Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Transcending the Anathemas


My dear brother-in-Christ, Daniel, recently asked a very interesting question in his blog. In essence, he was inquiring whether it was appropriate to pronounce "anathemas" upon heretics, especially in view of the early church councils that had previously declared the same upon the likes of Arius. He queried, "Since these early church leaders [unanimously] passed judgment on all who follow these heresies, are we to follow their lead and [anathematize] all who follow those same heresies, i.e. Arianism, Sabellianism, Gnosticism, Pelagianism, monothelitism, monophysitism etc.?"

In response to Daniel’s question, we may be quick to give a reply according to the Fourth Teaching of father Kosmas, but again, would we want to do that? The father had taught,


"Be careful, my fellow Christians, never pronounce anathemas, because anathema is separation from God, from the angels, from paradise, and leads to the devil and to hell.

It was for that brother's sake that Christ was crucified, to get him out of hell; and you, for an insignificant thing, pronounce an anathema against him? You put him into hell to burn forever? Are you so hard-hearted? But just think how many sins you have committed from the day of your birth; how many sins have you committed with your eyes, your mouth, or in your mind? Do you think you are sinless?

The holy Gospel tells us only Christ is without sin. We human beings are all sinners, so don't pronounce anathemas. This is why, my fellow Christians, if you wish God to forgive you of all your sins and to put you into paradise, let your nobility say three times for your enemies: "May God forgive and have mercy upon them.’"
Although we do not have the time to argue against the theological errors found within the writings of father Kosmas, we must nevertheless take a little time to study what it means to anathematize someone, especially in the context of the Second Council of Constantinople. In the context of the New Testament (Rom 9:3, 1 Cor 12:3, Gal 1:8-9, 1 Cor 16:22), the Thayer’s Greek Definition defines "anathema" as "a thing devoted to God without hope of being redeemed, and if an animal, to be slain; therefore a person or thing doomed to destruction; 2a) a curse; 2b) a man accursed, devoted to the direst of woes." Furthermore, we also know that "the non-Attic form [of the word "anathema"] was adopted in the Septuagint as a rendering of the Hebrew herem, and gradually came to have the significance of the Hebrew word-"anything devoted to destruction" (The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia)."

But to the early church fathers, the meaning of "anathema" had adopted the nuance of a "major excommunication," even to the extent of condemning the subject to eternal damnation unless the subject repents. As stated in the ISBE, "Whereas in the Greek Fathers [the word "anathema"] -as herem in rabbinic Hebrew-came to denote excommunication from society."

We realize that there were no official pronouncements of "anathema" within the first three centuries of the early church. Also, anathemas were not mentioned in the well-known creeds, for example, 1) The Nicene Creed (Council of Constantinople (381AD), 2) The Definition of Chalcedon (451AD), and 3) The Canons of the Council of Orange (529AD).

However, after the first three hundred years of the Christian Church, anathemas such as those of the Second Council of Constantinople (553AD) started to appear. Timothy George in his paper, "Dogma Beyond Anathema: Historical Theology in the Service of the Church," notes that "the first official mention of "anathema" is from the Council of Elvira, held about 306." After this, the pronunciation of anathemas was a mean of excommunicating heretics. In "The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Second Series Vol. III," we find the anathemas of Cyril of Alexandria issued against Nestorius in 431AD. By the period of the Second Council of Constantinople, the excommunication of a church member meant cutting off a person from the Lord’s Supper and attendance at worship, while "anathema" meant a complete separation of the person from the Church.
So, in answer to Daniel’s question, can we as Christians pronounce anathema upon a heretic in view of previous church council decisions?

This question must be answered in two aspects. Firstly, we must discuss the spirit and intention of such a pronouncement. There is a Particular Baptist hymn that reads as follow:

We are the Lord’s elected few,
Let all the rest be damned;
There’s room enough in hell for you,
We won’t have heaven crammed.

When we consider the hymn, we realize that Christians are indeed the Lord’s elected, that those who are not elected are damned, that there is truly enough room in hell for all the reprobates, and that heaven will not be crammed. But any God-loving, soul-winning Christian will not find this hymn edifying to the sanctification of the redeemed man. My question is: In what spirit do you think this hymn was written? In a spirit of Christian love for the lost?

In like manner, we should consider these questions: Why do we want to pronounce an anathema upon a heretic when it is enough that we can identify, mark, and separate from him? Why must we pronounce a curse and damnation upon such a man when we can warn the flock, protect the Church, and publicly denounce such a false teacher? I believe we ought to be careful with any spirit that seeks to pronounce such a judgment upon any man. As Francis Schaeffer had elucidated in his book, The Great Evangelical Disaster, we must seek to balance our pursuit of holiness and doctrinal purity with love. Even a heretic deserves at least our correction and kindness. We do not know if such a man will ever repent. We do not know if he is simply misled or misunderstood. Most of all, we can never know whether such a man is elect or not. Can we say with absolute certainty that a heretical scholar will never be illuminated by the Holy Ghost and the light of the Truth?

