article

Category Archive

Nine Ways Church Elders are to be Held Accountable

Each year we see new stories of Christian leaders who get entangled in scandalous sin. Our experience tells us that this has happened before and will happen again. Often we ask, “Who was holding this man accountable?” And, “If I can’t trust this seemingly godly man, who can I trust?” It is very common and very appropriate to also ask, “How are we supposed to hold leaders accountable?” If they are local church elders, the Bible speaks directly to the question. The Bible gives a very clearly defined method for dealing with sin in church elders.

How does the Bible say that church elders are held accountable? How do you confront elders in the church?
1 Timothy 5:19-21 gives us the answers. In this passage, God prescribes a system precisely for these circumstances. The apostle Paul issues direct commands for how the church must deal with an elder who is caught in sin. He says,

“Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses. Those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear. I charge you before God and the Lord Jesus Christ and the elect angels that you observe these things without prejudice, doing nothing with partiality.”

Following are nine ways that 1 Timothy 5:19-21 shows how church elders are to be held accountable.

1. Personal responsibility

Paul makes it clear that church members have a very specific role. Every church member has the divinely appointed right and responsibility to bring a charge against a church elder when it is necessary. It is remarkable that woven into the very relational and sociological fabric of the local church is the assumption that at no time should elders be above the evaluation of the people they serve. Every person in the pew has this responsibility.

Many church members are not aware that the Bible explains that they have this role in dealing with sin in their elder’s lives. As a result, in our modern church environment, this is one of the most ignored aspects of local church life. This is especially unfortunate since church members are intimately connected to one another as family. This connection in Christ obligates them. There are several levels of this relational obligation. One of the most obvious of these relational obligations is that, as brothers and sisters we are called to fulfill over 50 “one anothers’” in Scripture. As family members, we are accessible enough to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15, 25-26; Luke 17:3-4; Galatians 4:16; Matthew 5:23-24; Colossians 3:13). However, it must be performed in an orderly and biblically prescribed manner.

2. A stricter judgment

It is immediately evident from 1 Timothy 5:20 that the Lord has designed His church to have a very specific set of rules for dealing with church elders when they sin. These procedural commands are obviously focused on elders, not the wider church. Eldership carries with it greater risks for a greater number of people, and therefore they are subjected to a “stricter judgment,” (James 3:1). James makes it clear that those who teach the Word of God are under a magnifying glass of a higher power. In this sense, church elders are treated differently, and even more severely, than those in the general congregation. With greater responsibility comes greater accountability, and greater vulnerability to public rebuke.

3. Multiple witnesses

Holding church elders accountable requires two or three witnesses, “Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses.” Notice how the Lord has commanded that there be a careful process that includes the following elements. First there must be a personal witness. Then in order to bring an accusation, that person is obligated to bring a minimum of one other witness. This language implies a vigilant examination and verification process.

This procedure is designed to protect the elder from trivial, false or evil accusations. It also protects him from accusations based on rumors, gossip or internet slander. It is part of the territory: Church elders are often targets of criticism since they are all imperfect in their life and doctrine, and the best of men can be picked apart. Furthermore, elders are often subjected to unrighteous criticism because the standard to which they are held is often higher than any elder is able to meet. It is common for church members to fall into merciless criticism, because elders are sinners and have weaknesses and inadequacies. However, the process commanded by God in 1 Timothy 5 protects elders from unnecessary accusations by immature, unnecessarily offended or envious parties.

The requirement Paul outlines here is obviously only for flagrant, public, or scandalous sins. If the sins are private and lesser in nature, then the rebuke should be less severe and spoken in private between brothers. However, if a public rebuke for serious sin is to be delivered, it must be upon the testimony of two or three witnesses. These witnesses are evaluated and if found to be truthful then the rebuke is required. The foundation for Paul’s command is found in Deuteronomy 19:15, where Moses communicates the law of witnesses: “One witness shall not rise against a man concerning any iniquity or any sin that he commits; by the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established.” Thus, Paul establishes a careful and orderly environment where hard evidence is gathered (not rumors), and testimony is examined.

4. Partiality avoided

Paul makes it clear that there must not be any partiality, “I charge you before God and the Lord Jesus Christ and the elect angels that you observe these things without prejudice, doing nothing with partiality.” Partiality has many faces. Sometimes it expresses itself when there is a very gifted elder and because of his charisma, persuasiveness and position, people actually hold him to a lower standard when they should be holding him to a higher one. It may be manifested in a desire to continue seeing the benefit of his life. We may think that he has done so much good, and that it will all be lost. Sometimes partiality is promoted by thinking that “Many people will be hurt so I will not say anything.” Or, “It will be so hard on his family, it’s better to keep it quiet.” Some people may even fear reprisal, rejection, or a forever broken relationship. They often feel that the worst thing that can happen is that their relationship with the elder is broken. This kind of partiality often occurs when church members have a low view of sin, a high view of themselves and an unhealthy affection for outward appearance. They feel that it would be too damaging to expose the sin, when in fact the worse thing that could happen is to be disobedient to the Word of God so that the sin continues to grow in the darkness, unconfronted. Partiality is one of the great dangers to the proper fulfilling of Paul’s commands because it is one of the sins in the church that facilitates elders who continue in their sin.

5. Accountability for what happened

Paul is advocating accountability for the sin, in the phrase, “Those who are sinning rebuke…’ This phrase presents an exegetical challenge. As William Mounce observes, “What appears initially to be a straightforward verse actually has many exegetical problems.”1 There are some who maintain that an elder should only be rebuked if he persists in the sin. The use of the present active participle “sinning” (tous hamartanontas) is used to advance this view. This Greek participle does, in fact, indicate continuing action. In other words, the argument is this: an elder must be rebuked only when he continues in a particular sin (or sins); but if he has stopped that sin there is no need for rebuke. While this interpretation is possible, it appears to be at odds with the purpose of the command. Further, this interpretation renders a rebuke, an extremely rare occurrence when an elder sins. It makes the command nearly pointless for its lack of usefulness, and almost unemployable as a command except in the most rare cases. In the case of sins of a financial or moral nature, for instance, the very act of getting caught almost always brings these sins to an immediate stop.

For example, if an elder is caught embezzling funds from his church, the ability to embezzle is taken away the moment he is found out. He is therefore no longer continuing in his sin. Does this mean that he should not be rebuked? Or if a man is caught in adultery, he usually stops. Does this mean there is no need to rebuke him? To maintain that rebuke is only in order when the sin persists renders Paul’s command almost irrelevant. In order to avoid a rebuke, all an elder has to do is to stop the sin for a while. In his commentary on 1 Timothy 5:20, George Knight explains it this way: “Although the note of persistence may be intended by Paul, the more probable understanding is that the accusation is found to be true and the present tense is used to designate present guilt (TEV and NEB: “those who commit sins”). It is the committing of sin that is at issue”2 (emphasis added). In order for there to be a public rebuke, there must be the act of biblically defined sin regarding morality or doctrine. The elder must truly be guilty of the sin. The issue is not if he is continuing in the sin, or whether he is sorrowful over the sin, but rather that he is guilty of sinning. In doing so he is no longer above reproach, as Paul requires (1 Timothy 3:2).

What if the man says he repents: does he then escape the rebuke? This passage gives no indication that repentance suspends rebuke. In fact, there is no mention of repentance in the text. Paul’s instructions are very clear. The purpose of this rebuke is not to produce repentance in the elder—important as that may be—but to cause all “to fear.” The issue here is not excommunication (whether that happens or not). The issue is the public exposure and reproof of one who holds a high office. No one gets a pass in Christ’s churches when it comes to sin, especially not its elders. While true repentance is a critical matter in the elder’s relationship with the Lord and His church, it is important to remember – the explicitly stated purpose of the rebuke is not repentance, but the causing of fear.

There is also a practical reality that must be considered. In almost every case, when men are caught in serious sin, they confess to what can be proven and profess to be repentant. Most often, they weep and sorrow for their sin. They will almost always ask to be forgiven, apologize, and go to great lengths to communicate how profoundly they regret their sin. As a pastor I have been witness to many tearful confessions, only to find out later that there was no true repentance as evidenced by a changed life (see 2 Co. 7:11; Psa. 51). If repentance suspends the need for rebuke, then the command would be very rarely put into practice. It would mean that the command to rebuke would only be applicable if the elder was wanton, belligerent and willfully continuing in public sin. But if he was living an immoral life or embezzling, even in the recent past, and was found out, and stopped, the sin would be covered up.

This is most likely why Paul does not figure repentance in to the equation of rebuke when an elder is guilty. This perspective is carried out every day in our courts of law. Because many of our laws here in America are based on the Bible, we use this same principle applied in the civil realm. When someone steals, they are held accountable regardless of their repentance. This is the same treatment Paul is prescribing for an elder.

However, if the elder is hard hearted and/or willfully continuing in his sin, then he is a candidate for excommunication, a discipline far more severe when compared to a simple rebuke. Paul’s point then is this: when an elder’s sin is discovered and verified by witnesses, he must be publicly rebuked in order to produce in the hearts of his fellow elder(s) and his congregation, a holy fear of sinning against Christ (which may or may not bring the sinning elder to repentance).

6. A rebuke

If the accusation brought by multiple witnesses establishes that the sin is real, a rebuke is required. The investigation process must reveal that the sin was not trivial. It must verify that the accusation was for serious sin, not the result of pickiness, harshness, personal vendetta, envy, or a critical spirit in the hearts of the accusers.

The rebuke is designed to expose and bring the sin to light. The word that Paul uses here speaks of exposing, convicting, disapproving or punishing.”3 The rebuke should be delivered according to wisdom. It should be measured according to the severity of the sin and the disposition of the offender. There could be a simple public rebuke, or temporary removal, or even excommunication depending on the many factors involved. The punishment should be delivered according to wisdom.

7. A public rebuke

The rebuke is to be delivered before the whole congregation, “…in the presence of all.” There is the tendency in many situations like this to try to protect people from hearing. Sometimes, in an attempt to express sympathy or to act out of a sense of misplaced kindness, there is a private meeting for the church members only, or a subset of the church. It is difficult to see how these approaches are appropriate applications of the scriptural language. The Bible says that the rebuke takes place “in the presence of all.” I understand this to mean the entire congregation, and not before the elders only, as some maintain. Matthew Henry explains it this way, “Those that sin before all rebuke before all, that the plaster may be as wide as the wound, and that those who are in danger of sinning by the example of their fall may take warning by the rebuke given them for it, that others also may fear.”4 If an elder has a national or international presence it may be necessary for the rebuke to go beyond the local congregation to cover the reach of his ministry. Therefore, Paul’s use of the term “all” should be defined by the scope of influence, with the rebuke extending across the full range of the elder’s influence. It follows that if a local church elder is also a national leader, it is up to the local church to deliver a national rebuke.

8. The courage to cause fear

In today’s church environment, church elders and members often prefer a positive, upbeat church life; free from guilt, repentance or fear. In contrast to this, Paul’s stated purpose of the rebuke is so that “the rest also may fear.” Paul uses very strong language to communicate this. The word he uses to communicate the desired result indicates “alarm” and “fright.” Paul desires that there be a fear of sin in the congregation. The good that comes from an elder’s rebuke is that it causes all to search their own hearts and lives for ongoing sin. In this sense, the elder’s rebuke is also their rebuke. It heightens godly fear of sin and restrains wickedness (Psalm 97:10-12; Isaiah 55:7; Jude 23; Luke 12:13; Ephesians 4:22; Hebrews 12:1; 2 Thess 2:12; 1 John 1:9; James 4:17).

In order for congregations to have the courage to obey the Lord in this, there must be an understanding in the congregation that this kind of fear is actually a good thing and that it accomplishes godly purposes. Fear causes repentance, and fleeing from sin. Turning from sin ultimately brings about the well-being and happiness of the believer and the whole church, for a holy church is a happy church. It is in this spirit that James Denney writes, “The judgment of the Church is the instrument of God’s love, and the moment it is accepted in the sinful soul it begins to work as a redemptive force.”5 The question is, do you or does your church have the courage to cause fear?

9. Trembling at the seriousness of the matter

The requirement to rebuke must be regarded with utmost seriousness. The gravity of handling the matter properly is identified by an unusually sober warning, “I charge you before God and the Lord Jesus Christ and the elect angels that you observe these things without prejudice, doing nothing with partiality.” It should startle us that nothing less than God, the Lord Jesus Christ and His holy angels are watching how churches deal with sin in their midst. These matters are spectacles to the heavenly hosts. This is why John Calvin underscored the seriousness of this issue, declaring that to ignore this is to “promote the entire dissolution of the church.” He said, “As the saving doctrine of Christ is the soul of the church, so discipline forms ligaments which connect the members together, and keep each in its proper place. Whoever, therefore, either desires the abolition of all discipline, or obstructs its restoration, whether they act from design or inadvertency, they certainly promote the entire dissolution of the Church.”6 Baptist theologian, John Dagg expressed this same sentiment in these words,, “When discipline leaves a church, Christ goes with it.”7

The blessings of obedience

Undoubtedly, dealing with such things will always be heartrending. However, the pain should not keep us from faithfulness. Blessings always flow when Scripture is obeyed. It causes the power of gospel repentance to be known and seen. It causes sin to be purged in both elder and congregation. It diminishes love for the world and increases love for the Lord Jesus Christ. It heals. It warns. It restores. King David called it, “excellent oil.” He was the direct beneficiary of a man who came and confronted him in his sin. He said, “Let the righteous strike me; It shall be a kindness. And let him rebuke me; It shall be as excellent oil; Let my head not refuse it” (Psalm 141:5). Job made it clear that it causes happiness, “Behold, happy is the man whom God corrects; Therefore do not despise the chastening of the Almighty. For He bruises, but He binds up; He wounds, but His hands make whole” (Job 5:17-18).

While people may wonder how church elders are held accountable, it is a great comfort to know that the church is not left to figure it out on her own. God provides us with 1 Timothy 5:19-21, which describes an orderly and healing process for how a sinning elder is held accountable and set free by loving witnesses dedicated to his restoration and the purity of the church.

