

One of those environments that is very comfortable for a wolf is an environment steeped in nouthetic counseling. As it departs from scripture, it leaves tremendous damage in its wake.

The topic I would like to tackle today is Matthew 5, which., along with Matthew 18, are used to great harm by nouthetic leaders. Matthew 5, as quoted by nouthetic counselors, reads like this:

23 “Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you,
24 “leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift (Matthew 5:23-24 NKJ).

Generally speaking, this passage is used in conjunction with Matthew 18, which reads like this:

15 “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. (Matthew 18:15 NKJ).

The two verses together in the hands of a nouthetic counselor turn into something diabolical, which has caused tremendous harm in the church and has caused great offense to the little ones who belong to Jesus.

Take this scenario:

A 12 year old girl reports to her parents that Mr. Smith, her Sunday School teacher, exposed himself to her during class.

The parents take the child to the pastor, and report to the pastor.

The pastor, following his seminary education, asks the child if she has confronted Mr. Smith one on one.

“Matthew 18 says that you are supposed to confront him one on one. Have you done that yet? We can’t hear the report from you until you take that step first. “

The parents ask about contacting the police.

“Absolutely not!” says the pastor. “We need to be a place of forgiveness. This will destroy our ministry and the reputation of Christ! Besides, we ought to obey God rather than man, and God tells us that we need to confront him privately first. If he asks forgiveness, you must let it go. Promise to never bring it up again.”

The parents sit in stunned silence.

The pastor goes on. “Also, Matthew 5 teaches us that you cannot take the Lord’s Supper or lead in worship until you reconcile with Mr. Smith.”

There will be three kinds of people who read this scenario. The first will be those who understand exactly what I am saying, because it happened to them exactly like I described. There are more of you that you think.

The second group will accuse me of making things up or exaggerating. They are very comfortable keeping their heads in the sand. Believe me, if you simply learn how to listen you will hear worse accounts than this one. It happens. Over and over again. The reports coming out of ARBCA, the Southern Baptist Convention, Sovereign Grace Ministries, and many, many others are almost exactly like this one.

The third group will wonder what that pastor did wrong in that scenario. The girl is a trouble maker who is stirring things up. Probably accusing Mr. Smith falsely to get some attention. We got to watch these girls. Always up to something. We must protect Dear Mr. Smith from these sorts of people.

The third group are wolves. Watch out for them. The second group might be wolves. It depends on if they will finally listen, or if they will continue to deny that there is a problem.

So first, let me state – Matthew 18 is about offenses between brothers, not crimes against God and the state. Crimes are reported to the appropriate magistrate and consequences are administered. That is also biblical. God is a God of justice as well as mercy, and the state has been given the sword to administer that justice.

But I would like to invite your attention back to Matthew 5. The two verses I quoted are used by Jay Adams in his book “Christian Counselors Manual”. He teaches that they mean that if you are getting ready to go to worship and you remember that “you have done something against your brother (or he thinks you have), drop your gift and first go and get the matter straightened out with your brother. Then…(then and only then) you may come back and finish your act of worship.” (Competent to Counsel, p 53)

I also used to teach and counsel this way. And then I had the privilege of dealing with a wolf. It occurred to me that this is not at all what Jesus is teaching, for he never contradicts himself.

Is Jesus really teaching that if ANYONE thinks that you have done something against them that you are forbidden to worship until you reconcile with them? What about those who thrive on causing destruction? Those who enjoy causing pain and lying about it?

  • David couldn’t go to temple until Saul was straightened out?
  • Paul couldn’t lead worship until he reconciled with Hymenaus and Alexander?
  • John shouldn’t take the Lord’s Supper until he brought Diotrephes to repentance?
  • And the 12 year old girl in our scenario was forbidden to worship until she reconciled with a wolf?
  • That an abused woman is forbidden to worship until she reconciles with her abuser?

This is how this passage is taught throughout the country. It is the petri dish that causes wolves to flourish quite nicely in our congregations. If your sheep doesn’t lay down and play nice, just wait. The pastor will send her right back to you and forbid her to report it. All you have to do is say a few words and you can go right back doing what you were doing.

But Jesus was no fool. Look at the passage again, and this time look at the whole thing (notice that the two verses I quoted above begin with “therefore”. It is the conclusion to the previous section. It also does not end with verse 24). The whole passage reads thus:

21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old,`You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’

22 “But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother,`Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says,`You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire.

23 “Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you,

24 “leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

25 “Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison.

26 “Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny. (Matthew 5:21-26 NKJ)

When you see the whole context, you can see that Adams’ interpretation just doesn’t make sense.

Jesus is speaking of murder in the heart. The scribes taught that the sixth commandment only refers to actually physical murder. Jesus is correcting them. There are many ways that we murder one another.

Jesus knows that wolves devour and destroy and that they do it with their words. Oppressive men and women use words to tear down, revile, assault. Those who are specifically skilled at it can truly cause life-long damage that is every bit as deadly and damaging as murder.

