ARBCA Needs a Calvin

Calvin 3

John Calvin is renowned for his inflexible stance against the errors of Rome, the “Spirituals”, and others whose teachings compromised the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Unfortunately many do not realize that while he so staunchly stood against errors from those who oppose the gospel, he also worked tremendously hard to establish and maintain peace and unity among the Reformed.  He was a brilliant example of the peacemaker of Matt. 5:9.

For instance, a Synod was held at Berne in 1537 in order to establish unity among the German and Swiss Reformed churches concerning the Lord’s Supper.  Zurich, Basel, Strasburg, Geneva, and Berne each sent representatives.  Bucer, the Strasburg Reformer, had always been sympathetic to Luther’s view. He had been in attendance at one of Luther’s first public disputations and had held him in the highest esteem ever since.  Megander, originally from Zurich, now representing Berne, was determined not to compromise Zwingle’s position in any way.  Dissension prevailed until Calvin came forward.  By recognizing the Biblical truth that each side was determined to uphold, he was able to set forth the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper in a manner which upheld the true sentiments of each side without compromising with error.

Bucer had “pointed out that Zwingli and Luther had set out from two different points of view; Zwingli striving to keep as far away as possible from the Roman dogma of transubstantiation, and Luther endeavoring to maintain that there is nevertheless some kind of real presence in the bread.”[i]

Calvin was able, with this in mind, to formulate a doctrinal statement that did justice to the Biblical concerns of both parties without compromising Biblical truth.  In summary he said, “The Spirit is the means by which we are partakers of Christ. That Spirit nourishes us with the flesh and the blood of the Lord, and thus quickens us for immortality. Christ offers this communion under the symbols of bread and wine to all those who celebrate the supper aright and in accordance with his institution.”[ii]

To this Bucer replied “I embrace as orthodox, this view of our excellent brothers Calvin, Farel, and Viret. I never held that Christ was locally present in the holy supper. He has a real finite body, and that body remains in the celestial glory. But in raising us by faith to heaven, the bread which we eat and the cup which we drink are for us the communication of his body and his blood.”[iii]

Thus, these eminent reformers established peace with one another in regard to this vital doctrine.  They were not content to simply have each side adhere to a confessional statement that propounded the particular truths they esteemed most important.  They strove to establish peace, unity and agreement.  The Lord greatly blessed such efforts for the betterment of His church universal and the glory of His name.

Of course, the doctrine under dispute in ARBCA today is not the nature of the Lord’s Supper, but rather, the understanding of the phrase “without passions” in Chapter 2, Paragraph 1 of the London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689.  This is, of course an oversimplification, but we could fairly accurately describe the dispute like this.  On the one side are those whose primary concern is to uphold the unchangeable character of God.  They hold to what we could call the traditional understanding of the phrase “without passions”, which was undoubtedly the understanding of that phrase by those who authored our confession.  (I happen to agree with this side, in my understanding of the issue.) On the other side of the controversy are those who fear that this classical understanding of these words is prone to give the impression that God is cold,  distant, or mechanical.  They do not reject the phrase “without passions” but define it somewhat differently than the authors of the confession did.[iv]  They rightly point to men like Warfield and Hodge as examples of how they understand the phrase.

The Heart of the Issue?

It seems to me that what lies at the heart of this issue is our understanding of the fact that man, as he is an image bearer of God, is endowed with the faculties of mind, will and emotions.  Those who are defending the traditional understanding of “without passions” are almost exclusively focusing on what man’s emotions do not reveal about God.  Affections in man arise from the affects of things outside of himself.  God, existing outside of time, cannot be affected by anything outside of Himself, therefore He has no affections.  (And other similar, sound arguments)  Those who are advocating a modified view of the phrase in question do not do so in an effort to make God more like man, but rather, in an effort to do justice to the role of the emotions of man in his image-bearing capacity.

I am a great distance from the inner workings of ARBCA and have no direct knowledge of the exact means by which they plan to deal with this issue.  But it seems possible, if not likely, that something like this will happen:  A position paper will be published that simply states the traditional understanding of the phrase “without passions” and demonstrates that the authors of the confession had this in mind when they penned the words.  This paper will be voted on  and approved.  Any church that has an issue with this understanding will no longer be welcome in ARBCA.  Thus unity of doctrine will be firmly established among the remaining churches.  I think it would be a great shame if this is what actually takes place.

ARBCA Needs a Calvin

I am not saying that a position paper defending the traditional understanding of the phrase in question should not be drawn up, it should.  But it should do more.  As Calvin recognized and dealt with the concerns of both sides of the issue at Berne, so those who seek to defend the traditional understanding of  “without passions” should go out of their way to recognize and address the legitimate concerns expressed by the other side.  A careful doctrinal statement should be drawn up that not only demonstrates what the Bible teaches about God that prevents us from rightly ascribing affections to Him, but also palpably demonstrates the manner in which the emotions of man actually do reflect something of the character of God.  It must be demonstrated that justice can be done to the anthropopathisms of Scripture without resorting to any sort of modified theism.  If we really want unity in the sense that the great Reformers sought it, we must go out of our way to rightly address the issues on both sides.

We must recognize the real issue that brings about concern regarding the manner in which Divine impassibility is often taught.  For example, after listening to a sermon or lecture that clearly demonstrates that affections cannot be rightly attributed to God, a child of God may walk away saying to himself, “OK, so God is love, but He has no affection for me.”  This is hardly a comforting thought.  But if we understand that even though the love of God toward us is not an affection, in that this love is not brought about by any affect we have had on God, as a Divine perfection, it is something far greater than any affection of love we have ever experienced.  We also must be clear that the emotion of love that God endowed men with is actually in some sense revelatory of what God’s love is like.  It is a reflection of what the Divine perfection of love is, a dim and imperfect reflection, but a reflection none the less.

When one demonstrates that the emotion of anger cannot rightly be attributed to God, but merely expresses His determination to rightly meet out justice against all sin, the impression that may easily be given is that this is something quite cold and mechanical.  The problem with this is that when God speaks of His anger, He means to convey a truth that is easily lost in this definition.   God’s “hot displeasure” that will manifest itself in the eternal flames of hell is anything but cold!  The human emotion of anger is truly meant to give us some insight into the nature of God’s eternal, unchangeable disposition toward sin.

