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Two great posts appeared recently examining why young people leave the Church.
Over the past few decades we have seen a growing number of non-denominational churches that are heavy on music and the show and light on liturgy and ritual. We keep seeing the Church trying to be “cool” and trying to meet young people “on their level.” As a young person, I don’t think it’s working. That faux-hawk you’re sporting Pastor? The watered down sermon about a “famous” person who believes in Jesus? Using out-dated memes in your power point presentation? …
This is something I think many churches need to remind themselves of. When witnessing some of these “cool guy church” antics I’ve found myself feeling patronized, and seen others leave the church for something more “traditional”. I’m reminded of the parable of the lost sheep, where Jesus asks his followers if one out of their hundred sheep went missing ,wouldn’t they leave all their other sheep to run after the one? It’s a strong message, and maybe one that many churches are taking to heart in their search for their lost sheep. My advice? Leave it to God. He will find his lost sheep and bring them home. Don’t push away your 99 sheep and leave them out in the cold, because you may find they will be lost as well.
This isn’t a negative “beat up on the church” post. I love the church, and I want to see American evangelicalism return to the gospel of repentance and faith in christ for the forgiveness of sins; not just as something on our “what we believe” page on our website, but as the core of what we preach from our pulpits to our children, our youth, and our adults …
10. The Church is “Relevant”:
You didn’t misread that, I didn’t say irrelevant, I said RELEVANT. We’ve taken a historic, 2,000 year old faith, dressed it in plaid and skinny jeans and tried to sell it as “cool” to our kids. It’s not cool. It’s not modern. What we’re packaging is a cheap knockoff of the world we’re called to evangelize.
As the quote says, “When the ship is in the ocean, everything’s fine. When the ocean gets into the ship, you’re in trouble.”
I’m not ranting about “worldliness” as some pietistic bogeyman, I’m talking about the fact that we yawn at a 5-minute biblical text, but almost trip over ourselves fawning over a minor celebrity or athlete who makes any vague reference to being a Christian …
8. They get smart:
It’s not that our students “got smarter” when they left home, rather someone actually treated them as intelligent. Rather than dumbing down the message, the agnostics and atheists treat our youth as intelligent and challenge their intellect with “deep thoughts” of question and doubt. Many of these “doubts” have been answered, in great depth, over the centuries of our faith. However …
7. You sent them out unarmed:
Let’s just be honest, most of our churches are sending youth into the world embarrassingly ignorant of our faith. How could we not? We’ve jettisoned catechesis, sold them on “deeds not creeds” and encouraged them to start the quest to find “God’s plan for their life”. Yes, I know your church has a “What we believe” page, but is that actually being taught and reinforced from the pulpit? I’ve met evangelical church leaders (“Pastors”) who didn’t know the difference between justification and sanctification. I’ve met megachurch board members who didn’t understand the atonement. When we chose leaders based upon their ability to draw and lead rather than to accurately teach the faith? Well, we don’t teach the faith. Surprised? …
This is what I was driving at in my closing comments yesterday on Simeon. Catechise your children as soon as you can; start gently with simple concepts and prayers between the ages 3 and 4. Build from there. Make sure they know what they believe and why they believe it.
Meg and Mark make excellent points which all pastors and church volunteers would find of interest.
Could it be that our young people are crying out, ‘Gimme that old-time religion’?
Over the past few years, this blog has examined the feminine character of church services.
We simply do not have enough men attending Catholic and Protestant services. Yet, this was not always the case.
Many pastors and theologians wonder how men can once again participate in the life of the Church. Christians over the age of 50 recall that the pews on Sundays had a good cross-section of men of all ages. By contrast, today’s congregations seem to be mostly comprised of women and girls.
William Lane Craig, American theologian and apologist, addressed this in his April 2013 e-newsletter (H/T: Triablogue). Emphases mine:
One overwhelming impression of these [Craig's speaking] engagements is the way in which the intellectual defense of Christian faith attracts men. Both at Texas A&M and again at Miami every single student who got up to ask a question was a guy! …
Churches have difficulty attracting men, and the church is becoming increasingly feminized. I believe that apologetics is a key to attracting large numbers of men (as well as women) to church and to Christ.
In writing this blog, I have noticed that America’s confessional Reformed churches seem to have the most men who are actively involved and regularly attend services. The confessional Lutheran denominations in the United States must be a close second.
Why? These churches have male ministers, solid homiletics, by-the-book liturgy and traditional hymns or sung Psalms. That is what men — and boys — want when they go to church.
