I was recently invited to talk about Adventism with two knowledgeable and kind Reformed Baptists on their podcast. We focused a lot on the Investigative Judgement, the Sabbath, and of course Ellen White. If you choose to listen I think you will find it worth your time. I also recommend giving their podcast a follow on spotify.
I’ve gotten in a number of debates with Baptists. Mostly online, some in person. None of them formal of course just more of a conversation really. At first I was seeking it out because I wanted to test what I was learning about Lutheran theology to see if there were any holes in it. If I do it these days it’s because I think either they or someone else will benefit from it. I don’t feel the need to keep having this conversation over and over, mostly because it just gets repetitive after a while.
Today I’m going to collate these experiences into one fictional conversation. The two speakers will be Mr Armchair and Mr Baptist. These days I typically receive an unsought conversation when I post a picture that happens to have a baby being baptized so we will start there.
Mr Baptist: Cute picture but you should know that infant baptism exist nowhere in scripture.
Mr Armchair: Jesus says to baptize all nations and babies are part of a nation.
“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”Matthew 28:19-20 NASB1995
Mr Baptist: ah but he didn’t specifically say babies. You’re reading that in.
Mr Armchair: He didn’t specifically cite any demographic other than those whom all nations applies. Where did he specifically exclude babies? You’re reading that in.
Mr Baptist: Well he can’t have meant babies because all of the examples in Acts are of adults being baptized after they repent.
Mr Armchair: I’m happy to address that but I want to get something out of the way first.
Mr Baptist: Sure thing.
Mr Armchair: When a pentecostal cites examples of people speaking in tongues how do you address that?
Mr Baptist: Well the first thing I point out is that narrative isn’t normative, and that we shouldn’t cite descriptive stories as a command of what we are supposed to do and how we are supposed to go about it.
Mr Armchair: So you don’t think it’s inconsistent to not take that approach with baptism? Shouldn’t we interpret isolated examples through Christ’s prescriptive teachings?
Mr Baptist: No it’s not inconsistent at all. Scripture is sufficient therefore all examples in Acts give us the full picture.
Mr Armchair: Just like speaking in tongues?
Mr Baptist: No that’s completely different.
Mr Armchair: Okay I’ll trust you see a difference. Here’s another one though, Why do you commune women when there are no specific examples of women receiving communion?
Mr Baptist: That’s easy, because women are a part of the body of Christ.
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”Galatians 3:28 NASB1995
Mr Armchair: That’s true but it doesn’t specifically show them receiving communion. That’s the standard you gave me for baptism. Also babies fall under the broad categories of male, female, Jew, and Greek and can certainly be part of the Body of Christ but you don’t commune them.
Mr Baptist: No that’s different we are talking about baptism not communion.
Mr Armchair: To me it appears your standards shift widely based on the topic. But for the sake of the conversation I’ll trust you see a difference.
To answer your original premise though just because we see examples of people repenting before receiving baptism doesn’t equal a command that this is the only chain of events allowed. It just means that’s how it happened that time.
Let me illustrate. The verse most frequently cited for requiring repentance before baptism is Acts 2:38
“Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.”Acts 2:38-39 NASB1995
The problem here is Peter doesn’t say this is the ONLY way to go about things. If you read earlier in the chapter you will see he already preached the gospel to those present so we should expect the hearers of the Word to have faith (Rom 10:17).
Peter taught them before Baptizing them even though Jesus said to Baptize before teaching (Matt 20:28). So it stands to reason you could also do it the way Jesus prescriptively taught and baptize first, which is how we do it with babies in case you were wondering. Also notice Peter said this promise is for your children.
Mr Baptist: Ah but the Greek word for children doesn’t have to mean a baby. It could just as easily mean an older child.
Mr Armchair: Right but the word doesn’t exclude babies either and he was speaking to a crowd which presumably had children of all ages, including babies, so if he intended to exclude certain ages now would have been a good time to clarify.
But you wanted examples and there’s more. There’s also household baptisms. (1) Cornelius (Acts 10); (2) Lydia (Acts 16); (3) Philippian jailer (Acts 16); (4) Crispus (Acts 18); (5) Stephanus (I Corinthians 1)
Mr Baptist: I knew you’d bring this up. We don’t even know that babies were in those households. Many homes today have no babies at all.
Mr Armchair: Well in the first century it was common to have many married couples with many children living in one large household. Multifamily homes were quite the norm. You don’t even have to go back that far in human history to see alot more of that than you do today. Also, birth control wasn’t a thing so high birthrates and high infant mortality were also quite normal. So it would actually be quite strange if none of those households cited had any babies in them. In fact, if infant baptism was against the rules we would expect at least one of these passages to specifically state the babies weren’t baptized.
With respect, reading in a command not to baptize babies just because only adults are apparent in the narrative isn’t that different than just writing a verse in there yourself that says not to baptize babies. Either way you’re adding to God’s Word. Jesus said to baptize all nations and that’s enough, we don’t need more than that.
Mr Baptist: The fact of the matter is it doesn’t specifically cite that babies were baptized and we know they couldn’t have been because baptism doesn’t save you, baptism is a work and we are not saved by works. Just like how the thief on the cross wasn’t baptized and he was promised to be in heaven by Christ himself.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”Ephesians 2:8-9 NASB1995
Baptism is something you do after you’re saved. It’s an outward sign or symbol of an inward change, and babies can’t demonstrate that change has taken place.
Mr Armchair: Nice. Now we’ve arrived at what we are actually talking about. Regarding the thief on the cross it needs to be mentioned that he technically died under the old covenant. It should be said that the thief likely did receive circumcision though… as a baby. So with respect the thief on the cross simply isn’t relevant here.
I’m happy to address your other concerns on this because I too do not believe in works salvation. I can’t promise we will agree but we will understand each other better. Fair enough? May I proceed with a few questions first before addressing your objection directly?
Mr Baptist: Sure thing.
Mr Armchair: Do you believe babies can have faith?
Mr Baptist: Faith is belief and a baby can’t say they believe.
Mr Armchair: So babies who die go to hell?
[Note to reader, many baptist have a more orthodox view of original sin than I’m going to demonstrate here. I’m representing them now based on what I see them say most normally. That said, if they have a more orthodox view of original sin the conversation does go a little differently at this point]
Mr Baptist: No, they are innocent until the age of accountability.
Mr Armchair: Okay but the Bible says we are “by nature” children of wrath (eph 2:3) and woven in iniquity (psa 51:5). Are you denying original sin?
Mr Baptist: Original sin is just a weakness to sin, we don’t inherit adams guilt.
Mr Armchair: It says BY NATURE children of WRATH though. How is it guiltless people deserve God’s wrath? Wrath is a strong word.
Mr Baptist: I see that but the verse you cited in psalms can be interpreted other ways. It’s just a poetic flourish it doesn’t mean babies bear guilt.
Mr Armchair: I know of the other ways that texts gets interpreted that’s why I focused my argument on Ephesians 2:3. It says by nature.
Mr Baptist: Yes but it doesn’t say Babies
Mr Armchair: Babies have a different nature than they do later?
Mr Baptist: It doesn’t matter because they can’t express belief, like I said.
Mr Armchair: Neither can people in a coma, or people who are severely mentally handicapped and past the age of accountability.
We are going to disagree here. Here’s the point of why I asked.
The Bible in some places defines faith as a noun. Notice when you cited Ephesians 2:8-9 it said that faith is a gift. Gifts are nouns, even in Greek.
While it’s true as you say sometimes the word faith is used as a verb it’s also true scripture uses it as a noun. Both or either can be true, context is king. But let it be resolved that when Ephesians 2:8-9 uses the word faith it’s very much in a noun sense because it’s described as a gift. So when romans 10:17 says faith comes from hearing the Word preached it’s fair to understand that God gives you this gift at least when you hear the Word.
“So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” Romans 10:17 NASB1995
I’m sure we mostly agree on that particular point. Baptists take preaching the gospel very seriously.
When scripture describes Baptism as something God does to you it’s fair to read it as HIS work not yours. Read this passage carefully. Notice which nouns are performing which verbs. Ask yourself is God doing something to the person in this verse or are they doing it for God?
“and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions” Colossians 2:11-13 NASB1995
“The working of God” is what’s going on here. This baptism Paul speaks of isn’t man’s work it’s God’s work. Therefore it can’t be works salvation at all when God is the one doing the parts that matter.
So when we see elsewhere that baptism saves you it’s best understood that it’s God’s work saving you by giving you faith just as he does when the Word is preached back in Romans 10:17.
“Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you—not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ”1 Peter 3:21 NASB1995
Mr Baptist: Well there’s a few things I need to say about that. First off the verse you cite in Colossians isn’t about water baptism at all it’s about being born again, the thing water baptism is only symbolic of. Secondly, Peter actually says the water isn’t what saves you if you keep reading that verse.
Mr Armchair: While one can receive faith by other means like I said earlier, and thereby be born again as you say, the verse I cited in Colossians actually says Baptism in it and since there’s only one Baptism (Eph 4:5) and you yourself quote Jesus words when you perform a water baptism (Matt 20:28) then it’s certainly fair to understand Paul as citing water Baptism in Colossians as there is no other Baptism with which to cite.
To address your second point Paul doesn’t say you’re saved by baptism but not by baptism. He says you’re saved by baptism, not by this part of it that you see but by this part of it that you don’t see. To read it your way I’d have to read appealing for a clean conscience as the act that saves and besides cutting his sentence in half that would also be works salvation in your view wouldn’t it?
Mr Baptist: No, baptism is something you choose to do. It’s a work. We are not saved by works.
Mr Armchair: So babies choose to be baptized?
Mr Baptist: No. There are no examples of infant baptism in scripture!
As you can see this example ends there. This isn’t always the precise end point but it’s a contender for the most common. Usually I see no point in circling back to ground already covered.
Once your conversation does that it means either you weren’t clear or they aren’t understanding and unless there’s an obvious way of breaking past that it’s time to call it quits.
I don’t want to make it sound like I’m some kind of debate guru. I’ve gotten out of my depth before. For example, if someone is super fluent in the original languages I will usually concede that I’m more interested in reading their debate with someone on their level rather than having one.
In my experience Reformed Baptists will usually be alot sharper and produce better debates than this example. They will generally appeal to their systematic instead of to their culture and that can branch into a variety of directions.
You have to make them focus on the verses that they like to steam roll over with their systematics. Otherwise you just end up in a systematic slinging contest from different traditions and that’s no fun.
This one just gives the reader an example of a conversation with random baptist of the day. I hope it was at least amusing and that maybe you saw something here you’ve missed before.
Feel free to share your experiences in the comments if you like. Also, should you find yourself in a similar conversation feel free to drop this link at the start and ask your baptist friend which part he or she wants to skip ahead to. May save you some time.
Elce-Junior Thunder Lauriston was an active Seventh Day Adventist evangelist for many years. He left the church subsequent to his studies regarding the new covenant and other scriptures. As he was making his departure known at the University he was attending his professors tried to win him back. That desire in and of itself is something I won’t fault them for and I doubt Elce would either. Since then he has gone on to become a minister in his own right, just not a Seventh Day Adventist one.
There was a recording of this meeting though which I found very interesting and I thought you might too. This recording was taken in March of 2016. What you are going to hear is about an hour or so of conversation where Elce is given a chance to articulate why he is leaving and the strange approach they use to try to win him back.
What I find so interesting is that they don’t actually put up much of a defense of adventist beliefs at all. Instead what I hear is these professors and church leaders trying to share what seems to be their coping mechanisms with the false teachings of adventism to see if Elce will find any of them appealing as a means of keeping his career on track. It sounds to me they already know what they are supposed to teach is false. Had that not been the case an example I would have expected would be for them to show Elce where they think he is interpreting Daniel 8 incorrectly. Instead what I hear is that they share personal workarounds they have personally constructed over the years to cope with the intellectual tension in order to keep their jobs.
I also find it very interesting that they start this meeting out by highlighting Elce’s promising career if he chooses to stay. I just see this as really sad.
When I found the new covenant it was so obvious to me that I didn’t know how any Adventist leader remains one in good conscience. How do you see that pearl in the Bible and not want to sell everything to have it?
If this is something you have wondered yourself now is your opportunity to see it from a church leadership perspective. Pull back the curtain and see what at least some leaders in Adventism think are good coping mechanisms for dealing with the false teachings of the church.
I don’t know about you but it gives me a little bit of closure. I never had the opportunity to try to tease this one out of adventist leaders myself. Maybe you didn’t either in your journey out. But you don’t have to now, Elce did that one for us. The recording is an hour long and well worth your time.
This is an armchair theology blog where I build each thesis on scripture as closely as I can. If you want an older post that does that on this topic please click HERE.
In this post though I’m going to tie my hands behind my back in order to appeal to non-christians for the sake of the unborn. Though alot of figurative ink has been spilled online most of the conversations only go about an inch deep and I want to do what I can to rectify this.
A common language most of us hopefully still agree with is reason so I will be leaning on that. The English language grew into itself in a Christian context so it’s not possible to eliminate Christian ideas altogether, but when I see myself drifting in that direction in my argumentation I’ll offer a secular perspective for the sake clear of communication.
Why do this?
Because I think it’s important. I believe we are committing genocide of the unborn and we need to stop. I also believe I can an average reader of sound mind willing to broach the topic openly that this is true. I don’t want to misrepresent the arguments for abortion in this post though. I am going to frame what’s been articulated to me as simply and as best I can and then focus my response against that. I’m limiting my scope to what I think is the most important part of the argument. If you want to discuss another aspect of the conversation please drop a comment and we can talk there.
Why do people support abortion?
I realize there are different views out there that wind up at supporting abortion. However, in my experience your average abortion supporter argues for a distinction between a fetus and a human being. They say that a fetus isn’t a human being until it’s born. Once he or she is born equal rights and due process apply, but before this happens they don’t and only the decision of the woman carrying the fetus is relevant. To challenge this is to challenge her bodily autonomy in the same manner as if she were to forbid you from getting a heart surgery or tattoo.
It is a waste of time to interact with this argument without defining terms. The word “being” is thrown around interchangeably as a philosophical term in and with biological ones, which is fine as long as it’s done with care and terms are defined. Let us at least agree that no meaningful conversation is going to be made at the idea level together until we start working out what is meant by these words and both sides affording an opportunity to poke holes. Let’s us head in that direction by interacting with another idea we probably agree with and see how it works out.
Do you believe in human equality?
Do you believe all humans are equal? I would assume yes. There is a powerful taboo in place right now against questioning human equality, particularly in the west. The consequences of the actions of communist and fascist rulers in the 20th century have left a strong distaste in everyone since, and for good cause. Taboo’s can be good things but they are never eternal. Taboos fade in time. This taboo against questioning human equality in particular will probably fade a good deal sooner than we would hope. People will need critically tested reasons for believing in human equality at some point in our future and it would be wise of us to leave the grid work in place so that those left defending it have an advantage over those who seek to topple it.
Most secular people I discuss this with don’t really articulate any good reasons for believing in human equality. They say they believe it but if you press them for why you get a lot of circular answers, which is why I submit that taboo as why I think they even hold to human equality in the first place. I don’t think this is critically examined by most secular people today. From a biology only perspective we are most decidedly not equal. Some humans are taller, skinnier, prettier, stronger, and some more intelligent. If you were to identify and quantify these variables everyone would have a different sum. Such variables aren’t trite either, many are good predictors for outcomes in terms of power, wealth, happiness, and much more. Add evolution into the mix and we are scientifically proven to not be equal, and that even if we were forced to be such somehow it would not be to our advantage to even approach. It would place us in a weaker state to even seek equality. Such is the state of equality when defined by what Aristotle would identify as mere “accidents and attributes”.
I never hear it worded this way of course. Most will say that human beings are equal, they just fail to define the term “being”. It’s a philosophical term not a biological one.
I do believe in human equality and here’s why…
I believe that human beings are dichotomous. If you want a theological argument for that click HERE. I don’t need that to argue for this though as a sufficient quantity of the data I need is self-evident. I believe we have a body and a soul, another way of wording that though if you don’t like the word soul is that we have a material and immaterial nature. Even the most naturalist reader of this post would likely concede that a state of mind is an immaterial aspect of the brain. You can project that concept out biologically if you like and arrive at an immaterial aspect of a human being without appealing to spirituality of any kind.
That dual nature of a human is what makes us all equal. We all have both parts of that whole and it doesn’t matter if one of those parts is lesser than that of another person. The presence of both equals a definitive whole. You remove my arm and I am less body but I am still a union of body and soul. You subject me to abject horror and my soul may be damaged but I am still a union of body and soul. My body and my soul may both weaken through the ravages of time as I age but never the less this dichotomous nature is still present until the day that I die.
All human beings no matter their race, creed, age, developmental stage, skill, attractiveness, birth status, sex characteristics, or any other accident or attribute are equally a human being. As a Christian would say, Jesus bled and died for all of us.
