The Home-Focused Mother

Pro 31 29

 

Put in such a negative way, who will not lose the joy of living?  But it is spotlighting the struggle side, which all vocations have share of, while dismissing the triumph side of home-keeping.  What about a stable family, well-reared children, a well-ordered house fit for hospitality, and with all these, a fulfilled woman?  Definitely this latter side sees no torture, but enjoys family life.

The sheer patience and determination is born of a principled belief in the value of motherhood.  It is not the torture of Sysiphus with its endless cycles.  Motherhood sees its triumph in children who become crowns for their generation… I submit without question that the mother has contributed more to society than any female roles.

 

 

The emancipation of women, it is claimed, is the noble cause of Feminism.  If by this emancipation is meant deliverance from the oppression of male-dominated society that has treated women as mere sex-objects, Christians should stand to be counted.  But it appears in their discourses that feminists mean something more radical.  Their cause is emancipation of women from the “bondage of the home.”

Leading feminist champion, Simone de Beauvoir, makes this vivid description of the woman’s domestic bondage,

Few tasks are more like the torture of Sysiphus than housework, with its endless repetition: the clean becomes soiled, the soiled is made clean, over and over, day after day. The housewife wears herself out marking time … The battle against dust and dirt is never won … Severe, preoccupied, always on the watch, she loses the joy of living…1

Put in such a negative way, who will not lose the joy of living?  But it is spotlighting the struggle side, which all vocations have share of, while dismissing the triumph side of home-keeping.  What about a stable family, well-reared children, a well-ordered house fit for hospitality, and with all these, a fulfilled woman?  Definitely this latter side sees no torture, but enjoys family life.  It should applaud the sentiment of Edith Schaeffer,

The mark of Christian families should be the demonstration of love in the day-by-day, mundane circumstances of life, in the many moments of opportunity to show that love suffereth long… What is a family? A formation center for human relationships — worth fighting for, worth calling a career, worth the dignity of hard work.2

Is the home a woman’s torture chamber from which she needs eman­cipation, or is it a relationship center upon which the woman must focus?  The Bible has a very definite side to this issue.  One may wish to be a feminist and reject Scriptures, she must do so openly and honestly.  But no one can honestly subscribe to Scriptures as the Word of God, and espouse the feminist view of the home as domestic bondage.

DEFINED ROLE

The rationale for the woman’s creation is stated in Genesis 2:18ff.  She is to be a “helpmeet” to the man.  This word has provoked misunderstanding.  It is often employed by those who hold the view that women are inferior to men by nature.  And in reaction to this view, the opposite side do everything to wrest this word of its sober intent.

Perhaps, before setting forth the defined role that is contained in this text, let us take a look at the whole of Scriptures.  Two clusters of Scriptures must govern our understanding of women.

(a) Scriptures giving dignified place to women

The classic representative is Proverbs 31:10ff.  It is unique in contemporary literature in its exultation of the virtuous woman. [ See separate article by Steve Hofmaier in this issue ]. Women in the Old Testament played prominent roles in the central events of Israel’s history.  This led Old Testament scholar, Walter Kaiser, to observe:

Women were not chattel to be ordered about and used as men pleased in the Old Testament, ranking slightly above a man’s ox or donkey! They were fellow heirs of the image of God, charged with tasks that exhibited the originality, independence and management ability of the ‘woman of valor’ in Proverbs 31 and were called to enter holistically into sharing all of the joys and labors of life.3

(b) Scriptures safeguarding the rights and worth of women equal with men

The feminist favorite text of Galatians 3:28 is as vigorously asserted by Evangelicals who do not espouse feminism.  This is a text that shows the absolute equality of all under the blessing of the grace of God.  This equality is acknowledged in what traditionally was male-dominant privileges.  In Matthew 5:27-32; 19:3-9, Jesus’ permission of divorce in case of adultery, which the Jews understood and practiced as a male prerogative, notably was extended to women.  Jesus accepted that they can be (and often were) the aggrieved party.  Following this train of thought, Paul’s pronouncement in 1 Corinthians 7:4 establishes the woman’s mutual right and authority on her spouse’s body.

The cause of biblical womanhood is not served by unwise pro­nouncements on the supposed superiority of the man over the female.  The common assumption is the supposed physical superior­ity of the male.  But it is only a one-dimensional measure.  Science has established that women have a greater pain-threshold than men.  There is always another dimension whether one uses the intellectual superiority or emotional superiority argument.  The structure does not stand on gender superiority.  Man and woman are equal.

Back to the ‘helpmeet’

While equal, man and woman are distinct.  Equality does not lead to interchangeability of roles.  And from its origin, the man-woman relationship in the home have clearly defined roles.  The woman is to be the help meet (= matching, comparable, corresponding to, etc.) for the man’s incompleteness.  The word does not indicate inferiority.  Recent research into the Hebrew root of ‘ezer reveals connection with the idea of strength. (cf. Deut. 33:26, 29)  Kaiser goes so far as to suggest the translation for Gen. 2:18, “I will make a power [or strength] corresponding to man”.  Rather than male superiority, the word reminds us of male inadequacy!  The woman is the strength that man needs to complete his life.

But now that much has been admitted, this text mandates the female focus in marriage.  From the very beginning, there is a role-hierarchy that God mandated in the house.  Paul affirms this in 1 Corinthians 11:9, “Nor was man created for the woman, but woman for the man”.  Also in 1 Timothy 2:12, 13 [ see my separate article, “Evangelical Feminism?” ].  We must agree that this text sees in the order of creation a principle mandatory upon all.  So says Lenski,

God could, indeed, have created both man and woman, Adam and Eve, in one undivided act.  Today many think and act as though God had really done so. But the fact is otherwise. Nor should we think and say that at this late date God’s creative act, which lies far back in time, makes no difference. The facts of creation abide forever. They can be ignored without resultant loss or harm as little as can other facts of nature.4

The resulting hierarchy structure from this order is the mandato­ry authority of the male partner and the subordinate submission of the female partner.  James Hurley observes the consistent appeal of New Testament discussions to the creative act of God,

Our examination of New Testament arguments concerning marriage has shown that the marriage relation was viewed as ordained by God at creation, with a particular structure as a continuing element of that relation. With the exception of 1 Peter 3, the major apostolic discussions of marriage all appeal to the divine institution of marriage at creation as a ground for the present ordering of it (1Cor. 11:7-12; 14:34; Eph. 5:31; 1Tim. 2:13-14). These discussions not only prescribe the institution of marriage, but also demand a particular structure within it.5

DEFINITE PRIMARY SPHERE

The mandated role defines the primary sphere of the woman’s vocation in marriage.  That sphere is the home.  This position will throw feminists into a fit of protest.  “Bondage!”  “Domes­tic oppression!”  As though, secular career has no bondage and oppression all the more cruel?  Why not the emancipation of women from the primary concern of the secular to have her primary freedom at home?  Is this not why the woman was created for the man.  Indeed, her mandated role requires her, under normal circumstances, to devote her primary efforts to being a wife.  Many a home is broken because the wife sees more the ‘well-watered plain’ of career advancement than the laborious task of home-building.