The second problem we must address is the issue of ecclesiastical authority. In church history, anathemas were pronounced upon heretics and heretical groups by Church Councils. Within the New Testament, where the word anathema occurs in four places, it was the Apostle Paul who pronounced the anathema, and that was with the inspiration of the Holy Ghost. When we consider the contemporary context, even the excommunication of an individual, let alone the official pronunciation of "anathema," is decided upon by the church’s session consisting of a plurality of elders. If a lone pastor or bishop cannot make an arbitrary decision to excommunicate anyone, how much more a church member?

But here we are discussing the appropriateness of anathematizing a heretic in a private capacity, albeit based upon prior decisions made by historic church councils. My humble opinion would be this: historic orthodoxy as defined by the early church is definitive and authoritative for us today as far as it is according to the Holy Scriptures. Evangelicals should be guided by the historic, Christian faith in their judgment of what is, and is not heresy. Nevertheless, when making decisions concerning the excommunication of heretics, the church’s session should be made the final arbiter, especially in cases when there is no classis or synod to appeal to. Therefore, in the pronunciation of anathemas - which is a more severe form of judgment compared to mere ecclesiastical excommunication - individuals cannot and must not possess the authority to make any such decisions.

Furthermore, we must realize that there is indeed a difference between saying, "The Council of X has pronounced an anathema against the heresy you hold," and, "I hereby pronounce anathema upon you, the heretic. Anathema sit!" The former sentence recognizes the authority of the early church councils, while the latter seems to emphasize the personal authority of the one who made the pronouncement. Unless one is backed by the decision of a church council, it is understood that one may not make such a pronouncement.

Within an ecclesiastical milieu, we must agree with Timothy George that, "There are times in the life of the church when it is necessary to say "Be accursed, be delivered up to the wrath of God and destroyed," for that is what anathema means in the original Pauline sense: "If anyone preaches another gospel, let him anathema!" The condemnatory clauses of the Nicene Creed are an expression of the church’s response to identify forms of teaching which if carried out consistently would have threatened the truth of divine revelation itself." (Timothy George, "Dogma Beyond Anathema: Historical Theology in the Service of the Church," Review and Expositor 84: 704, emphasis mine).

Made by the collective representatives of the Christian Church, such an official pronouncement serves to warn the flock against the soul damning heresies of the false teacher. On a private basis, the church member may write, teach, or verbally warn fellow Christians with regard to public false teachings and teachers, particularly heresies. This, however, does not relief him from honest, in-depth research and study prior to making any judgment against the alleged false teacher. The church member should also discuss his concerns with the church leaders. This is to avoid unnecessary paranoia and erroneous judgments.

Finally, "the church should avoid the use of anathema as an instrument of eternal coercion and use it only as a decision of faith in its proclamation of the whole counsel of God, the word of judgment and damnation as well as the word of grace and deliverance."(Ibid.)

(Note: One is advised to be cautious when attempting to utilize 2 Peter and Jude to make the case that all heretics are indeed damned. But this is rightly the content of other posts.)

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Outsourcing your children: Deal or no deal?



"Now I say, That the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all; But is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father. Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world: But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ. (Galatians 4:1-7)"
The present post was inspired by a lengthy comment from an "unidentified friendly oracle" - otherwise known as an UFO - called Mark in response to my previous post on "motherhood." Of course, Mark brought up numerous issues, including the famous couple Aquila and Priscilla from Acts 18:1-3. This couple had been quoted as an example to support the egalitarian view of female ecclesiastical role, and now, the role of the mother or wife within the Christian family. Although there was no biography of this couple given within Holy Writ, allegedly sufficient details were somehow conjured up to undermine clear biblical teachings found elsewhere within the Canon of Scripture. Therefore, as a gentle reminder, the general rule of thumb is to interpret the more obscure passages of Scripture with the clearer ones. The same principle applies when we seek to understand the millennium in Revelation 20, the role of the young woman or wife in Titus 2, and the family biography of Aquila and Priscilla in Acts 18.

So, is it true that the Bible condones "outsourcing" one’s children to other carers, apart from the direct supervision and care of the mother? By the way, the term "outsource" came from the marketplace, and refers to the prudent delegation of menial and less profitable tasks to other workers, which will help save cost and relieve the "outsourcer" to pursue other more lucrative activities.