You might ask, ‘What about the Catholic Church with its all-male clergy?’ Ah, but what about the modern hymns, variable liturgical forms and weak homilies?
Going back through my archives, I found some interesting quotes from male pastors and congregants.
In 2009, I featured a post called ‘Here’s what happens when Dad doesn’t attend church’. The post looked at a Swiss survey of church attendance which an Anglican priest — a Fr Low — analysed and compared to England’s situation. I recommend it to every pastor. Fr Low wrote:
Faithful mothers produce irregular attenders rather than regular. Their absence transfers the irregulars into the non-attending sector. But even the beneficial influence really works only in complimentarity to the practice of the father.
In short if a father does not go to church, no matter how faithful his wife’s devotions, only one child in 50 will become a regular worshipper.
Where adults have witnessed, in their own childhood, that Church, for example, is a ‘women and children’ thing, they will respond accordingly. Curiously, both adult women as well as men will conclude subconsciously that Dad’s absence indicates it is not really a ‘grown-up’ activity.
He concluded that:
Emasculated liturgy, gender-free Bibles and a fatherless flock are increasingly on offer. In response to this, decline has, unsurprisingly, accelerated. To minister to a fatherless society the Church of England, in its unwisdom, has produced its own single-parent family parish model in the woman priest. The idea of this politically contrived iconic destruction and biblically disobedient initiative was that it would make the Church relevant to the society in which it ministered.
Women priests would make women feel empowered and thereby drawn in.
Another post of mine — ‘Consistent churchgoing habits important for children’ — contrasts this present-day problem with the normality of family church attendance near the end of the 20th century. A commenter on another Anglican blog remembered:
[ol' codger tone] When I was growing up going to church every Sunday is what was both expected and done. We did it, the families on our street did it, the families at our church did it. The only times we weren’t in church was on campouts for Scouts. Otherwise if you weren’t there, people assumed you were sick/indisposed … And we’re not talking the ’50’s here, these were the ’80’s. [/ol' codger tone]
Nowadays, sports activities are regularly scheduled on Sunday mornings, the time when families used to be in church.
As I mentioned above, modern church music is a problem, especially when men learn that the most robust, rousing hymns — ‘A Mighty Fortress Is Our God’ and ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’ — were dropped from hymnals beginning in the 1980s. I featured an analysis of traditional hymnody as seen from a pastor’s perspective in ‘A Lutheran pastor on church music’.
In ‘Why Johnny won’t SING!’ I looked at the role of music in a church service. I quoted Dr Carl Trueman, a Reformed minister and professor at Philadelphia’s Westminster Theological Seminary. He wrote:
You can tell a lot about someone’s theology from what they do in church. Involve [pop] music in your worship service, and I can tell not only that you have no taste in music but also that you have nothing to offer theologically to those who come through the church doors; indeed, what you do have can probably be found better elsewhere …
Such as at home in bed, sipping coffee and reading the Sunday papers whilst listening to the radio.
Many former churchgoers find this more gratifying than getting out of bed and rounding up the family to attend a service led by a woman featuring girly songs and a sermon oriented to women in the pews. Even in churches where a man takes the service, too many other things are feminine, as the Telegraph reported a few years ago:
A majority of men, 60 per cent, said they do not like flowers and embroidered banners in church with 52 per cent saying they do not like dancing in church.
Comments gathered from the survey of 400 UK readers of the men’s magazine Sorted also showed many did not like hugging, holding hands or sitting in circles discussing their feelings in church.
Nearly 60 per cent of those surveyed said they enjoyed singing – but added comments showing they preferred anthemic songs and ‘proclamational’ hymns as opposed to more emotional love songs.
Nearly three quarters, or 72 per cent, said their favourite part of a service was the talk or sermon.
In 2009, Dr R Scott Clark of Westminster Seminary California, whose posts I feature regularly here, posited the following on the decline in church attendance, particularly where men were concerned. (This comes from my 2010 post, ‘Women priests — a Calvinist view’.) Dr Clark wrote:
For a long time the theory of many erstwhile non-confessionalists has been to minimize areas of tension between Christians the prevailing culture. With the rise of the modern feminist movement, this one was easy. For the pietists what matters most is religious experience. Females are just as able to facilitate religious experience as anyone else, so why not? Many non-confessionalists (both liberals and ‘conservatives’) share an embarrassment over Paul’s apparently misogynistic tendencies. The great quest of much of the modern church has been to become acceptable or ‘relevant’ to the prevailing culture. It has been thus since at least the early 19th century …
Ironically, as the the non-confessional majority, in its quest to become acceptable to modernity, becomes more like the surrounding culture it becomes more irrelevant. The mainline has been bleeding itself to death for decades. The evangelicals are following suit. The consequences may not be entirely evident yet but the signs are there …
I think there is a connection between the drop in attendance to Sunday morning worship and rise in female pastors. The latter is a symbol of the capitulation of the church to cultural pressure and the former is one of its consequences.
