Monthly Archives: March 2017

Christ, the Church, and Marriage

I have a beautiful muscat grape vine. Last week I pruned it. Then I felt bad, since Jesus is the vine and we are the branches. Maybe in my pruning the vine I misrepresented the permanence of the Covenant of grace. Jesus will never cut us off, will he?

Last night, before I went to bed, I locked my front door. That made me feel bad, since Jesus is the door, that maybe I misrepresented the kingdom of heaven, by locking people out of my house.

I guess that when I turned off my lights at night, I could possibly be communicating that I walk in darkness and not in the light. I should probably keep them on.

And I could go on, except now it is getting silly.

In case you wondered, these ridiculous examples show how important it is to interpret pictures and parables correctly.

Take, for example, our mystic union with Christ. It is so intense, so diverse and so deep that scripture uses picture after picture after picture to describe it.

He is the vine; we are the branches. He is the Good Shepherd, we are the sheep. He is the head; we are the body.

And this one: He is the husband; we are the bride.

And that brings me to my point. Ephesians 5 is about the union of one flesh that takes place in a marriage. The husband and the wife, through mutual love and submission, are to become more and more as one flesh – like Christ and the church.

And we have to be very careful about imagery. Don’t take it further than is intended. The common interpretation of Ephesians 5:22ff is this: Marriage is a picture of Christ and the church. Since Christ will never abandon his church, divorce is forbidden under all circumstances.

Hogwash. This is the same as saying that since Christ will never abandon his church, we also must never prune our vines. It’s silly on the face of it.

I have also heard that since Paul says that the husband is like Christ, he is to sanctify the wife with the word, and act as her prophet priest and king.

Piffle. It doesn’t say that at all.

The Husband isn’t Christ; Ephesians 5:22ff teaches only this: the husband is to love sacrificially like Christ did. This doesn’t say that the wife is not to be like Christ, nor does it say that the husband is a king, or a prophet or a priest in the home – like Christ. It merely says that the husband is to love sacrificially, like Christ loved the church.

The wife is to submit, which is beautifully explained by Barbara Roberts here. It doesn’t say she is made in the image of man, or that she is eternally subordinate, or that the husband is her savior, umbrella of protection, or any other nonsense. It simply says submit, like the church submits to Christ. She also is a Christian, and a partaker of Jesus’ anointing. She is also a human being, made in God’s image. She is a covenant creature, responsible to God alone. She also is given the Holy Spirit. But when she marries, she is to strive to be one flesh with her husband, like Christ and the church. That’s all that Ephesians 5 is teaching.

When you say that, it is best to then stop with the analogies, lest you make the husband a god and the wife an idolater.

This passage says nothing about whether divorce is permitted, whether marriage is to be a “living picture of the gospel” or anything else of that sort. It is simply an analogy that Paul uses pastorally to teach, first of all, about mystic union with Christ, and second, about husbands and wives.

It is true that God created a world so that he could reveal himself to men. He created lambs and fire and gold and bulls and trees so that when he spoke to us, we would know something about what he is talking about. So also with marriage. He gave us marriage so that when he speaks to us of love, tenderness, intimacy and union, we would know something of what he is talking about.

But we also must understand that we cannot ever know God exhaustively. Ultimately, his name is “wonderful”, that is, to be wondered at, not exhausted. He is “I Am that I Am”, self-referential. To bring more into the nature of God than scripture gives us warrant is to ultimately become an idolater.

So let’s be careful with our marriage counsel.  A husband and wife are not a living picture of the gospel any more than any Christian, whether married or single. Ephesians 5 says nothing about divorce or eternal covenants. It implies a LOT about abuse. If the husband abuses his wife, then he blasphemes the name of Christ, but that’s another blog for another time.

Let’s be Christians in all of our actions. This means that all of us- married, single, men, women, children- should strive to become more and more like Jesus. And at the same time, let’s cast aside all the nonsense in the marriage books that go so far beyond what the scripture actually says that they are beginning to sound like caricatures of themselves.

There’s a lot more in the book of Ephesians than Ephesians 5:22. I would recommend that you read the whole book in one sitting, and then read it again. Look at the whole message and see who Jesus is. That’s the point of it.

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Filed under Church, Divorce, Marriage

Just a quick thought

I don’t have anything brilliant to say, just something that has been on my mind. As most of you know, my wife has a brutal illness called CRPS. She is hesitant to talk about it, because if she says what it is actually like, she thinks she will sound melodramatic.  So she tends to downplay what is going on. But I see her eyes.

And I also know that this disease is one of the worst things that someone can get. No matter how we describe it, the facts of the case are actually worse. A normal person may describe a burning sensation in a limb. But when a sufferer of CRPS describes a burning, she means that her whole leg feels as if it is immersed in burning oil, and charring away. And it never stops. Month after month, year after year. If you don’t have it, it is really hard to imagine that something as horrible as this actually exists. But it does.