Mark argued,

"The bible speaks of children being placed under the care of tutors and governors by their fathers (Gal 4:1-2). Even if the care of children is being ‘outsourced’ for a period of time each day, the sin is not in the act itself, but in the influences to which the child is exposed."
In the Singaporean context, it is not uncommon - and in fact, it has become the norm - for mothers to delegate the care of their children to child-care centers, or even nannies. One of my patients confided in me that she pays her neighbor - who is a nanny - S$700 a month to care for her single child from 8am to 8pm daily while she works outside the home. She says, "I’m worth it!" I know what she meant by that. She earns three thousand a month, and to "sacrifice" S$700/month for a monthly salary of S$3000 is definitely "worth it," at least according to her value system. If she takes care of that little brat, she wouldn’t have the time to earn that salary. The majority of the non-Christian (and Christian) women I am acquainted with either send their children to child-care centers where they subsequently acquire hand-foot-mouth-disease and chickenpox, or to their parents-in-law - which is the cheaper option. The strange thing is that they often come to me later and ask me, "Where did my children get the virus from?"

My question to Mr. Mark the UFO is this: Does the Bible say anything with regard to this kind of "outsourcing?" Did Priscilla practice tent-making "full-time," and "outsourced" her children (if she had any) to her parents-in-law or to the local child-care center?

In order for us to understand Galatians 4:1-2, we must not look at the Singaporean culture, but at the Roman law and practice of Paul’s time. According to first century Hellenistic and Roman culture, there were customs to announce the transition of a boy from childhood to adulthood. There was a prescribed age whereby a child, particularly a boy, would officially become an adult and take on the responsibilities of adulthood. The Roman ceremony marking that change in status was called toga virilis, and the Jewish ceremony was (and still is) called bar mitzvah.

Mark’s contention was that the children were "outsourced" even during the first century church, and that this practice was presumably approved by the apostle Paul in Galatians 4:1-2. We now look at Galatians 4:2 in further detail, "alla hupo epitropous estin kai oikonomous." The greek word "epitropous," which means tutors or guardians (cf. Luke 8:3), is "a general term, covering all to whom supervision of the child is intrusted." (Vincent’s Word Study Vol. 4). "Oikonomous," on the other hand, refers to stewards, governors, or guardians "who had charge of the heir’s property." (Ibid.). The first term probably referred to the minor’s carer, and the second referred to the steward who looked after the estate of the dead father.

John MacArthur’s highly accessible commentary elucidates further concerning the child under Roman law:

"While a child, he was under guardians and managers until the date set by the father. Families would assign certain capable and trusted slaves to act as guardians (a general term for a person who cared for underage boys) and managers (house stewards) over the child until he was grown. Along with his tutor, those family slaves would have virtually full charge of the child’s education, training, and welfare. The child was subservient to them and could do nothing without their permission and go nowhere without their companionship. For all practical purposes, the child did not differ at all from a slave under whom he was being trained. Just as a slave had masters, so he had masters.(MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Galatians)."
F. F. Bruce reaffirms the fact that this practice is characteristic of Roman law and culture:

"In Roman law the heir, until he came of age at fourteen, was under the control of a tutor, nominated by the father in his will; then, until he reached the age of twenty-five, he was under a curator, appointed by the praetor urbanus." (F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Galatians, 192. Also see E. D. Burton, Galatians, 212-215, for a detailed discussion.)
In other words, such "outsourcing" of the child (using the lingo of our friend Mark) occurred in the situation when the head of the home is dead. And this is the case during Roman rule. In the context of the epistle to the Galatians where Paul was establishing his basic argument that salvation is not merited by works but by God’s sovereign grace, the apostle was comparing the position and privileges of the child in Roman culture to those of a servant (Galatians 4:1-7). The child, as opposed to the adult, was under Law and not free. The servant, likewise, is contrasted with the position of the son. In the New Covenant administration, we are adopted sons in Christ Jesus, and as we are no longer under the Law, we are not servants, but sons in Christ. "And if a son, then an heir of God through Christ (Galatians 4:7b)." Our position in Christ is therefore that of a son, not that of a servant; we have the privileges of an adult, and not that of a child.

Galatians 4:1-2 was not the prescribed instructions of the apostle Paul to Christian homes, and should not be used to justify "outsourcing" the mother’s basic responsibilities of childcare to other carers or institutions. Instead of providing family counseling, Paul was using the Roman practice of toga virilis to exemplify our position in Christ as born-again believers. We are not under law, but grace. Similarly, as salt and light of the world, we should not be under the yoke of ungodly, worldly values of reversed gender roles, consumerism and materialism. We must follow what Paul emphasized as sound doctrine, "Speak thou the things which become sound doctrine (Titus 2:1)." And what followed were instructions to the aged man, the aged woman, the young woman, and the young man (Titus 2:2-8), "that the word of God be not blasphemed (Titus 2:5b)." These words of Paul are "sound doctrine (Titus 2:1ff.)," not the notions of the world.

Whenever Christians fail in living out the Word of God, and wherever the will of the devil is accomplished in any way, God’s glory is darkened and His Word dishonored. We are to live our lives such that the unsaved are attracted to Christ. Husband and wives are to fulfill their respective roles according to biblical injunctions, so that the Word of Christ is lived in and through us.