I read just the other day of another young girl who took her own life because of the words used against her by her evil classmates. The destruction of bullies cannot be underestimated. Suicide, drug abuse, alcohol, sexual promiscuity abound in High Schools because of the destruction brought upon souls by lawless words, at home and outside the home. But Jesus says that those who use words to revile and attack, seeking to tear down the image of God in their fellow humans will be held liable at the throne of judgment.

This is the context of verse 23.

So he then speaks to those wicked Jews, seeking to bring them to repentance. Using a figure familiar to them from Malachi 2 (where treacherous men have driven their wives and children to the altar of God, crying out for relief) Jesus calls them to remember his words.

These things can’t be covered up by offering a gift. You can’t revile your husband, beat your wife, drive your children to despair, and then show up to church thinking that a few coins in the plate will fix it.

If the Holy Spirit convicts you with your wrong-doing against your brother, stop everything. Because right now, they are covering the altar with tears crying out for relief from the judge of all the earth. Drop your gift and go reconcile with the one you destroyed with your words.

This is the true meaning. The parable at the end of the section makes no sense if Jesus is talking about perceived offenses. It makes no sense with Adams’ interpretation, which is why he stops at verse 24. But that leaves the “therefore” and the rest of the passage out in the cold.

But if you look at the whole thing, you see that a wronged brother is heading to the judge to get relief. You better fix this with him before he gets there. That’s the point.

So to sum this up. If you have sinned against someone and have until now refused to repent, refused to acknowledge your wickedness and hardened your heart against the pain you have caused; If you have torn your brother apart with words and slandered him; If you have lived in such a way that those who have crossed your path are covering the altar of God with tears crying out for relief – then know this:

The judge of all the earth is coming. He will descend in clouds of glory and judge the nations. He will recompense and bring vengeance. He will answer every cry of oppression and every tear of pain.

He will not be mollified by money in the offering plate, or external rituals.

So go to the one you have hurt. Be reconciled. Seek their forgiveness. Quit hurting them.

Before it is too late.

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Filed under Pastoral ministry, Repentance

The Point

In case you didn’t catch this, here’s the point of the season –
The human race is so corrupt, so hopeless, so depraved –
Every single soul ever born carries within an incurable disease called sin,
It can’t be cured by the state, by will-power, by education, by wealth, by medicine, by giving, by receiving, by acting better…
The proof is death, which comes for Republicans, Democrats independents, conservatives, liberals, Jews,Gentiles, rich and poor –
Every single political system failed
Every single religious system failed,
Every single philosophical system failed,
Every single self-help campaign failed,
Every economic system failed
Every system of law and order failed
– yes, even the perfect one given by God himself
The disease is so entangled through every cell of the human body, and every part of the human soul,
The rot is complete. Death comes for all.
All have sinned
All are subject to death
Nothing we do can fix it.
It is so hopeless that the only cure is God himself coming to earth in the womb of the virgin, Mary…
Not the seed of the corrupt race of men,
But the miraculous seed of the woman by the power of the Holy Spirit
He became flesh, so that we might live.
He was given a body for the purpose of dying a cruel death
He was given hands to stretch out on a cross
Feet to take the nails
A side to take the spear
A forehead to take the thorns
He took a body in order to lay it down as a perfect sacrifice for sin, that we might have eternal life.
The lips that suckled Mary’s breast were slapped by the soldiers
The face that Joseph kissed was spat on
The hands that grasped Mary’s fingers was bound to the pillar and the body was scourged
He was poor, so that we might be rich
He was despised, so that we might be loved
He was broken, so that we might be healed.
And then he was raised, that we might be justified.
When you begin to place your trust in your goodness
When you begin to think that some kind of political process will fix this
When you think that modern medicine will hold the cure for death,
Take a look again at who is lying in the manger.
The disease is so incurable that the only hope is the Word of God made flesh
It is the only hope.
It was the only hope in Augustine’s Rome; it is the only hope today.
It will be the only hope tomorrow.
Do you see the love of God? Look at the manger.
That’s the point. Don’t miss it.

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Filed under Christmas, Uncategorized

Here comes the sun

  2 But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and ye shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall.(Malachi 4:2)

This earth seems very dark indeed at times. The power and the ugliness of sin corrupts and rots the heart.

The oppression of the strong against the weak – the relentless assaults of the world, the flesh and the devil…

And the despair…does anyone care? Is anyone listening? Will this pain every end?

Will I ever get well? Will my friend talk to me again? Am I as ugly, unwanted and shameful as I so often feel in my heart?

Some wounds don’t ever seem to heal. Words are thrown about that cut to the heart. Parents let their kids know that they are unwanted, ugly, unclean. Spouses telling the ones they once vowed to love that they hate them. “You’re so stupid. You are worthless. If I threw you out, no one would have you…”

But we were created in honor. A little lower than the angels, crowned with glory! We were given dominion and the wonderful blessing of fruitfulness and life and love and unity: Be fruitful and multiply!

Sexuality was God’s way of delight and joy and spreading his kingdom throughout the world.