Surely we are correct to insist that it is beyond the bounds of propriety to speak of God experiencing the sensation of delight.  But we ought also to admit that the emotion of delight that men experience is in some real sense revelatory of what the eternal disposition of the Father toward the Son is like.  In this way we not only guard against the idea that God can be affected by something outside of Himself, but we also guard against the idea that this makes Him cold and mechanical.

We ought also to go beyond the Scriptural anthropopathisms that are easier to explain, such as God repenting or relenting.  We need to deal with passages such as the command “do not grieve the Holy Spirit” in such a way that God is not left just telling us not to do something that we are entirely unable to do.  Perhaps one could demonstrate that the feeling of grief a parent has when he is sinned against by a child he loves gives us some insight into God’s eternal and unchangeable disposition toward the remaining sin in His redeemed people.

We need to be as earnest to establish unity among Reformed Baptists as the Reformers were to establish unity among their churches.  I am not certain that this can ever be achieved in this area, but I am certain that we can strive for it more earnestly than we have thus far.  May the spirit of love and peace that was so manifest in Calvin and his fellow Reformers be manifest in us today.

 

His Throne is Forever and Ever!

rex

 

[i] Merle d’Aubigne, J. H. History of the Reformation in the Time of Calvin The AGES Digital Library, Vol. 6, Book 11, p. 271

[ii] Ibid. p. 273

[iii] Ibid p. 273

[iv] For example, as one proponent of the modified view in this debate has explained:  “We take no exception to the 1689 LBCF in 2:1. We confess that God is without body, parts, or passions.  We believe in divine impassibility. God has no internal (ad intra) fluctuation, passions, or changes in his nature of any sort. We believe that his divine affections are perfectly infinite and immutable (thus, they are also impassible). Our understanding of ‘divine emotivity’ resides in his external (ad extra) interactions with his world via the very covenant condescension described in the 1689 LBCF 7:1.”

 

Can We Please Stop Playing These Games?

Matthew 5:28  But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

eyes

Sexual lust may very well be the most prevalent sin in American society today.  We are saturated with it.  Anyone who has not cut themselves off from the world is bombarded with images and ideas and attitudes that are completely contrary to the word of God regarding sexuality.  It is certain that this has a negative effect upon Christian men and women.  As we are constantly exposed to the basest of sexual sins, we can become numb.  I just want to provide a short exhortation to Christian men and women to help us abide by the word of God in the midst of such filth.

Men

Lust is in the look.  I know, and am always disappointed in the fact, that many read Matthew 5:28 in such a way that the sin Christ is forbidding is something beyond the look.  Sin is only committed when a man allows himself to start thinking lustful thoughts about the woman he has looked at.  Sin only occurs when he allows himself to start entertaining lustful imagination.  I think every truly converted man knows in his heart of hearts that the lust is in the look itself.

No, I am not saying that we have sinned any time we see a woman provocatively dressed etc.  I am not saying that a man cannot look a pretty woman in the face while he talks to her either. Let’s not play games, you all know what I’m talking about.  A man can derive some form of sensual pleasure just from looking at a woman.  The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition is popular for one reason, lust.  And that lust does not begin when men stop looking at the pictures and start imagining things.

Men, keep that battle at the front line.  Fight not to allow yourself to look in that way.  When images appear on your computer screen or in the grocery checkout isle, don’t allow yourself the little bit of sensual pleasure you get from looking at the woman and fight to keep yourself from allowing it to go further.

A thought that has helped me over the years may help you as well:

More surely than candy will rot your teeth, eye candy will rot your soul

Don’t commit adultery in your heart.  Don’t allow your eyes to fulfill the lusts of your heart.  You cannot accomplish this in your own strength though.  Make it your constant prayer that the Spirit of our Holy God will bear His fruit of self control in your life and enable you to mortify this lust.

 Women

Why do women post bikini selfies on social media?  You don’t need to struggle to answer that question do you?  They want men to lust after them.  There may be other motives as well, but this is certainly a primary one.  They derive some sort of satisfaction in the knowledge that men are sexually attracted to them.  Are Christian women immune from this sinful desire?  If they were, it would have been superfluous for God to exhort them to dress modestly (1 Timothy 2:9).  You don’t have to post cleavage shots on FB to be guilty of indulging this lust.

Dear sisters in Christ, your brothers struggle not to indulge the lust of their eyes.  We know that we are responsible for our own hearts and our own eyes.  When we beseech you to dress modestly, we are not doing so because we think that if you dress provocatively it excuses our sin.  But that does not mean that you have no reason not to dress provocatively.  What does provocative dress even mean?  It means dressing in such a way that provokes lust in others.

Form fitting clothes, whether they be yoga pants or tank tops can easily provoke even Christian men to lust.  Short skirts and revealing tops do the same.  In fact, such things are much more likely to be a temptation to a sincere Christian man than to an unbeliever.  A man who indulges in pornography may think nothing of a form fitting top because he is used to seeing so much more, but a Christian man who fights to keep himself from such things may be caused to stumble.  David surely had the greater sin in his adulterous affair with Bathsheba.  But her enticement of him by bathing in his sight is certainly blameworthy as well.

I’m sure this short exhortation will draw nothing but wrath from those women who are constantly seeking to justify wearing provocative clothing and the men who want to justify their looking.  But I sincerely hope it may urge genuine Christian men and women to honor Christ in this area.

 

His Throne is Forever and Ever!

rex

 

Book Review: “The Foundation of Communion with God: The Trinitarian Piety of John Owen”

Reformation Heritage Books has added another delightful volume to their series, Profiles in Reformed Spirituality.  I was not familiar with the author, Ryan McGraw, but as I read through this short book one thing became quite clear, this man loves John Owen just as much as I do.

The author begins with a short biographical sketch of Owen that will be very helpful to any who are not familiar with this eminent Puritan.  He then provides the reader with 41 selections from the works of John Owen that are particularly well chosen to demonstrate Owen’s genius and piety.  These readings are divided into three sections:  1. Knowing God as Triune, 2. Heavenly-Mindedness and Apostasy & 3.Covenant and Church.  As the reader makes his way through these wonderful examples of Owens writing, he will inevitably be amazed at the depth and insight Owen repeatedly displays, but more importantly he will be drawn to contemplate and worship the God who Owen so patently loved and adored. McGraw concludes the book with some excellent insights about why many find Owen difficult to read and very helpful suggestions as to how one might begin to read Owen.