Practical questions

Some very important questions must be considered: Is your church afraid to expose sin? Is there partiality? Are you personally reluctant to play your role for an elder trapped in sin? If so, the consequences can be terribly harmful for the purity of the church and the elder entrapped in sin. It easily blemishes the public reputation of the church as “pillar and ground of the truth.” It can muffle the proclamation that God saves and sanctifies sinners. In the presence of God, the Lord Jesus Christ and the elect angels, it hides an important expression of the redemptive power of the gospel itself.

—————————————————————————————————————————————————————————–

1.↩ William D. Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, vol. 46, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 2000), 312.

2.↩ George W. Knight, The Pastoral Epistles: a Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1992), 236.

3.↩ Vol. 2: Theological dictionary of the New Testament. 1964- (G. Kittel, G. W. Bromiley & G. Friedrich, Ed.) (electronic ed.) (473). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

4.↩ Matthew Henry Commentary on 1 Timothy 5:20

5.↩ Denney, James. The Second Epistle to the Corinthians. New York City: A.C. Armstrong and Son, 1905. Print.

6.↩ John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2 vols., ed. John T. McNeill (Philidelphia: The Westminister Press, 1960), p. 1,238 (Book IV, Chapter XII, Section 10).

7.↩ J.L. Dagg, A Treatise on Church Order (Charleston: The Southern Baptist Publication Society, 1858), 274.

Continue Reading »

Why I am Against Bikini Clad Girls and Bare Chested Boys Swimming in My Lake

And I have loved thee, Ocean!
And my joy of youthful sports was on thy breast
To be borne like thy bubbles, onward
From a boy I wantoned with thy breakers
They to me were a delight
And if the freshening sea made them a terror
Twas a pleasing fear
For I was as it were a child of thee
And trusted to thy billows far and near
And laid my hand upon thy mane —- as I do here
— Lord Byron

All my life I have loved water and most all water sports. Just this week, I bruised my rib surfing in the Atlantic Ocean. I absolutely love to be in the water. When walking by a stream, there is something so magnetic that I cannot help but look at it constantly. When I was twelve, my father and I built a Kayak and we paddled and swam in the Pacific Ocean, behind Glen Canyon Dam, the Colorado River, and the Salton Sea. Lake or creek, pond or tributary, ocean or sea, I love them all. You can imagine why water baptism means so much to me. The cleansing waves washing over are always deeply symbolic. The statement, “out of his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water (John 7:37), strikes me to the soul because of my love for water.

Problem: this love for water has caused me conflict because of the common attire that is worn. Water activities are engaged either in bikinis or with bare chests.

So why does this have to be a problem? Some would say, “Scott you have changed, why the change?” So, let’s answer the question. What has caused me to re-think bikini clad girls and bare chested boys swimming in my lake. There are at least five things that have caused the change.

  1. A Biblical Understanding of History
  2. A Biblical Understanding on Modesty
  3. A Biblical Understanding of Clothing
  4. A Biblical Understanding of Nakedness
  5. A Biblical Understanding of Temptation

 

1. A Biblical Understanding of History

Understanding the times is a Christian virtue. And, viewing the flow of history, through a biblical filter, is the way that history should be understood. So, a few years ago I read a book by Jeff Pollard, Christian Modesty and the Public Undressing of America, where he documents a historical perspective on modesty. Among other things, the book chronicles the reasons for the drift away from modesty in the last one hundred years.

Over the last hundred years, we have had, as Jeff Pollard has said, “The public undressing of America.”. What was illegal in clothing 100 years ago, and would cause your arrest, is now popular and accepted everywhere — even in churches.

1890’s: Swimwear was modified street clothing 1910: Arms were exposed

1920: You would be arrested if you appeared in a modest 21st century bathing suit

1920’s: Legs and backs were exposed

1930’s: Cleavage was exposed and men began to swim bare chested

1935: Two piece bathing suits appeared with a small break between upper and lower half

1940’s: New fabrics appeared which hugged the body

1960’s: Navels were exposed

Today: Anything goes… One piece suits with fabrics like skin that really leaves nothing to the imagination and bikinis of various categories prevail as normal.

Today, the fashions are so pervasively broadcast over every media outlet that everyone dresses the same when they swim. Movies and TV have so popularized nakedness, that if you challenge it, you are not thought of as being very accepting. In fact, if you do cover your body it seems odd.

Jeff Pollard says it this way, “Fashion designers have used swimwear to undress America.” Who can deny this? It is as obvious as a fly on your nose.

So it is time to shout it out with perfect clarity: “The empress has no clothes!”. For the last two generations we have been told that swimwear is about fashion. They say, “Fashion is neutral. Don’t criticize fashion, it is only fashion.” No! It is public nakedness.

My evaluation of the modern bathing suit is that it is nakedness thinly veiled. And, they are not appropriate for public display. My solution is to cover them up with shorts or some kind of top that keeps private the details.

I have come to the place where I am not willing to continue in the direction our culture has taken us. We have followed the styles further than we should have. We have slowly arrived at the place where we are “ok” with our daughters and wives wearing less than underwear in public.

As popular dress exposes nakedness it should be rejected, as it is rejected at the Brown’s lake. I am not willing to keep following fashion.

2. A Biblical Understanding on Modesty

The 1983 version of Webster’s dictionary describes modesty in this way:

Behaving according to a standard of what is proper or decorous; decent; pure; now, especially not displaying ones body.

Webster is helpful, but Scripture speaks with divine authority regarding modesty. In this case, the scriptural understanding is consistent with Webster’s.

I Timothy 2:9-10 makes it clear that God has something to say about how women dress. He is interested in both your appearance and your heart. He is not only interested in your heart. It is not truthful to say that God does not care how you dress, as long as your heart is right. These verses make it clear that appearance is important.

Most American Christians do not want anyone to talk about how to dress, but here in this passage of scripture, God is telling the people in the church of Ephesus how to dress.

When it comes to dress, Americans are under the nurture and admonition of popular magazines and Hollywood movies. The media has become the jury and judge for matters of dress, displacing the clear teaching of scripture.

In I Timothy 2:9-10, Paul uses three words that describe the kind of apparel that women should wear:

A. Orderly Clothing — “Kosmeo’ — Order

We get our word, cosmetics from this word. It means to, “To adorn, arrange, put in order.” It implies harmonious orderly arrangement, instead of rumpled, uncoordinated chaos.

B. Modest Clothing —‘Aidos” Shamefacedness

This describes the state of mind that governs dress: respectful timidity, not showy, honoring others, not attracting attention. It is a blend of modesty and humility.

George Knight explains the meaning of “shamefacedness” in this way:

Reverence, awe, respect for the feeling or opinion of others or for one’s own conscience and to shame, self-respect… sense of honour. That habitual self government with it’s constant reign on all it’s passions and desires, which would hinder the temptation from arising… — George Knight, Commentary on Ephesians, P134

William Hendrickson suggests that shamefacedness ‘indicates a sense of shame, a shrinking from trespassing the boundaries of propriety.” — William Hendrickson, New Testament Commentary, p106

I don’t think many people could argue very effectively against the idea that we have lost a sense of shame regarding dress. It is harder and harder to find clothing that allows modesty. Why, because it is not fashionable to dress modestly as evidenced by a review of the clothing seen in the public in our land. They are places of revealing, not modest clothing.

C. Moderate Clothing – “Sophrosunes”, or Understatement

This word calls for “soundness of mind, self control, passions and desires, a self control which holds the reins over Propriety” It is a word that implies moderation; humility; without shame; honorable to God; self control; hating sin.

This sets modesty in opposition to elaborate hairstyles and expensive clothing.

In summary there are at least two areas that Paul is addressing for the men and women in the church. As Paul exposes some specific types of apparel that are familiar to all of his hearers, he is forbidding this kind of apparel among believers. So I will, here in the 21st century, do the same for us. It is appropriate for me to take the principles that Paul has given and compare them to the popular experience.

Paul is forbidding the imitation of worldly fashion in two specific areas:

  1. Sensual/Sexually explicit
  2. Ostentatious/Expensive

All women’s clothing whether on land or sea should not call out “fashion, sex, pride”, but it should call out “God, purity, humility.”

Paul wants to motivate the women in Ephesus to re-examine their dress because they lived among pagan Greeks who glorified the exposure of the human body. This is exactly what we should do today, even though this places us at odds with the culture, as it did with the Ephesian believers. But what is despised by the world is often acceptable to God.

3. A Biblical Understanding of Clothing

If you look at what scripture says about clothing, you find that clothing is meant for covering the body, not revealing it. Scripture tells us that sin is the reason for the need to clothe the body. Since the fall, we are no longer naked and unashamed.

Genesis 3:7 And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.

Genesis 3:10 And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.

Genesis 3:21 “Also for Adam and his wife the Lord made tunics of skin, and clothed them.” The word “tunics” is translated in other places “coats” or “garments” and they usually refer to clothing that completely covers the body.

Scripture adequately answers the question, “Why Clothing”? The answer, ‘To cover nakedness.”

But if you go to the shopping malls to look for clothing and walk the streets and the beaches to see what folks were wearing, you would think that the purpose of clothing was to reveal your body to excite and entice men, not cover it. The predominance of tight shirts, halter tops, string bikinis, tube tops, mini skirts, belly shirts, swimwear, and athletic clothing tell the story quite effectively.

The joys of swimming or opportunities for participation in certain types of athletics are not adequate reasons to ignore God’s purpose for clothing. But, there are hosts of people in our churches who think that if you are swimming or competing in track and field, it is ok to go half naked or wear revealing clothing.

We have done with clothing the same thing we have done with art. It is exempt from biblical evaluation. For example, most everyone reveres the artistic contributions of Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci, who are arguably the most talented painters and sculptors in the history of mankind. Who were these men? Their works were primarily influenced by pagan Greek philosophy which glorified and exposed the naked body. Under the influence of homosexuality, they produced some of the most adored homoerotic sculptures and paintings of the gay community. We call it art.

Somehow, in the evangelical community, art and fashion have become exempt from biblical evaluation. Call naked sculpture “art”, and modern swimwear “fashion”, if you will, but let’s just be honest and give it the other label it deserves: public nakedness. Unfortunately for swimwear shoppers, public nakedness is forbidden in the Bible.

4. A Biblical Understanding of Nakedness

What does the Bible say about nakedness? We know that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” We know that we are made in “the image of God.” The human body is obviously a marvel. God Himself invented sex and the joys of marital nakedness. We know that the Song of Solomon glorifies the shape of a man and a woman. But, do we find encouragement for the public unclothed display of the human body? Do we find examples of a favorable view of public nakedness? Do we find a record of godly artists depicted in scripture who display the naked human form in a favorable light? No!

When you look up the instances of the word “naked” or “nakedness” you find a certain approach and attitude that should shape our view. Here are a few passages that give the right approach.

Genesis 9:22 And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren..

Genesis 9:23 And Shem and Japheth took a garment, and laid it upon both their shoulders, and went backward, and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were backward, and they saw not their father’s nakedness.

Exodus 28:42 And thou shalt make them linen breeches to cover their nakedness; from the loins even unto the thighs they shall reach:

Leviticus 18:6 None of you shall approach to any that is near of kin to him, to uncover their nakedness: I am the LORD.

Leviticus 18:7 The nakedness of thy father, or the nakedness of thy mother, shalt thou not uncover: she is thy mother; thou shalt not uncover her nakedness.

Exodus 32:25 And when Moses saw that the people were naked; (for Aaron had made them naked unto their shame among their enemies:)

Revelation 16:15 Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame.

It is clear that uncovering nakedness is sinful behavior. It is shameful to reveal the naked body. But in our culture, it is a virtue to reveal it. The world says, “If you’ve got it, flaunt it.” The Bible says that nakedness should be covered and that you should be ashamed of yourself if you “flaunt it.” This causes us problems because we live in a christian culture that accepts nakedness when it is seen at the beach, when it is displayed in a sports event, when it is seen in the art gallery, when it is watched in the media and when it is displayed in the church. At least we are being consistent.

Where did we get the idea that naked sculptures and pictures are acceptable and desirable? The Bible does not endorse art with nakedness. Pagan cultures do. Unfortunately, our Greek and Roman roots inform in this area far more than the Bible. We should not forget that some of our most revered artifacts of Greek sculpture were produced by homosexual, pagan artists.

So what about bare chestedness among men? It is eminently more comfortable to swim without a shirt on. However, I believe that the principle of nakedness applies here. At the Brown pond, I recommend wearing a T-shirt or a surfing shirt sometimes called a “rash guard.”, which is made of polyester and is much more comfortable in water.

5. A Biblical Understanding of Temptation

There should be a sense of shame for distracting someone from purity. There should be a sense of shame for having a distracting appearance.

A woman who hates sin would have shame to tempt in any way. This is why Jesus is so clear about causing other people to stumble. Matthew 18:6-10

But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of offenses! For offenses must come, but woe to that man by whom the offense comes! If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life lame or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet, to be cast into the everlasting fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire. Take heed that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that in heaven their angels always see the face of My Father who is in heaven.

This is why we should counsel our Christian wives and daughters to rid their wardrobes of tight clothing and modern bathing suits that expose the body rather than understate it’s form.

Joshua Harris writes:

Girls, you have an equally important role. Remember the wayward woman we discussed earlier? Your job is to keep your brothers from being led astray by her charms. Please be aware of how easily your actions and glances can stir up lust in a guy’s mind.

You may not realize this, but we guys most commonly struggle with our eyes. I think many girls are innocently unaware of the difficulty a guy has in remaining pure when looking at a girl who is dressed immodestly. Now I don’t want to dictate your wardrobe, but honestly speaking, I would be blessed if girls considered more than fashion when shopping for clothes. Yes, guys are responsible for maintaining self control, but you can help by refusing to wear clothing designed to attract attention to your body.

I know the world tells you that if you have a nice body, you should show it off. And we men have only helped feed this mentality. But I think you can play a part in reversing this trend. I know many girls who would look great in shorter skirts or tighter blouses, and they know it. But they choose to dress modestly. They take the responsibility of guarding their brother’s eyes. To these women and others like them, I’m grateful.”

