Responding to the Arguments for Divorce and Remarriage

Having already set the table with the basic arguments for two major positions regarding divorce and remarriage, I am going to try to step fully into each perspective and refute the other from its vantage point. Taking on the glasses of those who oppose divorce in all instances, I offer the following responses in blue to the major reasons presented by the pro-divorce side (not intended to be a pejorative term).

1.       Jesus’ clearly gave an exception multiple times (Matt. 5:32 and 19:9).
Matt. 5:32 is part of a famous sermon that would have been heard everywhere Jesus preached. He also repeated the exception clause (except for fornication) in the lengthiest passage in the NT dealing with divorce (Matt. 19:3-12). The most natural reading of this clause permits divorce today. This is probably the strongest reason to allow divorce because not only is it repeated, but it appears to be the obvious meaning of the text.

First, it should be noted that if this argument fails, then the strongest leg of this position is gone. Why is that so? Because without this 3-word expression (μη επι πορνεια), we have Jesus’ words from three gospels repeatedly rebuking divorce and remarriage (Matthew 5:32; 19:3-12; Luke 16:18; and Mark 10:2-10) in unqualified terms. This is Jesus’ only qualification when he otherwise prohibits divorce. Paul’s words in 1 Cor. 7:15 are less clear and are only found in one epistle as compared to four places in three gospels.

In response to this statement of Jesus’ I would include the observations previously noted about Matthew’s “exception clause.” They are copied here with some added comments.

  • When asked by the Pharisees if a man may divorce his wife for every cause, Jesus’ first answer is phrased in such a way that the reader does not expect any exceptions (Matt. 19:1-6). The exception clause did not come immediately to his lips, but rather a firm denial of divorce.
  • After his first answer denying divorce, and after the exception clause answer, when clarifying with his surprised disciples in the house, he confirms no divorce and no remarriage without an exception (Mark 10:10-12).
  • The disciples were surprised by Jesus’ answer which means that he did not take either the liberal (divorce for any reason) or conservative (divorce for adultery) school. Their response (“If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.”) as well as their asking him privately (“in the house they asked him again” Mark 10:10) indicates surprise. What can account for that? In Romans 9, a key argument for unconditional election is that the objections Paul answers (9:14 and 18) will only be raised if unconditional election is the theological conclusion Paul is arguing for. We know the true interpretation of the passage because of the response of the hearers. The same applies here since the disciples, like the Pharisees, would have expected Jesus to side with Hillel or Shammai. What reason would they have for being surprised if Jesus sided merely with the conservative position that divorce is bad, but there are valid reasons for being divorced? This question must be addressed for the divorce position to stand confidently. In fact, if someone from this position holds firmly to the clarity of the exception clause, then their opponent could just as viably hold firmly to the clarity of the disciple’s surprise. To paper over their response to Jesus’ sounds as convincing as those who oppose divorce and remarriage without a full recognition of how formidable the exception clause is to their position.
  • Matthew 1:19 gives an example of divorce within the betrothal period. Matthew could have recorded the exception clause that Mark and Luke left out because he had already illustrated it for his readers in the first chapter. Joseph was righteous, but he was going to divorce a woman with whom he had never been intimate.
  • Deut. 22:23-29 shows that adultery during betrothal and before physical relations was a far more serious crime than fornication after. Adultery during betrothal could have deserved death. Whereas pre-marital relations could have deserved marriage. In the NT, a number of the death penalty offenses were changed, but the point here is that adultery during betrothal was a potential that had to be dealt with in the law. Jesus knew the law as well as human nature, so it would make sense that he deal with betrothal adultery here.
  • Mark and Luke were written to larger and Gentile audiences who would not have understood betrothal so it makes sense that they did not include the exception clause. Those who support divorce in some instances need to offer a viable reason for why Mark who, in a relativity brief, fast moving gospel, extends his treatment of divorce yet leaves out three Greek words that make such a huge difference. Mark saw this topic as worthy of extended discussion, yet he left out the three words that would have made the entire thing understandable!
  • 1 Cor. 7 explains divorce using Jesus’ teaching about marriage and divorce (7:10) yet does not reference the exception clause which would be an obvious fit here. If Jesus’ was allowing for divorce why is Paul silent about fornication as grounds and unclear even about desertion? This observation does not disprove the divorce position, but it should cause the exegete to pause especially in light of the other flags.
  • Romans, 1 Corinthians, Mark, and Luke were written to groups of Christians before Matthew was written. They all treat divorce, and yet none of them allow for divorce on the grounds of fornication. It is difficult to understand why these other sources would not mention this major difference for the many believers that would never have access to Matthew’s gospel. All the Gentile readers for many years would have had access only to documents which do not allow for divorce because of fornication. How many years passed before Matthew was in common circulation among Gentile churches? Probably, enough time would have passed for these believers to form an ethical culture before they read the first gospel. Then, according to the divorce position, they would all be allowed to divorce and remarry in cases of fornication where previously they had been bound. Again, it is merely a cause to slow down the train of confidence, not to win the debate. But it should at least slow the train.

