The Other Marriage Issue Facing The Church

Same-sex marriage is not the only marriage issue facing the church today. While it may be the hot button issue right now, another problem has the potential of dividing the church even further. The issue I am speaking of is that of whether or not the church should even perform a ceremony that is civil as well as religious.

Some churches and pastors I know who are affiliated with the National Baptist Convention (some dual aligned with the SBC) are already performing wedding ceremonies that are strictly religious in nature with the couple who are married never filing a state marriage certificate. These are not same-sex marriages. They are between a man and a woman who for various reasons do not want to file a marriage license with the state. Many of these couples are senior citizens. Why would they not want to file with the state?

One reason is the marriage penalty. Food stamps and other benefits may be cut if a couple decides to get hitched. By having a religious ceremony, they feel they are married before God and witnesses but they can keep all their income. For many on fixed incomes or who are below the poverty line this is an attractive alternative. Why should vowing to love, honor and cherish each other cause one to lose income or help? Anyone who thinks you can feed two as cheaply as one hasn’t been to the grocery store lately. This is the primary reason for older couples and those struggling to stay afloat financially  to avoid registering their marriage with the state, in my research.

Another reason, one that is growing each day, is the thought that since many states recognize same-sex marriage, they have forfeited their right to recognize marriage for what the Bible says it is. These people do not want their marriage to be equated with that of an ungodly one. Some ministers I have spoken with have also used this line of reasoning. I believe that this line of thought will be growing over the next few years and cause many churches to examine their policies. I do not know of any denomination that has addressed this issue but I would really like to see the evangelical ones do so publicly.

In Scripture, there is no command for ministers to perform marriage ceremonies. In our culture and country we are given the privilege to do so as an agent of the state. Some states have slightly different rules and other countries have many different requirements as to who can perform/officiate the ceremony. The point is that it is a right given by the state, not a requirement given by God. A minister officiating the ceremony lends spiritual significance to the act. An “approval of God for the union” so to speak. That is why orthodox ministers refuse to perform homosexual marriages, marriages between believers and unbelievers and other circumstances.

My question to our evangelical leaders, our Reformed leaders, ministers and leaders of churches worldwide is this — is it valid, Biblically, to hold a religious only ceremony knowing that the license will never be filed to the state? Would that be valid in God’s eyes? Would it ever become acceptable policy in your denomination?

What are your personal feelings, fellow ministers, of acting as an agent of the state when your state may have a completely different definition of marriage as you do?

I believe this is an issue that is only going to grow and am curious as to how the church is going to speak to the issue. I rarely officiate at weddings anymore and have yet to personally run across this issue. Yet, I have friends whom I respect who are dealing with this in their churches right now and I can see the issue as unavoidable in the near future. So, council is asked for from those who read and share this blog. Let me know your personal beliefs and any official beliefs your church and/or denomination may have that may speak to this issue.

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New Podcast added

Today a new podcast has been added to our site. This is the first part of a two part series on the importance of understanding Biblical prophecy. The podcast focuses on the phrase “Days of Noah.” Understanding the meaning behind this phrase will help the listener to develop an appreciation for the relevance of Biblical prophecy which will will be further explored in the next podcast of this series.

Please go to the podcast page of our site to look at all of our podcast offerings.

Days of Noah

Fiction Review for Bethany House — A Sensible Arrangement

On occasion, we are sent both fiction and non-fiction books to review. This one, from Bethany House, is by Tracie Peterson and is an historical fiction. The following is a copy of the review we wrote on Goodreads. We give it 4 of 5 stars.

For fans of the genre, A Sensible Arrangement is a book that will be well worth their time. Tracie Peterson has written a story with good characters, both main characters and supporting characters. As with all her books, there is always someone who comes to a realization of their need for God. This takes place when they hit rock-bottom in their life and this story is no exception. When one of the characters realizes the impact and hurtfulness of her lying, she begins to understand her sinfulness and comes to repentance and faith in Christ. 
The only quibble would be the way the book ends. It could have ended at the end of the next to last chapter. Instead, it ends focusing on the supporting characters, which could be the set up for a second book to follow. If not, the way it ends is not bad and the author may just have intended to tie up loose ends. 
Favorite quote: “I just thought maybe in the absence of love, that anger had created hate.” “No,” Marty said, shaking her head. “It’s not created anything. It’s left a void.” 
A copy of this book was received by me from Bethany House to review.asatp