“and let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24) It’s time to start seeing other people’s purity as our responsibility. — I Kissed Dating Goodbye, p 99

Without question, the modern swimsuit has created a new spectator sport called girl watching. Men understand this better than anyone. It is incredibly distracting to have an immodestly dressed female nearby.

So yes, I have changed my mind about swimwear. It happened a few years ago, particularly after I read Jeff Pollards book and began examining the scriptures. Above are the reasons I feel that at least in my area of supervision, that there are different standards of modesty than you see on the beach and the swim parties. Biblical teaching on modesty, clothing, nakedness, and temptation are enough for me to be more careful that I have been in the past.

So, here are some guidelines that I believe are consistent with the biblical teaching on modesty and clothing and nakedness. So, if you are swimming here in my domain, here are some suggestions. Women, should wear a shirt and shorts over their bathing suits. There should be an effort to cover the details. For men, I ask for shirts or some kind of upper body covering. And, obviously, no speedos!

As Jeff Pollard has rightly said, anyone who takes on this subject will either be accused of being a libertine or a legalist. I realize this and pray that all of us, in the midst of this “wicked and perverse generation”, will seek to be affected by the Word of God more than anything else.

Continue Reading »

Preaching the Word in the Family Integrated Church

“I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead a His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. The time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.”
— 2 Timothy 4:1-5

Family integrated churches are simultaneously popping up all over the country without any one individual leading the movement. I believe that this is a providential moving of the Holy Spirit. He is igniting a desire to reform the church by recovering the biblical order for both the church and the home. He is actually moving to reverse the family-destroying elements that have grown up in the church.

This is wonderful.

All wonderfulness aside, my greatest concern for family integrated churches is that they are God-centered, Word-saturated, Christ-exalting churches. If the family becomes the center of the church, we might as well close up shop now and cut our losses, because if we do not fill the church with the Word of the Head of the church, we will have not only wasted our time, we will have marred the bride of Christ. This is why it bothers me when I hear people say, “We are looking for a family centered church,” or ask, “Is there a family based church in my area?” These questions reveal a misunderstanding of the church and the Christian life.

It is critical, therefore, that family integrated churches have a big focus on preaching the Word of God. God has given gifted men to the church (Ephesians 4), and He expects them to preach the Word so that they are properly nourished and holding fast to the Head of the church.

There is as much need for restoring authoritative, apostolic, biblical preaching in the church as there is to restoring the role of the head of the household and the strengthening of the family. The modern church has strayed in both areas, and it is important that we work to recover them both.

I believe that one of the major reasons the modern church has become destructive to the family is that she first quit preaching the Word of God. If preachers would stick to the text of Scripture, a biblical trans-generational worldview would be more apparent. It would be more obvious for parents and church leaders to know how to build strong families.

As a young man in seminary in my early twenties, I will never forget the life message of one of my favorite professors, R. Kent Hughes. He was my homiletics (preaching) professor. What I remember most from his course and conversations outside the classroom was his constant and passionate plea that we would leave seminary and spend our lives preaching the Word. He showed us how to exalt the message of the text, instead of our own message. He instructed us to be miners, instead of sculptors. He demonstrated how to work through a text of Scripture to let the words shape the message while the preacher served up what was already there. He loved the text of Scripture. Twenty years later, I dropped in and visited him at his church (College Church) in Wheaton Illinois. As he worked through a text from the book of Daniel, I could hardly keep back the tears through his entire message as I watched him do exactly what he taught us to do twenty years earlier. And, he had been doing the same thing for the last twenty years in that church, week after week, year after year, for two decades. What a powerful legacy!

In the same way, it should be the legacy of church leaders that they provide a consistent diet of the Word of God, preached in context. This is why Paul appeals to us saying, “Preach the Word.”

In II Tim 4:1-5, Paul gives us lots of encouragement to help us maintain a lifelong commitment to preaching. He teaches us the importance of preaching, the way we preach, when we preach, why we preach, and what we preach. Lets take each one of these individually.

 

The Importance of Preaching

The importance of preaching is revealed in the solemnity of the command. Paul says, “I charge you.” Notice the intensity of the appeal that Paul uses to encourage young Timothy to preach the Word. We need to have the same kind of intensity and passion regarding the preaching of the Word in our churches. The intensity of the letter is taken to the next level of passion as Paul gives the reason for the charge to Timothy. “I charge you therefore.” Of course, we need to look to see what the “therefore” is there for.

Fortunately, Paul tells us what the ‘therefore’ is there for. He says that perilous times (epochs and seasons) are on the horizon. He speaks of periods of time when the character of people will be deteriorating. He vividly defines the qualities of these kinds of times in II Timothy 3;1-9. People will be “Lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying it’s power.”

The charge is solemn, because the force of world philosophies and lifestyles will be sweeping people away – in the church. People in the church (and outside the church) will “have a form of godliness but they will deny its power.” It will be only skin deep. Everywhere people will be falling away from the truth.

This text gives us one practical way that church leaders can help people respond to the moral drift that always occurs in every culture on earth. It shows us how to respond to the philosophies of the world. The answer is, “Preach the Word.”

The solemnity of the charge is heightened when we realize that Paul says, “I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom.” The charge is given under the watchful eye of God and the Lord Jesus Christ, in view of the coming judgment.

How dangerous it is for us if we do not preach the Word. We should have a powerful focus on this. To come into the church without the book and the chapter and the verse and the words of Scripture is a fearful thing. Be warned, there is a difference in coming into the church with the agenda to promote the family and coming to promote the Word. The Word is first, and when the Word speaks of the issues of the family, then we must bring those words. I understand that we live in a day when the attack against the family is coming from all sides. Because this fierce war against “the seed of the woman” and “godly offspring” which was announced in Genesis 3:15, we must fight for the biblical family. In my lifetime, we have seen the collapse of the practical implications of the creation order in the home and in the church, and we need to respond. But, we must be clear. While we are fighting for the biblical family, our message in the church is not the family first. Our message needs to be the God and His Word first.

 

The Way We Preach

The word that Paul chose for “preaching” is “Kerusso”. This is a style/ method of communication. This is not the same thing as a small group discussion or a fireside chat. These are not kiddie sermons.

Kenneth Wuest says that “Kerusso,”

“at once called to mind the Imperial Herald, spokesman of the Emperor, proclaiming in a formal, grave, and authoritative manner which must be listened to, the message which the Emperor gave him to announce. It brought before him the picture of the town official who would make a proclamation in a public gathering… It is a sharp command in military language. This should be the pattern of the preacher today.” — (Wuest, The Pastoral Epistles in the New Testament, p. 154)

It is pretty obvious that the modern idea of preaching carries negative connotations. We often hear people say, “Don’t preach to me’ or they report, “It was ‘preachy’” Preaching the way that Paul describes it is not a very culturally popular venue, so we should not be surprised when the world ridicules our preachers.

We “preach” even though preaching may seem to be a very old-fashioned method of communication. If preaching goes out of fashion (and I think it is already out of fashion), we still have a responsibility to keep doing it no matter what is happening to the appetite of church members. They may like movies and fast-moving media and hot communicators better than simple preaching, but we have a responsibility to continue preaching. We should make it our aim to keep preaching while the world uses more modern methods.

Paul’s Five Commands for Preachers

Paul gives five commands that fill out the picture for the ways preaching should be conducted.

The first command answers the question,* “What do we preach?* The answer is in II Timothy 4:1, “Preach the Word.” Simple enough! Kenneth Wuest defines this as “The whole body of revealed truth.” (Wuest, p. 154)

The preacher should not bring his own message, but the message of the Word. He is to do exposition by taking from the text of Scripture and delivering it to the hearers. Someone has said, “The preacher is a waiter, not a chef.” He does not cook up the meal. He does not create the meal, he delivers the meal.

My generation has had the tendency to place a premium on creativity. The mantra goes like this, “Create your OWN life. Make YOUR mark. Chart YOUR way in the world.” This is consistent with the spirit of the age that shouts, “Be creative!” But the call of God is Follow Me. Jesus said, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me.” This expresses the heart of the faithful disciple and the faithful preacher.

Thomas Oden has grasped this thought in his statement:

“There is no hint here that preaching is thought of primarily as self-expression of subjective experience or feeling-disclosure or autobiography or ‘telling one’s story so as to neglect Scripture… The whole counsel of God is to be preached, without fanciful, idiosyncratic amendment or individualistic addition.” — (Thomas Oden in p. 245; Kent Hughes on II Timothy)

This is not an argument against using stories and experiences, but it does clarify where the emphasis should be.

So, when we preach we should be careful not to overemphasize our own stories or our own passions. Paul said in 2 Corinthians 4:5, “For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus our Lord.” Paul reminded the Ephesian elders that he was a teacher of “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27).

J. H. Jowett made this clear when he wrote:

“What you are after is not that folks shall say at the end of it all, ‘What an excellent sermon!’ That is a measured failure. You are there to have them say, when it is over, ‘What a great God!’ It is something for men not to have been in your presence but His.”

 

What about Meeting Peoples Needs?

I have no confidence in my own ability to understand anyone else’s needs. I don’t know what you need. I am not even perfectly sure what I need. I know that we all need God and His Word, so I trust that if we read it and explain it, we do not need to fear if we are being relevant enough or funny enough or therapeutic enough. I have confidence that if we turn our attention to the words of Scripture, God’s people will be nourished on the words of faith. Together, we will see that God’s Words are enough.

Every chance I get I try to encourage pastors to commit themselves to expository preaching. Sadly, in my community in North Carolina, it is very difficult to find a church where expository preaching is the norm.

Ray Stedman, one of the great expository preachers of the Twentieth Century said it this way:

“Expository sermons are those which derive their content from Scripture itself. They borrow their structure and thrust from a specific passage. They make the same point that the passage makes, and apply that point with directness and urgency to contemporary life. What other modes of preaching often lack is biblical content. Those in the pews are often drowning in words, but thirsting for knowledge” (Ray Stedman, Sermon on Expository Preaching).

 

Steer Clear of an Overemphasis on the Family

This emphasis will help us steer clear of an overemphasis on the family. For we who are excited about being part of the planting of family integrated churches, there is a pothole out there. It is the pothole of family centeredness. God would have us be centered on His Word that is the only hope for the family.

The second command in this passage is found in II Timothy 4:2. This gives us direction about when to preach the Word.

 

II Timothy 4:2,

“Be ready in season and out of season.”

This makes it clear that there are two seasons. “In season” probably correlates to when times are favorable to the Word. “Out of season” correlates to times when the environment is unfavorable to the Word. We preach the Word when it is convenient and inconvenient. We preach the Word when appreciated and when not appreciated.

The next three commands explain some of the things we do while we are preaching the Word.

 

What Do We Do While Preaching the Word?

II Timothy 4:2,

“Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.”

There are three things that characterize our activities when we preach the Word.

First, we “convince.” This is the activity of revealing the distinctions that would help people clarify if they are on the right or the wrong track. It includes showing the people what is right and what is wrong — not the most popular thing.

Second, we “rebuke.” This involves telling them to stop doing the wrong thing. Yes, it is ok for biblical heralds to say, “Stop it.”

Third, we “exhort.” The term that Paul uses here indicates an urgency for the activity. It is not a distant impersonal or strictly academic appeal, but it includes the idea of coming alongside to help. This is not the proverbial Old Testament prophet who condemns and then leaves. Rather it is done “with all longsuffering and teaching.”

All of the exhortation should have the tempering influence of patience. Because we will rarely see quick results, we must not get discouraged or bitter at the sometimes slow progress that we see around us. The word, “longsuffering” in the text emphasizes that there will be length of time. Because of this, it is so important that preachers do not become angry or overly discouraged for slowness of results.

God has called us to confront the culture. We speak the Word to a dying culture. But we should not be too surprised if people do not turn to the Lord at every hearing of the Word of God. God will draw them in His own time.

 

Why Preach the Word?

II Timothy 4:3-4,

“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; 4 and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.”

We preach because there are two qualities that we will find in people in the church. First, they will not endure sound doctrine. Another way to say this is that they will become intolerant of sound doctrine. Tolerance is the chief virtue in our world today, but it is a tolerance for everything but the Word of God. Often we see this in government law which seems to be tolerant of everything but Christianity This is a picture of verse 3. “Tolerance” is tolerant of many things, except the tenets of the Christian faith.

Paul’s words are eminently practical since at the present time, the civil religion in America is diversity. In this sense, many Americans are actually polytheists, just like the Romans. The Romans accepted the gods of the nations they conquered and added them into their pantheon. Roman civil religion was the result of the gradual accumulation of many gods. Christianity was unpopular because it condemned these many gods as dumb idols, and said, “worship the true God and Him only.” Like the Romans, we are pluralists acknowledging many deities as having legitimacy.

The second reason we preach is that people will be driven by their own desires. This describes a society where the individual is the measure of all things, and they are their own authorities. People in an environment like this prefer a style of preaching that helps them with their “needs.”

The leaders of one of the most popular church movements in America created their mother church on the authority of community surveys. They went door to door in the neighborhoods of the community. They asked what kept the unchurched away from church. They asked what “unchurched Harry and Mary” were looking for and what turned them off about the church. Then, they created a church program to fulfill their desires.

The reason why the most powerful, gospel-replacing sermons for church growth revolve around meeting felt needs, fortifying self-esteem, and coaching folks on how to get rich is this: we are living in the midst of a people who are driven by their own lusts.

Because these are such powerful motivators, “they will heap up for ‘themselves teachers.” They do this “according to their own desires.” The bottom line is that they will want their own desires above sound doctrine. It creates a problem called “itching ears.” John MacArthur explains, “They have an itch to be entertained by teachings that will produce pleasant sensations and leave them with good feelings about themselves.” (MacArthur Study Bible, marginal note, p. 1880)

This heart attitude proves to be disastrous. It results in a double whammy that will cause their demise. First, they will ” turn ears away from truth. ” This is the most dangerous thing a person can do, because when we quit filling our minds with the truth, something is unleashed upon us that pulls us away — we are”turned aside to fables.” In other words, turning the ears away creates another problem that is far worse than the first. A powerful force acts upon us that is almost unstoppable.

