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Changed By Glory

"And we all… beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another." II Cor. 3:18

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Thanksgiving Day – An Opportunity To Revolt

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him…

Romans 1:21 ESV

According to the Apostle Paul one of the core issues of our fallen condition is that we are unthankful. All the sin in the world, the idolatrous pursuit of created things for rest and joy, stems in part from our failure to give thanks to God.

This is an echo of what happened in the Garden of Eden at the beginning, when the first man and woman failed to give thanks. They had a home, they had a meaningful calling, they had an abundance of food, they had each other, they had the honor of being a special creation made in the image of God, but when tempted with the impossible possibility of more… they lost sight of those things which they had. They ceased to be thankful and this deficit of gratitude toward their Creator gave birth to a humanity which is constantly reaching for more and never able to come to a place of rest with what they graciously have.

The futility we experience now in a broken world stems from this unthankfulness. Our jealousy, anxiety, covetousness, lust, anger, can be traced to this fallen nature we share with our first parents. The system of this world is a system born, in half, by unthankfulness.

But every day that we wake up with breath is an opportunity to revolt against this system. And Thanksgiving Day, because of its emphasis on this issue of gratitude, is especially an opportunity to consciously rebel against this ungrateful nature that mars our humanity. It is an opportunity to pause and to recognize the good things we have which we have done nothing to merit – which is every good thing. The chance to put the brakes on the destructive cycle of ingratitude.

And if Thanksgiving Day is a great opportunity to revolt, the greatest resource for revolt is the message of the Cross of Christ. In the message of the cross we have the greatest instance of us getting goodness we do not deserve. We see not merely a kind gift, like friends or jobs or a good meal, but a gift that is the direct opposite of what we have invited by our unthankfulness.

It is in the good news of God’s love seen in Christ that we find how we can be thankful in every circumstance on any given day. Because it is in the cross that we find the gift of something good, the Greatest Good, which never fades, never goes away, that cannot be lost – even when the heart-monitor flatlines.

So today, on Thanksgiving Day, revolt by ceasing to look forward to all the things you are chasing for peace and rest. Revolt by taking stock of the goodness you have. And revolt by resting content in the finished work of Christ which has delivered to you – through faith – life and love which you do not deserve and which will never be lost.

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.                

1 Thessalonians 5:18 ESV

 

 

 

 

A Crucial Text For Testing Preaching

As the pastor of an international church in a region known for rapid transience, one of the greatest burdens that I developed for my congregation was that they would be able to discern what right, biblical teaching is. Wherever the turnstyle of life takes them they will doubtless not find a church that is a copy of mine, which is perfectly fine! But when they walk into a church in the next city of their sojourn, will they be able to see beyond the charisma or oratorical skill of the pastor – or lack thereof? Furthermore, will be equipped to tell if that sermon clip from YouTube is actually helpful? Will they be able to discern what is right, biblical teaching? How will they know if the preaching they are hearing is from the Spirit of Christ or the spirit of antichrist? 

Whatever preacher they encounter, that preacher will likely invoke the Spirit’s presence in their preaching, they will likely quote from the Scriptures. And so how will they know whether or not to trust their message? How will they know if it is truly from the Spirit and truly faithful to Scripture? 

In order to answer this question, there is a text of Scripture that I believe is crucial for testing the rightness of someone’s preaching. 

The text is John 15:26-27. And we find this passage in the middle of a precious passage where Jesus is preparing his disciples for his departure, giving them a realistic view of days ahead, joined together with precious promises so that when hardship, and persecution, and confusion, and falsehood arises, they will not stumble (John 16:1). And if we think carefully about this text, it can help keep us from stumbling as well by providing at least two vital tests, each of which is indispensable, for whether preaching/teaching is right and biblical. 

“When the Counselor comes, the one I will send to you from the Father ​— ​the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father ​— ​he will testify about me. 27 You also will testify, because you have been with me from the beginning. — John 15:26-27 (CSB)

The Counselor, which is the “Spirit of truth” who guides into all truth as it relates to Jesus Christ, has now come and in the purpose of his coming we see two crucial tests for whether or not teaching is from the Spirit, whether or not it is right and biblical. 

 

1) Is this about Jesus?

The defining mark of the sermons delivered in the days following the outpouring of the Holy Spirit was that they were about Jesus and the unfolding of God’s promises and redemptive purposes in and through him. 

 

Notice in that crucial text in question, the Holy Spirit testifies about Jesus and the Jesus says “you also will testify”. Preaching that comes from the Spirit points Jesus, teaching that is right brings clarity to who Christ is and what he has done, is doing, and will do. The fundamental attribute of Spirit-filled preaching is that it magnifies Christ. It puts him on display to be seen and marvelled at. 

Therefore, it makes sense that Paul points out the simple purity of his ministry as deciding “to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” — 1 Corinthians 2:2 (CSB) And “For we are not proclaiming ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord.” — 2 Corinthians 4:5 (CSB) He believed his teaching ministry was summed up as “to proclaim… the incalculable riches of Christ” — Ephesians 3:8 (CSB)

Right biblical preaching, that comes from the Spirit will help you know and love Jesus better. Such that even the imperatives of the Christian life are all implications of knowing Christ (i.e. Eph. 5:2; Col 3:1; 1 Peter 2:21, etc). 

 

2) Is it faithful to the apostolic witness found in the New Testament?

 

Notice that Jesus says, “You also will testify because you have been with me from the beginning.” The ministry of the apostles was the result of the Spirit giving them understanding of their own eyewitness encounters with Jesus. It is to this which John himself appeals in his first epistle when he says, “That which was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have observed and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life ​— ​2 that life was revealed, and we have seen it and we testify and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us ​— ​3 what we have seen and heard we also declare to you, so that you may also have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. — 1 John 1:1-3 (CSB)

The apostolic witness was one of transmitting what they had seen and received to be held onto until the day when Jesus comes to be marvelled at by his church. Therefore, Paul instructs Timothy to guard the good deposit he had been entrusted with and he rebukes the Galatians, telling them that if even an angel delivers to them another message than what we (the apostles) have delivered to you that they should be regarded as accursed. 

Preaching that is new, that is innovative, that appeals to fresh revelation or a “coming of age” in Christian doctrine, is not in line with the apostolic witness in the New Testament. A witness which is guarded as we take what they proclaimed and we hold on to it, passing it on to faithful men who will teach it to others also. Preaching that is right and biblical, in other words, from the Spirit, will confirm, clarify, and apply the apostles’ witness contained in the Scriptures. 

Conclusion

According to Jesus, to have eternal life is to know God through him (John 17:3,26). The Spirit gives this life by showing us Christ through the Apostolic witness contained in the Scriptures and proclaimed by the Church. Therefore, right preaching is always going to have the aim of showing Christ in a manner faithful to the testimony of the Apostles. Even preaching and teaching from the Old Testament must be done through the lens of its relation to who Jesus is and what he has done.

Therefore, when you listen to preaching or pick up a book teaching about the Christian life, apply this test to see if it comes from the Spirit of God. Is it about the Jesus the Apostles bore witness to? Does it help you know him, and love him, and live in a way that flows from knowing him? Does it help you treasure him above everything else? 

These two questions that flow from this text in John are not fool-proof, but they are a good starting place for discerning the rightness of someone’s teaching – starting with the rightness of your own thoughts and convictions. 

If it is right, if it is biblical, if it is from the Holy Spirit, it will point to Jesus and it will agree with the witness of the Apostles. 

 

Church-Planting Teams or Teams That Are Church Plants?

Christian community is supposed to be one of the most compelling testaments to the truth and power of the gospel[1]. Jesus made this clear when he prayed for the loving unity of his people which would prove to the world that he was in fact from the Father. And Paul time and again points to the community of believers – the local church – as the place in which the truths of the gospel become tangible, where the hidden wisdom and power of the word of the cross are put on display, even to the degree that the traditional hostility between Jew and Gentile disappears as both become one body through the cross-work of Christ applied by the Spirit.