I wonder if this feminisation of church has subconsciously led atheists to attack Christianity. Of course, they accuse it of being too robust. Yet, Christianity’s image is in reality becoming less masculine, more feminine. It looks weak, as do many pastors (my ordained readership excepted!).
I have the impression that a number of today’s clergymen in mainline and some Evangelical churches seem a bit too bookish or soft. This could be a result of today’s seminaries which might encourage them to tone down the testosterone; I do not know. I find it difficult to relate to them. And, if I do, how many others — including women — do, too?
It seems as if a reappraisal is in order of where the Church in the West is today. Perhaps it is time to throw out postmodern thinking once and for all and return to our traditions.
As the line went in the baseball film Field of Dreams: ‘Build it and they will come’.
Who are likely to donate to church and to new churches (‘plants’)?
The middle class.
It does pastors no favours if they bite the hand that feeds them. This ‘April Fool’ post from a Scottish pastor demonstrates the potential folly of this type of Marxist class struggle in a church context. (H/T: The Triablogue.)
Satire is difficult to write. Most attempts belong in the circular file.
There is another question, however — should a pastor write satire for publication especially when he depends no doubt on money or time from a social class that he criticises? Consider the Scottish pastor’s critique, ‘A Working Class Manual On How To Reach The Middle Classes With The Gospel Of Jesus’:
Congratulations. You have been saved from a housing scheme background and you have taken the step to enter into cross cultural ministry. Ministering to the middle class is fraught with many pitfalls and dangers and is something not to be entered into lightly. Please take time to read the following.
1/ As a people group they are difficult to penetrate without a prior appointment. They like using diaries and a good phrase to familiarise yourself with is: ‘having a free window’. However, be warned that more and more are resulting to sync[h]ing their iphones, their [M]acs and their calendars with alarming frequency. Often, any [A]pple based product or even a prominent sticker often leads to a ‘way in’ to the culture …
3/ Related to shopping, please try to familiarise yourself with shops like Waitrose, Marks & Spencers and the shrine that is John Lewis. This is the Holy Trinity of the MC shopping world. For those of us used to Lidl and Farmfoods just pressing our faces against the windows of these establishments can be quite an intimidating experience. Our suggestion is that you buy some of the garments listed in 2 and then try to familiarise yourself with the layout of these places. Practice buying something exotic like Salmon and maybe even some fruit. Be warned, at some point you will have to purchase fresh vegetables, but we do offer specialist training before leaving you in an area on your own. Don’t worry about it for now. But, for those who can face it, practice at home with a tin of canned carrots (Ketchup helps initially with the unfamiliar taste) …
7/ This is a long-term ministry. You must settle in for the long haul as you take time to try and be open and honest with the MC. Keep persevering. I have heard many testimonies of middle class people opening up and even being saved.
8/ Remember to break their spiritual poverty gently to them. Most of them are on a mission to save YOU. Friendship evangelism is a good one. They love that approach …
Funny? To some, perhaps. Maybe standards of wit and satire have gone down since I was a nipper.
1/ As a result, I shall wonder in future whether the next pastor or vicar I meet has the same outlook as this man. I’m already highly disappointed in and sceptical of today’s Church, anyway. This type of approach isn’t helping to draw me back into the fold.
2/ I notice that this pastor spent four years ministering to street children in Brazil. Would he have dared to satirise them like this? Unlikely. Therefore, why satirise the middle class?
Stunts such as these are unfunny and in poor taste.
Christ came for all sinners — rich, middle class and poor alike.
John MacArthur’s sermons on Holy Scripture are edifying to read because he has studied the Bible for decades and can provide rich detail which encourages us to stop and look again at the passage.
His 2011 sermon, ‘The New Passover’, lays out what likely took place when Jesus and the Apostles gathered for the Last Supper. The passage is Mark 14:17-26, although MacArthur mentions other Gospel accounts.