John Owen stands above his peers in every age as a man of eminent genius and piety. This genius and piety is especially displayed in his remarkable insights into the nature and character of our Triune God and his marvelous grasp of the nature and character of the human heart.  These insights, both emanating from the remarkable depth of his knowledge of Holy Scripture, combine to make Owens writings not only intellectually satisfying, but amazingly practical.  I must repeat my previous comment and thank the author for his skill in choosing  selections from Owen’s writings that display him at his best.

Whether you have been reading John Owen for years, or have never picked up one of his works, you will benefit greatly from this small volume.

5 out of 5 stars!

Reformation Heritage Books

Amazon

His Throne is Forever and Ever!

rex

Jim Savastio on Pastors Loving Their People

rex (1689Nut):

Excellent Admonitions from Pastor Savastio

Originally posted on GORDONFLASH:

Jim Savastio, Pastor of the Reformed Baptist Church of Louisville and a fellow student at Trinity Ministerial Academy, spoke on the theme of Pastors loving their flocks at the 2014 Trinity Pastor’s Conference. He agreed to let me post the nine points of practical cultivation of Pastoral love that follow:
 
III.  CULTIVATING PASTORAL AFFECTIONS

A.     Prayer— Obviously part of this exhortation is that you will pray for your people.  Don’t just pray for them, let them know that you have prayed for them.  Ask them how you can pray for them. 
But I am here referring to your prayerful desire for the Lord to increase your affections for all the people of God…especially that one who is most difficult for you to love from the heart.  The Lord is giver of every good and perfect gift.  The scriptures promise us that when we ask anything according to his will…

View original 799 more words

Rules For Peace

rex (1689Nut):

While I can see some possible exceptions to #29, these are indeed excellent rules to live by if we truly desire Biblical unity! Thank you Dave Chanski and Paul Gordon!

Originally posted on GORDONFLASH:

The following are 31 Rules for Peace presented by Pastor Dave Chanski at the 2014 Trinity Pastor’s Conference:

1. I will aim to never cause or create sinful divisions among God’s people.

2. I will mortify the sins that tend to result in division and disunity.
a. Pride
b. Self-love
c. Touchiness
d. Anger and bitterness
e. Paronoia/assuming evil
f. Rigidity
g. Rashness
h. Willfulness
I. Inconsistency; carelessness in keeping a clear conscience
j. Jealousy and envy
K. Covetousness
l. Contentiousness
m. Gossip

3. I will be reluctant to believe a negative report about a brother.

4. I will not judge a brother guilty until I know the facts.

5. I will cover as many sins as I can with a blanket of love.

6. I will deal with people with patience and gentleness, including when they have sinned.

7. I will seek to win an offending brother through openly…

View original 307 more words

Biblical Principles Concerning Dating/Courtship

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I clearly recall a thread I followed a number of years ago on a Reformed Baptist discussion board.  Someone posed a question to the group about whether or not there was anything he should do with regard to something he knew a female friend was planning.  She was going to elope with her boyfriend without letting her parents know.  This was a professing Christian young woman and he was concerned as to whether he should try to stop her, warn her parents, or something else.  What I remember the most was the comment made by someone that made my jaw drop.  He said something to the effect of:  “She’s over 18, so she can make her own decisions and her parent’s knowledge or blessing is irrelevant.”  I was dumbfounded that a mature Christian who taught at a well known seminary could make such a statement.  Where in the Bible do we find any such notion?  Where in Scripture do we find the idea that a woman leaves the protective care and authority of her father for any other reason than being given to a husband?  I bring this up, not simply because it is shocking, but because it reveals just how much Christians can unwittingly imbibe from culture without realizing how unscriptural it may be.

I promised a follow up to my last post about dating/courtship in which I would flesh out some of the scriptural principles I believe must guide us through the difficult waters of courtship and dating in our day.  As I stated from the beginning, I do not claim to have all the answers.  I do not have a new scheme that will solve all our problems and ensure that our children will all end up with great marriages and live lives free from heartache.  I will, however, lay out the principles I think we need to keep in mind regarding the issue, and discuss how I am attempting to navigate these waters with my children in light of them.

It is not good that man should be alone

Gen. 2:18

At the completion of each day of creation God declared that it was good.  It is not until verse 18 of chapter 2 that He describes something as not good.  It was not good that man should be alone.  God did not create man to live a solitary existence, he created a helper comparable to him.  Even before falling into sin it was not good for man to be alone, how much more so today.  If unfallen man needed a helper, how much more does fallen man?  When Christian singles find themselves yearning for a godly spouse, it is a good thing which they desire.

We need to recognize this as a fact and live in light of it.  We ought to direct our children to actively seek the Lord’s aid in finding a spouse.  We should help them in any way we can.  We should teach them early on, by scripture and by example, what kind of a spouse they should seek.  We should also teach them what kind of a spouse they need to become, and help them to develop the character and attitudes that the Lord requires of them.  We should pray with them and for them as they go about this difficult task.  We need to teach our sons that they need a helper and teach our daughters that the Lord has a man who needs their help.

This being said, we must also teach them that no spouse will ever fulfill their desires.  No spouse can ever fulfill all their needs.  Only Christ can do that.  They must seek Christ above all else.  They must be fully satisfied in Him and Him alone.  Disappointment , discontentment and frustration will be the inevitable outcome of a failure to understand this.  Whatever spouse God provides for them will be a sinner, and they will experience first-hand how difficult life yoked to a sinful man or woman can be.  Yes, a godly spouse will be an incredible blessing to them, but if they ever expect to gain from that person what they can truly find in God alone, the results will be devastating.

What about Celibacy?

The Bible does teach that the Lord sovereignly chooses to grant the gift of celibacy to some.  We ought to teach our children this as well, but we need to recognize that this is the exception and not the rule.  God may indeed reveal that one of our children is never going to marry, and His grace is sufficient to sustain them if this is the case.  But how do we know?  There are indeed many factors to take into account that I will not take the time to attempt to lay out.  I do have a simple litmus test that can help though.  It is a fact that ought to be recognized by all, that men and women typically struggle with lust in different ways.  Men struggle with the lust of looking upon women, and women struggle with the lust of desiring to be looked at.  If a young woman or man has not attained an unusual ability to mortify these particular lusts, I think it is a very strong sign that the Lord has not given them the gift of celibacy.  I can’t proclaim this as dogma, but it seems like sound reasoning to me.

