Welcome to Carnivorous Caribou

Monday, July 31, 2006

Vic Young Interview

A few weeks ago, Vic sent every registered active pastor in the FGBC the paper he is presenting to Oxford. (I reviewed his paper here). The day before BNYC, I called Vic and interviewed him.

You can find out more about Vic and Fountain of Life Bible Church by following the links.

Carnivorous Carbou: Tell me a little about your conversion? Were you young? You were old? Grew up in the church? Were smacked over the head with Christ and had never heard of him until later in life? Or how you came to life in Christ?

Vic Young:

I grew up in Baltimore, Maryland. I lived there until I was 10 years old. My parents were part of the Christian Church, or Church of Christ movement. Baltimore Christian Church actually began in my parents’ living room. When I was 8 years old, I went forward and was baptized. I believe I had an eight-year old comprehension of soteriology and what salvation meant. My parents are from here in Tennessee, and when I turned 10 years old, they moved back home for them. So that was cultural shock for me, initially moving from Baltimore Maryland to the hills of East Tennessee. And by this time I was getting ready to enter my teen years and they were trying to find a church. They visited around lots and never felt the same attachment they felt with the church they were involved in the early stage with. I started refusing to go to church in my teens. When I was 20, I was in Marinette, Wisconsin, The Ansul Company Fire Equipment had a school in Marinette, Wisconsin. I was at that school and had overdosed on alcohol. When they got me to the hospital, I was in shock from alcohol poisoning, dehydrated…on the verge of dying. I made some promises to God, as people do during that time. After I got out of the hospital, I didn’t plan on keeping them. I tried to forget them. But from that time on, a strange thing happened that lasted for about two years, two words just literally got on my mind as an obsession.: “Personal Savior.” My wife was going to church at the time. She grew up in the Church of the Brethren. Her pastor came to visit my office and I said, “Hey, What does it mean that Jesus is my Personal Savior. He lived 2000 years ago. Now, personal would be if somebody came into this room and they were getting ready to shoot you and I jumped in front of you and I took the bullet. I would have died for you personally. Jesus lived 2000 years ago, I live now, so how could He be my personal Savior?” I didn’t realize at the time the difference between liberal and conservative ministers. And he was an extremely liberal minister. And he couldn’t answer the question. He realized he couldn’t answer the question through all of his philosophical blabbing. Finally I said, “You don’t know either, do you?” He got red faced. I said, “If you’ll excuse me, I’ve got work to do.” He left, I looked up to the ceiling after trying to find the definition of personal Savior for over a year and just literally called out to God, “What does it mean that You are my personal Savior.” And immediately the Lord laid on my heart the very simple definition “When I was on the cross, you were on my mind.” And all of the sudden it became crystal clear. It was relevant. It was personal. Well, I started going to the church that my wife was attending. They didn’t really have a youth program. They asked me if I would start teaching the youth. And one thing lead to another. I went back to a Bible college. I thought I wanted to be a Christian writer, I had no desire to be a pastor. I had been in Bible college about a year or so when a congregation that was without a pastor asked if I would come fill in one night, and next thing I knew I was being asked to pastor the church.

CC: So how did Fountain of Life get started?


Well I had become the youngest full time pastor in the southeast in the Church of the Brethren. At 21, I was pastoring while I was still going to college. I had gone to a four year college and had graduated from there in three years and gone on to seminary at Emmanuel School of Religion. I had been there eight and a half years and the church was just bursting at the seams. We had some older members of the church when I came to the church who did not want to add on, did not want to build. “We’re as big as we want to be.” So I fought that sentiment for about a year, then tendered my resignation and left. We came to Johnson City, which is about 15 up the road from my previous pastorate. Rented a store front and just started at ground zero, so to speak, a new work. I started this church 21 years ago this October.

CC: And what lead you to the Fellowship of Grace Brethren?


Well, while I was at Graham Bible College, Ted Hildebrandt’s first theology class that he taught was my first theology class I had as a student. He spoke highly of Grace Seminary and went on to teach there at Grace Seminary, he’s now at Gordon College. Tremendous, literally genius. Wrote the paradigm Hebrew tutor. He and I became fast friends. We talked about theological issues a lot of times way after class had ended. Also Dr Gary Cohen who received his doctorate at Grace Seminary, wrote the book with Salem Kirban called “Revelation Visualized.” And these two men who I knew well, spoke highly of Grace Seminary. That always intrigued me. Our whole congregation pulled out of the Church of the Brethren two years before I resigned my position, because of the extreme liberalism. And I had fought that the entire time I was with the Church of the Brethren. When we started Fountain of Life, we were totally unaffiliated. We were independent, but the most dependant congregation you could find anywhere. I realized as the church began to grow and we were getting larger and larger. I was considering the future of the church and I didn’t want us to become ingrown and I wanted our youth to have outreaches, to have affiliation with people of like passion. I got in touch with Larry Chamberlain and he and Kurt Miller came down here. They just feel in love with us and we fell in love with them. When Charles Ashman came down, we realized our doctrinal statement looked almost identical. We still had the “Love Feast” at communion that I brought with me from the Church of the Brethren. And so it was a hand in glove situation. It was just a perfect, perfect match. We first went to the national conference in Winona Lake before we actually became affiliated. The main thing I wanted to check out, and I took a group of folks with me, was the fact that a lot of our folks, like myself, are long hair, bearded, motorcycle riding people or blue collared folks. I wanted to see what kind of response we would get; if we would have people who would look down their noses at us. If so, I didn’t want any part of it. Or if they would embrace us. We were warmly embraced in the Fellowship. And we have appreciated that ever sense.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Book Review

Fool's Gold by John MacArthur

Sunday of BNYC, I hopped in a car with a friend and slipped off to Grace Community Church. Clearly an act of divine intervention, traffic was relatively clear and we arrived at the church early. We walked through the bookstore to kill some time. It was such a wonderful experience to walk through a Chrisitan bookstore that wasn't filled with cheap, non-creative knock off t-shirts, bizarre anointing oils or "Christian candy," but of course...best of all was the lack of 20 foot displays encouraging me to find purpose or live my best life.

As I was cruising the aisles, I noticed Fool's Gold sitting on the shelf. I've heard much about this book (including a good friend who told me it cemented his negative attitude toward MacArthur's ministry), so I decided to pick it up.

Fool's Gold isn't really a book by MacArthur (he only contributes a few chapters), but rather by the Grace Community staff. The book basically calls for discernment in areas that are popular in Christian circles. Since it's more a compilation, I figured I'd break down what I thought of every chapter (If you don't want to read chapter breakdowns, just scroll down to "Overall Review"):
    All that Glitters...A Call of Biblical Discernment John MacArthur
John walks the reader through the need to be discerning though some may consider it divisive. He establishes that the believer is in fact called to be discerning. Of course, he establishes all of this with Scripture, stating our need to seperate good from bad.
    Plexiglass Preaching: The Devastating Consequences of a Watered Down Message John MacArthur
MacArthur states that "proper biblical preaching should be systematic, expositional, theological and God-centered." He then lists fifteen reasons that superficial preaching is bad (which could probably have been expanded to a list of fifty).
    A Sense of Purpose: Evaluating the Claims of "The Purpose Driven Life" Nathan Busenitz
This is probably the chapter that hornks the most people off. How dare Nathan challenge a best seller that so many people claim has changed their life? I was actually surprised by the amount of grace that Nathan extends. He actually lists several strenths of the book and is careful not to attack Warren's motive. However, he is also not afraid to point out a few of the glaring errors (Casual approach to Scripture, Incomplete approach to Theology, Inflated Position of Prominence, Pragmatism associated with seeker sensitive models). A good chapter for people to read who don't understand why everyone isn't on the Saddleback bandwagon.
    The Old Perspective of Paul: A Critical Introduction to What Paul Really Said Phil Johnson
I love reading Phil, and this chapter doesn't disappoint. He quickly explains the "new perspective," and then exposes the arrogance that says we now know what Paul was saying better than the last 18 Centuries. A good explanation of the "new perspective," if you're wondering what it is.
    Roaming Wild: Investigating the Message of "Wild at Heart" Daniel Gillespie
Gillespie is thankful that a man saw the need to write a book about masculinity, however, he wishes Eldredge would have consulted Scripture more than movies. Gillespie reminds us of the bizarre circumstances regarding "a conversation" Eldredge had with God as well as many doctrines he forgot to mention when describing Jesus. Eldredge noticed a problem in men, he just didn't answer it Scripturally.
    When Truth Becomes a Tabloid: A Closer Look at "The Revolve New Testament" Rick Holland
The New Testament repackaged like a teen magazine might sound like a great way to get the Bible in more hands. But Holland exposes some concerns that emmerge from the style and the "additional information" the editors decided to include. Again, the publishers may have had pure motives, but the product seems to be tainted.
    Solid Rock? What the Bible Says About Contemporary Worship Music John MacArthur
I cringed when I saw this topic in the book. It's no secret that I don't like PDL or Wild at Heart, so I knew those chapters wouldn't bother me. However, I expected to be troubled by this one and thought it will give a good opportunity to know what others, who like those books, feel like while reading. Actually, I thought the chapter was great. MacArthur breaks down hymns and songs, not by style, but by content. I thought it was a very well written chapter that helps people separate preference from Scripture.
    Just as I Am: A Closer Look at Invitations and Altar Calls Carey Hardy
Many people think that altar calls are a sign that a pastor cares about the lost. However, altar calls can often confuse who are the lost. Hardy doesn't state that altar calls are evil, but just asks people to exercise more discretion.
    Let Your Light So Shine: Examining the American-Christian Approach to Politics Phil Johnson
Many people feel the frustration that so many equate being a disciple with voting on the right. However, Phil first questions if God desires to reach the world through our politics, but then calls us to influence the way Christ desires.
    Choking on Choices: Combating Consumerism with a Biblical Mind-set Kurt Gebhards
A good follow up chapter if someone still isn't sure why the pragmatism of PDL is probably not wisest.
    Hills to Die On: A Doctrinal Framework for Developing Discernment Dan Dumas
Dumas breaks essential discernment into three categories: 1) A high view of God's Word, 2) A high view of God's person, and 3) A high view of God's salvation and gospel. It helps us realize that just a slight alteration in these areas creates a critical heresy.
    Keeping the Faith: A Practical Plan for Personal Discernment John MacArthur
MacArthur closes the book with a biblical guide to developing discerment in your own life.