What follows are excerpts, emphases mine as are the links to Scripture:
First it began with a prayer of thanks and it was followed by the first cup of red wine, doubly diluted with water… After that first cup, which kind of launches it, there was a ceremonial and an actual washing of hands. They actually washed their hands because they ate with their hands and there was a ceremonial significance to it because it symbolized a need for cleansing and a need for holiness.
So the opening cup and then the cleansing after the prayer of thanks. It seems to me that this might be a good place to assume that while they were talking about the need for cleansing, while they were talking about their unholiness, maybe that is where the Lord pointed out a problem with them because Luke 22:24 says, “A dispute arose among them as to which of them was regarded to be the greatest.” Same ole, same ole, right? It is very likely that at that time as they’re just getting beginning into this and the issue becomes a heart holiness that our Lord confronts that arguing about who is going to be the greatest, that ugly pride, by doing what John 13 says He did. “Jesus rose from supper, laid aside His garments, taking a towel, began to wash the disciples feet. And He gave them a profound lesson on…humility.”
It had to be juxtaposed against their arguing about which of them was the greatest and such an open manifestation of pride. And then He said to them, “I’ve given you an example for you to do as I have done for you.” And then He even said to them, as recorded in Luke 22:25 and 26, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them.” That’s what Gentiles do. “But not so with you.” He went on to say the greatest of you become as the least, as the servant, the slave. So just getting in to the Passover and they’re already demonstrating their sinfulness, the symbol of the washing would have been a perfect time for them to confront that sinfulness. Our Lord perhaps does that at that interval and then washes their feet to give them a lesson on humility.
This was followed then, this washing, by the eating of bitter herbs. This is when the bread would be broken. It would be flat bread, not a big fat loaf, flat bread broken and distributed and then dipped into a paste made from fruit and nuts. And then after that… first course…they would sing the Hallel. The Hallel, from which we get the word Hallelujah, are series of hymns that praise God from Psalm 113 to Psalm 118. And they sang them all at the Passover. Traditionally they would sing Psalm 113 and 114, and then would come the second cup of wine. And then after that cup would be the eating of the lamb, the eating of the meal. That would be the … main course …
And after the main course was completed would be the third cup of wine and after that they would sing the rest of the Hallel, Psalm 115, 116, 117 and 118. And then they would have a final sip of wine and one more Psalm and leave. That was the evening.
That could have all been done rather in a brief amount of time, however, it was strung out for many, many hours, being interrupted by all the other things that we talked about going on.
Early in this celebration in this sequence, our Lord says something that I think is important for us to hear in Luke 22:15 and16. “He said to them, ‘I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.’”
The language is very, very strong. Literally He says, “I desire with a desire,” that’s emphatic in the Greek. This is a very strong passion, “I must celebrate this Passover with you before I suffer. This has to happen for all the reasons that I told you.” Not only because it’s right because it’s commanded by God, but because He must make this transition. He must end an era. He must bring to a completion an entire system and launch a new one and He must lay out all the promises upon which every believer through all of redemptive history draws and He must tell them of the coming of the Holy Spirit, and He must confront their sin, and He must give them a lesson on humility and all these things are so compelling. He knows that He can’t die until all of this is clearly delineated to them and the Holy Spirit will bring it back to their memory in the future and they will write it down and it will be inscripturated and we will follow that instruction and cling to those promises. This has to happen before He dies.
He has, like everybody else, lived His whole life seeing animals sacrificed and all of them, He knew, pointed to Him. And now He was eating a meal at which the last legitimate Lamb was sacrificed and would be eaten and in a matter of hours it would be over. And He was the fulfillment of all those sacrifices. And in the view of His imminent suffering, He knows He will die, He knows He will not live to another Passover, He understands the urgency of this hour.
And there’s another component, John 13 begins by saying this, “He loved His own who were in the world, eis telos, to the max, to the limit, to the end. It was not simply a theological demonstration here. What He said to them, what He promised to them, what He pledged to them, and what He called for them to do was all a part of loving instruction.
It was His profound love for them, as well as their profound necessity for the truth He would give them that compelled this to occur. He says in verse 16 of Luke 22, “I say to you, I’ll never again eat this meal with you until it is fulfilled in the Kingdom of God.” And with that statement, we have the end of all legitimate Passovers…this was His last meal before the cross, He ate the lamb and then became the Lamb hours later.
Will there ever be another Passover, legitimate one? Will there ever be? There will, He says that, please notice it. This is not going to happen, He says in Luke 22, until it is fulfilled in the Kingdom of God. Even Passover has not yet reached its final fulfillment. That’s going to happen in the Kingdom.
