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Addenda, Part 1: Biblical Support of “A Christian Wife’s Marriage Catechism”

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on July 11, 2014 at 3:05 pm

husband and wife

“Grace be with all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity. Amen” (Eph 6.24). I believe that this benediction rightly belongs to many who have criticized my catechism and me. I sincerely wish you all, my beloved brethren, every blessing in Christ.

The major concern is the catechism’s application to abused wives. Scripture testifies abundantly that our glorious God is full of compassion for the weak and oppressed, and that He is righteously zealous against their tormentors (e.g., Exod 22.21-24, among many similar passages). He hates the mistreatment that abused wives and many others suffer today. I adore and worship Him for this.

Many have pressed me to provide biblical support for the catechism; I gladly yield to them. The subject is complex, so please be patient while I address many important issues that have been raised. This post is only an initial response. Because God’s Word is most important and the need for biblical support is urgent, I present this first, before a statement of clarification which is planned for a subsequent post.

I begin by offering biblical support for the catechism as it stands. I remain firm in my conviction with many others that the catechism is faithfully scriptural in its content.

For convenience I reproduce the catechism in its entirety with the text of relevant Scripture citations after each question and answer, along with a little brief explanation. I have quoted several Bible translations with approval; the unmarked ones are from the King James Version.

I speak now particularly to you who are Christians, who believe the Bible is God’s Word, and therefore our authoritative rule of truth and righteousness. As I see it, the fundamental question before us is this:

Does the catechism faithfully convey biblical teaching?

If it does, it must necessarily be vindicated in the judgment of sound Christian believers. Anyone who admits that it faithfully conveys biblical teaching but objects to it anyway cannot be considered sound in the Christian faith.

Unbelievers, by definition, are skeptical of God’s Word, and even hostile to it. “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot” (Rom 8.7 ESV). Therefore we cannot reasonably expect a universal consensus among readers of this blog which probably includes many unbelievers. A more likely outcome includes some expressions of hostility to biblical truth. The Lord have mercy on us all.

In the interest of brevity, I have suppressed the urge to expound each biblical text as it relates to the points of the catechism. I beg my readers, with me, to pray for our mutual divine illumination. Let each study these verses carefully in their context with reverent meditation upon them. May the Lord give us all more light by His Word.

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“A Christian Wife’s Marriage Catechism with Supporting Biblical Texts”

Q1.      What is the main point of my marriage to my husband?

A1.       To glorify God and enjoy Him forever, the same point of my existence and all my circumstances.

“For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen” (Rom 11.36).

“Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor 10.31).

“And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him” (Col 3.17).

“Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee. My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever” (Psa 73.25-26).

The Westminster Shorter Catechism, though fallible, famously states the praiseworthy Reformed consensus in these words: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever” (Q/A1). Of course, the term “man” refers to all humanity.

Q2.      Can my marriage ever be the source of true happiness to me?

A2.       No, at best it can become an occasion of happiness, but all my joy is bound up and will remain forever in knowing God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and therefore my blessedness does not depend on the state of my marriage.

“Now the name of the man was Nabal; and the name of his wife Abigail: and she was a woman of good understanding, and of a beautiful countenance: but the man was churlish and evil in his doings; and he was of the house of Caleb” (1 Sam 25.3).

“Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful” (Psa 1.1).

“Men of the world, which have their portion in this life” (Psa 17.14).

“Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you” (Matt 5.3-12).

“That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full” (1 John 1.3-4).

Q3.      How can I glorify God and enjoy Him forever in my marriage?

A3.       By trusting God implicitly and doing His will in all things because I love Him with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength.

“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths” (Prov 3.5-6).

“And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might” (Deut 6.5).

“Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the LORD. Blessed are they that keep his testimonies, and that seek him with the whole heart” (Psa 119.1-2).

“Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment” (Matt 22.37-38).

Q4.      What is the most important thing about how I relate to my husband?

A4.       That I love him with gracious gospel love, respect him for his position over me, and submit to him as unto the Lord.

“Teach the young women . . . to love their husbands” (Tit 2.4).

“Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (Rom 13.8-10).

“Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matt 5.43-48).

“And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household” (Matt 10.36).

“For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church” (Eph 5.23).

“Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord” (Eph 5.22).

“Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord” (Col 3.18).

“Teach the young women . . . to be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed” (Tit 2.4-5).

“Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband” (Eph 5.33).

Q5.      What is gracious, gospel love for my husband?

A5.       A supernatural love from Christ that is large, constant, and free, and that does my husband good and not evil all the days of my[1] life.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love” (Gal 5.22).

“As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith” (Gal 6.10).

“Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies. The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil. She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life” (Prov 31.10-12).

Q6.      What is respect for my husband?

A6.       It is a conscious recognition of his special authority over me as my husband on the basis of God’s Word and the covenant I freely entered when I married him.

See Eph 5.22-23, 33, and Col 3.18, quoted under Q/A4, as relevant also to Q/A6.

“The Lord hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast dealt treacherously: yet is she thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant” (Mal 2.14), or, “your wife by covenant” (ESV).

“And they said, We will call the damsel, and enquire at her mouth. And they called Rebekah, and said unto her, Wilt thou go with this man? And she said, I will go” (Gen 24.57-58).

“And he said, Who art thou? And she answered, I am Ruth thine handmaid: spread therefore thy skirt over thine handmaid; for thou art a near kinsman. And he said, Blessed be thou of the Lord, my daughter: for thou hast shewed more kindness in the latter end than at the beginning, inasmuch as thou followedst not young men, whether poor or rich” (Ruth 3.9-10).

Q7.      What does it mean to submit to my husband as unto the Lord?

A7.       That I will cheerfully acquiesce to my husband in all things consistent with the revealed will of Christ, but no further, from a sincere desire to please my husband and Christ for my husband’s good and Christ’s glory.

This answer deliberately and forcefully asserts that not her husband, but Christ, is the sovereign Lord of each Christian wife. Her submission to Christ alone must be absolute and unqualified, and she must trust Him implicitly and without reservation in her entire relationship with her sinful husband. In any particulars where submitting and acquiescing to her husband is not “consistent with the revealed will of Christ,” she must (not just may) obey Christ instead and refuse her husband’s unrighteous wishes.

“And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake” (Gen 3.17).

Likewise, a wife must not disobey God in order to please her husband.

“If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14.26).

Jesus specifically addresses men but this same requirement of absolute loyalty to Jesus applies to a wife also in relationship to her own husband. “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5.29)—always and in everything when we are faced with a choice between the two.

Q8.      Will there be cases when I must obey Christ rather than my husband?

A8.       Yes, if ever my husband expects me to disobey any of Christ’s commands, but even then I must keep loving and respecting my husband as my husband while Christ always has my greatest love and loyalty.

Many texts already cited support the answer above, but consider Col 3.18 again: “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord.” I completely agree with the comment of the New Bible Commentary (D. A. Carson, et al.) on this verse:

“The wives, as free and responsible agents, are asked voluntarily to submit themselves to their husbands since this is entirely proper (fitting has a Stoic ring to it but the motivation is entirely Christian). In the Lord means within the new fellowship of those who own Christ as Lord. Submission points to the wife’s calling to honour and affirm her husband’s leadership and to help him exercise his role within the family. It is not an absolute surrender of her will, for Christ is her absolute authority, not her husband. Nor is there any suggestion that the wife is naturally or spiritually inferior to her husband” (in loc.).

Q9.      What is the primary means by which I can influence my husband toward greater faith and obedience to God?

A9.       Setting a good example before my husband, without a word of nagging or disrespectful rebuke.

“Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening” (1 Pet 3.1-6 ESV).

“Some who do not obey the word” refers to husbands who are disobedient to God’s Word, and especially the case of an unbelieving husband. Peter states the case generally, without qualification or exception, but it would be unfair to blame him for that. “They may be won” refers to the hopeful prospect that they may begin to obey God’s Word. “Without a word by the conduct of their wives” contrasts an approach primarily verbal to one which is primarily exemplary. Peter is urging Christian wives to “respectful and pure” conduct for a good spiritual influence upon their unbelieving husbands. This conduct requires a focus on inward, spiritual beauty more than outward, physical beauty. That inner beauty he further describes as “a gentle and quiet spirit,” which is consistent with the evangelistic approach (deeds more than words) Peter has just recommended.

To inspire Christian wives, Peter appeals to the noble examples of other godly women—most notably Sarah, wife of Abraham. Christian wives must aspire to be like them without giving in to sinful fear that would hinder them in their holy calling.