Exalted vocation of Home-building  

Our protest against feminist denigration of the home must be passionate.  Scriptures direct the moral assessment of woman in what she makes of the home.

Every wise woman builds her house,

But the foolish pulls it down with her hands.                                Proverbs 14:1

Here the wisdom (in Proverbs, a moral/spiritual attribute) of the woman is measured in terms of its impact upon the home. Note that woman is the modifier in the original, and might better be translated, ‘womanly wisdom’.  The wisdom that is uniquely femi­nine is exercised in the field of home-building!

The New Testament re-affirms this focus.  Where Paul anticipates marriage to occur, this is his instruction to the woman partner, “… bear children, manage the house, give no opportunity to the adversary to speak reproachfully” (1 Timothy 5:14).  His language indicates how Paul takes this issue as crucial to the interests of the gospel cause.  And in the collection of virtues that he urged on women in Titus 2:3-5, Paul revolved woman’s duties and graces on the concerns of the home: “… love their husbands, to love their children… home-makers… obedient to their husbands,” capped by the now familiar warning, “that the Word of God may not be blasphemed!”

In this connection, we must raise the serious issue of mother­hood, a calling without substitute.  But, perhaps, motherhood is the most unappreciated of human vocations.  This is the age of the career-woman.  It is much easier to feel valuable where there is regular salary and certain promotion.  On the other hand, educated women cringe at the thought that their BS and BA or higher will end up with changing diapers and breast-feeding.  It is thought embarrassing, and at any rate, inferior.  But is it?  Is motherhood the dumping ground for the ill-educated?  We must protest against this with every fiber of our being.

Walter Chantry corrects this sentiment,

Proverbs 10:1 tells those who are children that ‘a foolish son is the heaviness of his mother… Motherhood could not be a part time hobby… Godly women do not live for kisses and nice little gifts, but to see their children walking with the Lord in right­eousness. All of a godly woman’s hopes in this world are bound up with the children of her motherhood.6

To say that only those who can do nothing worthwhile in society should just become mere mothers is tragically foolish.  The infant life deserves the best qualified woman, qualifications that put the stress on patience of character and reliable stock of knowledge.  Of course, education contributes greatly to her knowledge and character, and with whatever livelihood she can render without robbing the home of its primacy.  But the sheer patience and determination is born of a principled belief in the value of motherhood.  It is not the torture of Sysiphus with its endless cycles.  Motherhood sees its triumph in children who become crowns for their generation.

I submit without question that the mother has contributed more to society than any female roles.  Multiply the number of children yet in their crib.  They will make up the fiber of society tomor­row.  What type of fiber that will be, depends on the hands that rock their cradle.  Some of them will end up in the gutter, largely because of slack mother (and a father who is no better).  Others will become pillars of the nation and society.  Let us not forget that behind them are patient motherly hands.  Here lies the value of motherhood — not in salary or degree, but in the life that it builds.

If for this reason alone (there are more!), it is enough to espouse this as a cause for reformation: Home-focused Mother!

Happy Mother’s Day!

NOTES

  1. Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, (trans. by H. M. Parshley) [1952]: p. 425
  2. Edith Schaeffer, What is a Family?; Baker Book House [1975]: p. 81
  3. Walter Kaiser, Toward Old Testament Ethics; Zondervan Publication [1983]: p. 207-8
  4. R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of I and II Corinthians; Augsburg Publsihing [1963]: p. 443f.
  5. James B. Hurley, Man and Woman in Biblical Perspective; Zondervan Publication [1981]: p.160
  6. Walter Chantry; from the tract The High Calling of Motherhood; Banner of Truth

The Atheist’s Option

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Not opting?  Is that possible?  Of course not.  In rejecting all claims, he makes his own claim – there is no true God.  Atheism becomes the option left for him.  In other words, this becomes his own religious confession – there is no God.  Atheism is therefore nor merely the rejection of the religious confession, it is itself an alternative religion.  But it is the kind of religious confession that has no control on what to believe and what not to believe, what is right and what is wrong.  By rejecting the option of God, the Atheist opens himself to any kind of belief.  G.K. Chesterton puts it well, “When men cease to believe in God, they do not believe in nothing, they believe in anything.

 

‘I believe in God’ – this is the first confession of almost all religions.  But when asked the next questions, it leads to as many answers as there are religions.  Which God?  How many?  How do we know him?  To take the stance of non-committal to any religious claim, there are those who assert that there is no way we can answer questions about God.  They are known as agnostics – those who forego any claim of certain knowledge of God.  As a matter of fact, they are so certain of this!  Then, there are others who also make no commitment to any religious confessions who, however, claim certainty in their stance.  They believe that there is no God.  They are called Atheists.  In many ways, Atheism is more consistent than Agnosticism.  The Agnostic’s approach is plain cop-out.  The Atheist makes a chilling dare to any God who is supposed to be there and he asserts, “You are nothing!”

On the level of conduct, practical Atheists, those who live like there is no God even if they confess to believing in one, always outnumber serious theists (believers in one God).  But there was a time when to believe in God – with that upper case G – is the natural thing.  An Atheist became one for reasons that probably did not occur to the normal mind.  But the last century going into this new one saw the development of Atheism as something acceptably natural.  There are now more Atheists as a matter of philosophical conviction.  Communism needed the premise of Atheism for its own ideas to flourish.  In 1925, the American Association for the Advancement of Atheism was established, later succeeded by the League of Militant Atheists.  The avowed intent is to propagate Atheism through literature and influence placements.  This writer recently watched a documentary report on TV concerning the active campaign of Atheists in campuses.  One leader of an Atheistic organization said flatly, “We are committed to no god but ourselves!”

But why should anyone come to a militant denial of any true God?

  1. Atheism may simply be one’s despair over the multitude of truth-claims

Should one choose to reject the religious traditions in which he was bred, and really attempt to look at the other options offered, it can really be an exercise in despair.  Even if he should choose to look at the options that offer only one God to believe in, which of the three great religions should he consider?  Judaism, Islam, or Christianity?  And granting that he opts for Christianity, which of the motley groups of churches, denominations, let alone sects and cults?  In his despair he comes to the point where he finds not opting for any claim the less confusing.

Not opting?  Is that possible?  Of course not.  In rejecting all claims, he makes his own claim – there is no true God.  Atheism becomes the option left for him.  In other words, this becomes his own religious confession – there is no God.  Atheism is therefore nor merely the rejection of the religious confession, it is itself an alternative religion.  But it is the kind of religious confession that has no control on what to believe and what not to believe, what is right and what is wrong.  By rejecting the option of God, the Atheist opens himself to any kind of belief.  G.K. Chesterton puts it well, “When men cease to believe in God, they do not believe in nothing, they believe in anything.”