Paul says, “We do this until he comes.” Matthew 6:29 talks about the fact that it’s going to occur in the Kingdom…when He returns, He will celebrate the Passover meal with His own redeemed people again. He will.
Many readers have been taking the short quiz which can help guide them towards a church which corresponds to their beliefs.
Also helpful is a short checklist which can help us to evaluate churches we visit to test their orthodoxy before getting too involved.
On the back of a critique of Joel Osteen, the confessional pastors and professors who run the White Horse Inn (WHI) have come up with what they call the Joel Osteen Scorecard. The scorecard contains a list of several terms divided into a cotton candy (false) ‘Christianity’ versus a historical-biblical Christianity.
At the time the WHI panel came up with the Osteen critique, the latest book by Dr Michael Horton — WHI panellist and professor at Westminster Seminary California — had just been published. In this brief introduction, Dr Horton explains what Christless Christianity is about: a fuzzy, self-help ‘religion’ which is far removed from the biblical covenants, grace, faith, the Gospel message, Jesus Christ, redemption and the Holy Spirit. This is essential viewing for those searching for churches but who do not know the characteristics of a proper church:
The WHI critique of Joel Osteen follows and can be applied to many preachers and pastors around the world today:
Americans live in an era where a vast majority of them have read at least one self-help book. For a while, we had two in our house, given to us by agnostic friends in the early 1970s who termed them ground-breaking and revolutionary: Psycho-Cybernetics and I’m OK, You’re OK. Some readers will call the former satanic, because it taught visualisation. However, although my parents were unimpressed by these books, insecure people or those who could be doing more with their potential can sometimes benefit by changing their way of thinking. It doesn’t necessarily need to come through ‘meditation’, just a self-check during the day. Ideally, some would say, this would come through faith, but the Bible is not a personal formula for success.
Speaking with a secular hat on for a second, I believe we are what we eat, read, watch and think. A constant diet of junk food is bad for the health. Reading pornography or nihilistic novels is sinful at worst, unhealthy at best. Watching most television may inhibit critical thought. A convicted criminal who thinks he will never amount to anything even if he wishes to turn over a new leaf has to learn to think in a new way. Instead of his imagining himself committing armed robbery, he has to train himself to imagine enjoying working for a living. An impatient person needs to think of himself as slowing down a potentially destructive reaction the next time someone or something irritates him. And so on. All that said, let me reiterate, self-help is a secular methodology with pragmatic instructions which may or may not work, not unlike a cookbook or a DIY manual. It has nothing to do with church and isn’t intended to. Seeing what happens in the workplace these days, a fair number of managers and employees would benefit from reading I’m OK, You’re OK, based on transactional analysis. Over the past ten years I have seen too many dysfunctional family relationships reproduce in an office setting which produces warped results for the company.
On to Joel Osteen now by way of his father John. Joel’s detractors accuse him of having grown up as a rich boy with no regard for hard times. I don’t know about that, however, John appeared to have grown up in humble circumstances during the Great Depression. It is unusual for reminiscences from parents and grandparents not to have some effect on younger generations. John’s obituary in Lubbock [Texas] Online reads in part:
Born Aug. 21, 1921, Osteen dropped out of high school in his hometown of Fort Worth. In his biography, he said he began seriously thinking about God after leaving a nightclub in 1939. Six weeks later, he was preaching in Paris, Texas.
That high school dropout — after his visit to a nightclub — went on to earn three degrees in theology. We may disagree on the confessionalism of the seminaries where he earned those degrees, however, he adhered to an Evangelistic background, became ordained in the Southern Baptist Convention (Arminian) and later embraced a more Charismatic Christianity. In 1959 (emphases mine):
John founded Lakewood Church in an abandoned feedstore in Houston on Mother’s Day … It was a year after he dedicated his life to the service of God. He had been married for four years to his second wife, Dodie, who joined him in his ministry. His church turned no one away. It didn’t matter what race or belief you had: you were welcome. This was unusual in the segregated, highly religious South.
Unfortunately, the Faith Builders article I cited is no longer there.
John said that his baptism in the Holy Ghost in 1958 changed his ministry:
He traveled extensively throughout the world, taking the message of God’s love, healing and power to people of all nations.
John Osteen founded Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, widely known as “The Oasis of Love in a Troubled World”, where his son Joel Osteen continues to minister to thousands weekly. He hosted the weekly “John Osteen” television program for 16 years, reaching millions in the U.S. and in many other countries with the Gospel. His numerous books, cassettes, and videotapes are widely distributed throughout the Body of Christ.