“A wife’s nagging is an endless dripping. . . . Better to live on the corner of a roof than to share a house with a nagging wife. . . . Better to live in a wilderness than with a nagging and hot-tempered wife. . . . Better to live on the corner of a roof than to share a house with a nagging wife. . . . An endless dripping on a rainy day and a nagging wife are alike” (Prov 19.13; 21.9, 19; 25.24; 27.15 HCSB).

Q10.    Does this absolutely forbid addressing my husband about his responsibility for faith and duty as a man, a husband, and a father?

A10.     No, but when it is right to address him about these things, I must speak the truth in love, with evident love and respect for him as my husband.

“But speaking the truth in love” (Eph 4.15).

“Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father” (1 Tim 5.1 ESV).

“Let . . . the wife see that she reverence her husband” (Eph 5.33).

These verses obviously apply to a wife’s speech toward her husband.

Q11.    How good a husband is my husband to me?

A11.     Much better than I deserve, and therefore I will thank God for him every day.

No matter how wretched our circumstances, we have no reason to find fault with God who orders everything about our lives, including our suffering which He consistently tempers with His mercy.

“I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which thou hast shewed unto thy servant” (Gen 32.10).

“If thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand? But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared” (Psa 130.3-4).

“Thou our God hast punished us less than our iniquities deserve, and hast given us such deliverance as this” (Ezra 9.13).

“He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her” (John 8.7).

“If I justify myself, mine own mouth shall condemn me: if I say, I am perfect, it shall also prove me perverse” (Job 9.20).

“It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness” (Lam 3.22).

“As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one” (Rom 3.10).

“But he, being full of compassion, forgave their iniquity, and destroyed them not: yea, many a time turned he his anger away, and did not stir up all his wrath” (Psa 78.38).

“I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42.5-6).

“Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts” (Isa 6.5).

“When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5.8).

“So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do” (Luke 17.10).

“This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief” (1 Tim 1.15).

“Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Eph 3.8).

“Be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble” (1 Pet 5.5).

“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1.8-9).

“In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you” (1 Thess 5.18).

“Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph 5.20).

Q12.    How good a wife am I to my husband?

A12.     Much worse than I ought to be, and therefore I will confess my sins to God every day, asking forgiveness, and to my husband as needed, and continue in prayer for grace to grow into the excellent wife that God wants me to be, and that would be such a blessing to my husband.

Our righteous Savior Christ is perfectly holy, and even the best Christian wife still has much remaining sin. Without forgetting His abundant grace to every true Christian, we must never forget our great and ongoing need for much progress in sanctification.

All the blessings that come to Christian believers are not God’s justice repaying us for our own personal merit, but rather God’s grace poured out upon us, despite our sins, on account of the merits of Jesus Christ for us. We stand in perpetual need of God’s free grace, and in Christ, we have His promise of this grace unto eternal life and blessedness.

On account of my sin, I deserve the wrath of God that Jesus suffered on the cross in my place. Anything better than that is God’s mercy and grace to me in Christ. My best service to the Lord is stained with sin, far short of Christ’s worth and example, though He accepts my service graciously. Every Christian should confess these things. Every Christian wife (and husband) should take this truth to heart. That is what I intended in Q/A11-12.

“Thou hast commanded us to keep thy precepts diligently. O that my ways were directed to keep thy statutes! Then shall I not be ashamed, when I have respect unto all thy commandments” (Psa 119.4-6).

“Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies” (Prov 31.10).

“Look,” says the Teacher, “this is what I have discovered: “Adding one thing to another to discover the scheme of things—while I was still searching but not finding—I found one upright man among a thousand, but not one upright woman among them all. This only have I found: God created mankind upright, but they have gone in search of many schemes” (Eccl 7.27-29 NIV).

“Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matt 5.48).

“Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man” (Luke 21.36).

“For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do” (Rom 7.18-19).

“I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members” (Rom 7.21-23).

“For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body” (Jas 3.2 ESV).

“Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own stedfastness. But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Pet 3.17-18).

Without denying the reality of the grace of Jesus Christ that forgives our sins and renews our souls, the greatest believers in all ages have readily confessed, sometimes in extravagant terms, their own personal depravity and fearful demerit on account of their sins. The biblical texts cited offer justification for this. Another striking example is found from Jonathan Edwards, who wrote, with his soaring powers of expression, the following words in his journal. It is noteworthy and instructive that he wrote these words while serving as an eminently godly pastor during the Great Awakening:

My wickedness, as I am in myself, has long appeared to me perfectly ineffable, and swallowing up all thought and imagination; like an infinite deluge, or mountains over my head. I know not how to express better what my sins appear to me to be, than by heaping infinite upon infinite, and multiplying infinite by infinite. Very often, for these many years, these expressions are in my mind, and in my mouth, ‘Infinite upon infinite—Infinite upon infinite!’ When I look into my heart, and take a view of my wickedness, it looks like an abyss, infinitely deeper than hell. And it appears to me, that were it not for free grace, exalted and raised up to the infinite height of all the fulness and glory of the great Jehovah, and the arm of his power and grace stretched forth in all the majesty of his power, and in all the glory of his sovereignty, I should appear sunk down in my sins below hell itself; far beyond the sight of every thing, but the eye of sovereign grace, that can pierce even down to such a depth. And yet, it seems to me that my conviction of sin is exceedingly small and faint; it is enough to amaze me, that I have no more sense of my sin. I know certainly, that I have very little sense of my sinfulness. When I have had turns of weeping and crying for my sins, I thought I knew at the time, that my repentance was nothing to my sin (from “Remainder of Personal Narrative,” The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Vol. 1).

This humble Christian spirit is required to sympathize with Q/A 11-12 of this catechism, especially when we are suffering great injustice inflicted by wicked people.

Q13.    How can I possibly love my husband so well, since he falls so short of the ideal husband, and I am such a sinful person?

A13.    I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me, even this, for I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me, and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me. Also, I know that God has given me His Spirit and all-sufficient grace to help me to do all He requires of me.

“You don’t submit to your husband because he is worthy but because Christ is worthy” (quoted).

“I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Phil 4.13).

“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Gal 2.20).

“And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit” (Gal 5.24-25).

“Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us. Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit” (1 John 4.10-13).

“And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12.9).

Now may our Lord Jesus Christ be pleased to grant more love, joy, peace, and unity among His true children by His Holy Spirit and the truth of His Word. Amen.

 D. Scott Meadows, Pastor
Calvary Baptist Church (Reformed)
Exeter, New Hampshire USA
http://cbcexeter.sermonaudio.com
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[1] As first posted, this catechism had “his” here, which I have now corrected to “my” following Prov 31.12. Obviously, after she dies, she cannot do him good in the sense intended here.

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A Christian Husband’s Marriage Catechism

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on July 9, 2014 at 2:29 pm

husband and wife

Providentially, many Christian husbands are married to unbelieving wives. This is a great trial for them, especially if the woman is very ungodly. Pastoral counseling discovers that many of these brothers in the Lord are not clear about how God wants them to relate to their wives in such a case. I have prepared this brief catechism for some guidance, suggesting that he should memorize it and find supporting Scripture references for its counsel, with careful study of those passages.

I am convinced that even though these are basic biblical truths, many Christian husbands would know more peace and confidence in their God-ordained role if they called them to mind every day for practical application in their marriages. Also, these truths should prove helpful even when the wife is a godly woman.

May the Lord use this simple catechism to bless His precious sons in difficult marriages.

D. Scott Meadows, Pastor
Calvary Baptist Church (Reformed)
Exeter, New Hampshire USA
http://cbcexeter.sermonaudio.com

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Q1.      What is the main point of my marriage to my wife?

A1.      To glorify God and enjoy Him forever, the same point of my existence and all my circumstances.

Q2.      Can my marriage ever be the source of true happiness to me?

A2.      No, at best it can become an occasion of happiness, but all my joy is bound up and will remain forever in knowing God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and therefore my blessedness does not depend on the state of my marriage.

Q3.      How can I glorify God and enjoy Him forever in my marriage?

A3.      By trusting God implicitly and doing His will in all things because I love Him with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength.

Q4.      What is the most important thing about how I relate to my wife?

A4.      That I love her as Christ loves the church, living with her in an understanding way, with appropriate honor and respect for her.

Q5.      What is Christ-like love for my wife?

A5.      A supernatural love from Christ that makes me willing to give of myself for her good, seen and demonstrated in daily, practical acts, attitudes, and words of love.

Q6.      What is it to live with my wife in an understanding way?