This should greatly impact how we view the local church and how we do ministry. But in my experience, often the very thing that is supposed to testify to the gospel’s truth and power – the local church – is often left out of the mission the church has been given in a very crucial way. Especially, in the context of pioneer missions.[2]

This is not to say that the church as a missional institution or that an emphasis on creating community is neglected in pioneer missions, on the contrary, in the realm of Great Commission strategy the aim usually is church planting[3]. But in this quest to create communities of disciples, I fear that the greatest tool in that quest is being underutilized – and that is communities of disciples as a whole. This tool is in fact the very mechanism by which God’s mission is accomplished – the local church[4]. This is ironic, that the very thing missionaries hope to create is left out of the process in a way which I think is crucial for being a faithful witness and planting healthy churches.

Let me try to explain…

Church-Planting Teams

Wisely, the bulk of organized missions endeavours take place in the context of teams. These teams, which often have a leader or leaders who answer to an organization or sending church, serve to provide encouragement, accountability, safety, and equipping for the team-members engaged in the work of making disciples.[5]This is a good thing, but a good thing that is wasted and falls short of its full usefulness because while doing many of the things a local church does, it does not view itself as being a church nor does it intend to become a church. And these teams while seeking to do the work of the church often operate outside of obvious biblical categories for the way in which Christians organize themselves.

Missions teams will often gather weekly for prayer, for study in the word, for worship, for fellowship and sometimes even for communion – all of which are clearly things a local church does. But often a few crucial elements are missing – preaching is absent, while there are leaders there are not pastors per se, and while being evangelistic, intent on making disciples, this outreach is done “out there” and not in order to gather in. People are not invited to come and see the most compelling witness to the truth and power of the gospel, people are not invited to sit under the preaching of the word, people are not invited to observe the fellowship of a beloved, eternal family. And this is a tragedy.

The mission of the church gathered

God intended that we would not simply be individuals sent out from the church on mission but that we would be a church – a living institution that as one is engaged in the mission of Jesus. It is the church gathered, again, which displays the power of the incarnation, the wisdom of the gospel, it is a peopleand not merely persons who proclaim the praises of him who called us out of darkness and into his light. Certainly the church goes out on mission into the world when it scatters, but the church also plays out crucial aspects of its mission to the world as a body gathered. We gather not simply in order to be equipped and encouraged to go and do mission “out there” but we gather as a means of doing mission “out there”.

Teams that are church plants

Teams are a good idea, biblical even, but there needs to be a shift in how we view these teams. Not “church-planting teams”, that is teams that plant churches, but rather teams who are in fact church plants! [6]

Churches plant churches by sending people to proclaim the good news, to gather believers in that good news around that news and its signs[7], and to build them up in walking according to that good news until they receive the full benefits promised in that good news in the age to come. The example we see most clearly in Scripture, namely in the ministry of Paul, is when a missionary is sent to a new city, he gathers believers, lives as one of them – a part of the local church – where he shepherds them, trains leaders and then while maintaining a relationship with those churches for their building up and encouragement, he moves on[8].

At this point, I think it is important to talk in practical terms about what I have in mind.

What if six or eight people went to a place with no gospel witness and they began to live life and they covenanted to gather together around the gospel and its signs? What if they appointed leaders tasked with building up the body of Christ for the work of the ministry, and they invited the world to come and see? This is what I have in mind when I speak of teams as church plants. I mean simply teams being sent as the seed of the church – as church plants themselves, doing what the church does.

When teams are church plants a group of Christians is sent to a gospel-needy place where in that place they begin simply to do what a church does, with all the traditional marks of a local church – right preaching, right use of the sacraments, and church discipline (formative and corrective). And as through their collective witness, by the Spirit’s power, people are added to their number, they are brought in and raised up, faithful men are taught and trained and after time another team breaks off and starts a new church in a new area. It may take longer for the church to become purely indigenous[9], but over the decades the church will, by God’s grace, more and more take the shape of the community in which it exists.

I want to argue that viewing missions teams as church plants, and using them as such, is right on multiple levels. Christians are supposed to gather themselves in local churches where they live out their calling together in a way that is visible to the world around them. All Christians, even missionaries, need not only sending churches, they need the local church.[10]And the unreached need healthy churches among them. They need communities formed and shaped by the gospel among them to point them to who Jesus is and what he has done and is doing.

Local churches are really the fruit of the gospel, they are organic institutions that take the shape of what God is doing in history. Therefore, a missionary team, a gathering of believers living on mission together, should take the shape of a local church. This is what the gospel they proclaim creates!

If anyone reads this, there are a few things I would like to come out of it. I wish that churches would support church plants to the farthest reaches of the world. I wish that weekly meetings of cross-cultural workers in gospel-needy places would begin to think biblically about what they actually are – churches- and would aspire to be this faithfully and fully. I wish that more missionaries would invite people to church, to their local gathering where the gospel is proclaimed and displayed. And I hope that from these church plants would come many, many more church plants.

So missionary, perhaps have a conversation with your teammates about how you view your team.

Churches, have a talk with the teams or individual missionaries you support.

Are we sending church-planting teams or are we sending teams that are church plants? I believe the difference between those two things is crucial.

 

 

 

 

[1]John 17:21,26; Ephesians 3:10;1 John 3:14

[2]By this I mean the work of taking the gospel to gospel-needy or unreached places or peoples

[3]Another conversation is how a “church” is often defined in these contexts

[4]By “local church” I mean a gathering of baptized believers who have devoted themselves to one another around the gospel proclaimed in Word, displayed in the sacraments, and lived out in discipline both formative and corrective

[5]In many cases the leaders are appointed using the qualifications for an elder found in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1

[6]Two possible reasons this has not been done, in our era at least, is because of the fear that it will stifle rapid multiplication and lead to a church that is too dependent on foreign leaders. However, we must not allow fear of what could be, cause us to stray from what is faithful.

[7]Baptism and the Lord’s Supper

[8]1 Thessalonians 2:8-11, Acts 14:21-28; Acts 18:1-11,18; Acts 20:18

[9]The quest for independent, purely indigenous churches, while a well-intentioned corrective to the paternalism often seen in missions history, has certainly extra-biblical and in some sense idolatrous. Language should really be the only homogenizing factor in the life of a church.

[10]I would argue that the old, all-too-common attitude among missionaries which says “I’m a member of my sending church” grossly misunderstands what a church is and what a church does

Divorce & Remarriage In Light of Redemptive History & The Perspicuity of Scripture

  1. Introduction & Thesis

The topic of divorce and remarriage is not new to the Church but it has perhaps never before been so relevant as it is now. With the rise of individualism and the erosion of the authority of Scripture, particularly in the west, divorce has become accepted and remarriage celebrated within the Church. It is time for an honest assessment of our reasoning and exegesis as we approach the relevant texts. The pressure of culture has led to truncated arguments and complicated exegesis in what appears to be a constant quest for exceptions. Much of the research in favor of allowing remarriage fails to see the trajectory of redemptive history in regards to marriage under the new covenant, employing a somewhat pessimistic retrieval ethic. Those in favor of remarriage seem to imply that though divorce and remarriage is not what should be, it is what must be at this time. Such capitulation to the world has led to a church plagued with divorce and remarriage. And how did the church get here? By failure on the part of pastors and teachers to hold to the Scriptures when it was difficult. As should be expected this has led to much harm to the institution of marriage in the west.

The thesis of this paper is simply this, that considering the clarity of Scripture[1]and the trajectory of redemptive history, the teaching of Jesus and Paul on divorce and remarriage should be taken with the simplest reading, which is to say that Christians may never instigate a divorce, and in the case of divorce remarriage is never allowed, except by the death of the spouse.

  1. Commentary on the relevant texts in Scripture

As evangelicals the Holy Scriptures, not culture or bare reason, are the authority for all of life. This should be especially true of the institution of marriage which God set forth as his good design for mankind in Genesis 2. Marriage is portrayed as the final, crowning touch to a good creation and for God to declare something to be good it must be good. I will speak more on the subsequent fall and its effects on marriage later when dealing with the trajectory of redemptive history, but it is sufficient to say this matter is of no small importance.

The importance of the divorce and remarriage issue should strike us considering that the Gospels address it four times, twice in Matthew, once in Mark, and once in Luke. There are so many things that could have bee recorded and the fact that there is so much on divorce and remarriage in a relatively small canon, should be of note.

