Looking for Repentance

(So, I’d planned to be blogging much more regularly here recently, but I find the “too busy” excuse right there in my back pocket all the time. So trying to jump back in…)

What’s the difference between godly sorrow and worldly sorrow? I certainly get that in the end, one leads to life and one leads to death. But what do they look like in process?

I find myself struggling with that question in a very practical way today. A brother has been approached. Two or three others have gone along. The church of Jesus has made the call to repentance. After some waiting, Joe (made up name so that I don’t have to type “the person” over and over again) finally says he wants to return, to repent. Except not in those words. And still with a lot of anger and defensiveness.

Not only that, but part of Joe’s call to repentance has been about ongoing lies and deceit. Is this another time of lies and deceit? Is this part of the long con, just trying to restore his own kingdom but using the church to do it? Or is this is a godly sorrow, a conflicted repentance that is tainted with sin but finds it’s source in God the Spirit?

Tonight I’m confounded because I don’t know. I have no desire to turn away a brother who is coming back into the fold. But I also have no desire to let a wolf in either. And I don’t know how to tell which is which. Joe could be gaming. Or he could be fighting. I didn’t expect to be facing this–I honestly didn’t really believe Joe would ever try to come back. And even if he did, I figured any true repentance would be clear and obvious.

It’s not. I’m trying to reach across culture and life situation to assess what does repentance look like for this particular person. I really don’t think it looks like this, but I (with the church) don’t want to refuse the Keys to a broken man.

 

I think part of my fear is that I don’t at all believe it’s real repentance–a godly sorrow–but I’m afraid how it’ll make me look to reject someone who’s almost saying all the right things. Is godly sorrow still angry and prideful? Is godly sorrow full of excuses and defenses? Is godly sorrow dismissive and closed? Is godly sorrow completely devoid of Jesus?

It’s hard to see how that could be the case. Joe’s response certainly doesn’t look like this: “See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter.”

My Quick (Ha!) Take on Men and Women in the Bible

A dear brother of mine recently emailed me asking about my views on men and women from the Bible as his wife was recently asked to preach in a local church. He asked me to lay out how I see the complementarian and egalitarian positions, along with where I stand using the Bible. Here’s my response:

Wow, what a topic! I certainly understand that it’s a sticky issue and especially tough when you’re married to an able teacher (as you and I both are). As for me, I would label myself Complementarian (though that can cover a pretty wide spectrum of thinking). I’ll certainly outline my thoughts, though I can send you some articles if you’d like. I’ve read tons of stuff on CBMW (Comps) and on CBE (Egals) to know that some of it’s drivel/propaganda and some of it actually gets to the heart of the issue. If you’d like that, let me know.

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In describing the two views, Comps believe that men and women have equal worth to God but different roles while Egals believe men and women are equal in every role. Honest Egals will own up to the fact that the Bible is massively patriarchal/complementarian. Thus they argue that it’s either directly from the effects of Jesus’ death and resurrection that things are different now OR that the NT set up a trajectory that would bring about full equality between men and women, even if that didn’t quite exist in the early church.

Typically, their hinge verse is Gal 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” From this it’s surmised that since the barriers between the other categories were busted up on the cross, it’s the same for men and women. Taking the verses right around it, I find that this verse about the fact that we’re all equally God’s children and heirs according to the promise. This really has nothing to do with role or function, but about our position in the kingdom. Which is to say that we’re all equally children of God. I don’t think it adds much to the discussion on function though, much like in Israel all were God’s children but only the Levites were allowed to be priests: equal in value, but not function/role.