That is a good reason to believe in human equality and it’s a fair demonstration of how fundamentally necessary philosophy still is. Even the best things science has produced still need a philosophical and moral structure to guide them or they produce abject horror.
How is this relevant to abortion though?
To most readers my next argument should be self-evident at this point. You have probably already connected the pieces. We would all agree that this dichotomous nature ends at death. Thus there is no objective reason to believe it begins anywhere else than life. Passage through the birth canal is a change in location not ontology. When a baby is born all of the changes that he or she goes through are accidents and attributes, nothing about the babies essential essence changes. Fetus isn’t an ontological term it’s a biological one that denotes a stage of growth and development.
Fetus is to baby, as baby is to child, as child is to teenager, as teenager is to adult, and so on…
There is no reason abstract mere presupposition to tie ontology to a specific point of development aside from conception itself. When a zygote forms both the material and the immaterial natures of the child are received from their parents and they become a new being. Just like in my analogy of how when a full grown man loses his arm and becomes less body but is still the dichotomy of body and soul so too a zygote is severely deficient in terms of both categories but nevertheless the seeds of both are united and there exists no reason philosophically or scientifically to not assume the seed of the soul is at the same stage of development as the seed of the body.
To tie existence of the immaterial nature of man to an arbitrarily defined degree of development of the body would in my mind force one to conclude that children who are so severely developmentally disabled that their immaterial nature is not self evident or elderly who are suffering the final stages of dementia are not human beings either and can be ethically disposed of at the choice of the primary caretaker. I doubt that’s a position you would advocate for, but if you tie personhood to cognition then that would be the only way you could maintain intellectual consistency.
Though in the earliest phase of development the zygote is a human body and soul and is subject to all the same risks and fortunes as the rest of us. They just happen to be in a helpless stage of life where they are wholly dependent and need others to advocate for them, in like manner to the elderly.
Even if you insist that it can’t be known when the immaterial aspect of a human comes into play, and that they can be killed before that occurs, all you’re doing is saying it’s okay to play a game of chance with murder. You wouldn’t approach any other category of human life in that regard would you? If you’re demolishing a building but you’re not sure if there is life inside of the building do you just pull the switch anyways? No, out of respect for the sanctify of life you would play it safe and I’m just asking you to be consistent.
I’m not using a new argument. This is the same rationale of the Christian’s who ended slavery in Great Britain without a war. Like it or not there are some Christian traditions that over time developed a consistent philosophical approach to arriving at human equality. This approach doesn’t need a cultural context or taboo to hold it up. You don’t have to be a Christian to appropriate it either.
We don’t mind if you plagiarize this one and roll with it. We don’t even care if you shamelessly take credit for it and blame us for not adopting it earlier in our history. We snagged the underlying terminology from B.C. Greek thinkers anyways so perhaps we can all just share this one. No matter where you take this argument we would all wind up in a better place. Go be the chaff and be separate but take this gem with you.
For reasons I made clear above I fear a world to come that loses the taboo and starts questioning human equality critically. Abortion in it’s current state is just a taste of that. There are already published ethicists advocating for after-birth abortion. Consistent with the arguments I’ve made they question drawing the line at passage through the birth canal. If the term “being” is merely granted by community consensus any line can be arbitrarily drawn wherever we like. Why not abort at 2 or 3 years of age for example? It’s not a slippery slope fallacy if I can objectively define and test the grade and grain of the slope. With no objectivity in defining “being” there is no reason to say the line can’t be subjectively moved when the taboo obstacles holding it back are removed.
You should be pro-life, it’s in your interest and it’s in the interest of generations to come. This doesn’t mean we have to be heartless to the plight of women. The sanctity of life and wellbeing of mothers in crisis are not mutually exclusive concerns. Wicked institutions have pitted the two against each other. Being pro-life doesn’t mean embracing the worst aspects of the american religious right or any of it.
A lot of Christians would honestly embrace a new coalition of pro-life advocates who prioritize a better social safety net for women in a crisis pregnancy. We could meet in the middle and work things out in the political sphere. I think that in such a future we would all be surprised how far the political conversation could move in favor of helping women and babies here and now when abortion is taken off the table and cast onto the ash heap of human holocausts it belongs with.
The Westboro Baptists have never made much sense to me. Setting aside how offensive the notion of protesting a soldiers funeral is, and the horrible things they say to homosexuals whom God bled and died for, they still don’t make any sense to me. Most will say that they are just filled with hate, but I think that doesn’t explain the whole picture. It’s too easy to just label someone you disagree with and walk away. There’s usually more going on under the hood and until you understand it better your comments lack meaning.
I was recommended a recent interview on this topic and ate it up. Turns out a woman by the name of Megan Phelps-Roper was a prominent member of this church a number of years back. She was the grand daughter of the founder and ran their social media accounts. You can find the interview HERE.
What I liked about the interview is that she gave a lot of details on how these folks arrive at the theological conclusions that inspire some of their horrific signs and actions. I’m assuming anyone with internet access is reasonably familiar with this congregation, I’m not comfortable retyping the things on their signs. If you want to see for yourself you can click HERE. There more recent ones seem to be an improvement.
Here is the thing that gets me, why do they feel the need to go to a soldiers funeral to protest homosexuality? I realize that’s a very tame way of putting it, I’m just laying the concept out there. What is it in their head that maps that one out and do they base in on the Bible? If so how? From the interview this is what I got.
This verse seems to be a big one with them:
“You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him.” Lev 19:17 ESV
This is how she understands that verse in Leviticus…
“Watching your neighbor go down a bad path leads to curses for them in this life and hell in the world to come, so therefore you should correct your neighbor. You failed to warn them, you didn’t give them the opportunity to repent.”
So the idea is that if you’re not reasoning with your neighbor then you are guilty of their sins too. How I understand this from the interview is that she believed anyone who isn’t protesting or resisting the sins of America in general is complicit in those sins. So that explains the protesting I guess. Although I think it would be more logical from their perspective to focus on protesting government institutions directly or maybe Hollywood.
I think that’s a bad application of that passage though, first off it’s old covenant which is now obsolete (Heb 8:13). Secondly, the passage is taught in the greater context of a theocracy. If you were going to make application in principal of this command in the new covenant era it would be with regards to church discipline.
How is it she ended up protesting soldiers funerals though? I’ll walk you through the passages and reasoning that she articulated.
“See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you today, and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn aside from the way that I am commanding you today, to go after other gods that you have not known. “ Deuteronomy 11:26-28 ESV
If you have read my blog posts on the old vs new covenant then you already know where I’m going with my analysis on Westboro. For the sake of a new reader though let’s walk through this one carefully.
What we have here in Deuteronomy is God’s Word articulating the conditions placed on the Mosaic Covenant. Every covenant has a promise, a sign, and a condition. The condition of the old covenant was obedience, if you fail to keep it you incur consequences. If the distinction between new and old covenant is new to you I recommend starting out with a piece I wrote on this while leaving Adventism HERE.
Few things are more obvious in scripture than the distinction between the new and old covenant. Even the word “testament” simply means covenant. If you’re not getting this idea the Bible is a closed book to you. Through the 66 books there is a consistent narrative on this and it relates directly to Jesus words in New Testament when he makes a New Covenant. One of the ways we distinguish his new covenant from the old is that the new covenant doesn’t have conditions on it and the old one does.
So you might be noticing that it’s kind of strange for a church that calls itself Christian to be using an old covenant condition for a new covenant prescription to protest anything. Nevertheless, this is what we are left with. According to Megan Phelps-Roper, that verse in Deut is used as a foundation for the following question:
“Can we all agree that a dead child is a curse from God and not a blessing?”
I would argue that this isn’t relevant to the passage being cited. Children can die for many reasons that aren’t relevant or connected to a covenant that is currently obsolete (Heb 8:13). As an example of dead soldiers being a specific curse though this verse is cited:
When new gods were chosen, then war was in the gates. Was shield or spear to be seen among forty thousand in Israel?’ Judges 5:8
My problem with this is that it’s narrative. As a rule you don’t use stories of specific events as normative descriptors for unrelated events. How ridiculous would that be if done consistently?
We can see in Judges that God punished Israel for idolatry in keeping with the curses outlined for failing to keep his covenant. That’s all that is, it has no bearing on today whatsoever except in the body of Christ as he hung on the tree. He bore the true curse for all of us. The curses laid on Israel in the old covenant were type and shadow of the curse laid upon Jesus Christ when he gave us the new.
Nevertheless, Westboro uses this passage and the next as a normative foundation for the idea that God will punish America for her sins in the form of her soldiers dying in war.