This is a matter of life and death. What a tragedy to become a people who build their lives on fables.

And, what a blessing it is when people build their lives upon the Word of God.

Psalm 19 gives us a sense of how wonderful the words of God are for His people:

The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul; The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; 8 The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; 9 The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. 10 More to be desired are they than gold, Yea, than much fine gold; Sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. 11 Moreover by them Your servant is warned, And in keeping them there is great reward.

As we are about the important business of restoring biblical order to the church and the home, it is critical that we “preach the Word.” It is the most helpful and refreshing thing we can do for those who are under our care.

Continue Reading »

Some Answers for Critics

Over the years, many people have written both positively and negatively about the NCFIC. Here are the six most common mischaracterizations and one true characterization.


The NCFIC redefines the nature of the church as a “Family of Families.”

False. Our understanding of the nature of the church is consistent with the historic doctrinal statements of the faith including the second London Baptist Confession of 1689, the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Heidelberg Catechism and The Baptist Faith and Message 2000. Many years ago, we said, “the church is a spiritual family of families.” Some said we were presenting a new definition for the church when in fact we were not speaking of the nature of the church at all. All we meant is that a separate jurisdiction – a family – comes to church and it needs to be acknowledged as such and equipped to be a biblical family. We were not redefining the nature of the church.

The NCFIC believes that the church is an extension of the family.
False. We do not believe the church is an extension of the family, rather they are separate yet complementary institutions.

The NCFIC wrongfully places the family over the church in priority.
False. We have plainly stated that we believe the church is supreme among the institutions for it is eternal while the family is temporal.

The NCFIC believes that the church should be family based.
False. We do not believe that the church should be family based. We believe that the foundation and center of attention of the church ought to be the Lord Jesus Christ and His gospel. Further, we believe that families form critical building blocks of the church in the sense that families send their members to church and if you have weak and unbiblical family life, you will have a weak church.

The NCFIC believes that that the church can only relate to family members through the father.
False. We do not believe that the church must always work through or communicate through a father. We believe that the church has authority to discipline and instruct every individual believer in the family not just the head of the family, or through the head of the family.

The NCFIC believes that the whole family must always be together for all gatherings.
False. We have never said that the whole family must be together for all gatherings nor have we said that “the church has no right to teach its members and the children of its members in situations where the entire family is not present.”

The NCFIC believes that the biblical pattern for church life is age integrated.
True. We believe that the indisputable discipleship pattern presented in the Bible is age integrated and not age segregated. Further, we maintain that the comprehensive age segregation that rules the church today is a violation of the patterns of Scripture and that the biblical burden of proof lies with those who practice it.

The National Center for Family Integrated Churches has written a “confession” that explains its understanding of the necessity of harmony between the separate jurisdictions of church and family.

We have a number of free audio messages on these subjects where we plainly state our positions on the audio resources section of our web site. Check out messages entitled, “What is a Family Integrated Church” and “The Biblical Case for Family Integrated Discipleship.” Also, let me recommend that you listen to “What About Home Churching?” where we make a case for what is a true church and why many churches meeting in homes may be unbiblical.

Continue Reading »

Returning to Biblical Order in the Church and the Home

How thankful I am to be part of the reforming influence of the NCFIC in calling the church back home to foundational biblical practices. In the following months, I will be writing articles that are a call for reformation of practices in the home and in the church.

These articles will work to identify the modern problems that have come from turning away from the biblical order in the church and the home. I will also bring some practical solutions to bear that I pray will be helpful. There is nowhere where the turning away is so vividly illustrated as in the schedule of the average church and in the behavior of the average father in his home.

The Scriptures are perfectly clear: children should be trained in spiritual matters by their fathers and mothers and gifted men in the church. Husbands should be teaching their wives. The father is a key component of the delivery system for the news of the kingdom of God, and when you bypass him, you reject the biblical order for the church and the home.

As the church has followed the world’s system, she has nearly obliterated the scriptural role of the head of the household in church life. This has paralleled what the world has done in the broader culture. Progressively, and often unwittingly, the church has taken over the fathers role and given it to preachers, women, Sunday school teachers, and childcare workers. I believe that until fathers take their jobs back, there will be no reformation.

Instead of children receiving a breadth of teaching from gifted teachers in the church (Eph. 4) AND their fathers (Deut 6) — as it should be — they receive no teaching from their fathers because the church has scheduled him out of the deal.

The problem is clearly observable. Look where the bulk of the energy of human resource is directed in the average church. Massive amounts of energy are plunged into things that secure short term attendance bumps by making low entry level slots for people to be involved, but neglect the daily long term activity and energy investment that secures a future for many generations.

In these articles you will find a call to return to scripture for the reformation of practices regarding the role of fathers.

There Is a Right Way and a Wrong Way

As we analyze the collapse of biblical practices in the modern church, one principle that we need to understand clearly is there are right and wrong ways to conduct ourselves in the church. This idea is discordant to our relativistic, postmodern ears. Paul made this plain to Timothy:

“I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.” I Tim 3:15

 

Paul makes it clear here that there are right ways and wrong ways when it comes to the church.

 

Men Tend to Be Posers

The recent collapse of the financial markets should serve as a warning for the modern church. Examples of mortgaging the future for the present is a common activity among men. The collapse of the markets recently is due in part to this tendency to lose our way and be swept along in worldly wisdom by amassing debt to secure rapid growth. These companies had the growth. They had thousands of employees. They were flush with cash. But their business model required dangerously high amounts of debt and insanely high valuations in order to carry their debt structure and operating model. So far we have seen several large companies go bust because they did not build a solid financial foundation. I believe that we will see a flood of additional company failures because of the lust for worldly success at the expense of substance.

This is a common tendency among men. Men tend to be posers. We want things to look good even though we know they are bankrupt. This is nothing new. Jesus referred to the posers of His day as “whitewashed tombs.”

This tendency has affected our churches. We have large buildings and growing churches with programs that target every conceivable demographic slice. We appear to be reaching people. It is a good-looking collapse, but it is a façade. “Whitewash” too often disguises an inwardly decrepit building. The appearance looks good enough, but underneath there has been a breakdown of basic biblical order, practice, and authority.

 

Gains and Losses

In the process, we gained more church members, but sustained fewer long term disciples. We can boast of a full portfolio of programs, but we neglect the basic order and authority of the church and the family. The programs drained the energies of fathers from their basic clearly defined role. We gained the energies of men as Sunday school teachers or committee members once per week, but we lost their energies for the daily ministry of the word of God and prayer in their homes.

In our postmodern, relativistic culture, it is important to understand that when it comes to the church, there is a right way and a wrong way. There is a way that “you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God.” (I Tim 3:15) One of the “wrong ways” that is commonly accepted in the church is the diminished role of the father in the spiritual training of children. This has collapsed the biblical order. Fathers don’t do this work anymore. They have allowed to carry the load.

My view is that we have come by the collapse honestly. We did not intend to reject the biblical order. We got where we are, through a mix of creativity and good old American pragmatism. We even prayed about it. And, in our creativity, we have amassed so many non-biblical structures, and have become so busy with them that they have forced us to push the biblical things to the periphery. It was a poor swap that has caused the mortgaging of the future for the present success.

What we gained was programmatic Christianity where everything is packaged in a professionally run program and measured by it’s numerical success.

What Was Lost

What we lost in the process was the relational model of Hebrew discipleship where the father was the chief delivery system for scriptural truth to the next generation.

We gained youth groups, but lost our youth. We gained our Sunday schools, but lost our fathers. Collapse!

It’s Time For Reformation

It is time for reformation. It is time for a return to the biblical order for the church and the home for the delivery of the message of the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ to the world, for the eternal joy of all who believe, to a thousand generations.

Continue Reading »

Children Destroy Worshipful Atmospheres

Then they brought little children to Him, that He might touch them, but the disciples rebuked those who brought them. But when Jesus saw it, He was greatly displeased and said to them, ‘Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them, for such is the kingdom of God. Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.’ And He took them up in His arms, laid His hands on them, and blessed them.” (Mark 10:13-16)

 

A couple of years ago I asked a pastor what he felt was the purpose of the Sunday School. He responded immediately, “to keep the children out of our hair so we can worship.” For those of us who were raised on multiple choice exams, we know that the first impression is usually the right answer. So, I expect that his answer was sincere, though I don’t think he would like to see it in print. In the same spirit, a dear friend of mine said to me the other day: “No one wants a four year old distracting him in church.”

These are common feelings among modern church people. But, they are not new phenomena. We see the same feelings expressed in Judea in Jesus day – children will wreck worship if you keep them with you.

I have a friend who was visiting a large and prominent church in the Northwest. He brought his family down to the front, where they always go, to get settled down for worship. After they sat down, someone came down the long aisle and whispered to the father: “We have childcare, could you please take your children to the back and down the hall….” My friend said, “No, we normally keep our children with us.” The usher left. A moment later another usher came down and whispered “We really would not like the diversion the little ones might make during the service, would you please take your children out?” The father repeated what he said before. Then, as everyone was now standing for the opening hymn, another usher came down the aisle and handed him a paper and said: “It is our church policy that children are not in this service,” and he handed him the written policy.

Here is the policy, verbatim:

“Name Witheld Baptist Church”

 

Policy regarding children in church

We are happy you and your children have chosen to worship with us. Small children have short attention spans, so in order to maintain a worshipful atmosphere for all, please do not be offended if an usher asks you to step outside for a few moments should your child begin to disturb others around you. For your convenience, we also provide excellent child care for all ages. If you would like to use this service, an usher will gladly assist you. Thank you.

My friend was offended, and he did not take his children out of the service. During Jesus’ ministry we see Him offended by the disciples attempt to remove the children from his presence.

People in our culture are used to very professional forms of communication. We like what we are used to being served: perfectly packaged, cosmetic experiences — not like real life at all. We long for these kind of experiences and when they are threatened, we feel out of sorts. People feel out of sorts with children and their worship disrupting lifestyles.

Children have always been a challenge to adult concentration and the answer is usually,“get them out of here so I can concentrate.”

In the American church, we have become a people who worship a worshipful atmosphere. We care more about our concentration, than we care about passing the precious promises of God to the next generation. We narcissistically care more for our comforts than we do about the difficult task of training a mighty army of saints who would be willing to go to their death for their Savior.

I believe that Jesus would be offended by the modern church and its treatment of children. Ours is one of the most blatantly anti-child societies on earth. Most internationals from “undeveloped” countries, are shocked when they come here and see adult only apartment complexes, scattered families and other expressions of individualism run amok.

The church has been deeply affected by our anti-child culture. We do not want to be stuck with snotty nosed children. We want to remove the hassle of children. We want to remove them from our presence. We want to live a life apart from our children. We want to have few enough so that our lives are not adversely affected. If we become pregnant, we may terminate the pregnancy because of its potential to divert us from our objectives. Ours is truly a child rejecting culture. The ultimate goal of many of our senior citizens is to retire to Florida in child free communities.

Expressions of our anti-child culture are everywhere to the point that we are numb to their recognition. Tragically, America is suffocating from the effects of day care raised children, latchkey children and fathers leaving their families in greater numbers than any time in history. We are experiencing the death of fatherhood as 40% of the children in America will go to sleep tonight without a father in the home. Parents will admit unashamedly that they would not have any more children because of the time required. Teenage pregnancy, divorce and abortion are some of the results of this “social experiment” with the family.

And so the church has taken on the spirit of the disciples and surrounding culture regarding children. Children do destroy worship, because they have not been led by their fathers and mothers in the meaning of worship. Parents in our churches simply care more about their own concentration than they do their children’s consecration.

Fortunately, Jesus is different. He says “let the children come to me.”

Continue Reading »

Is the Church a “Family of Families?”

A History

In 2001, when Charles Swindoll wrote the foreword to Dennis Rainey’s book, Ministering to Twenty-First Century Families he said the church is “a family of families.” He was merely stating in his characteristic, winsome way that families are important in church life. He said,

“Most of the people in a local church are united in a smaller group called a family. In other words, the church is a ‘family of families.’ And of course, the local church is only as strong as its strongest families. Show me a healthy, vibrant local church, and I’ll show you an assembly filled with healthy, vibrant, fully functioning families.” 1

No one thought he was redefining the nature of the church.

In 2002 when the National Center for Family Integrated Churches used the phrase “family of families” in its first version of A Biblical Confession for Uniting Church and Family,2 critics claimed we had fundamentally redefined the nature of the church and made it family based. They took these three little words out of their immediate context in a twelve point confession and ignored the wider context of our overall message. Thus in many cases, the phrase was intentionally or unintentionally misrepresented.

In 2004, when Andreas Kostenberger used the phrase “family of families” to describe the church in his book God, Marriage and Family, I doubt anyone accused him of trying to redefine the church. And rightly so, because he was simply pointing out the significance of a particularly important family relationship (marriage) that exists in the church for God’s strategic purposes for spiritual warfare and the proclamation of the gospel.3 In this sense, the family exists as an entity under the headship of Christ and so the church exists in the same way. The family and the church are separate, yet connected in carrying out Christ’s overall plan.

In 2007 Voddie Baucham used the phrase in his book, Family Driven Faith. He said,

“Our Church has no youth ministers, children’s ministers, or nursery. We do not divide families into component parts. We do not separate the mature women from the young teenage girls who need their guidance. We do not separate the toddler from his parents during worship. In fact, we don’t even do it in Bible study. We see the church as a family of families.” 4

Those same three words became the center of criticism against his entire book. Although he thoroughly answered his critics in two articles posted on his blog,5 many speakers and writers still continue to ignore his explanation.

Quite a stir

These words caused quite a stir. They became the favorite whipping boy of our critics for years on end. Three words became the oft repeated point in attempt to refute the message of the NCFIC and discredit anyone else connected to the family integrated church movement. Typically, critics would use the term, elaborate on a meaning we did not endorse, and make conclusions we have never made. This was done from conference speaking platforms, seminary classrooms, and radio show microphones. It was done in pulpits to warn church members in church meetings. It appeared in books and blogs. It was referenced in articles and masters theses. In fact we are aware of one particular Master’s thesis for a theological seminary which bases its whole argument against us on these three words pulled out of context.