So, should mothers "outsource" the care of their children to others? Generally, "No." I know of exceptions where the father is dead or incapacitated, or when the mother is caring for the child alone (i.e. when the father is in prison or persecuted), and there seems to be no other option but for the mother to work. In such cases, the ideal solution is for the diaconate to care for the fatherless family. This also seems to be the first century church’s solution (Acts 4:32).

I am not saying that the mother cannot work outside the home. What I am saying is that the mother has to care, supervise, and to be responsible for her children in an unreserved and direct manner. A woman, who works in a full-time capacity within the marketplace and yet claims to be a homemaker, is plainly self-deluded and unwise. In other words, a woman who spends most of her time in the marketplace cannot claim that her priorities are her home, husband, and children.

Note: The issue of home schooling will be dealt with in later posts.
An Update

I think the following words from Pastor Messerli are well … er … worded.

I do NOT think it's good to outsource your children to someone else to raise them.

Would Picasso "outsource" his brush to another painter to work on one of his masterpieces? Would Bach "outsource" some of his composing to a hired musician? I don't think so!

Each masterpiece- a painting, a musical composition or a child is a work of art intended to be finished by the one who birthed the vision, the sound, the child.If someone else raises your child you will get someone else’s values and beliefs engrained into a work of art you are responsible for finishing.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Motherhood: Homemaking or Moneymaking?


"But speak thou the things which become sound doctrine: That the aged men be sober, grave, temperate, sound in faith, in charity, in patience. The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things; That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed (Titus 2:1-5)."

Coming from the mouth of an androgynous specimen of the human race, what I am about to express might incur the wrath of the feminists, as well as those who fallow within the mire of pragmatism and secular humanism. I say unashamedly that women ought to be diligent homemakers, and this statement is especially directed at those who are Christian wives and mothers. It is fairly unimaginable for a mother to find time to educate and care for her child, and at the same time, manage her household and hold a full-time job. But this describes exactly the cultural phenomenon within this country and perhaps for most developed nations as well.

Singapore is one of those countries that give little or no regard to biblical roles of male and female, husbands and wives. As long as the mother can contribute substantially to the economy by working outside the home, it is inconsequential to the nation if the children are taken care of by the parents-in-law, the domestic helper, or Rufus the Labrador Retriever. After all, is it not convenient to plop the toddler onto the sofa in front of the goggle box, and allow Barney or Harry Potter to feed the gullible mind of the prepubertal lad? In the mean time, daddy and mummy have to feed the condominium, the V6 engine, and the Visa bills commensurate with the lifestyle choice of the average Singaporean, Christian parent. And the formative years of the Singaporean, Christian child are built around the television, the maid, the family pet, and his cussing friends from the neighborhood school. But this is all acceptable and manageable, as long as the family receives the blessings of health and wealth allegedly indicative of God’s approval upon the materialistic, carnal, and self-seeking Singaporean family. Of course, the children must remember to be in their "Sunday’s best" behavior. The show will go on, but only for two hours during church service, and after which, things will return to the usual routine of maid, money, and Sunday matinee.

Lea and Griffin have rightly commented that, "It is possible that in the preaching of the gospel, with all of its implications for Christian freedom (variously interpreted) and equality in Christ, the God-given order of authority within marriage and the home life was becoming confused and compromised." (T. D. Lea and H. P. Griffin, The New American Commentary: 1, 2 Timothy, Titus, p. 302). Likewise, the Danvers Statement expressed concerns regarding "the widespread ambivalence regarding the values of motherhood, vocational homemaking, and the many ministries historically performed by women."

But one might ask, "Where do we find the teaching within the Bible that the mother or wife should be a homemaker?" Inevitably, this is found in Titus chapter two, and particularly, verses 4 and 5 (cf. Proverbs 31). There is little debate amongst conservatives that the Pastoral epistles are authoritative for the church today. I must also clarify that Paul is not requiring the wife or mother to be confined to her home. In other words, I am not saying that the woman cannot work in any capacity within the workforce, and that she must be placed under house arrest. What I am saying is that Paul is emphatic that the married woman must be the manager of the home. Her greatest responsibilities lie with her home, her children, and of course, her husband. The keyword here is "vocational homemaking" in the Danvers Statement. To attempt to wrestle with Paul’s teaching in Titus 2 by asking, "How many hours of work may the mother work outside her domain of vocational homemaking?", or "Does the Bible state a particular time limit for secular work, beyond which the mother disqualifies herself as a homemaker?", or "Is a mother still a homemaker if she is working a certain number of hours outside her home?", is really a red herring.

The emphasis of Paul seems to be the vocation of the mother. To be a homemaker, the mother’s vocation ought to be that of homemaking. This tautology is paradoxically necessary, as there are certain Christian women who argue that having a full time job outside of home does not disqualify one as a homemaker. These ladies contend that, since their greatest priority and desire is for their home, and that they have tried their best to ensure that the home is in order, they are essentially still homemakers. This is despite the fact that they are full-time executives, managers, doctors, nurses or other kinds of professionals. To turn this argument around, is it not logical to say that, since their vocation is that of a full-time manager, doctor or nurse, they are not homemakers, but vocational managers, doctors or nurses who are incidentally part-time homemakers? Just as the Bible does not give the specific job specification of a vocational homemaker, Paul did not feel it necessary to restrict the amount of time spent in the home by the homemaker. This is because, as a matter of clear logic, a vocational homemaker has for her vocation homemaking, and not full-time nursing or doctoring.