“9 They have deeply corrupted themselves as in the days of Gibeah: he will remember their iniquity; he will punish their sins….11 Ephraim’s glory shall fly away like a bird-no birth, no pregnancy no conception! 12 Even if they bring up children, I will bereave them till non is left” Hosea 9:9, 11-12 ESV
Hosea isn’t narrative, instead we are having prophetic imagery of curses to come for Israel failing to keep the covenant. Punishments yes, but specific to Israel in a time and place that isn’t here or today. Instead of contextualizing that, Westboro makes broad application to America today. This is how they frame:
“When a nation has institutionalized sin against God, God responds with killing their children in battle”
So the idea is they have chosen to protest funerals so that we all get the message that God is punishing America for her sins. Even if you accept the premise I think that is a bad idea. There would be better venues for protesting sin. When you protest a soldiers funeral all you’re communicating to others is that the soldiers sacrifice for you is of no value.
The conclusion is flawed though altogether. Israel was punished for failing to keep God’s law with a punishment that is lighter than what they deserve to give us the idea. We all have fallen short of the glory of God, we all deserve death and hell. God is Holy in an infinite sense, and thus his wrath against sin is equally infinite. The only way out is through and equally infinite expression of love in his sacrifice on the cross. Nothing less than that is enough to pay the debt of sin. Even the horrors of war and the death of our children is simply not enough.
For the death of soldiers today to be a punishment from God, in the same sense as spoken of in the Old Testament, the idea conveyed would be that Jesus death on the cross was pointing to here and now. Instead of the new covenant making the old obsolete it would be the otherway around. By creating a false law in missing type and shadow Westboro robs you of the gospel too.
Westboro doesn’t go far enough with the law, it seems to me that they portray it as something they are able to keep simply by not being homosexuals. They can’t keep God’s law any better than Israel could. Instead of learning from that lesson they take the minor punishments only meant to convey as foreshadow of the actual punishments of eternal hellfire and present them as present day punishments out of context, while conveniently excluding themselves.
Jesus bled and died for Westboro same as he did those they protest. Jesus took the true punishment that the old covenant horrors merely pointed to. How you approach scripture matters, there are consequences. In this case like so many others the false teaching peddled by Westboro created an apostasy factory, and a very good one too as it has inspired apostasy both within and without their congregation.
This is going to sound harsh and I don’t expect the average reader to agree, feel free to sound off in the comments either way. In fact I welcome a critical analysis of what I’m about to say so readers can see different views and decide for themselves.
In my frank opinion Westboro is simply being consistent with what I understand to be the Baptist approach to scripture regarding the doctrine of baptism. You take a list of specific narrative examples of adults being baptized in the book of Acts and read it as normative and prescriptive across the board. The word “only” is read in between a few words here and there, and you develop creative ways of re-interpreting clear prescriptive passages to the contrary. Westboro has simply been consistent and used this methodology in other areas. I’m not intending to lump in all Baptists with Westboro, I’m just saying there is some clear overlap with the approach to scripture is all. If you’re reading this as a non-westboro Baptist please file it under friendly constructive criticism from your favorite Armchair Theologian.
On a side note, it should be obvious to anyone that if Westboro’s approach to scripture was true we should expect to see first century Christians protesting the funerals of roman soldiers. If you want to talk about institutionalized depravity Rome had America beat in every category. That being the case, why is it the Apostle Paul wrote Romans 13 instead of summarizing Westboro’s approach to the old testament? I don’t pose this to everyone, I just hope a Westboro member ends up reading this question and it gives them something to think about.
Secular thinkers tend to write of Westboro as simply being filled with hate. I don’t think “hate” is specific enough for what’s going on here. In fact, while it may be a factor I don’t think it’s really helpful to go in that direction at all. For example, if you listen to the interview Westboro uses the same theological approach to arrive at agreement with the civil rights. What we have at the core is just a really bad approach to scripture. This approach has caused a lot of people a great deal of pain well beyond the borders of Westboro property and revealed their tradition as an apostasy factory. That should be a warning to all of us.
This was a dark topic so here is a funny video by Lutheran Satire to wrap things up with…
Sometimes I wish atheists would ask a christian for help in finding better verses to object to in scripture. They tend to be very bad theologians. The silly passages many choose as something to contend with is in my opinion one of the strongest apologetics against atheism. One of the most popular is Deuteronomy 22:29. I’ve heard this objection my whole life, but a quick google search didn’t disappoint, here are two random examples….
“Hebrew girl who is raped can be sold to her rapist for 50 shekels, or about $580 (Deuteronomy 22:28-29). He must then keep her “because she has been “humbled”. – The Independent
“4) Laws of Rape (Deuteronomy 22:28-29 NAB)
If a man is caught in the act of raping a young woman who is not engaged, he must pay fifty pieces of silver to her father. Then he must marry the young woman because he violated her, and he will never be allowed to divorce her.
What kind of lunatic would make a rape victim marry her attacker? Answer: God.” – EvilBible.Com
I would like to point out that the writer in the second quote is at best badly paraphrasing the NAB, check for yourself HERE.
I have pasted the whole passage below and included some of the context. Let’s take a look at it.
“But if in the open countrya man meets a young woman who is betrothed, and the man seizes her and lies with her, then only the man who lay with her shall die. But you shall do nothing to the young woman; she has committed no offense punishable by death. For this case is like that of a man attacking and murdering his neighbor, because he met her in the open country, and though the betrothed young woman cried for help there was no one to rescue her. “If a man meets a virgin who is not betrothed, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are found, then the man who lay with her shall give to the father of the young woman fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife, because he has violated her. He may not divorce her all his days. ‘Deut 22:25-29 ESV
Setting aside how badly this passage is represented by the sources I cited at the outset, let’s break down what it actually says. The first thing I want to point out is that the genre of law gives us legal categories to work with, these aren’t supposed to be interpreted as narrowly specific examples of things that really happened. This is giving categories for an old covenant Judge to render a proper judgement.
What we are given here is juxtaposition of sexual sin and how evidence should be weighed against claims when determining who is at fault as well as the severity of punishments necessary. In the first example we have no witnesses to the event itself because it is “in the open country” but we do have character witnesses for the woman because she “is betrothed”. Someone has vouched for her chastity, so basically that’s admissible as evidence in this case. Presuming she isn’t admitting complicity in the crime she would be judged as wholly innocent of the sin of fornication according to this directive.
In old covenant law it would seem his word of how the events transpired is not simply equal to hers, I would theorize that a mans physical advantage and assumed desire for a woman are both factors against him no matter what the context is.
With regards to the second example we have a case where it is not in the open country and there are not witnesses for her chastity. The assumption here is they are both guilty of fornication so it has to be made right by marriage and the payment of a fine.
It would be an anachronism to assume a post 1960’s sexual revolution category of consent into this passage. That said, even if you did it doesn’t do much for the judge who is using this law in old covenant Israel. They will only have the presence or absence of any evidence corroborating claims that are being made after the fact and will primarily be focusing on adjudicating the sin of fornication, in which case rape would simply mean innocence on the part of the woman.
When you get down to it this isn’t that different than how a judge weighs out the law today. Some categories of evidence and admissible, some are not. The judge is given categories and ranges of punishment and they work from there. Even though our laws are not the same as those in the old covenant the style is similar in structure and application. It’s entirely likely we got the fundamental ideas of our legal system from scripture anyways.
All I’m saying is if you’re going to criticize the Bible pick better stuff. Things like this just make you look dumb. Christians have spent the better part of two thousand years arguing over how to properly interpret some of the more complex teachings of scripture. If you want some fodder of what to start with then start there, no need to re-invent the wheel. At least then the conversation would be more interesting for both parties and you wouldn’t look silly in the process.
This will probably be my last post on Joshua Harris recent announcement of leaving the faith. For those who don’t know, the word sacramentarian refers to someone who believes the sacraments are only symbolic. These days they will generally use the term ordinance instead of sacrament altogether. The word sacramental refers to someone who believes the sacraments are not symbolic. So my title is a play on words on multiple levels that I will explain in the course of this post.
I think based on the sources I’ve read that the Sovereign Grace Ministries quasi sacramental view on sanctification contributed to the sex abuse scandal as much as the false teachings on church government did. Not as directly, but taken together as a system.
To effectively make the case here I want to give a brief overview of Roman Catholic beliefs as I understand them.
Roman Catholics believe in original sin, in fact, they are generally more orthodox on that than a lot of protestants are these days. They believe that you are born deserving death and hell and that the sacrament of holy baptism washes this away.
