Everything in the Christian life is doctrine. Very often Christians equate “doctrine” with “theology.” That makes sense. We have the doctrine of God, doctrine of man, doctrine of Scripture, and so forth. Those are the Bible’s teachings on certain topics. Those doctrines are what we call theology.
But the word “doctrine” is simply the word “teaching.” Therefore, the Bible teaches us what to believe and how to live. The Bible teaches us theology and ethics. The Bible teaches us that God is a Trinity, and that we must worship Him. The Bible teaches us that man is sinful, and that we must confront sinners if we are to call ourselves Christians. The Bible teaches us that the church is God’s “called out” community, and that the church must love one another.
There is no dichotomy between doctrine and ethics, right theology and right living. The Bible teaches us what to believe is right theology, and what to believe is right living (i.e., “I believe God is one, and I believe a man should be faithful to his wife”). It is no wonder Paul would tell Timothy that the Law is meant to confront all who break the law– “lawless and disobedient…ungodly…murderers…sexually immoral…liars…and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine” (1 Tim 1.8-11). Everything in the Christian life is doctrine. God has taught us what to believe about everything that has to do with pleasing Him.
This is why our church has a Statement of Faith (theology) and Church Covenant (ethics). It is the only way we know how to uphold Christian doctrine.
A couple months ago there was a bit of an internet firestorm because of John Piper’s views on Christians arming themselves with guns. You can read that post here. As always happens, many other pastors and bloggers chimed in, seemingly mostly trying to refute Piper. Tim Challies had a good round up here.
If I could summarize in one sentence Piper’s views: Christians should be so radically Christ-centered that we will pause for the sake of the gospel in the face of radical violence, even at the cost of our lives or the lives of loved ones.
If I could summarize the pushback against Piper in one sentence: Christians should be so radically other-centered that we will not pause to protect the lives of loved ones in the face of radical violence, even at the cost of our lives.
Something like that. I offer three points of (hopefully) contribution:
- How a Christian cannot praise Piper for his disagreement with Jerry Falwell, Jr. I have no idea. Piper was attacking the mindset that says “Christians need to teach terrorists a lesson with guns!” Give me a break! Of course John Piper is right in that! And I believe every critiquer agreed with him in that, but I just do not think enough emphasis was given to that agreement. One writer says Fallwell’s comment about teaching terrorists a lesson is “unnecessarily provocative.” No sir. That is flat out un-Christian.
- Some argued that in the U.S. individuals who carry weapons are a legitimate extension of the government using the sword (Romans 13.4). I almost fell for that reasoning. But is it legitimate to equate the “right to bear arms” with “he does not bear the sword in vain”? If anything, the right to bear arms in the U.S. gives many people the ability for stronger self-defense (if I could put it bluntly). But Romans 13 is not addressing the issue of self-defense. Romans 13 is about God meting out earthly justice through the government. And John Piper is right to draw a line between the civil magistrate and regular citizens. Romans 13 makes no sense if you do not draw a clear line between those two entities (i.e., citizens are called to submit to the government).
- The most heated reaction came because it seems John Piper would not automatically know what to do in a case where, perhaps, his wife was being attacked. Most made the case that the only Christian option is to “protect your wife, John!” First of all, how can you not see where Piper comes from? I might conclude that I disagree with him, but I see where he is coming from. It seems most Christians’ application of “turn the other cheek” is to never turn the other cheek. Secondly, I think everyone is missing something there (in my humble opinion). What should we do when another human being is being harmed? The answer, I believe, is to protect life. It may even be necessary to use force. But that is not a distinctly Christian thing to do. That is a distinctly human thing to do. Protect the image of God. As Christians, we should do that by faith in Christ, in the power of the Spirit, and in hopes that perpetrator and victim come to Christ through our preaching.
Stop asking that question. Stop thinking that question. It almost always comes in the context of young people wondering how much physical intimacy unmarried people can have before they cross the line of sinning. Perhaps many Christians wonder that question in regards to alcohol or smoking or other supposed “vices.” For our purposes, let’s just think in terms of physical intimacy before marriage. That’s one we can sink our teeth into, and then I think it would apply to all other areas of life.
For a Christian to ask that question reveals at least two things:
- A legalistic heart- Classic legalism believes a person can be righteous in God’s eyes through good works. It also believes every sin you commit makes you less righteous in God’s eyes. In other words, legalism completely ignores the gospel of Jesus Christ, which says, “God considers you righteous no matter what, all and only because of the righteousness of Christ!” A “gospel” heart will not mess around with questions about “how far is too far”, or “how much more can I do to make God even happier with me” for that matter. A “gospel” heart will overflow with a passion for upholding marriage in high honor, at all costs, because marriage promotes the gospel, and because a redeemed heart wants to obey God out of love.
- A legalistic church- if Christians are messing around with that question it is probably because the culture in their church is one promoting the above heart.
If, at the end of the day, you are trusting in Christ alone for salvation, and you in response to the gospel want to honor marriage, and if you are curious what you should teach others about pre-marriage relationships, just see my previous posts about holding hands 🙂
But seriously, stop asking that question, and stop cultivating that question.
I am all about not adding to the Law of God. So, in my mind, this is not that.
Hebrews 13.4 says, “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled.” The second half of that verse is fairly simple. But the first half seems under-appreciated by most. Is the author of Hebrews simply saying, “If you have no sexual intercourse outside of marriage, then you have completely upheld marriage in God’s eyes”?