And how ugly it became! Instead of joy, now there is shame and guilt and pain. Heartache and loneliness. Anger, oppression.

It is an ugly, dark world and it so very often seems like the darkness will never end.

But Malachi describes the coming gospel – the Sun of Righteousness will arise with healing.

Here comes the sun, and I say it’s alright. With apologies to the Beetles.

Malachi was going for true light though, not wishful thinking. He wasn’t thinking of dreams of air, but the gospel of Christ. He had in mind the word of God made flesh and pouring out his life as an offering for sin.

All of your sin and guilt and shame was nailed to the cross, and instead of the curse you are restored to glory and honor in him. Here comes the sun!

And when the gospel is proclaimed and believed, it is as if the clouds have broken open, the first glimpse of the glorious day is seen from afar and we know…

We KNOW…

Here comes the sun. The Sun of righteousness is coming, and healing is coming with him. We know that because we have already glimpsed it. There is already hope there; we see the beginnings of a new life; a new way of thinking. So we can endure the remainder of the night, for the Sun is coming!

So let’s quit walking in darkness. Let’s quit walking as dead men who have no light, stumbling over the obstacles as blind men.

Awake, you who sleep, and Christ will give you light.

Healing is coming, dear ones! The broken heart will heal. The body will heal. The words that tore your soul will heal. Your tears will be wiped away. The scars will be wiped away. The soul will be restored, new and whole and light as air, freed from the muck and mire of sin and shame, filled with goodness and righteousness and truth.

And the filth that festers and grows in darkness will be flushed away when the Sun arises.

And we will walk again. We will rise up with new wings as eagles, filled with the Spirit of Christ, pure again with beauty and glory and honor!

Take heart, dear ones. Here comes the Sun!

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Filed under Gospel, Hope, Light

God Sees

When the church was at its lowest point; when Israel was in hard bondage in Egypt; when they had no strength, no future, no hope…

We read this:

24 So God heard their groaning, and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.

25 And God looked upon the children of Israel, and God acknowledged them.(Exo 2:24-25)

God uses our language to speak to us. He desires to impress upon us that he always hears the cries of his people. How can an infinite, almighty, everywhere-present God communicate to us?

We are finite, complex, multi-faceted, creatures of space and time. And God is none of those things.

So how does he speak to us? He uses our words. Eventually the word of God would become flesh, condescending to us so that we might know God. Eventually, that word, our Lord Jesus, would come and be the mediator of the covenant – fulfilling it all in our place. Our sins are put away in him that we might know God.

But until that day, God will speak by analogy.

He hears our groaning. Our pain rises to him. He who knew no sin and no oppression and no suffering hears the groans of his people.

He remembers. He doesn’t forget, but he does remember. He “brings to mind” what he promises. He will never forget his word for he cannot lie. But there are certainly times when it appears as if he hides his face from us.. But take heart. He has not forgotten his covenant. The Seed has crushed the head of the Serpent. Whoever calls upon the name of the Lord Jesus will be saved, for God remembers his covenant.

He looks with compassion – it is far more than simply seeing. He sees with compassion; he enters into our space and time and sees our afflictions. He does not delight in our suffering, although it is the just consequence of sin. But where sin abounded, grace super-abounded! He delivers us from all of our oppressors and afflictions because he looks upon us.

And he knows us. He knows us intimately. He loves us with everlasting, eternal, unbreakable love in Jesus Christ. We know this, not because we feel it in our hearts, but because he tells us. Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.

And when he speaks he cannot lie. He doesn’t change his mind. There is not a secret corner of our soul that he doesn’t know, for he knows his people intimately. He knows us and he gives us eternal life, for it is his desire that we know him.

Jesus said, “And this is eternal life, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.”

When you lie awake at night recounting all of your sins, tossing in your bed; when you wonder about your life – am I in sin? Does God really love me? Am I really a believer? Am I truly one of God’s children?

Remember this – God hears you, he remembers his promise, he sees you, and he knows you.

It doesn’t feel like that all the time. In fact, in this valley of tears called life there seems to be more weeping and sighing than laughter.

We sigh and groan because of oppression. We cry out because of illness and pain. We lift our voices up to heaven because of sin and misery. And we sigh because we are not yet home and long for the appearing of our Lord Jesus.

And yet, he has promised to prepare a place for us. And he will wipe away all tears because he hears our groaning. He will take away the curse, for he remembers his covenant. He will cast death and hell into the lake of fire, because he looks upon our affliction. And he will dwell with us forever and be our God, and we will be his people – for he knows us.

That is truly something to be thankful for.

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Filed under Gospel, Hope

Let not the sun go down upon your wrath

Many of us were brought up with the influential book Competent to Counsel by Jay Adams.

In that book, and the companion book The Christian Counselor’s Manual, Adams sets forth his system that became known as Nouthetic Counseling, which became tremendously influential. Many, in fact, teach that Nouthetic Counseling is the only true Biblical counseling. I have heard many pastors and professors teach that anyone who seeks another kind of counseling should be disciplined by the church.

