Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Theological Roots of Family, Part Two: Parenthood

Parenthood has fallen on hard times in today's world.  Children are no longer a desired outcome of marriage.  One need look no further than the local grocery store and see how people respond to mothers with young children: they are rude to them, and impatient - if not downright mean.  The attitude is that children are in the way.  In an earlier generation, the saying might have been that children should be seen but not heard - today, the platitude is that they should be neither seen or heard.

What is particularly distressing about this is that it is not just a phenomenon unique to the West, it is worldwide.  In a very thought-provoking article, Kevin DeYoung (http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/2013/06/21/what-to-expect-when-no-ones-expecting/) shares the findings of Jonathan Last's book, What to Expect When No One's Expecting:
  1. In 1979, the world birth-rate was 6.0; today, it is 2.52.
  2. The U.S. birth rate is 1.93, well below the replacement rate of 2.1.  The frightening thing about this statistic is that the U.S. has the highest birth rate among all the Western nations.
  3. Actually, despite what the overpopulation doomsday prophets predict, it happens that only 3% of the world's population lives in a country whose fertility rate is not declining.
  4. Economically, this is disastrous.  Last quotes Mark Steyn as saying, "[T]here is no precedent in human history for economic growth on declining human capital."  Last comments, "Countries like Italy, Japan, and Russia - whose populations are rapidly contracting - are in big trouble."
There are many reasons given for this, ranging from the increase of women in the workplace to mandatory car seats and a general cultural discouragement against child-bearing.  However, what caught my eye was that one of the causes given was the decline in church attendance.  In other words, this study indicated that there is at least some correlation between faith and fertility.  As Last puts it, "There's only one good reason to go through the trouble [of having a baby] the second time: Because you believe, in some sense, that God wants you to."

For those of us who believe that the Bible is the Word of God, this should not surprise us.  God created family, and so if you divorce the Creator from His institution, you will inevitably get confusion and disillusionment with this "family" idea, and try to replace marriage and children with other things.  That is exactly what is happening in our day.

One of the things that has characterized the Church throughout history has been its care to gladly affirm the institution of family, the holiness of marriage, and the blessing of children, in spite of cultural influences to the contrary.  In fact, in the early days of the Church, it was a common practice for pagans to expose their children to the elements.  It was also common for believers to rescue them. 

Unfortunately, it seems that many believers in the Church today have imbibed the cultural distaste for children and family.  We may protest against abortion and infanticide, but the fact is that the attitude behind such practices - the attitude that children are a burden - has been gaining ground in the hearts of even Christians.  It is therefore time for believers to once again affirm this precious institution.  To that end, I offer the following thoughts:

1.  Children should be desired by Christian married couples.  I struggled how to word this because I know that there are couples that simply can't have children, and they aren't to be blamed.  Also, there are couples who can have children, but whose circumstances are so extreme as to make having children a very unwise venture.  Furthermore, I am not claiming that we should all be like the Duggers and have as many children as possible.  Nevertheless, it is to short circuit Scripture to pretend that God really doesn't care if we don't care about having children.  Why?

First, it is a creation mandate.  In Genesis 1:27,28 (ESV), we read,
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” 
 Second, children are a blessing from the Lord.  The Psalmist writes,
Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord,
the fruit of the womb a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior
are the children of one's youth.
Blessed is the man
who fills his quiver with them!
He shall not be put to shame
when he speaks with his enemies in the gate. (Psalm 127:3-5, ESV)
Would you refuse a gift from a wonderful, wise, and wealthy friend?  Yet we do this very thing if we deliberately choose not to have children.  God has offered you a gift - children - and perhaps you have refused it for other things (and usually, they are just that, things).

Third, the reasons for deliberately choosing to not have children are usually not Biblically motivated.  If my reason to not choose to be a father or mother is rooted in selfishness, it is simply wrong.  If the desire for things, or fancy vacations and fancy cars, or advancement at work is more important to you than children, something is wrong.