Paul’s instructions concerning the "younger women" are clear. They are "to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed." Whether the exegete might categorize these qualities into two or three groups is not the point. The point is that these instructions are not the divine suggestions of an inspired misogynist. These are didactic commandments of the Voice of One who speaks from the heavenly throne. These are the roles of the woman according to our Creator’s design and good will. God’s will for the younger women is to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, and also to be obedient to their own husbands. Conversely, to be indiscreet, unchaste, or to be unloving towards their husband and children is to be against the will of God. Similarly, it is against the will of God to reject the vocation of a homemaker for married women, and especially, for those who are mothers.

Again, some might ask, "How young is young?" It seems that Paul’s perception of young widows, as opposed to older ones (1 Tim. 5:9-11), consists of those who are below sixty of age. Happily, this might be an adequate solution according to the principle of analogia fidei (WCF, I:9). So, the aged women are to teach the younger women (or those below sixty years old) concerning the God-ordained roles of a woman within the family (Titus 2:4-5). William Mounce notes that the behavior of these godly young women "contrasts with the conduct of the younger Ephesian widows who were lazy and ran from house to house (1 Tim. 5:13)." (Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, p. 411). In the present society, the younger women are seldom lazy. Contrariwise, the younger female executives run from office to office, and from job to job in a bid to be prosperous.

One of those words that grate against the ears of the feminist is "oikourgous" or "homemaker" found in Titus 2:5. This word is derived from the Greek words "oikos" and "ergo(n)." "Oikos" means a house, a dwelling, and by metonymy, a household or family, while "ergo(n)" means "work." "Oikourgous" thus has the meaning of "house-worker," "home-worker," or "one who works at home." As opposed to the variant reading "oikourous," "oikourgous" is the preferred reading by Lackmann, Tischendorf, and Alford. Textually, it is the more difficult reading because of its rarity. And it is understandable why the feminist hates the vocation of an "oikourgous," because this word literally means "working at home" or "busy at home." Some commentators join the next word "good" or "agathas" with "homemaker" to mean "good housewives." For example, Dibelius and Conzelmann state, "The two words [oikourgous] and [agathas] should be taken together and translated ‘fulfill their household duties well.’" (Dibelius and Conzelmann, The Pastoral Epistles, 141). Nevertheless, most translators and translations take these two words separately.

The variant reading "oikourous," on the other hand, is derived from the Greek words "oikos" and "ouros." The word "ouros" refers to a guardian or keeper, and implies direct oversight and responsibility for something. "Oikourous," therefore, has the nuance of "one who actively watches over a household and family." This "housekeeper" sees to it that the husband and children are appropriately cared for, and the home maintained in good order. No matter which variant is preferred, one thing is for certain: it is impossible, be it exegesis or eisegesis, to do away with the thrust and overtone of the word "oikourgous" or "oikourous." Most commentators, including the Puritan scholar Matthew Poole and the Lutheran exegete R. C. H. Lenski, agree with this understanding of the role of the married woman.

The married woman’s household will always be her priority. She is to commit her time and energies to the management of the home, and to the nurture, care, and education of her children. This is inevitably a career all in itself. Kenneth Wuest reinforces the fact that, "‘Keepers at home" is oikourgos, "caring for the home, working at home.’" (Wuest's word studies from the Greek New Testament). And for the woman to be a keeper at home is not a cultural bias of Paul. As Knight has aptly argued, "Certainly for a wife and mother to love her husband and children and be sensible, pure, and kind (vv. 4-5) are intrinsically right and not just norms of first-century culture. It appears quite arbitrary, then, to single out the requests that women be homemakers and be subject to their husbands (v. 5) as something purely cultural. They are treated on a par with the other items in this list, and elsewhere Paul defends the latter of these two as a creation ordinance in the face of a cultural situation that wanted to go in the opposite direction (1 Cor. 11 :3ff.)." (George W. Knight III, The Pastoral Epistles, 317). If homemaking is a cultural bias of the Apostle Paul, then one has to accept the fact that virtues such as being discreet, chaste, and loving are similarly cultural preferences of first-century Christianity. Perhaps we should remain consistent and swiftly dispose ourselves of the entire requirements of Titus 2:4-5.

My dear sister-in-Christ, if you are married, your primary responsibilities are to manage the home, nurture your children, and be a helpmate for your husband. Your husband has complementary roles, and he is to be a spiritual leader, protector, and provider for your children and yourself. While your husband is away at work to bring back the bread and butter, you are to ensure that the home is in order. Do you think that your children are best educated and taught by your parents-in-law, the maid, or the child-care centre? Which of these options provide godly care and counsel for your children’s growing minds?