Overall Review

MacArthurs book is neither mean spirited nor opinion laden. Each author seems to carefully write with gracious words and through a biblical grid. They're not afraid to address contemporary issues, which also means they cover significant topics. I think many people feel their toes are stepped on simply because of the title. But I don't think MacArthur, or any other writer, was calling anyone a fool. He was simply speaking of "pyrite," also known as "fool's gold." MacArthur begins the book talking about the gold rush in California. He was not calling anyone a fool, but rather speaking of how we can think something is pure gold, and yet it isn't.

"Fool's Gold" exists, and we can all be tricked by it if we aren't careful.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Postmodern Foundation?

I'm stealing this from Matt H who horked it from Ravi Zacharias:
1. "You see, postmodernism plays word games with us. Postmodernism tells us there’s no such thing as truth; no such thing as meaning; no such thing as certainty. I remember lecturing at Ohio State University, one of the largest universities in this country. I was minutes away from beginning my lecture, and my host was driving me past a new building called the Wexner Center for the Performing Arts. He said, “This is America’s first postmodern building.” I was startled for a moment and I said, “What is a postmodern building?” He said, “Well, the architect said that he designed this building with no design in mind. When the architect was asked, ‘Why?’ he said, ‘If life itself is capricious, why should our buildings have any design and any meaning?’ So he has pillars that have no purpose. He has stairways that go nowhere. He has a senseless building built and somebody has paid for it.” I said, “So his argument was that if life has no purpose and design, why should the building have any design?” He said, “That is correct.” I said, “Did he do the same with the foundation?” All of a sudden there was silence. You see, you and I can fool with the infrastructure as much as we would like, but we dare not fool with the foundation because it will call our bluff in a hurry. "

The following is from Ravi Zacharias as he addressed the United Nations in 2002 at a prayer breakfast. If you want to read the rest go to www.rzim.com an click on resources. It's good stuff.
Ravi's the man!

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Greatest Vacation

Last week, we loaded up the whole family and headed to Camp Forest Springs. I had the privilege of speaking for their Junior High Camp. We were hoping this would not only be a preaching opportunity, but that it would be a little rest and relaxation for the family as well. I described it yesterday to someone as the greatest vacation of my life...and after it rolled out of my mouth, I realized it wasn't hyperbole.

A couple of highlights that etched a week at CFS in my heart and mind forever:
    10. A good time to catch up with someone you really didn't know well in college, but wish you'd have taken the time to get to know back then.
    8. Children's eyes beholding nature. We are far from city folk, but this was more rustic scenary than we are used to. Whether it was a tiny frog hopping across a trail, or the mini-farm rabbits, the kids saw things that made the eyes open wide. (We also noticed they didn't have "lightning bugs" in the Westboro area...something we won't take for granted around here again.)
    7. Amazing Travelers. This was certainly my most anxious part. How would three kids (all under 4) travel in a vehicle, sitting side-by-side-by-side. They could not have done better. We listened to "Nathaniel the Grublet" about 5,472 times more than I would have preferred, but Charity and I also snuck in a little Way of the Master Radio when the kids were sleeping in the back.
    6. Lou Malnati's Chicago Style Pizza! That's right, we hit the same restaurant and ordered the same thing on the way home.
    3. Central Standard Time. For some reason, it drove Charity nuts everytime I said, "Well I know it's 4:30 but it feels like 5:30"--which made it all the more fun to say. But also it meant we woke up early. It may not sound like fun, but all 5 of us were in the same room for the week (well, sort of, Rachel slept in the closet). It's not the way I'd want to live, but there was something cool about waking up all about the same time and just hanging out in bed for a while, not having to be in a rush. Those moments in the morning were the first indication that it was going to be an amazing day.
    2. Alone time with everyone. QT and I got to sit up late talking (about Piper and more). I got to spend some time with Kari, watching her figure out how to walk. Zeke and I went on a paddle boat ride and looked for fish, crocodiles and sharks. (We only found a few guppies under some lilly pads, but that was thrilling enough for him.) And Rachel came to most of my evening sessions. Nothing is cooler than finishing your message to teenagers and walking in the back hallway where your daughter runs up to hug you, and proceeds to pray that the kids would obey Jesus!
    1. Battle in the midst of vacation. How often do you get the privilege. How often do you get to see the kingdom changed during vacation? We had the privilege to see students repent of sin, trust Christ as Savior, and follow more closely after Him due to our cooperation with the camp staff and counselors. There really is no reason I should get to experience that incredible gift. Yet God is so amazing, He gave me joys far exceeding a top ten list.

(Check out QT's blog for other pictures and highlights.)

The Gospel and Exceptions

I've been attempting to work through the "exceptions" and whether they articulate a person can/should pursue a divorce. If you're new to the discussion, you can click my summary (and follow the links for more detail) to see my textual discussion.

I have also proceded in expressing other problems I see with the popular perspective of Matthew 5:32 and 19:9. One such post is that I don't understand the logic of the argument. The other is regarding God's will versus permission.

I anticipate this will be the last post on this topic (unless comments or emails manifest the need for more). This issue can be seen as the greater context to the entire discussion as to whether a person should pursue divorce (Again, this is a whole different discussion from 1 Corinthians 7, where a person's spouse pursues a divorce). I would also like, before presenting this final post, to again state that this series is not intended to rebuke those who are divorced, but rather is intended as a study in marriage for those married and considering it. My apologizes for any insensitivity in language that may have caused additional pain from the tragedy of divorce. (And please contact me privately so I can correct it.)

The Gospel and Marriage

Ephesians 5 states for us the great mystery of marriage. It is not that a woman and man can become one flesh (which is miraculous), but rather that it is a testimony of Christ and the Church. The ultimate purpose of marriage is the reflection of intimacy (between the members of the Godhead) that is now also available between man and God (through Christ, our Reconciliation). A couple of thoughts I offer up for discussion:

My righteousness as a spouse
    I have none. Any righteousness I have is Christ's imputed to me. Some have commented to me that Matthew 5 is actually about God's righteousness compared to man's righteousness, not about the specifics of marriage, divorce, murder, oaths, etc. I would encourage you to see that it is not "either or," it is both. When we are aware of our dearth or righteousness, it changes the way we view others. Matthew 18:21-35, appears to express when we understand our sin is against God alone (Psalm 51) we see that the unfaithful spouse has offended God more than us. We also develop the mind of Paul (I Timothy 1:15), seeing our own self, not our spouse as the "chief of sinners." Therefore, it appears to me, that to pursue a divorce because your spouse has been unfaithful can communicate you believe your spouse is a greater sinner than you. This seems to be a diminishing of the gospel.
My righteousness to God.
    When we come to the cross, we also realize we cannot mock Israel for her unfaithfulness. Instead, I see myself as dead (Ephesians) before knowing Christ. I also see that though I love Christ, I am not always faithful to Him (Romans 7). Yet God graciously forgives. For the person pursuing divorce, they communicate a lack of forgiveness that isn't consistent with the gospel they have received. (This is a hard statement. I know I have not been down this path myself, but God's mercy can overcome the pain a person feels in their heart, allowing them to forgive even when it is difficult.)
Power in the Vow
    Our security in salvation is based on the promises of God (Hebrews 6:9-20). Therefore, my covenant with God is not based on my performance, but rather on His promises. Even my obediance within the covenant is based upon His promises (Phil 1:6)! Therefore, it seems the person who pursues divorce is sending a message that their covenant was based in the other person, or on their own whim...neither of which is a reflection of the gospel.