All of this over three words which appear in one single place in the context of the NCFIC Confession for Uniting Church and Family,7 and in Voddie Baucham’s Family Driven Faith.

Individual words and phrases matter. But as any faithful student of scripture should know, words and phrases have to be understood in context, and attention given to the author’s intent. This is the basis of journalistic integrity. Taken out of context words can be used to say almost anything including the exact opposite of their original intent. Most of the criticism that has been directed to us over these three words has been aimed at straw man interpretations of the phrase that we would heartily join in condemning.

What we mean by “the church is a family of families”

It is a falsehood to say that the National Center for Family Integrated Churches advocates a “family of families” ecclesiology. In fact, our understanding of the nature of the church is consistent with the historic doctrinal statements of the faith including the Second London Baptist Confession of 1689, the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Heidelberg Catechism, and many other orthodox statements on the church. It is the same understanding I received as a young man when I was in seminary. We do not advocate a “family of families” ecclesiology. Rather, our ecclesiology is as rich and clear as the Second London Baptist Confession of 1689 and the Westminster confession.

When we were writing the NCFIC Confession for Uniting Church and Family our intent was to explain the complementary roles of church and family. We wanted to reflect a biblical understanding of the way that church and family operate in a symbiotic manner. We also hoped it would help church leaders think more biblically about church and family life. In short, the “confession” tries to state the biblical case for the ways the church can be a blessing to the family and the family to the church. It also identifies various departures from biblical church and family life and calls for biblical clarity on these matters.

An excellent phrase when understood properly

What we mean when we say that “the church is a family of families” is that the family needs to be acknowledged in church life. We meant it the same way that Swindoll, Baucham, and Kostenberger did. We believe that it rightly raises the warning that in the modern church, family life often disappears and is swallowed up in institutional church life. We wanted to say that it was wrong to treat the family in this manner. At the same time we wanted to affirm that both are important and they need to be preserved. Therefore, it is improper to understand this statement as a redefinition of the nature of the church. Voddie Baucham explains, “When we use the term ‘family of families’ we are not addressing the nature of the church. Let me say that again V-E-R-R-Y S-L-O-W-L-Y… THE TERM FAMILY OF FAMILIES IS NOT A COMMENT ON THE NATURE OF THE CHURCH!”8

Baucham makes the point that his statement only comments on matters of church structure. He says,

“The difference between the FIC and the neo-traditional church is not a matter of the nature, but the structure of the church. In fact, we argue that our model is much more in keeping with the proper theological understanding of the nature of the church, which would explain why age integration was the model for the New Testament church for nearly 2,000 years before the neo-traditional, age segregated transformation turned the church into isolated segments as opposed to a single, unified body.Thus, those who divide the church into artificial, culturally-defined cliques (children, students, college/career, young marrieds, old marrieds, senior adults, etc.) are the ones who have a difficult time fitting their model into the understanding both Lawrence and I share.” 9

The phrase, ‘family of families” was never meant to be a comprehensive ecclesiological statement; it only served to demonstrate that the church is not exclusively composed of individuals, by acknowledging that there is a second biblical authority and jurisdiction in the church when a family comes to church. We wanted to clarify an important matter that church leaders are charged, not only to equip individuals, but also family members. They come to church as fathers and mothers and children and they need help to function biblically in their relationships in their homes.

By saying, ‘the church is a family of families,” are we confusing the church and the family?

We have plainly stated that the family is not the church and the church is not the family; they are separate yet complimentary jurisdictions.

Some have connected the statement, “family of families” with concepts of covenantal family and church membership. Some have suggested that we confuse the regenerate and the unregenerate in the church and make them the same because they are part of a family. We have never done this. We do not believe that every family member is a member of the true church. On the contrary, we maintain that the true church is composed only of individual redeemed sinners.

We acknowledge that many family members, though they are under the care of their parents and come to the meetings of the church, remain unconverted. They are part of the church only in that they come to meetings of the church, listen to the preaching of the church, relate to the redeemed members of the church and participate in the discipleship experiences of the church. Children may attend church but not be part of the church as converted members of Christ. Yet, they are still in the church in the sense that they have been sovereignly placed among the people of God. They are blessed by its members, message and ministry. This is all we mean when we say the church is a “family of families.” We don’t mean that all family members are converted and part of the redeemed. Voddie Baucham stated it this way, “We Are Not Commenting On Membership in the Church.”6 Like Baucham, we did not mean that every family member is a part of the universal church in the sense that they are all converted members.

What have we learned from this controversy over “Family of Families”?

Someone once said that “critics are the unpaid guardians of the soul,” and so we are grateful for both dialog and diatribe. It has shown us that we see through “a glass darkly.” It has demonstrated that in our attempt to explain heavenly things, we often struggle to find human language that meets both the heavenly and the earthly standard. Sometimes we are genuinely misunderstood. Other times men do their best to twist our words, make us worse than we are and find themselves unable to correct their erroneous mischaracterizations. At the end of the day, we understand that we are imperfect men trying to be faithful to the faithful testimony of scripture.

We have no intention to abandon the use of the phrase or the concept behind it. It is a very important principle that undergirds a biblical understanding of church and family life. We think Swindoll said it very beautifully and Baucham explained it with the kind of precision that should answer every question for all to see that it fits within the range of biblical thinking. We think that Kostenberger explained one of the stunning aspects of this as he describes the importance of a marriage under the headship of Christ in God’s redemptive plan.

Because of the tendency of critics to take these three words out of their context, misinterpret them and claim that we are advocating a new ecclesiology we kept trying to explain it better. We kept modifying the statement to make it clearer and more reflective of scripture. Today, the term “family of families” appears nowhere in current NCFIC literature. In 2008, we explained the same concept without using the words “family of families.” Even so, we believe the term has significant value in explaining one aspect of church and family life. In this spirit, we have tried to explain the idea rather than use the term.

Here is the old statement – one of twelve articles,

Article VI — Church is a Family of Families

We affirm that our Heavenly Father designed His church to be a spiritual household — a “family of families and singles” where members know one another intimately, the shepherds understand the sheep effectively, and the various body parts function interactively (1 Tim. 3:15).

We deny/reject the current trend to value numbers and size more than intimacy and vitality by building impersonal mega-churches rather than the multiplication of family-like congregations.10

Our intent was not to redefine the church, but to acknowledge that when a family comes to church, a separate jurisdiction is there that needs to be strengthened to be faithful to their biblical callings and commands that govern family life.

In December 2008, the NCFIC updated the confession and removed these three words and replaced them with this statement, one of sixteen articles,

Article VI— The Church is a Family of Believers that Includes Families

We affirm that local churches are spiritual households that include individual family units which are separate and distinct jurisdictions that should be cared for and strengthened to fulfill their God ordained roles, not only as individuals but also as families (1 Tim. 3:15, Ephesians 5:22-33, Ephesians 6:1-4).

We deny/reject the current trend in churches that ignores the family unit, is blind to strengthening it, systematically fragments it and does not actively work to equip her members to be faithful family members.11

 


1 Swindoll, Charles, Foreword to: [Rainey, Dennis Ministering to Twenty-first Century Families: Eight Big Ideas for Church Leaders, Thomas Nelson Publishers: Nashville, ©2001], p. XI

2 The text for the original “A Biblical Confession for Uniting Church and Family” can be found at www.visionforumministries.org/home/about/a_biblical_confession_for_unit_1.aspx (Accessed 11/5/2009)

3 “Just as Christ must rule over all heavenly powers (Eph. 1:21-22) and over the church (4:15), he must also rule over the marital relationship (5:21-33), the family (6:1-4), and the workplace (6:5-9). A married couple is part of the church (understood as a family of families, cf. I Tim. 3:15), and it, too, is part of that spiritual warfare that resolutely resists evil (Eph. 6:10-14) and seeks to promote God’s purpose in this world (foremost the preaching of the gospel, 6:15. 19-20). Thus the marriage relationship should also be viewed in the context of Christian witness in an unbelieving environment, both directly by the husband’s and the wife’s living out God’s purposes for the Christian couple, and indirectly by being part of a Biblical church that actively propagates the gospel message.” (Kostenberger, Andreas, God, Marriage, and Family: Rebuilding the Biblical Foundation, [Crossway Books: Wheaton, IL, ©2004], p. 72, pg. 61 in the second edition).

4 Baucham, Voddie, Family Driven Faith: Doing What it Takes to Raise Sons and Daughters who Walk with God, Crossway Books: Wheaton, Illinois, ©2007, p.191

5 “Is the Church a Family of Families?” Parts 1, 2, can be accessed at www.voddiebaucham.org/vbm/Blog/Entries/2009/3/26_Is_the_church_A_Family_of_Families.html and www.voddiebaucham.org/vbm/Blog/Entries/2009/3/27_Is_the_church_A_Family_of_Families_2.html successively. (Accessed 11/5/2009)

6 Baucham, Voddie, “Is The Church a Family of Families?”, Part 1, can be accessed at www.voddiebaucham.org/vbm/Blog/Entries/2009/3/26_Is_the_church_A_Family_of_Families.html (Accessed 11/05/2009)

7 www.ncfic.org/confession

8 Baucham, Voddie, “Is the Church a Family of Families?”, Part 1, can be accessed at www.voddiebaucham.org/vbm/Blog/Entries/2009/3/26_Is_the_church_A_Family_of_Families.html (Accessed 11/9/2009)

9 Ibid.

10 The text for the original “A Biblical Confession for Uniting Church and Family” can be found at www.visionforumministries.org/home/about/a_biblical_confession_for_unit_1.aspx (Accessed 11/5/2009)

11 www.ncfic.org/confession

Continue Reading »

How Can a Church Build Strong Families?

Here is the bottom line: You cannot minister to the weak families unless you have strong families. Strong families are dependent upon obedient men and holy women. If we never have healthy families, then we will never have healthy churches.

The following six things are biblically mandated elements of church and family life. Each one can help to foster healthy family life, and ultimately strong churches.

1. Provide biblically qualified elders

When a church establishes biblically qualified elders who manage their households well (1 Timothy 3), they are providing for long term social change. As these men lead by example, the whole church begins to understand how a biblically ordered family functions.

2. Encourage biblical headship in the home

How do you define a broken family? It starts with the role of the head of the house. Families are broken by men and women who do not fulfill their God ordained roles. If the church ever hopes to minister to broken families, it must start by going back to scripture to find how men should be spiritual leaders in their homes. We need to be about the business of equipping men for biblical manhood.

Who will minister to the lost youth of this generation? Families and churches must reach out to preach the gospel and teach all that Christ commanded.

3. Stop creating weak families through your programs

We believe that the modern church has missed the mark by doing things that keep families weak. The church has not maintained biblical priorities for family life. When we do this, we end up withholding adequate role models or worse, we have no good role models for our weak families. If you want to build strong families you have to stop creating weak families by maintaining unbiblical, family weakening practices. Until this changes in a church, families will remain weak and broken.

4. Make the church a true family

You must give broken families a biblical church family that exemplifies Christ’s love for the church. It is in a healthy church family that people with broken families learn something they did not know before – how to be a family (Mark 10:30).

5. Provide for the lifestyle of Titus 2 women in the church

Titus 2 gives a picture of women in strong families ministering to young families. When you promote Titus 2 women who will instruct the younger women you have provided a key component to church and family life that generates strong women and strong families. If you do not encourage women to be holy keepers at home you will never be able to have strong families. This is a culture defying act but it must be done because it is a key component to biblical Christianity.

6. Provide intergenerational worship and education

Families are strengthened by participation in biblical discipleship methodology that is intergenerational. This is the only pattern that we find in Scripture. There is no such thing as age specific ministry in the Bible. It needs to be admitted that putting thirteen year olds with thirteen year olds is a very foolish and unscriptural practice. Until churches change this and similar practices, the vicious cycle of decline will continue.

 

Two critical issues need to be addressed. First, refusing to give priority to making strong families in our churches ensures that we will always be calling people to weakness.

Second, neglecting the biblical directives for family life rejects the major biblical methods for ministry to youth.

Our failure to obey the word of God in ministry to youth is of enormous significance for the prosperity of the church. At this time, as we continue many unbiblical practices, we are systematically sending our young people on the path of destruction. It is fracturing our families. It is corrupting our churches. It is destroying the next generation.

If we ever expect to see change, it is important to stop doing the things that make for weak families and start practicing the things that strengthen them.

Continue Reading »

My Top Four Favorite Family-Integrated Church Pastors

The critics of the family-integrated church movement often forget that what we advocate was practiced by some of our most treasured pastors and theologians of the past.  The puritans, for example, enjoyed a rich life of family-integrated worship in their lives.  The Parliamentary Directory indicates that the Puritans’ Sunday worship experience was:

spent in reading, meditaiton, repetition of sermons; especially by calling their families to an account of what they have heard, and catechising of them, holy conferences, singing of psalms, visiting the sick, relieving the poor, and such like duties of piety, charity and mercy accounting the Sabbath a delight.[1]

Some of the most important pastors of the last four hundred years practiced family-integrated worship.  These blessed pastors enjoyed lifelong minstries preaching the gospel to their congregation in age-integrated worship services with the whole family together.

Week after week, they found great joy in preaching the pure and pleasant Word of God to families, filling them up with great theology.  Imagine what it would have been like to have heard the voice of Richard Baxter or Matthew Henry or Jonathan Edwards as a babe in arms, then as a teenager, and then as a young man starting out life with a new wife at your side.

Richard Baxter (1615-1691)

What joy it must have been for these men to preach and, at the same time, to pray for whol families as they sat before them in the pews.  Richard Baxter would systematically visit his families in their homes throughout the week and then preach to the gathered families on Sunday.  Baxter sought to teach in a way that his whole flock could understand:

All our teaching must be as plain and simple as possible.  This doth best suit a teacher’s ends.  He that would be understood must speak to the capacity of his hearers…. I mean as plainly as the nature of the matter will bear, in regard of capacities prepared for it by prerequisite truths; for I know that some men cannot at present understand some truths, if you speak them as plainly as understood by a child that is but learning his alphabet.[2]

John Bunyan (1628-1688)

How encouraging it must have been to explain the gospel to whole families, anticipating the growth that would come when the wives would ask their husbands though questions at home (1 Corithians 14:34-35), making every head of the house “the Bible answer man.”