However, I found this quote of John’s interesting and wonder how the sentiment behind it might have affected Joel growing up:
Great it is to dream the dream, when you stand in youth by the starry stream. But a greater thing is to fight life through, and say at the end, the dream is true.
Joel published Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps to Living at Your Full Potential in 2004. Note the use of ‘best’, a favourite word among prosperity and positive-thinking preachers. The sermon of Peale’s I featured is called ‘Be Your Best’. Reverend Ike’s is called ‘You Deserve the Best!’
This clip is of Joel exhorting his congregation to ‘Expect Good Things’:
I imagine that many broken people attend Osteen’s Lakewood Church for right and wrong reasons. Yes, they are going to feel better about themselves after negative experiences at work, in marriage and, no doubt, in toxic churches. And, yes, what Osteen preaches is a type of moralistic therapeutic deism, popular in a self-help dependent society. (See my Christianity / Apologetics page for more under the heading ‘Moralistic Therapeutic Deism’.) Some of these people a) will never have entered a church or b) have been away too long.
There are serious problems with Joel Osteen’s ‘church’ and his preaching:
- Osteen has no theological degree and an odd outlook on preaching. He dropped out of Oral Roberts University after two years. A few years ago, 60 Minutes (CBS) interviewed Osteen, already ‘The Most Influential Christian in America’ (2006). Dr R Scott Clark of Westminster Seminary California said of Osteen after the interview:
… go back and watch Byron Pitts’ questions. Pitts was very fair with Osteen, even generous. He gave Osteen opportunities to say, “I’m a minister. My job is to call sinners to Christ.” What did Osteen say? “I’m not a minister. I’m a life coach. My job is teach people how to have their best life now.”
Jesus had little patience for the “best life now” approach. Broad is the way of destruction. It is harder for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. So much [for] Osteen’s self-described prosperity gospel.
In 2007, Osteen said in the same 60 Minutes interview:
I can get up here and try to impress you with Greek words and doctrine and there are people that need that, they want to study deeper,’ he recently said on the CBS program. ‘But I know what I’m called to do is say “I want to help you learn how to forgive today.” “I want to help you to have the right thoughts today.” Just simple things.
In which case, he needs to step away from the pulpit now!
- Osteen has a false church — not unlike Peale’s and Ike’s. Of Osteen, Dr Clark says:
As to judging someone’s profession, as a Reformed confessionalist … I confess that there [are] three marks of a true church (congregation): the pure preaching of the gospel (as defined by the Reformed confessions), the pure administration of the sacraments, and the administration of church discipline. Osteen’s congregation lacks these marks. Ergo it is, as the Belgic says, a false church. Belgic also gives us marks of a true Christian. You can see all this here.
- He adopts a Gnostic and semi-Pelagian outlook, devoid of justification by grace through faith. Dr Michael Horton of Westminster Seminary California has examined Osteen’s writing and preaching, coming up with these observations:
“You can be better,” Osteen invites. “The question is: ‘How? What must I do to become a better me?’ In my first book, Your Best Life Now, I presented seven steps to living at your full potential.” But with Becoming a Better You, he wants to go a little deeper. “I’m hoping to help you look inside yourself and discover the priceless seeds of greatness that God has placed within you. In this book, I will reveal to you seven keys that you can use to unlock those seeds of greatness, allowing them to burst forth in an abundantly blessed life.”
God has breathed His life into you. He planned seeds of greatness in you. You have everything you need to fulfill your God-given destiny….It’s all in you. You are full of potential. But you have to do your part and start tapping into it…You have the seed of Almighty God on the inside of you…We have to believe that we have what it takes.
Just as Kenneth Copeland, Benny Hinn, and other “faith teachers” speak of believers as “little gods” who share God’s nature, Osteen has an entire chapter devoted to “The Power of Your Bloodline.” “You have the DNA of Almighty God.”4 It’s “what’s in you” that is divine seed, he says.5 It is not that God has imputed Christ’s righteousness to us and adopted us as his children. We are not saved by an external and alien righteousness, but by an internal and essential righteousness that belongs to us simply by virtue of our being created in his image. Therefore, throughout the book Osteen can address all of his readers as semi-divine without any reference to faith in Christ.
There is more at the link. Horton cautions us about human achievement and our status before God:
I’m all for positive thinking-as long as we don’t call it the gospel. I come from a long line of Wild West pioneers and can identify with Osteen’s commendation of his parents as a major source of an optimistic outlook. The problem is when we blindly ignore the reality of our condition before God. Whatever good things there may be about me, none of them commend me before God’s righteous judgment.