Atheism, as well as Agnosticism, can sit well as partners with polytheism (belief in many gods).  Paul found this out in Athens (Acts 17:16ff).  As a city given to idols, its populace however had sense enough to dedicate an altar to the unknown God.  Is this out of fear that they may have missed one more deity?  Probably this is a confession of their own despair – that amidst the open syncretism of religions and idols, there is still one they cannot represent to their own satisfaction.  That is what Atheism is – an altar of despair masquerading as a denial of God.

  1. Atheism often boasts of itself as the scientific choice

This boast is nurtured by the false (and unscientific) premise that all that is true is a matter of scientific observation.  And by observation is meant the five human senses and the tools for measurement and other quantification.  Conclusions beyond this ability to observe and quantify are deemed unscientific and speculative.  That includes religious notions.

But what could be more inconsistent than to limit one’s system to the observable phenomena, and then make pronouncements about the non-observable?  For if God is outside the observable and the quantifiable by the scientist’s laboratory, the most that he should say is ‘I cannot tell!’  But to conclude that there is no God because He is unobserved is to intrude beyond science’s set limits.

It is the contention of the Christian that if the evidences of phenomena are given objective investigation, they point to God.  Job, even with a severely tried faith, gives expression to this eloquently:

But now ask the beasts, and they will teach you

And the birds of the air and they will tell you;

Or speak to the earth, and it will teach you;

And the fish of the sea will explain to you.

Who among all these does not know

That the hand of the Lord has done this,

In whose hand is the life of every living thing,

And the breath of all mankind?       Job 12:7-10

In the language of Christian theology, this is called General Revelation.  God is disclosing Himself to all mankind through the phenomena that we observe.  Instead proud claims of science are blind to their own limitation, and make bold claims outside their legitimate field.  Atheism is like a man who is facing a high wall that he could not mount.  Refusing to admit his smallness, he instead concludes that there is nothing more beyond the high wall.  The Atheist, confronted with the issue and claims of God, finds One who is “dwelling in unapproachable light whom no man has seen or can see” (1Tim 6:16).  In his pride, he simply declares, “I cannot see God because he does not exist!”

  1. Atheism is really an attempt at free rein in selfishness and sin

Of course, it is every sinner’s ambition to go on in sin with abandon.  Except that there is this thing called Conscience.  Assuming that it has not come to the point of hardening, conscience does something we do not wish, but we cannot escape.  It accuses us of wrong! (Rom 2:14f).  This accusation becomes intensified when it stands on a serious belief in God, specially when recognized as a just Judge of all the earth.

The act of removing God in one’s thoughts is an attempt to quiet conscience.  For then wickedness can be indulged with abandon without the discomfort of those moments of solace and silence.  Rightly did the Psalmist observe,

The wicked in his proud countenance does not seek God;

God is in none of his thoughts.          Psalm 10:4

Paul sees this as the negation behind sinful indulgence.  “Even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind” (Rom. 1:28).  God in one’s knowledge – even in an unchristian society is the guarantee of some decency and civility in human relations.  Of course many sorts of baseness have been committed in the name of God; but these are the gods produced by those who change the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible men (Rom. 1:23).  But so long as some silhouette of God’s character is retained in one’s knowledge there is restraint.  God’s justice in one’s knowledge restraints our proneness to be unfair and unjust; His compassion confronts our cruelty; and more.

What General Revelation in creation and that personal imprint of God’s law in human conscience do in combination is to leave man with a sense of God that is inescapable.  He breathes with it and moves with it, for God is “not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:27).  What then of Atheism?  It is the unnatural option.  It is a make-believe illusion.  That sense of God is still present even in the Atheist, but he kicks it into silence so that he could go on with life without accusation.

Reformed theologian Robert Reymond makes this case, “All this means that there is no actual atheist.  There are only theists, some of whom claim to be atheists.  But God’s Word declares that these atheists are not real atheists; they only attempt to live as though there is no God.  But they know in their hearts that He is ‘there’ and that He will someday judge them for their sin.  They are theists who hate, and attempt to do everything they can to suppress, their innate theism.  Their ‘intellectual problems’ with Christianity are in reality only masks or rationalizations to cover up their hatred of God and their love of and bondage to sin… Thus their ‘atheism’ is their unproven ‘grand assumption’ – an assumption, by the way, with which they cannot consistently live!” [ A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith: p. 143 ]

The Christian Confession

 Together with the basic confession of the Israelites, Christians confess “The Lord our God, the Lord is One” (Deut. 6:4).  Paul echoes this with the unambiguous declaration, “there is no other God but One” (1Cor 8:4).  This confession clearly belies the common idea that all these religions worship the same God, they are different roads taking different routes but will arrive at the same destination.  In effect, the Jews’ Yahweh is the Islam Allah, and so on.  The Lord’s being One is not just numerical, it denotes His uniqueness – that there is no other like Him.  He is not a formula that one can re-produce by just giving it different names.  He is a Living Being.  Anyone who will deal with Him must deal with Him on His own terms.

Furthermore, the Christian confesses that this one true God on His own initiative disclosed Himself.  For there is no other way that He could be known by mere creatures, much less by sinners, except if He chooses to make Himself known.  This He did – that is make Himself known by revelation.  There is an inescapable general revelation in creation and conscience rendering all mankind without excuse (Rom 1:19-21).  But even this revelation is not adequate to save sinners.  God revealed Himself with redemptive intent through the Lord Jesus Christ.  This is the saving knowledge of God.  It is this saving knowledge that we cannot attain by our efforts.  “No one has seen God at any time.  The only begotten, He has declared Him” (Jn 1:18).  The clearest revelation we have of this God is the Person of His own Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.  This implies that there is no coming to know God savingly unless the sinner bows to the claims of Christ.  This is called special revelation.  Now, all of God’s special revelation has been committed into writing.  The most complete and sufficient revelation of God for us today is in the Holy Scriptures.  It is through them that we get a knowledge of Christ, and through Him of God as our Father.

Salvation is not just about believing in a God.  it is coming to know the true God.  But that true God is One we can only know savingly in the Lord Jesus Christ, for the “light of the knowledge of the glory of God (is) in the face of Jesus Christ” (2Cor 4:6).  Obviously, Atheism has refused to take even the first step toward this knowledge.

Conclusion

Atheism is the option for the mental sloth who, in despair, refuses to think through the issues of truth-claims.  It is also the option of the proud who thinks science is the new omniscience (all-knowing).  But over-all this is the option of the selfish sinner who wants to make a free trip of his sinfulness without the cargo of conscience.

Beyond the sophisticated arguments, Atheism is really, in the final analysis, dehumanizing.  It is not what a self-respecting man is expected to opt for.  It is not surprising that the Bible hardly takes any space for addressing Atheism as a philosophical option.  The New Testament has only one place that uses atheios.  Paul calls them as those ‘with no hope and without God in the world’ (Eph 2:12).  The OT Hebrew has no equivalent at all for Atheist.  But in a memorable statement, the Psalmist tells us of how to regard this: “The fool has said in his heart, ‘there is no God’” (Psa 14:1; 53:1)!

