Ben's Blog Items Credenda|agenda: things to be believed, things to be done Tue, 23 May 2017 18:46:45 +0000 Joomla! 1.5 - Open Source Content Management en-gb Mammon, Lust, and Hell Many men do not see the real evil in the sin of lust. Sure, it's shameful, it's a lack of self-control, it's selfish, it's a bad habit, whatever.

But God hates lust because of the way it views and treats human beings, His sons and daughters. Yes, the pictures can be perverted. The fantasies can be disgusting. But the real perversion, the deeper disgust is the oppression and abuse inherent in the sin of lust.
In the Bible, eyes are the organs of judgment. Jesus describes the sin of adultery as beginning with looking at a woman to lust after her. In the same context He exhorts men to pluck their eyes out if they cause them to sin (Mt. 5:28-29). He says that it would be better to enter life maimed than to go to Hell with both of your eyes. The clear implication is that some men will go to Hell for the sin of lusting with their eyes, committing adultery in their hearts, for looking at pictures on the Internet.

Our culture frequently throws up horrifying excuses that what a man does in the privacy of his own bedroom, the images that play through his mind, and so on are really none of anyone else's business. What two consenting adults do in the privacy of their homes, on their own time whether in person or through various forms of media is no one else's business. Those actions, it is claimed, are not hurting anyone, and so on. To say that porn addicts will go to Hell seems kind of extreme. To say that guys who have hooked up with a string of women will go to Hell seems over the top. To say that a guy that moves in with his girlfriend might end up burning in Hell forever seems extremely presumptuous, not to mention old fashioned. Why rain on someone else's parade?

Isn't world poverty more important than a few one night stands? Isn't the oppression of widows and orphans a more pressing issue than a guy fooling around with his girlfriend in the back seat of the car? What about HIV, terrorism, and malnutrition? Aren’t nuclear proliferation, the sex slave trade, and senseless war bigger problems? Don't Christians have more important things to worry about?    

But the Bible consistently connects all of these problems with wicked hearts and insists that all of these oppressive and abusive behaviors begin in the heart and mind of man. Later in the text, Jesus says that the lamp of the body is the eye. He says that if the eye is good, the whole body will be full of light, but if the eye is bad, the whole body will be full of darkness, and how great is that darkness (Mt. 5:22-23). This is said in the context of idolatry and greed, serving God or Mammon, storing up treasures in heaven or on earth. This is like Jesus saying that good eyes and bad eyes are the difference between serving God or Stalin, between serving God or Hitler. Mammon is a mass murdering dictator. If your eye is bad, you're serving and carrying out his oppression.

Frequently in Scripture, God equates an "evil eye" with greed and injustice. In the law, God warns Israel against being greedy and ungenerous to the poor. God specifically warns Israel not to have an "evil eye" by withholding aid to those in need of it (Dt. 15:7-9). If God's people do not give to their needy brothers, and they cry out to God against them, God will cause this to be sin for the people. Later in Proverbs, the wise man warns against those who seek to become rich quick. He says that the man who hastens after riches has an “evil eye,” and he assumes that there is injustice and sin involved in the pursuit (Prov. 28:20-28). This guy needs to be rich now; he needs gratification now. In the same context, the wise man warns against those who rob their own parents and justify themselves; he promises many curses for those who hide their eyes from the poor. The "evil eye" is a "dark eye" because it is covered, and it refuses to look with grace and sympathy upon those in need. And the refusal to love and be merciful is hatred, abuse, and injustice.

Jesus uses the same expression to describe the ungrateful workers in the parable of the laborers in the vineyard. He says that their eye is evil because they are jealous and envious of what the other workers have received (Mt. 20:15). And this, along with murder and theft and lies, proceed out of the heart of man, and they come from within and defile a man (Mk. 7:21-23).

But this is the point: a man who views women as objects, as slaves for his whims and fantasies has an evil eye. Lust is greed and covetousness. Lust grasps for what has not been given. Lust demands that the gift be given now, that the riches be gotten now. A man who uses a woman—whether a picture, a movie, a girlfriend, or even a wife—has a bad eye. And if his eye is bad, his whole body is full of darkness. And how great is that darkness. A man who does not nourish and cherish his wife in self-sacrificial love but demands and insists and requires immediate satisfaction, immediate service, immediate gratification, cannot see the world the way it is because he has covered his eyes, and he has refused to see his wife as a woman that God has entrusted to him to care for, to serve, to love, and to provide for her needs. And for those who are unmarried, it is a refusal to serve those in need, a refusal to love other women in all honor, as mothers and sisters (1 Tim. 5:2).

In other words, the sin of lust is the sin of an evil eye. It is the sin of greed, of Mammon, of idolatry. It is the sin of hatred and oppression and injustice in seed form in the heart. And this sin necessarily grows up into tyranny and oppression and manipulation in actions, in words, in thoughts, and it fills homes with curses.

The Church is entrusted with true and undefiled religion which is the care of orphans and widows in their distress (Js. 1:27). Literally, James says that this pure and untainted religion is to "visit" orphans and widows in their afflictions. The word "visit" is loaded with Old Testament symbolism and meaning. When God "visits" His people, He comes to them in judgment, He comes to deliver, He comes to give children to the barren, to rescue slaves from their oppressors (e.g. Gen. 21:1-2, 50:24, Ex. 4:31).

The pattern in Scripture is clearly for this ministry of the Church to begin in families, where men provide for their own households (e.g. 1 Tim. 5:8), and it is within that context that the Church more broadly performs its visitation of those in need, caring for true widows and orphans who do not have any familial protections (1 Tim. 5). In other words, men are required by God to love their wives and children and families in such a way as to protect them from becoming true widows and orphans. And the implication is that those men who do not provide for their own families are not neutral, third-party observers. They are oppressors. They are abusers. They are creating widows and orphans. They are like a ravaging army. In fact, Paul says that they have denied the faith and are worse than unbelievers (1 Tim. 5:8).