In Matthew 5, Matthew 19, and Mark 10, Jesus speaks on divorce and remarriage in direct connection to Moses’ allowance in Deuteronomy 24. Jesus brings up the subject on his own in Matthew 5 where he is the middle of contrasting the application of the Law under Moses with the application of the Law in the Kingdom. Matthew 5:31-32 “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”[2]At first glance this text seems to provide an easy out, but a couple of problems arise. One that is worth noting is the Jewish audience and the use of the same Greek root in Matthew 1:19, when Joseph contemplated divorcing Mary because of here supposed sexual immorality. Proponents of this view would argue that Jesus is allowing a dissolution of the betrothal in the case of sexual immorality, but not after consummation of the marriage.[3]It is pointed out that Jesus uses the porneia, meaning sexual immorality, instead of the more exact term moicheia which he uses elsewhere for “adultery”. This view is interesting and possible, but not necessary when the text is considered closely.[4]

Notice that Jesus says that the man who divorces his wife for a reason other than porneiacauses her to commit adultery and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. Therefore,“whether she became an adulteress by her own volition or by the situation forced on her, the man who married her also committed adultery.”[5]This statement by Jesus, taken prima facie, nullifies the claim that an innocent party who is put away is free to remarry. It behooves anyone looking into this debate to feel the weight of that wording in the text.

In Matthew 19 Jesus is tested by the Pharisees. They want to know if it is lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause. Quoting from Genesis 2 Jesus reveals the absurdity of divorce in light of God’s created order, exposing the ignorance of his interrogators. Their error was rooted in the fact they had taken permission from Moses and turned it into a command[6], for they said to Jesus, “Why then did Moses commandone to give a certificate of divorce and send her away.”[7]Moses did not command divorce, but permitted divorce, and the only reason he did this was because of the hardness of their hearts. It was “sin-management” you could say for a covenant community that was mixed with regenerate and unregenerate people.

Jesus ends his Matthew 19 encounter by restating the standard set in Matthew 5. And it would appear that the “loophole” of remarriage after divorce on proper grounds might stand, until you read on and see the disciples’ reaction. If Jesus allowed remarriage then his view would not have been much more radical than that of many Pharisees of the school of Shammai[8], but the response of the disciples leads us to believe that Jesus has a higher standard in mind. “The disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man and his wife, it is better not to marry.”[9]Jesus did not relieve their anxiety with some quick qualifications, instead he implied that if a man cannot imagine such enduring faithfulness, then it is better for him not to get married, thus Jesus launches into his discourse on eunuchs, most likely not referring to castrated males[10]but to those who choose a celibate life or as Wenham asserts[11], considering the context, Jesus is likely including those who are divorced and must not remarry. Considering the reaction of the disciples and the context, this appears as a compelling interpretation.

In Mark 10 we have the parallel to Matthew 19 and Jesus once again roots his prohibition against divorce and subsequent remarriage in God’s original design for marriage rather than in Moses’ sin-managing permissiveness. But here we see a new wrinkle introduced that we do not see in Moses, where the woman is now the instigator of the divorce. Again, Mark’s account gives no indication of an allowance for remarriage. Notice thus far that divorce is its own sin which precipitates, in the case of remarriage, the sin of adultery.

Luke is the strictest of all of the accounts. It is worth quoting the Lukan passage in its entirety because it is so direct and succinct. “Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.”[12]What catches our attention here is the inclusive language “everyonewho divorces his wife and marries another….” Even more astonishing is the assertion that “he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.”[13]This seems to say that in a remarriage there is no innocent party. Counter to the appeals to reason made by John Murray[14], whatever the cause for divorce, subsequent remarriage is portrayed as adultery from every angle.[15]

Now we get to the Pauline discourse on this issue and the so called “Pauline Privilege” found in I Corinthians 7. Having just addressed the rampant immorality in Corinth and perhaps the tendency to react with asceticism, Paul lays out expectations for marriage and encourages singleness. After stating his desire, but not command, in verses 8-9 that the unmarried and widows remain unmarried, he gives direction to those that are married. He reflects here the teaching of Jesus that marriage is indissoluble. He says in verse 10 that the “the wife should not separate from her husband, but if she does she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband, and the husband should not divorce his wife.” The words for “separate” and “divorce” are different in the Greek here than in the Gospels, in fact Paul employs two different words here[16], but it is well within the same semantic range. Verse 11 is especially important, for it implies a time when divorce might be allowed, but clearly forbids marriage to another man.

In verses 12-16 Paul deals with a mixed marriage. His address of this issue makes two things clear: first, divorce between Christians is sin and unacceptable. Second, Paul clears an innocent party in a mixed marriage of the shared guilt of divorce, while not necessarily allowing that innocent party to remarry, rather the instruction given in verse 11 should still be considered as applying.

Finally, in verse 39, Paul says that a woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives and after he dies she is free to marry. You would think that he might insert a caveat like “as long as they are married she is bound.” But he makes no such qualification in this final word of his discourse on marriage.

  1. Two options given by the relevant texts

Considering the texts that we have briefly, and admittedly in a very cursory manner, examined, I want to consider two of the most likely interpretations.

  1. Divorce allowed in some circumstances, remarriage allowed in those circumstances

This has been the predominate view in much of the church since the Reformation. The reformer John Calvin[17]held to this view and some Puritans such as Richard Baxter agreed.[18]However, it is worth noting that those closer to the culture of the day, men such as Augustine[19]and Tertullian[20], both North African church fathers, held to a strict permanence view, which we will address soon.

This view, in its narrower interpretation posits that in Matthew we see that adultery effectively breaks the marriage covenant, which frees the innocent party to remarry. In response to the relevant texts in Mark and Luke, proponents of this exception clause would say that the clause is implied. “It goes without saying”, as it were, that adultery breaks the covenant, freeing the innocent party. In defense those that hold this view will sometimes appeal to places in the Old Testament where God expresses his intention to divorce Israel for her spiritual adultery[21]. In those cases, God is the analogical “victim” in a marriage relationship and will therefore leave his adulteress “bride” and be joined to another.

Furthermore, in favor of this view you could argue that the exception clause in Matthew is shocking as it appears because it is more narrow than Moses’ allowance. For Moses allowed divorce for “indecency” which could be more broadly interpreted, whereas Jesus said sexual immorality alone was reason, thus narrowing the Mosaic permissiveness. Also, whereas the conservative rabbinical school of Shammairequired divorce for porneia, Jesus merely allowed it.[22]There are problems with this view, which we will see shortly.

The second ground for divorce and remarriage is the “Pauline Privilege” of I Corinthians 7. In this case, if a believing brother or sister is abandoned by their non-believing spouse most take the words “is not enslaved” to implypermission to remarry “in the Lord”.[23]Meaning they are free to marry another believer.

So there are two grounds for divorce in this view, adultery and abandonment by an unbelieving spouse. And both of these, it would be argued, imply the freedom to remarry.

 

  1. Divorce allowed in some circumstances, remarriage never allowed[24]

Admittedly this has been the minority view since the reformation, but this would not be the first time a crucial truth was a minority view.[25]As Wenham points out, “The early church, up to AD 500, maintained that Christ allowed separation but not remarriage.”[26]The Shepherd of Hermas, a second-century writing that was circulated widely enough in the church that it was a disputed book when considering canonicity, directly addresses the matter of divorce and remarriage, forbidding remarriage even in the case of adultery.[27]  In American evangelicalism few have dared to take this position, but most notable among the proponents of it would be John Piper.[28]Church history is not our authority, but when the relation of the Markan and Lukan texts with the Matthean record is in question and two possible interpretations are before us, we should give weight to church history.

In defense of this view, first it must be clear that saying that divorce is “allowed” must be qualified. Neither Jesus nor Paul ever give permission for pursuing divorce, rather they clear the innocent party of guilt should they be divorced.[29]It may be argued that Matthew allows the offended party to instigate divorce, but it could also be argued that the unfaithful spouse is the de factoinstigator of divorce, especially if Paul’s instruction to seek restoration has been followed. As F.F. Bruce says, “For a Christian husband or wife divorce is excluded by the law of Christ.”[30]Furthermore, the Christian victim of divorce is given no reason to believe that remarriage is allowed in any case, because though the marriage bond be violated it is not dissolved, for it can apparently only be dissolved by death.[31]For Jesus clearly does not command divorce in the case of sexual infidelity, but rather allows it. If the marriage bond was truly broken by adultery, then any sexual relations between the husband and his wife after adultery by either party would then be fornication because their covenant would be dissolved.