Singleness is not Singular

1Cor 7 32

What is imperative is to determine one’s present calling.  If one is called – and duly prepared – for marriage, the partner will be provided in the course of ordinary relations and prayer.  If otherwise the calling is to present singleness, one should pray for self-control, and use the opportunity for undivided attention to serve the Lord.  Singleness is a unique condition of opportune service without the encumbrance and pre-occupation of family concerns.  It will be, for most, a temporary period; for a few, the choice of a lifetime.  But for them, singleness does not mean singular.

 

“Although many women complain about the lack of single men, did you know that there are 4 million more males who have never been married than there are never-been-married females?”  So asks George Barna of the Barna Research Group.[i]  He is describing the American situation.

Barna’s query reveals that remaining single is still slanted on fear.  Perhaps more on the part of women than of men.  As age increases, fear of lifetime singleness rises.  To avoid it, many resort to desperate mode – anybody there?  When there is no taker, there ensues a resignation to the inevitable, while desperately hoping for a reversal; almost akin to a terminal patient.  Others opt for rationalization – a defensiveness to prove that being single is superior to being married.

Single is Better?

Defending singleness as the better choice can employ many resourceful contentions.  The TIME website posted in 2014, “7 Ways Being Single Affects your Health.”  It noted among others, “You’re less likely to gain weight… You’re more likely to exercise regularly; etc.”[ii]  Then, there are witty quotations everywhere: “I like being single.  I am always there when I need me.” Or, “I think, therefore, I am single!”

But this defensiveness about singleness is many generations late.  There was a time when singleness (known as celibacy) was really considered the better choice.  This was when prudery was mistaken for virtue, sex was defiling, and priesthood (or nunnery) was the supreme vocation.  But the choice of the convent did not escape the temptation of lust.  The fornication that went on turned many of these convents no better than brothels.  Singleness, even for a religious calling, did not prove an advantage.  John Calvin reserved sharp rebuke against this presumption:

“The first place of insane audacity belongs to celibacy. Priests, monks, and nuns, forgetful of their infirmity, are confident of their fitness for celibacy. But by what oracle have they been instructed, that the chastity which they vow to the end of life, they will be able through life to maintain? They hear the voice of God concerning the universal condition of mankind, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone,’ (Gen. 2:18.) They understand, and I wish they did not feel that the sin remaining in us is armed with the sharpest stings. How can they presume to shake off the common feelings of their nature for a whole lifetime, seeing the gift of continence is often granted for a certain time as occasion requires? In such perverse conduct they must not expect God to be their helper.”[iii]

Anyone but Single?

Fear of remaining single in agedness makes the search for a partner a frantic occupation for some.  This leads women to an unpleasant style of flirtation.  Men pursue frivolous relationships of easy sex and no commitment.  This is excused as #YOLO (You only live once!).

This is not acceptable for the Christian.  Biblical standards define relationships and sexual intimacy.  At its most straightforward, Elizabeth Eliot says, “For the Christian there is one rule and one rule only: total abstention from sexual activity outside of marriage and total faithfulness inside of marriage.  Period.”[iv]

As to the choice of partner, that too is mandated.  What Paul says of widows applies to marriageable singles “she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord” (1 Cor. 7:39 ESV).  The choice is free, but within the boundary of the choice being a Christian.  To insist on a choice outside that boundary is the sin of unequal yoking – an expression taken from the prohibition of 2 Corinthians 6:14: “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?”  Charles Hodge gives this commentary:

“It is taken for granted that faith changes the whole character; that it makes a man move in an entirely different sphere, having different feelings, objects and principles from those of unbelievers; so that intimate union, communion or sympathy between believers and unbelievers is as impossible as fellowship between light and darkness, Christ and Belial… They may indeed have many things in common; a common country, common kindred, common avocations, common natural affections, but the interior life is entirely different; essentially opposed the one to the other.”[v]

A Matter of Calling

Jesus has given an explicit teaching about singleness by choice.  It was in response to a question on divorce.  His answer to a question posed by the Pharisees struck the disciples by its high standard.  They suggested that it was therefore better not to marry.  To this, Jesus replied: “But he said to them, ‘Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given.  For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.’ (Matt. 19:11-12).

Eunuchs were male servants of a royal household.  When they served the wives or harem of royalty, they were usually castrated as a precaution.  Jesus’ statement uses eunuchs in the figurative sense of not marrying.  In Jesus’ teaching, this unmarried state is a matter of divine providence.  This may be by birth, such as genetic disability for marriage.  Man-made restrictions may forbid marriage, which may happen due to accident.  More importantly, Jesus refers to those who choose the unmarried state for the kingdom of heaven (God)The kingdom refers to the rule of Christ as Lord and Saviour.  His kingdom rule became formal as a result of His death and resurrection.  One may choose the unmarried state, or lifetime singleness, to serve the interests of the kingdom of Christ.  There is an element of self-decision and dependence on the Lord’s equipping for such a state.

Paul adds what is probably the most succinct statement of the opportunity attached to the unmarried state: “An unmarried man can spend his time doing the Lord’s work and thinking how to please him” (1 Cor. 7:32 NLT).  This is explained simply:

“He offers realistic pastoral counsel, noting that those with the calling to singleness are spared divided interests that require husbands and wives to attend to their spouses desires and needs.”[vi]

Neither defending singleness as superior, nor escaping from it by any means, is the option for the Christian man or woman.  What is imperative is to determine one’s present calling.  If one is called – and duly prepared – for marriage, the partner will be provided in the course of ordinary relations and prayer.  If otherwise the calling is to present singleness, one should pray for self-control, and use the opportunity for undivided attention to serve the Lord.  Singleness is a unique condition of opportune service without the encumbrance and pre-occupation of family concerns.  It will be, for most, a temporary period; for a few, the choice of a lifetime.  But for them, singleness does not mean singular.

Meanwhile…

 The story of Rebekah becoming the wife of Isaac may provide a rather loose illustration (Gen 24).  Abraham commissioned his servant to find a wife for his son Isaac.  The servant offered to the Lord some pre-arranged signs as confirmation of his choice.  But from the perspective of Rebekah, she was just doing the same routine of fetching water from the well.  On that particular day, she was not looking for a husband; rather, she was found by the one looking for his master’s wife.