Harsh treatment, indeed.

The first book is now almost 50 years old, and I wonder if it has brought forth good fruit or bad fruit. Theology has consequences.

But even more than that, now that I am older I am starting to see some of the problems. I am wondering if it is biblical. It is my position that “Biblical Counseling” is neither biblical, nor is it counseling.

But that thesis is too great for one blog. I would like to simply look at one example: Adams treatment of Ephesians 4:26.

Be angry, and sin not; let not the sun go down upon your wrath.

Adams’ interpretation of this passage is found in Competent to Counsel beginning on page 220. He alludes to this interpretation throughout the book. Reconciliation is a big theme with Adams. In fact, I do not believe that it is over-simplifying his theory by saying that he contends that virtually every inter-personal conflict of every kind can be resolved by following the steps of Matthew 18. (See The Christian Counselor’s Manuel, page 52 and following).

His interpretation of Ephesians 4:26 fits into his thesis. He writes on this passage,

…Paul says that Christians must not allow one single day to pass with unresolved anger stored in their hearts. The principle is clearly set forth: “Do not let the sun go down upon your wrath.” In other words, every day Christians must handle the problems that have arisen. This does not mean that others must be confronted about every sin which they have committed. There are many matters that can be covered over by love…Yet there are some things that cannot be set to rest simply by covering them with love. They continue to rattle around down inside; they fester and eat away. Such problems need to be settled daily by personal confrontation. (Competent, 222)

At first glance, it seems practical and even Biblical. We all know those people who carry anger around with them and divide and destroy one another each day. The scripture is clear that we are to lay aside resentment and wrath and malice. Walking in love does indeed separate us from the world.

But at a closer glance, and now 50 years later, we see problems emerge. He does not define which problems are big enough to “confront” and which to “let go” except the ones that one cannot just let go must be confronted.

Suppose a woman has not gotten dinner on the table on time, and her husband, who loves to bully and threaten, decides that this is something that must be settled by personal confrontation. So he rails, reviles, threatens his wife, refusing to let her sleep until his anger is dissipated, only to start it again the next day – because they have to be reconciled daily.

Before you say, “That never happens”, just stop. It does. All the time. Until 2 or 3 in the morning, or all night. The favorite tactic of a son of the devil is to deprive his target of sleep, and Adams gives him the perfect excuse. He gets to define what sin must be confronted all night, and he must resolve it or she cannot go to bed.

To be sure, Adams would not condone abusive behavior. In fact, he might even confront it harshly. His disciples often do. But the heart of the issue remains, and the husband asserts his right to vomit his anger on his wife again the next time he feels like it.

Is this truly what this verse is telling us? Is the problem the practice, or is it the interpretation of the verse? It is saying that my anger is the fault of another who must be forced to bend to my will before I go to bed? This is how many tens of thousands of Adams disciples take it.

One of the problems with this interpretation is Psalm 4. Some, like Hendrickson, simply say that Paul quotes the Psalm and uses it for his own purposes. But there is no attempt to explain why Paul quotes this Psalm if his purpose is to teach about personal reconciliation.

Psalm 4 has nothing whatever to do with reconciling personal relationships. It has to do with worship. And Paul is using it the same way, being faithful to the text. The Ephesian Christians were also subject to injustice and wickedness and persecution.  Here is Psalm 4:

Hear me when I call, O God of my righteousness! You have relieved me in my distress; Have mercy on me, and hear my prayer.
2 How long, O you sons of men, Will you turn my glory to shame? How long will you love worthlessness And seek falsehood?
3 But know that the LORD has set apart for Himself him who is godly; The LORD will hear when I call to Him.
4 Be angry, and do not sin. Meditate within your heart on your bed, and be still.
5 Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, And put your trust in the LORD.
6 There are many who say, “Who will show us any good?” LORD, lift up the light of Your countenance upon us.
7 You have put gladness in my heart, More than in the season that their grain and wine increased.
8 I will both lie down in peace, and sleep; For You alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.

This is a Psalm of David, ultimately fulfilled in Christ. David was hounded, persecuted, driven from home, slandered, and greatly abused.

Christ also, as our mediator, suffered greatly at the hands of wicked men. And it made him angry.

It is true that when he was reviled, he did not revile in return. It is true that he didn’t carry resentment around. But he was angry at hard hearts. He was angry at death, the old enemy. He was angry at the hatred and envy and lying and murder that the religious leaders stored up in their hearts.

But being without sin, Christ used that anger to worship God and to deepen his trust (according to his human nature and office of mediator), and that is what this Psalm is about.

The Lord sanctifies and sets apart. The Lord has not abandoned us to the rage and hatred of bullies and oppressors, but has promised redemption. He is coming in judgment.

And he allows us to sleep at night because he loves us. “I will lay down and sleep because the Lord makes me dwell safely.”

So at night, when your anger is bubbling over; when the blasphemy and oppression and injustice of the wicked one seems far too powerful, far too brutal, far to great for someone like you to handle, remember this: It isn’t too small for God. He puts gladness in the heart. Put your trust in his promises and sleep, dear ones, for God is faithful and true and just. And he sees.

