When a church is no church at all

We seem to have a real horror of being different. Hence all our attempts and endeavors to popularize the church and make it appeal to people….[But] the world expects the Christian to be different and looks to him for something different, and therein it shows an insight into life that regular church-goers often lack….If [a person] feels at home in any church without believing in Christ as personal Savior, then that church is no church at all, but a place of entertainment or a social club.

–D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones [Iain Murray, D. Martin Lloyd-Jones: The First Forty Years 1899-1939 (Banner of Truth 1982), 141-42.]

The church needs more marriage counseling like this

A woman once told me that she planned to leave her husband because she “just didn’t love him anymore.” I asked her to change the way she worded what she planned to do so that her decision could be understood accurately. I asked her to say it this way: “I am choosing to no longer value my husband and to break my commitment to remain faithful to him.”

–Steve Cornell, “When I Don’t Feel Love for My Spouse”

A gathering of 2 or 3: church, jury, or none of the above?

“For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” {Mat 18:20, ESV}

Moving through a study of 1 Corinthians, our adult Sunday school classes explored 1Cor 3:16-17 where Paul declares “you are God’s temple” and “if anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him”. One of the points that we tried to make in our study is that the “you” in vv16-17 is plural (in the Greek) which means the temple Paul has in mind is the church not the individual Christian. Seizing the moment to emphasize the significance of the local church the author of our Sunday school literature wrote:

Tragically, many Christians dismiss the importance of the local church. They argue from verses like Matt 18:20 that when two or three are gathered together in Jesus’ name, He is present; therefore, I don’t need to attend church. I can “have church” at home or at work if I am with at least one other believer. The only problem with this proof-text is that this verse is not talking about public worship; instead, it is dealing with church discipline.

This created a stir for at least one church member who read the paragraph as a denial of the long-held belief that 2 or 3 do, in fact, constitute a church. How should we think about this?

1) Two or three gathered together in Jesus’ name does constitute a church. The “2 or 3” expression is Jesus’ explanation as to why the church retains the authority to make binding judgments (18:17-18). Consequently, 2 or 3 gathered in Jesus’ name is a pithy way to allude to the church.

2) The point of Mat 18:20 is to show that the local church is authorized to exercise church discipline. Equating the role of the church (18:17-18) with the judgment of two or three (18:19-20) is a way to clarify that church discipline is binding for any church gathering regardless of the church’s size. Church discipline exercised by an assembly of 50 is just as authoritative as discipline enacted by an assembly of 5,000.

3) A church may not be less than a gathering of two or three but it is certainly more than that. In other words, the number of the gathering is not as important as the nature of the gathering (why have they assembled: to fish? to watch TV? to hear the Word? to share communion?). In this light we would need to go further and ask what it means for two/three Christians to gather “in My name”.

My conclusion: Two or three make a church except for when they don’t.

Headship is crucifixion

     Christian writers (notably Milton) have sometimes spoken of the husband’s headship with a complacency to make the blood run cold. We must go back to our Bibles. The husband is the head of the wife just in so far as he is to her what Christ is to the Church. He is to love her as Christ loved the Church—read  on—and give his life for her (Eph 5:25). This headship, then  is most fully embodied not in the husband we should all wish to be but in him whose marriage is most like a crucifixion; whose wife receives most and gives least, is most unworthy of him, is—in her own mere nature—least lovable. For the Church has no beauty but what the Bride-groom gives her; he does not find, but makes her, lovely.

     The chrism of this terrible coronation is not to be seen in the joys of any man’s marriage but in it’s sorrows, in the sickness and sufferings of a good wife or the faults of a bad one, in his unwearying (never paraded) care or his inexhaustible forgiveness: forgiveness, not acquiescence. As Christ sees in the flawed, proud, fanatical or lukewarm Church on earth that Bride who will one day be without spot or wrinkle, and labors to produce the latter, so the husband whose headship is Christ-like (and he is allowed no other sort) never despairs. He is a King Cophetua who after twenty years still hopes that the beggar-girl will one day learn to speak the truth and wash behind her ears.