So here’s my thought that  I have been having. I hear the same things from those who have suffered terrible abuse, either as children or as adults. And what is the one thing that they always struggle with? Everyone that they try to tell is sure that they are exaggerating, being melodramatic, or just making it up. “People that are that wicked don’t actually exist, do they? You HAD to have misunderstood.”

We have a hard time fathoming deep and profound moral evil, where someone would purposely, continually, year after year after year would plot, plan and carry out destruction and pain against his wife and children. People like that don’t exist, do they? And we cannot fathom it. It is easier to say that perhaps the victim is just being dramatic…

And all of the sudden, I find myself wondering if there is a connection. It seems that for the most part, people don’t want to believe that something as horrible as this can exist on this earth. Maybe it happens to others, but not here. This belongs to another culture, another kind of people, another age.

If we admit that there is great evil – either moral evil, or physical evil – then we have to admit that we really don’t have any control at all.  It terrifies us that there is something so monstrously evil, painful, or wicked that there isn’t anything at all that we can do about it. It is hard for us to acknowledge that there is something greater that we can bear in this cursed world.

It’s easier for us to admit that perhaps people are exaggerating, being melodramatic, because the alternative is a world that is not really a very nice place to live.

But isn’t this exactly why Christ died for us? Because we couldn’t do anything to take away the curse, God sent his only begotten Son. And He WILL wipe away every tear, and there will be a new heavens and a new earth, because this present age is corrupt and fading away.

So we do what we can to alleviate the curse. We seek justice, truth, equity, medicine, comfort. And seek it where we can find it. We work for it, we strive for it. But we always keep our affections where Christ is, for He is our life.

And we also need to hear one another. Yes, horrible evil exists. Monstrous men, monstrous diseases. Almost always, the truth is worse than what is reported. We want to be believed, so we downplay it. We don’t want to be outcasts or make people uncomfortable. So generally, we skirt around the edges, and keep the pain inside. But the truth is, great evils exist. But an even greater truth is that Christ is greater than them all.

This is what has been on my mind lately.

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I Believe in the Holy Spirit

31 “Behold, days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah,
32 not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD.
33 “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the LORD, “I will put My law within them, and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.
34 “And they shall not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the LORD, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” (Jer 31:31-34 NASB)

From the very beginning, the church has confessed the Apostles’ Creed. The third section of the creed begins thus: I believe in the Holy Spirit.

I wonder, though, if we have really thought about what it means when we confess it.

Jeremiah wrote about the New Covenant. God promised that the day would come when He would write the laws on the hearts of his people, instead of on tables of stone. This would mean that there would not be a need for anyone to teach each man his brother, saying, “Know the Lord.” The reason is that “they shall all know me, from the least to the greatest.”

To understand what is being taught, we need to look at this New Covenant, as it is fully revealed after Christ came into the world. Jesus offered Himself as the perfect satisfaction for our sin, keeping the law (covenant) of God perfectly. He is called the “mediator of the New Covenant.” The Bible teaches that we are “complete in Him” (Col. 2:10), and can neither add nor take away from his perfect work. His righteousness is put on our account, as if we neither had, nor committed any sin. The Heidelberg Catechism puts it like this:

60. How art thou righteous before God?

Only by true faith in Jesus Christ; that is, although my conscience accuse me, that I have grievously sinned against all the commandments of God, and have never kept any of them, and am still prone always to all evil; yet God without any merit of mine, of mere grace, grants and imputes to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ, as if I had never committed nor had any sin, and had myself accomplished all the obedience which Christ has fulfilled for me; if only I accept such benefit with a believing heart.

And because we are now considered righteous by God, because Christ has completed the work, He has received “the promise of the Father” (Acts 2:33), which he has poured out upon his people. This promise, according to Peter, is the Holy Spirit, whom Christ gives to all who believe on His name.

The work of the Holy Spirit, according to Jeremiah (and Ezekiel 36:27) is to write the knowledge of God and the law of God on the hearts of God’s people, so that they will truly be “his people, and he shall be their God.”

To put this simply, the work of the Holy Spirit is to take the words that He has inspired in the Holy Scriptures and apply them to the hearts of the young and old, rich and poor, male and female. This is what Joel meant when he said,

28 “And it will come about after this That I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind; And your sons and daughters will prophesy, Your old men will dream dreams, Your young men will see visions.
29 “And even on the male and female servants I will pour out My Spirit in those days. (Joel 2:28-29 NASB)

I don’t want to get overly wordy, for there has been many centuries of excellent work done on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. I just say these things as a reminder, and then make this simple application.

If we believe in the Holy Spirit, why do we flock to celebrity preachers to tell us what music to listen to, what movies we should watch, how we should dress, how to be manly, how to be womanly, what household chores a man should do, how to focus on our family, what household chores a wife should do, how to educate our children, how long should our skirts be, how high should our necklines be, where should we shop, where should we NOT shop, what books should we avoid, how often should we exercise, how do we exercise as Christians, should we have friends of the opposite sex, should we have friends of the same sex, how close should we be to them….and on and on and on and on…?