What may constitute here as a pattern for the Christian single – especially for the woman – is to live one’s life as a day-to-day responsibility to discharge, without a paralyzing concern when to find a partner.  “He who finds a wife finds a good thing, And obtains favor from the LORD” (Prov. 18:22).  The partner is both a personal discovery, as well as, a divine delivery.  We only get to identify someone in a row of people when pinpointing  a crime suspect in a police line-up!  For a partner in life, it is usually a find, like a miner’s gold.  Indeed, the Wise Man compares: “An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels.” (Prov. 31:10)

Meanwhile, make friends; pursue some choice close ones – same gender, or opposite – without first presuming a developing romance.  Who knows, you may yet be called to serve the Lord in the capacity that others were called to serve, as unmarried – Thomas Goodwin (1600-1680) among the Puritans; John R. W. Stott (1921-2011), in our lifetime.  Or, it may be that a partner has already been prepared for you.  Just keep fetching your water…

 

[i] George Barna, Single Focus: Understanding Single Adults (Regal Books of Gospel Light; 2003) p. 7

[ii] http://time.com/3446452/how-being-single-affects-health/

[iii] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion IV. 13. 3

[iv] Elizabeth Eliot, Passion and Purity (1984)

[v] Commentary by Charles Hodge

[vi] The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015): p. 2026

God’s Love? What about Wrath?

Rom 5 8

How poor is that appeal to God’s love that erodes into a health-and-wealth gospel.  Or even that which is reduced to a formula decision that ends up with a man-based pronouncement of assurance of going to heaven.

 God’s love is at its most resplendent in the darkest hour of the Cross in the Son’s cry of dereliction: My God!  My God!  why have you forsaken me?  It is a cry whose mystery is only illuminated by the concept of propitiation.  The sinner’s Substitute was drinking to the last dregs the cup of God’s judgment on behalf of His people.

 

This piece was conceived near Valentine’s Day, February 14.  As to the origin of this popular lovers’ day, the Catholic Encyclopedia notes,

The popular customs associated with Saint Valentine’s Day undoubtedly had their origin in a conventional belief generally received in England and France during the Middle Ages, that on 14 February, i.e. half way through the second month of the year, the birds began to pair.[i]

One need not be a practitioner of this love feast, serious or superstitious, to observe the power of love’s grip of the human heart.  Monarchs have been known to give up their kingdoms for the sake of love.  In 1936, King Edward VIII startled his British subjects and the world when he abdicated his throne to be free to marry a divorcee, the American Wallis Simpson.  In his radio speech to a worldwide audience, the king declared:

You all know the reasons which have impelled me to renounce the throne. But I want you to understand that in making up my mind I did not forget the country or the empire, which, as Prince of Wales and lately as King, I have for twenty-five years tried to serve.

But you must believe me when I tell you that I have found it impossible to carry the heavy burden of responsibility and to discharge my duties as King as I would wish to do without the help and support of the woman I love.

Demoted as Duke of Windsor, he and his wife were shunned by the British royals.  Only when he died in 1972 was the Duke honoured again by his own country.  A framed message in the Duke’s own handwriting was left for his beloved:

My friend, with thee to live alone,

Methinks were better than to own

A crown, a sceptre and a throne.

Powerful love, a love to the death!  But this is the most of the extent of human love, made sacred in the vow “until death shall part us.”  Indeed, death will part all human lovers.

God’s Love in the Death of Christ

There is another death that seals an eternal bond of love.  The atoning death of Christ secures those in union with Him will never be separated from the love of God.

There is no attribute of God more favored by the religious than that of His love.  Yet few divine attributes are as misunderstood.  Don Carson writes of this in his The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God:

If people believe in God at all today, the overwhelming majority hold that this God is a loving being.  But that is what makes the task of the Christian witness so daunting.  For this widely disseminated belief in the love of God is set with increasing frequency in some matrix other than biblical theology.  The result is that when informed Christians talk about the love of God, they mean something very different from what is meant in the surrounding culture.  Worse, neither side may perceive that this is the case.[ii]

The confusion on this attribute is most pronounced in its connection to God’s wrath.  To the average mind, there is a total disconnect between love and wrath.  Wrath conjures up the picture of a man ventilating his temper out of control.  But this has no semblance with divine wrath.  God’s wrath is a function of His justice and holiness – in His perfect moral purity, He is essentially and necessarily opposed to all that is impure and sinful.  You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong (Habakkuk 1:13).  As such, His wrath is universal and fixed wherever there is sin.  For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men (Rom 1:18).  Because God’s wrath is out of His justice, its only way of satisfaction is by a just penalty on sinners.  Had it been all wrath and justice, God could have punished all sinners without any violation of His holiness.

This is where God’s love occupies its most indispensable place.  God’s love taking on the demands of His wrath through the death of Christ is called in the Scriptures, propitiation.

In but a few versions, this word is missing in many English translations of the Bible.  In its place, the word expiation is preferred.  Expiation denotes the removal of sin.  The problem is that it is only half of the significance of propitiation.  Left out is the more significant half – the removal of God’s wrath.  But reflecting the rejection of the concept of God’s wrath, whether popular or scholarly, modern construction will only go so far as the removing of sin.  But in the process, they have missed out on the astonishing beauty of God’s love.

The connection of propitiation to God’s love is explicit in 1 John 4:10,

In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

With a statement like this, it should be impossible to speak of God’s love in its biblical context without its connection to what Christ did in dying as an act to remove God’s wrath – a propitiation.

Christ’s Death as turning point

 I shall argue that the most magnificent statement of the Scripture on this subject is Romans 3:25, 26 which describes the redemption of sinners through the death of Christ,

whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.  It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

The death of Christ as propitiation is presented here as a turning point in the exercise of God’s wrath.  Like any turning point in history, we speak of the period before that, and since that, turning point event; as we may refer to before 9-11, and since 9-11.  Of all the turning points in history, there is none more massive in its effect than the Cross of Christ, understood as a propitiation.

Before the death of Christ, God’s wrath was hanging upon all sinners, and in justice, God could have poured it out in judgment.  But He did not, and the explanation is His forbearance – He passed over former sins.  But with the propitiatory death of Christ, and since, God could demonstrate His righteousness at the present time.  But instead of that righteousness demanding punishment against sinners, and here is the marvellous conclusion, God can be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus!

 God can now fully exercise His justice.  But instead of sinners being punished, those in faith-union with Christ are acquitted, without any injustice, because Christ has taken the wrath of God fully satisfied in the cross.  This is propitiation – the most wonderful provision of God’s love for sinners!

In Christ’s atoning death, the Last Day judgment of wrath has already been decided for his people.  The wrath to have been poured out on sinners on the Judgment Day was poured upon Christ on the Cross.  This leaves for God’s people no more wrath to mete out (Romans 5:9, 10; Eph. 2:3ff; 1Thes. 1:10; 5:9, 10 ).

This passage, had it been really appreciated, should deserve equal footing with the most popular John 3:16.  As New Testament scholar Herman Ridderbos explains,

Christ is the means of propitiation appointed by God to the manifestation of his deferred righteousness.  In Christ’s death, the righteousness of God thus reveals itself in the demanding and vindicatory sense of the word.  His blood as atoning blood covers the sin which God until now had passed over, when as yet he kept back the judgment.  All that men wish to detract from the real character of Christ’s propitiatory death signifies a devaluation of the language of Romans 3:25, 26, which is unmistakable in its clarity.[iii]

God’s Love magnified by Propitiation

Only a man convicted of his wrath-deserving sinfulness will appreciate the depth of God’s love in sending His Son as propitiation.  Yes, let us continue to sense God’s love in His benevolent provisions of daily bread.  Let us be thankful for His merciful sustenance of our lives.  But a sinner’s greatest need is how to face the just wrath of God.  For this, God, out of His gracious love, sent His Son as a propitiatory sacrifice for sinners.