He sees Hagar fleeing with her son. He sees Moses in the wilderness. He sees David in hiding in the cave. And he sees you.

Instead of anger at night, meditate on that and be still.

You see, Paul is not talking about personal confrontation. That makes your anger (whether it is just or unjust) someone else’s problem. Further, why are you so angry with your children or your spouse that you are trembling with rage (which is the word in Psalm 4) at them. Are they truly your enemies?

Enemies, though, can cause great fear and helpless, despairing anger. And the way to put it off is not to shut off your feelings. It is to turn to the Lord in worship.

Be angry. Injustice, reviling, blasphemy, crime, slander, destruction, senseless crime, abortion, immorality, is ugly and hateful.

Be angry at the things God is angry over. Don’t be angry that moths and rust destroyed what moths and rust destroys. That’s what happens in this cursed world.

Be angry, but sin not.

And when you are angry and what God is angry at, take heart that his anger is perfect. His justice is perfect. He will take care of it. “Vengeance is mine,” saith the Lord.

So leave it in his hands. The injustice and wrongs of the day, the folly and slanders of the day, the attacks of the day – be angry. But when the sun goes down, go outside. Look at the stars. See if you can count them. Remember God’s promise to Abraham. He doesn’t lie.

And then take a deep breath. Open up a bottle of wine. Kiss your wife. Hug your children. Get out a board game.

Cut some pie. Put some whipped cream right on it.

Look back at the sky. He who created those stars hates injustice far more than you do.

He who spread out that black canvas to paint the galaxies on hates the slaughter of infants more than you do

He who feeds those coyotes that you hear howling and he gave the crickets their song hates theft and murder and greed and adultery more that you ever could.

So finish your pie. Kiss your wife again.

Don’t let the sun go down on your wrath. Don’t let your anger consume you. Don’t let it grow into that little ball of hatred that poisons everything.

Don’t let your anger consume you so much that you miss talking to a friend, you miss the smell of the night sky, the autumn night, the beauty of the creator, the calling of the dove and the hoot of the owl.

Be angry. But sin not.

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Filed under counseling, Goodness, Pastoral ministry

Rahab and the Gospel

(Joshua 2:4-6)  4 And the woman took the two men, and hid them, and said thus, There came men unto me, but I wist not whence they were:
  5 And it came to pass about the time of shutting of the gate, when it was dark, that the men went out: whither the men went I wot not: pursue after them quickly; for ye shall overtake them.
  6 But she had brought them up to the roof of the house, and hid them with the stalks of flax, which she had laid in order upon the roof.

For reasons unknown to me, those in Reformed circles continually discuss the ethical problems posed by Rahab.

According to the strict reading of the account, she did not tell the truth to the officials who asked where the spies were. To not mince words, she lied.

Here is the problem. In her lie, she saved the lives of the men. In saving the lives of the men, she saved her own life and the lives of her family. And, to take it one step further, the scripture itself commends Rahab for her lie and states that it was done in faith.

(James 2:25) 25 Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?

So here is the ethical dilemma, for those who are wired for disputes over the law: Did Rahab sin when she lied?

On the one hand, we certainly do not want to say that the Ten Commandments are situational. Committing adultery and murder are wrong, no matter what the situation is. And the devil that is a liar. God’s people are to be people of the truth.

On the other hand, Rahab’s only other option was to say nothing or to tell the truth – either way, she would have condemned the spies to death and condemned herself and her family along with them.

So which is it? The debate will continue forever.

But may I suggest that the debate itself is wrong. The accounts of scripture are not given to us as moral tales. The point of Rahab is not the importance of truth telling. When you look at these accounts as moral fables as is done by countless children’s Sunday School books, you miss the point. The Old Testament is not a McGuffey reader or the Aesop’s fables of Israel. Jesus said all of scripture is about HIM.

All scripture is given to point us to Christ. Let’s look at the account of Rahab through the lens of the New Testament, as the apostles would have us do.

(Hebrews 11:31)  31 By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not, when she had received the spies with peace.

Let’s put the account in its proper place. The people of God, the nation of Israel, was bringing the judgment of God to Jericho. They were being led by Christ himself, the Captain of the Lord’s Army (Joshua 5:14). Utter destruction was the plan. The city of Jericho knew it, for they trembled at their arrival. Rahab testified that there was no more courage in the whole city. Judgment was upon them.

Rahab only had one chance – side with the people of God, and perhaps God in his mercy would spare her. The only other option was destruction.

We could, by the way, endlessly speculate on other options, but scripture does not. These are the only options in scripture.

When the official came to Rahab’s door, it was not an ethical exercise. It was very, very real. Save the lives of the spies and be spared yourself. Or hold on to your own self-righteousness and die.

Now was not the time for self-righteousness. Now was the time to choose a side. Throw in your hand with God’s people and the promised seed? Or be destroyed with the whole city?