By their neglect, by their self-indulgence, by their oppressive tone, by their manipulative words and lust-filled actions they are raping, pillaging, and destroying homes, and all too frequently it's their own home. Lust, far from being a distorted form of love, is actually a form of hatred. Lust is a form of rape, a form of murder. Lust is violence committed against the needy. It is withholding real love, and crushing the weak with cruelty.

And that's why God will send porn addicts to Hell. That's why guys who move in with their girlfriends are abusers, turning the women they claim to love into nothing better than concubines and sex slaves, even if she went along with it willingly. That's why it would be better to pluck out the eye that causes you to sin, why it would be better to cut off the hand that causes you to strike down the needy right in front of you. It would be better to enter life maimed than to go to Hell with all your limbs, having used them for such evil.

But there is good news for people with bad eyes. Jesus told the church of Laodicea in particular: "anoint your eyes with eye salve that you may see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent... to him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne" (Rev. 3:18-19). The good news is that Jesus calls His people to overcome this sin, to throw these idols down, and to repent of their evil ways. The good news is that there is a salve for bad eyes, and that salve is the blood of the spotless lamb that was slain to take away the sins of the world. There is forgiveness. But the good news is also that for those who pluck out their eyes and cut off their hands for the sake of the gospel, those who quit jobs, throw away their cell phones and computers, who cancel their internet and cable connections, the good news is that there is resurrection. When they enter life, they will be granted to sit with Jesus on His throne and they will get those hands and eyes back (Mk. 10:29-30).

]]> (Toby Sumpter) Family Wed, 20 Jul 2011 22:34:46 +0000
Second Thoughts On Family Worship I get asked regularly about what we do for “family worship.” Among Christians who love the faith and their kids, family worship becomes a topic of interest. My initial response is always ambivalent, encouraged on the one hand that someone wants to have a family culture that includes the Bible and devotion in the home, and slightly concerned because the common issues that plague “family worship” are considerable. For those considering implementing some version of family worship, here are some remarks that I hope are helpful.

Family Worship Isn’t Required by the Bible:

This might seem impious, but it’s really only impietistic. We simply are not required to have a set, formal, liturgical time of worship as families. I’m glad some people do this and benefit from it, and as far as they do, I’m for it, but no one should feel it is something they ought to do. This is not the same thing as saying parents shouldn’t read the Bible, pray and talk about God with their children. Of course they should. And it’s helpful if this is regular, methodical, and often. But some of the healthiest Christian families I know never had “family worship” formally conducted. They would read and discuss the Bible at meal and other times for particular seasons, sing and pray before going to bed etc, but these things were not done primarily in one sitting, not in what we would typically call family worship. I know there are lazy parents, particularly fathers, who don’t make time to regularly read and teach the Bible to their kids, and I know my point here will be used by them to justify and continue their laziness. This is what gracious biblical standards always do, and in response legalists try to curb sin by adding rules. So no excuses for lazy people, and no excuse for pietists combating laziness with legalism.

Family Worship, If Done, Is Not the Most Important Spiritual Thing You Do:

The Bible commands us not to forsake the assembly of the saints (Heb. 10:25) which refers to corporate worship together. It’s atrocious that Christians will feel worse about missing a quiet time or family worship than they do missing the called meeting of all God’s people on the Lord’s Day. Reformed Christians and those who would consider participating in family worship are usually less casual than the average evangelical and probably have a high regard for Lord’s Day worship. But even they will set family worship above it (see the first “extract” from the otherwise helpful talk by Joel Beeke on family worship). All of our devotion–unceasing prayer, dedicated times of prayer, singing, serving, eating and drinking to the glory of God–should prepare us to worship Him in Spirit and truth with His people together. That is the most important thing we do. Other things are practice, corporate worship is game day.

Family Worship Should Be Delightful for Everyone:

My biggest concern for parents are gung-ho on family worship is the tendency for it to be very “serious” and therefore unengaging and often no fun for the kids. This means that the most “spiritual” time the family spends together, supposedly the most important, the time spent talking and learning about God, is in fact the time that is least like experiencing Him. Moses forbids cooking a kid in it’s mother’s milk, taking the means of life and using them as a means of death (Deut. 14:21). When I ask people who have grown up in Christian homes, particularly Reformed ones, how family worship affected their faith, the overwhelmingly most common answer is that it was either boring or painful. Boiling milk. Counterproductive. This is what God, and devotion to Him, is like? Yikes! Parents have to keep it cheerful, engaging and fun.

There is a reason kids loved to be around Jesus, and it wasn’t because he was lecturing at length about the Torah or the Five Points of Calvinism. I love the Torah and the Five Points, so I try to make them digestible to my three year old so she can love them too. Good news should feel like it. This might mean singing one verse of a song, or just one song. It means all sorts of things for different situations, for people of different ages, for parents with different abilities. We need to be open to the idea that less is more. Better one verse read, enjoyed and digested, than 30 painful pious lecture minutes. One common response to this is “So you’re saying we should just dumb it down, make it “fun” like the rest of the shallow evangelical church does with worship?” No, not like that. I’m not saying the content should be effeminate drivel. I’m saying it should be a light burden. If your kids hate it, then change it. If they don’t enjoy it, fix it. They will have certain things to grow into, but our job as parents is to make the growing pains less, not more, and to be sure they are still growing.