As you progress in your life you accumulate both mortal and venial sins. The latter would be the most common. My understanding is that venial sins add to the time in purgatory you will need to be cleansed by fire after you die, but they don’t actually damn you to hell or cause you to lose your salvation. Mortal sins however are believed to remove you from the faith entirely and you have to confess to a priest and receive the Eucharist to be restored.
To speak plainly, they basically believe you have to go to church every week. When you do that you receive the sacraments, you get a little extra grace, your time in purgatory for venial sins is reduced, and your mortal sins are forgiven. In their understanding, if you continue in this process your whole life the degree of grace you end up receiving may even place you in the category of sainthood in which you go straight to heaven and skip purgatory altogether.
Should you forget to confess a venial sin then that sin goes unforgiven and your purgatory time does not reduce. If you fail to confess a mortal sin then you’re going to hell. Indulgences can be obtained to receive blanket forgiveness for either category of forgotten sins. My understanding is they don’t sell indulgences for money anymore, so that’s nice.
If you think that a picture of running on a mouse wheel is a good image of what I just described then we think a lot alike. Why am I brining up Rome though? They don’t really have anything to do with Sovereign Grace Ministries. After all, SGM is a protestant organization.
Back to SMG…
To answer that question I am going to lean heavily on a post put out by SGM Survivors. Below is an analysis of SGM beliefs published by their blog, I am quoting it here in case the site ever goes away. But I encourage you to give them a click HERE just to give them some traffic even if you’re going to read it on my blog. I will bold out in black and red areas that are most critical if you just want to skim.
While I am the first to say that any coverup of sex abuse is horrific and evil, particularly when done by a church, I think it would be interesting to explore the mindset behind any such coverup.
What is it about their SGM training that would make SGM pastors respond to abusers in such a way? Why would SGM pastors appear to extend more grace to perpetrators than to victims? Why would SGM pastors believe that they should be the primary source of counsel and support for perpetrators? Why would SGM pastors exhibit a reluctance to get outside help or call upon law enforcement to deal with such perpetrators?
It’s my opinion that SGM’s twisted teachings about sin and the role of the pastor – as well as SGM’s blurring of the lines between “the gospel” and “the SGM church organization” – are what have led to situations where these sorts of crimes seem to be minimized, and perpetrators quickly restored to good standing within congregations.
First of all, SGM holds to the (in my opinion essentially correct and biblical) belief that all problems faced by humanity can be traced back to sin. I say I think it’s an “essentially correct and biblical belief” because if we dig through all the layers of human suffering and misery and downright evil, we are left with almost no other choice but to conclude that humanity is messy because humanity is fallen and sinful.
However, where I would part ways with SGM’s assumption is where SGM’s essentially correct belief about sin morphs into what SGM believes is the remedy for sin.
In SGM’s teachings – and if I wanted to take more time to develop this, I could go back and dig up plenty of quotes from books like Why Small Groups and sermons like CJ’s Happiest Place On Earth, as well as plenty of other resources that are available for the whole world to read and hear – the problem of sin is seen as being addressed by not just the work of Jesus on the cross and His continued presence with us through the Holy Spirit. SGM would say that Jesus’ work on the cross is now being “finished” or “completed” by how Christians relate to a “local” church and how Christians are affected by the work of the pastors in their lives.
1. Yes, salvation is through Christ alone, through his atoning sacrifice.
2. Salvation, however, is separate from sanctification.
4. Although, sanctification WILL result anytime someone is “truly saved.”
5. Sanctification cannot happen apart from “biblical fellowship.” I actually am going to go and dig up a quote to back this one up. From Chapter 1 of Why Small Groups? comes this:
“Although one’s personal responsibility for sanctification remains paramount, sanctification cannot be accomplished in isolation from the local church. Scripture clearly teaches that sanctification is intended to take place in the local church—and small groups contribute invaluably to this process.”
You can read the whole chapter to get an even better feel for how thoroughly CJ and his cohorts view participation in “biblical fellowship” a completely essential element of a person’s sanctification.
6. A key componant of “biblical fellowship” is interacting with people in a way where they freely confront you about your sin and where you humbly submit to others’ assessment of your sin. I would strongly urge people to read Why Small Groups? if they have not already done so, and examine how narrowly and explicitly “biblical fellowship” is defined, and how it almost cannot take place anywhere but in a small group set up and run the way SGM runs small groups.
(By the way – this principle is FOUNDATIONAL if anyone wants to understand the driving force behind Brent Detwiler’s seeming obsession with confronting CJ in his sins. In the SGM mindset, a lack of willingness to submit to others’ assessment of your sin and to acknowledge your sins when confronted with them is almost a sign that you are out of fellowship with God. If we can grasp this, we can understand why in Brent’s mind, CJ’s unwillingness to be confronted was so utterly grievous and dismaying. And why Brent continued his pursuit so doggedly…even as he talked about “grace,” which most Christians understand as letting someone off the hook. In SGM thinking, true “grace” must involve sticking with the confrontation no matter what, because unwillingness to acknowledge one’s sins when confronted would be a sign that the person is not being sanctified…which is a sign that the person could maybe not even be saved!)
7. Also, SGM believes that another essential part of “biblical fellowship” is a person’s continued oversight from his pastor, who also bears the responsibility to continue to confront the person on his sin. SGMers are taught that pastors, by virtue of their higher calling and “gifting,” possess special abilities to perceive a person’s sins more accurately than the person himself. You can read a transcript of C.J. Mahaney’s Happiest Place On Earthsermon here. C.J. has traveled around the country, delivering that sermon to many SGM churches over the years. While (once again) Dave Harvey would now apparently like people to think that SGM does not teach that pastors have special authority over people, that is simply not true.
8. Essential to the SGM understanding of the gospel is a demonstration that one remains keenly aware of one’s “worst sinner one knows” status. I realize that this comment is already excruciatingly long, but I really want to lay this all out in one place, so I’m going to quote from another post:
Deeply embedded in the SGM mindset are some assumptions:
1. All sins are just as vile in the eyes of God.
2. One of the clearest signs of “rebellion” is when a person sees himself as an injured party, because no injury that can be perpetrated against the person could ever surpass the horror that the person’s own sin is in the eyes of God.
3. The clearest sign of a “repentant” person is eager confession of wrongdoing.
Taking those three SGM assumptions, let’s examine Noel’s pastors’ response to her family’s situation. In light of these assumptions, I think we can more clearly understand a bit of what went through those pastors’ minds as they offered more sympathy and support to the perp rather than the victims. Even though the pastoral responses are basically incomprehensible to a normal person, they sort of start to make sense when you think of it in this way:
Because of SGM’s belief that each of us must always be “the worst sinner that we ourselves know,” we basically give up our rights to ANY victimhood, no matter how heinous the crime committed against us.
In other words, even though what happened to Noel’s family was absolutely horrific, SGM’s foundational teachings would say that Noel’s only legitimate “biblical” response would be to examine her own sinfulness and see herself as “the worst sinner” she knows. Her pastors would see it as their duty to direct Noel’s attention first of all to her own indwelling sin, her own wretchedness in God’s eyes. I believe they sincerely think that this is “bringing the Gospel into” everything they do. For them, “the Gospel” is firstly and foremostly about our own sin.
But instinctively, we know that something is jacked up in this view. God’s own Word would tell us that He does see some sins as having broader and more lasting consequences than other sins. Yes, all sin is an abomination in God’s eyes…theoretically. But we all know the REALITY, that if I go out and kill someone, there are far more ramifications all the way around than if I lie by calling in sick to work one day when I’m not actually sick and just want to go shopping with my friends. Both the murder and the lie are sins in God’s eyes and both are wretched, but if you lie to me, I’m probably going to be less upset than if you kill someone near and dear to me.
In SGMville, though, this normal human reaction – one that the even the Bible would seem to support, if you examine how God outlined so many very specific laws and guidelines governing behavior for Old Testament Israel – is circumvented. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been the victim of a liar or a murderer. In your SGM pastor’s mind, you’ve got NO RIGHT to see yourself as a victim, of any sort. In order to “bring the Gospel in,” they’re duty-bound to remind you of your own sinfulness, like it’s some sort of tonic for the normal grief that you might feel because of the ramifications of the sin that was perpetrated against you…like somehow, if I as the victim can just focus on my own badness, I’ll forget that someone molested my child.
So OK. In SGMville, all sins are created equal.
Now, enter the perp. Perp expresses sorrow and remorse for his sin. He truly IS the “worst sinner that he knows,” so such a mindset comes easily and naturally to him. In the eyes of his SGM pastors, he automatically then becomes the “more righteous” person, since his response is the only “truly biblical” repsonse that they can find acceptable.