In conclusion, the exception clause when viewed in light of the Jewish background of its original recipients, other flags in Matthew 19, and observations from the rest of the NT is not nearly as clear as may be taken with a first reading. We can validly say, “It probably allows for divorce” or “It possibly allows for divorce”, but to say that it unequivocally settles the matter is too much dogmatism in light of the entire textual evidence.

2.       Allowing divorce and remarriage for the injured party is a demonstration of mercy and grace.
This is a theological reason culled from dozens of statements throughout the Psalms about the lovingkindness of God. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for missing the major points of the faith one of which was mercy (Matt. 23:23). The fruit of His Spirit include love and kindness. The merciful will inherit the earth. God endures the wicked and even gives them many blessings for a long time before the final judgment. David served Mephibosheth. And on and on, the proof texts and examples go throughout Scripture of God’s delight in mercy. What could be more gracious and merciful than allowing someone bruised through a terrible marriage to get relief with a divorce and then peace with a second marriage to a godly Christian?

This argument is as much pastoral as it is theological. If we were locked away with books handing down decisions for others to put in place, we may not put as much store by this particular reason. But we all have prayed with and counseled friends, brothers, sisters, and parents who have lived in painful, abusive, unfaithful relationships.

From an exegetical standpoint, however, this argument is not conclusive. Allowing divorce and remarriage is only merciful if it is the will of God. If it is not the will of God, then the most merciful thing is to strengthen the wounded spouse for healing and perseverance while hoping for our Lord’s return. Many of His choicest servants have lived and died in bitter pain only to awaken to the joy of Aslan’s country. While I find this argument very persuasive when I am actually speaking with people, when I am in my study, there is no meat to it.

3.       The binding that Paul references in 1 Cor. 7:15 probably means “bound to marriage.”
He uses that same picturesque term in 7:39 where it clearly refers to being bound to marriage. If we are bound to marriage there, why would 7:15 not refer to marriage? This seems like the most natural, surface reading of the passage. On top of that, other interpretations of this passage stretch the natural flow of language and the context.

First, we should notice that if this verse represents Paul admitting divorce for desertion it is the only place in the Bible by any author where desertion is grounds for divorce. The argument is furthermore based on two words “bound” and “peace” rather than a grammatically clearer phrase such as Matthew’s exception clause.

Secondly, even if the binding refers to marriage, could it not mean bound to continue trying to reconcile? The believer may relax his efforts at coaxing his spouse to counseling or inviting her to church. He is called to peace that allows him to resign himself to his wife’s departure without any guilt that he needs to do more.

Another way to understand the binding speaks of bound to guilt. If a man’s wife wants to leave him, and he tries to keep the covenant, he need to be driven to despair in his guilt, but live at peace knowing that God has granted his beloved peace even in the midst of the storm. Romans 7:3-4 seems to support that view since the death to the law there frees the believer from the guilt brought on by the law. A Christian is freed from that. In 1 Corinthians, Paul could be reminding them of that same truth: “Do your best to work out the marriage, brother, and then trust that God is not angry with you. You are not right to feel constantly guilty as if you could have forced her to repent.”

Finally, Paul’s words to the believer are passive. It is the unbeliever who actively divorces the believer. The believer is merely unbound (a passive voice). What unbinds him? The unbeliever’s action of divorcing the believer. The believer is not given permission to dissolve the covenant since the divorce that loosed him from guilt and bondage to reconcile was already committed by the unbeliever. So, even if the bondage refers to marriage, the believer has been passively loosed from it by the active divorce of the unbeliever thus the ethical conclusion is the same.

The binding could refer to marriage, but since the active agent of the divorce is the unbeliever (“the unbelieving partner separates…” 7:15), the believer does not receive from Paul in this verse the right to initiate. The binding could also refer to reconciling the marriage or to guilt about the divorce. Ultimately, it would seem that each of these options arrives at the same place.