]]> (Jerry Owen) Family Sat, 25 Jun 2011 23:06:58 +0000
Modest Daughters “In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with braided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; but (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works” (1 Tim. 2:9).

Let’s be frank. Immodesty is a very common problem in the Church today. Further, it is a difficult subject to address. The people who are the most concerned about what we all have to look at every day are usually reticent to say anything about the problems they see— because it might appear to make them immodest in their conversation. And those who are willing to chatter on about the subject are generally ignorant about what the Bible requires. So let’s try to be frank, and see what happens.

This has not yet occurred, but I have thought about it a few times. Suppose there is some kind of Christian gathering, and a woman comes to it dressed like she really shouldn’t be. She arrives in a tight top, and proceeds to headlight everyone. What would happen if, after the pastor greeted her, he commented on the size of her breasts? She would be horrified, the people standing nearby would all turn white, someone would bring charges against the pastor before the elders, and so forth. And all because he commented on the two most obvious objets d’art in the room. In this scenario, the one guilty of a breach of decorum would be the one who said something about them, and not the person intent upon displaying them to a bemused public. We are afflicted with a real problem of schizophrenia. We are playing show and tell, but aren’t allowed to tell.

We have gotten ourselves into a difficult place. More than a few mothers, more than once, have returned home exasperated from a shopping trip for their young daughters. Many of the current fashions for young women appear to be apparel in standard use down at the local Hooker Training Academy. As my wife recently put it, “It must be difficult for men these days trying to figure out which ones they have to pay for and which ones are free.”

The shopping-trip problem is simply a nuisance, but the sin starts when Mom gives up in frustration and allows her daughter to dress this way, and Dad then ratifies the decision by letting her go out of the house.

We have to do better than this, and the solution starts with a willingness to identify exactly where we have slipped up. There are three common problems with immodesty in women’s dress—too much, too little, and too tight.

“Too much” is flamboyant or ostentatious— dressing like a hooker. The sin is not avoided if a woman uses “gold, pearls, and costly array” in order to look like a courtesan—a higher class of hooker. In either case, a woman can send immodest signals even when everything is covered. This means that her immodesty consists, not in what she is doing at that moment, but in what she is promising to do later. The language of her clothing states unambiguously that, however much of it there is, it comes off easily enough.

“Too little” means cleavage, vast expanse of thigh, that sort of thing. Women with this problem dress like a sale at J.C. Penney’s—forty percent off. Too often Christians assume that this kind of skin exposure is the only possible “modesty problem.” This is not true, but it remains common nonetheless. This immodesty is compounded by girls who wear short skirts and who do not know how to sit like a lady, showing the world what’s fore and aft.

“Too tight” is the most popular mode of disobedience among modern evangelicals. The whole world is invited to gawk at the topographical evidence concerning exactly where her underwear starts and stops, along with the exact condition, location, and size of her breasts. Many Christian women go to worship today dressed in a manner that would have gotten them thrown out of a bar fifty years ago. Ah, Christian liberty.

Related to the problem of “too tight” is the nature of some of the accessories. For example, the point of ankle-buster high heels is to alter a woman’s posture in such a way as to accentuate her buttocks and breasts. Modest heels make a woman look like a lady with good posture. Really high heels make her look like some kind of bed bait.

It is important for these things to be discussed in the home. In this, a father and mother should take care to instruct their daughters on the dangers of self-deception. We are complicated beings, and our hearts are deceptive. A young woman can be trying to turn heads, and be employing various sexual techniques to do so, and all the while be pretending to herself in her conscious thoughts that she is doing nothing of the kind. More than one young female dope has been consciously astonished at the sexual response that her subconscious has successfully created. And at that point, an indignant “What kind of girl do you think I am?” can easily be countered with an appeal to the obvious. And what is obvious has already been discussed.

There are those, I suppose, who would rather not read about this subject in Christian magazines. This is actually a reasonable opinion, and I think we can come to an amicable arrangement. We would be more than willing to stop referring to all this if the daughters of Zion would stop throwing themselves around. And until they learn how to do it, their parents need to help them.


This article first appeared as the Childer column in C/A 13.1


]]> (Douglas Wilson) Family Mon, 11 Oct 2010 15:52:16 +0000
The Wife as Ruler In a biblical home, the wife has far more practical authority than some reactionary Christians might suppose. Biblical thinking on role relationships between men and women requires more than simply offending the feminists. Since this is so easily done, such a standard is far too low. We have to look more closely at what the Scriptures teach.

As the apostle Paul is urging young women to marry, he lets a very interesting comment fall in passing. "I will therefore that the younger women marry, bear children, guide the house, give none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully" (1 Tim. 5:14). The word translated here as "guide the house" is oikodespotein. The wife is to be the ruler or despot of the home. This means that when she tells you to take your shoes off at the door, you will take your shoes off. And cheerfully.

This does not contradict what the Bible teaches elsewhere about the husband's authority and headship. In the family, the husband is the head of his wife, as Christ is the head of the Church. He is also the head of the home, and has the responsibility to protect and provide for that household. He is responsible to lead, and he has the authority to do so.

But wise leadership never micro-manages, and never insists upon the prerogative of making all decisions that have to be made. To take an example from elsewhere, the business world is filled with failures who were undone because they were highly-competent control freaks. In contrast to this, a good leader in business is one who finds or cultivates competent men to whom he can delegate responsibility.
Something similar happens in marriage. A man should marry a woman whom he can trust. "The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her" (Prov. 31:11). But trust defined in the context of marriage is not simply believing that she will do well if any problem ever comes up. And it involves far more than thinking she will not go out honky-tonkin'. Trust here means entrusting, and something has to be there to be entrusted. In a godly home, that which is entrusted is the management of the home, and the inhabitants thereof.