The continuing pre-occupation today with God’s love that excludes His wrath only impoverishes.  The enriching contemplation on God’s love has the backdrop of justice and wrath.  Reformed theologian John Murray puts it excellently:

Because of the compatibility of love and wrath as co-existing, the wrath-bearing of the Son of God, the vicarious infliction of the wrath of God against those whom the Father invincibly loved, is not only comprehensible, but belongs to the essence of the doctrine that Christ bore our sins as the supreme manifestation of the Father’s love… The propitiation which God made his own Son is the provision of the Father’s love, to the end that holiness may be vindicated and its demand satisfied.  Thus, and only thus, could the purpose of his love be realized in a way compatible with, and to the glory of the manifold perfections of his character.[iv]

How poor is that appeal to God’s love that erodes into a health-and-wealth gospel.  Or even that which is reduced to a formula decision that ends up with a man-based pronouncement of assurance of going to heaven.

God’s love is at its most resplendent in the darkest hour of the Cross in the Son’s cry of dereliction: My God!  My God!  why have you forsaken me?  It is a cry whose mystery is only illuminated by the concept of propitiation.  The sinner’s Substitute was drinking to the last dregs the cup of God’s judgment on behalf of His people.

That is why when a believer wants an assurance of God’s love to him today, there is no better time and place to point to than that event.  To say that one is assured of God’s love because of material provision reflects the shallowness of our generation.  Is God’s love shortened when our pocket is not full?  Or some see it in physical sustenance, or perhaps in having a nice family.  But is God’s love failing with our failure in health?  Or a misery in the family?  There is still no better way to see the present love of God than in the past provision of propitiation.  I am sure it goes back to the apostle Paul:

God demonstrates His own love towards us [ present tense ] in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. [ past tense ] Romans 5:8

[i] New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia (CD-ROM v. 2.1): entry on “Saint Valentine’s Day”

[ii] Don Carson, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God (Crossway Books): 9-10

[iii] Herman Ridderbos, Paul: An Outline of His Theology: 189

[iv] John Murray, Collected Writings II. 145, 146

Why Christians should strive for Academic Excellence

Kepler

The godly life is not the monopoly of those who are in the pulpit and mission field.  There is godliness in the shuffle of pages in a book as one does his research; or in working with test tubes in the lab; or analyzing data with his computer program.  There is God’s calling of proclaiming the good news of special revelation.  But it is also God’s calling to scrutinize and systematize general revelation.  Godliness for the Christian student should mean seeking to excel in the latter quest.

 

Nelson  Mandela (1918-2013) is one of the greatest statesmen in history.  He became president of South Africa after spending almost three decades in solitary confinement in prison.  One might expect that a man forged in years of bitter struggle would be full of vindictiveness and use his power to exact vengeance.  Not Mandela.  He used his power to do good to his divided people – both white and black.  And when he had power extension for the asking, he chose to step down when his term was up.  What did he believe to be the most important agent for change in society?  One of the most famous quotes from him is, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

The Christian should heartily agree to the extent that education is not used to violate God’s will, but to serve it.  This is to say that Christians should be foremost in promoting education; and therefore, Christians should be marked for academic excellence.

Why the Hesitation?

Not all Christians are of this conviction.  Sometimes consciously, in most cases, more of an attitude absorbed from untruthful teaching in Christian discourses.  The mind should be disabused of any of these.

There is the false application of the nearness of Christ’s coming.  Regardless of one’s eschatology (teaching about the last things), to use the Second Coming as pretext for lack of academic striving is wrong in a number of serious ways.  But just to point one: It is wrong in its idea of what it means to be ready for Christ’s Coming.  Many think that it means a special kind of preparation that renounces the day-to-day affairs of life.  That is precisely the error that Paul needed to correct of the Thessalonians, some of whom were deserting their work because of a wrong expectation of Christ’s return.  As a result, they were becoming dependent on the benevolence of brethren.  Paul exhorted them, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one (1 Thess. 4:11-12 ESV).  Our faithfulness when Christ comes will be judged on how we used our opportunities on earth; for it will be a judgment “so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Cor. 5:10).  Even on the impossible supposition that one knew that Christ is coming again on a Monday, a Christian student should still be attending his scheduled classes!  That is to be ready for Christ – to find the disciple where he ought to be by vocation.

Another thing is a wrong association of knowledge with worldliness.  The world, when used in connection with its sinfulness, is indeed in rebellion against the rule of Christ.  But the world is also used as the theatre of God’s mercy and provision.  The old divines call it Common Grace – the favours of God short of salvation.  As such, one precious favour of God is the advance of knowledge – much of which happens in an academic atmosphere.  Paul cites the wisdom of pagans: the Cretan philosopher Epimenides (Acts 17:28; Titus 1:12) and the Cilician Stoic philosopher Aratus (Acts 17:28).  Even when the source is not patently Christian, good wisdom is still from God.  “Every good and perfect gift is from above” (James 1:17).

It is true that “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise” (1Cor 1:27).  The context clearly is the contrast between proud wisdom that refuses to acknowledge God, and humility that appears to proud wisdom as folly.  This is not an endorsement of folly as such!

Whose Revelation?

A case may be made for pursuing knowledge in the world from the classic doctrine of God’s revelation.  The only way man can know God is for God to reveal Himself.  Man cannot discover God by sheer experiment or deduction.  God chose to give man a piece of His own mind.  But how?  According to classic theology, there are two ways.  There is special revelation by way of special modes in the past (e.g. visions; predominantly through prophets).  At this present time, that special revelation is now deposited in the inspired writings – the Holy Scripture.

But for man’s productive and peaceful life on earth, God also speaks through His creation – the world and humanity.  This is general revelation.  The Old Testament memorable text is Psalm 19:1, 2: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.”  This reveals the glory of the universe considered as God’s creation.  God is speaking through nature and creature!  The New Testament text connects this to the inexcusable sinfulness of man.  Paul asserts in Romans 1:20: “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.”  Reformed theologian, GC Berkouwer, summarizes it very well:

Man is and remains man confronted with the reality of God’s revelation, confronted with the sovereign working of God in nature, in history, and in human existence.  He is confronted with the reality of God who is never far from any one of us and who never allows himself to be without witness in creaturely reality.[1]

Both the beauty and dignity of the creation, as well as, the sinfulness and inexcusableness of humanity are objects of knowledge.  Therefore the Christian has a basis for pursuing knowledge that is God-oriented.  It was well-stated by that great German scientist and a Christian, Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), “Science is the process of thinking God’s thoughts after Him.”  This was a motivation for his formulating the complex Laws of Planetary Motion.  Academic sciences and arts contribute to our understanding of what God is revealing about the earth and about man.  One sees the formulas of God whether they are in the astronomic sizes of galaxies or the sub-atomic realm of quantum physics.  There is truth to Galileo’s assertion: “Mathematics is the language in which God has written the universe.”  Even if one has no predilection for numbers, he should have high regard for the work of calculating and measuring.  Another may choose to dip into the beauty of creation through arts – proportions and colours; representation and symbolism – and they too are noble.

