The “Why” of Biblically Defined Marriage

Debates on marriage have become commonplace in our culture. In the last couple of election cycles, it has become apparent that a rising number of Americans are shifting their opinion on this debate. States have seen the term “marriage” re-defined to describe relationships not identified as “marriages” in the thousands of years various cultures have been using the term. Judge’s gavels and ballot boxes have passed judgment on an institution that has served as a foundational cornerstone in the majority of societies in human history.

Where should those who follow Jesus land?

Surprisingly, the narrative in the Christian world is beginning to shift. A number of self-identifying Christians and formerly traditional churches are migrating away from the biblical framework of marriage to a more culturally acceptable outlook.

In tracking and taking part in dialogue on this subject over the years, it seems that Christians who are beginning to accept atypical views on this topic are doing so because “it just doesn’t seem like that big of a deal.” Additionally, as the understanding of biblical gender identity has dissipated, and the acceptance of alternative sexual practices has become commonplace, the subject grows more complicated for those trying to figure out what is right.

Surrounded by this environment, perhaps it is necessary for the Christian dialogue on this subject to be informed more intentionally. For those who believe and submit their lives to the teaching of the Bible, I don’t think the real question is “What should we believe on the marriage issue?” That answer is pretty obvious in Scripture.

The Bible reveals marriage as a relationship created by God. God created this relationship as the first human relationship, a relationship which brought together the first two humans: one male, one female. Since God created it (along with everything else), He alone has the right to define it.

God first created mankind, and He differentiated them sexually: male and female (Genesis 1:26-27 and Genesis 2:18-23). Genesis 2:18-25 gives the details of the entire scene. After creating mankind and differentiating them sexually as male and female, God created marriage as the governing relationship between his sexually differentiated image-bearers.

The simple biblical fact is that in marriage God brought together in a “one-flesh” union that which He had created as two distinct sexes when He made mankind male and female. Marriage was God’s original creation within which he brought together that which He had differentiated.

This idea of a “one-flesh” union guides all of the Bible’s teaching on marriage. Jesus mentions it (Matthew 19, Mark 10), Paul refers to it several times (1 Corinthians 6, 2 Corinthians 6, Ephesians 5, among other places), and the heart of their teaching is that the one-flesh union is something sacred that God performs. What is it that God is doing in marriage? He’s bringing together in “one flesh” that which He originally differentiated sexually (male and female) in the creation of His image-bearers.

I think this reality does something specific for us as we think about the marriage issue being debated in culture. For the Bible-believer, this isn’t simply “what we believe” it’s “why we believe it.” What does the Bible say about marriage? It’s a covenant between one man and one woman for a lifetime. But why does the Bible define it this way? Because in God’s original creation, He made marriage to be the one-flesh re-unification of that which he differentiated–male and female. So why is it not plausible for Bible-believers to call a relationship between a male and a male or a female and a female “marriage?” Because God didn’t design marriage as a means to bring together that which is already the same.

This means there is no possibility of a same-gender relationship ever being a one-flesh union in the way God designed marriage to function. This doesn’t have anything to do with our feelings, or with someone’s commitment to another person, or with how we pay our taxes, or with who we sleep next to in bed at night. Marriage is something God does. Marriage is something God brings together. And according to God’s word, God doesn’t unite that which he hasn’t differentiated. In marriage, God brings together in a one-flesh union a male and a female. This was the intent of His original design. And since God alone designed it, He alone defines it.

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Stop Trying to Make Better Decisions

The moment of decision is the wrong time to develop a value system. Our decisions reveal our values, they reflect our values, they don’t determine our values.

Not many of us sit around and think about the development of a value system. I know there are some who do. I admire these people. They also have a personal mission statement, specific and measurable goals for each season of their life, and a decision-making matrix that pivots on the axis of their clearly defined three-pronged value structure. Again, not many of us live there.