To build the Comp understanding, there are three main passages that come into play. The first is Eph 5:21:33 about husbands and wives. The main thrust is that wives are to submit to/respect their husbands, while husbands are to lay down their lives for their wives in love. Why? “For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church.” On the face of it, this appears that the husband is the authority over the wife, as Christ is the authority over the husband (and I agree). Again, Egals argue here that “head” really means “source” (it’s all about this Greek term “kephale”), but I don’t see where that clears anything up. In fact, when we jump to 1 Cor in a moment, I think we get some more clarity on that. Egals also argue that v. 21 frames this section so that we should all submit to one another, thus husbands submit to wives just as much as wives submit to husbands. But that really makes no sense with what follows since a) Paul tells wives to submit particularly and not husbands; and b) right after that, parents aren’t commanded to submit to their kids (imagine what that would be like!) or masters commanded to submit to their slaves. I think a better translation of v.21 is that some should appropriately submit to others out of reverence for the King (I can send you an article on that, if you like).

The second passage for the Comp side is 1 Cor 11:2-16 on head coverings. While this topic is confusing enough on it’s own, the main thrust is that men and women should act differently because of their “heads” (that “kephale” word again). The crux is here: “But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman [or wife] is man [or the husband], and the head of Christ is God.” Again, Egals argue that “head” here doesn’t mean authority, but “source”. But I don’t know of any tenable theological position that holds that God the Father is the source of God the Son. In all eternity, the Godhead has always existed as the Godhead. The Father isn’t the source of Jesus, he’s actually the authority over him (“For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.”). Thus, the Father has authority over the Son, the Son has authority over men, and men have a derivative authority over their wives.

Now lest this be demeaning for women, Jesus didn’t think it was demeaning for him. So to submit to another’s authority over oneself is truly Christ-likeness. And if that wasn’t enough, Paul makes sure to remind us all (because we need the reminder!) in 1 Cor 11 that “Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.” This is the very staple of the Comp understanding: men and women are equal and interdependent, but don’t carry the same authority.

Finally, the third passage comes in 1 Tim 2:11-15. Again, this is another sticky one. Paul instructs the women (or possibly specifically the wives) that they are not “to teach or to exercise authority over a man.” Most people who know Greek way better than me agree that this construction is linked, thus it’s teaching and exercising authority together (i.e. teaching authoritatively). In particular, this is linked to the sound doctrine that Paul talks frequently about in the letters to Timothy that must be guarded. It’s also worth noting that these verses lead right into the requirements for the elders of the church, which I don’t think is happenstance. The idea is that this kind of authoritative teaching is the doctrinal protection done by the elders of the church, who not only should be godly men but should be able to teach (or as he says it to Titus, “he must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it”). Thus the doctrinal teaching, the guarding of the sacred deposit is to be done by the elders of the church, who are male.

One last note on these passages: all three of these have reference back to the creation story. In Ephesians, it’s about the one flesh-ness. But the other two passages root the instructions to the church in the first three chapters of Genesis. The importance of this is that Paul isn’t making a cultural argument (again, a very common thing from Egals is to argue that Paul is arguing against a local cultural problem). That argument doesn’t hold, though, because Paul doesn’t root it in “hey, do this because in your culture it looks bad” but because “all the way back at the very beginning, this is what God laid out.” That really ought to carry more weight than Egals usually seem to let it.

So, having said all that, I should say that I have a great deal of sympathy and respect for those Egals who come to the Scriptures really wanting to understand what it says and come away disagreeing with my points above. I have a harder time with those who start with “I just knew that God wouldn’t really want women to be inferior to men” or “I’m clearly called by God to teach and preach as a woman, so I need to make the Bible support that.” But I could say the same thing about homosexuality or universalism or anything else. While I believe the Comp position is stronger and more faithful to the Scriptures, I know that I have true brothers and sisters who disagree, landing elsewhere on the issue as a matter of conviction. In many ways, I wish I could follow the Egal position, but Scripturally I just can’t.