I am thankful that God will not turn from me, though I can be unfaithful. It seems to turn from your spouse (by pursuing a divorce), is to not reflect that statement to the world. Therefore, to claim the exception as "your right to pursue divorce" appears to open the door for a gospel that would give God the right to abandon me. And if He had that right, my life certainly isn't righteous enough to keep Him with me. I must rest in my salvation (and marriage) in a promise that can not be broken.

Someone may break that promise with me (again, see I Corinthians 7), but as a believer, I should strive not to break that promise.

A Heart Confession

I have tried to articulate why I do not believe Jesus gives permission to pursue divorce because of adultery. If you're new to the discussion, you can click my summary (and follow the links for more detail) to see my textual discussion.

I have also proceded in expressing other problems I see with the popular perspective of Matthew 5:32 and 19:9. One such post is that I don't understand the logic of the argument.

I would also like, before presenting another problem, to again state that this series is not intended to rebuke those who are divorced, but rather is intended as a study in marriage for those married and considering it. My apologizes for any insensitivity in language that may have caused additional pain from the tragedy of divorce. (And please contact me privately so I can correct it.)

The Hardened Heart

Jesus answers the Pharisees that Moses mentions divorce (does not endorse it, but does give rules regarding it) because of "hardness of heart." However, it is important to realize, when Jesus says, "your hardness of heart" the "your" is plural. Therefore, he is speaking to the Pharisees, who would be the ones pursuing the divorce. The passage is not referring to the adulterer's hard heart, but rather to the one pursuing divorce.

Unfortunately, when I've explained that distinction to some, they've answered that their heart truly is hard, but they believe God understands. Now Scripture certainly supports that God understands pain and a greiving heart, but I am unaware of any passage that excuses a hardened heart. Rather, it is a broken heart that is pleasing to God (Psalm 51).

But usually, I do not get such a blatant statement of hardness. It usually comes across in a more acceptable, yet theologically inaccurate perspective. I will often get a person who says, "I understand God doesn't want me to divorce, but I do believe He gives me permission."

First, this seems to be a misrepresentation of I Corinthians 10:23-33. Here Paul is making the statement, "Everything is permissible"--but not everything is beneficial. "Everything is permissible"--but not everything is contructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.

Contextually, "everything" seems to refer to food for consumption. It is the point both before and after these verses. Furthermore, Paul seems to speak elsewhere that "everything" (sin) is not permissible (Romans 6). Therefore, it seems to be a distortion of this passage to apply it to principles of marriage and divorce. Furthermore, Paul says that your pursuit of that which is permissible is not for your own gain or comfort, but for the good of others.

This really becomes the defining line between pursuing a divorce, and having one divorce you (as in I Corinthians 7). In a condition where a person pursues a divorce they have to either blatantly admit a hard heart, or they must attempt to construct a system where God does not want them to divorce, but gives permission.

However, is the believer called to merely avoid sinful behavior, or is our calling something higher? Aren't we called, not only to abstain from sin, but to seek God's ultimate glory. James gives us a view of the God pleasing life when he says,
Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.--4:17
Christian obediance is to pursue God's highest desire and will (Romans 12:1-2). Therefore, a believer has created a false dichotomy if they believe they can be aware of God's desires and yet obediently choose alternative route.

Therefore, it is important, even if the person sees the "exceptions" as permission, that if they acknowledge God would desire the marriage to remain intact (which He does), that they would pursue that goal.

Otherwise, they must admit (either actively or passively) a heart that is hardened to the will of God.

I Admit, I Don't Get It

I've attempted to deal with the textual issues in Matthew 5:32 and Matthew 19:9. You can see a summary of my argument (and follow the links for more detailed explanation). I would even suggest reading John Piper's position paper on Divorce and Remarriage. (Though I don't know that I agree with his handling of I Corinthians 7, and therefore wouldn't say I agree with his final conclusion, I do believe his handling of the gospel texts are very beneficial.)

It Feels Like a Merry-Go-Round to Me.

This post is not like the previous posts. This post is a confession, that even if Jesus' exception was permission to pursue divorce on the grounds of adultery, it doesn't make sense to me. I willfully chose not to include this issue in earlier posts, for my lack of understanding a passage is hardly proof the common understanding is wrong (on the contrary, it may be proof that understanding is right!). But I do find myself on a logical merry-go-round with the conventional understanding.

Allow me to lay out my confusion (Using names that totally correspond to no one.):

Under the popular understanding of the "exception":

George and Helga are married to one another. George decides to divorce Helga (without adultery occuring). If George or Helga remarry, they (and the people who marry them) will be involved in adultery. However, if Helga, while married to George chose to commit adultery, then George would be released and free to remarry without it being considered adultery.

If this is the proper understanding of the passage, then God does not see a marriage as severed simply because a divorce took place (otherwise, He wouldn't say to marry a divorced woman was adultery). Instead, the only divorce that seems to be recognized is if it was caused by adultery (in the popular understanding).

Yet here's where I don't understand things:

George decides to divorce Helga (without adultery having occured). Then, George marries another woman. God would see that marriage as adultery, therefore, does that mean Helga is now free to marry? But suppose George divorces Helga (and Helga didn't want the divorce) but Helga is the first to remarry. God would see that as adultery and now George is justified in his pursuit of divorce? And if George divorces Helga, (and the presumption here is so that he is freed to remarry someone else eventually), how does that cause Juan to commit adultery if he chooses to marry Helga?

Or stanger yet, George divorces Helga and then begins to date Penelope. He and Penelope have sex, thus committing adultery and severing the marriage relationship with Helga (in the popular understanding). Then what is wrong with him marrying Penelople? If Helga is freed from the marriage at that point, isn't George too?

So, can two people divorce and then have a showdown to see who will remarry first, so that the other then has permission to remarry without it being adultery?

The only possible way I can get my fingers around this text is if God sees remarriage as adultery because He does not see union of man and wife as severed. 1 Corinthians 7 appears to give two exceptions:
    1. If the spouse dies, you are then free to remarry (7:39).
    2. An unbeliever chooses to leave a believer (7:15)
But adultery is not listed as an exception.

Of course, my logic may be skewed (and I fear the illustration was as clear as mud), but it seems the only way the "exceptions" are consistent with the totality of Scripture, is if they are referring to the betrothal period of Jewish marriages.

Jews, Betrothal and Divorce

As I've continued with this series, my desire is not to articulate how we should respond to those previously divorced. I've already stated I believe our response should be different for the person already divorced and the one considering divorce. This series is really intended to discern the counsel given to married couples, and those considering marriage, not as an attack on those already divorced. [I understand that these posts may cause feelings of pain for those who have suffered the pain of divorce. I do not think pain is an indication that the discussion is wrong to have, for something that grieves God should pain us. But I do want to honestly apologize to anyone who has felt pain due to any insensitivity in my writing.]

Divorce has always been a controversial issue. The Pharisees come to Jesus with questions regarding divorce. Yet even Jesus' answer can be one which is difficult to decipher. Is it possible that the church has misunderstood part of His discussion? Could culture, as it can so easily do, have crowded into our understanding of what Jesus is saying?