If this passage allows for believers to initiate divorce it does not allow for it explicitly. At best, this passage is doubtful owing to its shortness (one word not repeated or expanded on) and equivocal language.

4.       1 Cor. 7 sets up several “rules” and then offers exceptions to those rules. So, we should expect an exception to the prohibition to divorce.
There is an exception to staying single: Marriage is better than ongoing temptation (7:1-2). There is an exception to paying your conjugal debts: fasting (7:5). Marital and family issues are so varied and complicated, there must be exceptions. Even though the general rule is no divorce, there are sad, sickening, and even terrifying circumstances that call for exceptions. Paul knew about human nature and so he included exceptions for these kinds of abuse and desertion.

This argument carries very little force. It would be nice icing on the cake if the cake were already baked. But that begs the question of whether the cake is in the oven or whether we are fasting that day. We can admit that 1 Cor. 7 has a number of exceptions to its rules because that does not prove that this rule has an exception. There are other rules in chapter 6 as well as later in chapter 7 that do not have exceptions.

5.       Ezra seemed to bless divorce under certain circumstances (Ezra 10:1-14).
Ezra as the spiritual leader and the people both took responsibility to break up marriages. The reasons for divorce may have changed for the NT, but the barest conclusion to take away from this account is that divorce is sometimes blessed by God.

It is unclear if God blessed these divorces. He may have been pleased with the wholehearted spirit directed toward His glory (Ezra 10:1), but not been pleased with all the actions taken in his name. Questionable decisions were made by others in the OT without a rebuke in the text.

This may have been God’s directive for the nation of Israel at that time. He knew the situation and all factors involved. If He chose to ordain those divorces, then we must fit that into His other legal claims that are no longer binding on NT believers. The laws of levirate marriage as well as laws regarding marriage of slaves (Exodus 21:4-11, etc.) would be two examples of marital ethics that have been expressly changed for NT believers.

6.       God divorced Israel in Jeremiah 3:8.
When Israel sinned against her “husband” the offended party acted to give a certificate of divorce.

Proposition 1: God had the right and exercised the right to divorce His bride for her unfaithfulness.
Proposition 2: I must be like God.
Conclusion: I have the right and may exercise the right to divorce my bride for her unfaithfulness.

Whatever “divorce” God offered Israel, it was entirely consonant with his eternal and unchanging love for her. It also fit with his explicit desire 4 verses later that she return to Him. God’s divorce of Israel appeared to be temporary and did not abate His wooing, open love for Her. It certainly did not cause Him to choose another wife.

We who live in a modern state of legalities may not understand what exactly God’s divorce paper meant to Israel, but we can easily see that He did not dissolve the covenant. So we must not throw out the substance of the argument which is clear—God never changed His manner of love toward Israel—because legal terminology has changed over millennia.

7.       This is the most common position today as well as being found in the Westminster Confession of Faith.
The accumulated wisdom of years means the evidence must be very strong to oppose it. They had the Holy Spirit as well as we. So, why would we depart from the position that is far more common?

Interestingly, the Baptist Confession does not have the paragraphs that allow for divorce. Also, the WCF admits that divorce during betrothal was a valid claim to be considered. (See WCF 24.5)

This argument does not have the force of Scripture so it deserves to be treated lastly. But it does deserve at the least real caution when a man arrives at a conclusion that godly brothers who love and know Scripture oppose. However, since many of these giants of the faith had other obvious hermeneutical errors such as paedo-baptism, it is not too difficult to imagine them being wrong on a less clear issue.

 

 

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Arguments Forbidding Divorce and Remarriage

Having briefly listed the arguments allowing for divorce and remarriage, we proceed to an annotated summary of the arguments against divorce and remarriage. This post is longer because of the observations about the exception clause, but I’m trying to treat both sides fairly.

1.    Christ does not divorce his bride (Eph. 5:31-32).
Proposition 1: Jesus will never divorce His bride.
Proposition 2: I must be like Jesus.
Conclusion: I must never divorce my bride.

According to this argument, divorce testifies against the gospel in a similar, but converse way to marriage’s support of the gospel.

2.    Romans 7:2-3 builds its illustration on the premise that only death can break the marriage bond.
The point of the illustration loses its power if other reasons could validly release the woman from her covenant. Paul wants to say that only one thing can release us from the guilt of the law. The absolute ending of that guilt which happened through Christ on the cross. There are no other options for how to remove the law’s just condemnation.