Furthermore, Luke says “he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery”. If a woman divorced by her husband is truly separated from her husband, why is it adultery to marry her? Or why, in the case of Matthew 5, is a woman wrongly divorced committing adultery if she remarries? It is adultery because the pronouncement of man cannot dissolve what God has established. And as Romans 7 and I Corinthians 7 make clear, it is only by death that God ends that bond.

The conclusion is that what God has joined man cannot separate. So in a sense one must say that divorce is never allowed, though there is exemption of guilt for divorce for those that are divorced by another.[32]And if divorce is never allowed, then remarriage is never allowed. Paul seems to make this expressly clear in I Corinthians 7 when he says that if a woman is separated from her husband she is to be reconciled or remain unmarried. This instruction in light of Matthew 19 and Luke 16 makes this position the most acceptable.

This leads us to consider why this view is such a minority in the church today. We want to take care here because we all see that to be a loner theologically is never a good idea, but the reality is that until the time of Erasmus in the 16thcentury permanence was the predominant view in the church and vestiges of this reality remain in the Roman church to this day.[33]

 

  1. Egalitarianism, homosexuality, divorce, and remarriage: Cultural pressure on exegesis

Many of the arguments for the majority view sound like the same arguments made today for egalitarianism, homosexuality, and other such hot topics. Too often the question that is being asked of the texts is “When is this allowed?” Rather than asking the question, “What does God intend?” Many in mainstream Christianity look at the passages on homosexuality and by digging deep into cultural nuances and semantics, they attempt to remove stigma from homosexual relationships. As we look at much of the material on divorce and remarriage, it seems that this same approach is being taken to soften the statements of Jesus and Paul on divorce and remarriage. Perhaps it is time for us to consider that the pandemic of divorce and remarriage in the church is simply a forerunner to the sexual revolution overtaking us; a revolution that cannot be stood against as long as cultural forces are allowed to spawn unnatural readings of Scripture and complicated exegesis. This matter directs us to the next point.

 

  1. Divorce and remarriage and the perspicuity of Scripture

The doctrine of the perspicuity, or the clarity, of Scripture seems to have been left out in the cold in most dealings with this highly sensitive and culturally explosive issue. Those that hold to perspicuity of Scripture should affirm that knowing what certain rabbinical schools believed or what Roman divorce law was should not be required to understand the text before us. The same God who has supernaturally preserved his word is able to preserve it in a way which is clear, timeless, self-interpreting, and self-authorizing. To assert that extra-biblical data is needed to understand Jesus’ teaching on divorce is to undermine the doctrine of the clarity of the Bible. Complementarianism, as an example, is a clear issue when one reads the relevant texts naturally and in light of all of Scripture. Even egalitarians scholars agree with this.[34]If we accept Paul’s appeal to the created order as the foundation for complementarianism, why don’t we do the same with Jesus’ teaching on divorce and remarriage?

The Scriptures do have a cultural context, but they are also timeless and preserved by God in order to be revealed to the simple, even to children. Knowing the Scriptures well is needed for good exegesis of them, but knowledge of Scripture alone seems to be in favor of the permanence view.

The complicated arguments should be avoided, especially when the result of those arguments could be giving license to adultery. An appeal to safety must be made here. Singleness damns no one. Paul even encourages it under the New Covenant.[35]Adultery is another story. Taken prima facie, the relevant texts forbid divorce except perhaps in special cases and they always forbid remarriage. To make the text say anything different requires some measure of eisegesis. At the very least, considering the texts, it is disturbing how confident most evangelicals are with their permissiveness.

Furthermore, a clear view of the scope of Scripture points us both back to a good creation and forward to a restored creation of which the church is to be a reflection, which leads to consideration of the next point.

 

  1. Divorce and remarriage and the trajectory of redemptive history

Genesis 2:18-25 sets forth the “good” design of God for the marriage covenant. It is this design which Jesus later appeals to. After the fall the immediate result of sin is a fracture in relationship between husband and wife, something God said would be characteristic of their fallen state. In the generations that followed perversions of God’s good design followed, such as polygamy. After God makes his covenant with Israel at Sinai, in Deuteronomy 24 we find permission being given by Moses for divorce in certain circumstances and Moses forbidding it in others. But what Moses established was not normative. It was sin-management in a community mixed with regenerate and hard-hearted people. By the time Jesus arrived the Pharisees had come to see Moses’ permission as a command to be followed, rather than a sad indictment of the state of humanity under sin. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus got to the heart of the matter. Then in Matthew 19 and Mark 10 he directly addressed why Moses allowed divorce, but unlike Moses, Jesus did not come to manage sin, but to do away with it. As those belonging to the kingdom inaugurated, the church is not to bow to the tyranny of sin and settle for sin management, but cry with life and lungs against the tide of rebellion, “Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

If one considers the new covenant in Ezekiel 36 with the promise of new, soft hearts, a change in marriage should be expected. Relationships that reflect more fully the restoration to come. Jesus brought up Genesis 2 because the kingdom standard for marriage is the original standard for marriage. As those united together already in Christ believers reflect as a people the work of reconciling all things together in Christ. And “all things” includes marriage.

Under the old covenant a retrieval ethic was employed by Moses, but Jesus wasn’t interested in retrieval, he was interested in restoration. The current reality of sin does not demand that we bow to sin’s tyranny, but that we fight the good fight, even if it means being single. Sadly, the church has been content to manage sin by providing for its constrained exercise – namely through marriage that is at best disordered and possibly not even marriage of any kind.

Under the New Covenant we see a new dignity to singleness not found in the Old. So if the question is asked whether or not there is a retrieval ethic in the New Covenant for victims of divorce the answer is the glory of singleness outlined by Paul in 1 Corinthians 7. The ruin of marriage here in this age does not change the marriage to come, to Christ our betrothed. In the new heavens and earth we will be “neither married nor given in marriage, but will be like the angels in heaven.”[36]Marriage for Christians is a good thing, but it is not ultimate.[37]Our identity as Christians is not ultimately found in our status as married or single, but in our status as “in Christ”[38]. A union which God has joined and no man can separate.

 

  1. Pastoral implications and conclusion

The permanence view raises an array of pastoral questions, some of which may be answered by the previous paragraph. All of these questions are difficult, as a pastor I can testify to this. But when pastors are not faithful in one generation, they inevitably make the job more painful for the next.

If the problem of divorce and remarriage in the church is going to be changed it has to start with pastors proactively teaching on it and raising the next generation with the view that marriage is for life and that divorce is never an option for believers. For those that are divorced, there is a need for biblical teaching on the dignity and purpose of singleness in the kingdom of God. For children that are victims of divorce the church needs to compassionately shepherd them, giving them a vision of something greater.

In the meantime, we face the most difficult pastoral situation. Is there a retrieval ethic for those that have already been divorced and remarried? The answer is an uneasy “yes”.  Entering into the illicit union needs to be acknowledged as sin, but the union is still a union. Jesus still refers to the adulteress union as a marriage. It is a disordered union, but still a union, somewhat akin to the “one flesh” union that occurs when a man is joined with a prostitute.[39]Therefore, they should repent and not do it again. This is admittedly an unsatisfying response, because it could be argued that they are continuing in adultery and that a more radical repentance, such as separation may be required. Such a response is not beyond the realm of possibilities and would admittedly appear to be the more consistent, though much more harsh, view.

A clear implication is that pastors should never perform weddings for people divorced for any reason. Furthermore, if a member of a church engages themselves to a divorced person they should be warned and disciplined if they continue.  For those divorced prior to becoming Christians and wanting to get married as a believer, we must acknowledge that as the Bible treats it a marriage outside of the household of faith is still a marriage.[40]

This issue certainly raises a number of moral and pastoral quandaries. But generations of compromise always do.[41]Doing faithful pastoral ministry in an environment that has abandoned or never had the authority of Scripture is going to lead to sticky situations. So the clarion call should be for a return to faithfulness while praying desperately for wisdom. Pastors should take every case of people who are already divorced and remarried with great care and have a determined vision for the future of marriage in the church as permanent.