I think this is a very real possibility. I think there are some things that must be considered, and at a minimum, should not be easily dismissed. Frankly, any time you understand a passage with high cultural implications it makes me nervous. Today, people are doing the same with topics like complementarianism, homosexuality, and even universalism. I think we have to see indications of cultural weight within the text before we can claim an issue as cultural. I have attempted, before entering the discussion of culture, to do just that. Here is the foundation I have attempted to lay. I believe we must examine the role culture may plays in this passage because:

Jesus says lust is adultery.
    If we think adultery is an exclusion allowing divorce, Jesus says in the very same context that lust is adultery. Therefore, no one has been faithful to their spouse (according to God's standards of righteousness, which are the only ones that matter.)
Words were chosen very carefully
    Matthew does not record that adultery is grounds for divorce, but rather fornication. "Moicheuo" and "porneia" are closely related words, but that does not excuse us to diminish their distinction.
Mark and Luke do not mention the "exception".
    This should not be quickly dismissed. The weight of Mark and Luke suggest that divorce should not be pursued in any circumstance. If they left out the exception, and Jesus means that their is an exception, they have changed Jesus' teaching. This must be reconciled in a way other than, "Mark and Luke just left it out."
Yet, Matthew deliberately chose to include the exception.
    Why would Matthew include the exception? I suggested there is something unique about Matthew's audience. The uniqueness is not that adultery happens in Jewish culture, for it was rampant in every other culture too. It isn't unique in that God only sees Israelites as genuinely married, for marriages of pagans, and believing and unbelieving people are seen as genuine marriage too.
The uniqueness is in the Jewish betrothal system.

Consider these statements regarding betrothal in the Jewish culture:
The ceremony of betrothal. The Jewish betrothal in Christ's time was conducted thus: The families of the bride and groom met, with some otheres present to serve as witnesses. The young man would give the young woman either a gold ring, or some article of value, or simply a document in which he promised to marry her. Then he would say to her: "See by this ring (or token) thou art set apart for me, according to the law of Moses and of Israel."

Difference between betrothal and marriage. The betrothal was not the same as the wedding. At least a whole year elapsed between the betrothal and the actual wedding. The two events must not be confused. The Law said, "What man is there that has betrothed a wife, and hath not taken her?" (Deut. 20:7). Two events are differentiated here: betrothing a wife, and taking a wife, i.e., in actual marriage.

--Wight, Manners and Customs of Bible Lands, pp129-130

The marriage was a contract between families. It was effected in two stages: the betrothal (or "acquisition" of the bride) and the wedding proper (taking the bride into the husband's home). The betrothal had the legal force of marriage and could be broken only by divorce.

--Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity, p 68

It [betrothal] consists in the acceptance before witnesses of the terms of the marriage as contracted for. Then God's blessing is solemnly asked on the union thus provided for, but to take place probably only after some months or perhaps some years.

--Orr, ed. ISBE vIII/p 1997

So betrothal meant you weren't married, but you still had to divorce if you didn't proceed? It's sounds odd, but we have an example in Scripture...and that example just so happens to be in the book of Matthew:
This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. But because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

--Matthew 1:18-19

Notice, they were pledged to be married, but hadn't come together. Joseph was also considered her husband and was going to divorce her before their union!

Now, without the exception (found only in Matthew) one would have to ask, "How can the passage call Joseph righteous if he divorces Mary?" However, Matthew explains how Joseph could have been just in divorcing Mary. It was because she had supposedly commited "porneia" (sex before being bound to a husband) rather than "moichueo" (sexual act/thought with someone other than your spouse upon being married).

So an aplified understanding of the "exceptions" would look like this:

But I tell you that any man who divorces his wife, except on the grounds that you discover she is unfaithful before the marriage is complete, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

Again, I understand the hesitancy to explain a passage in light of culture. However, I believe the text gives an overwhelming number of clues that direct us to see that Matthew (writing to Jews) found it necessary to contextualize Jesus' words within the Jewish betrothal system. Luke and Mark obviously do not have this need, because the audience of their cultures would not be asking a similar question.

Therefore, it seems apparent to me that Jesus is not excusing the pursuit of a divorce if your spouse has been unfaithful to you. His "exception" is irrelevant to us, since we do not operate under the same betrothal system.


Many people believe that Matthew 5:32 and Matthew 19:9 gives permission to divorce if a partner has committed adultery. However, I do not believe that is what Jesus said at all. If you are just joining this discussion, I encourage you to start at the beginning:

Context of Matthew 5
Context of Parallel Passages
Did Matthew Add Words to Jesus?
The Exception Isn't About Adultery.
What is "moicheuo?"
Why our discipleship for someone considering divorce and someone already divorced must be different.

When Matthew records Jesus’ “exception” for divorce, he chooses to use the word "porneia”. To understand fully what Matthew means in the “exception,” we must closely evaluate his word choice.

Strong’s defines “porneia” as illicit sexual intercourse. Kittel goes on to make the following observations:
    moicheuo is narrower than porneia
    In the LXX, it is used to describe a husband with a wife outside the tribe (forbidden relation).
    In Jewish writings, “porneia” included things like harlotry, incest, unnatural vice and sodomy.
    If the illegitimacy comes to light only in the course of the marriage relationship, all previous intercourse is regarded as “porneia.”
In John 8:41, the Jews respond to Jesus, “We were not born of fornication (porneia); we have one Father; God.” The Jews to use the word “porneia” to convey that they are not illegitimate children.

It may seem that “moicheuo” and “porneia” can mean the same thing, and certainly they are both words related to sexual sin. However, the distinction is articulated by juxtaposition. When the two are listed in the same verse, we have to see the distinction between the two.

Consider the following. I could call a shirt red. In reality, it may be red, cranberry or even pink, but it is accurate to fit it into the grouping of red. However, if I state that a shirt is red and cranberry, the reader would not assume at this point that I am restating an identical color for emphasis. Instead, the reader would see both “red” and “cranberry” each as more restrictive in description, and their differences would be highlighted.

Therefore, once we have plunged the depths of “porneia” and “moichueo,” we have to look for the differences. When adultery and fornication are placed beside each other, the distinction seems to be marriage. “Moicheuo” is any sexual sin (since Jesus stated within the context that it starts with lust) within a marriage. “Porneia” appears to be sexual sin outside of the bounds of marriage.

But how can we be talking about the right to divorce if we’re talking about sin outside of marriage? Doesn’t that mean that Matthew must mean “porneia” as a sin within marriage. For if you aren’t married, how can you divorce? We’ll look at that tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Child-K9 Theology

Tonight, my daughter asked me to tell her a story. When I asked about a topic, the old standby came up. "Tell me a story about me being a princess."

I told her to be a true princess you must be the daughter of a king. When I asked if she knew a true king, she answered, "Jesus is a King."

I then explained that as a daughter of Jesus, she can be a princess.

As my son looks around, wondering why he hasn't been included in the conversation, I jokingly say, "So can Zeke be God's princess too?"

Rachel immediately answers, "No, he'd be a prince."

My son spins around quickly in his chair and declares, "No, I'm God's doggie!"

I didn't have the heart to tell him otherwise.

Editing Correction

I had a conversation with a good friend today regarding "the divorce series." My friend questioned the statement that "I do not believe it is ever Biblically justified to divorce."

This friend asked if I meant a person whose spouse divorced against the person's will is wrong. I appreciate this friend's comment (and I think it's awesome that he values our friendship enough to call and clarify) and certainly Paul counsels in I Corithians 7 that you let that spouse go.

Therefore, I have revised the statement "I do not believe it is ever Biblically justified to divorce" to "I do not believe it is ever Biblically justified to pursue divorce." I hope this correction can make the discussion more Biblically accurate.

I understand the volatile nature of this discussion. It impacts nearly everyone in some way. It is a complex issue which requires in depth Biblical study, and has a plethora of viewpoints. It is also an emotional topic, as pain is always attached to it. As stated before, I do not intend this series to be a chastisement of those already divorced. I hope this series works to preserve marriages already in place and allows those considering marriage to realize the permanency of the vows.

Should We Question Professions of Faith?

Mark Dever asks the question, Should Evangelists Question Professions of Faith?"

It's a great article, and I totally agree.

Annie Answers Tired Pastor's Wife

The following "advice column" was in our local paper Sunday:

"Dear Annie: When my husband came to this town to be the minister of our church, the elders told him they had no constitutional way to persuading a pastor to move on if they were not satisfied with his work. They asked him to sign a contract that would expire in seven years. My husband balked at this, saying it would not show good faith on their part or his. He also told them he never stayed in a church for more than seven years, so they didn't need to worry.

We have now been here for fifteen years. My husband resents anything he has to do for the church, and spends most of his time working at a homeless shelter he helped found. We have lost a number of devoted members of our congregation in the past five years because my husband insists have time to counsel them.