John Bunyan, the tinker-turned-preacher who gave us Pilgrim’s Progress, spoke of the importance of having children in the church meeting in this way:

You should also labor to draw them out to God’s public worship, if perhaps God may convert their souls.  Said Jacob to his household, and to all that were about him, “Let us arise and go up to Bethel; and I will make there an altar unto God, who answered me in the day of my distress” (Gen. 35:3).  Hannah would carry Samuel to Shiloh, that he migh abide with God for ever (1 Sam. 1:22)….

If they are obstinate, and will not go with you, then bring godly and sound men to your house, and there let the word of God be preached, when you have, as Corneius, gathered your family and friends together (Acts 10).[3]

Mathew Henry (1662-1714)

Matthew Henry, one of my favorite Bible expositors, sat as a boy under meaty expositions of his father, pastor Phillip Henry, and then followed in his footsteps.

Think of the rich life applications they spun with all generations sitting there in the form of infants, widows, fatherless, grandmothers, and singles.  Mathew Henry would later write:

Little children should learn betimes to worship God.  Their parents whould instruct them in his worship and bring them to it, put them upon engaging in it as well as they can, and God will graciously accept them and teach them to do better (Comm. on 1 Samuel 1:19).

Also: “It is for the honour of Christ that children should attend on public worhips, and he is pleased with their hosannas” (Comm. on Luke 2:41).  Christ Himself said, “Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babes Thou hast prepared praise for Theyself” (Matthew 21:16).

Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758)

In Northampton Church where Jonathan Edwards was pastor for twenty-three years, the children were always present to hear his sermons.  Notes Ednwards’ biographer, Iain Murray:  “No one in those days doubted whether children whould be attenders throughout public worship.” [4]

Even during the height of the Great Awakening when the throngs flooded in for worship, the children would be crowded in so they could experience the service.  While speaking on the need for children to hear the same truths as adults, Edwards remarked, “I have seen the happy effects of dealing plainly and thoroughly with children in the concerns of their souls.”[5]

This is what every child needs — and in my experience — wants.

Perhaps this is one reason for the towering transgenerational impact of these family-integrated church pastors.

What we advocate at the NCFIC is nothing new, but is rather the practice of historic Christianity.  It was clearly practiced in the early church and for centuries afterward by some of our greatest heroes of the faith.  It was not until the philosophy of age-segregated education inflitrated the educational regimen of the nations, and then was adopted in the churches, that the people of God had to face so many family disintegrating forces.

In the midst of the debate over the principles of biblical decipleship methodology, history helps us to recognize that thousands of faithful pastors have made age interagration their settled practice for worship and discipleship.

 


1. Quoted in Horton Davies, The Worship of the American Purtians (Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Ministries, 1999), p. 54.  Text found in The Parliamentary Directory under the Diretory’s sections heading, “Of the Sanctification of the Lord’s Day.”  Reliquiae Liturgicae, ex. Peter Hall, vol.III: The Parliamentary Directory (Bath: Binns and Goodwin, 1847), 58-60.

2.  As outlined in Richard Baxter, The Reformed Pastor (originally published in 1656), Chapter 2, The Oversight of the Flosk, Section 2 — The Manner of Oversight.  Available online at http://www.reformed.org.

3.  John Bunyan, “Family Duty: A Father’s Duty to His Family in General.” Article available at http://graceonlinelibrary.org.  Article taken from Christian Behavior, originally published in 1663.

4.  Iaian Murray, Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1997), p. 188.

5.  Jonathan Edwards, The Words of Jonathan Edwards (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1998), vol. 1, p. 393.

Continue Reading »

Sunday School My Way

For quite some time, I have had a sinister thought about how to change the face of the traditional Sunday school. My view is that big changes are necessary because the modern Sunday school has had an unplanned effect: it has lulled fathers into inactivity.

If I had my way in a traditional church, at the doors of the Sunday school classes, I would place monitors (the bigger and uglier the better) which would ask the fathers who were dropping their children off if they had studied the Word with their families and properly catechized them during the week. Most would say they had not even though they did take them to Awana and Youth Group.

The “monitors” would use a script that reminds of the commands of God regarding their teaching responsibility. After this instruction, we send them back to their cars (with a Bible) so they can teach their children (instead of dropping them off and giving the job to someone it was never intended for in the first place).

The program oriented church is a brilliant marketing organization. It is structured to cause rapid growth by offering “services” like Sunday schools that appeal to a wide range of people. But, because these programs are more attractive to the common people, the things that the apostles require are left out because they are more difficult for people to accomplish.

It is much easier to send your children to a Sunday school class than it is to teach the Bible yourself.

The sad truth is: most men go to Sunday school and send their children off to do the same, but very few personally teach their children and wives.

Something drastic needs to done about it. Desperate times beg for desperate measures. Desperate measures require certain kinds of men.

Continue Reading »

Strategic Targets

I live in deer country. When deer season opens, the camo army appears. Work schedules change. Pickup trucks are found in the most unusual places. The gunfire in the morning and evening can sound like an approaching army. Grease paint and fluorescent hats are a common sight mid-morning at the local Hardees. Deer are cagey and difficult, but they can be brought down by a well-placed shot. It does no good to hit a deer in the tail or the leg or the hind end as it will just scamper off into the woods. If you want to bag a deer, you must hit him in the right spot – the heart or the lungs. Nothing else will do. Only a shot to a very small target area will bring him down.

A good hunter knows where to aim. He knows the difference between an effective shot and an ineffective one.

In the same way, Satan is firing his shots, not wildly into the air, but directly at the heart and breath of the church – to those foundational areas that would break her down.

The cross-hairs of Satan are on the delivery systems of the truths of God’s relationship with humanity:

  • The Word of God
  • Marriage
  • Biblical Fatherhood

Providentially, the accuser’s efforts will ultimately fail. Jesus said, “I will build My church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). Satan will be defeated. Jesus is King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

But, there will be times, as the history of Israel and the church proves, that the people of God will wander as we see in the days of the Judges where “everyone did what is right in their own eyes” (Deut. 12:8, Judg. 17:6, 21:25), and in the days of Samuel, when the “Word of God was rare” (1 Sam. 3:1).

These times have always set the stage for evil to have a field day. I believe that our times fall into this category as Satan is successfully knocking out major strategic targets.

If you wanted to take over a city, you would first go after the major supply, communications, food, power, water and transportation systems. Blow out the delivery systems and chaos rules.

This is exactly what is happening to the church. The attacks against her are strategic.

The fallout from this strategic attack against the church is producing cataclysmic conditions.

I realize that the preceding words I have chosen are loaded: ‘blow out,” “chaos,” “fallout,” “cataclysmic.” I use these words with careful consideration. I believe that these extreme times require extreme measures.

One Denominational Response

The Southern Baptist Convention, has long been a leader in defending many core Biblical doctrines. Her leadership has recently issued a call to arms regarding these issues, particularly as they relate to the family and Biblical roles within the family. Let me quote from the “Southern Baptist Council on Family Life” which was formed because of the rising concern with breakdown in the family.

America’s families are in trouble. Evidence pouring in from every sector of our society reaffirms that simple but tragic statement. Consider the following:

  • One million children a year see their parents divorce (Heritage Foundation)
  • America’s divorce rate is now more than double that in 1960
  • 35% of our nation’s children live apart from their biological fathers (U.S. Census)
  • In the last 40 years, pregnancies out of wedlock have increased 600% (U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services)
  • In less that 40 years cohabitation by unmarried couples has increased almost 1,000% (U.S. Census Bureau)
  • 32% of all births in 1995 were out-of-wedlock. (Leading Cultural Indicators, Bill Bennett)
  • Most people now live together before they marry for the first time.
  • Currently more marriages are terminated by divorce than by death of a spouse.
  • Less than 40% of married people claim to be very happy (National Opinion Research Center, University of Chicago)
  • 50% of children who do not live with their fathers have in fact, never stepped foot in their father’s home (Leading Cultural indicators, Bill Bennett)

In response to rising concern, the Southern Baptist Convention at its 1998 meeting in Salt Lake City Utah adopted an historic amendment to the Baptist Faith and Message. This amendment established the Biblical foundation for our understanding of the family and the roles God has ordained for each family member.

But much more was required than a simple statement of conviction and concern! During his report to the Convention as it assembled for its 2000 meeting in Orlando Florida, Morris Chapman, president of the SBC Executive Committee, urged Southern Baptists to take the next step and “save the family.” By executive appointment, he created what was then termed the Southern Baptist Convention Committee on Family Life.” Next, the “Southern Baptist Council on the Family” was created to recommend strategy to strengthen the family.

The scriptural direction for these actions were identified by the following scripture passages: Exodus 20:14, I Corinthians 6:18-20, Acts 2:46-47, Hebrews 10:25, I Corinthians 12:11-27, I Corinthians 4:2, II Corinthians 8-9, Matthew 28:19-20, Acts 1:8.

Effects Far Beyond the Family

These attacks undermine not just the family, but the entire enterprise of the spread of the gospel and the equipping of the saints.

It is true that in every area of attack, there is a profound impact on the family. But, make no mistake about it: what happens in a family spins out a whirlwind of results reaching to every aspect of the calling of the church as salt and light. Here are a few examples:

  • When there is a divorce, it is not just a marriage that ends up on the rocks; evangelism washes up with it. Massive energy is shifted to the wounds of the divorce and the time that could have been given (over lunch and walks and water coolers) to the communication of the precious callings and promises of God is lost. And, disrepute is brought to the name of Christ. God said, “I hate divorce” (Malachi 2:16).
  • When men are passive and refuse to take action to personally train the next generation, it is not just their kids that suffer, it is every person those kids meet and every church they attend for the rest of their lives. Imagine millions of children trying to wade through the trials and tribulations of this world unarmed with the Word of God, the “Sword of the Spirit” “hidden in their hearts” (Eph. 6:17, Psalm 119:11). Let’s call this what it truly is: a devastating deprivation.
  • When men do not rise up and manage their households well, qualifying them to lead the church, “equipping the saints for the work of the ministry” (Eph. 4:12) suffers, creating a dearth of qualified men. The equipping of the saints suffers because there are too few men across which to spread the workload.
  • When our churches are self centered, instead of God centered, it is not just the people in that church who suffer, missionary activity is squelched and the people are not strong enough to face the challenges and potential losses of comfort and money on the mission field.

Here is a summary of the three targets receiving these brutal attacks:

  1. The Word of God. This is the rejection of God and His Word of God as the authoritative, sufficient rule of the life for the people of God. Even the churches which claim to believe in inerrancy, have not understood the concept of the sufficiency of Scripture. The church, in its sincere attempt to become relevant to society, in order to save the lost, has unwittingly rejected God and His Word and has heaped upon itself programs and forms that not only cannot be found in the Bible, but they also work to secularize, immobilize and trivialize. These modern ways often sweep her beauty and strength away. Our only hope; our only source of joy; our only Treasure – God – has been swept aside for a “theology” of pragmatism. Or, perhaps better called, ecclesiological pragmatism.
  2. Marriage: This is the breakdown of marriage and the resulting fracturing of the next generation and the resulting disfiguring of the evangelistic example of the love of God. When a marriage dissolves a number of hellish effects are multiplied. The foundational order that God put in place for society includes a husband who loves his wife as Christ loved the church (Eph. 5:25). When a man allows the dismemberment of his marriage, he has committed a crime against the love of God, derision toward the institutions of God, and weakness for future generations.
  3. Biblical Fatherhood: This is the bypassing and neutralizing (spiritually castrating) of men as the leaders of their homes. Our modern churches are implicitly structured to bypass God’s primary delivery system of the truth. Deut 6, Ps 78, Ps 145, Eph 6. In losing their creation order identity and role, they have lost their virility. They could be heroes of the faith, with righteousness shining from one generation to the next, but they have become mules instead, with their multiplication capability removed. Eph 4:1-11, I Cor 11-14.

These attacks have profoundly affected the structure and philosophy of the modern church facilitating Satan’s objectives.
C.S. Lewis has captured the situation in his revealing story of “The Screwtape Letters. In the book, Screwtape, an experienced devil, is instructing his underling on how to trap humans.

“One of our great allies at present is the church itself. Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean the church as we see here spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners. That, I confess, is a spectacle which makes our boldest tempters uneasy. But fortunately it is quite invisible to these humans”. –C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

Our churches, in our teaching and structure, have unconsciously and unintentionally become co-workers with the enemy.

In this sense, we have become our own worst enemy.

Jesus grieves over the loss of Biblical order in the church. Jesus says “follow me”.

Continue Reading »

Restoring the Household for Equipping and Evangelism

“It is often forgotten that the Christianity which conquered the Roman Empire was essentially a home centered movement.” – Robert and Julia Banks

While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners? On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick. But go and learn what this means: I desire mercy, not sacrifice. For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matt 9:10-12).

We need to restore the role of the household that we see in the ministry of Jesus and the expansion of the early church. As Michael Green has said, “One of the most important methods of spreading the gospel in antiquity was by the use of homes.” (Michael Green, Evangelism in the Early Church, p223).

The home in the New Testament was the center of spiritual activity. Even a casual reading of the New Testament reveals that the home was a haven for prayer, healing, Biblical teaching, breaking of bread, hospitality, ministry to the sick and happy genuine relationships. In short, it was a place to display the truth, justice, mercy and goodness of God.

It is clear from scripture that the home was designed by God to be a place of ministry fueled by the compassion of Christ for broken and lost people. In the gospels, we constantly see Jesus ministering in homes. On one particular occasion, the hunger for the ministry of Jesus in a home was so sought after that some men tore off the roof to lower their friend so that he could be near Jesus. Jesus had compassion on him and healed him on the spot.

 

Examples From Scripture

Here are some places in the New Testament where the word “house” or “household” is used. In almost all of the cases in the following list, the idea of a person’s network is not the context but the actual events taking place in a physical house or a specific family unit.