The godly life is not the monopoly of those who are in the pulpit and mission field.  There is godliness in the shuffle of pages in a book as one does his research; or in working with test tubes in the lab; or analyzing data with his computer program.  There is God’s calling of proclaiming the good news of special revelation.  But it is also God’s calling to scrutinize and systematize general revelation.  Godliness for the Christian student should mean seeking to excel in the latter quest.

Delight and Discipline

 I plead to my Christian readers who are students: seek delight and cultivate discipline in your academic studies.

Mould your delight from the thought that you are receiving the speech of God, even if that is not from the inspired writings of Scripture.  What is not inspired by the Holy Spirit, as the original Scriptures are, will not be inerrant and infallible.  But to the extent that it is an expression of God’s general revelation, it is intended for the glory of God and the profit of mankind.  Make your course –  your subject, homework and projects – matters for prayer.  Do not let God’s speech in general revelation become an occasion for proud wisdom.  As you give thanks for your daily food, so give thanks for the feeding of the mind.

Because of the reality of sin, and the anomalies of the world we live in, it is not sensible to expect delight in one’s study at all times.  This is where discipline is necessary.  Discipline is the sense of duty to do what must be done even when delight is not felt.  It is a principle in all Christian works that one must be able to do them with discipline to expect those times to do them with delight.  He who will only perform where there is delight will never be mature.  This is true of prayer – one must pray with discipline, and in the process pray more with delight.  This is true of worship – worship with discipline, and worship with delight will develop.  Make it so in study – study as a discipline, and then delight will grow.

More than three decades ago, I pioneered a church whose first membership was almost all students.  The church was situated in an academic community.  I have seen first hand how it is, not only possible, but a reality and an imperative – that a Christian student serious about his faith will be serious in his academic pursuits.  He seeks to excel.  Those students at the beginning of the church are now accomplished people in various fields.  And they are still robust in their Christian faith.  They took seriously the words of Wisdom, and they are happily reaping the harvest of academic excellence:

Do you see a man who excels in his work?

He will stand before kings;

He will not stand before unknown men. (Prov. 22:29 NKJ)

 

[1] GC Berkouwer, Studies in Dogmatics: General Revelation: (Eerdmans Publishing; 1973): 162

‘I know who holds the future’ of 2018

Ecc 7 14

The Economist issue on “The World in 2018” is summarized succinctly by its editor thus: “It promises to be a nerve-jangling year.”  So it may prove to be.

Futurology is the study of future possibilities based on current trends.  That it uses scientific tools differentiates it from divining out of crystal balls or tarot cards.  There is certainly nothing wrong with that.  In fact, it is responsible to use current patterns – economic, political, demographic; etc. – to extrapolate expectations.  Proper preparations can then be set up.

That conceded, a Christian must be alert to the pride that often attends such prognostications.  The future that experts predict as sure has so often bombed.  We are periodically inconvenienced by a failed weather forecast.  Investments deemed to earn sure profit fall flat.  Stock  markets jitter between bear and bull.  And need we be reminded of who, the polls were sure, to win the last American presidential elections?  Overheard of a crew member trying to assure an anxious passenger of the Titanic were the words, “Madam, even God cannot sink the Titanic!”  Whether or not the story really happened, it is an everyday fact that human pride excludes God from consideration of the future.

While we do our responsible preparations for what the future may bring, it must be in humble spirit.  It is balance that is struck by biblical Wisdom: The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the LORD. (Prov. 21:31 ESV).  Whatever the battle confronting us, there is to be due readiness with all tools and implements at disposal.  This applies to our academic studies, our jobs and commerce, and national plans.  But behind even the most meticulous planning should be the humble recognition that only God’s favour can give success.  So James advises for every human plan, you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that’ (Jas. 4:14-15).

James touches the most basic of human limitations: you do not know what tomorrow will bring.  This is true of the tomorrow of the next 24 hours; and that of the next 365 days of 2018.  It calls for humility that casts oneself upon the God who alone knows and holds the future.  The Lord is jealous for His sovereignty over the future.  Against the false gods of Babylon, He claims for Himself: I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose’ (Isa. 46:9-10).

But in our generation, to be told that one is unable to shape his future by himself goes against present wisdom.  Bookstores are littered with bestsellers that assure their readers, Your best life now!  It is pride that will laugh at the words of the song, I do not know what lies ahead / The way I cannot see / Yet One stands near to be my Guide / He’ll show the way to me!

Without the assurance of the God who holds the future, anticipating that future will alternate between a fearsome darkness, or a prideful path.  One may face the future like Dylan Thomas, Rage, rage against the dying of the light!  Or else, own the resolve of William Ernest Henley, I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul!

Neither is acceptable to the believer who has learned to submit to God in His sovereign control.  That submission will not yield to a fearsome darkness of superstition, nor will it own a prideful path of self-direction.  Instead it confesses in the wise words of biblical Wisdom: In the day of prosperity be joyful; but in the day of adversity consider: Surely God has appointed the one as well as the other, so that man can find out nothing that will come after him (Ecclesiastes 7:14).  The Christian will own every line of that song, adding its plea:

I know who holds the future,

And He’ll guide me with His hand.

With God, things don’t just happen,

Everything by Him is planned.

So as I face tomorrow,

With its problems large and small,

I’ll trust the God of providence,

Give to Him my all.

A God-blessed future for everyday of 2018 to all!

Making a Stand

Teaching

Did Martin Luther really say, ‘Here I stand.  I can do no other.  So help me God!’?  That statement, after all, creates the drama of that speech in the Diet of Worms in 1521.  To remove it is like saying that Douglas MacArthur never had his I shall return moment.   Or that Han Solo never said to Skywalker, May the force be with you.  Or that Apollo 13 did not call to base, Houston, we have a problem!  To eliminate that line gives the feeling of an amputation of a precious part.

Many scholars are of the belief that the dramatic line of Luther’s speech was a later addition, not part of the original.  The line was in the earliest printed version of the speech.  But it was not in the minutes, the on the spot record, of the Diet.  I have this weird idea that probably, at that point, the recorder(s) of the minutes was himself riveted by the drama of the moment, and skipped that line – and someone else was making his own on the spot record, which found its way in the printed version.