I have suggested that, since he is so unhappy, it might be time to move on. He responds that he's invested too much time and energy in this community to pick up and leave.

The people of the church used to be welcoming and involved. Now, our congregation consists of disinterested, lethargic and mostly elderly people. Counseling is not an option, because my husband does counseling and feels he knows best. He blames everyone and everything but himself for the slide our church has taken.

I have been very supportive, but I wonder if this is the best way to respond. What should I be doing?--Worried Pastor's Wife"
    It gets better, as Annie gives her advice:
"Dear Pastor's Wife: You should be convincing your husband he'd be better serving his church if he allowed someone else to take over as pastor, and he can then devote more time to the homeless shelter. Your husband is in deep denial, and more importantly, his avoidance of his duties indicates depression.

If you can't convince him to leave, we recommend you seek counseling without him. And his church ought to seek legal help."

A couple of my observations:
    no consititutional way to pursuade a pastor to move on... How about Spirit filled, prayer soaked, God honoring honest dialogue?
    he never stayed in one church more than seven years... Unless your church is in some unique transitional phase, it seems foolish to hire a man who already has an exit strategy. Once more, if he was planning on leaving within seven years, why is it "not show[ing] good faith" to sign a contract for seven years? Wouldn't that be an improvement, stating you plan to atleast be around for seven years?
    We have now been here 15 years... Oops. If you came under the understanding you'd be gone in seven years and decided to stay for 15, does anyone else think in year 7-8 it should have been the time to sit down with the elders and see how things are going (if not sooner, obviously).
    My husband resents anything he has to do for the church... Ugh.
    Since he is so unhappy, it may be time to move on... Of course, happiness is our gauge folks.
    because my husband does counseling and feels he knows best... He does it, but hates it.
And Annie's advice:
    You should be convincing... No need to pray, be submissive and hope your humility wins over your husband, it's our job to become the Holy Spirit folks. Time to start convincing people!
    his avoidance of duties indicates some depression... No doubt true. But the "chicken or the egg question" must be asked...which came first, the rebellion or the depression?
    his church ought to seek legal help... If they want to directly violate I Corinthians 6, that is.

In all seriousness, it's easy for all of us to feel isolated and alone...even pastors. What's sad is that these people did not have an actual elder team that works with them and minister to them. Of course "Dear Annie" is going to give terrible advice, that's not where any church should be turning anyway. What's really sad is that this woman must not have had anywhere else to turn.


Many people believe that Matthew 5:32 and Matthew 19:9 gives permission to divorce if a partner has committed adultery. However, I do not believe that is what Jesus said at all. If you are just joining this discussion, I encourage you to start at the beginning:

Context of Matthew 5
Context of Parallel Passages
Did Matthew Add Words to Jesus?
The Exception Isn't About Adultery.
Why our discipleship for someone considering divorce and someone already divorced must be different.

In Greek Class, you are introduced to The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (affectionately called “Kittel”). My first impression was that it was a quick way to lose tons of money. Then, after having received a set from my father-in-law, I realized it is a wonderful tool toward exploring the original languages.

Two critical words to investigate are “moicheuo” and “porneia.” You can see a Strong’s definition of “moicheuo” here. Notice that the literal meaning carries a high connotation of marriage. Adultery is committed when a married person violates or is violated of their marital vows. Kittel then offers these nuggets as well:
    Adultery is the violation of the marriage of another. It is not the same as non-marital intercourse.
    Regarding Jesus’ words: The right of a man to sexual freedom (as understood in Roman and Greek cultures…the woman could not have more than one husband, but it was acceptable for a man to have more than one wife) is denied.
    The OT prohibition of adultery is not confined to the negative avoidance of the sinful act. It finds true fulfillment only in the love of spouses who are joined together by God. Impulsive and uncontrolled desire is sinful even in the lustful glance.

Of course, moicheuo is also used in a figurative sense (in both the LXX and the New Testament). But consider again the spiritual ramifications. God accuses His people of adultery when they seek after other gods and abandon Him. You do not see this charge for the people’s that are not His. God does not accuse Canaanites of committing adultery, but only the Israelites. Therefore, adultery is only committed inside the context of covenantal love relationship.

Jesus said that even lust for another woman is a violation of your marital vows. Jesus takes marriage so seriously that He says to divorce your wife and marry another is actually to commit adultery. However, in the "exception" that so many love to claim gives their marriage an out, He does not state "moicheuo." Any sexual act (whether thought or activity) toward someone other than your spouse is considered adultery, yet the "exception" does not use "moicheuo," but rather "porneia" (which we'll look at tomorrow). We have to ask ourselves why Matthew chose to use a word outside of a marital covenant to express the exception.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Who Said Anything About Adultery?

Many people believe that Matthew 5:32 and Matthew 19:9 gives permission to divorce if a partner has committed adultery. However, I do not believe that is what Jesus said at all. If you are just joining this discussion, I encourage you to start at the beginning:

Context of Matthew 5
Context of Parallel Passages
Did Matthew Add Words to Jesus?
Why our discipleship for someone considering divorce and someone already divorced must be different.

Judging by comments on the blog already, I have not made an adequate case that the “exceptions” in Matthew are largely misunderstood by the church. I do not believe the previous evidence makes it an open and shut case either, but believe it should at least drive us to the text to look carefully. (At this point, the direction I’ve received from my father begins to merge with a helpful article I read from John Piper…to form a duo that should frighten any contrarian!) :)

Watch words carefully.

A Paraphrase of the Typical Understanding of the Passages
but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of adultery, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery—Matthew 5:32
And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for cheating on him, and marries another woman commits adultery.
NASB Translation (with key Greek transliterations inserted)
but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity (porneia), makes her commit adultery (moichao); and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery (moichao).—Matthew 5:32
And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality (porneia), and marries another woman commits adultery (moicheuo).—Matthew 19:9
Matthew carefully chose his words (and the Spirit oversaw them) as he translated to the Greek. Before we dig deeper into the word meanings (which we will), it is important to realize that Matthew was obviously aware of the word for adultery (moicheuo), yet chose not to use it in the “exceptions.” Some would argue that Matthew merely saw them as synonyms. However, Matthew 15:19 says,
"For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries (moicheuo), fornications (porneia), thefts, false witness, slanders.
In this passage, Matthew (translating Jesus’ teaching to Greek) lists seven different sins. Are we to assume that Matthew listed five separate sins and two synonyms?

Matthew did not list “moicheuo” in his exception. He chose a different word, and we’ll look closer at those words next.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Did Matthew Put Words in Jesus' Mouth?

As we begin to dig into Matthew 5:32 and Matthew 19:9, it has been critical to approach these passages with the right framework. Therefore, prior to examining those passages, we’ve already introduced the pain caused by misrepresenting this text, examined Jesus’ other words in Matthew 5 and considered similar sayings in the other gospels. We also examined that we must disciple people considering divorce differently than those already suffering from divorce.

Context Argument B2

As we looked in CA-B1, we must conclude that Matthew added the phrases “except for the reason of unchastity” and “except for immorality.” It is not showing proper intellectual integrity to conclude Mark and Luke merely omitted them. But then, the question must be asked:
    Did Matthew put words in Jesus’ mouth?
Let’s consider a few things regarding quotations found in Scripture:
    There are no quotation marks in the Greek.
In fact, one area that makes reading ancient manuscripts tricky is that there is rarely punctuation, spacing or different cases (it was typically reproduced in all caps). Therefore, anytime we approach a quotation, it takes interpretive tools to discern where a quote begins and where it ends.
    We have very few direct quotes in Scripture.
Revelation seems to offer us a couple moments where John is instructed exact words to write, but most of the time he is told just to record what he sees. There are very few times where we are told that the exact words have been recorded for our sake.
    Direct quotations of Jesus are virtually impossible.
Jesus spoke in Aramaic. The New Testament was recorded in Greek. Therefore, any quote we attribute to Jesus (except Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? which Matthew [in 27:46] chose to preserve in Aramaic) has already been translated so that it could be recorded in Greek. Just as any translation of Scripture requires the addition of words to preserve the original meaning, the authors of the gospels certainly had to add words or phrases to Jesus’ teaching so that it would make sense in translation.

Therefore, an orthodox understanding of inspiration requires us to believe the authors were very careful in their selection of every word. Few question Jesus’ precision in everything He said. Likewise, through the divine work of the Holy Spirit, we should not question the Spirit's work as the texts were recorded. Every author had as his goal, with the Spirit working as a Divine Guide to make sure the goal was accomplished, to accurately represent the words of Christ.

