Thursday, July 25, 2013

The church and the family (Part 2)

'Family Portrait' photo (c) 2009, Bill S - license: first post on this topic -- "The church and the family" -- asked a series of questions based on the following statement at a church's website:

"We believe that the family is the first and most important institution that the Lord created. Moreover, following God the family should hold the highest priority."

My first question, which includes a revision here, in response to this declaration was:

"Is this -- the assertion the family is the 'most important institution' and 'following God should hold the highest priority' -- what we see as we read the four gospel accounts, Acts and the letters in the New Testament?"

Please take some time to think about that question. Try to recall your impressions of the New Testament as you read the various books of which it consists. Consider how many times the nuclear family is the focus of passages in the gospels, Acts and the letters. Ponder the emphasis the New Testament gives specifically to the family.

Yes, there are references to the family. And there are a few instructions regarding the family, including Eph. 5:22-6:4 and Col. 3:18-21. Even those, however, are presented in the context of instructions to Christians in churches on what it means to follow Christ.

The nuclear family does not dominate the New Testament. That is not to say it is unimportant.

D.G. Hart, a religious and social historian, recently posted at Reformation 21 a review of Mary Eberstadt's new book, How the West Really Lost God. In her book, Eberstadt writes about secularization in America and the significance of the family to Christianity. Hart does not look as admiringly as Eberstadt apparently does on what the baby boom of the 1950s helped produce in American churches. He suggests Eberstadt "may inflate the family's significance beyond what Christianity has taught historically."

Hart also writes, "For conservative Protestants, the family is good but only in a proximate sense - not in an ultimate one."

You see, the family is important in both the Old and New Testaments, but something else -- really Someone Else and His family -- dominates the New Testament in particular.

The New Testament is about King Jesus and His work. It is a work that encompasses His perfectly righteous life and His perfectly atoning death. Christ's resurrection affirms His work was totally sufficient. That fully accomplished work produced a people -- or a family, as it is sometimes portrayed.

We even see it in the Old Testament. In that great chapter on the Suffering Servant's substitution for sinners, it says prophetically of Christ, "If He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring" (Is. 53:10). Even 700 years before Christ, the Bible pointed to a family to be established by the blood of the Messiah.

The New Testament focuses much more on this family created supernaturally than the one created biologically or even by adoption. Adoption specifically pictures the reality of our spiritual adoption by God in places like Rom. 8:15-17 and Gal. 4:4-7. We find the bridegroom/bride or husband/wife relationship -- even in a go-to marriage passage like Eph. 5:22-33 -- points to the ultimate meaning of that union in Christ and his bride. We see God described as Father and we who are saved as His children in such sections as I John 3:1-2. And we see ourselves described as brothers and sisters with each other in books like I John.

Jesus Himself points in the gospels to the temporary nature of the nuclear family, when He says in Matt. 22:30 there will be no marriage in Heaven. Instead, all who are in Heaven will be bound together there as the truly forever family.

Near the close of his review of Eberstadt's book, D.G. Hart commends her defense of the family but not her handling of its significance in comparison to the church. "If the family ever becomes more important to the conservative Protestant wing of 'family values' voters than the gospel and the Christian ministry, then what happened to 1950s churches and families could well be the fate of Christian defenders of the family."

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The church and the family (Redux and Part 1)

'Family Portrait' photo (c) 2009, Bill S - license: is a post from September 2012 I have yet to follow up on. I plan to use this repost as the first in a series on the church and the family.)

Understanding, explaining and practicing the biblical view of the relationship between the family and the church can be a challenge.

Opinions about how the two should relate to one another run the gamut. In fact, we have seen them run the gamut in just our small fellowship, Covenant Community Church. And those opinions can be strongly held -- sometimes prompting, partly, people at both ends of the spectrum of opinions to depart the church family.

Because of opinions expressed in our church, I have given a lot of thought to the issue over several years. I have wanted to address it at this blog but have not seemed to find a good entry point for the discussion. I think I have now.

A couple of weeks ago, I saw that an acquaintance in the ministry whom I respect a lot had begun serving in a pastoral position with another church. I went to that church's website and found the following statement in the information about its ministry:
We believe that the family is the first and most important institution that the Lord created. Moreover, following God the family should hold the highest priority.
I believe we would all agree the family -- marriage specifically -- is the first institution God established. The other assertions -- "the family is the . . . most important institution that the Lord created" and "the family should hold the highest priority" -- raise questions for me, however. And I think they should for you, if you are a disciple of Christ identified with a church.

In this post, I don't intend to address those questions with answers. I have opinions that I think are biblically based. For now, however, I just want to ask some of the questions I think the statement above raises.

I welcome your responses to these questions and any additional questions you think should be raised.

Here are my questions:

-- Is this -- the assertion the family is the "most important institution" and "should hold the highest priority" -- what we see as we read the four gospel accounts, Acts and the letters in the New Testament?

