Throwback Thursday: Unacknowledged Pharisees

Originally published March 11, 2016:

Biblical Unity

My insistence on sound doctrine as an essential element in Christian maturity has, more than once, spurred people to call me a Pharisee, either directly or by insinuation. People making that connection also sometimes point out the perils of dead orthodoxy, reminding me that the Lord cares more about how I live than about my finer points of theology. In some respects, I understand their concerns. And, in one sense, I agree with them. After all, Paul’s advice to Timothy applies to everyone–not just pastors:

 Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. ~~1 Timothy 4:16 (ESV)

Yet the apparent hostility to the idea that sound doctrine (by which I mean the teachings of the Bible)  matters troubles me. The rallying cry to disregard doctrine “for the sake of unity” often tolerates (or even promotes) violations of Scripture such as Contemplative Prayer, pragmatism, women in leadership and the acceptance and celebration of homosexuality. Some who bristle at the word “doctrine” believe these are secondary matters. Others still recognize  that the Bible does prohibit homosexual behavior, but increasing numbers of evangelicals now question the “traditional interpretations” of “the six clobber passages.”

Those who minimize concern over the erosion of doctrine typically equate conservative Christians with the Pharisees of Jesus’ earthly ministry, charging that we live by the “dead letter” of Scripture rather than by the Spirit of the Living God. I shall resist the temptation to embark on a lengthy discussion of their hypocrisy in making that judgment. Instead, I want to give attention to their implication that God’s Holy Word is a “dead letter” that requires human intervention (such as Contemplative prayer or pragmatic evangelism strategies) to revive it.

Hebrews 4:12 describes God’s Word as “living and active.” Additionally, 2 Timothy 3:16-17 teaches  both that the Spirit of the  Living God authored each word of Scripture, and that  Scripture adequately gives us all the teaching, reproof, correction and training in righteousness necessary for serving Him. Far from being a “dead letter” that opposes the Spirit, the Bible is His sword, operating by His power.

The Pharisees dogmatically  claimed that they adhered strictly to God’s Word, and fiercely objected to the “new” doctrines that Jesus proclaimed. In reality, however, Jesus routinely brought them back to the original intent of His Word, rebuking them for corrupting it with their traditions, loopholes and embellishments. For example:

Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.” He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God,” he need not honor his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said:

“‘This people honors me with their lips,
    but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
    teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’” ~~Matthew 15:1-9 (ESV)  

Could it be that the  real Pharisees shun the pure doctrine of God’s Word, preferring the human traditions that now creep into churches despite their claims of fidelity to the Bible? Could a return to the doctrinal purity of Scripture pose a threat to their unacknowledged doctrine of cultural accommodation? Perhaps not. Only the Lord knows the thoughts and intentions of their hearts. But they might consider the possibility, especially before attaching the Pharisee label to those of us who stand for sound doctrine.

Fairytale Weddings And Happily Ever After Marriages

A romantic proposal and a sparkling diamond ring have a way of filling the mind with thoughts of a long white gown and a church full of flowers. Most girls dream of their wedding day, usually taking mental notes as they attend weddings of friends and family members. Once they say yes, they have a thousand things to plan and organize. Her day to be a fairytale princess is finally arriving, and she has so many details to work out to make her special day perfect.

Weddings indeed should be beautiful. Throughout the following years, couples should look back on their wedding days and remember both their vows of commitment to each other and the joy they experienced as they looked into each other’s eyes and promised to love, honor and cherish as long as they both shall live. In the weeks leading up to her death, John’s mom repeatedly showed me her wedding album, wistfully recounting her happiness. John and I watch our wedding video each year on our anniversary to laugh about his struggle to lift my veil, to relive the intense romantic feelings and to recall the promises we made before the Lord. Certainly, weddings must be such special events that we never forget their wonder.

Sadly, many women invest so much thought and energy into weddings that they neglect to prepare for marriage. Oh, they attend the required premarital counseling sessions with their pastors. Usually. But they don’t always really pay as much attention to those sessions as they pay to the wedding coordinator. After all, the Lord has brought them the perfect guy. What could go wrong? Better to focus on orchestrating the perfect wedding…right?