Healing

“When Jesus came to Peter’s house he saw Peter’s mother in law lying in bed with a fever and the fever left her and she got up and began to wait on him” – Matthew 8:14

Principle: Sensitivity to the sick in the house you are visiting can result in their healing.

Love for Unbelievers in Their Own Households

“While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners? On hearing this, Jesus said, It is not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick. But go and learn what this means: I desire mercy, not sacrifice. For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” – Matthew 9:10-12

Principle: Visiting the house of an unbeliever gives opportunity to demonstrate the love of God. No uptight Christians need apply.

Prayer for Sick People While You Are In Their Houses

“He was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends o say to him: Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. …Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well” – Luke 7:6-10

Households that view themselves as far from God are reachable when we pray for the inhabitants.

Principle: Pray for the people in the houses in your neighborhood that need healing, no matter how lost they seem on the outside.

Prayer for Sick People in their Own Houses

“Then the father realized that this was the exact time at which Jesus had said to him, ‘your son will live.’ So he and all his household believed. This was the second miraculous sign that Jesus performed, having come from Judea to Galilee.” – John 4:49-54

Principle: Prayer for the people in homes other than your own is effectual.

Bring unbelieving friends into the atmospheres of grace in your household.

“Now one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, so he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, and as when stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears…” – Luke 7:36

Bringing sinners into your home to rub shoulders with righteous people exposes them to the mercy of God.

Principle: Arrange for your unbelieving friends to join with your Christian friends in your household.

Be Intentional

Focus relationships on gladness, sincerity, praising God and evangelism as people are in your home. Be intentional. Get everyone focused on being this kind of household.

“They broke bread together from house to house and ate together with glad and sincere hearts praising god and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added daily to their number those who were being saved.” – Acts 2:46

Principle: Believers were experiencing happy times together in their homes with genuine, honest and open relationships with a focus on God, and the result was salvation of the lost.

Ensure that teachers frequent your home and make it an ordinary part of your home life.

“The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ.” – Acts 541-42

Principle: The home is a great place for teaching of your family and neighbors by godly visitors.

Encourage Unbelievers to Pray in their Households.

“Cornelius answered: Four days ago I was in my house praying at this hour, at three in the afternoon. Suddenly a man in shining clothes stood before me and said, Cornelius, God has heard your prayer and remembered your gifts to the poor. Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter… 11:13 He told us how he had seen an angel appear in his house and say, Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter.” – Acts 10:30 and Acts 11:13

He will bring you a message through which you and all your household will be saved.

Principle: Prayer at home opens the household to the salvation of Jesus Christ.

Relationships built through tough experiences can open up opportunity for salvation for a whole family.

“They replied, believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved – you and your household. Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his family were baptized. The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God – he and his whole family”. – Acts 16:31

Principle: Faithful messengers who keep their focus on God in times of crisis can be used to transform whole families.

Could Your Home Serve to Establish a Church in Your Community?

“Greet the church in his house” – Romans 16:5

Churches met primarily in homes in the first 3 centuries of church history. Your home can become a church where believers meet for prayer and instruction. Do you think God could use your home to launch a church in your community?

Principle: Your home can be a place for the meeting of the church

Be Aware of False Teaching that Ruins Households and Take Action

“They must be silenced because they are ruining whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach – and that for the sake of dishonest gain.” – Titus 1:11

Principle: The teaching that goes on in a household can ruin it. And, don’t forget that the TV brings a host of false teachers into your home.

Focus on the Important Things and Know the Difference Between Essential and Non Essential

If an unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience.” – I Cor. 10:27-33

Principle: Eating meals with unbelievers in their homes should give them a sense of the winsome grace of God. No uptight Christians allowed.

The Lord Should Direct the Agenda of the Household

“Unless the Lord builds the house its builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain. In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat – for he grants sleep to those he loves.” – Ps 127:1

The Lord should be the source of everything that happens in the household. Also, too much work will take you away from your task of working with the Lord to build your house.

Principle: Unless you work with Him, it is a labor in vain.

The compassion of Christ is the most important aspect of hour home’s usefulness in bringing healing to your community.

Jesus Weeps over Jerusalem

Principle: The tender heart of Jesus in your household will not cause you to reject but to invite.

The term “hospitality” is key in understanding how to use your home as a center of evangelism. Romans 12:13, I Peter 4:9, Hebrews 13:1-2, I Timothy 3:2, I Timothy 5:10.

In the early church the work of evangelism and equipping was regularly staged in the context of a home. The home was the cradle of the church.

Continue Reading »

Living in Sodom: A Case Study, Part I (The Protection of Daughters)

As we survey the Scriptures, we find that the protection of daughters reached a low point in Lot’s household in Sodom. There are times in history that are better or worse for daughters, and this slice of history was one of the low watermarks.[1] The account of Lot and his daughters is found in Genesis 19:4-11:

Now before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both old and young, all the people from every quarter, surrounded the house. And they called to Lot and said to him, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us that we may know them carnally.” So Lot went out to them through the doorway, shut the door behind him, and said, “Please, my brethren, do not do so wickedly! See now, I have two daughters who have not known a man; please, let me bring them out to you, and you may do to them as you wish; only do nothing to these men, since this is the reason they have come under the shadow of my roof.” And they said, “Stand back!” Then they said, “This one came in to stay here, and he keeps acting as a judge; now we will deal worse with you than with them.” So they pressed hard against the man Lot, and came near to break down the door. But the men reached out their hands and pulled Lot into the house with them, and shut the door. And they struck the men who were at the doorway of the house with blindness, both small and great, so that they became weary trying to find the door.

This story illustrates Lot’s devastating syncretism in Sodom. On display is his failure to protect his daughters. While the protection of Lot’s daughters is only one of many themes in the narrative, what is described here gives us a vivid and startling example of what lack of protection by a father looks like and helps us to understand how a father, through poor choices, can abdicate his responsibility bit by bit, resulting in grave peril to his daughters.

Lot’s action in offering his daughters to the immoral men of Sodom is an outrage. Our natural gut response is, “How could he treat his daughters this way?”

Yet we often are so repulsed by what Lot did that we miss the point. The core of the problem was a sinful incursion in Lot’s life that expressed itself in a lack of protection toward his daughters.

We must not be so quick to distance ourselves from Lot and denounce him, as we ourselves are not exempt from the lessons his example offers. We must examine the text and attempt to carefully discern what was really happening to Lot and his family and seek to learn from it.

Interpreting the Story

Genesis 19 requires some careful investigation of the various places and personalities that are included in the story. If we breeze over the narrative, we might be tempted to be filled with righteous indignation toward Lot.

A cursory treatment of the passage might cause us to think that the focus of the text centers around the evils of homosexuality. If we are not homosexuals, our tendency is to distance ourselves from what took place with Lot in Sodom, thus missing clear lessons that we can learn from Lot’s errant example.

Because of the horrible things that happened to Lot and his family in Sodom, we are tempted to look at Lot and say, “That’s not me, I am in a different category.” Considering our own lives we would rather dismiss the story and think that it applies to someone else.

When we examine the broader record of Scripture regarding Lot’s life, however, it becomes apparent that there is something more that Moses wanted us to understand through the Genesis account.

II Peter 2:4-10 gives us one of the interpretive keys to the passage. In his letter, Peter is speaking of the judgment against unrighteousness and how that God through His indignation will deliver Satan and his hosts into chains of darkness. Looking to the past, he writes of how he did not spare the ancient world in Noah’s day, though Noah was a preacher of righteousness. Then, he writes about Lot in the same way:

For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment; turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, condemned them to destruction, making them an example to those who afterward who live ungodly; and delivered righteous Lot, who was oppressed by the filthy conduct of the wicked. For that righteous man, dwelling among them, tormented his righteous soul from day to day by seeing and hearing their lawless deeds-then the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations and to reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment, and especially those who walk according to the flesh in the lust of uncleanness and despise authority… (II Peter 2:4-10)

Peter Gives us a Spiritual Profile of Lot

Those who embrace a narrow view of Lot may be surprised at the positive terms that Peter uses to describe him: “Righteous”, “Oppressed by the filthy conduct of the wicked”, “Tormented his righteous soul day by day.”

Peter makes at least three things clear. First, Lot was not reveling in excesses of Sodom. Second, he was outraged by the evil conduct of his fellow citizens. Third, he was deeply conflicted by what he observed around him.

We are not so different than Lot. We see the trends of culture, and we are absolutely outraged. We cast judgment on the sins that are running amok in our land. We are alarmed by the cultural indicators. Like Lot, we see what is going on around us, and we are distressed by it, but there is no way we can completely disengage from the evil influences of our culture. They are inextricably a part of us.

Lot was a righteous man, and his righteousness was by faith alone. In this sense, he is a spiritual son of Abraham. He believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. He was not saved by his own works, but from the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. Knowing that Lot offered his daughters to the man of Sodom, it is shocking to say that Lot was a righteous man, but this is what God’s Word teaches.

Lot was standing in judgment of the culture in Sodom. In verse 9, we see the men of Sodom say to him, “This one keeps acting like a judge.” Lot’s righteous soul was vexed by what he observed in the city. And because he was not going along with everything in Sodom, he was chided for being judgmental.

So, why did Lot offer his daughters?

First, he was pressured by the surrounding situation. Lot was being threatened by the people of the city — and not just by a few people in the city, but by his entire constituency. People from all age groups and all locations of Sodom were demanding carnal relations with the visitors in his household.

We must understand (and sympathize) with Lot for the fierce external pressure upon him to fit in to the desires of the people around him. How often do we do the exact same thing? Have you ever felt pressured by your constituency to compromise? Have you ever made a wrong decision under the pressing fear of man?

John Calvin comments that “Lot was prepared to expose his own daughters to dishonour, in order to save his guests.”[2] Kent Hughes notes, “Lot placed the sanctity of hospitality above the sanctity of his family.”[3] Someone once said that he preferred some other social grace than the protection of his daughters. Lot did not want to rock the boat with the men of Sodom with whom he desired to coexist. He did not want to appear too odd.

Second, it must have seemed “normal” enough for to him to offer his daughters. Among the alternatives, it seemed reasonable to Lot to present an alternative to the men that they could accept. But how could this have seemed normal? Here, we find further evidence of his incremental moral slippage under the influence of Sodom. Looking back in the narrative, we find him first pitching his tent toward Sodom. Later, we find him living in Sodom. Finally, he is a civil magistrate possessing the favor that position implies. Now he has something to protect — his position.

People do not become base in a moment, but after many moments over many years — after many compromises. No one just “falls” into wrong thinking. It takes time and external pressures to dull our sensibilities.

What exactly did Lot do? He did at least three things. First, he opened the door to his daughter’s vulnerability. Second, by opening the door to their vulnerability, he was actually promoting it. Third, he withdrew his protection.

It is painfully obvious that Lot did not protect his daughters. He did what is unthinkable to our sensibilities, but his behavior reminds us that there are times in history when the social pressures cause fathers to disconnect with their daughters.

Lot lived in a culture where there was ferocious pressure to withdraw protection from his daughters. And, he lived in a culture where it was normal enough — it was “thinkable” to offer his daughters to the men of Sodom.

For we who are living in “Sodom,” this should cause us to ask ourselves several questions: “What pressures are there in our culture that would cause us to withdraw protection from our daughters and leave them vulnerable? Or, “What are the normal things we do in our culture that add up to withdrawing our protection?” Or, “Am I as vigilant as I should be in protecting my daughter?”

Rather than condemn Lot, we must examine our own hearts and learn from his example. Protecting our daughters from evil is too important for us to do otherwise.


1. Another low point of protection for daughters found in Scripture is that of Jacob and Dinah. In Genesis 34, we learn the Jacob permitted Dinah to go “out to see the daughters of the land” (Genesis 34:1), resulting in her rape.
2. John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries (Banner of Truth Trust), p. 498.
3. R. Kent Hughes, Genesis: Beginning and Blessing (Crossway Books), p. 272.

Continue Reading »

Living in Sodom: A Case Study, Part II (Behavior Patterns of Fathers who Withdraw Protection from Daughters)

Lot is an example of a father who did not protect his daughters. His lifestyle in Sodom worked to open the door to their vulnerability. He gives us some insight into behavior patterns that make their daughters vulnerable. The results of his syncretism were horrible. When Lot did what was socially acceptable in Sodom, it bought him a defiled family and a broken lineage.

Even though he was vexed by the lifestyles in Sodom and was criticized for his conservatism, Lot fit in enough to stay there. He maintained a level of social acceptability that insured he would be a player in the town. At the same time, he so disconnected with his daughters that he made them vulnerable to the ungodly influences of Sodom. Lot is an extreme example of a common trait in families—unprotected daughters.

Historical Perspective

Lot did what is unthinkable to our ears, but his behavior reminds us that there are times in history when fathers disconnect with their daughters. When we look at history, we see a spectrum of behavior regarding daughters. Some periods are worse than others. Lot’s was despicable, but there is a gradation of behavior that expresses the same root problem. While Lot may be on the far end of the scale in the daughter-protection department, we ought not think we are exempt from the root sin that resulted in his abdication. While his actions were extreme, there are many other ways that fathers tend to disconnect protection of their daughters.

Protection of Daughters in Nineteenth Century America

The idea of an unprotected woman was virtually unknown 150 years ago. In nineteenth century Occidental culture, women simply did not travel alone because there was a cultural assumption that women needed protection. If women were traveling over land or sea, they were sure to have a male escort to see them safely to their destination.

We have no consciousness of this concept in our current day. If you travel by sea or land or by air, you will often see hundreds or even thousands of what would be previously regarded as “unprotected” women on the move. One hundred and fifty years ago, it was unthinkable, but today is the norm. This change it is important to note because it demonstrates that there are forces at work in every culture that either work to provide or withdraw the protection of women. In our current culture, we have many socially acceptable norms that promote the withdrawal of protection from daughters.

How do you think that those from the culture of the nineteenth century would judge us if they came in a time capsule and saw unprotected daughters traveling to the ends of the earth—women in co-ed dorms, women living independently in colleges across the nation, and women brandishing automatic weapons in combat situations.

I believe they would be dumbfounded at what we regard as normal.