Of course, the husband is not "under" her command – she ought not to boss him around like he is one of the kids – but at the same time, he is called upon to honor the standards which she establishes for the home. This will ensure that everyone in the house will see that he honors and respects her judgments. He married her; he entrusted these things to her. In respecting her judgments, he is standing by his own judgment.

So let's make it practical. Let's say Mom wants everyone to wash up in the mudroom, and not in the kitchen. She wants them to put their dirty clothes in the laundry room, as opposed to their ongoing attempts to make a compost pile out of them in the back of the closet. She wants everybody's "stuff" to find its way away from the pile at the front door. She wants shod feet off the couch. She wants plates rinsed and put in the dishwasher. All these desires have the force of law, and everyone, including her husband, should honor them. In a very real way, the home is her domain. She is not the head of the home, but she is the executive of it.

If her wishes are routinely disregarded, this means that her husband has failed to invest her with his authority, and has failed to act as an example for the rest of the household. A sure indicator of an unhappy household is the ignoring of Mom, and the head of that home is an abdicating father.

Another great blessing arises from wives seeing their authority in this. Authority, known to be such, is more carefully wielded than kibitzing is wielded. If a woman sees her desires being implemented as a simple question of raw competition, survival of the fittest, and devil take the hindmost, she will be tempted to nag, and nagging is frequently irrational and contradictory. But if she knows that her word is law, with regard to the management of the home, then she will be more careful about what she requires.

None of this means that she is chained to the home; rather, she is within her element there. It is the domain in which she is gifted by God to bear authority. This is not her burden to bear, any more than birds are troubled by having to haul their wings around.


This article first appeared as the Childer column in C/A 12.3.

]]> (Douglas Wilson) Family Mon, 27 Sep 2010 18:14:23 +0000
Thunder Puppies It goes without saying, at least in this space, at least by now, that parents are required in Scripture to bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Eph. 6:4). But even though it goes without saying, I nevertheless feel this compulsion to work it in yet again (Phil. 3:1).

This means the first great task confronting parents today is to bring their children up within the covenant, and in such a way as their children feel a life-long loyalty to that covenant. This task addresses the question of whether our children will be Christians after us, and whether they will bring up their children in the Christian faith. But once this question is settled, numerous temptations remain. Of course Christian parents should remember the possibility of failure. But wise parents will remember that temptations also come with success.

Some children unthinkingly accept everything they are taught. Such a child encounters an atheist for the first time, both of them being around eleven years old, and so he says something like, "I suppose you're an evolutionist too. Duh!"

Kids like this have not been taught and discipled, but only successfully propagandized. One of the key marks of such victims of propaganda is their facile readiness to apply the tenets of the faith to others. Those who dispute its doctrines are considered to be simply stupid, those who reject its ethical teachings are the equivalent of cannibalistic axe-murderers, and so on.

Boys brought up in the truth are particularly prone to this. Truth is rigid and unyielding, and is almost as good as a baseball bat for hitting people with. I have seen this happen so frequently with Christian young men that I have decided to name the phenomenon - such should be called thunder puppies.

Jesus once rebuked His disciples because they wanted to declare celestial war, calling down fire from heaven, and yet did not know what spirit they were of. In the same way today, many young men preach beyond their wisdom, and pronounce beyond their years. Boys like to boast anyway, and knowledge puffs up. Brought together, the two propositions provide a dangerous mix.

For another example, how many young Christian men will go on and on about what they will require their (hypothetical) wife to do in this or that situation, and how they will homeschool, and what they will demand of anyone who dares interfere with their sacrosanct household? And compare this to how often they will spend time talking about what they will require of themselves. In short, young Turks are too ready to boast about nonexistent accomplishments.

But the only way a professing Christian can bring himself to boast is by using

biblical standards to bring others down (which is easy), and then neglecting to apply them in one's own situation. Future accomplishments must be neglected, of necessity, and by the time the future rolls around, the boaster is accustomed to non-performance.

But to begin with others is not the biblical order. "Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted" (Gal. 6:1). When another person must be corrected, it is only to be undertaken by those who are spiritual, and they are to make sure of a meek and gentle spirit, watching over their own heart, lest they fall into sin as well. This is a hard task when someone has grown up perpetually disgusted with secular humanists who don't believe the Bible. The disgust often serves as a camo-cover which hides the fact that the young man in question doesn't believe the Bible either - at least not those portions which apply to him.

Of course the world is a sinful place, and we want our young men taught and equipped in such a way as enables them to rise up to battle when the situation calls for it. The Bible teaches us that the glory of young men is their strength. But the contrast is given to the beauty of the old man, which the wisdom of a gray head (Prov. 20:29). That wisdom sees that boasting is never profitable, unless it is in the Lord.

Handled wrongly, a Christian upbringing for a young man can provide many opportunities to show how those darn "other people" do not do what the Bible says.

"Boast not thyself of to morrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth. Let another man praise thee, and not thine own mouth; a stranger, and not thine own lips" (Prov. 27:1-2).


This article first appeared as the Childer column in C/A 11.1.

]]> (Douglas Wilson) Family Wed, 15 Sep 2010 16:06:26 +0000
Hard Work Boys, taking one thing with another, tend to be lazy. This means that one of the central duties parents have with regard to their boys is the duty of teaching and instilling what used to be called a work ethic. "He that gathereth in summer is a wise son: but he that sleepeth in harvest is a son that causeth shame" (Prov. 10:5). The son who causes shame is one who causes shame to his parents. The shame is theirs because the responsibility to teach the lessons of work was theirs.