So let me suggest reading this account through the eyes of faith, and learning from the example of Rahab, as the writer of Hebrews would have us do.

This world is heading for judgment as certainly as Jericho was. This judgment will begin in the house of God, and is already taking place. Incest, abuse, rape, oppression, spiritual bullying, extortion, casting out the widow and orphan take place continually – in the Church of God. Judgment is coming. And if this is the state of the church, how much worse is the state of those outside? When the salt has lost it’s savor, what will it be salted with?

Perhaps, as Rahab did, now is the time to say, “Lord, have mercy on us!” and cling to Christ, as Rahab did. Rahab saw his coming by faith and rejoiced. The Pharisees bickered over the law.

Paul wrote:

(Philippians 3:8-9)  8 Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ,
  9 And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith:

Perhaps now is the time to exalt Christ, cling to him by faith, and count our own “righteousness” as dung. Remember that Rahab was a harlot – not exactly a moral paragon. Just as each one of us, we either receive the mercy of God, or we die on our sins. Now is not the time to bicker over the law. Now is the time to flee to Christ, as Rahab did.  Her choice was to either cling onto some weird self-righteousness (at least I don’t lie) and die. Or come to Christ in the shadow of the spies and live.

She chose to live – to count her own righteousness as dung, that she might gain Christ and know the power of his resurrection.

That – it seems to me – is the point of the account. The rest we can argue over until doomsday, but it doesn’t seem to be to be a fruitful use of time.

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Filed under Gospel, Union with Christ

The Woman and the Vow

Having heard yet again that Numbers 30 teaches that every woman is under a “covenant head” who has absolute authority over every decision she makes, I decided to correct that and draw your attention to the text itself.

Before my meager comments, I would suggest that you read the passage for yourself. I’ll wait.

Now, you may have heard it taught that this means that a woman under her father’s headship until she is married and then that transfers to her husband. You may have heard it said that this teaches that a father can annul a marriage or a credit application or a rental agreement.

You may have heard that it teaches a thing called “covenantal headship”, even though the scripture only speaks of Adam and Christ as covenant heads.

But a simple reading of the passage shows that it teaches no such thing.

First, notice that it is said twice that it refers to young women still at home, or married women. God specifically, by name, excludes widows and divorced or otherwise single women, (verse 9-10; verse 16) assuming that they have enough wisdom and understanding to make their own vows. They are bound to their vows, which shows that God values the voice of a woman far more than most patriarchialists.

Second, this is a passage that has to do with vows. A vow had a specific religious meaning in scripture. To quote from Nelson’s dictionary (or any other bible dictionary you might have),

A vow is “a solemn promise or pledge that binds a person to perform a specified act or behave in a certain manner….All vows were made to God as a promise in expectation of his favor (Gen. 28:20) or in thanksgiving for his blessing (Psalm 119:12-14)…Vowing is joyful worship in faith and love (Psalm 61:4-5, 8)”

In other words, a vow is a specific act of worship. The whole point of Numbers 30 (and you can also look at Eccl. 5:4-6) is that when one makes a vow, one is bound to perform it, for God has no pleasure in fools. This is important to remember. Look again at Numbers 30 verse 2 for the context of what I am about to say.

Scripture gives several examples of these kinds of vows. Jacob took one. Jephthah took a foolish one. Even the Apostle Paul took a vow and traveled to Jerusalem to perform it (Acts 18:18). A vow is a specific act of worship and devotion.

But there is one example of a vow taken by a woman married to a husband that would be very helpful to analyze for this discussion. Hannah took a vow that if the Lord opened her womb, she would dedicate the child to the Lord to serve in the Temple every day of his life (1 Sam. 1). It was a vow of faith by a woman who was a prophet. In her mouth and in her heart, she longed for a redeemer to come out of Zion and she knew somehow that the child that the Lord would give her would lead to that end (See her song in 1 Sam. 2).

This was a vow of worship made by a woman of faith, who was also living with a husband, Elkanah. This would be a direct application of Numbers 30. So let’s look at it from that perspective.

A vow made in the temple before the Lord is a serious thing, and Hannah is bound to perform it. But the vow also involved Elkanah. After all, it was his child as well. Suppose he was furious, and absolutely refused to give his son to the Lord. That would be his right to do so. Vows, after all, were voluntary. If Elkanah was adamantly opposed to the vow, this could cause great trouble to Hannah.

What could she do? She could infuriate, disappoint, frustrate, anger her husband and live with the consequences, or she could go back on her vow and disobey God – which, as we have said, is an offense that God does not take lightly.

It would seem that she would be in a horrible mess.

And this is where Numbers 30 comes in. If the woman is still under her father’s roof, or has a husband, her vow does not just affect her. If the father or husband refuse, she is no longer bound to her vow. God accepts her and loves her and honors her and wants her to be at peace in her home.

It is interesting that God does not forbid women from making vows. He assumes that she has property and goods and strength and the ability to keep the vow. He doesn’t even teach that she should “check with her husband first”.