President Theodore Roosevelt spoke these words to such people in 1905 to the National Congress of Mothers:
There are many good people who are denied the supreme blessing of children, and for these we have the respect and sympathy always due to those who, from no fault of their own, are denied any of the other great blessings of life.
But the man or woman who deliberately foregoes theses blessings, whether from viciousness, coldness, shallow-heartedness, self-indulgence, or mere failure to appreciate aright the difference between the all-important and the unimportant–why such a creature merits contempt as hearty as any visited upon the soldier who runs away in battle, or upon the man who refuses to work for the support of those dependent upon him, and who though able-bodied is yet content to eat in idleness the bread which others provide. (Quoted in What to Expect When No One’s Expecting, 174-75)
 A wrong view of marriage could also be a reason for refusing to accept the gift of children.  Does God really intend for your love to your spouse to be bottled up in a childless home?  Consider the Trinity: God's love shared in the eternal fellowship of the Trinity overflowed outward in the creation of a world inhabited by beings made in his image, and who could therefore share in the glory and joy of the Trinity (cf. John 17).  It is hard not to see how this reality is reflected in the family.

2.  We should invest in our children.  A friend of mine is wont to say that 30 years ago, though people didn't stop having children, they stopped raising them.  We should raise our children, and that takes time, effort, and a lot of hard work.  Why should we do this?  Let me give you four reasons.

(1) They are given to us by God.  And God has not only given us a gift in children, he has also given us responsibility.  One of the "talents" God give parents are children - and we should expect to give an account of what we have done with them.  God doesn't give his gifts to trifle away.

(2) Children are precious in the sight of God
Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” And he laid his hands on them and went away. (Matthew 19:13-15, ESV) 
 They have souls, they are made in the image of God, and carry the potential for eternal life.

(3) Our children are our first and primary mission field.
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:4-9, ESV)
Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:4, ESV)
In fact, such a view of parenthood not only makes a missionary mindset, but is the best mindset to make missionaries!  Consider the happy testimony of missionary John G. Paton, who acknowledges over and over again in his autobiography the debt he owed to his father in spiritual things:
Though everything else in religion were by some unthinkable catastrophe to be swept out of memory, were blotted from my understanding, my soul would wander back to those early scenes, and shut itself up once again in that Sanctuary Closet, and, hearing still the echoes of those cries to God, would hurl back all doubt with the victorious appeal, "He walked with God, why may not I?" (Autobiography, p. 8)
By the way, this shows us what  we should invest in our children: the gospel.  We should want, above all things, that they will come to know, love, and obey Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  We should think of our children as a mission field.  We should seek to win them to Christ instead of forcing religion down their throats.  We should understand there is a time commitment involved, and not give up when discouragements come.  The best gift we can give to our children is what Timothy's mother gave to him, 2 Tim. 3:15. 

This doesn't mean that we don't invest in other ways, or that we neglect their overall education.  In fact, I would argue that investing the gospel in our children is the greatest reason for educating them, for the Bible is a book, the revelation of God given to us in words and propositions, in arguments, in story and song, in history and poetry.  Here is a full argument for teaching our children history, the arts, science and mathematics!

(4) But perhaps the greatest reason to invest in our children, why we should pour our time, resources into our children for the gospel, is that the Godly family is a picture of what the gospel brings to the believing sinner - a relationship with God as Father, with Christ as his Son, and with a family made up of a redeemed humanity, adopted into the family of God (cf. Rom. 8:15-17; Eph. 2:19).

How can we preach the gospel to our children - or to anyone else? - and tell them that God will receive them as a Father, in Christ, if our portrayal of parenthood has been one of harshness, impatience, rudeness, hardness, thoughtlessness?  What does this tell them about God?  About the gospel?  What if a child has a father who does not know "how to give good gifts to his children"?

I'm not saying the Holy Spirit can't reach people in broken homes.  He certainly does.  Yet, we should not use the sovereignty of the Spirit as an excuse for our poor preaching of the gospel in our families.