So Matthew, with the same intent as Mark and Luke, saw fit to add these two phrases when repeating the teaching of Christ. Why is that? Was there something unique about Matthew’s audience that required this addition?

Certainly, there is (again, I am grateful to my father for always articulating this distinction). And we will get to that very important distinction eventually. But first, we’ll carefully examine the words of Matthew, knowing that he very deliberately chose (and the Spirit oversaw) the words as recorded.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Disappearing Exclusion

I am working through a Biblical understanding of Matthew 5:32 and Matthew 19:9. These two verses have been misunderstood by many within the church (and more than a few outside of it) and have undermined the institution of marriage. If you are new to the series, please first check out the introduction as well as the first contextual argument. Also check out why I believe our discipleship must be different for the one considering divorce than it is for the one already divorced.

Context Argument B1—Missing Phrase

Not only do we gain insight from the context of Matthew 5, but we can also gain understanding as we consider parallel passages in other gospels. Consider Luke 16:18
Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries one who is divorced from a husband commits adultery.
and Mark 10:11-12
And He said to them, "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her; and if she herself divorces her husband and marries another man, she is committing adultery.”
It is interesting, and should not be lightly dismissed, that a major phrase is “missing” from these passages that we see in the passages in Matthew. Neither Mark nor Luke insert the phrase “except for the reason of unchastity” or “except for immorality.”

Some have tried to reconcile this “omission” by claiming that Mark and Luke did not see it necessary to enclose the entire phrase. Many claim that Mark and Luke intentionally left this phrase out of their gospels. There are a few obvious problems with this perspective.
    Maybe a scribe took it out.
In the science of textual criticism (not “higher criticism,” but the art and science of comparing variant copies of the ancient texts to determine which is probably the true original) you work from shortest and simplest out. In other words, if this were an issue of textual criticism (which I believe it is not) a person would have to conclude that Mark and Luke provide the original quote, whereas Matthew (or a scribe later) added to the text. From a textual critical perspective, the argument that there is no exception is only strengthened.
    Excuse me boys, but this is a biggie.
Some argue that Mark and Luke just didn’t think it was necessary to include the phrase. But consider what happens when you exclude the phrase. Suddenly, Jesus offers an escape from an unfaithful spouse, and Mark and Luke take that escape away by not including it. If one believes that Jesus was offering permission for divorce in the passage (as some misunderstand), Mark and Luke take it away from their audience by it’s omission. This could not be considered just a casual act.
    You have to see it between the lines.
Some argue that you must read Mark and Luke within the context of Matthew as well and realized they assumed we would realize this provision. They claim, that allowing Scripture to interpret Scripture (which is what we are called to do, but this isn’t a case of actually doing that), we get the fuller meaning from Matthew. A couple of problems with this view.
    Few actually consider Matthew to be the first gospel that was written. Therefore, it is not probable that Mark and Luke were expecting the reader to cross reference their words with Matthew.
    Each was written to a different audience. (This is a critical point we will return to later.) For now, simply consider Luke, who is writing to Theophilus. Are we to suppose that this man had a better knowledge of marriage and divorce than the Jews to whom Matthew wrote? This does not seem a proper assumption.
    You can’t exegete what isn’t there.
Some people have made some pretty silly arguments to provide for reading this exception into Luke and Mark. However, a faithful exegesis of each passage must cause a person to see silence as to whether adultery abolishes marriage vows. No faithful reader of Mark or Luke can read their texts and believe that Jesus sees an exception for marriage vows.

Did Mark and Luke choose to leave this “exception” out? If so, why would they choose to make Jesus’ words more binding than originally? Did they accidentally omit the phrase? If so, what does that do to our understanding of the Holy Spirit’s divine working to inspire the texts.

No, we must examine these texts and find ourselves driven back to the Matthew passages. For a proper handling of the text requires us to see that Matthew must have been the one to take the deliberate action to insert the phrase.

But does that mean Matthew changed the words of Jesus? We’ll examine this tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

My Bride

It’s odd for me to take a break from a series on divorce to discuss my marriage but…

Nine years ago today my bride said, “I do.”

As we spend our anniversary together in a pretty unconventional way, there were just a couple of observations I’ve made:

    She’s the ultimate point guard.
I’m not a poet or great with words, so I must fall back on a sports analogy. My wife, for nine years now (and truthfully, even before we were married) has this amazing ability to make me better. Like a good point guard knows how to get the ball to his teammates where they want it, when the want it, Charity has the amazing ability to exceedingly support me right in the midst of my needs. And even more startling, she has begun to do this with three others all under our roof, without ever missing a beat with me. And me, well, I feel like I am just now figuring how to get the ball across half court without a turnover.
    I am thankful that love is blind.
A quick glance and anyone can tell that Charity is out of my league. Three kids and she still looks amazing! Me, well, I look “functional.” But looking beyond the surface, she is kinder, has a purer heart, is more selfless and much more generous than me. The looks are the first clue, but upon further review it becomes very obvious, this girl is way out of my league.
    She is faithful.
This may seem like a funny quality to mention. In the same way that I can’t figure out why God chose me, I cannot figure out why Charity chose me. However, there is security in this fact. For I know that Charity’s faithfulness to God means she will continue to be faithful to me. I don’t deserve her, but she signed the paper and made the vow nine years ago, and she will not break her word.

I love my wife dearly, but have fallen far short of showing her Christ’s love for the church in my love toward her. But I hope I’ve improved some over these first nine years and that the next nine will show exponential growth in this area.

But I rest in knowing that after nine years, I’m only the second greatest love in her life. For her true heart’s affection is for that perfect Bridegroom. And for Him, I’ll gladly take second place.

I love you Cutie!

Who has Committed Adultery?

Continuing to explore the meaning behind Matthew 5:32 and Matthew 19:9 (what many have taken to assume is their permission to divorce), I want to begin by looking at two contextual issues. If you haven’t been keeping up with the series, I encourage you to first read an introduction to the issue as well as an explanation why our reaction to those divorced and those considering divorce must be different.

Before I begin, I would also like to explain that these next few posts (and my theological understanding of these passages) have been greatly influenced by my father. As long I can remember, I have been encouraged to look at these two passages carefully, understanding that diligence must be exercised to attain their genuine meaning. I share about my father’s influence for two reasons:
    a. He is untrained in theology as far as academia is concerned. My father holds no degree in Bible, yet he is one of the greatest systematic theologians I know. His study is proof what the Holy Spirit can do as a person yields his life to His illumination and works hard to show oneself approved.
    b. Possibly more impressive, he’d have personal reason to approach these texts differently. Before coming to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, my father married, divorced and remarried. If ever there would be a temptation for eisigesis, he certainly felt it. However, he’s been faithful to engage the text accurately, falling upon the grace of God for His redemption.

Context Argument A—Matthew 5:28

Just before Matthew 5:32 (which some mistakenly believe gives them a right to consider divorce), Jesus makes this statement, “but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). Jesus makes a pretty clear statement here. Flirtation, a stolen kiss, fantasizing, imaging yourself intimate (sexual or not) with someone else, and pornography are all acts of adultery. Each is an act of infidelity to our spouse.

If He then, just four verses later, desires to say (as some suppose) “You may not divorce your spouse unless he/she has committed adultery,” who remains exempt from this? What marriage stands at this point? Proper Biblical instruction is not to move the bar that determines adultery. It is not our place to say, “Well, everyone commits some acts of infidelity, but it is sexual intercourse alone that can be considered adultery.” For that is not at all what Jesus said.

Quite honestly, at this point most men are pointed at. And at this point, I must confess I do not know a man who has mastered the issue of lust (myself included). However, to see the depth of these words, means a woman is not excluded either. I think it is fair to say that though a woman may not be as visually stimulated as a man (generalization), many women entertain thoughts of being rescued by their “knight in shining armor” and typically that knight is not the man with a potbelly and receding hairline sleeping beside them.

Jesus obviously holds to the sanctity of marriage. Again, do not miss the context that after speaking of divorce He immediately refers to the oath keeping. Yet if every act of infidelity is adultery, and every act of adultery breaks the oath, what is the strength of the oath?

Before we would dig any further into the text, we must see two obvious realities:
    1. Any honest person must realize they have not been faithful to their spouse. We have all committed acts of adultery.
    2. If marriage can be severed simply by these acts of adultery, then none of us have any security in our relationships and our vows are in vain.