So then, where does that leave the women (like our wives) who are wise and able to teach? Titus 2 certainly leaves a wide avenue open of older women training younger women. And I think that’s a highly important avenue, as that can happen in a whole lot of venues. But do I think a woman should be doctrinally teaching a group of men and women? I don’t. Not because they can’t, but because they shouldn’t to be faithful to the Word. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t contributions to be made. My wife exhorts directly in our church, in counseling, in conversation. But she’s building up, not laying down doctrinal foundations. That may seem like a fine line, but it’s one I’m comfortable with. Because the NT also has examples of women prophesying, I know that women can speak Spiritual truths to men and women together. And I encourage my wife to do so. But she and I also both know that when the “What does the Bible say about such and such?” comes, I’ll be the one to answer that. And my brother-elder and I are the ones “guarding the fences” doctrinally for our church, because that’s what we’ve been called to.

I hope this novella has been helpful to you. There are certainly more passages that could be discussed, but I think this covers the main sections. And I hope these words have built you up, too, and not just been a mess of confused passages and poor reasoning. Please feel free to question or challenge or rebuke, as my dear brother.

A Body-Less Christian

A brother sent me an article that came out in 2013 by Kevin DeYoung and Jason Helopoulos trying to answer the question “Does the Bible Require Christians to Attend Church?” This brother asked my opinion on the article, so after my eye twitch from reading the title went away, I came up with this:

One of the points of contention that I have with standard thought on church (attendance) compared to how the NT talks about the church is this: standard thinking centers the gathering around (corporate) worship where the NT centers the gathering around mutuality and edification. This article, strangely enough, seemed to both nail the nature of the church and completely miss it, all at the same time. On the whole, the gross overemphasis on corporate worship as the primary mark of the church makes their attempts to “unpack some of the most common objections”  hollow. And since this was the main thrust of their article, I don’t really think they at all answered the question in the article’s title.

Having said that, Stott’s statement at the beginning is spot-on and I couldn’t agree more. There is no such thing as an “unchurched Christian”. DeYoung and Helopoulos get closest to this when arguing that the body metaphor requires that each part of the body needs the other parts to function. That’s impossible to do flying solo or floating around or listening to podcasts or reading great books by ginormous-church pastors.

Furthermore, the word for church (“ekklesia”) specifically means gathering or assembly. While I wouldn’t want to deny that Jesus and the apostles could divest new meaning in the term, we can’t ignore that “church” (better translated “assembly” or “gathering”) is by nature a gathered group of people—without detailing how often or in what contexts or what exactly needs to happen when together. And if assembly is tied up with what it means to be the church, then it has to be a definable set of people, not just generic fellowship with any Christian at any time. This is more obvious when you think about the fact that the one anothers fall apart without some context in which those one anothers can occur. For instance, how can we bear one another’s burdens without some grasp of who these others are that we’re bearing burdens together with? The NT envisions a rather defined group of people with whom we share burdens and confess sins and encourage one another.

Church “discipline” probably gets the closest to helping us see how important this defined group of people is. How can “the majority” cast out anyone without having an idea of who the group is to start with (cf. 2 Cor 2:6)? How can you take it to “the church” if the church isn’t a defined group of people? Should every discipline case be emailed to every Christian in the world so that “the church” can cast him out?

This is all just to say that I agree with the main thrust of the article, though I think they take all the wrong roads to get to the kinda-right conclusion. Because a Jesus-follower isn’t one alone—he’s part of the body with his own role to perform. The Spirit gives gifts to be used for the good of that body. Shoot, most of the New Testament was written to individual churches with instructions on how to relate to one another, a fact that’s impossible to do apart from—you guessed it—the church.

The only exception, scripturally speaking, where people aren’t tied to a particular body of believers are those who have been commissioned by the church as evangelists, missionaries, and/or apostles. Those gifts by their nature exist outside a defined “church”, but each have the goal of seeing distinct churches built through the gospel. So even then, they’re always tied to the church(es) they’re ministering to while with them. Those gifts by nature work that way as the God-appointed means of making more churches. Unless specifically sent out by a church to do the work of an evangelist/missionary/apostle, every Christian—by nature of belonging to Jesus—will be part of a defined assembling/family of Christians (a.k.a. church). How or when they gather and what they do when they gather are beside the point.