For these reasons, I think it is high time for the Christian church to reclaim a high view of the family, of marriage, of children.  They are the very gifts of God himself.  They are pictures of how God relates to us, and of the gospel.  Let us value them and go to God and his Word for wisdom, direction, grace and help.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Theological Roots of Family, Part One: The Priority of Marriage

Note: this post comes almost verbatim from my sermon notes of Sunday, June 23, 2013.  The text is Ephesians 5:31,32.
___________________________________________

The state of the family in our country is bleak.  The traditional family is disintegrating, with profound results for both children and adults.

This is something new.  Even pagan societies (such as the ancient Greco-Roman) valued the family unit.

Though this is an opportunity for the church to be a light in the darkness, yet it is also a danger - the danger of being sucked up into the cultural malaise.

It's easy, therefore, the emphasize the results of the loss of the traditional family and to make this the reason we should strive to recover it.  However, I want to argue that there are deeper reasons for which the church should stand up for the family - theological reasons.

I want to deliver two messages on the theological roots of marriage and parenthood, and what these roots imply about our responsibilities in these areas. In doing so, my goal is not to give "how to" messages on family responsibility, but "why to" messages.  There are three reasons for this:
  1. "How to" messages tend to be unnecessarily rigid, and not really helpful to many people.  This is just the result of the diversity of human nature and context.
  2. I'm still trying to figure the "how to" out!
  3. More to the point: most of the time, if not all the time, the "how to" is usually taken care of after serious and careful reflection on the "why."  So that's what I am going to aim for.
I want to begin with marriage: there are two realities I think the church needs to grasp concerning marriage and two corresponding implications that flow from these realities.

1.  First Reality: God is the Author of the Marriage Union.

Marriage is not a social experiment that evolved into what it is today.  It is not a human invention, but a Divine design.  The problem of today is that we are creating marriage in the image of our lusts - we need to get back to what God defined it to be.

In our text, Ephesians 5:31, Paul is quoting Genesis 2:24.  According to Matthew 19:4-5, God is speaking in these words.  So that God is the one who created and designed marriage - and who performed the first marriage ceremony. 

Therefore, only God has the right to say what marriage is and what it is not.  He alone has the right to determine the design of marriage. 

This says something about the importance of marriage.  It is the work of God.  His design therefore is crucial to the health of any human society; it is the foundation of it, a foundation laid by God.

This also says something about the goodness of marriage.  It was God who said, "It is not good that man should be alone" (Gen. 2:18).  Cf. Prov. 18:22.  Marriage is a gift from God, 1 Co. 7:7.

2.  Second Reality: The husband-wife relationship is the primary family relationship. It is more important than that of a man or woman to their parents or to their children.

Biblical proof:

1.  God constitutes a husband and wife as a unitary relationship.  He makes them one.  Nowhere else in Scripture is this kind of oneness attributed to any other human or familial relationship.

In our text, the man is commanded to leave his parents, hold fast to his wife, and become one flesh with his wife.  According to H. C. Leupold,
"Becoming one flesh" involves the complete identification of one personality with the other in a community of interests and pursuits.
So sacred is this union, that God has forbidden, except in extreme circumstances, the dissolution of it.  Matthew 19:4-9.  It is right for children to leave their parents; it is (almost) never right for a married couple to leave each other.

This oneness is called a covenant, Prov. 2:17, of which God is a witness.  So sacred did God consider this covenant that he broke fellowship with his people because they were divorcing their wives, Mal. 2:13-16.  Cf. 1 Pet. 3:7.

2.  The marriage relationship is the only relationship that is meant to mirror that of Christ and the Church.  Eph. 5:32.

God gave marriage to illustrate the redemptive love of Christ for his people.  Marriage creates a vocabulary and context for redemption, much like the OT priestly system.

Thus, John Piper calls marriage a "parable of permanence."  As Christ will not leave his people, so a husband should never leave his wife.  There is a permanence of relationship that marriage is meant to put on display.

On the other hand, the relationship between a parent and child must necessarily grow somewhat distant, not just in physical distance, but also in the amount of protection we can give them, in how we can shape their persons in the shared community of life.  Our responsibility to our children will therefore change- will be transferred to another - will lessen.  For our spouses, never!