Of Elect and Non-elect Infants, A Clarification

Clarifying beliefs is a tricky business. It is hard to explain one’s beliefs to others if there is not a good frame of reference that the person you are addressing can relate to easily. This is especially true when the issue is an emotionally charged one. On the question of whether infants or the mentally retarded go to heaven upon death, one must strive to be very clear on their beliefs and the biblical basis upon which those beliefs are built.
It has been charged that the Reformed view, or Calvinist view, teaches that those babies or mentally retarded persons who are not elect of God will go to hell when they die. This is not the teaching of either Calvin or the Presbyterian church, nor most Reformed believers. At issue is the statement in the Westminster Confession which states “Elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated and saved by Christ” (Chap. X. Sec. 3). The charge is that this implies that non-elect infants are lost. Concerning this Dr. S. G. Craig says: “The history of the phrase ‘Elect infants dying in infancy’ makes clear that the contrast implied was not between ‘elect infants dying in infancy’ and ‘non-elect infants dying in infancy,’ but rather between ‘elect infants dying in infancy’ and ‘elect infants living to grow up.’ ” However, in order to guard against misunderstanding, furthered by unfriendly controversialists, the Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A. adopted in 1903 a Declaratory Statement which reads as follows: “With reference to Chapter X, Section 3, of the Confession of Faith, that it is not to be regarded as teaching that any who die in infancy are lost. We believe that all dying in infancy are included in the election of grace, and are regenerated and saved by Christ through the Spirit, who works when and where and how He pleases.” (a)  The Presbyterian view goes beyond the Westminster Confession in stating positively that all infants who die are part of God’s elect but is the clarifying, or logical extension of what was written.
It is this difference that is crucial. The phrase was worded as such to contrast with the belief of the Catholic church that baptized infants were saved but unbaptized infants were not. Since the Reformed churches do not believe baptism confers saving grace, they were setting out their beliefs to reflect this. For what Calvin taught, I defer to Dr. R. A. Webb: “Calvin teaches that all the reprobate ‘procure’—(that is his own word)—’procure’ their own destruction; and they procure their destruction by their own personal and conscious acts of ‘impiety,’ ‘wickedness,’ and ‘rebellion.’ Now reprobate infants, though guilty of original sin and under condemnation, cannot, while they are infants, thus ‘procure’ their own destruction by their personal acts of impiety, wickedness, and rebellion. They must, therefore, live to the years of moral responsibility in order to perpetrate the acts of impiety, wickedness and rebellion, which Calvin defines as the mode through which they procure their destruction. While, therefore, Calvin teaches that there are reprobate infants, and that these will be finally lost, he nowhere teaches that they will be lost as infants, and while they are infants; but, on the contrary, he declares that all the reprobate ‘procure’ their own destruction by personal acts of impiety, wickedness and rebellion. Consequently, his own reasoning compels him to hold (to be consistent with himself), that no reprobate child can die in infancy; but all such must live to the age of moral accountability, and translate original sin into actual sin.” (b)
So, to clarify, the classic Reformed view does teach that all infants who die are part of the elect. There are those who hold differing opinions, of course, but the original teachings were that God’s grace saves those who cannot save themselves – which is precisely the point of the gospel. No one can save themselves, it is a gift of a gracious and merciful God made possible by the atoning work of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Adults are just as helpless, spiritually speaking, to affect salvation in their own life as an infant is. All people, no matter the age, need the Holy Spirit to “quicken” (make alive) their spirit. Praise be to God that He graciously provides for us what we cannot provide for ourselves. As Ta Ethne works with believers of differing interpretations of doctrines, it is important not to charge someone with believing something that isn’t necessarily true. Here, we hold to this particular belief about infants and the mentally disabled — that God in His grace provides them His salvation.

Footnotes:

a — http://www.ccel.org/ccel/boettner/predest.iv.iii.xi.html

b — Calvin Memorial Addresses, p 112

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Excerpt from The 180 Project

The following is an excerpt (unedited) from the second chapter of our work in progress, The 180° Project. Please be in prayer as work continues and the final chapters are being written: 

Riding on a carousel is great fun for thousands of children. Brightly painted horses, enchanting music and shining lights all add to the experience. One can climb on a gaily decorated pony and go up and down while revolving around and around or sit upon a horse transfixed on a pole, forgoing the vertical movement. No matter which one you ride upon, when the carousel stops its spinning you are back where you started. It is a pleasant ride, but one that takes you nowhere.

