Friday, October 29, 2010

Men Who Won't Lead, and the Women Who Follow Them Part 2

In a previous post I wrote: "Some may use the obvious neglect of spiritual things by men to justify flipping the roles of husband and wife or ordaining women to be elders and preachers. In my next post, I'll explain why this isn't a good idea." Well, it has been quite awhile, but I'm going to finally explain why switching roles isn't a good idea. Before I get started, I want to invite you to peruse your Bible for insight into God's design for men and women in the home and the church. I'm not going to explore the roles here. I'm going to assume them.

The short answer is very simple: God isn't a pragmatist and the world he has ordained is built for redemption rather than efficiency. God has not given us an open invitation to do whatever seems right to us. The ends do not justify the means in God's economy. We are all merely stewards or caretakers of what God has already put in place. We are not improvisers and entrepreneurs who win the world and carry the day with our can-do attitude. We are servants who take what our Master has spoken and try to carry it out as faithfully and precisely as we are capable. So if God's plan A - the one he has revealed in the Bible - doesn't seem to be working so well, we are not permitted to develop and implement a plan B that will get the job done better.

Are we to believe that God has been caught off-guard by the lack of godly men in the home and church? Has he been suckerpunched by his sons when he wasn't looking? Is he in Heaven with his head buried in his hands, distraught at how unfaithful men have become? No, no and um, no. God knows the time we live in and he knows our culture. He's aware of our idols and how much they distress and depress us. As we look at the abysmal state of masculinity all around us, we have nothing to fear. God is on his throne and "works all things according to the counsel of his will" (Eph. 1:11). So we can't allow ourselves to respond out of fear rather than faith. Faith follows God. Fear replaces him.

Here are a few practical things to consider in the home:

1. When husbands won't lead in the things of the Lord, wives must not neglect these things. Would it be ideal for husbands to lead? Yes. Are there many wives longing for their husbands to lead? Yes. But the fact remains that many husbands continue to live for themselves and their little kingdoms. That situation does not lessen the responsibility of their wives to be faithful to God as much as they are capable.

2. However, wives should not reverse Scripture because they think they can lead better than their husbands. Maybe they can lead better, but that's not what they're called to do. This is where wives must not be afraid of God's design, but trust God more than their own ideas.

3. This does not mean that women shouldn't set a good example of faith and godliness. They should obey God while being respectful to their husbands. They shouldn't neglect to meet with their Christian brothers and sisters, even if their husbands forbid it. And if their husbands won't lead in spiritual things, then wives should make sure the kids' spiritual nurture isn't neglected. But they must be respectful to their husbands anyway.

Here are a few practical things to consider in the church:

1. Even though a group of godly men (elders) is ideal to lead a church, it is not wise to settle for ungodly men if there aren't any godly ones. In other words, one godly elder is better than five ungodly ones who aren't really qualified.

2. In addition, we can't appoint godly women as elders, even though they may best the most godly men in the church in terms of faithfulness and love. Again, God is not always efficient. Pray for God to raise up godly men to be elders and wait.

3. This doesn't mean that women don't have important roles as sages and godly examples in the church. Men and women can grow in faith and godliness from the wise examples and even teaching of godly women. There is a difference between using spiritual gifts that both men and women receive and making definitive decisions concerning the direction of the entire body.

This post has been brief because the premise is simple. As backwards as it sounds, and I agree that it does sound backwards, it's better to follow God's plan for gender roles than replace it with something that seems better to us.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Pastoring Women from IXMarks

There's a lot of good stuff in the latest 9 marks e-journal. I thought Jani Ortlund's article was particularly helpful.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Men Who Won't Lead, and the Women Who Follow Them

In The Pursuit of Pleasure in the Pleasure of Another: A Christian Hedonist Guide to a Happy Marriage, I argue that husbands are "leading lovers" who sacrificially strive to use their God-given status as husbands to benefit their wives rather than consume them. And wives are "submissive helpers" who submit to their husbands' loving leadership. These roles complement rather than compete with one another. Everyone is happy, and all is good and right with the world... until reality sets in.

The truth is, I know many wives who would say, "My husband isn't loving or a leader. How can I submit to him?" On the flipside, I know many husbands who would say, "My wife doesn't submit to anything, no matter how much I love her." I'm the first to admit that the vision I propose in the book is more an ideal to be attained rather than a reality to be enjoyed. But it's better to know God's view of marriage, and the role of husbands and wives in it, then it is to coast through with no goal other than immediate personal gratification.

I've been reading an excellent biography of John A Broadus. Broadus was a baptist preacher in the mid 1800's. He is regarded as one of the greatest American preachers ever. He was also one of the founders of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Charles Spurgeon, a renowned British preacher and contemporary of Broadus, called him the "greatest of living preachers." That is quite a compliment coming from someone as popular as Spurgeon. Why do I bring up John Broadus? Because he dealt with an issue that we are still dealing with today, and the excerpt I'm about to quote could have been written by any contemporary pastor.