When both husband and wife fulfill their appropriate, biblical roles as father and mother, the family is functioning according to the design of our most-wise God. The husband can work with a peace of mind knowing that his children are in the good hands of his able wife. Likewise, the wife need not fret at work, wondering whether the domestic helper or her parents-in-law have disciplined, fed, or taught her children. In like manner, she will not have the surprise of hearing the first cuss-word from her toddler’s mouth, which is acquired through the diligent observation of quarrels between grandpa and grandma. Do allow me to ask you this question, "What would be the very first word you would like to hear from your child’s mouth?" "Would it be something you have taught him, or would it be something learnt from the other carers?"

Ultimately, there is a very good reason why Paul had given us these prescribed duties or roles for the married woman. And that reason is found in Titus 2:5b, "that the word of God be not blasphemed." Sometimes, believers dishonor God and His Word, not by the evil that they have done, but by the good that they have failed to do. As James said, "Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin (Jas 4:17)." The world judges the Christian faith not by its theological richness or accuracy, but by the lives its professors live. In other words, unbelievers learn about our Savior Jesus Christ, not by the testimony of Scripture alone, but also by the testimonies and lives of those who profess to believe in Him. "Show me your redeemed life and I might be inclined to believe in your Redeemer," declares the German Philosopher Heinrich Heine.

Therefore, within a society that decries the God-ordained roles for the woman, it is paramount that the Christian lady is convicted to live out the commandments of Scripture. When the world sees that there are actually very little differences in attitude and behavior between the heathen woman and the professing Christian mother, what testimony is there left for the world to behold? While the heathen woman strives to earn more money at the expense of her home and children, the Christian mother does likewise. While the heathen mother spends most of her time outside the household at the workforce, the Christian mother does likewise. While the heathen mother leaves her children to the care of God-hating pagans, the Christian mother does likewise. While the heathen mother leaves the indoctrination and education of her children to God-hating teachers, the Christian mother does likewise. It is of little wonder, then, that the Church has now lost her testimony to the unbelieving world. Even as the Church continues to bicker about fine theological difficulties and nuances, the pagans laugh at our disintegrating covenant families, executive Christian mothers, and rebellious children.

Dear Lord, may you give faith to the Christian father and mother to fulfill their respective roles within the covenant home, and may the covenant children be raised in godly counsel. And this is for the sake of the testimony of the Church, and for your Son’s sake, amen.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Denominations and Traditions: Some Initial Comments

I came across an interesting article by Dan Philips on the subject of denominations a couple of days ago. As I was reading and pondering upon his post, I was wondering how many Christians like myself had joined a church, developed spiritually and grown in that church, and subsequently (had to) moved on because of differing doctrinal convictions or related issues.

Allow me to begin with an excerpt from Dan Philips’ post:


“Even within sound denominations, denominational unity can be a two-edged sword, can't it? If the denominational stance is not very specific, there is room for a lot of mischief; if it is quite specific, there isn't much room for personal growth, and the panorama is more of a microrama.

Let's say (forgive my generalizing) that I have a pastor-friend in Denomination X, who agrees with their stance on Z. (Imagine Z as something consequential, but not Heaven/Hell essential.) I have a different conviction. So I talk with him, study the Word with him, and have a friendly debate. Let's say that he becomes convinced that the Scriptures teach otherwise than he has held. Otherwise than Denomination X
holds.

What have I done for him? Well, whatever else you can say about his personal growth, one thing I've done is I've lost him his job. He'll have to resign. His denomination isn't going to change their stance on Z just because he has done so. If he tried to make them do so, he would be a schismatic.”
Yes, it is true. Your denomination is not going to change their doctrinal stance just because your pastor or the session has done so. And who are you to discuss or re-evaluate the denominational stance? When the pastor of a church changes his doctrinal view, he can choose the following courses of actions. 1) Keep his convictions to himself, grit his teeth, and continue to interpret the Bible with his denominational glasses; 2) Influence other pastors with his viewpoint with the hope of contributing to the denomination’s doctrinal development; 3) Nevertheless, church history has shown that it is almost inevitable for one with differing convictions to leave the denomination and perhaps start his own independent church. Perchance he can join another denomination and reenact the entire scenario.

This is a sobering thought. I can more or less understand what Dan Phillips meant by his post. You see, I am reflecting upon this issue from a Reformed perspective, and by this I mean the five Solas, and especially, Sola Scriptura. After I was converted on Street Damascus in a little concrete village of Singapore, I decided it was best for me to join my friends from Campus Crusade for Christ in a Brethren church, tucked away in an inconspicuous corner of Serangoon. Trained as a Dispensationalist from this brethren church, I moved on quickly to catch the Second (or was it the Third) Wave which was waving right at me from Faith Community Baptist Church (FCBC). FCBC appeared to be an apostolic church, or at the very least, she was pastored by an apostle from the apostolic movement led by Apostle Rev (Dr) C. Peter Wagner. I can almost recall hearing Apostle Lawrence Kwong preaching to me, “Remember, Vincent, this is the year of a great harvest.”