A6.      It is to show her honor as the weaker vessel, being sensitive to her needs, fears, and feelings; to nourish and cherish her with the love and affection of Christ.

Q7.      Does any failure on my wife’s part to fulfill her duty of respect to me as her husband relieve me of the duty to love her sacrificially?

A7.      Never! Rather, it is a greater opportunity to show the grace and selflessness of such love.

Q8.      Will there be cases when I must please Christ rather than my wife?

A8.      Yes, if ever my wife expects me to neglect or disobey any of Christ’s commands, but even then I must keep loving and honoring her as my wife while Christ always has my greatest love and loyalty.

Q9.      What are the primary means by which I can influence my wife toward greater faith and obedience to God?

A9.      Teaching her the Word of God, praying for her, leading her with all love and humility in the way of righteousness, and setting a good example before her, without any bitterness in my heart or unkindness in my speech and conduct.

Q10.    Does this absolutely forbid reproving my wife about her responsibility for faith and duty as a woman, a wife, and a mother?

A10.    No, but when it is necessary to address her about these things, I must speak the truth in love, with all patient tenderness and affection for her as my wife.

Q11.    How good a wife is my wife to me?

A11.    Much better than I deserve, and therefore I will thank God for her every day.

Q12.    How good a husband am I to my wife?

A12.    Much worse than I ought to be, and therefore I will confess my sins to God every day, asking forgiveness, and to my wife as needed, and continue in prayer for grace to grow into the Christ-like husband that God wants me to be, and that would be such a blessing to my wife.

Q13.    How can I possibly love my wife so well, since she falls so short of the ideal wife, and I am such a sinful person?

A13.    I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me, even this, for I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me, and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me. Also, I know that God has given me His Spirit and all-sufficient grace to help me to do all He requires of me.

A Christian Wife’s Marriage Catechism

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on July 8, 2014 at 10:34 am

marriage

Providentially, many Christian wives are married to unbelieving husbands. This is a great trial for them, especially if the man is very ungodly. Pastoral counseling discovers that many of these sisters in the Lord are perplexed about how God wants them to relate to their husbands in such a case. I have prepared this brief catechism for some guidance, suggesting that she should memorize it and find supporting Scripture references for its counsel, with careful study of those passages.

I am convinced that even though these are basic biblical truths, many Christian wives would know more peace and confidence in their God-ordained role if they called them to mind every day for practical application in their marriages. Also, these truths should prove helpful even when the husband is a godly man.

May the Lord use this simple catechism to bless His precious daughters in difficult marriages.

D. Scott Meadows, Pastor
Calvary Baptist Church (Reformed)
Exeter, New Hampshire USA
http://cbcexeter.sermonaudio.com

————————————

Q1.      What is the main point of my marriage to my husband?

A1.      To glorify God and enjoy Him forever, the same point of my existence and all my circumstances.

Q2.      Can my marriage ever be the source of true happiness to me?

A2.      No, at best it can become an occasion of happiness, but all my joy is bound up and will remain forever in knowing God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and therefore my blessedness does not depend on the state of my marriage.

Q3.      How can I glorify God and enjoy Him forever in my marriage?

A3.      By trusting God implicitly and doing His will in all things because I love Him with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength.

Q4.      What is the most important thing about how I relate to my husband?

A4.      That I love him with gracious gospel love, respect him for his position over me, and submit to him as unto the Lord.

Q5.      What is gracious, gospel love for my husband?

A5.      A supernatural love from Christ that is large, constant, and free, and that does my husband good and not evil all the days of his life.

Q6.      What is respect for my husband?

A6.      It is a conscious recognition of his special authority over me as my husband on the basis of God’s Word and the covenant I freely entered when I married him.

Q7.      What does it mean to submit to my husband as unto the Lord?

A7.      That I will cheerfully acquiesce to my husband in all things consistent with the revealed will of Christ, but no further, from a sincere desire to please my husband and Christ for my husband’s good and Christ’s glory.

Q8.      Will there be cases when I must obey Christ rather than my husband?

A8.      Yes, if ever my husband expects me to disobey any of Christ’s commands, but even then I must keep loving and respecting my husband as my husband while Christ always has my greatest love and loyalty.

Q9.      What is the primary means by which I can influence my husband toward greater faith and obedience to God?

A9.      Setting a good example before my husband, without a word of nagging or disrespectful rebuke.

Q10.    Does this absolutely forbid addressing my husband about his responsibility for faith and duty as a man, a husband, and a father?

A10.    No, but when it is right to address him about these things, I must speak the truth in love, with evident love and respect for him as my husband.

Q11.    How good a husband is my husband to me?

A11.    Much better than I deserve, and therefore I will thank God for him every day.

Q12.    How good a wife am I to my husband?

A12.    Much worse than I ought to be, and therefore I will confess my sins to God every day, asking forgiveness, and to my husband as needed, and continue in prayer for grace to grow into the excellent wife that God wants me to be, and that would be such a blessing to my husband.

Q13.    How can I possibly love my husband so well, since he falls so short of the ideal husband, and I am such a sinful person?

A13.    I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me, even this, for I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me, and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me. Also, I know that God has given me His Spirit and all-sufficient grace to help me to do all He requires of me.

 

Superheroes In the Pew

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on June 27, 2014 at 4:47 pm

Pew

If you were to ask the average Christian to speak of their spiritual heroes it would be common for them to bring forth the names of great pastors, preachers, and missionaries who have served faithfully and well in the Kingdom in the past or present.  They buy the books, listen to the sermons, follow the tweets, and read the biographies of these esteemed men and women.  I want to tell you bit about some of my heroes.  Many of them have never preached and certainly have not written popular books or blogs.  They have never spoken at conferences.   With the exception of a few dozen fellow churchmen, they are unknown in the wider Christian world.

My heroes consists by and large of the men and women of my church.  They are the faithful plodders of God’s Kingdom.  They love the worship of God and the ministry of His Word.  They work long hours in their spheres of labor, in the home and out of the home and yet make it a priority to come to services of worship and the times of prayer.  They have full schedules, are often weary and yet they come, not to be served, but, like their Master, to serve.  Some of my heroes face crippling diseases and have battled through crushingly dark providences.  I’ve seen them lose their jobs, lose their children, and their spouses.  I’ve seen the cost they pay to simply follow Christ.   I’ve seen men and women persevere when loved ones turn back to the world.  I’ve seen them bear with the faults and sins of others.  Their elders have at times disappointed them, their brothers and sisters have let them down.  Yet, they show a love that covers a multitude of sins.  They exemplify what it means to bear with one another and to bear one another’s burdens.   Unlike the heroes of the church or the heroes of our culture, they do not preach, they do not travel to foreign lands, they are not strange visitors from another planet with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal man, they do not cling to walls or fly through the sky.  But they are my heroes, and one day, the King of Kings will say to them before the whole world, Well done!

Jim Savastio, Pastor
Reformed Baptist Church of Louisville

IRBS Continuing Education Program – Lecture Notes

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on June 17, 2014 at 3:15 pm

IRBS

Definition of Key Terms and Phrases

Doing theology involves utilizing terms and phrases that have evolved over time which attempt to encapsulate crucial biblical teaching. Technical terms and phrases are used to accommodate wide swaths of biblical truth into brief, theological short-hand. Before we embark upon a survey of Reformed theologians and the Confession of Faith on the law of God, it may be helpful to acquaint ourselves with the theological nomenclature typically utilized in such discussions. We will lean heavily upon Richard A. Muller’s Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms, which I highly recommend.

Key Terms and Phrases

  • Natural Law

lex naturalis: natural law; also lex naturae; law of nature; the universal moral law either impressed by God upon the mind of all people or immediately discerned by the reason in its encounter with the order of nature. The natural law was therefore available even to those pagans who did not have the advantage of the Sinaitic revelation and the lex Mosaica [i.e., Mosaic law, which includes the natural law, though in a different form] with the result that they were left without excuse in their sins… The scholastics argue the identity of the lex naturalis with the lex Mosaica…according to substance, and distinguish them…according to form. The lex naturalis is inward, written on the heart and therefore obscure [due to sin], whereas the lex Mosacia is revealed externally and written on tablets and thus of greater clarity.[1]

The natural law is universal because God is the creator of all men. Natural laws are “founded on the natural right of God…(being founded on the very holiness and wisdom of God).”[2] They are “just and good antecedently to the command of God…”[3] They are commanded because just and good in light of who God is and what man is as His image bearer. It is “the practical rule of moral duties to which men are bound by nature.”[4] Due to man’s created constitution, this law is written on his heart, though now obscured by sin. Natural law is not acquired by tradition or formal instruction. This law was, however, promulgated (i.e., formally published) on Sinai, which differs from the natural law in form though identical to it in substance. Protestant Scholasticism taught that the Decalogue summarily contains the Moral Law and is the inscripturated form of the natural law, as to its substance. A distinction was made between substance and form. Substance is one; form (and function) may vary. For example, when the Westminster Larger Catechism Q. 98 says, “The moral law is summarily comprehended in the ten commandments,” it refers to the fact that the substance (i.e., the underlying essence) of the Moral Law is assumed and articulated in the propositions of the Decalogue as contained in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. The form (and function) fits the redemptive-historical circumstances in which it was given. The substance, or underlying principles, are always relevant and applicable to man because he is created in the image of God. The application may shift based on redemptive-historical changes, such as the inauguration of the New Covenant, but its substance and utility never changes.