In conclusion, attempting to be aware of cultural pressure, in light of the clarity of Scripture, and the trajectory of redemptive history, the Bible teaches that New Testament marriage is for life, a believer may never be the instigator of divorce, and remarriage is always forbidden. Looking to Jesus and to Paul, this means that if one cannot embrace this truth they should not get married, if you are married you are in it for good, and if you are currently divorced your identity is not found in a spouse, but in Christ. May Christian marriages reflect the exclusivity and the permanence of our eternal bond with Christ.

 

 

 

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Baxter, Richard, and J. I. Packer. The Christian Directory. Vol. 1. (Soli Deo Gloria Ministries, 1996)

Bruce, F.F., Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977)

Calvin, John, and John Pringle. “Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians.” Christian Classics Ethereal Library, Grand Rapids(2010).

Eden, Kathy. “Rhetoric in the Hermeneutics of Erasmus’ Later Works.” Erasmus Studies11, no. 1 (1991): 88-104.

Köstenberger, Andreas J., and David Wayne Jones.God, marriage, and family. Crossway, 2010. 2ndEdition

Plumpe, Joseph C., and Johannes Quasten. Ancient Christian Writers: the Works of the Fathers in Translation. Westminster, Md.: Newman Press, 1946.

Murray, John. Divorce & Remarriage, RPM, Vol. 11, Num. 9 (March 1, 2009) accessed November 9, 2015, http://reformedperspectives.org/article.asp/link/http:^^reformedperspectives.org^articles^joh_murray^joh_murray.divorce.remarriage.html/at/Divorce%20and%20Remarriage

Pierce, Ronald W. Rebecca Merrill Groothius, Gordon Fee, Editors, Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity Without Hierarchy, (IVP Academic, 2005, Kindle Edition) Location 1989

Piper, John. “Divorce and Remarriage: A Position Paper.” Pages: Desiring God(1986).

Augustine, Aurelius. “‘On the good of marriage’.” Nicene and post-Nicene fathers, first series3 (1997).

Warden, Duane. “The Words of Jesus on Divorce.” Restoration Quarterly39, no. 3 (1997 1997): 141-153. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost(accessed November 10, 2015).

Wenham, Gordon J. “May Divorced Christians Remarry?”(1981): 150-161.

 

[1]An objection often raised to my appeal to the clarity of Scripture is that if the issue were so clear it would not be so debated across the history of the church. I believe that the reason for the debate is not so much an issue of clarity as it is our tendency to respond to the Bible’s teaching on this in the same manner that the disciples did in Matthew 19.

[2]All Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version (Crossway) unless noted otherwise

[3]John Piper, Divorce and Remarriage: A Position Paper, Desiring God (1986) 10

[4]I personally do not consider this to be an airtight argument. I think there are clearer, more compelling arguments to be made, but this one is worth recording for consideration.

[5]Duane Warden, “The Words of Jesus on Divorce.” Restoration Quarterly39, no. 3 (1997 1997): 143. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost(accessed November 10, 2015).

[6]As a command this would have been in contradiction with God’s revealed pattern for marriage

[7]Matthew 19:7

[8]A rabbinical school which interpreted the indecency in Deuteronomy 24 as being sexual in nature only and required divorce if discovered

[9]Matthew 19:10

[10]Considering the law of Moses, celibacy rather than castration is what Jesus clearly has in mind; see Deuteronomy 23:1

[11]Gordon J. Wenham, “May Divorced Christians Remarry?”(1981): 158.

[12]Luke 16:18

[13]For those that address the all-encompassing language in Luke 19 with the appeal to consider Luke in light of Matthew, could it not just as easily be argued to consider Matthew in light of Luke? Is not the general rule in exegesis that the simpler, more clear text interprets the more ambiguous text?

[14]John Murray, Divorce & Remarriage, RPM, Vol. 11, Num. 9 (March 1, 2009) accessed November 9, 2015,http://reformedperspectives.org/article.asp/link/http:^^reformedperspectives.org^articles^joh_murray^joh_murray.divorce.remarriage.html/at/Divorce%20and%20Remarriage

[15]If it be argued that adultery breaks the marriage bond therefore creating the one allowance for remarriage would this not mean that divorce is required? Also, that that there would be more freedom for those than commit adultery?

[16]χωρίζω to divide, separate; αφιημι send away, dismiss

[17]John Calvin and John Pringle, “Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians.”Christian Ethereal Library (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010) Vol. I

[18]Richard Baxter and J.I. Packer, A Christian Directory. Vol. 1(Soli Deo Gloria Ministries, 1996) pg. 444

[19]Aurelius Augustine, On the Good of Marriage, I in NPNF3:406.

[20]Joseph C. Plumpe and Johannes Quasten, Ancient Christian Writers; the works of the Fathers in Translation, (Westminster, MD: Newman Pres, 1946) 13:93

[21]Jeremiah 3:8

[22]Andreas J. Kostenberger and David Wayne Jones, God, Marriage, & Family, (Crossway, 2010) 229.

[23]I Corinthians 7:15, 39

[24]John Piper, Divorce and Remarriage: A Position Paper, Desiring God (1986)A possible variation of this asserts the Matthean betrothal theory.

[25]Example: Justification by faith alone

[26]Gordon J. Wenham, “May Divorced Christians Remarry?”(1981): 151.

[27]Trans. Lightfoot, 29:7. I recognize of course that this is not canon and therefore not binding on conscience. However, because it was so widely read it does give an indication of the early church’s understanding of the issue.

[28]Andreas J. Kostenberger and David Wayne Jones, God, Marriage, & Family, (Crossway, 2010) 230. Note: Piper holds to the “no divorce, Matthean betrothal view”

[29]Granted, Hermas, which I just mentioned, required divorce in the case of ongoing, known adultery while forbidding remarriage after the fact.

[30]F.F. Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977) 267.

[31]I Corinthians 7:39

[32]The topic of lawful, celibate separation for the sake safety is another issue.

[33]Kathy Eden, “Rhetoric in the Hermeneutics of Erasmus’ Later Works.” Erasmus Studies11, no. 1 (1991): 88.

[34]Ronald W Pierce, Rebecca Merrill Groothius, Gordon Fee, Editors, Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity Without Hierarchy, (IVP Academic, 2005, Kindle Edition) Location 1989

[35]Pastorally speaking, if I take the permanence view and require that divorced people remain single, I have led no one into sin. If the mainstream permissiveness is wrong, then the implications for many pastors are devastating who will be held to a stricter measure of judgment. James 3:1

[36]Matthew 22:30

[37]For those that would retort to this with 1 Corinthians “it is better to marry than burn” offers a retrieval ethic for those divorced, they need only consider what such an argument would imply for those who burn with homosexual desire? Clearly there are some cases where celibacy is the only faithful option.

[38]Ephesians 2:6

[39]I Corinthians 6:16

[40]We do not require married couples to remarry each other when they become believer and Paul’s instruction to people with unbelieving spouses in 1 Corinthians 7 makes clear that marriage is not dependent on being in the church. However, the strict expectation of permanence or celibacy is only holding on Christians. We cannot expect unbelievers to be held to “soft-heart” standards, the permissiveness under Moses makes that clear.

[41]As an example, think of missionaries dealing with the issue of polygamy in new converts

Church Membership & The Death Bed

Have you ever watched a show like America’s Got Talent or American Idol and grimaced when someone gets on stage who has no business being there? You watch as they face the embarrassment of being told on a national stage that they can’t sing and as the news breaks (with the family fuming backstage) the singer’s world comes crashing down in a moment. As you see this unfold time and time again, one is always left asking the question, “Why didn’t someone love them enough to tell them they couldn’t sing before it got to that point?”

I wouldn’t want to be outed as a phony on a national stage. To find out that I was delusional about my abilities. And yet, so many of us live our lives insulating ourselves from the reality about ourselves. Now whether or not you are a good singer is really irrelevant in the grand scheme of things, but there are greater realities that we also avoid. Namely, spiritual realities about the standing of our soul before God and it is from these realities that we tend to hide. This is tragic, foolish, and it is dangerous. Because the truth that we see in Scripture is that every single man and woman will one day stand before the judgment seat of Christ – as the writer of Hebrews says, “It is appointed for people to die once ​— ​and after this, judgment” (Heb. 9:27) Therefore, we should not wish to face that day, be it tomorrow or fifty years from now, on the basis of our own subjective assessment of our standing before the Judge

God has not designed for that to be the case – he has not designed for us to be independent of others, he has not designed us to base our sense of justification before him on self-assessment alone. Because we will all stand before the judgment seat of Christ, we need others and we need others because of at least three realities that we see in Scripture.