Of course, that cannot be the way we write history.  The Reformation historian, Heiko Oberman, in his masterful Luther: Man Between God and the Devil (English edition Yale, 1989), suggests the following as original in Luther’s speech:

Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Holy Scriptures or by evident reason – for I can believe neither pope nor councils alone, as it is clear that they have erred repeatedly and contradicted themselves – I consider myself convicted by the testimony of Holy Scripture, which is my basis; my conscience is captive to the Word of God. Thus I cannot and will not recant, because acting against one’s conscience is neither safe nor sound. God help me. Amen.[i]

But ultimately, does it really matter if that line was uttered or not?  To me, the most profoundly radical line is in the words: My conscience is captive to the Word of God.  And because of that, Luther made the stand that he did, whether or not he uttered the dramatic words.  He made a stand that defied the most powerful institution of that period.  Because he made a stand, history changed course.

This poses a penetrating question to each of us who espouses the principles of the Reformation in our own generation.  Are we making a stand where it is most challenging?

 

Making a Stand in a Roman Catholic Household

 Living in a society where more than 80% of households are Catholic, any member of such household who experiences gospel conversion is immediately cast into a gauntlet.  Because the challenged party is of loved ones, it makes the dare even more excruciating.  That many families today happily recognize and practice freedom of religion for their own members does not make the decision to make a stand any less poignant.

There is a significant number, however, that is still saddled with Middle Ages intolerance.   For any member of its own household changing religious affiliation is unacceptable rebellion.  Short of the honor-killing that still transpires in Islamic household, there are other options, such as, disinheritance, ostracism, and banishment from home.  Under these conditions, many converts choose to be silent; and some of them still go through the motions of Catholic rituals in the family – e.g. rosary and mass.  One must exercise every sympathy for those who choose this option.  But at the end of the day, it is a lamentable compromise – a failure to make a stand.

It was Jesus who challenged loyalties in His words, Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.  And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. (Matt. 10:34-38 ESV)

No religious faith promotes family faithfulness and dutifulness more than does the Judeo-Christian religion.  But such is the world-altering impact of the kingdom of Christ.  Since its inauguration in the death-resurrection of the Christ-event, all who will become members of His kingdom, those who submit allegiance in faith to His Lordship, must have no greater authority over them – not the state; and no greater love – not even the family.  A member of the kingdom of Christ will love his family even more – for the sake of Christ.  But he will not, and must not, on account of love for family, abandon Jesus in His demands as Lord.

This is where a gospel convert in a Catholic family is being called to make a stand.  To make a stand is not to abandon the family.  That is what cults on the fringe will tell their followers; not the Christian gospel.  A converted husband or wife will be even more loving and faithful to the spouse; and a converted son or daughter will be the more obedient and compliant to parents.  What marks their stand is the Lordhsip of Christ giving the direction, the motivation, and yes, also the limitation in the practice of their relationship.

The discovery of the gospel of grace would have exposed the contradiction of Catholic rituals and their false hope in human righteousness.  A true believer glories in what the Reformers call alien righteousness that is in Christ.  A believer’s liberation from self-righteousness would bring with it a similar change of judgment as Paul had of his Judaism: I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ (Phil. 3:8 ESV).

 

Making a Stand in a Compromised Evangelical Church

Rather than an easier challenge, being in an Evangelical church renders making a stand even more agonizing.  Presumably, that is where the believer might have found his converting faith in the gospel.  His commitment to his church would have been animated with gratitude for saving grace.  The people in that church, he would be counting as brethren as dear as, if not more than, his own family.  The leaders, the pastor especially, would be like his spiritual fathers.

But it is often the case that what he has learned to accept as his spiritual abode is challenged by the discovery of Reformation truths, long hidden from him.  He discovers a teaching of grace that has much more depth than what he is wont to hear from the pulpit as no more than opposite to salvation by works.  He learns that grace is the free disposition of the sovereign God.  Knowing that the giving of grace to whom He wills is God’s choice in eternity – unnerving at first – discovers the sinner’s utter unworthiness.  While in his young days, he has accepted the definition of grace as undeserved favor, this is still different from what he now knows as the doctrines of grace.

Reformation truths would have also exposed something wrong about the method of evangelism that he has been taught is the way to get sinners saved.  A few spiritual notions to share which once accepted, there is a ready formula of a sinner’s prayer he was trained to dictate – and then assure the prospect that he has been saved and is going to heaven, and never to doubt it.  He once enjoyed the simplicity of it all.  He joined the chorus of Amen! by the crowd once the pastor reported so many number of decisions for Christ.  Of course, he wondered why many of those so pronounced never showed any sign of change.  But then, after all, he was taught that there was a category of Christians who remained worldly – they were still going to heaven, though without reward.  Carnal Christians, that is what they were called.

This exposes for him another issue.  Where has holiness gone?  The teaching he received is to the effect that holiness is a second blessing that many, unfortunately, never attain to.  They remain unsanctified most, or even all, of their lives.  But he was told it was unkind to doubt that they were true Christians.  Until he hears the Reformation challenge that restores some truths taught from the long past.  He is reminded that there is a warning, For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace (Rom. 8:6 NKJ).  There is also the exhortation, Pursue… holiness, without which no one shall see the Lord (Heb 12:14 NKJ).  Does this not sound like, no holiness no heaven?  He never hear such a principle in his evangelical church.

As more of the old truths pile up in this Christian, he will soon come to a denouement.  He comes to the conclusion – he may have been avoiding for as long as he could – that his beloved evangelical church is compromised!  What is he to do?  It will be wrong to suggest that making a stand immediately leads to separation.  He will seek what he could do to influence the church to the ways of reformation.  The right balance is to accept that we are in an imperfect church, but that imperfection is not a cover for the degeneration of a church.  The Confession of faith strikes this balance:

The purest churches under heaven are subject to mixture and error; and some have so degenerated as to become no churches of Christ, but synagogues of Satan; nevertheless Christ always has had, and ever shall have a kingdom in this world, to the end thereof, of such as believe in Him, and make profession of His name.[ii]

After trying everything to influence for reformation, and to find that the leadership, instead, is digging its heels for a stand on the compromised ways, a believer must come to a point of decision.  Will he make a stand?  To do so is like tearing his own flesh and breaking his bones.  Many choose to just grit their teeth amidst the falsehood, and they stay on.  It is a miserable decision.

 

Martin Luther made a stand as a Catholic monk in defiance of his beloved Church.  The decision of Luther in the 16th century extends the challenge to us, 500 years since, in this 21st century.  Not to make a stand is the easier option.  It does not make ripples of trouble.  It courts no enemies.  It bears no burden of conflict.  It is to live in quietude.  But it is the immobility of the comatose – just barely living without changing course.

But one cannot catch the infection of the Reformation without being called to make a step of conscience.  Whether one has a dramatic line is immaterial.  It is imperative that one should be of the conviction, My conscience is captive to the Word of God.  That is the man who will make a stand.

 Let goods and kindred go,

This mortal life also;

The body they may kill:

God’s truth abideth still,

His kingdom is forever.

 

[i] Cited in Christian History # 34: Luther’s Early Years

[ii] 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith: XXVI. 3