Work is not a result of the fall of Adam, but work goes the difficult way it does because of the fall. Prior to the advent of sin in the world, Adam was given the task of tending the garden, and naming the animals. We were created for work. But when sin entered, God in His wisdom saw that thorns and thistles were now needed (Gen. 3:17-19). In His grace, God cursed the ground. Just as the law is a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ, so is the sweat of the brow. Sinners don't do well living on the Big Rock Candy Mountain.

And so this is why boys need to be taught and disciplined in physical labor. Of course it is not an end in itself - the point should always be grace  - but in the hands of wise parents, hard physical work is an important part of a boy's discipleship. He needs to know what it is like to be exhausted, to have callouses on his hands, and to work when his body does not really want to anymore. He needs this; God said so. He is a son of Adam.

A boy who learns to settle into his laziness is being prepared by his parents for a life of frustration. "The soul of the sluggard desireth, and hath nothing: but the soul of the diligent shall be made fat" (Prov. 13:4). Nothing ever seems to go right for him; the breaks always go to the other guy. He is adept at making excuses, and so he continues to do so - but this does not make the frustration go away. Frustration in the hands of a spin doctor is still frustration. Why is the other guy always so "lucky"? The answer is that everything comes to the one who hustles while he waits.

A boy who is allowed to drift downward into this sin is also being prepared for a life of poverty. "Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise: which having no guide, overseer, or ruler, provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest. How long wilt thou sleep, O sluggard? when wilt thou arise out of thy sleep? Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep: so shall thy poverty come as one that travelleth, and thy want as an armed man" (Prov. 6:6- 11). God does not just promise poverty to this young man; He promises that it will come upon him like a thug with a gun. In the good providence of God, the lazy man is not going to be treated with tenderness. Parents who allow this pattern to develop while their son is under their oversight are asking God to work him over with a baseball bat.

In order to work well, preparations to work well are necessary. A lazy boy promises himself that he will get to work when the time comes, at the last minute. He has great (hypothetical) plans. But when the time for work comes, he discovers that some preliminary work was apparently necessary. So now he has a new excuse, but the age of the excuse does not alter the outcome. "The sluggard will not plow by reason of the cold; therefore shall he beg in harvest, and have nothing" (Prov. 20:4). However reasonable the excuse may appear in his own eyes, he still has nothing.

In addition, parents who allow their son to neglect work are trying to arrange a rotten reputation for him. "As vinegar to the teeth, and as smoke to the eyes, so is the sluggard to them that send him" (Prov. 10:26). When employers are irritated to this extent, they do not keep their opinions to themselves - nor should they. When someone fills out a negative job evaluation, or tells a prospective new employer that Billy here needs to learn what "get the lead out" means, he is not gossiping. Work is a public activity and should be publicly evaluated. A boy steeped in laziness will be evaluated roughly.

In dealing with all these issues, a boy learns to distinguish between the ever popular notions of self-esteem and the biblical concept of self-respect. Self-esteem is found in Galatians 6:3. "For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself." A boy lounging on a soft couch can fancy himself quite the working man. But self-respect is found in the next verse. "But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. For every man shall bear his own burden" (vv. 4-5). Work should not just be done, it should be proved. And when it is, a boy learns the deep and godly satisfaction that comes from a job well done.

And last, parents who rob their sons of a work ethic have taken from him one of this life's most precious gifts - sabbath rest. The fourth commandment has two parts, and they depend upon one another. One part, of course, is the day of rest, but the other part is the six days of labor. Without the labor, the rest is nonsensical. Without the rest, the work is slavery. Learned together, a boy comes to comprehend the dignity of labor that is offered up to God in the name of Christ. He learns to rest on the first day of the week in a way that consecrates all his subsequent labors.

So much of this runs contrary to the way the carnal mind thinks, we might come to believe it is impossible. And it is impossible, apart from the gospel of Christ. This is why the discipline of work should be imparted to a boy along with careful teaching on the meaning of the cross of Jesus Christ. This is because the foundation of a biblical work ethic is a biblical grace ethic.


This article first appeared as the Childer column in C/A 12.2.

]]> (Douglas Wilson) Family Fri, 10 Sep 2010 15:54:45 +0000
Faith, Dads, and Children Will my children turn out? Will they embrace my teaching, love my Savior, and grow up to be faithful members of the body of Christ?

The answer to these questions is fundamentally the same answer to the question, ‘Do you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ?’

Do you believe?

But faith is not merely a mental acknowledgment that certain sentences are factually accurate. Faith is a kind of knowledge and embrace that requires our entire soul and body to accomplish. The total sum of faith in the God of Heaven is love of God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. Every fiber of your being cries out for this.

There are profound mysteries to faith. Faith means faith in God, which means an attempt at embracing the sun. Not only is this a fire hazard, but you are likely to be obliterated before even getting close. Not to mention blindness.

And the mysteries include hard cases. Believing God’s promises for our children is not a truth by which we may manipulate the sun. God is free and good and wise, and faith submits to the depths of God’s wisdom and decrees. But true submission to God’s sovereignty does not produce apathetic gamblers. Parenting is not 18 years of dice rolling, with odds slightly in your favor.

The reason the question about children and faith in Christ is roughly the same question is not because of what faith is primarily but what faith does. Faith in the crucified and risen Jesus knows, loves, and embraces this Lord. And those actions directed toward the Messiah, exercise (and exorcize?) our bodies and souls in ways that necessarily spill out into all relationships, even the parent/child relationship.

Faith is a kind of knowing, a kind of loving, a kind of embracing that is absolutely necessary for all other relationships. As we know, love, and embrace the Lord Jesus Christ, He teaches us to know, love, and embrace the neighbors all around us. This doesn’t mean that our faith is in our neighbors; faith is always grounded in the Triune God. But it’s the same muscle at work, and it only works when it’s clinging to Jesus.