I think value systems develop more gradually for most people. Perhaps more passively as well. I’m not claiming that this is a good thing, but for most of us the values we operate by are a combination of a number of different factors. They are inherited from our parents, informed by our experiences (successes and failures), tempered and affirmed by our relationships, and shaped by the environment around us. Our value systems are also strongly influenced by our beliefs about life, God, ourselves, the world, Truth, sin, goodness, beauty, and meaning.

Why is this important?

Because the decisions we make, moment by moment, reveal our value systems. Every one of us wants to make good decisions. No one wakes up in the morning thinking “I’d love to have my life look like a train wreck today” or “Today I’m going to unfold my plan to sabotage every meaningful relationship I have” or “What a great day to be super greedy!” We want to make good decisions, and we regret it and grieve when we make stupid ones. But we often miss the reality that a system of values, stemming from our beliefs, is what determines our decisions.

And…the moment of decision is the wrong time to develop a value system.

The ultimate question which leads to the development of your value system is this:

What do you believe?

…About God?
…About the Bible?
…About yourself?
…About human nature?
…About culture?
…About the world?
…About sin?
…About Jesus?
…About the future?

Trying to make better decisions is not the answer. Decisions are symptoms of value systems. Value systems grow out of beliefs. The real question is: What do you believe?

The next question is: Do the decisions you are making in your life reflect what you claim to believe? If so, then you have an integrated value system. If not, then you may want to re-examine if you really believe what you say you believe.

And remember: ultimately your ability or my ability to make right decisions hinges on our relationship to our Creator. I wasn’t created to be accountable to myself, and neither were you. The good news is that our Creator didn’t leave us to fend for ourselves, but instead came to us to rescue us from our sin. When we follow Jesus he determines our value system (that’s why he commanded us to teach one another to obey all that He taught). Christ-centered decisions flow from belief in the gospel.

So instead of trying to make better decisions on my own, the answer is: believe the gospel. Believing the gospel makes me want to surround myself with people who know it, believe it, practice it, live it, and lead others to it. When I engage in this type of environment, my gospel-centered value system develops, strengthens, and gets more integrated in my life. Sounds like a recipe for good decision-making.

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Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor

I recently read a most inspiring book about an extraordinarily ordinary man. The book is Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor by D.A. Carson. The subject of the book is the life and reflections of his late father, Tom Carson, a pastor who served for half a century in his native Canada. Tom worked through the heart of the 20th century to pioneer gospel-work in French-speaking Quebec.

tom carsonD.A. (Don) Carson begins the preface to the book this way:

Some pastors, mightily endowed by God, are remarkable gifts to the church. They love their people, they handle Scripture well, they see many conversions, their ministries span generations, they understand their culture yet refuse to be domesticated by it, they are theologically robust and personally disciplined…Most of us, however, serve in more modest patches. Most pastors will not regularly preach to thousands, let alone to tens of thousands. They will not write influential books, they will not supervise large staffs, and they will never see more than modest growth. They will plug away at their care for the aged, at their visitation, at their counseling, at their Bible studies and preaching. Some will work with so little support that they will prepare their own bulletins. They cannot possibly discern whether the constraints of their own sphere of service owe more to the specific challenges of the local situation or to their own shortcomings…Most of us–to be frank–are ordinary pastors.

What follows is a biographical sketch of his father, Tom, a man who faithfully served for decades as an ordinary pastor. Carson starts by acquainting the reader with the historical and cultural background of Quebec in the mid-20th century, assuming that most of his readers will need that point of reference. He then walks through his Dad’s life season by season, using personal stories from himself and his siblings, as well as a wealth of reflective insight found in excerpts from his Dad’s personal journals. The reader follows Tom from his early days in college and seminary through years laboring in a small work of a couple dozen people in Drummondville, to his later years as a bi-vocational pastor, through his final decade-plus as he cared for his ailing wife (Alzheimers) and faithfully prayed for, visited, and worked to disciple anyone he could until his death.