As an illustration of the singular solution to this problem, Paul chooses marriage. Only the spouse’s death can give freedom to leave the marriage. And once freed, the wife may remarry. The theological reality that was supposed to be clearly communicated by this picture is that the believer has only one hope of release from the law’s grip. Since that is the theological point Paul is making, then we know that the illustration must support that. Marriage has no other valid outlets except death.

3.    No man should separate a married couple (Matt. 19:6).
When a similar construction is found in John 10:28 (“No one will snatch them out of my hand”), it is clear that the “no one” includes the person himself. No one should try to take them out of God’s hand, and were someone to try, it would not be successful. The grammar in Matt. 19:6 communicates an ethical duty: it is wrong to attempt to separate a husband and wife (that which God has joined).

Commenting on this passage MacArthur says, “[N]o man—whoever he is or wherever he is or for whatever reason he may have—has the right to separate what God has joined together. … In the ultimate sense, every marriage is ordained of God and every divorce is not.”  He goes on to argue for divorce in Matt. 19:9, but in his comments on 19:6 he explains the text as it stands on the surface.

4.    God hates divorce which implies that He would not endorse exceptions for it (Mal. 2:16).
Something that God hates should surely be something we stay far away from. Is there any doubt? Is there any level of uncertainty? Then why get near to something God hates? The reasons must be overwhelming for a lover of God to choose to do something that the Master has expressly condemned as abhorrent to His holiness.

5.    The exception clause of Matthew 5:32 and 19:9 is doubtful.
A.    When asked by the Pharisees if a man may divorce his wife for every cause, Jesus’ first answer is phrased in such a way that the reader does not expect any exceptions (Matt. 19:1-6). The exception clause did not come immediately to his lips, but rather a firm denial of divorce.

B.    After his first answer denying divorce, and after the exception clause answer, when clarifying with his surprised disciples in the house, he confirms no divorce and no remarriage without an exception (Mark 10:10-12).

C.    The disciples were surprised by Jesus’ answer which means that he did not take either the liberal (divorce for any reason) or conservative (divorce for adultery) school.

D.    Matthew 1:19 gives an example of divorce within the betrothal period. Matthew could have recorded the exception clause that Mark and Luke left out because he had already illustrated it for his readers in the first chapter. Joseph was righteous, but he was going to divorce a woman with whom he had never been intimate.

E.    Deut. 22:23-29 shows that adultery during betrothal and before physical relations was a far more serious crime than fornication after. Adultery during betrothal could have deserved death. Whereas pre-marital relations could have deserved marriage. In the NT, a number of the death penalty offenses were changed, but the point here is that adultery during betrothal was a potential that had to be dealt with in the law. Jesus knew the law as well as human nature, so it would make sense that he deal with betrothal adultery here.

F.    Mark and Luke were written to larger and Gentile audiences who would not have understood betrothal so it makes sense that they did not include the exception clause.

G.    1 Cor. 7 explains divorce using Jesus’ teaching about marriage and divorce (7:10) yet does not reference the exception clause which would be an obvious fit here.

H.    Romans, 1 Corinthians, Mark, and Luke were written to groups of Christians before Matthew was written. They all treat divorce, and yet none of them allow for divorce on the grounds of fornication. It is difficult to understand why these other sources would not mention this major difference for the many believers that would never have access to Matthew’s gospel.

6.    The alternative position seems to open a wide gate to divorce and remarriage for many reasons.
If divorce is possible for adultery and desertion, then what about pornography, flirtation, lust, fornication before marriage, adultery within marriage years before the divorce is requested, or adultery after an “unjust” divorce? Why couldn’t each of these be justifiable causes for divorce? And if they are, very few men would be in unhappy marriages without at least one of these difficulties. The result means that nearly any unhappy marriage can find a “legitimate” cause for divorce.

Desertion could be expanded to include financial desertion if the man does not provide and emotional desertion if he is abusive. The frequency of divorce in evangelical churches testifies that this is not hyper-sensitivity. This is not wild-eyed, “slippery slope” fear-mongering. The WCF allows for divorce for these “two” reasons reminding believers that they must not take advantage of these provisions, but it would seem that is exactly what has happened. Barna’s recent survey of about 4,000 evangelicals showed that 1 in 4 adults have been divorced.