Make No Provision for the Flesh

Romans 13:14

God commands all Christians to “flee youthful lusts”(2 Tim. 2:22).  The very description of these lusts as “youthful” makes it clear that they are particularly strong in young people, even though they do not disappear with age and must be mortified by all.  Notice the verb as well.  We are to flee from these lusts.  We are not to toy with them, let alone indulge them.  We find a parallel admonition in 1 Cor. 6:18, “Flee sexual immorality.”  Again, the verb denotes the urgency.  We are to flee from youthful lusts and sexual immorality as if they were a battalion of armed men or a bear robbed of her cubs!  We are never to see how close we can come without stepping over the line.  We are never to indulge in “just a little”.  Parents must instill this in their children early on and repeatedly admonish them, for this is as exceedingly deceitful a sin as any.

This is why it is so important that young people be careful to make no provision for the flesh.  They ought not to be placing themselves in positions in which it would be easy for them to give in to carnal lusts.  Spending time alone with a member of the opposite sex in private ought to be avoided like the plague.  A young woman should not be comfortable in such a situation, for she is indeed in great danger, whether she realizes it or not.  Every man has lust within him.  A Christian man is indeed striving to mortify that lust, but a woman has no way of looking into his heart to observe how successful he is.  I am well aware that there are examples of Christian men and women who spent time alone in private and did not give in to such lusts.  But there are myriads of examples of those who attempted to do so and failed miserably with dire results.  We should never presume upon the grace of God when He has so clearly admonished us to make no provision for the flesh.

I once had a former youth pastor tell me about how devastated he was to find out that the majority of girls in his youth group were taking birth control pills.  This was in a conservative PCA church!  What were their parents thinking?  While the fear of getting a girl pregnant is far from the main reason a man should flee fornication, it is indeed an obstacle that should not be removed.

I do not mean to say that an unmarried couple should never have private conversation.  There are plenty of ways to be in private in one sense while still being in public in another sense.  Dinner in a restaurant, being in a room alone while the door is open and others are in the house etc.  But a single man living alone ought not to have a girl over for dinner without others present.  I’m sure this seems restrictive and legalistic to many, but the Biblical admonitions I’ve cited, as well as many others throughout the word of God make this very wise counsel.

Guard Your Heart

Prov. 4:23

While most will recognize that what I propose looks more like what is commonly known as courtship than dating, it is not dating per se that I have the biggest problem with.  It is recreational dating.  What I mean by recreational dating is a man and woman entering into a romantic relationship simply to enjoy the romance, with no commitment to each other except that they will continue as long as the relationship gives them pleasure.  The Bible is perfectly clear that physical intimacy is to be confined to marriage, and that fornication, which I do not believe is confined to intercourse, is sin.  But what is marriage?  Is it merely a commitment to an exclusive physical relationship?  Of course not.  Marriage is a commitment of the heart as well as the body.  A man or woman can commit adultery in many ways without ever committing the physical act.  How devastating it would be for one to hear his/her spouse say “I love you” to someone else!  It is my sincerest conviction that just as singles must be diligent to reserve their bodies for marriage they must also seek to reserve their hearts.  This is why I oppose the practice that leads, multiple times in some cases, to “falling in love” with someone with no intention of ever marrying them.

I recognize that this idea will meet strong opposition from many quarters.  I also realize that it will be far more difficult to work this out practically than it is to avoid fornication.  And I’m not saying that a couple should attempt to somehow not fall in love until after the marriage ceremony.  Hopefully setting forth some practical advice will help to clarify what I’m talking about.

A young man or woman should never date someone that they would never marry.  The idea that it would be fun to date someone even though they have some character flaws or something else that makes them unsuitable as a possible spouse is unwise to say the least.  A romance that cannot rightly end in marriage will end in heartache.

A young man ought to be careful not to lead a girl on.  He may at first desire to get to know a young woman better because he recognizes her Christian character and finds her attractive.  He may spend time with her in small groups etc.  A mutual attraction ( and I mean that in a wholesome way) may begin to become obvious.  In such cases a girl’s heart is very vulnerable.  He should be careful to keep from giving her the impression that she means more to him than she actually does, and if it becomes clear to him that he does not see her as a potential spouse he should make it known in a gracious manner.

A young woman needs to guard her heart.  As my wife said to me recently, a girl can fall in love with a guy on the first date.  She needs to be diligent not to allow herself to do so.  She needs to keep a close watch over her affections and be careful not to hand her heart to someone just because he has taken notice of her, even if he is a fine Christian man.  I know this is easier said than done, but if she is successful, she will indeed save herself from much potential heartache.

I do believe there may be a good degree of affection of the heart between a couple by the time they are prepared to pursue marriage, and that it will grow stronger and stronger as their wedding day approaches.  But they must both be diligent to practice restraint before there is any sort of commitment involved.

The Role of Fathers

1 Cor. 7, Prov. 7, Num. 30

The biblical role of a father is a great responsibility.  He is not a pope over his family, for a pope is an unbiblical usurper of authority.  He has a delegated authority, under God, to fulfill a multitude of duties for the good of those in his family.  He must provide for them (1 Tim. 5:8).   He must instruct them in godliness (Prov. 22:6, Eph. 6:4).  He must lead by example as he directs his family to live as faithful servants of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The father has a peculiar role in regard to his daughters.  His authority over them extends even to the overruling of vows unto the Lord (Num. 30:1-5).  He has the authority to refuse to give her in marriage if he deems it wise (1 Cor. 7:36-38, Exod. 22:16,17).  But this authority is not for his benefit, but for his daughter’s.  He needs to teach her the dangers of adulterous men just as he is to teach his sons about the dangers of adulterous women (Prov. 7).  He needs to teach her what manner of woman she should strive to become (Prov. 31).  He needs to teach her to be modest and diligent (1 Tim. 2:9-11, Titus 2:5).  He needs to teach her to be sweetly submissive under godly authority (Titus 2:5, Eph. 5:22, 1 Pet. 3:1-6)  He must ensure her safety and guard her reputation to the best of his ability (1 Tim. 5:8, Prov. 22:1, Eccl. 7:1).