God cares for the wives and daughters, who are in  his image and also called to have dominion. He honors their voice and their worship; he accepts their sacrifices of praise and he hears and honors their vows. They are called to take that very seriously.

But God also knows that a vow – since it usually involved money, goods, livestock or perhaps even children – also affected the husband or the father. If he was of the possessive sort or simply did not want to give up the goods, she was no longer bound, but free.

For God would have us be free, not in bondage.

On another note, since the Temple worship and the sacrifices and priesthood involved with it all are no longer part of the worship of God, having been abolished by Christ, the vow as practiced by Israel no longer applies. But we can still live in peace and freedom which is what God would have of us.

Never let anyone bring you back under the yoke of bondage, no matter how many letters they have on their name.

And one more thing, it is very beneficial to read the scripture for yourselves and see if it actually says what you have been told it says. Don’t be threatened by credentials. You also are led by the spirit. Search the scriptures, and see if these things be so (Acts 17:11).

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Filed under Marriage, Men and women, Patriarchy

Love and service

As many of you know, my daughter is recovering from a horrible disease, that has left her brain damaged. We do not know if it is permanent yet. Today she took the initiative and got her own lunch, did her own grooming and folded her own laundry. My heart almost burst with how well she is doing.

My wife, though, has so much pain in her foot that every step is excruciating. She lives with pain that most of us will never experience. She has two dislocated toes that are not healing and the joints have been damaged so that they will not stay where they are supposed to. The doctor has ordered her to stay off of it.

That is challenging, to say the least, because someone needs to care for Margaret. Fortunately, I have a laundry system in place, I am an excellent cook, I know how to vacuum and do it frequently. Susan can sit with Margaret and teach her to read and write again, and I can do the housework and cook and clean. If Susan will follow that plan, her foot can start to heal.

But she is a hard woman to keep down. She has dragons to slay.

 

It reminds me of several years ago. I had a birthday, and Susan and my daughters gave me a huge surprise party. It was wonderful.

It was right in the middle of a huge flare of Susan’s CRPS. Please look it up if you don’t remember it. It is a brutal and excruciating health condition. We went to Italy for the cure.

By the time the guests had arrived and I had gotten there (thoroughly surprised) I could tell by her eyes that she had had enough and her pain was through the roof. I took her to a quiet place and made her sit.

I welcomed everyone, prayed for the meal, and fixed a plate to take to Susan. One man was looking at me with contempt. He sneered to a friend of mine, “Anyone that would take food to his wife is a pussy.”

That was when I realized that this patriarchial, chest-thumping, posturing, posing, “men are to be men and women are to be women” garbage was not just wrong. It was dangerous, unloving, hateful, and set on fire from the depths of hell.

And today I have no patience for it.

I cannot stand the masculine and feminine ontology garbage, as if that is actually a biblical category.

I cannot stand the bullying and the posing and the chest-thumping.

I cannot stand the name calling and the posturing.

What exactly is it that men are supposed to be doing again? What exactly is it that women are supposed to be doing again?

Tell me about how she needs to be “keeper at home” one more time. Tell me about your ideal little fantasy world and about the ontology of my wife. Please enlighten me with your ivory tower back-slapping and speculation and the twisting of the scripture to fit your comfort level. Tell me again about how the men slay the dragons and the women are to be rescued while my wife fights day and night for the life of her daughter. Tell me again about the priority and superiority of men. We are all very impressed down here on earth.

The rest of us are trying to survive. Most of us in the history of the world have not had the luxury of pontificating in our easy chairs while the little woman fixes us a sandwich.

So when you are writing your theses, the rest of us will get on with surviving. I will continue to serve my wife and take the contempt of the mindless drones who cannot see the beauty of the gospel past their own tribe and their own experiences.

I will continue to nurse my daughter back to health and continue to try to get my wife to stay off of her feet so she can heal.

So go back to quoting all of the church fathers and drinking your trendy microbrews through your manly beards while your cowed wives and children kneel tremblingly at your feet. If that floats your boat, go ahead. Don’t be surprised to wake up and find she isn’t there any more. But that isn’t my business.

My dryer just rang, so I will fold clothes. Tonight for dinner I am making mushroom risotto. My risotto is fabulous.

I will probably listen to Air Supply while I am doing it. When I get my family settled, I will pull out my books and my computer again and work on my sermon.

You do your thing.

I’ll do mine.

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Filed under Encephalitis journey, Men and women

Beyond Authority and Submission–answer to critics

I endorsed this book by Rachel Green Miller and would do so again. I am not so sure that anyone cares about that. But it is a great book and it should be engaged slowly and thoughtfully.

Unfortunately. she has received an avalanche of ugly, hasty and unthoughful pushback from those who claim the name of Christ. The hatred shown on social media reminds me of the Heidelberg Catechism QA 5  “…I am prone by nature to hate God and my neighbor.”

The dogma of Total Depravity is alive and well in Reformed circles when it comes to engaging with intelligent women.

But that really isn’t the point of this post, though I did want to mention it and caution those who claim the name of Christ.