But despite the “great harvest,” my heart was hungry, and I fed my soul with my own reading of what is commonly perceived as New Evangelical doctrinal hodgepodge. By divine providence, I was led to a good fundamental Baptist church in Ireland where I had my medical training. And indeed, this was a time of great harvest for my soul. I began to better understand the great fundamental doctrines of the Bible, and I started to comprehend divine sovereignty - all these within an Arminian church! No, the pastor did not teach divine election, but I believed the Bible did. Soon, the only systematic theology that made sense was Reformed theology. I eventually had to say goodbye to my independent, fundamental, Baptist church in the Irish Republic.

I was back in Singapore in year 2000. I joined what I believed was a Reformed denomination - the Bible Presbyterian Movement. And the rest was history. Those who know me know that I have much to say about the Bible Presbyterian’s adherence to the sine qua non of Dispensationalism. It took me sometime to realize that this was actually Dispensationalism in Reformed garb. Yes, the Bible Presbyterian’s church polity was Presbyterian, but the rest of its doctrinal distinctives are definitely opened to further query.

Most of the churches I had attended had distinct doctrinal stances that set them apart from the other denominations. There are often sets of doctrinal “rules” if I may say which we are required to embrace unquestioningly. In churches with strong doctrinal development and history, it is not uncommon to see every “I” dotted and every “T” crossed theologically. There are little areas for us to explore, and we would be expected to follow the denomination’s teachings on most issues. Unlike Star Trek, we cannot go where no man has gone before. We follow men, and these men had gone before us. We not only follow them, we had to follow them. As Dan Phillips had written in his post:

"For one thing, name me one Christian denomination more than fifty years old that hasn't either drifted, or plummeted, left, or marched inexorably towards the faux-"right" of hidebound traditionalism. The Southern Baptists are notable because they are an exception to the former. However, I think all SB's who comment here will agree that, even there, all is not completely placid and united on the true essentials. And then there's the alcohol thing. ...”
I am not saying that it is not good to follow those faithful men who had gone before us. But is it necessary to follow them in every issue and every point? Is there the remotest possibility that they may have erred in a certain area of doctrine or practice?

When a Christian studies and develops his understanding of the Word of God, two possible results follow: He either agrees with the denominational stance, or he doesn’t. It doesn’t take an atomic scientist to figure that out, right? So, when a Christian is aspiring to serve in the capacity of a church leader or teacher, he most certainly has to agree with the denomination’s doctrinal stance. The third possibility is that he had never studied those issues before, and he couldn’t care less about them.

Things are a little different with certain denominations. In some churches, anything and everything goes. But just you remember not to be too dogmatic about what you believe, and don’t use the word “conviction.” In those churches, love is all around, and this love is manifested by its apparent indifference to biblical teachings and doctrines. An epicene figure rules the pulpit ministry, and families are built base upon egalitarian principles - that is, either the husband or wife can be the maker at home.

Perhaps it all boils down to this: do we have a place to serve, a place where we can have a clear conscience in both doctrine and practice? Or do we choose to stifle our own convictions concerning certain salient issues, and just follow the men that had gone before us? Of course, we may be wrong. Worse, we may be very wrong. But what if we are right and they are wrong? Could that be a possibility? And what about Sola Scriptura? Do we follow what the Scripture clearly says, or do we parrot what denominational tradition has always taught?

Finally, beware, my friends. Debates and discussions can generate convictions, and doctrinal convictions are sometimes the key to losing your pastorate in certain denominations. Or perhaps you can choose to keep mum. It is, after all, your own free will and choice.

Monday, May 07, 2007

The Accuser of the Brethren

There is a reviewer of John MacArthur’s lastest book, The Truth War: Fighting for Certainty in an Age of Deception, who insinuates that the likes of MacArthur are suitably called "the Accuser of the Brethren," also known as Satan. He wrote:


"There are so many people who make a ministry out of accusing other people of being cultic and unorthodox. Satan is the accuser of the brethren. Christians are the brethren and it is not becoming for them to treat one another like this. The devil accuses us and we should not help him."
So, what the reviewer meant was that MacArthur was guilty of "shooting his own wounded."

It is strange that whenever names are named, or whenever some favorite personalities are criticized in an essay, book or sermon, deep emotions are often stirred up. Like a pre-pubertal girl infatuated with her pretty boy-next-door, such emotions and loyalties are sometimes hidden until that momentous event - the publication of a critique of her beloved personality. And hell knows no fury like a woman scorned. In the same vein, New Evangelicalism knows no fury like hearing names named.