Do we, or do we not, believe in the Holy Spirit?

As I was thinking about this, I saw this documentary on the Bill Gothard cult. It is heartbreaking – not just because of the results, but because of the demonic theology that allowed him to thrive in the first place. Please do not say to me, “Well he says a lot of good things, too.” This isn’t a matter of that. The devils also believe in one God. And I used the analogy on purpose. The things that Gothard has always taught have been nothing less than a denial of Christ, and a denial of the Holy Spirit.

He has taught for decades that Christ is not enough. If you truly wish to be blessed, you must follow his teachings, go to his conferences, send your kids through his program. “He made promises” one of the participants said in the documentary. But these promises can only be given by God. Peace in the home, blessings on our lives, love and joy and peace come from only one place, according to scripture: The Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22). Anyone who promises that which can only come from Jesus Christ and his perfect sacrifice on the cross is not Christ, but an antiChrist. This is exactly what the devil did in the Garden, and the sons of the devil have been promising the same things ever since. It was then, and it still is now, a lie.

Please hear me closely. God favor, God’s blessing, and God’s love come from only one place: the finished and perfect sacrifice of Christ. Israel failed in the keeping of God’s law, according to Jeremiah. So God made a new covenant – where he would “forgive their sins” and they would be his people and he would be their God. God is ALREADY our God, and we are his people, because of Christ. We are heirs to the promises and heirs of eternal life already, because Christ paid it all. He did perfectly that which God required. It is finished and done. We are not given the blessings of the covenant because we went to a Gothard conference, went through the steps, or followed his rules, any more than Luther was accepted because he crawled up the steps of the Scala Sancta. We can’t purchase God’s favor through Gothard’s home school system any more than we could buy indulgences from Tetzel!

And please do not tell me that Gothard isn’t teaching this. He may add “by God’s grace” with every vile word he writes. But writing it doesn’t make it so. The Heidelberg Catechism addressed this very problem with the Popes of old, and it still applies to every minor pope of whatever stripe:

30. Do those also believe in the only Saviour Jesus, who seek their salvation and welfare of saints, of themselves, or anywhere else?

No, although they make their boast of Him, yet in deeds they deny the only Saviour Jesus for either Jesus is not a complete Saviour, or they who by true faith receive this Saviour, must have in Him all that is necessary to their salvation.

Under “anywhere else” we might add conferences, training materials, programs, steps, devotionals, and anything else that promises salvation. Anything that teaches, “do this and live” is another gospel, contrary to Christ, and under the curse. Either Jesus completed everything, or He is not a complete savior. Any attempt to add anything to the perfect work of Christ is a denial of Christ. Any attempt to gain God’s blessing by doing some kind of work, no matter what it is, is a false gospel, and anathema.

In fact, the Bible says it will always have the same results:

19 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness,
20 Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies,
21 Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. (Gal 5:19-21 KJV)

Do not be surprised that this is what we are finding under Gothard’s umbrella. He didn’t deliver what he promised, for he worked according to the flesh, not according to the Spirit, and so reaped the corruption that he sowed. The child abuse scandals that his cult is now fighting is not an anomaly, but an expected result from the theology of the devil. If you sow to the flesh, you will reap the corruption of the flesh. God will not be mocked.

Do we, or do we not believe in the Holy Spirit? Then flee from every man who promises to hold the key to the blessings of God. They can be found in only one place. Life can only be found in Christ, who has given us his spirit, has written his laws on our hearts and has promised to never leave or forsake us.

The doctrine of the Holy Spirit is not at all a denial of the proper offices of the church. God has indeed given pastors and teachers. The difference is that a true pastor and teacher builds up the body in the unity of faith until they become no more children, tossed about by every wind of doctrine (Eph. 4:11-16). A false prophet doesn’t want maturity, but wants you to stay dependent upon him forever. He will never say, “Trust your God-given wisdom.” He will continue to instruct every aspect of your lives by his own opinion. He will continue to churn out pamphlets and power-points and blogs and systems, promising God’s blessing if you just do a little more.  A false prophet rejoices when you have been made over into the image of the false prophet. A true pastor rejoices when he decreases and Christ increases. A true pastor rejoices when Christ is formed in the hearts of his people, and every opinion of man is cast off.

When the Holy Spirit is denied in practice, the only thing that can result is bondage – not only to sin and the power of the devil, but also bondage to man. Wicked men fill the heart with terror – “if you reject my teaching, God will forsake you and destroy you.”

But God says, “Fear not. I will never leave you, nor forsake you. I will be your God and you will be my people forever.”

Let’s once again confess and believe the confession: “I believe in the Holy Spirit.”

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