I was extremely refreshed by this book. The sketch of Tom Carson is skillful, honest, witty, and moving. It was great to be reminded that what matters most is simple faithfulness to Jesus. It can be so easy to fall into a trap where we are attempting to measure up to everyone else’s expectations of us, or to a perceived image, or to a desired status. What matters is faithfulness: faithfulness to God, faithfulness to His Word, faithfulness to the witness of Jesus and the leading of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The kingdom of God is carried forward by people of simple faithfulness.

The final page of the book summarized the faithful legacy of this ordinary pastor:

Tom Carson never rose very far in denominational structures, but hundreds of people in the Outaouais and beyond testify how much he loved them. He never wrote a book, but he loved the Book. He was never wealthy or powerful, but he kept growing as a Christian: yesterday’s grace was never enough. He was not a far-sighted visionary, but he looked forward to eternity. He was not a gifted administrator, but there is no text that says, “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you are good administrators.” His journals have many, many entries bathed in tears of contrition, but his children and grandchildren remember his laughter…He much preferred to avoid controversy than to stir things up, but his own commitments to historic confessionalism were unyielding, and in ethics he was a man of principle. His own ecclesiastical circles were rather small and narrow, but his reading was correspondingly large and expansive. He was not very good at putting people down, except on his prayer lists.

When he died, there were no crowds outside the hospital, no editorial comments in the papers, no announcements on television, no mention in Parliament, no attention paid by the nation. In his hospital room there was no one by his bedside. There was only the quiet hiss of oxygen, vainly venting because he had stopped breathing and would never need it again.

But on the other side all the trumpets sounded. Dad won entrance to the only throne room that matters, not because he was a good man or a great man–he was, after all, a most ordinary pastor–but because he was a forgiven man. And he heard the voice of him whom he longed to hear saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant; enter into the joy of your Lord.”

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Sunday Review: New Life @ LifePoint

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Genesis Unbound

Genesis unIn my study of the initial chapters of Genesis, one book has stood out from the rest as a most helpful tool in discovering the meaning and implications of the creation narrative. That book is Genesis Unbound by John Sailhamer. A good friend and fellow pastor recommended I read Sailhamer, one of the leading Old Testament scholars in the world, on the subject of creation in Genesis. Although he’s authored a number of books, articles, and commentaries on the book of Genesis, Genesis Unbound specifically focuses on the first two chapters of the Pentateuch.

Sailhamer’s major emphasis is letting the text speak for itself. In most of my research, the actual linguistic and historical contexts of Genesis 1-2 get obscured in a fog of scientific eisogesis, as well-meaning Christian scholars seek to parallel the biblical account with the latest flavor of the month from genetic, geological, biological, or cosmological studies. I’m not going to go so far as to say that this approach is a waste of time, but when it comes to discovering the meaning of the text of Scripture, we don’t approach any other area of the Bible this way. Why? Because it’s not a hermeneutically sound approach. Meaning: it’s not the best way to discover what the original author intended or what the original audience understood. These two factors are significant keys in discovering what a text meant and (thereby) means. Sailhamer doesn’t make this mistake. He offers an interpretation that is thoroughly sound linguistically, historically, and contextually. And in doing so, he gives answers on the “Bible vs. Science” debate that are refreshing and disarming.

All of this to say, Sailhamer’s approach and conclusions are a breath of fresh air. Genesis 1-2 is something I’ve studied from the Hebrew text since my second year in college nearly 15 years ago. I haven’t found a book, commentary, or scholar that I think hits the nail more squarely on the head than Sailhamer in Genesis Unbound. If you pick up this book, which I would highly recommend if you have even a passing interest in this subject, you’re going to find it to be readable, concise, and engaging. The book is certainly worthy of a greater review than I’m going to give here. Thankfully, Matt Perman has already written an extensive summary of Sailhamer’s text. Enjoy.

 

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Light vs. Sun : Does Genesis Contradict Itself?