For many people, a carousel ride is an apt description of their spiritual life. If you have attended the same church regularly for a long time, you have probably observed such people. As a pastor, I have lost track of the number of people caught up on a spiritual carousel, a merry-go-round of misery that they cannot stop.

Week after week, the same individuals are at the altar pouring out the same confessions. “God, I’m sorry I got drunk again Friday night. I won’t do it anymore.” “Lord, I am ashamed of looking at pornography. I promise to never watch it again.” “God, I’m going to clean up my language this week.” “Lord, I’m sorry for…”

There they kneel, pouring out tears Sunday after Sunday, and yet their lifestyle never changes. At the altar they seem so sincere, so broken-hearted but there is no different in their life after they walk out the doors of the church. For many people, coming to the altar only has a placebo effect, the spiritual equivalent to a sugar pill. Their sincerity is short lived because it is emotion based and emotions change mercurially.

They have confessed, but not repented. The difference between the two is enormous, as we shall see in more detail in chapter three, when we break down the elements of biblical repentance. Confession is the first step; it is necessary but it is not biblical repentance.

They are sorry, to an extent. They are sorry that their sin has been exposed, sorry for the repercussions that are following them, the consequences they must now face. They may even want to reform, to stop their destructive habits, but not so much that any real effort is expended. Should God take away their desires for their sinful habits they would be well pleased. For them to exercise self discipline and take responsibility for their actions – well, why should they do that?

If God really cared, they reason, He could heal them, cleanse them, make them strong enough to conquer their demons. God is entreated as a magic genie or cosmic vending machine instead of a holy, righteous, jealous God who expects His followers to grow and mature in faith.

While God can pick you up off the spinning horse and throw you off the carousel the simple reality is that He rarely does. Never in Scripture is complete victory over every temptation instantly granted to anyone. Instead, we are required to submit daily to His Lordship, learning how His grace is sufficient, how His power is more than adequate for any battle we face. One is more likely to hear God say, “Go, and sin no more,” putting the responsibility back on us.

Mankind is called upon to endure as a soldier of the cross, not to ask for wings to fly over the troubles of the world. We are to pick up our cross and follow Jesus daily, not to ask for the cross’ removal.

What we desire is instant sanctification, not on-going reformation. God is at work transforming us day by day into the likeness of His Son. What we want is a short cut devoid of any hard work on our part. Scripture teaches us that God works in us and through us, as well as for us. Until we decide to come aboard the process His way, we will remain frustrated by our lack of spiritual progress.

For far too long, churches have taught a false definition of repentance. As a result, whole generations have grown up without the slightest clue as to what biblical repentance truly is.

Richard Blackaby once made this astute observation:

The problem with (an altar call for rededication) is that it is not biblical. The crux of the gospel message is not a call to rededication, but a call to repentance. John the Baptist preached repentance (Matt. 3:2). Jesus preached repentance, both in His earthly ministry and as the resurrected Lord (Matt. 4:17; Rev. 3:19). If one’s previous commitment did not keep him walking in obedience, a re-commitment is no more likely to make him faithful. The proper response to disobedience is not a commitment to try harder, but brokenness and repentance for rejecting the will of Almighty God. God looks for surrender to His will, not commitment to carry it out. Rather than asking church members to repeatedly promise to try harder, churches must call their people to repent before Holy God.”

The concept of repentance gets muddled up with sorrow, regret, remorse and penance. While elements of each of these things can be present in biblical repentance, there is much more to this concept.

Saying one is sorry (showing remorse) and promising to never do an action again is commendable, but it falls 90̊ short of biblical repentance. Feeling sorrow or regret over the pain or loss one has caused by their actions is a necessary component of biblical repentance, but by themselves they fall completely short of the biblical idea. Doing penance, or making restitution for a wrong is commendable but it doesn’t necessarily include the elements of sorrow or regret. By the same token, one may be sorry they were caught or sorry for the consequences of an action and yet make no attempt to give restitution to the one injured or stolen from. They may also have no remorse over the action itself.

Biblical repentance is a 180̊ change. Not only is one regretful over causing the grievance and ceased the offensive action, but they will replace that action with doing good in its place. Even beyond that, this good will have at its core the desire to serve God through that action.

For example, Scripture tells us not to have coarse or vulgar language coming out of our lips but to speak those things which are edifying or that build one another up in the Lord.

  Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. Ephesians 4:29 NASB

Merely cleaning up one’s language isn’t enough, that is only a 90̊ change. A change for the better, to be sure, but far from the 180̊ change which includes uplifting and encouraging words that the Bible commands us to do.