A father’s responsibilities toward his daughters a manifold, who is sufficient for such matters?  It is only by God’s grace that any man can begin to fulfill his God given role.  How sad it is to observe how much of this responsibility is neglected in our day.  Every time I see an immodestly dressed young woman from a Christian family I ask myself “What is her father thinking?”  Take responsibility, man!  Guard your daughter’s good name and virtue, please.  She needs you.

This is why, if a young man asks my daughter to go out on a date with him, she will direct him to speak with me.  (Unless she has no interest, she is free and perfectly capable of saying “no” without my assistance.)  Since I take my responsibilities seriously, I need to know what kind of man he is and what his intentions are.  If he’s looking for a romance without commitment, he’s looking for “love” in the wrong place.  However, if he makes every appearance of being a sound Christian who would like to get to know my daughter better, I will give him permission within certain parameters and guidelines.  He needs to be willing to remain in the presence of others.  I will suggest that if they go out for dinner or a movie etc. they will need to take along one or more of her siblings, or other godly friends who I know.  He doesn’t, however need to be ready to marry her.  I know that because of our current culture’s ideas, it may seem like the equivalent to asking me for her hand, but I will do my best to set him at ease and treat him with Christian dignity.  I will also make it crystal clear, that if he willfully misuses her, physically or emotionally, he will have to deal with me, and it won’t be pretty.  But as long as he conducts himself in an upright manner, he has nothing to fear.  If he starts to have feelings for my daughter, I will expect him to speak to me about it, but I will do my best to keep this from being anything to be apprehensive about.

My sons must be diligent to mind the authority of the father over any girl they might become interested in.  They will speak to him before any form of dating occurs if that is what her father expects.  I am aware, however, that many fathers would be quite troubled by a young man who has never dated their daughter asking to speak to him first.  They may jump to the conclusion that he is indeed asking for her hand.  Such things need to be worked out with wisdom and care.  In a culture as diverse as ours we cannot demand a cookie cutter solution.  Regardless of her father’s attitude, they must keep all the above principles in mind and take great care not to misuse the young woman’s heart or reputation in any way.

Know Your Children

The Lord has graciously blessed my wife and I with eight wonderful children.  It amazes me how much diversity there is among their individual personalities.  Parents need to recognize the individual strengths and weaknesses, propensities and inclinations of each of them if we are to guide them well.  I have one daughter who will be very difficult to woo.  I am really looking forward to meeting the man who can gain her heart, for it is a strong city, fortified by walls.  I have another daughter who I will need to watch much more closely.  Not because of any moral deficiency or lack of virtue, but because she takes after her father and I believe will easily fall in love.  Two of my sons have few female friends and one of them has many more female friends than male friends.  Each of them need to be reminded of their responsibilities with regard to the affairs of the heart and guided or admonished with regard to their own unique personalities.

Compatibility

In my response to Mr. Umstattd’s article, I stressed the fact that when looking for the reason any marriage failed, we cannot come to the conclusion that the couple were simply not compatible.  I also stressed the need to place Christian virtue as the primary trait to look for in a potential spouse.  This may have given some the impression that I think there’s nothing more to the equation.  I apologize if I lead anyone to that conclusion.  There are many factors that need to be considered in the search for a godly spouse. However, I stand by my conviction that one need not date multiple people in order to recognize who it is they are supposed to marry.

I will reiterate that godly character and virtues are paramount.  Young people should be looking for the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5) in the Christian singles of their acquaintance.  A young man should be looking for a girl who is sweetly submissive to her father, for if she is not, she will not be a submissive wife.  A young man who chafes under authority must be avoided as well.  He is likely to either shirk his proper responsibilities as a husband and father, or show himself to be an abuser of his own authority, either of which will lead to a very unhappy marriage.  Diligence is a virtue to be eagerly sought in a future husband or wife, for both roles require this grace in abundance.  Such virtues are utterly lacking among a large portion of professing Christian young people, which will make the search difficult, but when you indeed recognize these graces in a potential spouse you will know you struck gold.

I must also apologize to any Arminian friends who were insulted by my reference to them in my previous post.  I did not intend to set this doctrinal view on par with the sin of lying, that was not my intent.  I simply wished to convey that a certain degree of doctrinal agreement is absolutely necessary in a Christian marriage.  Of course there must be agreement on the essentials of the faith, that is a given.  But it is also equally true that you will be very unlikely to ever find anyone who agrees with you on every jot and tittle.  I believe it is of utmost importance that there is agreement on many major issues that genuine Christians disagree about.  An Arminian and a Calvinist would end up with much strife, for such doctrines reach into every corner of life.  A Cessationist and a continuationist would also face many difficulties.  Agreement on issues like these, as well as doctrines like the Regulative Principle of worship or credobaptism vs. paedobaptism is important, though possibly not an insurmountable obstacle.  Where would a couple with such differences worship together in unity?  At the very least, the woman must be able to sweetly submit to her husband, and if her convictions are too strong to do this a marriage ought not to be pursued.

While I am unshakably convinced that the above two considerations ought to be foremost in the minds of those searching for a spouse, I am well aware that other things come into consideration as well.  Some personalities just clash, even among genuine Christians with similar doctrinal convictions.  What I want to make clear is that one can recognize such things without recreationally dating multiple people.  Hobbies, interests, personality quirks and the like can all be discovered in a group atmosphere without entering into the dangerous practice of casual dating.

But Where Can We Look?

I conclude with the question that inevitably arises from a commitment to all I have just discussed.  A large number of faithful Christian singles are in small churches in which they are the minority.  They do not have a large pool of Christian singles with whom they are acquainted.   Where are they to find their future spouse?