To apply this in one direction more specifically: We cannot underestimate the difference that dad makes. Homeschooling, Christians Schooling, Coop Schooling, Tutors, and whatever else along the way: When dad is engaged, and knows, loves, and embraces his children, that makes all the difference in the world. When dad is not engaged, various forms of Christian Education and Church Programs can slow or mask the problems, and sometimes in the grace of God, the body of Christ in various ways is able to make up the difference where dad has abdicated or is completely absent or has abandoned his family. But typically, dad makes all the difference.

But it’s not just dad being in the same room, in the same house, in the same car. It’s not merely words exchanged, instructions given, even prayers said. Of course it is all those things, but it’s all those things while seeking to know, love, and embrace those children. And in some ways, we are trying to put words to what is beyond words, but this is the same kind of thing we try to describe when someone goes to church for many years, reads the Bible, prays, sings, etc., and then suddenly it all “clicks.” Or what is more common is the gradually realization and embrace of various realities along the way, with periodic “clicks” and “Aha!” moments, all the grace and mercy and goodness of God to us.

But dads need to work hard at having those “click” moments and “Aha!” moments with each of their children. We don’t base our parenting report card solely on those moments and occasions, but if we never have moments and occasions where we know we have connected in meaningful ways, there is probably something wrong, just as if there are never any “click” moments in our Christian lives, we ought to wonder if we know Jesus or if we’re just saying His name a lot.

And saying words like “covenant theology” and “federal headship” and “family devotions” and “obedience” don’t mean there is any faith involved any more than me talking about abs and stretching and reps and cardio means I regularly exercise.  There are some real warnings here for people who are checking a lot of boxes but who are not actually connecting with their children.

But the real reason why I wanted write this was as an encouragement: There are many families with dads who are connecting with their children, who love them, who know them, who laugh with them, who embrace them, and who love to tell stories about them with admiration and thankfulness pouring out of their mouths. These dads are engaged. And these same dads (and moms) are also up to their necks in exhortations and spankings and discipline. And some of them have real puzzler children who take an extra three doses of love and compassion and several extra trips to the wood shed. Some of these families have kids whose lineage to Adam seems unmistakable and terrifyingly obvious. But these parents don’t just stand there and freak out. These parents aren’t sending their kids off to day care or the grandparents and taking month long cruises in the Bahamas to get away from the “little brats.” These parents are on their knees crying out to God for more grace, they are regularly checking in as husband and wife/mom and dad to make sure they are on the same page, and they are rolling up their sleeves every morning and giving it all they’ve got and collapsing into bed at night thankful for another day on the battle field

And you need to know, that your prayers will be heard; your faithfulness will be blessed. You are engaged, your faith clings to Jesus, and that will be the difference. Our heavenly Father will not give us a stone when we cry out to Him for bread.

]]> (Toby Sumpter) Family Thu, 26 Aug 2010 21:06:02 +0000
The Pastor's Kids, Again Several issues ago I wrote on the subject of a pastor's domestic qualifications for office. I argued that the spiritual condition of a pastor's children was directly relevant to his qualifications for continuing in the pastoral office. I granted for the sake of the discussion that the phrase in Titus 1:6 should be translated "faithful children" as opposed to "believing children," but asked in what Pauline sense faithful can mean externally obedient and internally rebellious.

Since the appearance of that column, I have received (some) thoughtful responses from readers which require me to pursue the subject a little further. In order to do this, it is necessary to begin with a few background qualifiers.

First, I trust that we can have a truce of sorts between all those who believe that the passages in question (1 Tim. 3:1-7; Tit. 1:5-9) mean something. The great problem of our time is that Paul teaches that an elder's qualification for office is established in the home, but as far as the general leadership of the Christian church in our nation today is concerned, this text is a dead letter. General agreement should be possible among those who exhibit submission to this text through an observable discipline of pastors and elders. Too often Reformed pastors want others to submit to them, but they themselves submit to nothing or no one.

Second, I have written regarding another pastoral qualification (an elder should be a one-woman man) that we are evaluating character, not counting rocks. The world is a messy place, and this is frequently hard on perfectionists. Thus, all questions flowing from weird circumstances not addressed in the text should be acknowledged to be anomalous, and dealt with on a case-by-case basis. What about an elder who adopts his fifteen-year-old nephew whose parents just died, and that nephew never comes to faith? What about a child fathered out of wedlock ten years before the father was converted and married? The man's six legitimate children are all faithful Christians. My point is not that we should apply Paul's requirements in a wooden manner, with our eyes shut tight, but rather that if we are careful to obey him in those areas which are clearly addressed in the text, we will have the wisdom necessary when we come to the difficult cases.

Third, we should distinguish the loci of decision-making on this issue, which vary according to the circumstance. In short, we should be fully convinced in our own minds concerning those conditions in our own families which would cause us voluntarily to step down, and those conditions in the life and household of another that would justify a fight at presbytery. Whatever we understand Paul to be saying, our standards of application should be tighter for ourselves, and more charitable for others. For example, a man might decide (and, I think, should decide) to step down if one of his six children denies the faith. But if another pastor in his presbytery in the same situation does not decide to do so, and his other five children are saintly, only a crank would express his disagreement through a big church fight. But say another pastor has six hellions, and how all this happened is a grand mystery to him, questions about his fitness for office should be raised and pursued.