But what are these names? I mean names of favorite, widely publicized "Christian" personalities, teachers, events or even churches. Such names include Billy Graham, Robert Schuller, and Brian McLaren. It is believed, and sincerely held by numerous believers, that we should not criticize overtly or name such personalities directly in our critiques. Well-meaning Christians insist that we should not name names openly, or publicly expose in an unequivocal manner the identity of such compromising Christian leaders or organizations. But is such a methodology of exposing error erroneous or perhaps unjustified biblically?

Paul commanded Christians everywhere, and indeed, he beseeched them earnestly, to "mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which [we] have learned; and avoid them. For they [i.e. the false teachers] that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple (Romans 16:17-18)"

Paul’s instructions were simple. The first step for us is to "mark them" or keep our eyes on those who cause dissensions and hindrances. But who are "them?" According to some, "them" refers to everyone who disagrees with us! This is, of course, not what Paul is advocating. MacArthur writes, "Paul is not talking about hair splitting over minor interpretations, or about immature believers who are divisive because of personal preferences, as disruptive and damaging as those things can be. We are to "shun foolish controversies and genealogies and strife and disputes about the Law, for they are unprofitable and worthless" (Titus 3:9). We are to "refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels" (2 Tim. 2:23). Paul is here talking about something immeasurably more serious. He is warning about those who challenge and undermine the teaching which you learned, that is, the divinely-revealed apostolic teaching they had received (MacArthur’s New Testament Commentary on Romans 9-16)."

As you might have already realized, false teachings can be divided into three categories. There are those known as differing preferences or opinions. These include different interpretations of certain verses of Scripture (e.g. 1 Corinthians 15:29), as long as these variant interpretations do not influence any major doctrine, or affect any system of theology. The second category is known as systematic errors. Such doctrinal errors are reasonably serious, and affect at least some major doctrines or systems of theology, but at the same time, will not render the Gospel ineffective for salvation of souls. In other words, systematic errors alter one’s system of theology, but will not endanger one’s salvation - provided that the errors are not taken to the logical extreme. Such doctrinal errors include Arminianism, Charismatism, and Limited Inerrancy. But in the last category lies soul damning heresies. Heretical teachings concerning Theology proper, Christology and Soteriology should be included within this last category.

Paul, in my humble opinion, required us to at least "mark" them who are heretics, and to avoid them. Yes. We must avoid them, and not dialogue with them, or shake hands with them, or try to understand their fascinating exegeses concerning some crucial passages of Scripture. MacArthur continues, "The right response of believers to false teachers, especially those who teach their heresy under the guise of Christianity, is not debate or dialogue. We are to turn away from them, to reject what they teach and to protect fellow believers, especially new converts and the immature, from being deceived, confused, and misled (MacArthur’s New Testament Commentary on Romans 9-16)."

My question to those who insist on not publicly exposing such heretics who teach publicly is this, "How do we mark them unless we know who these false teachers are?" "And how do we avoid them if we do not know who to avoid?"

Yes, we can preach against the heresies or other relevant issues concerning a certain false teacher or organization, but unless we can enable the flock to connect the identity of the false teacher with the content of our preaching, we have failed to warn the flock against those wolves. And we can rest assure that such failure will bring with it dire consequences, and eventually, judgment from our Chief Shepherd. We simply cannot afford such a failure if we are to remain faithful to the calling that God has given to every shepherd of His flock.

When we read the New Testament, we realize that our Lord Jesus Christ rebuked false teachers and heretics publicly (Matthew 23). We see Paul rebuking Peter publicly for his compromise of the truth (Gal. 2:9-14). Paul did not beat around the bush to talk about all the related issues, all except to name Peter’s name. In the Pastoral Epistles alone, eight men are mentioned publicly for their errors (1 Tim. 1:19-20, 2 Tim. 1:15, 2:17, 4:10, 4:14-16). Hymenaeus (1 Tim 1:20, 2 Tim 2:17), Philetus (2 Tim. 2:17-18), Alexander (1 Tim 1:20, 2 Tim 4:14), Demas (2 Tim 4:10), Diotrephes (3 John 9), Phygellus and Hermogenes (2 Tim 1:15) were all properly identified and dealt with in the epistles. If the act of naming names in rebuking error were a sinful attitude likened to that of the "accuser of the brethren," wouldn’t Paul be guilty of "accusing" the brethren just like Satan did? In this case, New Evangelicals are indeed more righteous than the Apostle Paul.

We are commanded to "preach the word," and to "reprove, rebuke, exhort (2 Tim. 4:2)." Thus, reproving error is a matter of obedience. The failure to reprove error, therefore, is disobedience, and is rightly called sin.

I would rather be called an "accuser of the brethren," than to be guilty of sin and failure before my Master and Chief Shepherd. We are the servants of God, not man. And it follows logically that if we are to do the bidding of our King in heaven, we are to follow His Word in the Bible. And Paul says in the Scripture, "Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them (Romans 16:17)."

Mark them by name. And avoid them. Thus saith the Lord God of Host.