The permanence of relationship that marriage is meant to magnify by pointing to Jesus' commitment to the church is the reason why Piper maintains that marriage is not mainly about staying in love - it is mainly about keeping covenant.  Jesus will never give up on his church, and neither should we give up on our spouses.

This is illustrated in the commitment of B. B. Warfield to his wife, who in 1876, was struck by lightening when they were on their honeymoon in Switzerland and permanently paralyzed.  He cared for her faithfully until her death in 1915.  "Because of her extraordinary needs, Warfield seldom left his house for more than two hours at a time in all those years of marriage" (Piper, Future Grace, p. 176).

All this is to say that there is a permanence and significance attached to marriage that is not attached to any other human relationship.  And therefore it is surely not wrong to conclude that this is the primary human relationship.

Implications.

1.  A husband should be just as - if not more - intentional in caring for and meeting the needs of his wife as he should be for his children.  The same goes for the wife.

A marriage is liable to founder if the parents are so engrossed in their children -or their jobs, or ministries, or hobbies, or whatever - that they neglect their spouses.

Objection: "But the children are so needy!  My spouse can take care of himself/herself."

Answer: the thing children need the most are parents who really love each other, who live under the umbrella of a healthy marriage.  And this does not happen automatically.  They need to invest time in each other for this to happen.

Broken homes begin with broken marriages.  Healthy children require healthy marriages.  The best child-training techniques are meaningless if they are not accompanied by parents who love each other.  Children watch more than they listen.  The sermon of your life is listened to with more interest than all the talks you will ever give.

2.  Spouses should take the gospel as their cue when it comes to loving each other. 

- In serving each other.  Jesus "came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many."  To paraphrase JFK, we shouldn't ask what they should do for us but what we can do for them.  We did nothing to be worthy of God's gifts to us in Christ.

- In sacrificing for each other.  Especially the husband.  Christ gave himself for the church, Eph. 5:25.

- In forgiving one another.  "As God in Christ forgave you," Eph. 4:32.  God has forgiven us freely.

- In meeting the spiritual needs of the other.  Eph. 5:26,27.  Believing  spouses ought to encourage each other in the Lord; hold one another accountable, speak truth into each other's lives.  If we aim at nothing higher than a "happy" marriage, we are no better than most pagans.  A Christian marriage is one where husband and wife grow in being satisfied in God together.

Conclusion.  Yet, it is not enough simply to know these things.  We must pray with all our might that Almighty God will reinforce them in our hearts, so that we don't say one thing with our mouths and another thing with our marriages.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

For Whom Did Christ Die? Revisiting a Doctrine.

For whom did Christ die?  This is a question that I have been turning over again in my mind.  For many believers, the answer is seemingly straightforward - he died for all men.  The Calvinist perspective that Christ died for the elect is often viewed as a strangely perverted view of Scripture.  Passages such as 1 Tim. 2:4-6 and John 3:16 are often quoted as settling the issue firmly on the side of those who embrace the view that Christ died for all mankind.

The issue under consideration here is that of the extent of the atonement.  Those who embrace an Arminian position advocate universal atonement whereas Calvinists advocate for what has become known (unfortunately, I think) as limited atonement.  I say this is an unfortunate category because everyone who embraces the death of Christ as an atoning work limits the atonement in some way.  Those who believe in universal atonement limit its efficacy (after all, in this view, many for whom Christ died will be lost, which means that his atonement failed to save them), whereas those who embrace the Calvinist position limit its scope.