It is indeed possible that the Lord will bring a future spouse into the congregation to which they are joined, we ought not to rule out this possibility.  But neither should we simply sit back and wait, for that may not be the means of God’s provision.  In my previous post I mentioned Christian conferences.  Building Tomorrow’s Church or a Reformed Baptist singles conference is a great place to meet other singles who share doctrinal convictions and demonstrate godly character.  Other conferences, such as G3 are also excellent, though they are not specifically geared toward singles.  My sons really enjoy these conferences, they are a great blessing in meeting new friends and feeding upon the word of God.  Finding a potential spouse isn’t even the primary reason they attend.  Many Christian couples have met each other while attending a Christian college.  I mentioned the idea of visiting other faithful churches within driving distance.  There may be a doctrinally sound church in your area that has a larger number of Christian singles.  While I insist that leaving a faithful church for the sole purpose of finding a spouse is wrong, I don’t see anything wrong with attending Bible studies that most of these churches have for their singles.  This may be a great idea for a godly young man.  A man with strong doctrinal convictions and virtues would stick out in such an atmosphere and be quite attractive to a spiritually minded young woman who is tired of the shallow Christianity she sees in most professing Christian young men.

It is also difficult to know what to do once you’ve met someone who fits the biblical criteria for a potential spouse, but you don’t know them well enough to conclude that you may want to pursue a relationship with them.  One idea is to plan some sort of activity with friends and invite them along.  You can enjoy the company of friends and get to know them better as well as observing how they interact with others.  This can actually be much more fruitful than asking them out on a date, since you have no romantic expectations or apprehensiveness that comes along with a “first date”.

As I stated from the beginning, I do not have all the answers to the difficult questions regarding dating/courtship.  I do believe I have laid out some vital biblical principles that must be kept in mind as we guide and direct our children in their search for a godly spouse.  It is my intention to leave the comments section open and hope others will provide other ideas that will be of assistance to others as well as myself.  Please refrain from responses like, “Well, my spouse and I did such and such when we dated, and we have a strong marriage.”, if your purpose is to prove that some biblical principle can safely be ignored.  There are happily married couples who followed biblical principles in courtship/dating, just as there are happily married couples who followed none.  My wife and I were unbelievers and our relationship before marriage couldn’t have been much less biblical, but God has graciously given us an incredible marriage.  That does not in any way lead me to believe that it isn’t important that my children take every biblical principle into consideration.  What I’m interested in receiving, are ideas that will help us guide our children in following such principles while searching for a spouse.

 

His Throne is Forever and Ever!

rex

 

The Wrong Answer to the Real Difficulties of Modern “Courtship”

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(Computer generated audio of this post)

Follow-up Post

When dealing with emotionally charged issues it is quite common to find muddled thinking on both sides.  I have found this to be particularly the case regarding the subject of dating/courtship.  I have three adult sons, and daughters who are 17 & 18, so I’ve had to give the subject a lot of thought.  A few years ago I scoured the internet for ideas about courtship and dating, and was unable to find anyone promoting a view that I could entirely agree with.  On the courtship side, I found what I would consider overreaction to dating culture.  I even heard some insist that it was wrong or sinful for a father to take his daughter’s feelings into consideration when he dealt with the issue of whom his daughter should marry.  On the other side I found a great deal of misrepresentation of what courtship proponents believe.  I remember one respected Reformed Baptist pastor, in a series on Christian dating, insisting that the best example in the Bible of what courtship adherents propose was Samson, but they were unwilling to admit it because of the dire results.  I do not know what specific courtship literature he was responding to, but I have a hard time believing that anyone is recommending that the proper way to find a spouse is for a young man to find a woman who it is unbiblical for him to marry, and then insist that his parents arrange a marriage with her!

So I have come to my current views on courtship/dating, not by following any model proposed by a group on either side, but rather by my own meditations upon the word of God.  Indeed, the Bible does not set forth a specific pattern for courtship, but there are a number of Biblical principles that we must take into consideration.  I have never pressed my conclusions on others, nor am I claiming to have all the answers.  My wife pointed me to a recent blog post by a former proponent of courtship that she saw a friend endorse, and I saw a number of problems with it.  As we discussed the matter she suggested that I write a blog in response and my immediate answer was “No way”.  However, the amazing number of Christians I find praising this blog has, I feel, forced me to point out what I see as a number of fundamental flaws.

Link to the blog article I refer to:  http://www.thomasumstattd.com/2014/08/courtship-fundamentally-flawed/

The blog article is authored by Thomas Umstattd Jr., the founder of PracticalCourtship.com.  In a nutshell, he claims that the modern idea of courtship is fundamentally flawed, and the best solution to the problems in that system is to switch to a system of casual dating.  Now I agree with him on some points with regard to some problems with modern ideas about courtship.  However, I believe that many of what he calls fundamental flaws are merely difficulties, and that those difficulties can be overcome by better means than throwing the whole courtship idea out the window and beginning the practice of casual dating.  I believe there are also a number of Biblical principles that he does not take into consideration, and some of his suggestions are directly contrary to those principles.

Wrong Expectations

Within the article I can find only two reasons that he had formerly advocated courtship instead of dating.  He had believed that courtship rather than dating would ensure a happy marriage that would not end in divorce.  “The deal was that if we put up with the rules and awkwardness of courtship now we could avoid the pain of divorce later.  The whole point of courtship was to have a happy marriage, not a high divorce rate.”  And courtship promised less heartbreak than dating.  “One of the promises of courtship is that it can lead to less heartbreak than dating. I laugh at this to keep myself from crying. This could not be further from the truth.”

One of his fundamental arguments is that many marriages that began with courtship have ended in divorce, but most of the marriages from a past generation who engaged in casual dating did not, therefore casual dating leads to a lower divorce rate.  It doesn’t even seem to cross his mind that while casual dating was the social norm in those days, divorce still held a great social stigma.  He admits from the start that the generation whose model he now advocates were nominal Christians at best.  “People went to church on Sunday but that was the extent of their religious activity.”  He is proposing that we adopt the dating practices of those who did not take Biblical principles into account, simply because they had a lower divorce rate.

The very idea that the way one goes about finding a spouse will ensure a good marriage in the end is unsound.  Neither is it logical to assume that the reason a marriage that was entered through courtship and ends in divorce failed because it was entered through courtship.  A marriage is kept from failure by both spouses loving Christ more than each other, loving one another more than themselves, and living according to the commands of scripture.  No amount of “doing things right” beforehand, whether that be courtship or dating, can ever ensure a marriage that endures unless both parties are determined to do things right for the rest of their lives together.