  • Moral Law

Richard Muller defines Moral Law in Protestant scholastic thought as follows:

[S]pecifically and predominantly, the Decalogus, or Ten Commandments; also called the lex Mosaica …, as distinct from the lex ceremonialis …and the lex civilis, or civil law. The lex moralis, which is primarily intended to regulate morals, is known to the synderesis [the innate habit of understanding basic principles of moral law] and is the basis of the acts of conscientia [conscience–the application of the innate habit above]. In substance, the lex moralis is identical with the lex naturalis …but, unlike the natural law, it is given by revelation in a form which is clearer and fuller than that otherwise known to the reason.[5]

 As noted above, the Moral Law is summarily comprehended in the Decalogue, not exhausted by it. Though the formal promulgation of the Decalogue had a unique redemptive-historical context and use, it is nothing other than the Natural Law incorporated into the Mosaic Covenant. This is one of its uses in the Bible but not all of its uses.

  • Positive Law

Positive laws are those laws added to the Natural or Moral Law. They are dependent upon the will of God. These laws are “good because God commands them.”[6] They become just because commanded. The first Positive Laws were given to Adam in the Garden (Gen. 1:28; 2:17), as far as we know. Subsequent Positive Laws are spread throughout the Old and New Testaments. Positive laws can be abrogated for various reasons. They are not necessarily universal or perpetual. Some obvious illustrations of Positive Law in the Old Testament are circumcision and animal sacrifices and two New Testament illustrations are baptism and the Lord’s Supper under the New Covenant. Neither circumcision, animal sacrifices, baptism, or the Lord’s Supper are either universal or perpetual.

  • Ceremonial Law

Muller says:

lex ceremonialis: ceremonial law; specifically, the ceremonial or religious regulations given to Israel under the Old Covenant, alongside the moral law of the Decalogue and the civil law of the Jewish nation, such as the Levitical Code. Whereas the lex moralis…remains in force after the coming of Christ, the lex ceremonialis has been abrogated by the gospel.[7]

 This aspect of biblical law is not based on creation but conditioned upon God’s purpose to remedy the plight of man due to sin. It is Positive Law, law added to the Natural or Moral Law and, in this case, for the purposes of redemption.

  • Judicial Law

The civil or political laws revealed through Moses for ancient Israel as God’s nation in the land of promise. Though the underlying principles of these laws (i.e., their general equity) are sill of moral use, the laws as stated have expired along with the theocracy.

  • Three-Fold Division of Law

This concept sees the Moral Law as based on creation and, therefore, perpetually binding on all men (though in differing ways) and the Ceremonial and Judicial Law of the Mosaic Covenant as supplemental to the Decalogue under that covenant. The Ceremonial and Judicial Law of the Mosaic Covenant is Positive Law, law added to the Moral Law for temporary redemptive-historical purposes. The three-fold division is based on the fact that the Bible makes distinctions between different types of law functioning under the Mosaic Covenant and views the principles of the Decalogue pre-dating its formal promulgation.

  • Three-Fold Use of Law

Muller says:

 usus legis: use of the law; as distinguished by the Protestant scholastics, both Lutheran and Reformed, there are three uses of the lex moralis. (1) …the political or civil use, according to which the law serves the commonwealth, or body politic, as a force for the restraint of sin. The first usus stands completely apart from any relation to the work of salvation and functions much as revelatio generalis…in bringing some knowledge of God’s will to all mankind. (2) …the elenctical or pedagogical use; i.e., the use of the law for the confrontation and refutation of sin and for the purpose of pointing the way to Christ. …(3) …the tertius usus legis, the third use of the law. This final use of the law pertains to believers in Christ who have been saved through faith apart from works. In the regenerate life, the law no longer functions to condemn, since it no longer stands elenctically over against man as the unreachable basis for salvation, but acts as a norm of dconduct, freely accepted by those in whom the grace of God works the good. This normative use is also didactic inasmuch as the law now teaches, without condemnation, the way of righteousness.[8]

The first use applies to all men. The second use applies to all men who come in contact with the written Word of God. The third use applies to believers alone.

Concluding Thoughts

This section has been devoted to defining our terms. No attempt was made to prove all the assertions of the definitions. It is simply offered to help us as we enter the thought-world of many theologians who have gone before us. In the pages that follow, we will come in contact with the terms noted above and the concepts they seek to embody. An attempt will be made in the biblical section to show how these concepts actually come from the text of Scripture.

 Richard Barcellos
IRBS Continuing Education Program 

___________________________________________

[1] Richard A. Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms Drawn Principally from Protestant Scholastic Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1985), 175.

[2] Turretin, Elenctic Theology, II:2.

[3] Turretin, Elenctic Theology, II:2.

[4] Turretin, Elenctic Theology, II:2.

[5] Muller, Dictionary, 173-174.

[6] Turretin, Elenctic Theology, II:2.

[7] Muller, Dictionary, 173.

[8] Muller, Dictionary, 320-21.

Gratitude for God’s gifts

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on June 13, 2014 at 9:31 am

And he set up the pillars in the porch of the temple: and he set up the right pillar, and called the name thereof Jachin: and he set up the left pillar, and called the name thereof Boaz.  1Kings 7:21

It has been my pleasure and privilege to know many fine pastors in the Reformed Baptist movement in the last 33 years, and each has had an influence in my life, on my understanding of the scripture, and on my pastoral work that has been of tremendous value. Without their contribution to my life, my ministry would have been poorer by far.

Such men have contributed greatly to not only my own ministry, but the ministry of many others as well. All of us pastors owe a tremendous debt of gratitude for the influence that men of God have had on us individually, and on the Reformed Baptist movement as a whole, both in America and around the world.

But among the Reformed Baptist pastors that have had perhaps the largest sphere and degree of influence for good in our movement in the last several decades, two names stand head and shoulders above the rest: Walter Chantry and Albert Martin.

Both were contemporary pioneers in the fledgling Reformed Baptist movement that was coming to life in America, and both contributed immeasurably to the growth of both the number of men that came to Reformed Baptist convictions, and the number of Reformed Baptist churches that were founded as a result.

It was my pleasure to know both men personally, and each had a dramatic impact on my theology and ministry: Pastor Martin through his tape ministry, and Pastor Chantry through his books. But it was more than their teaching that had an impact – it was their personal kindness to me individually that made it clear that these men were not just teachers, but that they both had a heart for God’s servants that was compassionate and loving.

When I was going through some very difficult decisions regarding the impending death of my uncle, Pastor Martin took the time to give me personal counsel about the ethical issues that applied to medical decisions that I had to make, and provided both wisdom and comfort in what was a very difficult and confusing time for me.

When I was a young pastor, and in sore need of guidance in ordering my pastoral priorities and my ministry to my flock, Pastor Chantry took a day out of his schedule to drive 400 miles round trip to have lunch with me to provide that guidance.

It was my pleasure to attend various pastors’ conferences where each spoke on various occasions, and the unfailing effect of their warm pastoral preaching was to re-inspire each pastor there to more zealous and faithful service for Christ.

Each of these men have made a huge contribution to the Reformed Baptist movement, and inspired thousands to love and preach the reformed faith. Without them both we would have been much poorer and less knowledgeable than we are. Thank God for such gifts to His church. We remember them both with love and gratitude, and pray that the Head of the church may be pleased to raise up such pillars once again.