- The Word Faith movement, of which Osteen’s Lakewood Church is a part, presents a false notion of God and human existence. Because there is such an absence of Scripture, outside of what some call ‘the fortune cookie Bible’, Osteen’s preaching and his family’s testimony can give false hope to his followers, especially if they are ill. Chris Lehmann of Salon warned:
That confident assertion of — and indeed, identification with — the divine will is one of the calling cards of the Osteen faith. Amid all the spirited self-affirmations and folksy homilies that stud an Osteen sermon, it’s easy to miss the oddly deterministic invocations of divine prerogative summoned up by the preacher, who belongs to the “Word Faith” tradition of Pentecostal belief …
The Word Faith image of the wonder-working, healing God is discomfiting to ponder, and not just because he might tempt desperately sick believers to go rogue beyond the dictates of medical science. The constant recitation of God’s transcendent goodness and the deference paid to his ironclad ability to lift believers magically out of suffering and woe both subtly downgrade the divine presence into a glorified lifestyle concierge. This God has no real way of accounting for the age-old paradoxes of theology, such as the tolerance of personal and historic evil, or the deeper ironies and unintended consequences of the believing life.
- Osteen’s message is unbiblical, even though it sounds loving. The Revd Dr Brian Lee, pastor of Christ Reformed Church in Washington, DC, wrote in 2012:
The biggest problem with Osteen’s message about God is that it is really a message about me. God is a potential, a force, a co-pilot, waiting to be tapped and deployed. I may have a net below me, but I am the one that has to take the first steps on the wire:
Taking steps of faith is imperative to fulfilling your destiny. When I make a move, God will make a move. When I stretch my faith, God will release more of his favor. When I think bigger, God will act bigger.
Osteen’s saying that God only moves if we make a move is hyper-Arminianism. In Osteen’s worldview, ultimately, that must mean that the believer lacks sufficient faith if a) he is dying of cancer or b) cannot keep up with his mortgage payments because of unemployment. We can only hope that his congregation don’t accuse each other of warrantless ‘backsliding’ over circumstances they cannot help.
Dr Lee has more:
Osteen’s message is not biblical. His promise that his audience will be taught the Bible—from a preacher who has admitted that teaching the Bible isn’t his strength—is fulfilled with a smattering of verses. These snippets are at best torn out of their context, at worst fabricated.
There’s this stretch: “God is saying to you what He said to Lot, ‘Hurry up and get there, so I can show you my favor in a greater way.’” In Genesis 19:22, the Angel does tell Lot “Get there quickly, for I can do nothing until you arrive there.” God waiting on Lot to step out in faith so he can bless him? Not exactly. It is God telling Lot to flee to Zoar, a city of safety, so he can rain down fire on Sodom and Gomorrah.
Osteen bolsters his bootstrap religion by quoting Jesus: “Roll away the stone, and I’ll raise Lazarus.” This, Osteen says, is a “principle,” “God expects us to do what we can, and He will do what we can’t. If you will do the natural, God will do the supernatural.”
One problem. Jesus does command them to roll away the stone, but no such quid pro quo is found in holy writ. This foundational principle is one of Osteen’s own making.
Taken as Christianity, Osteen’s false teachings — heresy, let’s be honest — can damage souls.
I won’t condemn anyone hurting who has sampled some of his sermons in an attempt to feel better on a psychological level. However, as far as Christian teaching is concerned, they would do well to frequent websites and churches which preach the Word of God and the true Gospel message.
Prosperity gospel preachers will be called to account one day. Pray that they discover the true Gospel.
Pray especially for their followers that their souls will be saved through that same eternal Truth through Word and Sacrament in a proper church.
Tomorrow: A checklist by which you can evaluate your church
Yesterday’s post looked at the late Norman Vincent Peale‘s man-centred message which still appeals to men and women today.
Although it was not perhaps technically a prosperity gospel, it certainly was a forerunner, as Peale taught through sermons and books that we could achieve anything we put our minds to. If that doesn’t include wealth and prosperity, what does?
Another preacher who came along a few decades later was the Reverend Ike. It would be interesting to know how much he might have been influenced by Peale’s methodology, which included positive thinking combined with science, especially psychology.