Charlottesville Baptist Church, where Broadus was pastor, experienced a kind of revival while he was there. Reflecting on the revival, Broadus wrote this: "Sunrise prayer meetings were kept up for the next two weeks, and the members, especially the sisters, increased much in fervor of feeling; but most of the male members neglected the meetings, and could not be induced to do otherwise."

I want to chuckle and weep at that testimony. Chuckle because it sounds like something out of Why Men Hate Going to Church (which was published in 2004). And weep because the same dilemma that Broadus lamented has continued to this very day. Men don't like church. If Broadus, one of the greatest preachers of his day, in the middle of a mini-awakening in his community, lacked "most" of the male members at his meetings, how much more can I expect similar findings today?

I've been asked more than once by wives who long for their husbands to take the lead in their homes, "Why won't he lead?" They aren't talking about leading in where to eat or whether to get the extra 50 channels on the cable package. They're talking about in spiritual matters. They're wondering why their husbands seem to be intent on leading them away from God rather than toward him. I haven't come up with a good answer yet. And then I read a quote like the one above from Broadus and realize this has been going on for some time. I don't think it's because the carpet in the church is purple or the worship leader isn't masculine enough. I'm beginning to think many men don't lead in spiritual things because they don't care about spiritual things. They're more concerned with this world than the next and instant gratification rather than eternal.

Some Christians will take what I've written and say, "Yeah, that's exactly right. So if men aren't going to do it, then women should take the lead, like Deborah in the Old Testament." Some may use the obvious neglect of spiritual things by men to justify flipping the roles of husband and wife or ordaining women to be elders and preachers. In my next post, I'll explain why this isn't a good idea.

The Insanity of Preaching

Over on my church-planting blog, I posted some thoughts concerning preaching. Here's the link for anyone interested.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Distracted by Holiness?

Can the desire for holiness be a distraction? Or to rephrase the question: Can one's quest for personal or communal holiness be so intense that it is actually detrimental to the Christian life? Before the question can be answered, we must address a presupposition to the question; namely, that holiness isn't God's ultimate aim in this present evil age. In other words, in order for holiness to be a distraction, there must be something besides holiness that could get shafted by the pursuit of holiness. In spite of the many verses concerning God's will for our holiness, I think that the pursuit of holiness can be, though by no means has to be, a distraction for the Christian. I'll lay out this argument point by point.

1. The aim of the Christian in this present evil age is to find his place in the making of disciples in all people groups. There is such a thing as the gospel and it is to be proclaimed to all creation and then the end will come. Jesus, Paul, Peter and John clearly connect the mission of gospel proclamation and the second coming of Jesus. Scripture promises the return of Christ when the elect are called out from all people groups in the world. Jesus didn't promise his return when a certain number of people stop drinking or eating too much cake or scratching off tickets or wearing bikinis.

2. If Jesus' primary aim for the Christian in this present evil age is personal holiness, then he would take the Christian out of this present evil age where he will forever be perfect in Heaven. Notice that I'm not saying holiness isn't a goal or a worthy pursuit. And I'm certainly not saying that holiness doesn't have a place in actually fulfilling the great commission. We must be a light so that others see the shining. But I am saying holiness is not the ultimate pursuit or priority here and now. Mission is.

3. Therefore, anything that stands in the way of mission is a distraction from the ultimate goal of the Christian life.

A. For some folks, sin will distract from mission. Lust and greed and ambition and sloth get in the way. For example, some are so enamored by pornography and the consequent guilt that they can't get out of the house long enough to make a disciple. Christ's mission will have to wait until they overcome their passions. Others are so smitten by success that they can't stop thinking about work long enough to focus on God's mission. So sin keeps them distracted with things that don't matter. The devil has these Christians right where he wants them - on the sidelines so captivated by their own sinful desires that God's real mission isn't even a blip on the radar.

B. On the other hand, folks are distracted by the pursuit of holiness. For example, some men are so worried that they might lust that they can't even talk to the cute girl next door long enough to be an ambassador for Christ. They feel like they've accomplished something for God by just avoiding her altogether. Let someone else reach her. And some women are so concerned with modesty that they fret over whether the blue eyeliner looks more trampy than the beige and feel like they've accomplished something for God when they finally throw the immodest makeup and shirt and shorts and shoes and slacks in the trash. They feel good about selfishly spending all their money on themselves if the clothes they buy are modest. Others fret over whether they can drink a beer or not, eat a piece of cheesecake or not, listen to Jay Z or not, watch Harry Potter or not, read The Shack or not, play poker or not, buy a car or not, homeschool their children or not, have non-Christian friends or not and the list goes on. Just like the sinful folks, the devil also has these Christians right where he wants them - on the sidelines so captivated by their own pursuit of holiness that God's real mission isn't even a blip on the radar.