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Arguments Allowing for Divorce and Remarriage

As I preach through 1 Corinthians, I am grappling with divorce and remarriage. In the next few posts, I’m going to summarize the major arguments, then critique those arguments, and then offer some final conclusions. First come the arguments allowing for divorce and remarriage. Second the arguments against divorce and remarriage. I will allow the position that accepts divorce in some circumstances but rejects remarriage to be subsumed in the no divorce position’s arguments.

1.    Jesus’ clearly gave an exception multiple times (Matt. 5:32 and 19:9).
Matt. 5:32 is part of a famous sermon that would have been heard everywhere Jesus preached. He also repeated the exception clause (except for fornication) in the lengthiest passage in the NT dealing with divorce (Matt. 19:3-12). The most natural reading of this clause permits divorce today. This is probably the strongest reason to allow divorce because not only is it repeated, but it appears to be the obvious meaning of the text.

2.    Allowing divorce and remarriage for the injured party is a demonstration of mercy and grace.
This is a theological reason culled from dozens of statements throughout the Psalms about the lovingkindness of God. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for missing the major points of the faith one of which was mercy (Matt. 23:23). The fruit of His Spirit include love and kindness. The merciful will inherit the earth. God endures the wicked and even gives them many blessings for a long time before the final judgment. David served Mephibosheth. And on and on, the proof texts and examples go throughout Scripture of God’s delight in mercy. What could be more gracious and merciful than allowing someone bruised through a terrible marriage to get relief with a divorce and then peace with a second marriage to a godly Christian?

3.    The binding that Paul references in 1 Cor. 7:15 probably means “bound to marriage.”
He uses that same picturesque term in 7:39 where it clearly refers to being bound to marriage. If we are bound to marriage there, why would 7:15 not refer to marriage? This seems like the most natural, surface reading of the passage. On top of that, other interpretations of this passage stretch the natural flow of language and the context.

4.    1 Cor. 7 sets up several “rules” and then offers exceptions to those rules. So, we should expect an exception to the prohibition to divorce.
There is an exception to staying single: Marriage is better than ongoing temptation (7:1-2). There is an exception to paying your conjugal debts: fasting (7:5). Marital and family issues are so varied and complicated, there must be exceptions. Even though the general rule is no divorce, there are sad, sickening, and even terrifying circumstances that call for exceptions. Paul knew about human nature and so he included exceptions for these kinds of abuse and desertion.

5.    Ezra seemed to bless divorce under certain circumstances (Ezra 10:1-14).
Ezra as the spiritual leader and the people both took responsibility to break up marriages. The reasons for divorce may have changed for the NT, but the barest conclusion to take away from this account is that divorce is sometimes blessed by God.

6.    God divorced Israel in Jeremiah 3:8.
When Israel sinned against her “husband” the offended party acted to give a certificate of divorce.
Proposition 1: God had the right and exercised the right to divorce His bride for her unfaithfulness.
Proposition 2: I must be like God.
Conclusion: I have the right and may exercise the right to divorce my bride for her unfaithfulness.

7.    This is the most common position today as well as being found in the Westminster Confession of Faith.
The accumulated wisdom of years means the evidence must be very strong to oppose it. They had the Holy Spirit as well as we. So, why would we depart from the position that is far more common?

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The Vicious Side of Freedom

G. K. Chesterton once observed that in the modern world “the virtues have gone mad because they have been isolated from each other and are wandering alone. Thus some scientists care for truth; and their truth is pitiless. Thus some humanitarians only care for pity; and their pity… is often untruthful.” Something similar can be said about the virtues of freedom and idealism. Freedom is an important virtue. But it is not the only virtue. And apart from other virtues–apart from prudence, say, and duty and responsibility, all of which define and limit freedom–freedom becomes a parody of itself. It becomes, in a word, unfree.

Roger Kimball, The Long March

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Logic is Divine

If an argument is indeed valid, its validity holds for all times and all places. That is, its validity is omnipresent (in all places) and eternal (for all times).

Vern Poythress, Logic: A God-Centered Approach to the Foundation of Western Thought

He goes on to observe that the divine attributes of immutability, spirituality, truthfulness, transcendence, immanence, and omnipotence also apply to logical conclusions. And just for fun, logic is impossible without rationality and language which makes it personal as well.

In the end, there is no logic without the Son of God. Great job, Vern.