Pastor Max Doner
Sovereign Grace Bible Church
Lebanon, Oregon

 

On the Depravity of Man

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on June 12, 2014 at 10:49 am

Charles Haddon Spurgeon once said, “As the salt flavors every drop in the Atlantic, so does sin affect every atom of our nature. It is so sadly there, so abundantly there, that if you cannot detect it, you are deceived.” The great works of Christians down through the centuries are filled with the same testimony: man is the slave of sin, utterly undone outside of Christ. Even those whose theology did not measure up to the biblical standard could not help, in their prayers, to confess what they knew to be true: the fallen sons of Adam are dead in sin, incapable of even the first move toward God. Even more, they are filled with the effect of depravity and alienation from God: enmity and hatred toward His holy standards. This was a common element of Spurgeon’s preaching:

Now, the calling of the Holy Spirit is without any regard to any merit in us. If this day the Holy Spirit shall call out of this congregation a hundred men, and bring them out of their estate of sin into a state of righteousness, you shall bring these hundred men, and let them march in review, and if you could read their hearts, you would be compelled to say, “I see no reason why the Spirit of God should have operated upon these. I see nothing whatever that could have merited such grace as this – nothing that could have caused the operations and motions of the Spirit to work in these men.” For, look ye here. By nature, men are said to be dead in sin. If the Holy Spirit quickens, it cannot be because of any power in the dead men, or any merit in them, for they are dead, corrupt and rotten in the grave of their sin. If then, the Holy Spirit says, “Come forth and live,” it is not because of anything in the dry bones, it must be for some reason in His own mind, but not in us. Therefore, know ye this, men and brethren, that we all stand upon a level. We have none of us anything that can recommend us to God; and if the Spirit shall choose to operate in our hearts unto salvation, He must be moved to do it by His own supreme love, for He cannot be moved to do it by any good will, good desire, or good deed, that dwells in us by nature.

The “flip-side” of divine freedom is the fact that man, the great image-bearer of God, is a fallen creature, a slave to sin, spiritually dead, incapable of doing what is pleasing to God. Just as the great freedom of the Potter offends rebellious pots, so too does the Bible’s teaching on the inabilities of man due to sin. The fallen sons and daughters of Adam are most adept at finding ways to promote creaturely freedom at the cost of God’s freedom, while at the same time promoting the servitude of God to the whims and will of man. It would be humorous if it were not so serious: the pots gathering together and assuring each other that the Potter either doesn’t exist, or, at worst, will sit idly by while they take control and “run the show” themselves. Yet this is the impact of sin upon the thinking of man. Man suppresses the truth of his createdness and invariably attempts to find a means to “control” God. One wisely put it this way:

Again, it is certain that man never achieves a clear knowledge of himself unless he has first looked upon God’s face, and then descends from contemplating him to scrutinize himself….So it happens in estimating our spiritual goods. As long as we do not look beyond the earth, being quite content with our own righteousness, wisdom, and virtue, we flatter ourselves most sweetly, and fancy ourselves all but demigods. Suppose we but once begin to raise our thoughts to God, and to ponder his nature, and how completely perfect are his righteousness, wisdom, and power-the straightedge to which we must be shaped. Then, what masquerading earlier as righteousness was pleasing in us will soon grow filthy in its consummate wickedness. What wonderfully impressed us under the name of wisdom will stink in its very foolishness. What wore the face of power will prove itself the most miserable weakness. That is, what in us seems perfection itself corresponds ill to the purity of God.

Truly recognizing one’s spiritual state is a gift of grace. Outside of God opening the eyes of the heart man thinks himself wonderfully pure, or at least acceptable in God’s sight. That is why the unregenerate person cannot understand the urgency of the gospel message: until they see the depth of their sin and the holiness of God, they find no reason to seek remedy for their condition.

Man’s religions consistently promote the myth of man’s autonomy: his absolute freedom to act outside of any eternal decree of God. “Man is the master of his destiny” seems to be the watchword of the religions of men, and even of many in Christendom today. How many times have you heard a preacher say, “In the matter of election, God has cast his vote for you, Satan has cast his against you, and now the final vote is up to you”? Such an assertion not only makes man’s choice equal with God’s, but it likewise places the final decision for what takes place in time squarely in the hands of man, not of God.
The Potter’s Freedom, pp. 75-77.

James White
Alpha and Omega Ministries
Phoenix Reformed Baptist Church

Some Old Pics from the Metropolitan Tabernacle

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on June 10, 2014 at 9:32 am

Met-Tab-Rooms

 

Deacons

.

Elders

Stop the Killing! (Against Fratricidal Publication)

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on June 7, 2014 at 3:39 pm

Technological advance often outpaces ethics. Consider medical science, for example, where the expertise in extending “life” seems greater than the consensus about when and how this ought to be done. A similar problem arises in communications technology and social media. These introduce complex questions for our ethical consideration. This message begins to address a concern especially about publishing by means of blogs, while the biblical principles raised also have implications for circulated letters and physical books. Recent events have heightened our awareness of this need, but we intend a wide application.

And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him (Gen 4.8).

Speak not evil one of another, brethren (Jas 4.11).

But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another (Gal 5.15).

The dawn of human history witnessed a crime of epic proportions: brother-murder. As killing a man is homicide, and killing oneself is suicide, so killing a brother is fratricide.

Murder is heinous because every human being is created in God’s image. That makes murder­­ an unspeakably wicked crime, because it is attempted deicide. The malice behind murder is not only horizontal but vertical, directed against the untouchable God through His vulnerable images in this world.

Fratricide or brother-murder is an especially loathsome species of murder because it is a gross violation of the special obligations that brothers have toward each other. Hateful Cain asked God insolently, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen 4.9). As a matter of fact, Cain, you are! Matthew Henry remarked here that

A charitable concern for our brethren, as their keepers, is a great duty, which is strictly required of us, but is generally neglected by us. Those who are unconcerned in the affairs of their brethren, and take no care, when they have opportunity, to prevent their hurt in their bodies, goods, or good name, especially in their souls, do, in effect, speak Cain’s language (emphasis mine).

Godly Abram knew that close kinship was a great incentive for peace, when he said to his nephew Lot, “Let there be no strife, I pray thee, between me and thee, and between my herdmen and thy herdmen; for we be brethren” (Gen 13.8), or, “we are kinsman” (ESV). Abram has physical kinship and physical strife in mind, but this principle applies even more urgently when the kinship and crimes are spiritual. Christian brethren are under the greatest obligation to love one another, and this precludes character assassination.

If and when pastors slander other pastors, this is especially evil for three reasons.

First, Scripture requires exemplary conduct from pastors. “A bishop then must be blameless” (1 Tim 3.2). We must be consistent, living illustrations of our Lord Jesus Christ’s own love and righteousness.

Second, a man’s reputation is a precious commodity, so the one who would rob him of this is a felonious thief. “A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and loving favour rather than silver and gold” (Prov 22.1). Would we tolerate inter-pastoral debits from one another’s checking accounts? Would there not be an outcry if any of us hacked into another pastor’s bank account and stole thousands of dollars? It follows that there should be widespread recognition and denunciation of anything approaching online slander in tone or substance, which is worse than robbery.

Third, pastors wield the greatest influence for good or ill in the churches. A healthy church holds its pastors and their teaching in high regard. Slandering good men tends to undermine their influence, and this sets a bad, contagious example for the flock. Scripture says, “Everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6.40 ESV). Instead of reproving their people for evil-speaking, slanderous teachers set the pace. They tend to corrupt all their students.

Considerations like these from Scripture are important and relevant in times like these, and sadly, not purely theoretical. My thesis on this subject should hardly be controversial, but our judgment can become clouded in the heat of controversy. Let me state my thesis as plainly as I can.

Public, verbal attacks, whether by letters, blogs, or books, upon the reputation of any pastors in good standing, are wicked and ought to cease whenever they have been indulged.

If indeed my assessment is sound, then the word from the throne of God Almighty, who said, “Thou shalt not kill,” must be,

Stop the killing!

Let me briefly explain my longer thesis statement. By public I mean readily accessible to believers and unbelievers alike, and to people who have no legitimate and spiritual need to know. By verbal attacks upon the reputation of any pastors I mean derogatory ad hominem comments that can only tend to diminish whatever respect the hearer has for the men being criticized. I am not including respectful public interaction about doctrinal differences in my censure, nor benevolent reproof. Letters, blogs, or books are prime examples of media that may be circulated without any ethical consideration to restrict the number and identity of the readers. By pastors in good standing I mean men who are considered biblically-qualified and competent as pastors by true churches of Christ. By wicked, I mean these attacks violate the ethical standards of Holy Scripture and are therefore offensive to God and rebellious against the Lord Jesus Christ. By ought to cease, I mean that wherever it is found, publication of these things should cease and desist promptly. Blog posts should be deleted. Presses should stop and publishers should absorb the financial loss as a sacrifice for the good of the churches. Those who have sinned should make public confession, ask forgiveness of their readers, and practice godly communications in the future.