No, we must continue to search the text (and we will) for the context suggests what is typically our initial reading must not be accurate.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Pray for Vic Young

A couple of weeks ago, Vic Young, pastor of Fountain of Life Bible Church sent a paper around to the "active ministers" in the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches. His paper was entitled "Faith and Reason in Modern Society" or "Welcome to Laodicea" and is to be presented at an Oxford Rountable this week. I finally read Vic's paper last night, and want you encourage you to pray for him as he shares. Please pray in the following ways:
    In his letter, Vic mentioned his opportunity to present the gospel during the roundtable. This opportunity will find him surrounded by those deemed religious, but many who've never repented of sin and trusted Christ. Pray that the Lord illumines His gospel message in the hearts of listeners.
    Pray that Vic's message is heard. His paper is an articulation of why pragmatism is a bad church paradigm. He shares many of the concerns for the "modern church growth movement" that I have, he just does it better than I have, and with more research. The church needs to hear this message.
    Pray for our fellowship. If I remember correctly, Vic planted the church in Johnson City, then after it was established, he joined our Fellowship because of the passion he saw for the Word of God. Yet, in his paper, Vic directly addresses the need for our Fellowship to return to Biblical thinking and to make sure we aren't just trying to keep up with other trends. Vic even gives specifics of how this new mindset has affected our Fellowship. Pray Vic's voice is heard within the Fellowship, as one who loves the Fellowship, and desires to see God glorified through it.

I've had concerns for quite some time about how the church has been affected by consumerism trends in the church. Ultimately, I can only play a limited role in the attitude my own local church holds, let alone our district. In many ways, the direction of a national Fellowship seems too large to have any influence. And the worldwide church seems to be so far beyond, that we often feel like a very small ripple in the middle of an ocean. It was comforting and challenging to read Vic's paper.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Marriage Killed by Bad Hermeneutic

When you make a statement like, “I do not believe it is ever Biblically justified to pursue divorce,” (as I made in the previous post), you usually get a retort, “But what about adultery? Jesus said divorce is permissible through adultery.”

This summer, I have the privilege of preaching a sermon series on commonly misunderstood passages of the Bible. To date, we’ve covered Psalm 37:4, Proverbs 22:6, Isaiah 55:11 and 1 Chronicles 7:14. We’ll also take a look at Mark 16:16, Matthew 7:1-5, Matthew 18:20 and Philippians 4:13. Each week, we’ve taken a look at these passages, often misunderstood by those in evangelical corners, and try to return to the author’s original intent. To loosely quote what I heard Allistair Begg say once, “I must first figure out what Paul’s intent was for the people of Corinth before I can ever discern the application for my people in Cleveland.”

The church suffers every time a passage is misrepresented. Undoubtedly, faulty application is borne out of faulty hermeneutic. And inevitably, faulty application in a church produces a diminished gospel witness to the world.

We lament that the divorce rate is the same in the church as it is in the world. Both have a divorce rate sitting somewhere around 50%. (Which is a faulty statistic, because most people who have been divorced once get divorced again, therefore increasing the divorce rate. A better gauge may be to calculate how many first time divorces survive…but I digress). We as Christians weep and wail (as we should) and immediately look to the world to see how it has influenced us.

But could the inverse be the problem. When Christian, Biblically minded people began to think they had an “escape clause” for their marriage and therefore proceeded to severe the union of man and wife, could the world have taken its cue from us? Has the misunderstanding of two verses in Scripture created a mentality that “‘til death do us part” allows the bride and groom to have their fingers crossed? Have we diminished the mystery of marriage (which is Christ and the Church) to a good idea for cohabitation?

The two passages, mishandled to great destruction of the church, the gospel message and the sanctity of marriage are:
but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery—Matthew 5:32
And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.

So, if I believe this passage has been badly abused, why am I not preaching it this summer? A few reasons:
    Rather than one week, the content of these two verses would take over a month to unpack in a sermon format. Therefore, you’ll get it here on this blog, in small doses.
    I wish for these words to be accessible, and myself held accountable, to them for a longer period of time. Sermons can have a bit of shelf life that I hope written word will exceed. People can go back and reread it, rather than trying to remember what was said.
    I do not want this to seem to be a rebuttal toward a specific person’s misapplied teaching of this passage. Therefore, I want to attack this issue before I find out any specific people who are teaching otherwise. (I know there are obviously some, but have purposely attempted to keep from knowing who.)
    There are so many disclaimers involved (that we need to respond differently to those we disciple through this situation and those having already suffered from this misteaching, etc.) that it would take half of my sermon every week.

Therefore, I will proceed with this discussion, via blog, understanding the following issues:
    I believe this passage has been terribly mishandled, and therefore we must graciously, but accurately, redirect people to the text. (I am not seeking to condemn anyone, but rather, return to the original intent of Matthew as he recorded these words from Jesus.)
    We’ll work through the passages exegetically before we consider giving any sort of application. (I understand that this discussion may stir up emotion…who’s life hasn’t be affected by divorce…but I urge you to consider the arguments as they are presented and later we can deal with application.)
    We will not cover most of the other passages (unless I decide through the course of conversation that it would be beneficial to continue) understanding that they all highly support marriage as a lifetime covenant.

Again, I grieve for those who have been discipled to take action with a bad hermeneutic. I do not desire to point fingers at anyone. But I also feel compelled to present a more Biblically faithful way to understand these passages.

I believe the quality of our marriages, and the clarity of our gospel presentation are greatly affected by it.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Cultural Consideration with Sin

Through preparing for my ordination exam and some regular conversations lately, I've found myself working through the issues of marriage/divorce/remarriage again. There is little doubt that our society views marriage in a different way than Scripture. However, marriage itself presents a tricky dynamic when presenting it.

Allow me to make a few quick statements (understanding they may even appear a bit caustic) and explain them at a later time. (I'll deal with the why I believe what I believe in later posts, but for now, I just want to state what I believe.)
    I do not believe it is ever Biblically justified to pursue divorce. [There is a situation in I Corinthians 7 where your spouse may choose to leave you beyond your control or stopping them. But again, the person is not pursuing divorce, but rather conceding to their unbelieving spouse's desire to leave.] (Trust me, I'll explain later.)
    Our society (and even many churches) teaches otherwise, and therefore many people proceed in this direction.

So how do we respond to the person considering a divorce within our church, and how do we respond to those who have gotten a divorce in our churches? It seems that a distinction must be seen. In 1 Corinthians 7, as Paul speaks toward this whole issue, he speaks that a person should remain in the condition they are. Therefore, if we have people in our church who have divorced (and even remarried) it would be unbiblical to counsel them in a direction of leaving their current spouse. They should remain in the marriage status they are.

To some this may feel like a double standard. To the one we would tell them their actions would be disobedient to Scripture, to another, we encourage them to pursue a God glorifying marriage, even if the circumstances weren't quite biblical.

Perhaps, taken a step back (into the culture Timothy was around) or to another part of the world (an area still permitting polygamy) would help. Paul instructs Timothy that an elder must be the husband of one wife. It is apparent from this passage, that the marital status that is above reproach to our society and before God is to have a relationship with one woman. Undoubtedly, Timothy faced men who would consider eldership but would find himself unqualified in this area. Would Timothy then counsel the man to leave a current wife (or wives) to reduce his number back down to one woman? Would this be a good testimony in the city if a man sent multiple women packing and chose to just keep one? Obviously, Biblical discipleship would have to call for a standard above that which the person could reach, but also living within those circumstances striving to glorify God.

What does all this mean? Well, I would like to discuss some issues of marriage/divorce/remarriage on this blog. I believe the church has gravely mishandled a popular text on this issue. But I would like to address it first from the area of a person contemplating divorce. Then, in a later post, explain what the Bible directs for a person already in the current situation.

It may appear to be a double standard, and I will try to answer any questions (not posed anonymously). But I believe in an effort to be faithful to the text, we have to respond in a way that may seem incongruent.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Regarding Anonymity

It appears that I have offended someone regarding their anonymous posts. In my comment section, regarding anonymity, I stated:
if this is the same anonymous who has been posting for a while now, please identify as you post. others on this blog are under the accountability of others seeing who they are and being able to respond accordingly. i don't believe it is biblical to be allowed to use the sheild of anonymity as you post.

if you are a new anonymous, please take advantage of the free opportunity to register an identity, or atleast initial your thoughts so we know who they are. (i have a dear friend who simply ends posts with "lg" and then people know to whom to attribute comments).
The response on the blog, from anonymous was:
Hi, I'm the anonymous to your post regarding Sex and Evangelism. I'm not related to this new anonymous and didn't want him/her falling under any more condemnation for using the anonymity offered on your site. I do read your blog and others' occasionally but this is the last time I will comment,just so you know. The "it's not biblical" line really topped it off for me. Really now. That's a little Matthew 23, don't ya think? Some of us understand the necessity for anonymity when posting on the internet. Real crazys out there. Maybe I'll just assume you were making a joke. Either way, I'll just say my goodbyes! Best to you.