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African Funeral Music

On a chilly morning yesterday, I went to a funeral for the father of a pastor who has been my longest standing African friend. This man was converted while the remainder of his extended family have shown no interest in the gospel or even organized religion past the basic commitment and fears inherent in African traditional culture. As is customary at parties and other social events, the “services” of a DJ were procured for him to play 20-30 second clips of songs between speakers for the funeral as well as music before and after. The style of choice was a variety of pop music with an evident—sometimes driving—beat and a general taste that could put it in the subcategory of “gospel” music.

Several of the songs featured religious words and god talk, but one in particular was a chanting narration of the fiery furnace from Daniel 3. This track included noticeable syncopation underneath the speaker’s rhythmic voice bouncing along with the cadence.

I pondered this artistic expression as I sat in the tent yesterday morning. Why did the DJ choose this song? Would anyone who did not believe in Jehovah be offended? Would offense be taken if we changed the words with a sermon by Spurgeon while the music remained the same? Was anyone listening to the words? Or the music? If we kept the words the same and changed the musical style to something in the Western classical tradition, would that song have reached the air waves?

With the same certainty that we knew it was a cold morning, we also knew what the song was meant to communicate because it was sending a clear message. Not many people in the audience could probably have been skilled enough to interpret the message of the song in words, but that doesn’t change the fact that the DJ chose the music he did because of the messages it sent. He rejected some CD’s and some tracks for that occasion because he recognized what everyone except some highly educated evangelicals knows: Musical styles communicates. They are not neutral, valueless, indiscriminate pieces of art. No, they carry values that people immediately identify like a South African black can tell if a white still harbors apartheid in his heart.

Would the DJ have been satisfied; would the crowd have been pleased; would the non-Christian family paying for these services have recommended his work; if the DJ had played the same words set to Handel’s “Water Music”? In case there are any credentialed evangelicals reading this, No to all those questions. Neither would the DJ have passed over any of his choice tracks if they still had the same bounce, but the words were now changed to something like this stanza from Watts:

My crimes, though great, can not surpass
The power and glory of thy grace:
Great God, thy nature hath no bound;
So let thy pardoning love be found.

In a word, propositions had nothing to do with the music selections at the funeral, and they don’t have much to do with any of our music selections. You can change the words, leave the words out, or write the words on a screen, but what you can’t do without a big discussion is change the style of the music. Because, after all, that’s the dominant message of the song, and we all know that.

The battle comes on two fronts then. First, we must honestly admit that the issue at hand is the message of the art form, not the message of the lyrics sometimes arbitrarily attached to the music. (Just compare the words and music for the revivalistic hymn “Coming Again.”) This should not be a difficult first step since there are so many lines of reasoning that can lead to it. The real difficulty should be the second front which is grappling with how to determine the meaning of a musical form by studying Scripture, music history and theory, relevant sections of philosophy, and culture. For some reason though, we can’t get to the second front.

Is one side afraid of looking carefully at the message of artistic forms? Probably so, because studying those fields would not produce a commodious environment for either pop culture or multiculturalism—the Balrog and Saruman of the 21st century.

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Expect Our Children to Know the Lord

After Bible class today, Colin (age 5) told me with fear that he wants to be a Christian.

Today we learned two questions:
Q 58: Can you be saved if you have no desire to follow Jesus?
A: A believer must be willing to follow Jesus Christ. Luke 9:23

Q 59: How should you act before you are saved?
A: Before I am saved, I must strive to enter in at the narrow gate. Luke 13:24

I drew a picture of a path going to Heaven with a gate in the shape of a cross on the road. Before the gate is another road leading to Hell. I had put numbers on the road marking four positions:
1. On the road from the city of destruction, but not near the narrow gate;
2. Very near the narrow gate (the Cross) at the junction of the broad road leading to Hell;
3. Just inside the narrow gate and past the broad road;
4. Further down the road past the gate and leading to Heaven.

Colin said he was at position #2 just outside the gate. Then Caleb, Colin, and I prayed that we would all enter the gate. After prayer, Colin came to me in tears saying he really wants to enter the narrow gate. He then asked God for a new heart and for strength to love and follow Jesus.

“We will receive none who fail to yield evidence of the new birth, however old they may be; but we will shut out no believers, however young they may be. God forbid that we should condemn our cautious brethren, but at the same time we wish their caution would show itself where it is required. Jesus will not be dishonored by children: we have far more cause to fear the adults.” Spurgeon

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The Pastor Who Preached in Boxer Shorts

A parable for all those missional types

Once upon a timeUntitled1 there was a pastor of a church somewhere just above smallish. Living and preaching outside the city of Coolumbus for over a decade had given him plenty of time to adjust to life and culture in this growing metropolitan area. Restaurants sported fair-trade ingredients and interior design patterns without straight lines. In a century where “new” was the greatest virtue, Coolumbus society around him was desperately scrabbling for the latest of everything—fashions, music, and sensibilities. And if they weren’t winning the race, they were certainly holding a steady pace somewhere near the front.