To avoid being misunderstood, I need to qualify what I am saying, and please note this well. Here we are dealing with a vast and complex case of casuistry. If he missed my qualifications, a reasonable hearer could absolutize my teaching and suspect that I object in principle to any reproof whatsoever of any pastor under any circumstances in a public forum, no matter how grossly and publicly that pastor has sinned. Indeed, I consider this sermon itself as an example of lawful, public reproof to whomever it fairly convicts. A reasonable hearer who overlooked my qualifications here and elsewhere in this message might also doubt that I would judge it proper ever to publish something of a vindication of a pastor who has been slandered. I want to go on record that my remarks should not be so extrapolated. This message is only an attempt to elaborate some initial biblical principles for application in these complex matters.

I have been meditating on these things for months, and there is much I would like to say. Many Scripture texts and biblical truths have a bearing on this complicated matter, but in a brief message like this we can only survey some of the most important ones. Three aspects of this topic demand our attention: first, the light of biblical law; second, the lightness of potential excuses; and third, the way forward from this kind of moral mess. Of necessity we must deal with each sub-point only briefly, and the first part on biblical law will occupy most of our attention.

THE LIGHT OF BIBLICAL LAW

First, then, let us consider the light of biblical law, or more specifically, the moral law in Scripture. The 1689 London Baptist Confession teaches that this law “continues to be a perfect rule of righteousness after the fall,” and “does forever bind all, as well justified persons as others, to the obedience thereof,” and “is of great use to [believers] as well as to others, in that as a rule of life, informing them of the will of God and their duty, it directs and binds them to walk accordingly, discovering also the sinful pollutions of their natures, hearts, and lives, so as examining themselves thereby, they may come to further conviction of, humiliation for, and hatred against, sin” (Chapter XIX, “Of the Law of God”).

Now while in Reformed thought the Ten Commandments are emphasized as a summary of this moral law, it is found throughout Scripture in many precepts and prohibitions, not to mention appearing in more subtle ways in other genres of biblical literature. For example, we see true righteousness on glorious display in the gospel narratives of our Lord Jesus Christ.

What follows, then, in no particular order, are a few aspects of biblical righteousness that are more pertinent to the matter at hand. May the Lord awaken every conscience by His holy Word, and sanctify us for His glory.

The Law of Love or Benevolence

Let us start with the law of love or benevolence. While “love” is a term that can encompass the whole Christian ethic, I am using it here in a more restricted sense to denote that spirit and conduct which intend the good of one’s fellow man. This is a duty we owe to everyone, especially to those of the household of faith, and by inference, even more to the spiritual leaders among us. Clearly this is God’s will for us.

Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law (Rom 13.8-10).

“Love worketh no ill to his neighbor,” or, it “does no wrong to a neighbor” (ESV). The word translated as “ill” or “wrong” seems to have the sense here of harm or injury (BAGD, LN 20.18). Please notice the universal negation, “love works no harm.” An ancient principle of bioethics is, in Latin, “primum non nocere,” and in English, “first, do no harm.” The wise physician makes a priority of considering the effect of any treatment on his patient. In general, a treatment that does more harm than good is ill-advised. Helping the patient and making him healthier is the goal. This same thing is true as a general principle in the spiritual realm. We should consider what effect our words will have on others, and “love does no harm.” The converse truth is that love seeks to help or benefit the other person in some way.

I am persuaded that a thoughtful, deliberate purpose to do the most good to all involved would diminish the communication sins of God’s people. Unethical attacks are an unholy malignancy in the body of Christ. When it comes to relations between spiritual leaders within the true church, our sincere benevolence must be conspicuous as a governing principle. Above all others in the church, pastors should be models of love in relationships with one another! Hateful words hurled in public are hurtful words and do not promote the cause of Christ.

The Law of Forbearance

Differences of opinion and personal provocations are inevitable in churches full of the sinful people that we all are, and therefore we have a great need to be patient with each other. This inner virtue and relational practice is required in many biblical passages, but consider how it is stressed in Ephesians 4.1-2,

I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love.

A meek and quiet spirit is valuable in God’s sight in all His saints, not just women, because it is the spirit of Christ Himself (1 Pet 3.4; Matt 5.5; 11.29). When one is truly meek, he is slow to take offense and puts up a long time with all kinds of annoyances from his fellow believers, whether those arise from healthy debate within the bounds of orthodoxy, genuine or perceived faults in the ways situations have been handled in the past, or being overlooked in the work of ministry while others are more highly honored. Patience among Christian coworkers is like oil that keeps the working engine cool and helps it to run efficiently. Without it there is friction and overheating, and the whole thing is liable to fail.

The Law of Privacy

When it comes to matters of dispute among God’s people, Scripture cautions us in general to keep things as private as we can in resolving the problems. Here are a few passages illustrating this.

Debate thy cause with thy neighbour himself; and discover not a secret to another: lest he that heareth it put thee to shame, and thine infamy turn not away (Prov 25.9-10).

On this text, Allen Ross wrote,

It is best to keep personal quarrels private to avoid public shame. These verses also are in the form of an instruction with a motivation. The thought runs that if in an argument with your neighbor you reveal another man’s confidence, he who hears you will shame you and you will always have a bad reputation. To put it more directly, do not divulge secrets in order to clear yourself in an argument. The point involves damaging a friendship by involving others in a private quarrel (Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 5 [1991], emphasis mine).

In the well-known passage of Matthew 18.15-18, Jesus is more explicit about handling things in the context of a local church. His teaching implies a general principle that escalation of confrontations is very undesirable. If resolution is possible between two brothers alone, that is best. If not, then only one or two others should be brought in as witnesses, judges, and counselors, with every prayer and hope that the matter will be resolved and go no further. Only when both of these steps utterly fail should the whole local church be informed, and the implication is that even then we must be careful not to spread the bad news of a dispute any further than ethically necessary. I acknowledge that other biblical principles sometimes warrant informing others outside a local church in the interest of God’s glory and the church’s good.

The fact that someone else was the first to violate the proper bounds of privacy in a particular matter does not in itself justify open publication and give carte blanche permission to say whatever one will about it. There is always the danger that further public discussion will result in a wider than ethically necessary awareness of our shame. We must be exceedingly cautious and be sure we have biblical justification for any reproof of guilty parties before the world. “The beginning of strife is as when one letteth out water: therefore leave off contention, before it be meddled with” (Prov 17.14).

The Law of Humility

A truly humble man is willing to be thought little of, and considered wrong, and even slandered and vilified, rather than lash out at others for vindication. Our Lord Jesus Christ exemplified this supremely. “When he was reviled, [he] reviled not again” (1 Pet 2.23). This kind of humility also restrains us from self-promotion, speaking well about ourselves to further our reputation and influence. Proverbs 27.2 pithily exposes that sin when it says, “Let another man praise thee, and not thine own mouth; a stranger, and not thine own lips.” This saying prohibits proud boasting as unrighteous and unbecoming in a man of wisdom.

The relevance of this is apparent from the tone of much blogging about controversies involving men and their ministries. It is not hard to find examples which clearly violate biblical norms. A couple of them in Proverbs teach us that wisdom and humility put a restraint upon the tongue. “A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back” (Prov 29.11). “The vexation of a fool is known at once, but the prudent ignores an insult” (Prov 12.16).

The Law of Testimony before the World

Paul rebukes Corinthian Christians for taking one another to court for settling disputes among them. He rebukes them because this blemishes the testimony of the Christian community in front of the world of unbelievers. The passage is 1 Corinthians 6.1-8:

1 Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust, and not before the saints? 2 Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world? and if the world shall be judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters? 3 Know ye not that we shall judge angels? how much more things that pertain to this life? 4 If then ye have judgments of things pertaining to this life, set them to judge who are least esteemed in the church. 5 I speak to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you? no, not one that shall be able to judge between his brethren? 6 But brother goeth to law with brother, and that before the unbelievers. 7 Now therefore there is utterly a fault among you, because ye go to law one with another. Why do ye not rather take wrong? why do ye not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded? 8 Nay, ye do wrong, and defraud, and that your brethren.