 

The heart is deceitful – We all know the familiar words “The heart is more deceitful than anything else, and incurable ​— ​who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) The story of the Bible is a case-study of humanity which proves the truth of those words. Our feelings are poor indicators of our standing before God. Our heart can condemn us when the truth is that we are justified. And our heart can justify us when the truth is that we are condemned. 

When pleading with his readers, Paul will make the appeal multiple times  “Do not be deceived”. In the case of the Corinthians, Paul saw their arrogance in relation to the fruit of their lives which was disconnected from their claim of faith in the gospel of Christ. He is concerned for them that they would be deceived and so he warns them and even instructs discipline in at least one case so that a so-called brother will not be deceived.

Satan is on the hunt – We have a real enemy who roams about seeking someone to devour. He is a liar, who loves to say “peace, peace” when there is no reason for peace or to incite fear when there is reason for assurance. Whatever his angle, his aim in all his devices is to “steal, kill, and destroy”. How do you combat this deadly liar? With truth. But when you combine his lies with our propensity toward deception, we understand that we need truth to comes at us from the outside, we need people who are “speaking the truth in love” on a regular basis, combatting the lies that would either cause crippling fear or deadly calm.

Endurance is necessary – Perseverance is the most profound mark of genuine faith. And the writer of Hebrews points out that even the most radical, most godly, most genuine of Christians should have a healthy sense of their need for endurance and they should understand the role that the local church plays in that endurance. He writes that we should not neglect to meet together, that we should exercise watchfulness over each other, that we should stir each other up to love and good works, especially in light of the day of judgment. Why? Because we need to endure. Baby Christians need endurance. Seasoned saints need endurance. And we should not expect to endure apart from the means of church membership that God has ordained.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be on my deathbed with only my own subjective, self-assessment of the condition of my soul. Of course I claim faith in Christ, but is there evidence of a faith that works, a love that labors, and a hope in Jesus that endures? Are there others that I have invited into my life who then in my hour of greatest need can say, “Steve, I know you are loved by God because I have seen his grace in your life. There is no condemnation for you.”

Now God has in his wisdom designed a community that provides just that – the local church. And it is membership in the local church that is God’s mechanism by which he guards from deception, strengthens our sense of assurance, and helps us endure.

Obviously, not just any so-called “church membership” will do. It must be meaningful, it must have substance, it must be something that has authority behind it which can provide safety, direction, and assurance. To merely have your name on a list is of no use.

We need…

  • Clear boundary lines – a biblical understanding of conversion. That is, we need to be members of a church where a clear understanding of how someone becomes a Christian is taught and where this is the standard for affirming an individual and bringing them into the church.
  • The expectation of discipleship – a biblical understanding of the Christian’s calling to walk in a manner that makes sense with the gospel and to be conformed into the image of Jesus is essential to avoiding deception. Jesus’ sheep hear his voice and they follow him. We need membership where our commitment to each other is a commitment to provoke each other to love and good works.
  • The practice of discipline – a biblical understanding of congregational authority and responsibility to affirm, and if needed to revoke, a person’s profession of faith must be present. We need a membership that is devoted to loving watchfulness and that is ready to affirm or rebuke/remove a member on the basis of their ongoing response to the gospel and the clear commands of Scripture. Paul could not be more clear, it is not loving or merciful to continue to certify someone as a brother or sister in the faith while they refuse to submit to lordship of Jesus. Why? Because then we become enablers of their deception.

To be at a church that does not have these things could be harmful to your soul. Don’t go to a church where you can be a member in anonymity. You need to approach church membership with the commitment to know and to be known by your fellow members. Furthermore, if you go to a church where you do not know a pastor/elder on a personal level, you need to either pursue one of the elders of that church or find another church.

Life is short, eternity is long, our hearts are weak, and our enemy is real. Therefore, we need church membership, especially as we see “the day approaching”.

One day, when the heart monitor flatlines and the respirations cease and I cross into eternity, I don’t want to walk through that door on the basis of my own subjective sense. Whether in that moment I am tempted with false hope in my goodness or the terror of doubt because of my sin, I want brothers and sisters in my life who reminded me of the gospel, who rebuked my sin, and who encouraged the evidence of God’s grace in my life. People who will hold my hand and hand me off to Jesus.

 

Descending to Ascend – A Christmas Poem

Dead and defeated

Our souls were cast down

Trapped in Adam’s cycle

With curse in place of crown

Unable to rise above

All those that have gone before

It seems our quest is futile

We have already lost the war

Happy and content

Many seem to be

To remain in woeful ignorance

Of what was designed for me

To know the Holy Sovereign

This was humanity’s call

Living in his lasting love

From this we did fall

Weak and unable

To climb above the rest

No works that we can offer

Can give us what is best

But Christmas an exception

At this happy time of year

We remember how the wayward

To Him may draw near

 

He came with what we lacked

To offer pure hands

A blessed substitution

To fulfill the Law’s demands

He came to be forsaken

By the very world he built

To face our execution

To take away our guilt

He loved what we had hated

He spoke truth instead of lies

He lived for what matters

A perfect sacrifice

Dying and rising

Descending to ascend

His purpose to remove

What would Heaven offend

Down he came at Christmas

So we could rise above

He took our life and death

So we could know Eternal love

Would Paul Trust You With His People?

Now I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon so that I too may be encouraged by news about you. 20 For I have no one else like-minded who will genuinely care about your interests; 21 all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.

Philippians 2:19-21 (CSB)

Writing to the Philippians, Paul desires to send Timothy to check up on how they were doing. Why Timothy? Because Paul says he had no one else “like-minded” who would genuinely care about the interests of the Philippian church. He goes on to bemoan that “all seek their own interests and not the those of Jesus Christ”.

Even in his day, Paul was having a hard time finding pastors and teachers who had the best interest of the church at heart, because their interest were not aligned with those of Jesus. It is crucial to see and understand, though it might obvious, that the interests of the church and the interests of Jesus are one and the same. The fulfillment of the goals and priorities of Jesus are what the church needs, and therefore, it needs leaders, pastors, teachers whose aims are aligned with those of Jesus.

Apparently, the list of those who cared about the interests of the church was quite small, which should be alarming to us and cause us to pause, check our life, our heart, our mind, and wonder:

“Would Paul trust me with his people?”

In order to answer that question, I think you take a good, hard look at the ministry of Jesus and at the ministry of Paul and you prayerfully consider if you ministry aligns with theirs in its aim and in its shape. Based on what we are trying to accomplish, based on what we teach, based on how we spend our time, would our lives and ministry be recognizable to Paul as being aligned with the interests of Jesus Christ?

A good start to this is to consider the summary statements Jesus gave for his purpose in coming to the world. This is helpful because the work of the apostles would be an extension of that ministry.[1]

One of the best, overarching statements of the ministry of Jesus, in my opinion, can be found in John 6, which reads:

“Everyone the Father gives me will come to me, and the one who comes to me I will never cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. 39 This is the will of him who sent me: that I should lose none of those he has given me but should raise them up on the last day. 40 For this is the will of my Father: that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him will have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”[2]

The reason Jesus came was to guarantee the eternal life of all of God’s people for His glory. This was the ultimate interest of Jesus, this was what shaped all that he did. And how would Jesus accomplish this? Through the cross.

The interests of Christ led to the cross, and this reality would profoundly shape the content of the ministry of Paul, who made it clear that he sought to make nothing known “except Jesus Christ and him crucified”[3].

Furthermore, the ministry of Jesus shaped the attitude and posture of Paul’s ministry. It took the swagger out of it.

Keeping in mind how Jesus said, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many”[4], we see Paul adopt this posture, eager to share not only the gospel of Christ, but his own life also, enduring labor and hardship for the church.[5]So much so that his philosophy of ministry could be summed up as “For we are not proclaiming ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’s sake.”[6]

Informed and shaped by the gospel which he proclaimed, the ministry of Paul was directed by the interests of Jesus – which meant sacrificially seeking the salvation of God’s people through the preaching of Christ crucified. It meant loving God’s people at great personal cost, to the end that Christ would be formed in them. It meant giving yourself to see the church glorified.