Scott Keruso really wanted to make a difference. His sermons could be downloaded as well as live-streamed; the praise band was fresh and well-practiced, and only mildly edgy; the church talked a lot about social justice; the youth group took an annual mission trip to drill a well for some needy village in a third-world setting. What more could they do to reach out to their community? How could they break out of this 150-200 attendance barrier? How could the church people experience God in a fresher, deeper way?

These questions returned so often to the fervent pastor that his closest friends knew he was both sincere and focused. But sincerity wasn’t enough. Was he really gifted? If we could have seen into his heart, we would have seen that he thought he was—at least on most days. And even though he could hold his own in a discussion about God’s sovereignty, he also knew the lines about man’s efforts. Church growth commonly requires a pastor to do something. Haven’t thoughtful, clever men always found ways to—in the metaphor of one popular author—surf the latest wave that the Holy Spirit brought along?

But his generation was relational. They wanted conversations around a table, not superiors lecturing inferiors. He had heard more than once that since the Bible says we are all sinners, then doesn’t that include the pastor? And the spate of pastors who had fallen morally confirmed that, at heart, we are all weak, frail sinners.

In deference to these concerns, Pastor Keruso (or should we just say, Scott?) had tried to adjust some of the church services to have a more friendly, family feel while still maintaining high standards for professionalism.

From the beginning of his ministry, Scott’s sport coat only worked one day a week, and the people followed suit. Or, possibly, he followed them. Either way, he eventually reduced his Wednesday night uniform because as he reminded his wife, “Where does the Bible say that we have to wear silk sashes around our necks?”

Most of his people brought devices to the services. Technology accented the services, and the church’s Facebook pages were active throughout the week. More than once, a picture surfaced and was reposted of the pastor in shorts on vacation or his day off. He wasn’t bothered for the same reasons that you or I wouldn’t be bothered. He was just a man living with his wife and kids. In fact, he liked the rapport that his online banter and presence built between him and his people.

In time, they were coming to view him as a real person, a friend.

He wasn’t a two-book-per-week man, but he tried to read. And in reading, he frequently ran across the word “missional.” Before long, that term began to fit in his repertoire like an old tool. Christ was missional when he wore Jewish and Hellenistic clothing. Paul was missional when he went to a new city. And now God had called Scott to Coolumbus in 2014. It was his mission. He had to relate to these people, know these people, and be like these people.

Of course, he would never break a Biblical command to be missional, but to be like the people was to obey Biblical commands like loving your neighbor.

So it was, that the mix-up happened. The small group meeting was supposed to be on Tuesday night at the Chandler’s house. Or so Scott thought. But somehow he had missed the recent buzz on FB that moved the Bible study to the pastor’s home. He had been planning to attend another small group that met on Thursday, and so he and his wife Ashlyn, were enjoying a movie that evening at 6:45 when the bell rang.

Having just showered after dinner, he wore a white undershirt and a pair of sleeping pants. When the door opened to reveal the first four participants for the cell group, he had a fast decision to make: How can I get changed before they see me? “Wait,” his inner voice spoke. “This is who you are. This is what you do. You worked all day like they did, and now you are relaxing. You know the Bible cares more about the heart than the externals, right?”

Scott’s inner debate didn’t matter because two of the church members had already seen and greeted him from the door. “Oh, well.” He thought as he made space for an unexpected Bible study in his living room.

Everything went smoothly that evening, and Scott felt like they could really relate to him. New sensations of being raw and open came to him. This was Pastor Unedited.

“Ashlyn, we need more people to open up,” Scott said later that night. “Our people—Christians in general—need to stop hiding behind fake masks, and let people see them for who they really are.”

Ashlyn who had some bad experiences with hypocrisy growing up agreed as Scott thought she would, “I have thought that for a long time. But everything about us, like, how we are at church just closes that kind of spirit of openness.”

“Well, we need more of it.” And they both agreed again. “What do you think about this idea?” Scott asked. “When am I most relaxed, open, and unguarded?”

Ashlyn didn’t need long to reply, “In the evenings with the family, on your day off, or maybe on vacation.”