With those qualifiers, we can turn to some of the more formidable objections. One objection is that this whole discussion distracts attention from the issue Paul raises in this passage, namely, the character traits of the man who would be an elder. In other words, why are we talking about his kids' character instead of his? The answer is that children frequently make excellent mirrors; they reflect more than we usually want to have reflected. We commonly turn away from gaining a knowledge of a pastor's character because we refuse to follow the trail of clues. They would lead us directly to that man's arrogant and harsh demeanor around the dinner table. Finally, when one of the kids has had his fill of the hypocrisy, he leaves the faith, but we don't ask any questions because the pastor is so saintly in the pulpit. But many men find it far easier to act saintly there than they do in conversation with their wife and children.

A second objection is that this standard runs contrary to the words of warning Christ gave His apostles in Matthew 10. "And the brother shall deliver up the brother to death, and the father the child: and the children shall rise up against their parents, and cause them to be put to death" (Matt. 10:21). Two responses can be made to this. The first is that Christ is telling his apostles what will happen to them, as indicated by the pronoun you used throughout the discourse. In verse 21, He shifts to the third person, and then goes back to you in v. 22. The apostles were not going to be doing the work of ministry all by themselves; they were going to be working with congregations, and many of the families in those congregations were going to be divided, as we know was the case at Corinth. The second response is that this situation could contribute to the occasional anomalous situation referred to earlier. Suppose a father brings his children up in a false religion, but when they are grown, he is then converted. His family turns on him, but he remains faithful. The point of division is the gospel here, and not twenty years of ladling reformational arrogance and conceit over the tops of the childrens' heads.

A final caution. Children learn far more unspoken theology than we tend to think. Suppose parents have operated with the doctrinal assumption that the kids might or might not turn out, who knows? Why should the children have any confidence about it? Unbelief is the constant, unspoken option. And one day, the option is spoken out loud. But it was always there, hidden away in the hearts of the parents, who always hoped for their childrens' faith, but never believed for it.



This article originally appeared as the Childer column in Credenda / Agenda 11.5

]]> (Douglas Wilson) Family Mon, 16 Aug 2010 16:48:19 +0000
The Pastor's Kid In the pastoral epistles, Paul gives several requirements regarding the children of elders. These are both discussed and disregarded with great regularity in the church.

At issue is whether the children of ministers and elders must be faithful Christians. In Titus, Paul says of elders that they should be “blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly” (Titus 1:6). In 1 Timothy, he requires that an elder must be one that “ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity” (1 Tim. 3:4). He goes on to add that if a man does not know how to rule in his own house, then he will not take good care of the church of God (v. 5).

When this particular discussion erupts, it is usually in the midst of a particular crisis “the

unmarried daughter of the pastor is pregnant, the son of one of the ruling elders is in jail, etc. In that context, feelings usually run high and sometimes careful distinctions can be lost. So although these truths must be applied at some point, it would probably be best if we sought to work through them on the chalkboard first.

It is my purpose to argue that the requirement Paul gives here should be taken at face value, and that if a man’s children fall away from the faith (either doctrinally or morally), he is at that point disqualified from formal ministry in the church. But in order to take this stand, certain questions must be answered in order – exegetical, theological, and pastoral.

First, the exegetical question. Debate on this subject usually revolves around whether the phrase in Titus 1:6 should be translated “faithful children” or “believing children.” Of course, if the proper translation is “believing children” then there is no debate anymore, at least among those who believe the Bible. If an elder must have believing children, then how could there be debate on whether he must have believing children?

So for the sake of discussion, let us grant the translation “faithful children.” It certainly is a legitimate translation, and in the last analysis I would like to argue that it doesn’t really change anything. Faithful in what? Faithful to whom? When the translation “faithful children” is urged, it is generally with the thought that a child could be faithful and obedient in external matters, but still be unregenerate. In this thinking, an elder should be required to run his household with good external discipline, but he cannot be expected to have any control over whether his children come to a saving knowledge of Christ.

But the word pistos is used frequently throughout the pastoral epistles, and while it is commonly translated as faithful, we never see this dichotomy between true heart condition and external conformity introduced (see 1 Tim. 1:12, 15; 3:11; 4:9; 6:2; 2 Tim. 2:2, 11, 13; Tit. 1:9; 3:8). In context, the word faithful means faithful down to the ground. If a son is obedient when his father tells him to take out the garbage, but disobeys when he is told to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, in what Pauline sense can the son be described as faithful?

Nevertheless, a particular theological argument against this view has great force with many. The argument goes that the election of our children is in the hands of God, and not in the hands of parents. As Alexander Strauch has argued, “To say this passage means believing Christian children places an impossible standard upon a father. Salvation is a supernatural act of God. God, not good parents (although they are used of God), ultimately brings salvation.”

Now I have argued elsewhere that parents are invited by God to believe that their children will inherit the promises of God. This is not attained by parental works in any way, but is rather a promise appropriated by faith. But again, for the sake of discussion, let’s grant this point.

To place the salvation of an elder’s children outside his influence says nothing about this particular requirement. Suppose this to be the case, and God in His sovereignty has determined not to save one of the pastor’s children. Unless we alter the wording or meaning of this passage, this would simply mean that the sovereign God has determined to reveal His desire to have the pastor step down from his ministerial responsibilities in this particular fashion.

The pastoral argument involves our understanding of what constitutes a good pastor. We still think in terms of qualifications from graduate school, and professional certification. The pastor cannot step down, we argue, because this is his livelihood. How could we expect him to abandon that? But the ministry is not a profession, and the men who hold office in the church do not hold that office as a matter of divine right.

This is why it is important for us to consider the reason Paul gives for placing this requirement on us (1 Tim. 3:5). We have every reason to believe that a man will shepherd the church in the same way he shepherded his family. This, incidentally, is another reason for believing that the work in the home concerns the fundamental spiritual issues, and not just external discipline. We are evaluating the same kind of work in different realms.