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Abortion: A Reason For Judgment And Hope

No one wants to believe that life begins at conception when she discovers that she’s pregnant against her will. Whether she suffered sexual abuse or willingly gave her body for the sake of pleasure, however, she has indeed created a human life. At that point, she probably feels trapped, desperately wanting to escape her pregnancy with as few consequences as possible. And even when she actually would like to keep the baby, her husband, boyfriend, parents or abuser may pressure her to “get rid of it.” Abortion can definitely seem like us easiest way out.

Especially if she convinces herself that it’s nothing more than a clump of tissue.

This webpage from BabyCenter.com, while it sadly avoids stating that life begins at conception, shows the week by week development of an unborn baby. Please notice that a baby’s heartbeat starts in the fifth week — before a mother usually knows she’s pregnant. Even if you can argue that the fetus isn’t a life prior to that occurrence, that heartbeat definitely indicates that life has begun! Psalm 139, in fact, includes a beautiful passage celebrating God’s care for the unborn:

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Flashback Friday: After Darkness, Light (With An Updated Introduction)

Post Tenebras Lux

Four years ago, Reformed Christians celebrated the 500th anniversary of the event held to be the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther, then an Augustinian monk, simply posted his Ninety Five Theses asking for a scholarly debate on the Roman Catholic practice of selling Indulgences. At the time, he had absolutely no intention of breaking from the Roman Catholic Church; he only wanted to encourage an examination of its teachings in light of Scripture. Sadly, Rome hadn’t the slightest interest in having “a drunken German monk” question Papal authority, and eventually Luther was excommunicated as a heretic.

At around that time, God awakened John Calvin, Huldrych Zwingli and John Knox (among others) to the necessity of getting back to God’s Word. Through their faithful unwillingness to compromise with the errors of Roman Catholicism, these men laid the foundation for the Reformation. Their willingness to suffer and risk their lives so that you and I could read the Bible and worship the Lord according to its teachings should be celebrated! Therefore, on October 31, 2017, I commemorated the 500th anniversary of the official start of the Reformation by writing the following blog post.

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Learning From Interacting With Critics Of Gabe Hughes

Pastor Gabe Hughes recently posted an item on Twitter that resulted in a temporary (I hope) suspension from the platform. Here’s a screenshot of his “offensive” Tweet:

The WWUTT account posted the screenshot to inform Gabe’s followers of the ban. Many comments ensued to express support for Gabe and disgust at Twitter’s censorship. Of course, I agree with those comments, and pray that they will encourage him. Obviously he wrote it to highlight the spiritual pandemic that has infected Western culture for the last several decades — a pandemic that even mature Christians ignore. Kudos to Gabe for risking his Twitter account in order to speak truth!

One comment, however, accused Pastor Gabe of violating (or deliberately ignoring) Twitter’s Terms of Service. Her accusation intrigued me, particularly since I sometimes post tweets standing against most of those sins. I wondered how much freedom Twitter gives Christians to express Biblical points of view. Her response didn’t exactly surprise me (given her profile), but it reminded me that people who defend LBGTQ tenets don’t always use good logic in their argumentation.

Consider this screenshot that she sent to me:

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Not Just A Scripture For College Students

If you’re a mom sending your child off to college, undoubtedly you’re worried about him or her being pressured to abandon Scriptural values in favor of philosophies that seem more enlightened and scientific. If you’re a college student, you may wonder if you’ll be able to withstand the constant assaults on Christianity. Even many Christian schools offer liberal doctrine that draws people away from sound Biblical teaching.

I well understand those concerns. In fact, I believe they’re valid. Even when I went through college in the 1970s, I struggled to maintain my Biblical views in the face of ideological challenges. The second semester of my sophomore year, in particular, caused me tremendous spiritual turmoil when I took both a philosophy class and a psychology class. Thankfully, Paul’s counsel to the Colossians served as my anchor during the semester. As far as I’m concerned, every college student should make Colossians 2:8 her motto.

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A Simple And Complex Answer

Her question on Twitter read:

I affirm the Virgin Birth, the Deity of Christ, the Supernatural Miracles of Christ, Christ’s Atoning Death, and the Burial & Literal Resurrection of Christ. Should I be anathematized for not breaking fellowship with Egalitarians who affirm the same things?

Since she only gave me a half-hearted permission to quote her Tweet by admitting that she posted it in a public forum, I’ve decided to withhold her identity in this article. I have no interest in damaging her reputation. I want to address the content of her question, but I don’t want to make any personal attacks.