“And aren’t those good dynamics to have in a church? Wouldn’t you like to be in a meeting of Christians like that?”

“Sure,” she said.

“Then,” Scott prepared as he thought out his conclusion, “at our next evening church service, I am going to lead the people by example. Whatever I wear the week before on my day off at that time, I am going to wear to church that evening.”

A little pushback followed, but eventually the pastor, overcome by missional desire, committed to this new exercise.

The following Sunday night as he prepared for the evening service, he realized that last week on his day off, he and his boy had gone biking. Owing to the mud, that evening he was dressed in boxer shorts and a sweatshirt. How could he keep his commitment? An internal debate followed 45 minutes before he had to leave for church.

“I’ll just wear jeans a sweatshirt to church. People will still see that I am trying to relate to them.” Thus said the first voice.

But another voice was there, “Scott, what are you trying to hide? You really are trapped.”

“Trapped?” shot back the first voice.

“Isn’t it obvious? You made a commitment to do a good thing: be real to your people. And now that it comes time to pay, you are afraid that they will laugh. This is just the fear of man. And on top of that you made a promise to God. Isn’t there a verse in Ecclesiastes about that?” The second voice spoke with authority and Bible.

“But it’s not right to go to church—to preach—in boxer shorts!” the first voice rejoined.

“You really are a case, aren’t you? Saved by faith, justified freely, and now bound to the law. Afraid to let people see that you really are just a mere man. Now you are adding pride to your lack of courage. How many sins can this simple matter unearth in your heart? There really is no discussion: You vowed before God. There is no verse in the Bible that says you cannot preach in boxer shorts, and yet you feel guilty about it. Bound, bound, bound by the law.”

The debate went on, but, as our story goes, the hero decided to bear the shame and bare his legs in the pulpit that evening. Pastor Keruso even went further, and preached about the spiritual victory that he had gained that day over his own pride. After all, the Bible doesn’t forbid preaching in boxer shorts.

An elderly man in the service, a Mr. Rich Baxter, wrote a letter to the pastor expressing his shock at seeing someone in his underwear speak purportedly as the mouthpiece of God, but this was laughed off in the church staff meeting as someone who needs to focus on the gospel. “The older generation doesn’t understand much about grace.” The senior pastor said shaking his head.

The next week, Scott got a tattoo, arranged a rapper for Sunday worship, and showed Noah the Movie to the church on Sunday night because there’s no verse for these either.

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The 20th Century Artistic Famine

I have a rule that I will never buy paintings that I could have painted better myself. That rules out virtually all modern art. The last great painter in my view was John Singer Sargent, who died in 1925. After that, the 20th century was a dismal century in the history of art. When future generations look back on it, they’ll think we were all mad.

Paul Johnson

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The Average Church in Southern Africa

Even though the speaker is using Venda, you can figure out the gist of the message pretty easily. This happened at a village in our district. On the ground at everyone’s feet are South African Rands. The pastrix (Thanks Ken Silva for that term) tells us about how we need money (listen at :17) and by 1:12 she has the people start naming the amounts of money that they are decreeing will appear in their bank accounts. You can hear them start with meager numbers like R3,000 ($300) and at 1:23 a bold woman wants R11,000 for which she is cheered. At 2:33 a man calls out for R200,000 ($20,000) and they cheer for him.

They are told that they must phone their banks in the morning to see the money.

Gathered supposedly in the name of Jesus Christ, they cheer, dance, sing, and warm their hearts by the fire of money. In the past, they had spirits to whom they bowed hoping to get health and blessing. But now they have a Great Spirit who will give them what they really love. One of the commenters writes, “Money for freeeeeeee!!!!!!”

When scholarly books and lecturers talk about the growing Christianity of Africa, let them see this. And anyone who has lived in the rural areas of Africa, who can speak their language, and who has visited their churches, will know that this is the vast majority of the churches here. The “Christianity” of Africa is largely prosperity gospel wickedness. They have a god and his name is money.

And before anyone objects that “Its like that in America too,” remember, I’ve lived in America and in Africa. I wouldn’t be posting this if I could have seen this in the US. Developed have their share of sins, but this particular form of ecclesiastical carnival is far more common in Africa.

The content itself should move a believer to anger, but the prevalence of this kind of voodoo-Christianity materialistic mix causes us to look doubtfully on nearly everyone who calls themselves a Christian or a pastor.

Thus, the fruit of charismaticism in Africa.

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