Paul’s words are drenched in pastoral reproof. How dare you do this? “How dare you take your internal disputes ‘before the unjust,’ that is, unbelieving judges and the world, and ‘not before the saints,’ that is, within the bounds of your own local church?” After insisting that this particular local church is competent internally to resolve disputes of this nature, Paul complains that they air their dirty laundry “before the unbelievers” (v. 6). This is such a grievous thing that Paul says to them, “It would be better for you to tolerate real injuries in your midst than to wreck the church’s testimony (and thus diminish the good name of the Lord Himself) by these public disputes.” “Shame on you!” (v. 5), Paul says by the Spirit of God.

Of course our pastors have sinned in many ways. And often what seems a transgression would be seen in a much better light if the whole truth were known about what actually happened. But my dear brothers, malicious wrangling on the World Wide Web where every ill-disposed enemy of the Church of Jesus Christ can read it and use it against us is wrong, even where there have been real injustices. We must not send a massive shipment of military arms for free to the Devil and his minions! Love covers a multitude of sins, and so does zeal for the Lord’s glory and the world’s salvation.

Now there may be instances where public statements should and can be made righteously, which unbelievers may regrettably hear, but we ought to never resort to such an extreme measure unless other biblical principles absolutely constrain us to it.

The Law of Patience

The fact is that in this life there is no possibility of “setting the record straight” so that all the guilty parties are properly shamed and punished while the Lord’s innocent servants are fully vindicated. Only our Lord Jesus Christ, who knows everything perfectly, including everyone’s motives—which are absolutely critical to a just judgment—is competent to make sweeping judgments about who deserves praise or blame. The Lord knows that we are prone to “judge by appearances” instead of “with right judgment” (John 7.24 ESV). Even a man’s judgment of his own heart and ministry is not absolutely trustworthy, so how much less his assessment of another man! We must patiently await Christ’s return and entrust judgment to Him, as Paul urged in 1 Corinthians 4.4-5:

4 For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God (ESV).

Believe me, brethren, the Lord is watching, and Judgment Day will reveal the truth to the glory of Christ with His faithful servants. We can—we must—wait until then for the full vindication of the faithful.

The Law of the Golden Rule

What has been called “the Golden Rule” often brings amazing clarity to ethical decisions. Found in several biblical passages (Matt 7.12; Luke 6.31), we could paraphrase it this way, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” James calls this principle “the royal law according to the Scripture,” and says that if you really fulfill it, you are doing well (Jas 2.8).

Now I would ask any pastor who may be involved in attempts to shame his fellow pastors, “Is this the way you would like to be treated by others?” I didn’t think so! No critic is wholly innocent; who possibly could be? So why would we treat others worse than we want to be treated? The most discerning people can easily see that pastors abusing pastors is very wrong.

I had hoped to elaborate on several other aspects of biblical law:

  • The law of peacemaking (“Blessed are the peacemakers,” Matt 5.9; “Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another,” Rom 14.19).
  • The law of a need to know (“Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people,” Lev 19.16; “A talebearer revealeth secrets: but he that is of a faithful spirit concealeth the matter,” Prov 11.13).
  • The law of presumptive innocence (“Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things,” 1 Cor 13.7 ESV).

But we have almost run out of time. I will be content with calling attention to one more law of biblical righteousness.

The Law of Survival

Like Jesus, we pastors ought to be consumed with zeal for the well-being of His church. We should be and do what tends to her health, strength, and genuine prosperity. Promoting her edification, defense, and genuine growth in stature, usefulness, and multiplication throughout the world must be our great concern.

This is why all Christians, and especially pastors, must be governed by the law of church survival. Whatever tends to destroy the brethren must be wrong. Those who devour the sheep are wolves, not pastors who lovingly sacrifice themselves for the good of the sheep.

Perverse talk is one of the most effective ways to ruin the church, and so it is high on the list of evils to be avoided like the plague. As Paul said, “But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another” (Gal 5.15). We should avoid forming a circular firing squad!

THE LIGHTNESS OF POTENTIAL EXCUSES

It is proper that biblical law should have the preponderance of our consideration in these ethical matters, so the last two parts of this message are appropriately concise.

Consider next the lightness of potential excuses. The fallen mind is extremely inventive in rationalizing bad behavior. In the light of this principle, I would not be surprised if some were to raise various objections to my thesis.

First, one could make the excuse of history. “We need to have a history of these things so we do not repeat our mistakes.” Writing history is legitimate, but a true and faithful history of pastors and churches, for example, could be written without demonizing honorable men and ministries. Church historians are not exempted from the biblical laws I have explained and many more I have not mentioned.

One might offer the excuse of retaliation. “They started it, so they deserve what’s coming.” Even if I grant these two points, they do not allow for repaying evil with evil. Scripture explicitly condemns retaliation. “Recompense to no man evil for evil” (Rom 12.17). Frankly, this excuse sounds like what six-year olds say when mother tells them to stop fighting with each other. “He hit me first!” His bad behavior does not justify mine.

In controversies of this nature, three basic parties may emerge. First, there could be the malicious aggressor with his sympathizers. Others, offended, may gravitate toward a counter-attacker, even if he writes sinfully, because they agree with his point of view. Third, the most benevolent observers pray for an outbreak of peace. I stand in the third group and I would enlist as many as I can.

Curiosity could be offered as an excuse. “Whenever I travel around preaching, people ask me, ‘What is the problem between Pastor X and Pastor Y?’” And because of this kind of sinful curiosity, Pastor Z feels compelled to “spill the beans.” I can hardly believe any man of God would fall for this. The National Enquirer is a tabloid paper that used to have a slogan, “Enquiring minds want to know.” Anyone professing allegiance to our Lord Jesus Christ would be hard-pressed to justify anything that even remotely resembles a gossip rag.

The excuse of truth sounds noble. Offenders might boldly challenge their critics, “You show us anything that is not true in what we are publishing and we will correct it,” but that argument assumes a colossally-false premise that whatever is true may be righteously published. Anyone embracing that view, if he is not altogether wicked, would be suffering from a huge ethical blind spot.

Some might try the excuse of independence with the accusation of prejudicial favor toward the alleged offenders. Here is what I mean. Critics could feel justified because they are proving they have no ultimate loyalty to any particular man, and if we say anything in that man’s defense, we might be judged as his lackeys, unprincipled fawners over a charismatic leader. In response I say that we do not have to slander a man to be independent thinkers, and that godly pastoral relationships preclude backstabbing. There is a way to disagree without resorting to public shaming.

I would briefly mention the potential excuse of good intentions. People could argue that a good end sometimes justifies admittedly regrettable means. Listen carefully, my friends. It is never, ever, ever right to violate biblical law. The God who gave it to us is infinitely wise, and He has given us a sufficient rule to govern our behavior. Faith leads us to obey God even when the consequences of obedience seem disastrous. It is never right to do wrong. Nothing is more important than God’s honor, and God is honored when we practice scrupulous conformity to His revealed will. Sin is the greatest evil—greater than shame, greater than obscurity, and greater than martyrdom.

Finally, the promotion of formal church associations would be no excuse. Some strongly believe that biblical principle, a common confession of faith, and cooperative endeavor require formal church associations. Personally, I am not convinced of this, but I consider such associations to be a matter where very good men can differ charitably and peaceably. As such, it falls into the category of the “doubtful things” of Romans 14. Paul explains there how we can have unity in a church, and by implication, among the churches, where there is diversity of opinion on many controversial issues like this. But this much I know. Even if formal church associations were God’s will for us, they would not excuse public, verbal attacks, whether by letters, blogs, or books, upon the reputation of any pastors in good standing.

THE WAY FORWARD

Suppose that from a failure to appreciate these biblical truths many had sinned already, involving many people in their public misdeeds. What could and should be done? Let me briefly suggest the way forward in the light of God’s revealed will.

First, we must have ethical clarity about these things. “In thy light shall we see light” (Psa 36.9). With courage and conviction, we pastors need to shine the light of God’s Word on these matters until a strong, enlightened consensus dawns upon our churches and we recognize these God-dishonoring sins for what they are.

Second, we must combat these sins with all courage. The Holy Spirit exhorts us to “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them” (Eph 5.11). It has been no easy thing for me to preach as I have, but my conscience constrains me to bear this heartfelt witness against sin, whoever is guilty of it. Paul’s Christian principles demanded he write some pointed things, but he did it with love, many tears, and a broken heart. I trust my disposition is like his. Let all pastors faithfully teach and warn in this area of concern. It will help if we present a united front for holiness.

Third, God calls us to private confrontation. When Providence has brought us into a closer personal fellowship with an offender, we have a duty to go meekly to him and plead that he reconsider his ways. We must try to restore him spiritually (Gal 6.1).