4. Sin and the pursuit of holiness do not have to distract from the Christian life.

A. Those caught in the vicious cycle of struggle... sin... shame... sequester... struggle... sin... shame... sequester... need to realize all the shame and solitude in the world is not going to atone for the nasty people they are. Christ came to perfect for all time those who are being sanctified (Heb. 10:14). So when people succumb to their particular lusts, they need to repent of their sin - if hourly, then hourly, if daily, then daily, if yearly, then yearly. Repentance is not so much turning from committing a sin to not committing that sin, but rather turning from self to God's mission. So the man who looked at porn for the 500,000,000th time after swearing yet again to never do it again needs to fall on Christ, swear yet again, and then GO MAKE DISCIPLES. What other option is there? Reserve himself for hell and just give up?

B. Those caught in the vicious cycle of thinking that God left them here to see how well they could fight against their lusts in the privacy of their own homes need to realize that Christ knew their nastiness when he called them. Christ came to perfect for all time those who are being sanctified (Heb. 10:14). So when people delude themselves into thinking that taking up their cross is giving up watching Modern Family, or trading in a two-piece suit for a one-piece, or trading in sugar for Splenda, or giving up bowling for sitting at home on the couch, they need to repent of their righteousness. Taking up the cross is about trading a selfish agenda - one that loves sin or one that loves trying to avoid sin - for a missional agenda where spreading the gospel shapes the Christian's priorities.

For those who think I'm off my rocker, I give you Jesus: "Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance." He told us his priority loud and clear. But it is easier for us to sit at home debating whether chicken is more holy than steak or Spongebob is more holy than Family Guy than leaving both off to go and tell someone else about Jesus. Or enjoying either for a time of relaxation between telling people about Jesus. Or watching them with non-Christians while telling them about Jesus during the commercials. There is joy in Heaven over folks who fight sin. BUT there is more joy in Heaven when a sinner comes to Christ than when a righteous person makes yet another righteous choice. So why do we spend so much energy debating with ourselves and others a secondary cause of joy to God when he has told us what really floats his boat? Could we be distracted by holiness?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Excellent Insight Into Gospel-centered Homes

Timmy Brister gives excellent insight into gospel-centered homes.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Knowing Jesus is Knowing Doctrine About Jesus

Just a head's up to all those readers of The Profound Mystery who live on the cutting edge of evangelical life via the internet and There is a huge push in publishing these days, both on blogs and in print, to leave behind all the divisive and constrictive doctrines about Jesus - things like church structure and authority, substitutionary atonement and Divine wrath. The reason for this push, stated in various forms, is that the doctrines that have grounded evangelical churches for so long have not resulted in a true knowledge of Jesus, but rather a replacement of Jesus with the doctrines themselves. In other words, evangelical Christians are accused of worshiping an idol of Jesus instead of the "real person" Jesus. This is the supposed reason for the terrible state of the church in the west and the apathetic and carnal nature of Christians in the west. These "prophets" of Jesus want everyone to believe that in order to fix western Christianity, we must put Jesus back at the center of the church.

I am in full agreement with ensuring that Jesus is at the center of everything. However, I am convinced that the Jesus these folks are arguing for isn't the Jesus of the Bible - at least not in his fullness. Let me be as clear as possible. Jesus cannot be known without knowing him through propositions derived from Scripture. Period. All this notion about knowing and following the "living Jesus" rather than the Jesus of doctrine is a load of crap. Jesus lives in the living and active Word of God. That is where he chooses to reveal himself.

It is not my intention to bash certain people, but it is my intention to warn potential readers of all the emerging and missional literature flooding the market today to be careful. A Christ divorced from Scripture is a Christ of fantasy. I'll go one step farther. A Christ proclaimed from the Gospels alone, without the apostolic insight of the rest of the New Testament is also likely to be a Christ of fantasy.

This quest to get Christians back to the real Jesus is not new, though these writers continue to act as though they're saying something new. This is the down-grade that Charles Spurgeon fought and the liberals that J. Gresham Machen and Geerhardus Vos fought. It's just repackaged in missional clothing.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Is Youth Ministry Broken?

Off the topic of marriage, but I couldn't resist linking to this excellent series of articles on youth ministry. They point out a lot of issues that I've thought for a long time but haven't put into writing. It's amazing to me how sacred youth groups are to churches when they have so little fruit on the tree long term.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Paul the Antinomian

Here's a little quote from our dear brother Paul:

"Or do you not know, brothers—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives? For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage. Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress.

Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code" (Romans 7:1-6).

If you want to bear fruit for God, then please accept this challenge: Read this text. Do not immediately filter this text through everything else you think you already know about following God. That will be hard, but try. And do not immediately say, "Yeah, but what about ___________? (Fill in your favorite verse.) Just read this text and write down what you think Paul is saying. The language Paul uses is not hard to understand and the sentences are very clear. What Paul is saying here is very straightforward to understand. But it might be difficult to accept.

Exegeting (interpreting) a text requires us to come to terms with the text itself before running all over the rest of Scripture looking for help explaining it. Only after we are confident that we have wrestled with a text like the one above long enough to hear what the author is saying are we free to see how all the pieces fit together.

Now, about the title of this post. There are those who insist that anyone who doesn't view the "law" in the same way they do is an antinomian, or against law. They mean this term in a derogatory way, suggesting that such a person just wants to be able to freely sin. If I wrote Paul's words above today, instead of finding them in Romans 7, I have no doubt such people would accuse me of being antinomian on the basis of this text. Paul's writing above fits their definition. But I doubt they'd admit it. Instead, I think they'd sidestep this text rather than exegete it and find some other text they think fits their idea better. Rather than let Paul say what he says, they just might say, "Yeah, but what about ______________? and fill in their favorite "pro-law" text, probably from the Psalms. Beloved, we cannot be more righteous than the God who wrote Romans 7:1-6. I don't care how many laws we try to follow.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

When Radical Amputation is Wrong

"You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell" (Matthew 5:27-30).

I was recently at the Desiring God pastor's conference. It was a great time and I came back very refreshed and invigorated. I went with a very close friend and we had hours of conversations about biblical and ministry issues. It was truly great. One incident stuck out in my mind and I thought I'd share it.

The conference was in the Minneapolis Convention Center and most of the pastors stayed in the Hilton. There is a skyway that connects much of downtown, including our hotel and the convention center. On the way to one of our sessions, clusters of pastors were walking along the skyway when an attractive young lady dressed in a fairly short skirt rounded the corner coming the opposite direction. She obviously worked somewhere downtown because her clothing was fashionable yet professional. You could have heard a pin drop. You'd have thought the poor girl was a rattle snake, not a human created in the image of God.

A hallway full of pastors looked straight ahead like robots. No smiles. No "Good morning. How are you?" I haven't seen such discipline since standing at attention in formation in the Army. Here's the funny thing though. I guarantee you every pastor in that hallway knew precisely what that girl was wearing. So I immediately made fun of the situation to my friend, saying something like, "A hallway of pastors can't even smile at a girl passing by? What is wrong with this picture?" (Actually I hinted that we haven't come so far from the blind Pharisees days).

Now, I understand that lust is a serious thing. The above text makes that point clear. You don't want to go around lusting. But here's the problem. The lust wasn't killed in the hearts of those pastors. What is the difference between treating a cute girl as an object by lusting after her or treating a cute girl as an object by totally ignoring her existence because of your own selfish heart? Either way the girl isn't treated as fully human, worthy of love and respect. It's pure legalism of an ugly sort that allows for a hallway full of pastors to go to a conference on Christian happiness congratulating themselves for how well they fight the fight against lust, even though they had to dehumanize a girl in the process.

John Piper's biography of C. S. Lewis was fantastic. One small part of it really hit me when it came to this incident in the hallway. He said that morality (law) is like a crutch that righteous people don't need. Sometimes we need laws to function in the same way that sometimes a person needs a crutch to walk. But the object isn't to stay on the crutches forever. Healthy people don't need crutches and righteous people don't need laws to make them love others. Is the state of Christianity so weak that a bunch of Christian hedonist pastors gathered from all over America need to look at every pretty woman through the lens of Matthew 5? When do we move beyond Matthew 5? We can't even look at a girl, can't even say hello, can't even talk to her without lusting? For real? Then we're in serious trouble! But if we can, then we should. Our first instinct shouldn't be to close our eyes. It should be to reach out in love. Put the crutches away and start treating women as women, created in the image of God and worthy of acknowledgment.

As I started watching people's interactions more after that hallway incident, I realized it wasn't an isolated thing. It seems the natural inclination for pastors, when passing hot girls, is to totally ignore them like they're not in the room. Interestingly enough, older or not as pretty of women get to be treated like human beings. They get a smile or a word of greeting, and maybe even a conversation. They're not inherent Jezebels out to send poor Christian men to their dooms. Only the hot ones are worthy of totally ignoring so that they never get a smile of kindness except from men who want one thing from them. My friend summed it up best. How can a pastor who can't look at a pretty girl without lusting shepherd a congregation of them? I guess blindly with no arms.