– C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves, “Eros”

A time to coax and a time to cudgel (pt. 3)

The “rod of discipline” isn’t a comfortable shepherding analogy in Prov 22:15 [see #1 in “A time to coax…” pt. 2]. That the rod is meant to be painful is confirmed by the stated objective (i.e. to drive away folly) and by the other uses of “rod” in Proverbs most notably in verses like 10:13, 23:13, and 26:3. Two broader observations should be mentioned:

(2) The broad context of Proverbs asserts that physical discipline is a necessity. Christian parents will find greater motivation for loving, faithful discipline when they consider the alternative(s) detailed in Proverbs. Folly that freely festers in a child’s heart will corrupt him into a fool. The failure to draw the Proverbial connections between folly and fools obscures the indispensable role of parental discipline. We wield the “rod of discipline” because abdicating this God-given charge is a catalyst for moral & spiritual disaster. Even a casual examination of what Proverbs has to say about the condition and fate of a fool Proverbs depicts the battle with folly as a matter of life and death.
5:23 He dies for lack of discipline, and because of his great folly he is led astray.
19:3 When a man’s folly brings his way to ruin, his heart rages against the LORD.
26:11 Like a dog that returns to his vomit is a fool who repeats his folly.

Ironically, some corners of Christian culture will recoil at the sight of vomit-slurping, godless rebels destined for death even as they proclaim their aversion to spanking.

(3) The broader context of the OT only affirms the place of corporal punishment in child rearing.
When the remedy for the evil of a rebellious son is public stoning (Deut 21:18-21), a spanking seems like a bargain! Small wonder that the OT people didn’t balk at the notion of corporal punishment during the child rearing years. But the bigger issue is whether or not we’re able to discern and emulate the Father’s heart in discipline. On this point I would turn to several OT passages where God employs corporal punishment on His children (Deut 8:5; 2Sam 7:14; Isa 10:5; Jer 2:3) and follow those passages by the acknowledgment that divine discipline is still a model for parental discipline in the NT era (Heb 12:4ff; Rev 3:19).

Make no mistake, godly discipline is as unpleasant as it is necessary. But until He comes we affirm the goodness of painful discipline even though we flinch (Heb 12:11-13).

Jellyfish Christianity

[Dislike of dogma] is an epidemic which is just now doing great harm, and especially among young people. . . . It produces what I must venture to call . . . a “jelly-fish” Christianity . . . a Christianity without bone, or muscle, or power. . . . Alas! It is a type of much of the religion of this day, of which the leading principle is, “no dogma, no distinct tenets, no positive doctrine.”

We have hundreds of “jellyfish” clergyman, who seem not to have a single bone in their body of divinity. They have no definite opinions . . . they are so afraid of “extreme views” that they have no views at all.

We have thousands of “jellyfish” sermons preached every year, sermons without an edge, or a point, or corner, smooth as billiard balls, awakening no sinner, and edifying no saint. . . .

And worst of all, we have myriads of “jellyfish” worshipers— respectable Church-going people, who have no distinct and definite views about any point in theology. They cannot discern things that differ, any more than colorblind people can distinguish colors. . . . They are “tossed to and fro, like children, by every wind of doctrine”; . . . ever ready for new things, because they have no firm grasp on the old.

–J. C. Ryle (1816-1900), Principles for Churchmen (London: William Hunt, 8 1084), 97–98. Quoted in J. I. Packer, Faithfulness and Holiness, 72–73.

A time to coax and a time to cudgel (pt. 2)

The previous post acknowledged a growing disagreement in Christian circles over the value and necessity of physical discipline for children. Proverbs 22:15 was proffered as a focal point in the debate, specifically in how we should understand “the rod” of discipline: is this an allusion to corporal punishment or not? I think an honest evaluation would answer that question in the affirmative for three reasons: (1) the use of “rod” in Proverbs implies a striking that produces pain (2) the broad context of Proverbs asserts that physical discipline is a necessity (3) the broader context of the OT only affirms the place of corporal punishment in child rearing. For the sake of time I’ll expand on #1 now and return to #2-3 in a post to follow.

1) The use of “rod” in Proverbs implies a striking that produces pain.

First, the OT Hebrew word for “rod” in Prov 22:15, shebet, has a variety of uses depending on the context: rod, staff, club, scepter, and even tribe. However, in the 191x that shebet occurs in the OT only twice(!) does it clearly refer to a shepherd’s staff (Lev 27:32; Micah 7:14 – both verses speak of shepherds and sheep). Further, shebet occurs 8x in Proverbs (see below) and none of these occurrences contain a shepherding analogy. “Rod” is a better English rendering than “staff”.

Second, occurrences of shebet in Proverbs leave little doubt that the rod is a fearful thing:
10:13 On the lips of him who has understanding, wisdom is found, but a rod is for the back of him who lacks sense.
13:24 Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.
22:8 Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity, and the rod of his fury will fail.
22:15 Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him.
23:13 Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die.
23:14 If you strike him with the rod, you will save his soul from Sheol.
26:3 A whip for the horse, a bridle for the donkey, and a rod for the back of fools.
29:15 The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.