It gets worse if the victim stands up for himself/herself in any fashion. SGM pastors immediately see this as unforgiveness, which of course is a sin, which then makes the victim even WORSE than the remorseful (and therefore righteous) perp.
Again, I did not think of this myself. Someone else initially posted these general thoughts. But I thought these were some brilliant observations that did far more to shed light on Noel’s pastors’ really twisted and bizarre behavior than just about anything else.
To me, this helps to make sense of why, in SGMville, the victims are minimized while the perps are protected. It’s because in SGMville, the only thing that is really righteous is seeing oneself as “the worst sinner one knows.” If one has had a crime – particularly a heinous crime like child abuse – perpetrated against one, there is NO HONEST WAY that one can authentically and enthusiastically embrace “worst sinner” status in one’s thinking. One instinctively knows that someone else’s sin (in this case, one’s perp’s sin) is greater than one’s own sin. So one naturally raises objections to embracing “worst sinner” status.
SGM pastors sense this and seem to hone in on it, interpreting standing up for oneself as a sign of pride and sin and unforgiveness.
Meanwhile, the perp is over in his corner crying his genuine tears of sorrow. Because he truly IS the “worst sinner he knows” at that moment, he is more righteous, and hence more worthy of protection.
9. We have to factor in SGM’s longstanding distrust of and total disdain for the mental health profession. SGM has long taught that “secular psychology” has absolutely nothing to offer the believer in terms of solving problems. (You can see what was taught to SGM pastors fairly recently – in 2009 – about the “counseling process” by viewing a transcript of that talk. Access Part 1 here, Part 2 here, and Part 3 here.)
Anyway, to connect the dots of all this to the situations where SGM pastors were aware of sex abuse and seem to do nothing to address the problem legally…
If all problems are sin issues, and if the only solution to all sin issues (sanctification) must involve continued “biblical fellowship,” which – most importantly – includes continued confrontation from a pastor about one’s sins…
And if “secular psychology” presents no way for this to continue, but a pastor’s counsel does…
And if a perpetrator has acknowledged his sin to his pastor…
And if it is un-Christian (“sinful”) to ever feel like one has the right to be a total victim, with no corresponding need to focus on one’s own sin…
Then it makes total sense for the SGM pastor to:
1. Appear to side with the perpetrator.
2. Believe that his pastoral counsel is all that is needed.
3. Believe that he is actually better serving the victim through his position, because he is making it more difficult for the victim to pursue what would be sin – i.e. being a victim and “demonstrating unforgiveness” by pursuing justice through the legal system.
4. Consequently believe that through all of this, he is “protecting the gospel” or some such, because the SGM gospel is all about confronting and rooting out sin, never having the right to be a victim, and demonstrating one’s salvation status by the sanctification process of confessing one’s sins – which a perpetrator has already done, therefore making the perpetrator “more sanctified” than someone who is trying to get justice as a victim.
What a twisted net of false teachings!!
Compare that treadmill to the Roman Catholic one at the outset. I’m gonna tell you if my only options were to take my family to one of those two I would go Catholic, their system is more doable. I basically just have to go to church in that system and then maybe procure and indulgence before I die. I already go to church so that sounds a lot easier to me than gauging my subjective sanctification progress on the whims of my small group leader. If a reformation was necessary for Catholicism how much more necessary is it for some of these outlandish “protestant” sects?
It appears to me that Sovereign Grace Ministries gives you the gospel with one hand regarding justification (as Rome does with baptism) and takes it back with sanctification (as Rome does with mortal sins).
I agree with the authors analysis that when you look at the pieces as a whole this makes a system that punishes victims and raises up perpetrators. I would also add that instead of church being a place where the gospel is heard and the sacraments administered, you basically have an apostasy machine with a gospel nugget bouncing around that I hope some at least found.
Why did they feel the need to create this machine though? I am sacramental in my views. In my opinion, God knows we need sacraments. He knows that humans are as material in nature as they are immaterial and thus have need for both. When God gives forgiveness to us attached to something material we have an objective confirmation of receiving forgiveness that comforts both the body and the soul. The same gospel preached that you subjectively receive with the ears you also objectively receive with the mouth.
I also understand that many protestant traditions are sacramentarian. It would appear though that at least in the case of SGM, they still felt the need to have something more material to cling to and replaced the biblical sacraments with unbiblical ones. Instead of looking to receiving Christ in the Eucharist they would navel gaze and look to each other. At the end of the day this replaces the gospel with the law, no wonder it led to pain and despair. Compound that with their purity teachings and it’s even worse.
I’m not going to expect every reader to agree with me. That said, I do think it’s fair for me to insist that if you’re going to be a sacramentarian then do it like Zwingli did. Don’t go replacing the sacraments with something else you just invented all on your own. Just do without the material and cling only to the immaterial, even if it feels frustrating to you its better than all this SGM mess.
The news of Joshua Harris apostasy has centered mostly around the book he was famous for writing. While I think there is a connection between the interpretive methodology that was the basis of his book and how the scandal came about, I don’t think the book itself isn’t the actual reason Joshua Harris left the faith.
I wrote about my thoughts on his book and purity culture which you can find HERE. This post will be talking about the false teachings that I think are the root cause of the sex abuse scandal.
You can read the full article of what I’m quoting below HERE.
“Pastors Joshua Harris and C.J. Mahaney left the leadership council of The Gospel Coalition, a central hub for the Reformed evangelical movement, after a trial involving child abuse at Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Md., which both men have overseen.
A criminal trial that concluded last week raised questions about what pastors at Covenant Life knew about the abuse and why steps weren’t taken to stop it.
Nathaniel Morales, 56, was convicted Thursday (May 15 2014) of sexually abusing three underage boys between 1983 and 1991 when he was a youth leader at Covenant Life.”…..
Wikipedia seems to offer more details on the lawsuits regarding an alleged cover-up conspiracy. I’d caution that we be skeptical with wikipedia as anyone can write for it. Still worth a look though.
“In late 2012, a lawsuit in Montgomery County, Maryland was brought against Sovereign Grace Ministries for a conspiracy to cover-up child sex abuse. The plaintiffs claimed that church leaders, including Mahaney, did not report accusations of misconduct to the police.” – Wikipedia
Something that should be made clear, Joshua Harris wasn’t accused of the sex abuse. What does seem to be the case is that people accused the leadership of his Church network of covering up a crime, and by his own admission, he was central to facilitating the fallout of the whole mess. I can’t speak to the facts of this case and won’t bother to speculate. The question I want to ask and answer is this…
Can a fundamentalist approach to scripture push a leader to cover up sex abuse in the church?
If so, is it reasonable to believe that’s what may have happened here?
Before I interact with these questions I need to define my terms. What do I mean by fundamentalist? I touched on it in an older post which you can find HERE but I’m going to make it clear once again. When I say fundamentalist, I mean someone who is willing to abrogate one passage of clear scripture with another.
Doing so places the fundamentalist as the authority over interpretation of scripture. It’s better than liberalism in the sense that a fundamentalist is still curbed by the passages they believe in, but it can result in harmful false teachings depending on which passages they choose to abrogate.
When some say fundamentalist they simply mean someone who still believes the Bible is the Word of God. My usage of the term is not that broad.
Let me give a practical example of what I’m talking about. Read this passage carefully,
“When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? But you yourselves wrong and defraud—even your own brothers!” 1 Corinthians 6:1-8 ESV
Paul is teaching above that we need to keep our grievances in house. I think a good passage to read this alongside is Matt 18.
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. ‘ Matthew 18:15-17 ESV
The idea is we should try to work things out in house as much as we can. This teaching needs to be balanced with others in scripture though. In another place Paul is clear that we should submit to governing authorities. Take a look….
“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.” Romans 13:1-4 ESV
The government is given to be a curb against sin in society, it’s a good thing for us to have that. Even in the church this applies at one point or another. The curb against sin applies to one degree or another anywhere actual sin exists.
Where do we draw the line between when to keep something ‘in house’ and when we are to invoke the institutions of civil government? There’s room for interpretation there and reasonable people can disagree to a certain extent. I think it depends on the context, nature, and severity of the issue. But if the issue has reached the category of an actual crime then it’s time to call the police.
That said when it comes to rape, especially involving a child, getting the police involved as soon as possible should be obvious. The thing that really concerns me when I read the stories coming out of sovereign grace ministries is that when the parents learn their kids are being raped their first thought is to call the pastor. I understand the need for pastoral care, but that can wait until after you’ve called the police. Even the pagan know that raping is bad enough to deserve the sword of government.