Yet even among Calvinists, there is a divergence of opinion.  Tom Nettles, in his introduction to the Works of Andrew Fuller explains:
Historically, Calvinists have defended limited atonement from two standpoints.  Some contend that the atonement is limited to the elect only by the covenantal design of the Triune God.  Others see its limitation, not merely in its covenantal design, but in its very nature as a just propitiatory sacrifice.  [Andrew] Fuller falls under the first category and is joined there by such esteemed company as the canons of the Synod of Dort, John Owen, and J. P. Boyce.  Abraham Booth, and English Baptist, and John L. Dagg, a Southern Baptist, defend the second category.
One reason why Fuller defended the first view is that he saw it as a basis for a universal call to faith in Christ.  However, Dagg, writing in his Manual of Theology, makes a good argument that the proper basis for such a call is not the idea that the atonement is "sufficient for all, efficient only for the elect," but rather should be grounded in the Lordship of Christ:
God declares that there is no salvation, except through Christ; and every sinner is bound to believe this truth.  If it were revealed from heaven, that but one sinner, of all our fallen race, shall be saved by Christ, the obligation to believe that there is no salvation out of Christ, would remain the same.  Every sinner, to whom the revelation would be made, would be bound to look to Christ as his only possible hope, and commit himself to that sovereign mercy by which some one of the justly condemned race would be saved. . . . The gospel brings every sinner prostrate at the feet of the Great Sovereign, hoping for mercy at his will, and in his way: and the gospel is perverted when any terms short of this are offered to the offender.  With this universal call to the absolute and unconditional surrender to God's sovereignty, the doctrine of particular redemption exactly harmonizes.
Personally, I embrace Dagg's view, and defend the atonement as limited in its very nature as a vicarious sacrifice.  However, both approaches defend the essential idea: that the Triune God is not divided - that all those whom the Father chose are those for whom Christ died, and that all for whom Christ died will be called and brought to faith in Jesus Christ.

That begs the question, however: what do you do with those passages such 1 Tim. 2:4-6 and John 3:16 that are appealed to as teaching a universal atonement?

These passages do not teach a universal atonement.  However, when John wrote that "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son...." it is often assumed without any further thought that the word kosmos must mean everybody who ever lived or ever shall live on this planet.  But, as D. A. Carson has pointed out in his commentary on John's gospel, the point is not that the world is so big but that the world is so bad (compare the use of "world" in John 1:10).  John's point has little to do with the extent of the atonement; rather, he is pointing us to grace of God in giving his Son to the totally undeserving.

The passage in 1 Timothy 2:1-6 seems to me to be an even greater blunder, if one wants to go there to make the case for a universal atonement.  Here is the passage in the ESV:
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.
What is Paul doing in this passage?  He is exhorting us to pray for "all people" (vs 1), and giving the theological basis for such a command.  The question is, however: who is he referring to by "all people"?  Does he mean every single human being on the face of the earth?  Of course not.  That would be one impossible prayer list!  The apostle is not advocating the impossible proposition that we pray for all without exception.  Rather, he is telling us to pray for all without distinction.

This is important, because Paul's use of "all" in the following passages is fixed by the context.  Therefore, when Paul writes that God wills all to be saved and that Christ is a ransom for all, he does not mean all without exception, but all without distinction.  In other words, though Jesus did not die for every single human being who ever lived, he did die for some out of every kindred, tongue, nation, and people (Rev. 5:9.10).

This use of the word all is unmistakably illustrated in a very different context in the same epistle.  In 1 Tim. 6:10, Paul writes
For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. (ESV)
Note the words "all kinds of."  It is a single word in Greek, the same word for "all" in 1 Tim. 2:4-6.  The point is clear: greed is certainly not behind every single evil that has ever been perpetrated in history.  It is not the root of all sin without exception.  But it is the root of all kinds of evil - that is, one would be hard-pressed to find some sin for which greed has not at some point been its root.  Thus, to interpret "all" as "all without exception" - as Arminians do - is simply to fail to do proper exegesis.

In the end, however, I believe that the most important thing in terms of the atonement is to affirm the substitutionary nature of Christ's death - it is not just an example but the very real and only basis of our salvation from the wrath to come.  Thus, though I disagree with my Arminian friends on the extent of the atonement, I very gladly stand with them in affirming the death of Christ as the sacrifice for sins, and that all who believe on him will be forgiven and justified and saved.

The Heart of the Matter: The Breastplate of Righteousness – Eph. 6:14

The idea of righteousness has fallen on hard times in our culture and even in the church.   These days, for many Christians the goal...