Third, in 22:15 the rod doesn’t coax and draw in. It strikes and drives away. Even if a shepherding analogy was to be seen here the fitting analogy is a shepherd fighting off dangerous predators that will harm the sheep, not a shepherd trying to draw a sheep in. As will be demonstrated later, Proverbs portrays folly is a predator that kills. If folly isn’t killed, the child is. How then will folly be destroyed: with coaxing or cudgeling?

A time to coax and a time to cudgel (pt. 1)

Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him. {Proverbs 22:15, ESV}

I take it as a truism that a generation (or two?) ago the Christian consensus on Prov 22:15 understood “the rod of discipline” to mean corporal punishment (i.e. spanking). I don’t know whether we could point to a Christian consensus today but I do know that, for various reasons, spanking is not as prevalent as it once was. My father use to tell us how my grandmother would send him outside to requisition the switch she would then use for his painful correction, and can I still remember a paddle hanging on my (maternal) grandparents’ wall in Maryland with a rhyme that went something like: Appeal to the intellect, Appeal to the Pride, When all else fails, Apply to the hide.

But times change and the spirit of the age incessantly seeks to shape the Christian mind. The serious Christian knows he must respond to verses like Prov 22:15 if he is to abandon the prudence of physical discipline with any legitimacy. The only recourse for such a conscientious objector is to demonstrate that phrases like “the rod of discipline” are misinterpreted by advocates of corporal punishment which brings us to the point of this post.

A young mom who, along with her husband I’m sure, is “not considering doing away with the belt” has questions about how to defend the position that spanking is biblical. The counter-argument that she’s encountered runs something like: (a) “the rod” in Prov 22:15 refers to a shepherd’s staff or stick (b) the rod/staff was used to pull/direct/coax sheep back into position but not to inflict painful punishment and/or (c) the rod/staff was used to strike and fend off predators but never to strike the sheep themselves.

Coax or cudgel–which is biblical? I’ll try to address this on multiple fronts (in multiple posts) but let me conclude here by observing that even if we limit ourselves to Proverbs, the Bible has more to say concerning discipline than just what we find in 22:15. How might these additional proverbs shape our understanding of the intended meaning of 22:15?

13:24 Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.

19:18 Discipline your son, for there is hope; do not set your heart on putting him to death.

23:13-14 Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die. If you strike him with the rod, you will save his soul from Sheol.

29:15 The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.

Theological paranoia

I recently received the following e-mail promoting a church ministry conference. Personal or institutional names have been redacted to protect the paranoid. Emphasis added:

[Association Name] has been the [former Association Name] since 1963. We just changed our name at last month’s meeting at [undisclosed church]. Our next meeting is centrally located at [Church X]…Drs. [X] and [Y] from Southern Seminary’s School of Church Ministries will be keynote speakers. (They are not five-point Calvinists, in case you are wondering, but the issue has no bearing on the conference anyway.) These guys have written cutting edge books on Family Ministry that will help you, your Pastors, and Education, Adult College, Student, Children, and Preschool Ministers/Directors…

A day in the life: from meth addiction to Christ’s impeccability (pt. 3)

“Did Jesus not sin because he couldn’t or because he didn’t want to?” Not the kind of question a parent anticipates while the family is zoned out on a movie. As an aside, I’m increasingly of the opinion that while almost every question asked a parent should be answered, a little lag time between the Q and the A is not always a bad thing. In fact, sometimes a postponement is more profitable. You get time to think through the answer and you determine a time/place fitting for the subject matter & the attentiveness you need from the child(ren) who’ll be receiving he answer. But I digress.

So, was Jesus not able to sin? The present concern isn’t the answer (although I would affirm that Jesus was not able to sin) but the delivery and result. I take it from Deut 6 that parental instruction is more than just cramming biblical data into a young skull full of mush but that the godly parent strives to teach their kids to know and love the truth so that they love the Author of truth. When Christ’s impeccability is questioned the answer is critically important but so is the effect of that answer on the heart/mind:

1) Will my answer solicit greater awe and wonder over the mystery of the God-man, Jesus Christ?

2) Will my answer promote Jesus as the only Savior from the penalty & power of sin?

3) Will my answer reveal Jesus as a perfect and merciful & sympathetic high priest?

All of this comes from the pages of Scripture but I want my children to want a Person more than a page (even though the Person comes by means of the page!).