Protecting My Own Daughter

In 2003, I took my daughter with me on a mission trip to Romania. On the plane, there was a drunken man flirting with her in a very aggressive way. Unfortunately for him, there were 535 pounds of manhood in our party ready to protect her. Believe me, we were exercising much Christian patience with this man who persisted throughout the entire flight. He did not realize that he was facing deadly force, if he persisted. He actually touched her once and was making bold advances. He even continued the pursuit after the plane landed. I am convinced that, if we had not been with her to protect her, she would have been in serious danger

Where do we get the idea of protection from the Bible? We could make a long list, but here is a short one. Godly behavior is defined by shepherds who protect their flocks. The strong should support the weak. Women are the weaker vessels. And daughters should be protected by their fathers who are commanded to give 24/7 watch care over their children (Deuteronomy 6:1-9). This is enough for me to be convinced that women should be protected by men.

A Wake-up Call for Fathers

This example of Lot should be a wake-up call that prompts us to ask, “What are the socially acceptable ways that we disconnect our protection and expose our daughters to destructive influences of the world?”

Following are caricatured profiles of the kinds of things that fathers do that cause their daughters to be unprotected.

The Narcissistic Father. This is the father who is the quintessential couch potato. He only spends time on things that interest him. He has no energy for anyone else. His philosophy is “Live and Let Live.” He has no plan, no agenda. He is a relativist, except when it comes to his own comforts. His philosophy is, “You have your life and I have mine —do your own thing.”

His daughter is completely on her own.

She is an unprotected daughter.

The Nice-Guy Father. This father has a favorable disposition toward his daughter, and he is upstanding in every way. He takes her out to lunch regularly and attends her recitals and sports events. But he is so “nice” that he takes the path of least resistance. He does not engage in the difficulties involved in helping her to think about her life in a deep way.

This father accepts life as it is. For instance, he does not help his daughter have a deep understanding of the purpose of her life, beyond the things that are already swimming in her head. If you ask her what she is doing with her life, she gives answers that you hear from any other worldling. She speaks of her education or her hobbies or her career track, but you do not hear a biblical vision for womanhood. This should be a warning for all nice-guy fathers.

She is an unprotected daughter.

The Supportive Father. This father nearly idolizes his daughter’s feelings about life. He helps her to be all that she wants to be, even if it means an individualistic focus on her own inclinations. He interprets the popular song lyrics, “Fathers be good to your daughters,” to mean, “smooth the way for her own desires.” She is encouraged to focus on her individual passion instead of calibrating herself with the external call of God upon her life. She enjoys her own categories and is not energized by the biblical ones. She likes to elevate her own “take” on life over what she reads in her Bible. Instead of discipleship, she is focused on her own styled vision, calling and gifts.

Instead of carefully giving their daughters away in marriage, these fathers let them loose to find it on their own apart from their direction and counsel… because they are “supportive.”

She is an unprotected daughter.

The Feminist Father. This evangelical, church-attending father does not really understand the teaching of God’s Word regarding biblical manhood and womanhood. He gets his roadmap from the evening news, the men around him, and from the feminist ideology that propels the corporation he works for. Everyday he is so surrounded by unprotected women in the workplace that he is de sensitized to the subject. The result is that his daughter has not been protected from the bankrupt values that feminism has dished up to her by her loved ones. She has eaten at the table of feminist philosophy, right along with her father, and neither of them understand what the Bible says about a woman’s calling and role. Consequently, all her visions are disconnected from that role, and her father is not there with the voice of loving authority about how things really were meant to be.

She prefers something different, and something not so unpopular as the biblical vision. Why? Because she does not like the biblical vision. And why does she not like the biblical vision? Because she goes to church with her father who lives a shallow Christianity, attending a church governed by feminist ideology. They call themselves Bible-believing Christians, but in reality they live exactly like egalitarians, ignoring the specific commands and regulations found in Scripture.

She is an unprotected daughter.

The Harboring Father. He is extremely restrictive and does not accurately communicate the biblical vision. He may demand something like the biblical vision, but she never sees the joys and the freedoms that it holds. He is big on demands and small on life. He has rules, but not much love. He has structure and conviction, but not much joy. He only has a message of restriction, and life is no fun at all. Joyless Christianity reigns in his home. Affectionless Christianity rules the roost. Often you will find that this kind of father has laid out the game plan, but he has not explained why it is important. This father is over-protective, and his household looks more like a detention center than the green pastures and still waters that good shepherds provide.

A father can withdraw protection from his daughter, even when she is living in his own home. The harboring father actually exposes his daughter’s heart to harm, because of his lack of positive vision for her future.

She is an unprotected daughter.

The Core of the Problem

At the core of these caricatures is male passivity. It is perhaps the most dangerous quality of manhood.

Most daughters do not understand the biblical vision because fathers have not known what it is, because when they should be studying and preparing to deliver the messages, they are out playing golf or engaged in some kind of entertainment. They just do not know what to say to their daughters, because they have nothing to say. They have nothing to say, because they have not filled their minds with scriptural thoughts regarding their daughters.

And, whatever they do have to say, they do not communicate it in enough detail and over a long enough time for her to understand it. How long is enough? Communication of the biblical vision to a daughter needs to be from birth and continue every day of her life thereafter.

A father should be calling her to a rich life as a helpmeet (Genesis 2:18), a keeper at home (Titus 2:4), a trainer of the next generation (Ephesians 6:4), a demonstration of unfading beauty (I Peter 3:4), and a domestic entrepreneur (Proverbs 31). My view is that every daughter needs to have these passages of scripture memorized, so that she is equipped to detect influences which would divert her from her creation-order calling.

Without a careful delivery of “thus saith the Lord,” a daughter is unprotected and is denied the glorious hope of her calling as a woman in Christ.

Continue Reading »

Living in Sodom: A Case Study, Part III (When Daughters Lose Hope)

Even though the feminist agenda cheerily shouts, “You can have it all,” and “You’ve come a long way, baby,” daughters have a natural bent toward hopelessness. Everywhere they turn, they are confronted with their inadequacy. Whether the role model is Barbie or Brittany or Hillary, daughters can easily fall prey to comparisons that would lead them astray—to desires that would undo them.

In Genesis 19, we find the story of what happened when Lot’s daughters lost hope. In her perceived hopeless estate, Lot’s eldest daughter explained to her younger sister the dilemma they find themselves in, as she saw it, “Now the firstborn said to the younger, ‘Our father is old, and there is no man on the earth to come in to us as is the custom of all the earth’” (Genesis 19:31).

Lot’s eldest daughter grew panicked by lack of hope. She saw no human means for the fulfillment of her longings as a woman.

Her perspective brings us face to face with two very important realities. First, the inclinations of the firstborn have a big impact on those siblings who follow them. In this case, the oldest daughter could have led in better directions. My firstborn daughter, Kelly, is one who has led the way for all siblings and cousins coming up behind her. Many times I have prayed thanks to God for this. What a blessing it is to have the firstborn with a heart toward God!

If you are firstborn, you have a unique place in your family as a pacesetter. Much hinges upon your behavior. Your younger siblings are watching your example. You eldest daughters: guard your hearts, for it is the wellspring of life—both for you and for many other lives as well.

Second, Lot’s daughter was filled with fear. She was afraid for the future of her heritage, and she acted upon those fears. This is the same fear that grips the hearts of every daughter in every age. She fears that somehow she will be left out of marriage and family. Every young woman I have ever known at some point comes to struggle with this boogeyman. It goes like this: “No one will ever love me”; “there are zero men around that I could want to marry”; “I am not attractive enough to attract a good man”; “the pool of men that I would be interested in is too small….”

This brings us to an important point that fathers need to monitor. A father needs to understand what is going on in the heart of his daughter regarding four of her great enemies: fear, loneliness, self-pity, and purposelessness. He should always have his antennae up for these destructive vices.

One area that a father should be tuned into is the music his daughter listens to. He should understand the tunes and lyrics of her favorite songs. Why? The vast majority of the popular songs of the day are filled with messages and chord progressions that will tend to plunge her deeper into a type of introspection that nourishes her fears. When a young woman begins to be led by these forces, nothing good will come of it. If a daughter’s virtue in bring compromised due to bad musical influences, a father must step in and take action.

Hopelessness in a young woman is a powder keg. Fathers, are your daughters lonely and insecure about the future? Then come to their aid and refresh them with the salvation of God. Help them to trust God and not to lean on their own understanding.

We don’t know exactly why Lot’s daughters had such a dim outlook. They were likely normal girls with normal temptations. What we do know is that when they looked out into the future, they could not see how God would bring them husbands, so they compromised.

If you are a daughter whose outlook toward the future looks dim, and you are tempted to jump ahead of God, then slow down; be patient. God will provide.

Another point to consider regarding the fear of Lot’s daughter’s is this: their uncle Abraham lived only a short distance away from them, and he was a godly man with a large extended household. Abraham would likely have had many young men under his oversight who could have made potential spouses for Lot’s daughters. Given their close proximity to Abraham, why then would Lot’s daughters say that “there is no man on the earth” who could be their husband? Why were they so afraid? The text does not reveal the answer.

What is revealed is this: Lot’s daughters panicked and sought a pragmatic alternative. Genesis 19:32-35 explains the perverted course they took to “solve” their problem:

Come, let us make our father drink wine, and we will lie with him, that we may preserve the lineage of our father.” So they made their father drink wine that night. And the firstborn went in and lay with her father, and he did not know when she lay down or when she arose. It happened on the next day that the firstborn said to the younger, “Indeed I lay with my father last night; let us make him drink wine tonight also, and you go in and lie with him, that we may preserve the lineage of our father.” Then they made their father drink wine that night also. And the younger arose and lay with him, and he did not know when she lay down or when she arose.

In the above narrative, we can observe at least two ways in which the protection of Lot’s daughters broke down.

First, you can see the breakdown of Lot’s protection in the character of his daughters. Lot’s daughters’ character qualities are revealed in striking fashion. They placed their trust in human means, and they did whatever they had to do to bring about the result they were after. In this case, they get their father drunk to suit their ends. These daughters were manipulative—children of Sodom and Gomorrah. Here is what Ray Stedman says about what they had become under their father’s roof:

These two girls were virgins in body, but they were already debauched in mind. They had long since grown accustomed to obscenity and unrestrained luridness, so, up in the cave on the mountainside, they seized the thinnest tissue of excuses and the story ends in a foul orgy of drunkenness and incest. Lot had nothing but heartbreak and grief to show for the years in Sodom. The Lord said, “For whoever would save his life will lose it,” (Matt 16:25a {RSV}). So Lot, trying to get the best out of both worlds, lost all and has become for all time the picture of the Christian who is saved, “but only as through fire,” (1 Cor 3:15b {RSV}). He has nothing but wasted years to look back on and eternity ahead.

Lot’s daughters possessed the same qualities of their father Lot. They were “their father’s daughters.” Not surprisingly, they did with their father the same thing that he proposed they do with the men of Sodom. They had become like their father. Their thinking process was just like his.

A father needs to be very discerning. He needs to be constantly asking, “Are my daughters becoming children of Sodom (Hollywood) or children of God? Are my daughters filled with hope? Do they have faith that God will see them through every difficulty and confusing trial that they encounter?

Our daughters need two things to hedge their vulnerability from these gripping fears of the heart. First, they need to have a father who will debunk the destructive ways of the world and show them how to avoid them. This is what Lot did not do. Instead of debunking the wrong notions about womanhood foisted on his daughters by the children of Sodom, Lot let them be.

Second, our daughters need to have a clear vision of Christ, and they need to be encouraged to become like Him. In Hebrews 1:9, we learn that Jesus Christ, when considered among his band of disciples, was the happiest of them all. And why was He so happy? The writer of Hebrews gives the answer: “Thou hast loved righteousness and hated lawlessness. Therefore, God, Thy God has anointed you with the oil of gladness above your companions.”

Fathers must extol the righteous life of the Lord Jesus Christ in their daily lives if their daughters are to have faith-filled hearts. Fathers need to love righteousness —the very best things—and to be dissatisfied with the world’s bankrupt solutions. This is the key to a daughter’s heart.

Pray that our daughters will have the character of the Lord Jesus Christ so that when they are in times of trouble, they will cry out to God for their answers instead of looking into their own hearts, into the lives of their peers, or into the popular songs of the day.

Second, you can see the breakdown of protection in the leadership of Lot as a father. It is easy to say that Lot is a terrible example as a father. Here is a father who has not lovingly or effectively trained his daughters. God has given Lot to us as an example of what NOT to do. Lot consented to the disobedient behavior of his daughters. He got drunk, and don’t believe for a minute that he was a victim.

Notice that what has happened in so many homes in our day happened in Lot’s home nearly four thousand years ago. Alcohol made the unthinkable actually plausible. This story should give us pause to carefully consider the presence of alcohol in our homes. I am not making a biblical case for total abstinence of alcohol (because Scripture does not do so), but I would like to note that we have two cases of alcohol in the home in the first nineteen chapters of Genesis, and neither one is positive. There are two incidences: Noah’s drunkenness and Lot’s drunkenness. These accounts should not escape our careful attention. The testimony of Noah and Lot should cause us to be cautious, should we choose to have alcohol in our homes.

In Conclusion

Fathers, you must take active steps to guard your daughters from harm. Here are some practical ways you can protect them:

  • Position them for a hope-filled life by filling their minds with the sufficiency found in God’s Word. In this way you will fortify them by your good deposit of clear teaching.
  • Instruct them on the destructive influences around them by exposing the harmful messages propounded by their peers and carried by many of the popular songs of our day.
  • Draw near to them by taking the time to listen to your daughters and responding to their concerns. Be available for them.
  • Give them clear and firm direction, even when it grates against their inclinations. Let them know that all of their feminine desires are not helpful, and that if they simply follow their hearts, they will lose the essence of what they are longing for.

Oh, fathers, take responsibility for protecting your daughters. Cry out to the Lord for them. How easy it is for them to lose heart. Everything the devil has for them is designed to kill, steal, and destroy their hope. Become a fountain of life for them. Create for them green pastures and pure waters. Expose the wolf. Silence the liar. Protect your precious lambs.

Continue Reading »

Page 1 of 212