In the stories I’ve read the parents and authority figures all seem to believe that even if allegations of child molestation arise one has to keep that in house. The pastor is the one handling that situation and you’re sinning if you call the police because that’s not a forgiving thing to do.
You can find more details on these stories HERE along with more context on the spiderweb of beliefs involved. I am going to link to two specifically though and quote a tiny bit that I want to zero in on.
“I was praised up and down for not calling the police but for contacting them first, for being a “Godly example” of a Christian wife, etc. When we went to church the first Sunday after the crisis, I was with two of my close woman friends, and they asked me what was going on, and I told them what had happened, feeling the need for support and help.” – Taylor’s Story
“We were told that there were not other incidents and that our child had been completely unaware. We were encouraged with scripture that no Christian should bring his brother to court but rather the church should mediate” – Noel’s Story
To summarize from there, we see the pastors trying to mediate both the victims forgiveness of the perpetrator and the perpetrators repentance. The idea was that only those things were necessary and the whole matter would be resolved. Of course that’s not enough, sex offender registries exist for a reason and should be used. Jail time certainly couldn’t hurt either because civil justice is a thing. There are three uses of the law in scripture, not just one.
The mother in Noel’s story in particular was under the belief that her church had to mediate this allegation and that the police and professional psychological help weren’t really an option. Joshua Harris seems to have the same concerns with these teachings now.
“Sandi Villarreal, Sojourners: What was the initial turning point that led to some of the questions you had about the tenets of the book?
Joshua Harris: I think some of the earliest moments for me happened about six to seven years ago when I was still a pastor and I began to see ways in which the culture of our church was unhealthy. … It was a time in which I think our pastoral team was just starting to recognize a lot of legalism and really unhealthy patterns. And we invited into our home different groups of members of the church and asked them to share some of their stories, and that was the first time that I started having that thought, [that] my book ties into this sense of pressure that there’s one way to do relationships.
… And then we left our denomination and right at that time, our church and the movement was hit with a lawsuit related to sex abuse and it was just total chaos. I was in crisis mode for about five years — which, I think it was all tied together, even the issues of how sex abuse was reported with regards to pastors feeling like they had all the answers and that they could handle things when really we didn’t know what we were doing….
….I think there were also theological problems related to our view of the role of pastors and our view of the role of the faith and ways that were, in our case, unique to our movement: the low view of psychiatry or therapists and those types of things, and the idea that pastors should be able to help you with any kind of life issue that you’re facing.
When it comes to something like sex abuse, we just did not have the training. We needed to be calling in other people, we needed to be, obviously, making sure that — and we did report many cases of sexual abuse, but in some cases obviously we made huge mistakes.” – Sojourners Interview
He goes on to blame other teachings from when he was a pastor in the interview. He blames the patriarchy, complementarianism, and a lack of female leadership in his church. I would want to know what he means in saying that before digging in as his definitions and mine probably differ as greatly as our understanding of church government does. That said, I don’t think his conclusions were the root cause, I think it was the methodology. I do however respect that he admits he was wrong and is doing something to to acknowledge peoples pain and work through it.
To answer the original question I started this blog post with, I do think that a fundamentalist approach to scripture can compel a leader to cover up sex abuse. For whatever reason, the sovereign grace ministry leaders seem to have consistently taught an interpretation of 1 Cor 6 that abrogates any reasonable application of Romans 13.
That is an exercise of the fundamentalist methodology I defined in this post and I think it is the root cause of the mismanagement and cover up conspiracy. You take that out and none of these stories work out the way they read. Instead you would have seen parents going to the police much sooner and a percentage of the pain the victims and families endured would be severely mitigated. The pastors would be handling the absolution or binding end of things privately, and the legal end of things would be entirely separate. The only thing church government would have to get involved in is ensuring safety for the victim on Sunday mornings.
Would not have prevented the sex abuse from happening in the first place, but I think the root causes there go much deeper and we need Jesus to return to ultimately eliminate that.
There are actual consequences for poorly dividing the Word of God. Doing so leads to very harmful interpretations than ruin lives. I know that it’s popular in evangelicalism to overlook our differences and write things off when they don’t appear to be a “salvation issue” at first glance.
The reason I think this is the case is we want to be kind and agreeable, especially to other people that we consider to be Christian. The thing is, kindness and agreement are not mutually exclusive. You can kindly disagree with people, it’s not that hard. Sometimes the kindest thing one can do is disagree. If the false teachings in this community on church government had been called out a long time before the lawsuits how much pain could have been spared? Pain that may even be the weed patch that ultimately drove Joshua Harris into leaving word and sacrament and subsequently confessing unbelief.
This is my second post in a series on analyzing Joshua Harris recent announcement to kiss Christianity goodbye. You can find my first one HERE. My style with this blog is to define the Biblical theses I’m going to interact with before using them at the analytical level. I think I’ve mostly covered the bases on what I’m going to discuss here so this post is all analysis.
The past posts that I believe justify the Biblical claims I will be making for this post can be found in those below:
I’m realizing now that I’ve never actually dedicated a blog post to specifically defining marriage. However I did present all or part of it Biblically in those above posts and I think there is enough Biblical content there to justify the claims I will be building upon in this post.
The question I will be seeking to answer with this post before the end of it is the following:
Is it a sin to date someone before you marry them?
To get there though I want to define purity culture to a certain extent. It’s a broad topic and I can’t objectively represent the whole of it properly because it’s spans many evangelical traditions. I can represent my personal interactions with it though and if those resonate with you then there we go.
The book that Joshua Harris is most famous for is titled I Kissed Dating Goodbye. It’s highly likely that you heard of it, particularly if you grew up in american christian circles anywhere between 1997 and 2005. I was 13 years old in 1997 so by the time I was in high school I was very familiar with the book and the courtship philosophy that the writer advocates.
The first person to introduce the book to me was my aunt. She had just read it herself and was explaining all of the details to me shortly after it was published. I remember being skeptical of it then. I also remember a few years later my dentist was giving me a hard time for mentioning my girlfriend I was dating at the time in high school. She told me in between adjusting my teeth that every time you date someone you give a piece of your heart away and it increases the likelihood that you will get a divorce.
Fortunately for me my parents didn’t agree with the book at all and didn’t push it on their kids. They didn’t believe dating was a sin. They just taught that you have to be abstinent until marriage. The problem though was that the families of most of the Christian girls I tried to date were employing some form of the courtship rules advocated in that book. It was a real pain too because the rules varied widely from one family to another and they all claimed their version of these rules were straight out of the Bible. I was supposed to be the hyper legalistic SDA navigating this maze too which is kind of ironic.
Courtship vs. Dating
Courtship isn’t a sin. I think its a very good way to find a wife. If I grew up in a small European village 200 years ago that’s exactly the way I would have found a wife. I wouldn’t have dated her first, romance wouldn’t have been the focus anyways because that wasn’t a cultural highlight at the time. Her family would be concerned about my faith, work ethic, trade, and ability to protect and provide for their daughter. We would have grown up knowing each other anyways so not much point in dating, and since you would know everyone in your community there’s no need for a social mechanism to facilitate meeting in the first place.
After getting married I would have had to be a good husband and in time love would happen or not. Either way we would have had kids and raised them. You can’t really divorce in that context mostly because privation would be the norm of your life and you would need each other to survive. No time to gripe about things that don’t imminently lead to death in that context.
Courtship is certainly in the Bible. The example that stands out for me is when Abraham sent his servant to the city to find a wife for his son sight unseen. Nowhere in this story is a command for all of us to do likewise though. Descriptive narrative (story) isn’t the same thing and Prescriptive narrative (law). We shouldn’t read Biblical culture as equivalent to Biblical law. If you are going to read the stories in scripture as law then you should do so consistently and at one point or another let poisonous snakes bite you like that church on TV.
Dr Jordan Cooper argues that dating evolved out of western romance culture in the 19th century and over time became what it is today. That sounds like a fair analysis to me. The relevant thing is that in our culture dating is the standard way of seeking a spouse. It provides a social platform for selecting a mate and since the details of the structure can be modified beliefs can be incorporated and expectations removed as necessary. Is it ideal? Is it the best way? Is it always consistent with scripture?
Secular Dating is problematic for many reasons. First and foremost is that the secular dating process presumes premarital sex with many partners as a rite of passage to sow your oats and take time to get your career established. After that cohabitation for a few years is advised before getting married for the tax break in your thirties. Lastly, you’re expected to adopt a dog from a rescue shelter instead of having kids. So no, that process is not biblical at all.