We examined days 2-6 of creation yesterday in week 3 of Rise and Fall at LPC. Day 4 is one that has received its fair share of commentary over the years. A cursory reading of the creation account in Genesis 1 has even led some to cry “contradiction!” when they parallel Day 1 (1:2-5) with Day 4 (1:14-19). I think it is a worthy dialogue to engage in this format.

The perceived contradiction:

On Day 1 God says “Let there be light” and there was light. It seems quite clear that on Day 1 “the lights were turned on” as it were. At the conclusion of Day 1 God also “separated light from darkness,” naming the light “Day” and the darkness “Night.”

On Day 4 God says “Let there be light in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night.” Further, verse 16 says about Day 4, “And God made the two great lights- the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night- and the stars…”

Further, how could the author of this account (Moses) describe “evening and morning” within the first three days of creation if God didn’t create the sun and moon, day and night, until the 4th day?

For those hankering for a contradiction in this account, it seems the parallel of Day 1 and Day 4 may be just that. How could God create the light on Day 1 when the text itself says that He created the source of light on Day 4? Did Moses make an oopsie in this text that Jews and Christians have been winking at for the last 3500 years? What’s going on here?

It is probably obvious that I don’t think the text actually contains a contradiction. Here are two theories that I find convincing in regard to the Day 1/Day 4 conundrum.

Theory #1:

John Sailhamer, in Genesis Unbound, asks this simple question: “Does the text actually say that the sun, moon, and stars were created on the fourth day?”[1]

The simple answer is “no.” Sailhamer holds that Genesis 1:1 reveals that God created the whole universe (including sun, moon, and stars) “in the beginning.” He then proposes that the rest of the chapter (1:2ff) is the account of God ordering that which He already made in the beginning as He prepares the land for humanity to dwell in.

Sailhamer explains:

What the writer wants to show in this narrative is not that on each day God “made” something, but that on each day God “said” something. The predominant view of God in this chapter is that He is a God who speaks. His word is powerful. As the psalmist who had read this chapter said, “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made” (Psalm 33:6). Thus, often when God speaks, He creates. But that is not always the case in this chapter…On this day God “makes a proclamation” about that which He has already created (the sun, moon, and stars)…God announced His purpose for the sun, moon, and stars on the fourth day.[2]

Sailhamer goes on to say that he would translate verse 16 more clearly as “So God (and not anyone else) made the lights and put them in the sky.”[3]

To summarize: God created the sun, moon and stars “in the beginning” (Genesis 1:1), and then throughout the days detailed in Genesis 1:2ff God ordered all he had created with the express purpose of preparing the land for humanity to dwell in. This eliminates any perceived contradiction, because the sun, moon, and stars were not created on Day 4.

Theory #2:

Simply put: light isn’t dependent on sun, moon, and stars, because God is the source of light.

A number of scholars have proposed theories similar to this, including Douglas Kelly in Creation and Change and Bruce Waltke in his commentary Genesis.

To me, the best evidence for this claim is Revelation 21:23. As John reported on the New Jerusalem he said, “And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.”

Isaiah 60:19 carries a similar theme with it: “The sun shall be no more your light by day, nor for brightness shall the moon give you light; but the LORD will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory.”

Waltke says:

“Since the sun is only later introduced as the immediate cause of light, the chronology of the text emphasizes that God is the ultimate source of light.[4]

Kelly says:

“We are simply not told what the source of light was before the sun was placed in the sky. All the text says is that God spoke and the light was there.”[5]

Conclusion:

I see validity in either theory. I tend to favor Sailhamer because his entire viewpoint on the initial chapters of Genesis holds significant consistency. When reading the text in Hebrew and taking into account the historical and grammatical context of it all, the text doesn’t claim God “created” those pieces (sun, moon, stars) on day 4. It seems clear that he created them in Genesis 1:1 in the beginning, and then the literal week dictated in 1:2ff is when he “gave them their job descriptions” for the land which he was making inhabitable for humanity.