The purpose of this post is as a bookmark and a reference to point you to three brilliant responses to one reviewer, Mark Jones.

I know that many will dismiss these voices because of their sex, but I would caution you not to do that. Remember that the disciples first thought that the women were just joking and were rebuked by Christ for not believing them.

I will not add a “man’s voice” here because these women are perfectly capable and able to slay this dragon.

First, here is Aimee Byrd:

As Mark is perplexed as to why Rachel didn’t get into theological anthropology or doesn’t address certain passages, so too I am perplexed that he doesn’t really even engage with the main thrust of her book, as if it may all be dismissed by her inferiority. In fact, he uses the title of her book as an insult, as if the whole idea of looking at the relationship of men and women beyond the categories of authority and submission is an ontological error that is in opposition to all of church history.

Second, here is Kerry Baldwin:

There is a continual problem in these discussions and unfortunately Jones is not immune from making them either. It’s all too common for Complementarian/Patriarchalist advocates to misapply feminism as a counter argument when feminism isn’t being argued for. Jones’ review illustrates this problem precisely. He opens with two terms: “radical feminism” and “toxic masculinity.” Why?

And finally (in the order that I read them, not in order of priority) here is Dr Valerie Hobbs:

The issue I take with Mark Jones, beyond his (quite frankly) arrogant writing style is that he does not grasp just how thoroughly Biblical Rachel is encouraging us to think. In this sense, his attempt at scholarly engagement is poor.

That’s it. These writers are thoughtful, biblical, confessional, and should be heard. Not because they are women, not in spite of the fact they are women, but because they are right.

Before you dismiss them, prayerfully and humbly consider what they have to say.

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Filed under Book Notes

Beyond Authority and Submission

Rachel Green Miller has written a remarkable book. But learning new things is scary.

The Heidelberg Catechism asks concerning God’s law, “Can you keep all this perfectly?” And the answer is, “No. For I am prone by nature to hate God and my neighbor.” (Q&A 5)

We inherited a certain way of looking at the world. It is a way based on hatred, rather than love. It is a way of control and power rather than mutual respect and deference. It sees the world through a lens that taints everything. It always asks, “What’s in it for me?”

It is a mindset that sees in others only potential enemies, or potential tools to be used

It cannot see beauty, for it is trained to see fault.

It cannot see love, for it is trained only in the language of authority and submission. The world is made up of slaves and masters.

We think this way automatically. Husbands, like the Pharisees of old, fear “losing their place and their nation” (John 11:48) if the women aren’t kept under tight control.

Like Ahasueras, Vashti must be taught a lesson or all wives will rebel. Society will collapse.

And the fear of losing “our place and our nation” has taken Christianity and wrapped it in layer after layer of hedges and traditions; an entire movement of added rules and regulations concerning men and women and family and society. And it is all based upon our natural distrust and suspicion of one another.

Is “hatred” too hard of a word to use? I will leave that to the reader to decide, but a quick glance at the twitter-sphere towards anyone who might agree with Miller’s book reveals an ugliness that should never been seen in the church. We’ve been taken over by bullies, boors, and cretins, who will stop at nothing to protect “their place and their nation.” These are the teachers of the law, who know nothing and enforce that nothing through trolling and bullying.

But our natural way of viewing things must be conformed to scripture. We naturally twist the scripture to fit our own views and this must be turned the other way around. We must conform our thoughts to God’s thoughts. Ahasueras must repent and start agreeing with God, “Husbands, love your wives.”

And this change is hard. We change our thinking by the power of the Holy Spirit – from the inside out. And sometimes we do it kicking and screaming, through much fear and trembling. But if we do not learn from Christ, we are none of his. We can either guard our self-delusions and protect our societal biases, or we can follow Christ and conform our thoughts to his. There is no middle ground. There is no treaty we can sign. We surrender our thoughts to his, or we perish.

Miller has undertaken a monstrous task. She writes, “We have ended up with layers of unbiblical and extrabiblical beliefs that obscure and cover up the beauty of what the Bible actually teaches about men and women.” (Miller, Beyond Authority and Submission, pg. 257).

With the meticulous art of a careful scholar, she respectfully and honestly documents layer after layer after layer of these beliefs and teachings, and then she compares each layer to scripture, calling us all to repent of our false beliefs and conform our thoughts to God’s thoughts.

And we will either repent of our false beliefs and know the beautiful, glorious, freedom of the gospel; or we will continue to live in hatred, distrust and anger, continually fearing that we will lose our place and our nation.

I would urge you all to get this book. If you were raised in conservative circles, it will make you very, very uncomfortable. If you were raised in more liberal circles, it will make you very uncomfortable.

Because the truth is this. We are prone by nature to hate God and our neighbor. Even when we become Christians, we have a whole ugly suit of armor that we were born with. We resist the truth, we fight for those things we are comfortable with, and we hate, I mean we REALLY REALLY HATE to examine whether or not what we were taught from youth is actually true.

But if we don’t change, the only alternative is to stay the same, and that we cannot do.

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Filed under Book Notes