The Righteousness of Noah

For too long (at least my entire childhood and beyond), well-meaning Christians have taught that because Noah was so good on his own merit, God had to spare him. Noah’s behavior after the flood seems to contradict this though (Gen 9:21), though that’s arguable if that makes the point strongly enough. Certainly the Scriptures testify that no person could be good enough before God.

“All have turned away, all have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one. (Ps 14:3; Ps 53:3)”

“Indeed, there is no one on earth who is righteous, no one who does what is right and never sins. (Eccl 7:20)”

Bringing an understand that God is the electing type, who calls us even when we’re dead in our sins, seems to further contradict the idea that Noah was “so good” that God wanted to save him. “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world. (Eph 2:1-2a)” There’s no way Noah was good enough to earn his spot on the ark.

In reaction, we start to claim that there was nothing good about Noah. The only reason he was on the ark was because God put his favor on him. Apart from that favor, there was nothing commendable about Noah. He was just as wicked as everyone else, but God elected to save him despite his wickedness. But we read that “Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God. (Gen 6:9)” How could he be blameless among the people of his time unless he was actually, to some degree, “good” (or at least better than the rest)?

This is one of those times where the real answer lies with the both/and. Did God save Noah because of his favor on him or because Noah was a good man? The answer is “yes.” Both are true because they could only be true together.

There is no goodness apart from God himself. “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Eph 2:10)” If Noah was good, it was because of God’s favor on him and at work in him. But on the flipside, there is no favor from God without goodness springing from it. “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son. (Rom 8:29a)”

The question to really ask is, “Which came first, Noah’s goodness or God’s favor?” And that’s an easy one: apart from God’s favor, there would be no goodness. God’s favor came first, which worked powerfully in Noah to make him blameless among his peers so that he could walk faithfully with God. There’s no scenario where Noah could have been righteous apart from God’s favor. Nor is there a scenario where God’s favor would have failed to yield righteousness.

The same was true with Noah and the same is true now: any goodness is a gift of God’s favor and dependent on that grace. And that grace is always effective to bring about the nature of God himself at work in and through us.

Even with Our Kids

One of the banners I’ve been touting for a long, long time now on my journey toward home-based churches is that ministry is mutual. I tire of the traditional church model that basically says you only do diligent ministry if you get paid for it. Otherwise, you attend a class or bring candy to the trunk-or-treat or coach some Upward basketball, and you’re good to go! Otherwise, let the paid guy do the work you (the customer!) paid for!

No, ministry is one to another. Serving one another, doing good to one another, caring for one another, bearing one another’s burdens.

But it turns out (as usual) I didn’t press that far enough, didn’t see that the “one anothers” stretch even farther than I had imagined. Today, my wife went to Facebook to confess her sins to others, to be an open book to a world that tries to hide anything unsavory. She posted, “This mama just finished a bratty tantrum by literally screaming at my kids for their noise level (oh the irony is not lost on me). I went to my room to breathe and cool down. When I came out a few minutes later, [one of my daughters] was finishing putting the three little ones down for nap. I want to be like my kids when I grow up, ready to serve quickly even when things aren’t going well, loving even the one who was just unkind to me.”

Slam. My wife is so much more open than I am and sees so much more clearly her sins and her savior. I love her for that.

So, I’m all slammed because I rail at the kids all the time, they’re so undeservedly loving toward this daddy, so quick to forgive me in those rare times I do ask their forgiveness. I’m already ripped raw when our dear friend Carrie Quillo chimes in with this encouragement (among the many other ladies who spoke encouragement) in the comments: “I pray that you will see that the Holy Spirit is making you like that. You saw your sin, you saw [your daughter’s] love and God used it to turn your heart back to love and service to your kiddos. Ministry is mutual even with our kids.”

Even with these little people who disobey me all the time, who rebel, who fight with each other, who test limits all the time, who have so, so, so, so, so much they need to learn from me, their wise and discerning father?