Another example would be the command to refrain from stealing. Not only are we told not to do this in Ephesians 4:28, but we are told to go to work and provide for others so that others will not be tempted to steal.

 He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need. NASB

In our two examples, then, biblical repentance looks like this:

Old Habit: Replaced By: For this Purpose:
Vulgar Language Edifying Language Building up others
Stealing Work Helping others

The Dangers of Fideism

One of the most subtle dangers presenting itself to the church today is that of fideism. Fideism is, in a nutshell, a subtle rejection of learning, reason, knowledge and logic in preference to that, “simple, ol’ time religion.” Those who subscribe to fideism will tell you, ‘I believe what I believe, don’t confuse me with the facts.” Faith and knowledge are held as enemies towards one another. This attitude flies in the face of such Scriptures as 2 Peter 1:5, which tells us to “make every effort to add knowledge to our faith.”

At the heart of fideists, is an unteachable spirit. I sat through one sermon not too long ago, where the pastor sidetracked towards the end of his message and said something to the effect of, “I just preach Jesus. I don’t preach “ism’s”. Not Arminianism, Calvinism or any other “ism”.” That sounds real good but is a stupid statement. Arminians and Calvinists also both preach Jesus. They just present Him differently. Even Jehovah Witnesses preach Jesus — just not the Jesus of Scripture. Anyone who has read through Romans, Ephesians and Hebrews would never characterize Christianity as a simple “religion.” This minister was not interested in understanding the differences, just in building a straw man on both sides while he stood as a third alternative, setting himself up as above all those who were putting “man-made” doctrines over Scripture. This, of course, is a poor argument, since both sides believe their interpretations come straight from Paul, not Calvin or Arminius.

It is hard for me to sit through what I call theatrical preaching. The kind of preaching where the volume and rhetoric overshadow any exposition of Scripture. The kind where “Amens” are elicited after every sentence instead of allowing them to be a spontaneous response from a convicted soul. The type of preaching where yelling, crying, laughing and whispering are masterfully orchestrated to bring the audience to an emotional decision instead of allowing the Holy Spirit to convict.  In my boyhood days we used to call this type of preaching “chicken-walking.” Whenever I hear someone stomping, snorting and stepping on their pant-cuffs and claiming they are more spiritual than a pastor who has labored long and hard to rightfully divide the Word of Truth it irks me.

Fideism is on the rise. It is infiltrating both city and country churches. There are many in today’s pulpits who sneer at those “television preachers” while they are doing the same thing on a smaller scale at their own churches. There is a suspicion of their brethren who have earned degrees in theology and ministry and this is passed on to their congregations and fostered to create a culture of ignorance. God wants us to reason with Him, He says so Himself in Isaiah. There were many things Jesus said He wanted to teach His disciples but they hadn’t yet spiritually matured enough to handle it. Discipleship is suffering in our churches because of fideism. It is a dangerous thing to let people study God’s Word in depth because it might make them question the interpretations they have heard from the pulpit for so long.

Roman Catholicism understood this. That is why they resisted their Mass and their Scriptures being in any language other than Latin for so long. It could be why so many pastors fight for KJV only also. Quite a large percentage of Americans cannot read at a 12th grade level (which the KJV is) nor understand Shakespearean English. If they could read Scripture easily (understandably) they also might question. And we all know that  a questioning mind is dangerous to those who value control over teaching.

It is far past time to to help our brothers and sisters add knowledge to their faith. That is what Ta Ethne is all about. Join us in bringing a greater knowledge of our faith to believers worldwide  so that they can be better equipped in sharing their faith.

Huns, Calvinists and Straw-Men

During WWI, in order to gain support for entering the war on the Allied side, propaganda began to stretch the truth and distort the nature of the conflict. The Germans were painted as Huns who enjoyed killing (and eating, in some cases) babies. Joe Public was alarmed and outraged. No matter that the issues that started the war were complicated and convoluted, straw men were erected in order to arouse the public to insist on America’s going to war. The same is going on in the SBC today. Normally we do not post too much on the Arminian-Calvinism debate going on in the SBC. This is because we work with multiple denominations overseas and the issue is secondary to our stated goals in providing training resources to leaders and churches worldwide. Yet, sometimes the issue is forced upon us, because such training materials do lean one way or another and because I am an ordained minister within the SBC.