A couple of things I would like to point out:
    1. This in reality, is exactly the problem with anonymous posting.
We are actually dealing with two different people. One who posted on a former article, one who posted right now. Of course, we have no way of knowing that, since they chose to remain anonymous. We can not truly have reasonable dialogue, when we don't know who we are talking to.
    2. Since this is not the same person, the new anonymous is not under any "condemnation."
I am well aware that some people may forget to identify, or may not be aware how to do so. Therefore, I graciously offered for this person to take advantage of that opportunity. They are certainly not under any condemnation, but simply encouraged to continue in the discussion, but give all of us the opportunity to atleast know which comments are coming from the same source.
    3. Is complete anonymity consistent Biblical behavior?
This is where the person obviously took offense, and I would love the opportunity to explain myself.
    a. Regarding Matthew 23: I assume the person is referring to the pharisaism and the woes in response and not to the lament of Jerusalem. Therefore, the implication is that I am being a pharisee (I assume a legalist), by instructing a person to give some form of identification. A couple problems with that observation. I by no means suggested that a person could attain a righteous standing before God do to their adherence to ettiquite of letting people know who is speaking. Pharisees were not wrong for setting up markers to prevent sin (I would argue there is no other way to understand "gouging out your eye or cutting off your hand" but that Jesus was figuratively calling people to take necessary steps to eradicate sin from their lives). However, Pharisees were wrong for thinking that sticking to their rules was making them justified before God because they were holy in and of themselves. If I ever refer to someone as a saint simply because they gave identification in a post, then you have cause to claim pharisaism. (Sorry if I seem strong, but that is a major frustration of mine in the church!)

    Furthermore, if your claim is that I am being a pharisee because I am not stating a rule specifically articulated in Scripture, you are traveling down a slippery slope, brother (or sister, since I don't know who you are). Do you really want to claim that we can not observe what is a more glorifying way to interact with one another simply because the word "internet" is not found in the Bible? I would simply encourage you to check out passages like Matthew 18, Galatians 6, Ephesians 4, and all of 1 and 2 Timothy and tell me if the Bible describes a kind of dialogue with one another where we hide behind a veil of identification. I don't see it there.
    b. So why do I offer anonymity on my site? Many sites do not. However, I never wanted to prevent a person from offering their opinion simply because technology gets in the way. Ocassionally my mother and mother-in-law (neither of whom are technological geniuses...sorry ladies, I love you both, but it's true) will comment on this site and they simply initial the end of their post, choosing to use the anonymous heading. If new people post comments anonymously, my desire is that within one or two posts, they will catch on and give some sort of identification.
    c. No one likes a drive by. People who bother to write blogs, and who take the time to make comments (thank you to those who do here) often are offering their hearts and minds out before the masses. No one like a person, unidentified, to be able to come in and critique and run. Again, if it is accidental, or a person doesn't know how it works, that's fine. But the internet is far too filled with people who become much more courageous when they are hiding behind a keyboard. I have no way to read your heart, anonymous. But if you are not willing to click the "email me" link on my site (it works, I promise) and make accusations of pharisaism with a slight bit of accountability (that would by no means be posted publicly) then you have to search your heart and ask why the difference. I'm not saying you have to do that, but I am saying that if you would not be willing to say things in front of a person, or in written correspondance, or even over the phone, that you are willing to say through a comment section, you may have to ask yourself, "why?"
    4. If you are genuinely scared of internet crazies, there are ways around it. Believe me, I respect your desire to not place yourself publicly out in the world. However, again, I refer to my previous comment. You have options.
      a. Simply sign the end of your post. I find it hard to believe that "lg" is risking credit card statements or checking account numbers, nor personal saftey by simply saying "lg." Only us who know "lg" even know the gender of the commenter. But when that person comments regularly, people on this blog have an ability to trace the thread of thought and better understand what that person is thinking.
      b. Register a name. You don't have to open a blog to do so. You don't have to give personal information. You don't have to say where you are from. You can claim you are from the country of Chile if you want, even if you are from Madagascar. Then, as you would comment, with no one having the remotest ability to know a thing about you, people can again see the thread of your thoughts and be able to dialogue with you more intelligently.

So what do I suggest to anonymous, and anyone like him/her? I'm glad you asked.
    1. Please continue to comment. I never once asked you to quit commenting, merely to give some kind of identification. You yourself acknowledge the confusion of keeping track of different anonymous posts.
    2. Comment only if you will identify yourself somehow. I don't care if your identity is "ihatedannywright" as long as people can see consistency of knowing your thoughts. Again, you don't have to give away the farm just for us to keep posts straight.
    3. Accept my apology. One difficult thing about the internet is that tone is impossible to judge in written form. If you truly were shocked, and thought I was accusing you of sin, for posting anonymously, that was not my intent. Please here me say I am not "condemning" you, but rather suggesting we can better build one another up if we can atleast keep track of who is saying what.
    4. I want to comment back. I was at a conference which one session (actually, before the conference) spoke about using the blogosphere to proclaim the gospel. One man commented that he thinks it is great ettiquite to respond to comments made. I agree (and as long as I'm not getting comments numbers like Pyromaniacs or something) and plan to keep responding to comments. But you make my job nearly impossible (and I assume you'd like dialogue when you post a comment) if I have no idea if you are the same person or not who made a comment last week, last post, or even the last comment.

That is why I encourage you to mark your comments somehow.

Ending the Race in the Starters Block

"Go and make gospel-professors of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Then teach them about all that I've commanded [even though it has nothing to do with the gospel, by then they will be sucked in and will go along with it]. And lo, I am with you always [even if it doesn't turn out as Left Behind described]."--Matthew 28:19-20 [Amplified 21st Century American Edition]

Of course, the Great Commission calls us to make disciples. An over emphasis on the work of "pre-evangelism" can often cause us to think we've crossed the finish line the moment a person repents and trusts Christ.
But a person has not finished the race when they trust Christ. They have just begun the race. The finish line is not crossed until we are ushered into the presence of God.

A person before trusting Christ has not entered the race. They may be watching the race. They may be stretching. They may even be placing their feet in the starter blocks, but until they repent and trust Christ, they have not even entered the race, let alone finished it.

Of course, we celebrate whole-heartedly when a person enters the race with us. But the Great Commission has not yet been acheived. The call is to help make them a disciple...to grow, train and equip them for works of service God has appointed in advance for them (Ephesians 2:10). They have just started, not finished.

When discipleship and evangelism are severed (as if one is optional, the other is what we are called to do) the gospel inevitably suffers. When we think conversion is the finish, the gospel must become the starter's blocks. It is simply a tool to get us into the race. However, the gospel is so much more than that. The gospel is the very track we run upon. It is the foundation below our feet. It is the course that keeps our direction proper. It provides the resistance that makes our very movement possible. We do not move closer to the finish line having left the gospel behind, but rather, we move closer to the finish as we travel along this message. The man running ten seconds from the finish line is just as dependant upon the gospel is the man who has just entered the race. The gospel is never left behind in the dust.

Using theological terminology: The gospel message is whereby we receive our justification (made righteous before God). It is also where we receive our sanctification (grow into the image of Christ). It is where our glorification (eventually restored to a sinless nature, before Christ, with renewed bodies) resides. Each of these are necessary for the disciple, because only the person who has been justified, sanctified and glorified can enjoy the fruit of the gospel (being in the presence of Christ for eternity).

[Just for clarification. Sanctification does not save a person. Justification and sanctification are seperate issues. However, sanctification will follow in the life of the person who has been justified (Phil 1:6). Just as God does the work of justification, He also does the work of sanctification and glorification. But He will justify, sanctify and glorify those who are genuine disciples.]

We go and make disciples (calling them to run the race) of all nations. Baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (signifying they have put self to death and risen anew in Christ...a new life has begun!), teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you (not because it is a seperate issue, but because His commands are built upon the very truths of the gospel).

And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age? That's the beautiful acknowledgment that:

Praise God we do not run the race alone!