A man is qualified for ministry through many instruments and means. But the spiritual condition of his children is right at the center of his qualifications.


]]> (Douglas Wilson) Family Mon, 26 Jul 2010 17:33:41 +0000
Guilty Parents Guilt is a cancer. King David describes the oppressive burden of the guilt of his transgressions in Ps. 32. It is a palpable weight, which he can feel in his bones. It is a parching drought, sucking his strength. All he can do is groan. Sin brings about guilt and guilt cripples sinners. Oftentimes, fathers and mothers can feel this crippling effect of guilt, but don’t accurately name it for what it is. Then, because they fail to identify it, they fail to combat it effectively.

Consider this fairly common dilemma. Your kids are acting up and, as usual, they are acting up at exactly the time and in exactly the place that is most inconvenient for you. You were in thick traffic and needed to have your attention on the road at just the moment that the squabble began in the back seat. Or maybe they were rough-housing and broke something special to you. Or they just embarrassed you in front of the pastor with some nasty behavior. Something of that sort. They were misbehaving in a way that was seriously provoking to you and so you turned on them. And you, instead of handling it with a perfect mix of mercy and truth, landed on them like the 82nd Airborne, with flamethrowers and fixed bayonets. Then, half way into your assault, you get a wave of guilt. You know you lost it. You caught a glimpse of your reflection in a mirror and your lips were curled and your eyes were flashing. You were out of line and now you feel bad about it.

There you are – guilty kids and guilty parent.

For the guilty parent, the temptation is to try to let the two sins cancel each other out. You drop whatever it was that the kids did that got you ticked, and you try to move forward with a feebly restored fellowship. You make a joke or offer the kids ice cream. And then you move on as if nothing happened. But the kids did not get disciplined and you might not have even apologized for your own outbreak. And why did you not discipline the kids? Because you felt guilty.

Guilt debilitates us from being able to address sin elsewhere. It does so even when our guilt is unrelated to the sin that we are supposed to be addressing. If a father has a secret porn addiction and is heavy under the burden of the guilt of that sin, and his son is brought into him by his wife for failing to clean his room, is that man really in a position where he can effectively discipline his son? He won’t do it. He will cut his son at least as much slack as he has cut himself. His guilt has robbed him of the ability to discipline.

I suspect that this sort of guilt bartering is the primary reason that so many heterosexuals are ardent supporters of gay rights. There is a sort subconscious reasoning that says – if homosexuality is excusable then how much more excusable is my heterosexual sin?

This guilt can be quite subtle and yet still be incredibly powerful in its ability to warp us as parents. For instance, in any family with more than one child, parents will inevitably find themselves with their own personal favoritisms or repulsions amongst their kids. It might be minor and temporary. Or it can be significant and long lasting. But in the luck of the draw some of the kids will be genetically put together in such a way that their quirks and oddities blend nicely with the preferences of the parents. And some of them will grate. When this happens, it will be easy to be affectionate with some of the kids and harder to be affectionate with others. But when parents can sense this favoritism in themselves, even if it is a very subliminal sort of realization that this is the case, the sensation that they are not as easily affectionate with one kid as with another will inevitably produce a sensation of guilt.

They will feel bad about their parenting since they feel like they don’t “love” one of their kids as much as the others. Then this guilt will cripple them from being able to effectively discipline that child. Since they know that they aren’t as naturally affectionate towards one kid, they will compensate by taking it easy on that kid when discipline is needed. The result here is disastrous. A child, who was already suffering from some quirks that made him or her less easy to love, is now robbed of the kind of loving discipline that would have helped to fix many of these quirks. That child gets the double curse of feeling neglected by the parents in the realm of affection and spoiled at the same time in the realm of discipline. The other kids also see this and feel the inequality. But because they don’t have the same guilt that the parents had, all they see is one kid who is both more ornery than the rest, and inexplicably never disciplined. The end product is a family where everyone is bitter at everyone else and no one knows why.

In each of these situations, guilt is the culprit that has crippled the parents. And so guilt is the thing that needs to be addressed. The good news is that guilt is easy to deal with. In Ps. 32, after David sat under the weight of his guilt, he turned to God and confessed his sin. “I acknowledge my sin to you,” he prays to God. And once the confession is made and the sin is turned from, the guilt can be gone. In an instant David turns from groaning under the weight of his sin, to charging his readers – “Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, you righteous: And shout for joy, all you upright in heart!” A moment before his heart was heavy with guilt and now his heart is upright with joy. What a change confession of sin can make.

And that is the cure to all of the situations described above. Guilt can’t be traded away or cancelled out by someone else’s sin. If you lost it at your kids, you can’t cover up your sin by giving your kids a free pass. You can't atone for it. You can only be forgiven for it. So just confess it. And then continue on with disciplining them. You are only disqualified as a parent if you refuse to confess you sin. Once you have dealt with your own anger or frustration, then you are entirely forgiven for your sin and it is time to take care of the kids’ sin. If you have a secret sin that is debilitating you as a parent, you have to turn from that sin, find real forgiveness, and then get back in the saddle – being the mother or father that God has commanded you to be. And if you feel a favoritism or a repulsion concerning one of your kids, asking God to forgive you is the only effective way forward. Then you must treat that son or daughter just like all the others. Proverbs 13:24 says, “He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him promptly.” The failure to discipline is the real failure to love, not the initial sensation of repulsion.

All of this is just to remind us that the cross is central to all of life. Without the grace that God has given us in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, we are lost. Good parents are forgiven parents.

]]> (Ben Merkle) Family Sat, 10 Jul 2010 22:17:44 +0000