As for the promised lack of heartache, we can never expect to be free from heartache in a fallen world.  He points out a number of ways that young men and women still have their hearts broken while practicing courtship, and I recognize the truth of them all.  But his new view of casual dating will not eliminate heartache either.  He is correct when he points out that exclusive dating is more dangerous than casual dating in this regard, but the model he promotes still includes exclusive dating, just not until you’re out of junior high.  “The Greatest Generation was encouraged to date and discouraged from going steady while in middle school.”  & “Do what your grandparents did and go out on dates with lots of different people before going steady with any of them.”  We can never ensure that our children’s hearts will never be broken, but teaching them not to give their heart to someone whose only commitment to them is to keep hanging around as long as they make them happy will indeed prevent a great deal.

Compatibility

Another assumption of the article is that courtship does not enable a person to learn what kind of spouse they will be compatible with, and the best way to know who you are compatible with is to date a large number of people.

“How can you tell who you want to marry if you aren’t going out on dates?”

“…by the time she graduated from high school, she had gone out on dates with over 20 different guys. This meant that by the time she was 17 years old she knew which Bob she wanted to marry.”

“’If I had only gone out with 3 or 4 guys I wouldn’t have known what I wanted in a husband,’”.

“We need a system to help young people make good decisions. Fortunately, we have one: Traditional Dating.”

First of all, as previously stated, what makes a marriage last isn’t the fact that the couple is “compatible”.  Commitment to Christ, commitment to one another, and commitment to nurture the relationship are what makes a marriage last.  But I find this concept flawed at another level as well.  Is a young man or woman really unable to know what kind of person they want to marry without previously engaging in casual dating?  How about looking to the Bible to determine what kind of character you need in a spouse?  Does my daughter really need to date a few Arminians before she knows she doesn’t want to marry one?  Does she need to date a handful of liars before she realizes it’s not a good idea to spend the rest of her life yoked to one?  I stand by the age old maxim that the way a man treats his mother is a good sign of how he will treat his wife.  You can seek out godly character in a future spouse without dating around first.

He makes another statement related to this point that I will shortly address.  He writes:  “Dating also trains people to continue dating their spouse after they get married. It is important for married couples to be able to have fun with each other. The kind of parents who are the strongest advocates of courtship are often the ones who go on the fewest dates with each other.”  Couples do not require any “training” to date each other after marriage.  Sure, they will have the fond memories of the dates from their earlier years, but they will also have all the memories of all the dates with others, and those are hardly helpful in the pursuit of keeping marriage fun.  It may be true that some couples who entered marriage through courtship do not relate to one another as they ought, but they can change that at any time without the “benefit” of having dated before marriage.

Temptation

Mr. Umstattd repeatedly makes the claim that temptation will be less in his system of casual dating than in the courtship model.

“The lack of exclusivity helped the girls guard their hearts and kept the boys from feeling entitled to the girl. How could a boy have a claim to her time, heart or body if she was going out with someone else later that week?”

“It is easier to justify promiscuity when you are exclusively committed to just one person, even if that commitment is only a week old.”

“– It is hard to fall in love with Bob on Tuesday when you know you are going out for coffee with Bill on Thursday. This lack of emotional commitment leads to less physical temptation.  Less temptation leads to less compromise. I have no idea how women are supposed to guard their hearts while in an exclusive relationship with the purpose of marriage.”

“The commitment, exclusivity and intensity of dating is what lead to temptation and compromise in the first place. Courtship makes the problem worse by increasing the commitment which intensifies the temptation. The advocates of courtship know this, which is why chaperones are so critical to the system.”

The only way I can figure that he came to this conclusion is that he is familiar with the temptations that do exist in the courtship culture, but is looking at his grandmother’s model through rose colored glasses.  He’s bought into his grandmother’s naiveté, when she told him, “The guys wouldn’t even want to kiss you!” Yes they did.  Those middle school boys may not have had the courage to try, but they wanted to.

Again, he is correct in his observation that temptation is not as great a problem when going on a few casual dates with different people as it is once a couple is dating exclusively.  But what happens in this system once a couple has decided they really like each other and do not want to date others?  I’ve already pointed out that exclusive dating is part of his process of getting from casual dating to marriage.  But now the couple has already eliminated the hedges that can be wisely used to avoid temptation to sexual sin.  They are already used to spending time alone together.  Are they likely to now limit themselves to group activities?  They eliminated accountability structures before they even got to the point that the temptation will be greatest.

In his description of courtship he lists “High accountability (chaperones, monitored correspondence, etc) and “Rules about physical contact and purity” as elements, but he gives no sign of the need for such in his “traditional dating” model.  He tells my daughters to go out on dates with Christian men I don’t even know.  Does he not know how many professing Christian men have less than honorable motives?  Is he unaware of the promiscuity level among professing Christian teens?  If I, as an adult, am to flee youthful lusts, can I ignore the fact that they lie in the bosom of every male who would ask my daughter out?  Am I to assume that since a man professes Christ he is truly godly enough to mortify those lusts when I haven’t even met him?

The Problem with Fathers

In that last paragraph you were probably able to sense what’s coming next.  Mr. Umstattd seems to have quite a problem with the idea that fathers typically play in the courtship model.  He describes it here:  “Fathers typically hold a ‘permission and control’ role rather than the traditional ‘advice and blessing’ role held by their fathers.  He later complains that you can’t have blind dates if you must first get permission from a father.  And he does point out some realistic problems that exist when fathers behave badly.

This is an issue that rests upon Biblical principle.  This post is too long already so I will not take the time to exegete the texts, but I believe the Bible makes it quite clear that a daughter is under the authority and protection of her father until that time at which he gives her to a husband.  Ex. 22:16-17, Num. 30:1-5, Deut. 22:13-21, 1 Cor. 7:36  (For a faithful exposition and discussion of these pertinent texts see:  http://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=12703112322 , while I do not agree with everything Pastor Coleman teaches on courtship, his treatment of these texts is excellent.)

God has given me the responsibility to watch over and protect my daughters until they are married.  There is nothing anywhere in scripture to indicate that this ends when they get a driver’s license, when they turn 18 or 21, when they go off to college, or when they are “mature enough” to live on their own.  That doesn’t mean I can’t let them out of my sight.  It doesn’t mean I must keep them locked up at home.  It does, however, mean that I am responsible for their emotional, spiritual and physical well-being.  I need to train them to have the proper attitude toward men.  I need to train them to take care of themselves in situations they may find themselves in.  But I don’t need to allow them to go out alone on dates with men I do not know, or do not approve of.