My guess is most of you agree that it is more than just the physical act of sexual intercourse that is forbidden outside of marriage. But if you do not guard all of marriage, you will end up drawing arbitrary lines. You will end up asking the (foolish) age-old question, “how far is too far?” like when a drunkard asks “how much wine is too much?” or a sluggard asks “how little work is too little?”
I say, “let marriage be held in honor among all!” Any benefits of marriage outside the covenant of marriage is sin in God’s sight. It does not honor marriage. This includes, and is not limited to, any romantic actions. Our kids are supposed to be able to look across the congregation and be able to tell who is married (or at least engaged) and who is not by the way couples act. We should be scandalized by seeing non-married couples holding hands without a ring on their fingers (or at least a ring on hers).
I fear non-married “couples” are one of the biggest blindspots of our generation. Let me be clear that dating outside of marriage is not sinful (how else are singles to get to know one another?). Romance is. The reason any of you cannot fathom dating without romance is because you are so defiled by our culture’s view of romance outside of marriage being ok! If someone can prove to me that holding hands is necessary to figure out if you want to marry someone, then by all means, I will repent.
But if you are married, and you would never hold hands with someone who is not your spouse, then you already deep down agree with me. Let all of marriage be sacred in your sight. It helps people understand Jesus’ devotion to His bride.
It is so common for complementarians to say, “wives, submit to your husband UNLESS they command you to sin.” That goes for any authority-submission relationship. But if you are ever studying or teaching one of those passages, I would urge you to be very careful with the submission caveat. If you are teaching, say, Ephesians 5: “wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord,” I would just as well say, don’t teach the exception to that command when you are teaching that passage. Or at most give very, very brief pause to it. Just some things to think about that lead me to that conclusion:
- The exception is not the point of “wives, submit to your husbands.” If you want to teach the point of the passage, teach men and women what submission looks like, not what it does NOT look like! I cannot stress this enough. Christians (at least in the West) seem to have a harder time understanding what submission looks like. If anything, we need to swing the pendulum right now to help Christians submit. They do not need help thinking about what resistance looks like.
- Obeying God rather than man is so obvious most of the time that it does not even need to be said.
- If a woman sins against God because her husband told her to and she has the attitude, “God, you made him leader over me, so it’s not my fault,” what you probably have is a woman who wanted to sin, not a woman who wanted to submit to her husband.
- Sadly, in a fallen world, sometimes women must follow their husband into sin. Sarah obeyed Abraham (1 Peter 3.5-6), and two of the ways she obeyed him in Genesis was to be an adulteress (Genesis 12) and to be willing to be an adulteress again (Genesis 20). In our day, this is simply a case by case thing where you need the help of pastors to think through this. One example: if a non-Christian husband says, “skip church today, let’s go have fun.” It would be a sin for that woman to forsake the assembly, but she might follow in order to keep peace, be submissive, perhaps win her husband over without a word. The godly woman hates missing worship, missing gospel preaching, missing the Lord’s Supper, missing fellowship and prayer with the saints, missing the name of Christ being exalted publicly, yet out of submission to the Lord, she could submit to her husband.
- Most cases where women are wanting to resist a husband’s authority are not that black and white, in which case, submission should be the default. What it probably amounts to in most cases is not that a woman wants to please the Lord, but that she simply does not want to submit, which ultimately means she does not want to please the Lord.
Again, these apply to any authority-submission relationship. Just some things to think about. Thankfully, perfect submission does not save, only Jesus, the perfectly Submissive One, does that!
Finally, truth is getting out. I had not known much about “The Boy who Came back from Heaven,” by Kevin Malarkey. It is probably the lesser known of the three “heaven” books in the last few years (the others being “90 Minutes in Heaven” and “Heaven is for Real”). But hopefully this stirs the hearts of these other writers for the good. Read about the boy who says he didn’t go back to heaven after all here or here.
Pray for Kevin Malarkey (the father of the supposed boy who went to heaven; Kevin apparently is intent on making money off of this false testimony), Don Piper, and Todd Burpo to repent of their false teachings. Perhaps they think they are being truthful (at least Piper and Burpo). Then they just need to have their eyes opened by the Holy Spirit. Either way, repentance must happen. And maybe, just maybe, more people will actually come to see that Jesus is for real.
To summarize: most Christians in my experience get hung up on what God’s will for their life is. And yet, what they mean by “God’s will” is not what God means by God’s will. God’s will in the Bible is either His sovereign plan to make everything glorify Jesus (Eph 1.9-11) or His desire for all human beings to obey Him and glorify Him in everything (Deut 6.4 and 1 Cor 10.31).
What most Christians seem to get hung up on are wisdom issues. “Is it God’s will for me to marry this person?” should better be worded “is it wisest in God’s eyes to marry this person?” Doesn’t that just make the whole endeavor feel different?
At the end of the day, wisdom is also a God’s will issue because if you choose between something that is wise and unwise, all of a sudden it becomes clear what God’s will is: love God and glorify Him by choosing what is wise!
Here are some principles for decision making that I will put out there, and perhaps you can add to this list:
- It is God’s will that you do what is wisest
- There may be (and probably is) more than one equally wise course of action
- Wisdom requires the hard work of thinking
- Wisdom requires knowing your bible
- Wisdom is not “Lord, tell me what to do” and expect Him to miraculously and authoritatively and unmistakably tell you what to do (Could God do that? Of course, He’s God! But that is not getting wisdom. That’s getting miraculous prophecy.)
- Use the wisdom of others
- Know who your God-ordained authorities are, and in most cases, listen to and obey them (God gives us pastors and parents as a gift in wisdom issues)
- Never violate your conscience
- It is unwise to do nothing because you are waiting to “hear from God” on what to do