And apparently so rare was this kind of ministry, finding workers who shared Christ’s interests, that Paul had no else he could really trust besides Timothy.

I wonder if Paul would trust me? Would he consider me to be like-minded?

There is much that can shape the trajectory of our ministry and flavor our teaching, but nothing will warp our trajectory or spoil our flavor more than seeking our own interests or the interests of any other besides Christ[7]. To build a reputation, to be loved, to feel justified, to get affirmation, to grow influence base, to increase the size of our church, to be relevant to the culture, to pursue economic prosperity – all of these things risk rendering us as untrustworthy servants. Every day our own interests or the interests of our culture can creep in and begin to corrode our ministry. We need to return to Christ, to the cross, we need to fix our eyes above and be daily recalibrated to his interests, which are also the interests of his church.

I am challenged by this to look to Christ, to remember how he loved me and gave himself for me, and to serve and speak out of the overflow of living by faith in that reality. It is through burning love for Christ that his interests become ours and when his interests are ours, we are in a position to serve the interests of the church.

So what do you think?

Would Paul trust you with his people?

 

[1]John 14:12, 17:18, 20:21

[2]John 6:37-40

[3]I Cor. 2:2

[4]Mark 10:45 (CSB)

[5]1 Thess. 2:8

[6]II Corinthians 4:5

[7]This highlights the reality that sacrificial service, in of itself, is not virtuous or ultimately God-glorifying. Only service that is directed by the interests of Jesus Christ is finally of any value.

Changed By Relationship

Relationships change us, for better or for worse. When Paul says that we should not be deceived, that “bad company ruins good morals” and that “a little leaven leavens the whole lump”, he does so as an affirmation of what the whole Bible teaches about humanity, that is the natural, shaping power of relationships in our lives.[1].

We were made to be shaped by relationship. This is not a bad thing. It is the way we were made. Bad company corrupts us and a little bad “yeast” affects many because sin piggybacks on good things God has made and distorts them. We were made to be shaped by relationship – ultimately by our relationship with God. In right relationship to him we bear his image, mirroring his character which we know and experience in that relationship. We were made to be shaped, in what we do, what we think, in what we love, by our relationship with God. This is how we are formed into true humans. Righteousness, in heart, mind, and hands, occurs in the context of relationship because it is a reflection of what we are in intimate relationship with. This is why reconciliation with God apart from the gospel is impossible.

If it were not for the gospel – the good news that we are reconciled to God by grace alone through faith alone in the person and work of Jesus alone- we would be incapable of producing the righteous behavior needed to bring us into relationship with God because it is the relationship which creates the behavior.[2]In John’s gospel, Jesus testifies that his character is directly related to his union – perfect relationship – with the Father.[3]He is not from God because of what he does, he does what he does because he is from the Father. All his actions, indeed his very will, are a direct reflection of his relationship with the Father. In the gospel message, we are reconciled to God in Christ, through his perfect obedience and flawless bearing of the imago dei imputed to us and through our sin and impurity which keeps us from right relationship with God, being imputed to Christ and dealt with on the cross. Thus being reconciled to God we are then changed in relationship with God by the Spirit through whom we experience true, personal communion with God. Put in the context of modern psychology, the answer to the “nature versus nurture” debate in the gospel is “yes” to both. In Christ we receive a new nature, and with it our status as God’s children, thereby being established in a new context for nurture – the family of God under the care and promise of our heavenly Father who has sworn our translation into the likeness of Jesus. The new nature is the ground of our transformation and provides the new context for our nurture into the image of Jesus. In Scripture this transformative relationship is referred to in many ways, such as “abiding in the vine”[4]or in Romans 8, transformation is the result of God living in us by the Spirit, which is the source of our relationship, or “sonship”. This all works to the end that just as the life of Jesus showed his relationship with the Father, so will ours. But all of this is of divine grace, for there would be no transforming relationship if we were not first brought into that relationship through the Spirit’s application of the cross-work of the Son and his perfect “imaging” of the Father.[5]

What we learn in Ephesians is that in Christ we are not only brought into a unified relationship with God, but also with others who are united with Christ.[6]This is crucial, because we see there that transformation is intended to occur only in the context of relationship, certainly with God, but also with others who also know God.[7]When one considers a biblical anthropology, this should not be surprising. Man and woman in Genesis 2, the founding seed of all human relationship, uniquely bore the divine image in community; an image that was broken when man’s relationship with God was fractured – an image which is seen in its fullness with the perfect fulfillment of “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”[8]Once man fell into rebellion, he was then unable to bear the image of God as an individual due to his alienation from God, which necessarily then led to a breakdown of that image in community. Which of course then we see immediately in the disunity of competing wills as self-actualization became man’s chief goal, this is exemplified in the self-serving excuses of Adam and Eve and then in the jealous rage of their son, Cain and on and on through the biblical narrative.[9]We still were made for relationship and shaped by relationship, but it was now twisted, distorted, and ultimately destructive instead of constructive.[10]Our craving for unity and intimacy is evidence of this, but without relationship with God all dreams of unity are a vapor. We see this futility expressed today as a type of counterfeit unity among humanity is only achieved through placation, domination, or an ever-increasing affirmation of individual autonomy, which history has shown cannot be sustained but always devolves into an ugly cycle of anarchy supplanted by tyranny.

But by being reconciled to God, a new kind of horizontal relationship is created – or rather, recreated, which changes us. A community made up of individuals who being in relationship with God through the gospel of Jesus are changed so that the image of the triune God begins to be reflected in community. In fact, being in relationship with God as an individual shapes us so that we seek and create community and we feel incomplete, incapable of being what we were made to be, without that community. For instance, we experience self-giving love from God in all his kindness and good gifts to us which he gives not of necessity to himself but as a free gift – a reflection of that love in creation requires a theatre for mimicking that love, such that there is no such thing as love for God without it being expressed in love for others which reflects the love we know in relationship with God![11]

The end result of being in relationship with the God who is Trinity, is that we move toward being one as a community, just as the Father and Son and Spirit are one, while maintaining our distinction as persons.[12]This inevitably molds and sharpens us, it changes us in relationship because you cannot come together to a place of shared goals, share authority, and shared love without each individual being changed to form a unique whole.

Of course the human relationship that is created by our relationship with God is what forms the church. The church is both the necessary result of our relationship with God and the context where our relationship with God ultimately becomes visible and can actually be vouched for as genuine. And it is this horizontal relationship then that by its very nature serves the end goal of a growing intimacy with God that changes us.[13]

We are programmed to reflect what we are in relationship with.[14]The dark side of this in a fallen word is that “bad company corrupts good morals” – examples of which abound in Scripture and human history, so much so that this is generally embraced as a truism across cultures. The reality is that we cannot help but be shaped by relationship – be that with friends, family, society, or our broader cultural context. But this should not cause us who have the Bible to be hopeless. Instead, we see being changed by relationship as something beautiful, wonderful, something that makes us truly human, when our fundamental relationship is that of a son or daughter of God through Christ by the Spirit; a relationship with a God that can be known, that can be observed in history, and that through knowing shapes how we think, what we value – in the end, who we are, not merely as individuals, but as individuals made for relationship with others. Embracing this has incredible implications on marriage and friendship, on our life in the church. In the west we largely believe that good relationships are those that accept us for who we are, but the Bible gives us a vision of relationships that serve to form us into who we are meant to be. And becoming what we are meant to be is something that can only occur in relationship. We were made for this.

 

[1](1 Corinthians 15:33; 5:6 ESV)

[2]John 8:34-41; Romans 8:12-17; 1 John 3:1-10

[3]John 5:31-47;14:6-11

[4]John 15:7-8

[5]Ephesians 2:1-10

[6]Ephesians 2:11-22

[7]Ephesians 2:22;4:1-16

[8]Galatians 5:14

[9]One of the key ways that the image of God is reflected in community is when community us united with a common foundation and common goal, such as we see Christ having with his Father in John’s gospel.