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His advice to any man who would ask out my daughter is to just move on.

“If she says you need to talk to her dad first, just move on to the next girl. Don’t let the fact that some women have controlling fathers keep you from dating the girls with more normal families. There are a lot of fish in the sea and some dads are nicer than others.  Remember that this man would have become your father-in-law, and controlling people tend to control everything they can. So avoiding women with those kinds of fathers can save you a lot of heartache down the road.”

All I can say to any man who takes this advice in regard to any of my daughters is that he is missing out on getting to know one of the most wonderful young women on this earth.  You can find a girl with a more “normal family”, but I must point out that a young man ought not to be looking for a girl from a normal family, but from a Christian family.  If the fact that a father takes his Biblical responsibilities seriously scares you off, it is your loss.

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(Not quite “normal”)

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He does bring up some realistic problems with fathers that I will address.

I know several godly, hardworking and attractive homeschool guys who have been rejected by as many as a dozen fathers. I respect their tenacity. Getting turned down by courtship fathers is tough on guys because the fathers are rarely gentle or kind. So if you are a courtship-minded girl wondering why the guys are not calling, you may want to ask your dad how many guys he has run off.” (emphasis his)

“It is easy for “no guy to be good enough for daddy’s little princess”. The sad result of enforcing this mindset is a daughter who becomes a spinster.”

First of all, I don’t think a father should be “running off” guys without his daughter having any knowledge about it.  Secondly, my previous comments may lead one to believe that I fit in the category of fathers in the “little princess” quote.  But allow me to make this clear.

From the very day my daughter was born I have been praying earnestly that God would raise up a godly husband for her.  When a young man comes to me I do not intend to converse with him while I polish my Glock.  (Though I admit there is a part of me that would like to.)  I will treat the young man with Christian dignity and respect, he may be the man I have been praying for.  I do not expect a Charles Spurgeon or John Murray to show up at my door.  I will not turn him away if he doesn’t have all his theological ducks in a row, if he is willing to be taught.  However, any young man who professes Christ, who would not be willing to sit down with the father of a girl he is interested in, and learn from her father’s experience and wisdom, is not the man for my daughter.

I also do not think that a young man needs to be ready to marry my daughter before he comes to me about getting to know her better.  When Mr. Umstattd states that “the fact that ‘the purpose of courtship is marriage’, makes asking a girl out for dinner the emotional equivalent of asking for her hand in marriage.” I believe he has a point.  What I am looking for is not a commitment to pursue marriage with my daughter before getting to know her better.  What I am looking for is the assurance that he is not desiring to have a romantic relationship with her without any commitment involved.  We rightly teach our children to reserve physical relationships for marriage, we must also teach them to reserve their hearts for their future spouse as well.

Group Activities

The author complains about the downside to limiting personal contact among members of the opposite sex to group activities.

“The problem with group settings is that not all personality types open up in group settings. Many married couples include one spouse who is more comfortable in group settings than the other. These couples may have never found each other if they were limited to ‘group dating.’

In group activities, it can be hard for the wallflowers to be discovered for the flowers that they really are. They need a less intense 1-on-1 setting in which to bloom. Group settings are particularly rough on women who grew up in communities where they were trained to value submissiveness, meekness and quietness.”

While I recognize some truth in this complaint, I do not believe the problem is insurmountable.  I would simply recommend smaller groups.  A wallflower does not need to be in a 1-on-1 setting to ever open up.  In a small group that is comprised mostly of her intimate friends she should be able to open up to some extent.  The fact remains that the temptations that are inherent in 1-on-1 time between members of the opposite sex that are interested in one another are too great to be ignored so that a wallflower may open up.  How many dates would it take for the wallflower to open up?  In this casual dating system any man who could not recognize her beauty in a group is not likely to continue casual dates until the time she lets her guard down.

The Church

Here we come to what I believe is the greatest difficulty for Christian singles.  Mr. Umstattd asks, “Where is a stay-at-home daughter who attends a small family integrated church supposed to find groups of young people to hang out with?”  He has an excellent point, but I find his suggested answer to be unacceptable.  He advises singles to:

“Find a church with lots of single people. There are still churches out there with a healthy culture of traditional dating. If no one in your church got married last year, don’t expect to break that trend. You can always move back to your parent’s church after you find your sweetheart.”

Is this in any way a Biblical directive?  We ought to teach our children the importance of joining themselves to a church where the whole counsel of God is faithfully preached and the pastors conscientiously nurture and care for the souls of the people.  Are they to set that aside until they have accomplished the more important task of finding a spouse and then return?  Perish the notion!  It is indeed difficult for singles in small faithful churches to find potential spouses.  There are conferences that can be attended in which a potential spouse may be met.  I’ve contemplated visiting other faithful churches as a family occasionally in order to seek out other faithful Christian singles.  But ultimately we must trust in the Sovereignty of our Almighty and caring Lord.  I have been praying for God to provide a godly spouse for each of my children since their infancy and I trust that He will answer that prayer without requiring me or my children to compromise Biblical principles.  I must also point out the obvious fact that the difficulty singles in small faithful churches have is in no way fixed by deciding to casually date.  Who exactly are they supposed to start casually dating?  His claim that the more people you date the faster you will find your future spouse is also problematic.  God will use His means to bring your future spouse into your life in His timing.  Going out on a lot of dates with a lot of people who you will never marry can do nothing to move up God’s time table.  Trust in Him to answer your prayers, His grace is sufficient to sustain you until that day comes.

Conclusion 

Mr. Umstattd has pointed out many of the problems and difficulties in the modern system of courtship.  These things do need to be addressed, but the solution he proposes, changing to a system of casual dating that was used by his grandparent’s generation is not an acceptable answer.  He’s ready to throw the baby out with the bathwater.  He fails to recognize the dangers inherent in the system.  He fails to take Biblical principles into consideration, and offers suggestions that are directly contrary to those principles.  I do pray that God will help us to discern solutions to these problems and trust that he will do so.  I also pray for all those who are committed to Biblical principles on these matters and are suffering because of it.  I pray that God would sustain them.  I pray that God would keep them from compromise.  I pray that God will mercifully provide godly spouses for them.  And I know that our God answers our prayers.

Follow-up Post

His Throne is Forever and Ever!

rex