Obviously, I still don’t believe my own manifesto. Parent to kid is a one-way relationship, right?

“Ministry is mutual even with our kids.” Amen, sister.

In All Circumstances

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

No matter what’s going on. No matter how hard. No matter how blah. No matter how awesome. No matter how fun.

No matter what: rejoice, pray, give thanks.

Always. Continually. In all circumstances.

For this cynical guy, this critical soul, this self-sufficient heart, that’s like asking a rock to give birth and produce guitar playing rainbows.

“With man this is impossible, but with God, all things are possible.”

Today, for one day, can I have joy all day? Can I pray each moment to see and savor the glory of God the Father through Jesus? Can I give thanks for all that comes my way–good, bad, or ugly?

If God can save the rich man, if Jesus can forgive the people mocking and killing him, if God can resurrect my dead soul from the grave–then, yes.

May it be so.

“For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.”

Personal Lord and Savior?

Recently, my wife and I were discussing what it means “believe in Jesus”, particularly regarding our kids and expressing saving faith. It really wasn’t until I started attending a Southern Baptist church that I started hearing this cliché-phrase “personal lord and savior”—usually expressed without any great understanding as to what that means. While I’m no great lover of the phrase, it’s actually works as a basic, four-word summary of what I see the Bible showing faith to be. Here are some cursory thoughts:

Acts 16:30-31a – He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.”*** The jailer needs to believe personally believe in this Jesus, who is Lord of all. Believe what, you may ask?

Romans 10:9 – If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. I don’t think the declaring is magical, but a practical means of voicing out loud submission to King Jesus. But Paul lays out that believing in Jesus means believing that the resurrection was real—that the Son of God died and was raised again, the very vindication that he was master of death.

Acts 2:36-38 – “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.” When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” While the baptism part of this gets FAR too much attention, the bigger point is that these God-fearing Jews need to repent. Of what? Of not believing that Jesus was the Son of God, their “Lord and Messiah” whom they crucified (and later rose from the dead).

This certainly isn’t an exhaustive look at things, but it seems to me that for anyone, adult or child, faith in Jesus means believing he was real, that he died, and that he rose. It also means confessing him as our own lord, the master of our bodies and our souls, both now and forever. That’s belief. That’s faith. That’s saving faith.

***One of these days—when I’m brave enough—I’ll deal with the “you and your household” part of this verse.

Diversity Is Beauty

Like most folks, I have a pretty varied taste in music. I grew up on 60’s rock, especially the Beatles. I went through adolescence in the 90’s, so I love alternative music. I was “classically” trained in music, so I love choral and orchestral music. I can get lost in the emotions of film music and it’s pure emotional power. I’m well-acquainted with a great many hipsters (I’m certainly not one myself), so I have grown to love the many different types of indie music out there.

There are times when I wish when I could somehow fuse all these different styles together. That classic rock and alternative and indie rock and orchestral music and choral voices could be blended into something beautiful and amazing.

But I don’t think that’s really possible. The diversity is too broad, the media too extreme to make it work without sounding like a cheap bastardization of each style on its own.

And then I think: maybe that’s the way it ought to be. Maybe the diversity is beautiful in itself. Maybe the fact that sometimes I’m in the mood for one type or another is a good and right thing. Maybe a blend isn’t good at all—a tree isn’t a fish and a fish isn’t a rock and a rock isn’t a cloud. And who would want them to be? Who’d want a tree-fish-rock cloud?

As I watch the racial struggles at play, there’s too much desire to want everyone to just be the same and act the same. But that’s just racism at its worst. God’s people are from every tribe and tongue and nation. Not homogenous at all, but varied. Tall and short, wide and skinny, red-headed and black-headed, peach-skinned and brown-skinned. And everything else. God adores the diversity because he made us that way, made the whole creation that way.

We don’t need a fusion, a blend, a melting pot. We need the differences and a way to love those differences—which is the love of God in Jesus, who died for every type of person. Music or skin tone or language, diversity is beauty.