[10]A good example would be Babel in Genesis 11:1-9

[11]1 John

[12]John 17:20-23; Ephesians 4:1-3.12-16

[13]I will try to flush out the biblical mechanics of that in a later post

[14]Friedrich Nietzsche famously observed “the herd mentality” in humanity, however, as we might expect from a nihilist, he doesn’t see this as having any redemptive root, but is the result of human boredom with self, laziness, and indolence. Without a biblical worldview, like the preacher in Ecclesiastes, we might be tempted to also see our natures so easily shaped by our relationship to others as dark and undesirable, especially when time and again we run as a blind heard to our ruin.

Madness In Missions Methodology

The quest for the “silver bullet”.

Have you ever noticed in the movies how there is always that discovery which works perfectly, albeit magically at times, to fix the problem, provide the cure, or divert the crisis? A potion that restores youth, a hospital capsule that automatically does surgery, an arc reactor that can keep the shrapnel away from your heart, or a silver bullet that can slay the otherwise immortal.

We have an insatiable desire it seems for results and quick fixes. This desire spills over to every area of our lives. It has touched our churches and over the years that I have been serving for the cause of the gospel overseas, it has become clear that this yearning has touched our mission methodology as well. As I have read books and sat through seminars over the years, I can’t help but sense that as a church that has been given a mission -a mandate- we are obsessed with finding our “silver bullet”. In our mission methodology, like an alchemist of old, we have gone mad trying to unlock what everyone since the days of the apostles has apparently missed – the formula for explosive, exponential kingdom growth. A silver bullet to the monstrous need of the unreached.

In most cases such a search comes from compassionate hearts and a desire to glorify God. But as the methods come and go, each claiming to be more biblical, useful, replicable than the other, it seems that we need to be reminded that we have not been given the mandate of seeking a “silver bullet”.

We all end up employing some kind of methodology in missions. But we are in danger of sacrificing faithfulness to our Scriptural mandate on the altar of success, when our focus gets locked onto our methods and their ensuing results. In fact, we can become so concerned with seeking the “silver bullet”, that when we think we find it, like some miracle cure that actually makes us into monsters, we sometimes fail, and even refuse, to see the negative impact of that “miracle” method (Anyone see I Am Legend?) When our methodology seems to be working we may fail to see that our biblical basis is not as biblical as we think. And perhaps we are then inhibited from discerning the fruit from faux results.

Some Classic Examples

Books and articles, training courses and seminars abound promoting “the biblical pattern” for rapidly multiplying churches and disciples.

The Four Fields approach claims to have unlocked the “kingdom principles” in the parables of Mark 4 which will lead to the reaping of a great harvest. The “person of peace” approach looks to the sending of the 72 in Luke 10 as the pattern for kingdom expansion. T4T, “training for trainers”, uses passages like 2 Timothy 2:2 and John 4 as its model for rapidly multiplying “trainers” to take the message of the kingdom to others.

There is actually a lot of good in a number of these programs. The problem with them is that they often flow from less than careful exegesis, they are judged on pragmatic criteria, and the whole counsel of God’s word is not taken into consideration in the use of them.

For instance….

Four Fields looks to parables which describe the kingdom of God and its growth, without considering the purpose those parables were spoken – which was to expose the misunderstanding the religious leaders had of the nature of God’s kingdom and as judgment on them for their rejection of the Messiah.

The “person of peace” approach, appeals only selectively to Luke 10 as the model for kingdom expansion – the commands found there to hurry, to take no clothes, and to eat only what is served are ignored. Other methods which led to kingdom expansion, like sermons to large crowds in Acts 2, are also ignored by this philosophy.

The T4T approach appeals to 2 Timothy 2:2, without pausing to consider the context it is written in – the local church – and the qualifying requirement of “faithful men”. Not just eager men, not just willing men, but faithful men. How do you know if someone is faithful? It takes time in a community of accountability. And what are they being trained to do? To preach, something which is often downplayed or redefined because traditional preaching and the development of preachers is seen as cumbersome to rapid multiplication – which seems to be the primary virtue by which all tactics are judged in this approach and others like it.

All of these methods are promoted for their supposed source in Scripture and their proven track record of yielding results, of bearing “fruit”. (And there may indeed be fruit.) But there are some potential flaws with many of these systems which lead to other problems, some of which may not be seen until years down the road. The hurried development of “trainers” or “kingdom agents” or “men of peace”, circumnavigates Paul’s long view for the training of “faithful men” seen in 2 Timothy 2:2. The focus on obedience in “discovery Bible studies” used in the CPM approach can confuse the gospel and simply lead to the exchange of one set of religious principles for another. That same CPM system can lend to a lack of clarity on conversion which can lead to a confused identity. A lack of understanding of why we are not disciples and how we become them, leads to people claiming to embrace Jesus as “king” without clearly understanding their need for him as Savior. This leads to a deadly ripple effect which ends in man-powered religion, the people you “reached” having something no different than what they had at first.

You may disagree with all my observations but the bottom line is that no method is a “silver bullet”. No method, as long as fallen and finite people like ourselves are at the helm, is going to be perfect. This article is not being written to write off all methodologies nor to offer yet another method to the madness of mission methodology. This is meant simply to help us latch onto some guiding principles for our methods, and to hopefully get us to admit that more methods are not what we need.

The Bible promotes a mandate more than a methodology. Therefore, all methodologies must be tested as to whether or not they are faithful to that mandate.

There is a madness in mission methodology that is driven by one ultimate question: “Does it work?” Admittedly that question is always surrounded by lots of biblical language and qualifications, but at the end of the day the argument made in defense of many methods is: “It works and you can’t argue with results.” As one man promoting CPM methodologies told me, “Numbers don’t lie.” But as Pastor and author, Mark Dever, once wisely said, “Numbers lie all the time.”

If the question “Does it work?” is driving our methodology, we are in serious danger of swerving from the mandate.

We must admit that different contexts may call for different methodologies. But how do we evaluate these methods?

It has to be on the basis of faithfulness to the mandate, in light of the whole counsel of God’s word.

What is the mandate? We can certainly look at the “Great Commission” in Matthew 28 to understand that, but to understand Matthew 28 we need to look at the whole counsel of God’s word.[1]

“Make Disciples”

How does someone become a disciple? Repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ in response to the preaching of the word of Christ.[2]

“Teaching them to observe all that I have commanded.”

How does a disciple come to obey all that Christ commanded? In the context of the church, led by faithful, trained, and appointed men, where they are equipped to speak the truth in love so that everyone is built up to maturity.[3]

One of the problems with missions today, is that very often the simplicity of the mandate – proclaiming the glory of God in the face of Christ, displayed at the cross – is overwhelmed by the complexity of the method. I fear that in our quest for the “silver bullet”, we have ceased to be stunned by the glory of Christ which compels us to say, “We cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”[4]

This was the heart of Paul as he drew near the end of his life. Motivated to a life of suffering by the grace he had been shown in Christ, he reminded Timothy of that hope and the necessity of speaking it.[5] “Preach the word, Timothy. And since you won’t be around forever, get some faithful men and train them to do the same thing. Preach the word to the end, that is our mandate, even if people don’t want to listen.”[6] There was no need for charts, or diagrams, or statistics, there was simply the fear of the Lord and the love of Christ which compels us to speak the word of reconciliation, resting in the knowledge that whether people receive it or not, whether we are “effective or not”, Christ always leads us in triumphal procession.[7]

Let us end the madness! Behold the glory of Christ and then proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. The woman at the well needed only mercy to release her to speak. The demoniac needed deliverance to proclaim his Savior. Peter needed grace to compel him to boldness. Paul needed love for the chief of sinners to control him. The result of hearing, believing and being transformed by the gospel is that we proclaim the gospel – this is our simple mandate. When we know the gospel, we speak the gospel, which leads to eager gathering around the gospel, resulting in transformation worthy of the gospel. This is how “the kingdom grows”, be it fast, be it slow, be it winter, or be it spring, there is no substitute for simple, genuine faithfulness flowing from a heart touched by the grace of Christ.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] This is precisely what many methodologies fail to do

[2] Acts 20:21; Romans 10:17

[3] Ephesians 4:11-16; 1 Timothy 4:6-16; 2 Timothy 2:2; 3:16-17

[4] Acts 4:20

[5] 2 Timothy 1:8-13

[6] 2 Timothy 4:1,6;1:12-14;2:2;4:2-4

[7] 2 Corinthians 5:14-20;2:14-16

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