-- Is this consistent with what Jesus is teaching when He offers some hard sayings at various points in His earthly ministry regarding His disciples' devotion to Him in contrast to their devotion to family members?

-- Does this mean the government is more important than the church, since God established it (Gen. 9) before either Israel or the church and this statement appears to be based partly on chronology?

-- Does this mean an institution based on flesh and blood is more important than one based on the blood of God the Son?

-- Does this diminish the church and thereby diminish the work of Christ in His perfectly righteous life and totally satisfactory, substitutionary death that created the church?

-- Does this mean the church is subservient to the family?

-- What does this mean for church members who are not part of a nuclear family? Is their value less because they are only part of a church family and not part of a biological/adoptive family?

-- Does this mean it is okay for me to think my family is more important than God’s family?

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The church's response to homosexuality (Part 6)

Here are some questions and comments in this sixth and last post -- for now, at least -- on how the church should respond to the challenge of homosexuality:

-- How would you respond if someone you know to be a practicing homosexual were to walk into your church's corporate worship on Sunday? What if a same-sex couple -- maybe even a married couple in the state's view -- were to attend corporate worship? Would you go to them and ask them to leave? Or would you keep looking at them, detesting the fact they were in the same worship service as you? Or would you see them as image bearers of God and sinners who need God's mercy and be grateful they are in a corporate gathering where they will hear the gospel of Jesus proclaimed in the songs, the prayers, the readings and the preaching?

-- Would a Christian struggling with same-sex attraction feel free to come to you to share his temptation and to seek your help? Or would he not feel that freedom because he has heard your disparaging comments about homosexuals and homosexuality? Or would she not feel that freedom because she has recognized in your attitude and words a disfavor, maybe even a disdain, toward those who don't perform in the Christian life the way you think they should?

-- If one of your children experiences homosexual temptation or sexual confusion, would he be able to approach you and share this with you? Would she be able to take such a courageous step with the assurance you will respond with grace and love?

These are only some of the questions we face as followers of Christ in a culture that increasingly signals homosexuality is no different morally than heterosexuality, in a culture that increasingly defines a same-sex union as a marriage, in a culture that increasingly declares same-sex attraction equals being gay.

The primary question is: What will be the controlling factor in our response in such a culture?

Will it be our moral code? Will it be our family values? Will it be our sentiments? Will it be our pride? Will it be our fear? Or will it be the gospel of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, as revealed in God's Word?

Here is an observation that certainly is not unique to me: This issue at this time may be a great opportunity for the church to rely on the grace of God and the power of the Spirit to become more compassionate toward sinners and more bold in defending and proclaiming the gospel. As a result, may we see greater fruit than ever in our own lives and more sinners becoming saints than ever through the testimony and ministry of our churches.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The church's response to homosexuality (Part 5)

If the church's challenge regarding homosexuality is increasingly to speak the truth courageously, its companion challenge for a long time has been to speak and relate lovingly.

Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., addressed this two-fold challenge in a May 30 blog post. In part, he wrote:
True compassion demands speaking the truth in love – and there is the problem. Far too often, our courage is more evident than our compassion. In far too many cases, the options seem reduced to these – liberal churches preaching love without truth, and conservative churches preaching truth without love.

Evangelical Christians must ask ourselves some very hard questions, but the hardest may be this: Why is it that we have been so ineffective in reaching persons trapped in this particular pattern of sin? . . .

I believe that we are failing the test of compassion. If the first requirement of compassion is that we tell the truth, the second requirement must surely be that we reach out to homosexuals with the Gospel. This means that we must develop caring ministries to make that concern concrete, and learn how to help homosexuals escape the powerful bonds of that sin – even as we help others to escape their own bonds by grace.

If we are really a Gospel people; if we really love homosexuals as other sinners; then we must reach out to them with a sincerity that makes that love tangible. We have not even approached that requirement until we are ready to say to homosexuals, “We want you to know the fullness of God’s plan for you, to know the forgiveness of sins and the mercy of God, to receive the salvation that comes by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, to know the healing God works in sinners saved by grace, and to join us as fellow disciples of Jesus Christ, living out our obedience and growing in grace together.”
It seems to me this kind of merciful, compassionate love toward practicing homosexuals and those struggling with same-sex attraction includes:

-- Lovingly seeing them as fellow image bearers of God.

-- Lovingly recognizing them as fellow sinners against God.

-- Lovingly realizing they, like us, need the gospel of God.

-- Lovingly befriending them and welcoming them into our lives.

-- Lovingly caring for and serving them.

-- Lovingly sharing the good news of Christ's redeeming work with them over the long haul.

-- Lovingly walking with them through the struggles of following Christ after their conversion.

We can do this because of the power of the gospel in our own lives to make us new creatures who exist to glorify God as we are used by Him in a "ministry of reconciliation" to beg others to "be reconciled to God" through Jesus (II Cor. 5:17-20).