It is with dismay, then, that many articles have become sloppily written inside SBC magazines and websites, which distort the beliefs of either side and further divide people from having civil discussions and agreeing to disagree over some interpretations of Scripture. The article, Sbc and Calvinism:  All-in? All-out? Somewhere In-Between? by Doug Sayers is one such article that was not helpful or accurate. (http://sbctoday.com/2014/03/26/sbc-and-calvinism-all-in-all-out-somewhere-in-between/). The article tells of Mr. Sayers young son being a near-drowning victim and the debate on whether or not he would go to heaven when he died. The staunch Calvinist in the article comes across as cold-hearted for suggesting no can could give such an assurance since no one knew whether he was one of the elect. Yet, in truth, that is a consistent viewpoint from one who would hold to a belief in the doctrine of the elect. The article goes on to include the authors opinion of Romans 5 and 9 and ends with and ends with basically saying that those who hold to a Calvinistic viewpoint are both absurd and impugning God’s character.

To be fair, I believe that Mr. Sayers is erecting a straw man argument in his article. He focuses the thrust of his points upon asking what sin a baby could commit that would send him to hell and spends a lot of time trying to dismantle the belief in the imputation of Adam’s sin that Calvinists hold. What he does not seem to understand, or fails to mention, is the other side of the equation. Arminians believe that it is the exercise of belief that brings salvation, not God’s election. The question could be asked, “Since a baby doesn’t yet exercise belief, why would he go to heaven?”

The use of babies, little helpless, cute babies, is sure to elicit emotions on both sides. Yet, the answer to salvation must be consistent no matter what the age is. It doesn’t matter that a person is 1 day, 1 month, 1 year, 100 years old, the answer must satisfy for all. I have heard many preachers say from the pulpit that “the only sin that will send people to hell is not accepting (or rejecting) Jesus Christ.” So, why not kill people before they can reject Him? Surely that would be merciful. Since we don’t know who will say yes to Jesus, why take that chance? It is the same logic Roman Catholics use to justify baby baptism. They believe baptism saves so baptize early. Wouldn’t it be counter-productive to stop abortions if it meant all those little ones would go straight to heaven? No one in their right mind believes this, but it is the logical extension of a belief system that says babies go straight to heaven in death, while they might grow up to become an unbeliever and go to hell.

Why are Calvinists painted as cruel for at least being consistent in saying that if God wants them in heaven they will go there? Why are Arminians not held to answer the flaws in their own system? We are not to preach anyone into heaven or hell at a funeral, but to bring comfort to the family. We appeal to God being a God of mercy and justice. Whether God foresaw who would accept Him and elected them or whether He elected them and foresaw their early death really doesn’t matter to a grieving family. They need to know God loves them, He isn’t being cruel, He can and will sustain them through this trying time.

What Mr. Sanders appears to believe, although he doesn’t come right out and say so, is that we are born innocent and deserve heaven. He says that God imputes the guilt of our sin when we knowingly break His laws. While he derides Calvinists for their belief in the imputing of Adam’s sin to his posterity, which he says isn’t in Scripture, he believes in an “age of accountability” that is just as absent from the Holy Writ. Both beliefs are assumptions based upon particular interpretations of numerous Scriptures. Yet he passes off his beliefs as stated facts that are indisputable. What he has done is to create a straw man, paint Calvinists as modern day Huns and seek to win an emotional appeal for his own set of beliefs.

Such an article is not helpful. To slant an issue without an article stating the Calvinist viewpoint that babies, like teenagers or adults are first regenerated (made spiritually alive by the Holy Spirit) prior to placing their belief in the Lord who just saved them is irresponsible. In Calvinism the same God who brings salvation to a person (no matter the age) brings such clarity of vision and thought that their natural response is to grab Him (irresistible grace – not that they can’t resist, they no longer want to). For a baby, God makes them alive spiritually and their soul responds naturally to Him. Calvinists are not Huns nor simpletons and are not impugning God’s holiness at all.

Whether one chooses to believe this viewpoint or not, whether one embraces Calvinism, Arminianism, Augustine’s or Wesley’s viewpoints — let us remember this: we are called to act in love towards one another at all times and to see our own flaws before pointing out the flaws of others. Until that happens, the SBC will continue its descend into mediocrity and that will be a great tragedy.

 

Bold Infidelity!  turn pale and die;
Beneath this stone, four infants’ ashes lie;
Say, are they lost or saved?
If death’s by sin, they sinned; because they’re here;
Reason, ah! how depraved!
Revere the sacred page, the knot’s untied;
They died, for Adam sinned—they live, for Jesus died!