[1] Sailhamer, p. 137, emphasis mine.

[2] Sailhamer, p. 142.

[3] Ibid, p. 143.

[4] Bruce Waltke, Genesis, p. 61. Waltke also postulates that this “dischronologization” is probably for the purpose of differentiating this creation account from the pagan religions of the time–which would worship the sun and stars because of the role they play in giving light on earth.

[5] Douglas Kelly, Creation and Change, p. 76.

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Origin Issues: The Struggle To Cut God Out

Despite what you may have learned in school or picked up at your local Barnes and Noble lately, the issue of origin has not been settled in the hearts and minds of your fellow humans. A few things are clear:

1) We want to know where it all came from.
2) We are on the search to find out.
3) Naturalism (non-theistic evolution) isn’t actually as popular as you may have heard.

A recent Gallop poll reveals that God still gets a lot of credit for creating it all, and those who deny any involvement from God are still a significant minority.

Francis Schaeffer wrote a phenomenal book in 1972 entitled Genesis in Space and Time. In one of the opening chapters he discusses “modern man’s basic mystery.”[1] This mystery revolves around the issue of Being. Basically, when we view the world around us, we must give an answer for Being. We know we exist (at least most of us do), and we see a world around us that exists, and something within us calls out “Has it always been there?”[2]

Here are three origin options Schaeffer suggests:

1) Once there was absolutely nothing and now there is something.
2) Everything began with an impersonal something.
3) Everything began with a personal something.

Although Schaeffer claimed that, to his knowledge, the first option had never been “seriously propounded by anyone,” it is apparent he didn’t live long enough to meet Richard Dawkins.

I’m not an authority on his teaching, but I believe “nothing was and now something is” seems to be where Dawkins lands. He does admit that he doesn’t have an answer for how it all came to be. Here is what he says in his book The Ancestors Tale:

“The universe could so easily have remained lifeless and simple -just physics and chemistry, just the scattered dust of the cosmic explosion that gave birth to time and space. The fact that it did not -the fact that life evolved out of literally nothing, some 10 billion years after the universe evolved literally out of nothing -is a fact so staggering that I would be mad to attempt words to do it justice. And even that is not the end of the matter. Not only did evolution happen: it eventually led to beings capable of comprehending the process by which they comprehend it.”

On option #2: “Everything began with an impersonal something,” Schaeffer says,

“The assumption of an impersonal beginning can never adequately explain the personal beings we see around us, and when men try to explain man on the basis of an original impersonal, man soon disappears. In short, an impersonal beginning explains neither the form of the universe nor the personality of man.”[3]

Schaeffer concludes with the biblical option, #3: “Everything began with a personal something.”

“…Genesis 1:1 does not depict an absolute beginning with nothing before it. God was there—and then came creation… “In the beginning” is a technical term stating the fact that at this particular point of sequence there is creation ex nihilo—a creation out of nothing. All that is, except for God himself who already has been, now comes into existence. Before this there was a personal existence—love and communication. Prior to the material universe, prior to the creation of all else, there is love and communication. This means that love and communication are intrinsic. And hence, when modern man screams for love and communication (as he so frequently does), Christians have an answer. There is value to love and value to communication because it is rooted into what intrinsically always has been.”[4]

As we wrestle through these “origin options” I think it is clear that something, some witness, within the human mind exhibits a gravitational pull toward a personal beginning. The poll linked above makes this obvious. In public schools in America we have taught either an impersonal beginning or a Dawkins-like nothingness-to-somethingness for decades. Yet, when people are asked what they believe concerning origin, 3 out of 4 still hold to a personal beginning. Admittedly, this in and of itself doesn’t mean they’re right, but I think at the most basic level it reveals that Schaeffer was onto something.

Human beings intrinsically cry out for love and communication. And when we see the form of the universe around us and the personality within us, an impersonal beginning just won’t suffice.

[1] p. 19.

[2] Ibid.

[3] p. 21.

[4] p. 26.

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