So let’s begin with her concern about being anathematized for having fellowship with Egalitarians who affirm the basic tenets of the Christian faith. I absolutely do not believe she should be anathematized! The word means to condemn someone to hell. It’s a particularly strong word. No Christian should use it lightly, and if we actually do use it, we need to be very sure that we apply it to someone who persists in grievous and unrepentant sin. So her question saddened me by making me wonder if others had condemned her for having fellowship with Egalitarians.

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“The World Is Watching” — An Excuse To Compromise Or A Reason To Be Obedient?

“The world is watching” became the unofficial motto of last month’s Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention. From what I’ve heard, the phrase hampered attempts to challenge any worldly ideas that came across the floor. In particular, it stopped any debate on Critical Race Theory. The logic went that, because the world is watching, we must take care not to offend its sensibilities. This short video from Founders Ministry explains (among other things) why these four words betray a worldliness within the SBC leadership.

But “the world is watching” didn’t originate with SBC21. When John and I were in a seeker sensitive church several years ago, we often heard them from the pulpit. At the time, I understood them to mean that, because non-Christians observe us, Christ expects us to live in ways that reflect Him. So far, so good.

So when I’ve seen those four words on social media, I’ve generally been convicted to conduct myself in a manner which honors the Lord. In disagreements, I’ve learned not to attack anyone’s character. Name calling is never permissible — Jesus occasionally employed that tactic, but He could see the hearts of the people He called names. As best I can, I want to argue with respect and kindness on social media. In that context, we certainly should bear in mind that the world is watching.

Sadly, it appears that the awareness of a watching world now means that Christians ought to accommodate worldly ideas. And I don’t think this posture is unique to the SBC, So, regardless of your church affiliation, I’d like you to think with me about the implications of the motto.

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God Commands Our Husbands To Love Us — What His Command Doesn’t Mean For Wives

It was non-alcoholic champagne

As a single woman, I loved Paul’s instructions to husbands.

25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, 26 so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. 28 So husbands also ought to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; 29 for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, 30 because we are parts of His body. ~~Ephesians 5:25-30 (NASB)

I dreamed of marrying a Prince Charming who would devote himself to me, laying aside his wants and needs in order to make me happy. I looked at Ephesians 5:25-30 and envisioned a husband who served me so lavishly that my submission to him would be effortless. In fact, I’d heard a few sermons and Bible Studies on marriage that promised as much. And I couldn’t wait for a Christian husband to love me as Christ loved the church!

By the time John proposed, I was 47, so I’d developed more realistic expectations of marriage. To my surprise, John took Ephesians 5:25 extremely seriously. Even now, as our 19th wedding anniversary is less than three months away, he recites that verse as if it was his singular mission in life. And I praise God for blessing me with a man who loves me so deeply,

But the Lord has convicted me of abusing John’s love. Even worse, He’s convicted me of twisting His command to husbands. In these convictions, I suspect that other wives also misconstrue God’s instructions to husbands in selfish ways.

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Before I Tell You About Recommended Women Bloggers And Teachers…

What qualities should we look for in anyone (male or female) who professes to teach God’s Word?

Before I profile women bloggers and teachers that I believe merit our attention and trust, I would like to invest a little time in giving you tools for vetting such people for yourselves. In fact, you should use these tools to evaluate me! Discernment doesn’t come from letting someone tell you who to follow and who to avoid. Rather, it comes from knowing what characteristics God says a Christian leader should have.

As obvious as it seems, the most important characteristic of a sound teacher is her ability and obedience to handle the Word of God responsibly. Every teacher makes an occasional misstep, but a good teacher works diligently to apply proper hermeneutics when she presents a text.

15 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. 16 But avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness, ~~2 Timothy 2:15-16 (NASB)

Good Bible teachers find their doctrine from the Word rather than using Scriptures (usually out of context) to support their assertions. Not only do they depend on the immediate context of the verse or passage, but also the genre of the book they teach. For instance, Psalms is a collection of poems originally set to music, so often it uses metaphorical language. Trees do not literally clap their hands and believers are not literally sheep. Yet the four gospels record actual miracles, most notably Christ’s literal resurrection from the dead. These miracles must never be taught as metaphors or allegories!

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