Fourth, when there has been sin, let there be thorough repentance and forgiveness. We “ought to . . . forgive [the penitent], and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow” (2 Cor 2.7). However low the church’s condition, all is not lost. God’s Spirit is able to grant deep contrition and sincere reconciliation between aggrieved parties. The Savior is able to heal all the breaches among us. I know it is God’s will that these things should happen. Let us pray that they will.

Fifth, there should be ecclesiastical discipline for any stubborn offenders. Titus 3.10 says, “As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him” (ESV). Should any pastor persist in slandering others even after faithful confrontation and calls to repentance, his own local church ought to relieve him of his office at the very least. Church members must not tolerate wicked pastors over them. “As for those [elders] who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear” (1 Tim 5.20). Where a church has the advantage of elder plurality, leadership in pastoral discipline is especially the responsibility of the other elders. May God either reform or remove the offenders!

Finally, I am calling for exemplary publishing from now on. “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Eph 4.29 ESV). The same verbal holiness is required of our writing as well. We really can preach the gospel, edify the brethren, and save our hearers without resorting to fratricidal publication. It is not only evil, but horribly counterproductive. Such controversies tend to be a draining distraction from giving ourselves wholly to our legitimate ministries as pastor-teachers. Let us not dedicate our time, intelligence, and energy to producing countless pages of malicious diatribes. Let us not give the devil a foothold among us! O, good Lord! Forgive us for any of this, and let us devote ourselves purposefully to Your holy service in the manner that pleases You. Amen.

*This is an edited transcript of a sermon delivered in May 2014.

Note: Please refrain from mentioning any specific pastors, churches, blogs, books, or associations in any follow-up comments. A focus on biblical truth in these ethical matters would be safest and most edifying.

—————————————–

D. Scott Meadows, Pastor
Calvary Baptist Church (Reformed)
Exeter, New Hampshire USA
http://cbcexeter.sermonaudio.com

 

Discrimination, Conscience, and Religious Liberty

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on June 5, 2014 at 6:21 am

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(This article was originally published on March 3, 2014 www.reformedvirginian.com)

Last week saw yet another major battle in the so-called “culture war.”  The State legislature of Arizona passed a bill to protect religious liberty in the face of mounting efforts to force conscientious objectors–Christians in particular–to participate in same-sex “marriage” ceremonies through their professions.  In other words, the legislators were trying to protect a Christian baker (for example) from having to bake a wedding cake for a homosexual ceremony and thus violating his conscience.  Other examples include a Christian wedding photographer or florist being legally protected from doing likewise.  Yet these examples aren’t hypothetical, but real instances in which the civil state sanctioned believers because they refused to violate their consciences.  And there will certainly be more of these cases over time.

Sadly, the Governor of Arizona folded to political and economic pressure.  It illustrated Matthew 6:24 quite well.  She vetoed the bill and “gay rights” advocates declared victory.  The Jacobin movement for “equality” is on the march and seemingly unstoppable.  It is not an exaggeration to suggest that secular humanism is now the state religion in America.  This is indeed a moral revolution, one which fomented rather slowly since the decade of the 1960s.  The Sexual Revolution (as it came to be known) is now entering its final stages, the redefinition of marriage itself being the last major offensive in this long cultural war to destroy what’s left of a once vibrant Christendom.  While the erosion of the Christian ethos has been a steady process, the movement to normalize homosexuality has taken off at a rapid rate over the past decade.  What began with the legalization of no-fault divorce has now morphed into a situation in which marriage is no longer recognizable.

In the debate over the religious freedom bill in Arizona, we heard the familiar mantra about discrimination and the need for “equal rights.”  Discrimination itself is spoken of today as if the term itself were a dirty word.  Yet what does it mean to discriminate?  Both the term as well as the practice are not inherently sinful.  In times past, we used to talk about discriminating between two things rather than discriminating against something.  Everyone discriminates in life, even if they don’t want to admit it.  Anyone who expresses any kind of preference is exercising a form of discrimination.  It is not an inherently hateful or wicked act.  Quite the contrary, the Word of God requires us to discriminate in all sorts of ways.  Yet even some professing Christians refuse to acknowledge this, submitting instead to the humanist dogma that “non-discrimination” is a virtue.

There are some voices in the visible church who actively opposed the Arizona legislation, citing this principle of non-discrimination and twisting Scripture in order to buttress their ideological commitments.  ”The church should not be promoting discrimination,” they say.  Yet the New Testament clearly requires the church to discriminate in all sorts of ways.  Every time a pastor administers the Lord’s Supper, an act of blatant discrimination is taking place.  And this is a good thing.  The Word of God tells us to fence the table, excluding anyone who is not a baptized believer in Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 11:27-34).  Those who are under church discipline are also barred from partaking in the sacrament.  Of course there are other instances of legitimate discrimination which can be found in Scripture, but the sacraments are, in my mind, the most obvious and powerful examples.

Are there ever wicked examples of discrimination?  Absolutely there are, but the religious freedom bill in Arizona wasn’t one of them.  Simply put, this was a matter of defending the sacred rights of conscience of the citizens of that State.  The bill was intended to make sure that no Christian would be forced–by virtue of being a business owner–to celebrate the wickedness and depravity of others.  Yet absolute conformity to the moral revolution is demanded by the cultural and political Left in America.  Matters of conscience on this issue are seen as an impediment to what they view as inevitable progress.  Giving up Christian sexual ethics and smothering one’s own conscience have become the sacrifices necessary to participate in society, especially if you are a business owner.  Do this or go under.  This imposition will inevitably lead to the marginalization of the church within the broader culture.

Our increasingly secular society has no patience for the Christian conscience whatsoever.  The humanist argument goes something like this: “You may worship and carry on all you like within your church or home, but don’t live out your beliefs beyond those areas.”  This attitude fits very well within the modern American paradigm of life as a compartmentalized structure.  By contrast, the Christian life is interconnected in all its parts.  Jesus Christ is Lord over every aspect of our lives, including what we do in the workplace, how we relate to the civil magistrates, our choices of entertainment, and so forth.  Hence, it is impossible for the Christian to relinquish this or that area of life to the world without committing gross sin.  We would be guilty of idolatry and denying Christ before men (Matt. 10:33).  Our allegiance is to Christ above all else and that is the very basis of our conscience.

For a very long time, the church in America has taken religious liberty for granted.  Yet this was not always so.  I won’t labor the point by quoting numerous individuals from the Colonial Era or bringing up the history of religious freedom in gross detail.  Instead, I’ll just point out that the victories won for religious liberty in America (thanks in large part to Baptists and Presbyterians) are relatively rare in church history.  That we can still enjoy the freedoms we have today illustrates the fact that we’re living on borrowed capital from our ancestors.  This capital diminishes more and more each day.  Yet some in the church saw this coming along time ago.  In 1897, the Southern theologian Robert Lewis Dabney prophetically stated: ”You may deem it a strange prophecy, but I will predict that the time will come in this once free America when the battle for religious liberty will have to be fought over again, and will probably be lost, because the people are already ignorant of its true basis and conditions.”

While we should not idolize religious liberty by any means, neither should we diminish its importance or consider it superfluous.  We ought to pray often that God would soften the hearts of civil leaders (here and around the world) that the Gospel would not be silenced.  To be sure, the loss of religious liberty is not primarily a political problem.  It doesn’t begin with the civil magistrates.  The fact that there are those within the visible church who apparently desire to see the state trample the consciences of Christians demonstrates where the problem really is.  It’s noteworthy that the churches which fought for and sustained religious liberty were those which were also confessional.  When a congregation’s doctrinal statement can fit comfortably on a postage stamp (so that they don’t offend anyone), there’s not conviction there to stand for much of anything.  These are congregations which are tossed to and fro by every trend of worldliness.  As we are reminded in James 4:4, friendship with the world means enmity with God.

If the Lord’s hand of providence provides us with less religious liberty than we’ve previously had, then we must learn to be content with this.  I know that’s not an American way of looking at it, but our Christianity should always trump our favorite American virtues.  Ultimately, this is good for the church in our land.  There’s a time for standing up for our rights, but submission to our sovereign God is an essential part of the Christian life.  In Philippians 1:29, we are given the stunning reminder that suffering on behalf of Christ is a gift from Him.  It is an honor.  Let these truths simmer in our minds and hearts such that, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we may bear much fruit in the days to come.

Josh Dermer

Josh is a student at Reformed Theological Seminary, Washington DC and a member of Covenant Reformed Baptist Church, Warrenton, VA.

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