For biblical dating to work as a Christian norm we should be more understanding for couples who want to marry earlier than 35, or who may even forgo college immediately after high school and instead seek a cheaper and faster form of job training. Young couples also shouldn’t expect to catch up to their parents standard of living right after they get married either.
Neither courtship or dating is a sin. Scripture doesn’t give us law for choosing a spouse. Scripture defines marriage as between a man and a woman, commands that we abstain from sex until married, and that marriage is for having kids. How we find a mate is in the category of Christian freedom. The term reformers would have used would be adiaphora, things neither commanded nor forbidden.
That being the case though, I think applying biblical principals to dating is alot more expedient than inventing a new form of courtship. With instituting courtship we burden kids with alot of unnecessary and inconsistent rules that nobody will ever agree on. Modifying secular dating with Christian principals doesn’t add new steps or inconsistent obstacles, it just trims away a few secular expectations and traditions.
So to answer my question from the outset, dating is not a categorical sin. But lets be honest, at the end of the day purity culture wasn’t really concerned with sin that much was it? Sure they would touch on it, but at the end of the day purity culture was always a sexual precursor to the prosperity gospel heresy. The difference is it was about sex instead of money.
The Prosperity Gospel of Purity Culture
I’m not going to bother to quote anyone on this. If you were in the same circles as I was in the early 2000’s you saw all the evangelical books on biblical rules for family life. Ten easy steps to follow and you will never get a divorce. Follow these five biblical principals and your kids won’t do drugs. Follow the Daniel diet and you wont get sick. Follow David’s example and you will never commit adultery….
Okay that last one was a joke…
The point is there is no promise in scripture that God is required to bless you in a particular manner if you follow a particular law. It doesn’t matter if that law is Biblical or not. Even if you follow every rule perfectly, and nobody does, your marriage may end in divorce. Your kids might do drugs. You may even die of cancer no matter what you ate. You could even end up hanging upside down on a cross like the Apostle Peter did.
The natural state of man is privation, suffering, and death. Anything better than that is a blessing. The law kills, the answer isn’t more law the answer is the gospel of Jesus Christ, and even that is the answer in the sense that when you die you go to heaven instead of hell. In the meantime there is no easy button. Wouldn’t it be nice if all you had to do was follow a few rules and then ZAP!Your life is perfect! That’s simply not the case though, and treating scripture like that is the sin of witchcraft.
Final Thoughts on Biblical Purity
Scripture does tell men and women to wait until marriage for sex. Not for the purpose of improving your life or scoring purity points to cash in later. The reason we are supposed to do that is because Jesus commands us to. Jesus bled and died for us and we are called to follow his law.
Additionally, just because you may have failed to keep that law doesn’t mean you’re gonna get a divorce someday. Jesus bled and died for that sin. Go and sin no more, not because of what you will receive but out of a grateful heart for what God has done for you.
What Joshua Harris taught wasn’t just heavy on the law, it was a false law and a false gospel. The laws he taught were wrong and the promises that he taught came with them are empty at best and witchcraft at worst. The cost to himself was great and the cost to those who followed him were also burdensome. Being wrong about scripture isn’t always just a difference of opinion. There are painful real life consequences for false teaching, even on things that most would not consider to be “salvation issues”. More on that in posts to come.
I am going to blog on the topic of apostasy for a minute, the reason is I have some comments I want to make on the recent news about Joshua Harris and his falling away. I have written on this topic in the past but not at the depth that is necessary for the reader to understand the things I want to say. If you want to look at my older posts you can find them below:
There are a number of verses that teach a believer can fall away from belief in Christ. For this section of the blog post I am going to defend from a few selected passages the following thesis.
A penitent believer in Christ can fall away and in so doing lose the saving faith they had been given
‘For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. ‘ 2 Corinthians 11:2-3 ESV
The above verse isn’t a typical passage that I would recommend be used to defend my thesis. The reason I selected it is I want to start out arguing from a weaker position to make my point on how seriously I believe scripture should be taken. If Paul believed that a Christian could not fall away wouldn’t you agree this is a strange choice of words for him to use?
Eve was spiritually good all the way around and did indeed fall to the point of breaking the universe, and the deception he is warning Christians of falling to is away from a pure devotion to Christ and to stray in like manner of Eve’s fall.
If Paul was intending to teach once saved always saved (OSAS) or perseverance of the saints (PS) then he could have certainly chosen his words more carefully.
‘if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister. ‘ Colossians 1:23 ESV
‘I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— ‘ Galatians 1:6 ESV
‘Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, ‘ 1 Timothy 4:1 ESV
I think the above passages are more clear, to shift these to be talking about false converts falling out of the faith in a corporate sense only removes the teeth from Paul’s warnings. If he is merely talking about someone falling away from being fallen these passages are a waste of ink on what would have been very valuable paper.
Also it’s simply incompatible with the text itself to remove the two categories we see Paul working with. In Colossians a shift is spoken of from one category to another. In Galatians one is deserting someone they were with. In Timothy one is departing from a faith they were a part of. To twist these passages into different modes of a single category is antithetical to the authors choice of words. Stated another way, why would an author use two category teachings to convey a one category idea?
‘For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. ‘ Hebrews 6:4-6 ESV
The above passage is the easiest one for me to use. In one of my earlier posts making this case I think this is the only passage I bothered to use simply because it is so clear. As I recall, I wanted to silently make the point that one should take scripture seriously enough for one passage of this clarity level to be sufficient.
That said, this passage is most useful with reformed because they can’t category shift on it. Reformed thinkers very consistently place repentance in the category of being regenerate. Some believe that you have to repent before God regenerates you. But even those would believe that you are regenerate after repentance. So the notion of being restored to repentance would force the idea that you did repent at one point and were regenerate.
Which is why in my conversations those who subscribe to reformed theology and take the text as its written insist that the writer is speaking in a form of irony and doesn’t actually mean what he is saying in a literal sense. Like a verbose idiosyncratic statement meant to teach another idea.
My response to that is that I don’t see any other idea coming out of the text. If that’s the case the writer of Hebrews must be using a falsehood to teach nothing and for some reason chooses to comfort his audience on an idea he doesn’t believe to be true.
‘For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned. Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation. For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do. And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. ‘ Hebrews 6:7-12 ESV
Instead we get the writer of Hebrews assuring his audience that he doesn’t believe they are falling away. He doesn’t say its because he was speaking in irony, he instead assures them with the evidences he has seen of their faith. He see’s a faith that is bearing the fruit of good works and encourages them to keep it up.
Why would he feel the need to comfort his audience after warning them about apostasy if apostasy from a point of saving faith and repentance isn’t possible?
The plainest answer is that scripture does indeed teach a Christian can fall away from the faith. There is no need to bend these passages around, just accept them and concede you don’t understand if that’s what you have to do.
The problem with Fundamentalism
The root cause of error here is really fundamentalism. In my observation and personal experience a fundamentalist approach to scripture is one where the passages that the individual reader finds to be more expedient (for whatever reason) are weighed or even pitted against other clear passages with magisterial reason rather than harmonized with ministerial reason.
Some fundamentalists will point out that many passages do teach eternal security, therefore those teaching something that appears contrary to their understanding of eternal security must be bent a bit.
Whereas another group of fundamentalists will read the passages on apostasy and marshal them over and against those teaching eternal security.
The problem here is that ultimately this approach isn’t objectively falsifiable. It’s an approach that places the reader in charge of what the scriptures are teaching. This is why I don’t recognize fundamentalism as conservative. I see it as being just as liberal as the approach used by ELCA types who tell me the Bible only contains the word of God.
Fundamentalists usually do lean more conservative, particularly on the readings they select over others. This is because at the end of the day they are still limited to what’s actually in scripture were as liberals are only limited by their whims and imaginations. In my analysis, the cash difference between the two historically is that fundamentalism takes a few generations longer to bear the fruit of mass apostasy than liberalism does.
How are eternal security and the reality of apostasy both true at the same time?
That said, ministerial uses of reason shouldn’t even be necessary!
If you’re not willing to go there then simply say you believe both are true by faith and concede you don’t understand. Do not bend the scripture with reason, when you do that you are adding to the scripture in the same severity that the Pope does, the only difference is that the tradition you’re doing it with is newer.
Regarding Joshua Harris I will be approaching this topic in a way that categorically allows for him to have been a believer and brother in Christ before he fell. I will not assume he was only a false convert. That said, I wouldn’t exclude that category either as I don’t know his heart. So if you want to keep reading and just disagree with me there then that’s fine. I won’t be pulling any punches though.