Frederick J. Eikerenkoetter II‘s father was a Baptist minister in South Carolina. He was a Dutch Indonesian who married an American. Frederick II — Reverend Ike — was brought up in the Church and, during his teenage years, became assistant pastor of Bible Way Church in Ridgeland, South Carolina. Ike served in the US Air Force as a Chaplain Service Specialist. He was a non-commissioned officer who assisted Air Force chaplains in their ministry.
Ike moved towards the prosperity gospel and founded three churches over time: the United Church of Jesus Christ for All People in Beaufort, South Carolina, the United Christian Evangelistic Association in Boston, Massachusetts (his main corporate entity), and the Christ Community United Church in New York City.
Although Reverend Ike was known for his radio programme, he also had a television show, which I caught briefly at the end of the 1960s and during the 1970s. In the first show I saw of his, he preached about cars. If a person really wanted a car and truly believed he could have one, it would be his. The sentence of his which stuck in my mind was:
Don’t wait ’til you die to get your pie in the sky!
An article about him which appeared on the NPR (National Public Radio) site recalls another saying of his:
You know, I come to you today lookin’ good, feelin’ good and smellin’ good.
In one of his most famous sermons — ‘You Deserve the Best’ (compare with Peale’s ‘Be Your Best’) — he discusses the notion that if a person believed he could have $1m, it would fall into his lap:
It’s interesting to read the comments beneath the video. The pitch by giftofmoney under the introduction is Pealesque (emphases mine):
Learn how to use your God-given mind power for success and prosperity …
And this, also channelling Peale:
You have to keep listening to Rev. Ike’s CDs over and over. Each time you will hear something new that applies to you, and the message will reach deeper into your subconscious mind to change your thinking! And as your thoughts change to positive, your emotions will also change to positive!
Then this comment from a Reverend Ike fan, favorsonme, which brings Gnosticism into the mix:
Rev. Ike didn’t refer to Biblical teachings, rather ancient teachings of mysticism and metaphysics which existed long before Christianity and the construction of the Christian Bible. He’s telling you all the truth that those who made the Bible wanted to keep hidden!
Another adherent, roseroyceGHOST, cites favourite Bible verses and also mentions Gnosticism, although not in so many words:
Proverbs 30:32 teaches our thoughts & mouth our powerful. Thats what got me where I am…study Proverbs 6:2…Mark11:23…Proverbs18:21…2Cor10:3-5…2Cor4:18…Eccles5:2…Eph4:29…Psalms39:1…Psalms141:3…Matthew12:34-37…Rom10:10.…Now that was my book of “the Secret”[;] the authors wrote it thousands of years ago. Amen.
Let’s examine the verses:
Proverbs 30:32: If you have been foolish, exalting yourself, or if you have been devising evil, put your hand on your mouth.
Proverbs 6:2: if you are snared in the words of your mouth, caught in the words of your mouth,
Mark 11:23: Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him.
Proverbs 18:21: Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.
2 Corinthians 10:3-5: 3For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. 4For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. 5We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ,
2 Corinthians 4:18: as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
Ecclesiastes 5:2: Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few.
Psalms 39:1: I said, “I will guard my ways, that I may not sin with my tongue; I will guard my mouth with a muzzle, so long as the wicked are in my presence.”
Psalms 141:3: Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!
Matthew 12:34-37: 34 You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. 36I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, 37for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”
Romans 10:10: For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.
The Old Testament verses above concern careful speech. Paul’s verses talk about seeking eternal life and confessing Jesus as Lord. In Matthew’s, Jesus rebukes the Pharisees and warns we shall be called to account for our speech revealing any darkness in our hearts. It’s interesting to see how a preacher could twist these verses or encourage a follower to put them into a materialistic context.
The Ike fan who cited them, roseroyceGHOST, went on to describe his CDs as
AWESOME! … THEY WORK!!!
Christian reader SuperDonster cautioned:
I’m not going to argue w/you,but I will advise you that this man is teaching a “New Age” concept called-The Law of Attraction.It’s repackaged eastern mysticism.I know because Christ saved me from it. Listen @1:05-1:10 Ike mocked Jesus’ teaching in Luke18:11-14. @2:00 on listen closely to what he teaches.Then type in “The Secret” and watch those videos about that book.It’s the same lies from Satan.He even uses the same “buzz words.” Joel Osteen,Joyce Meyers,TD Jakes teach this witch craft too
I’ll revisit Joel Osteen tomorrow, by the way.
Whilst The Secret looms large in the YouTube discussion of Reverend Ike’s sermon, this get-rich-quick, positive thinking and prosperity gospel has been around forever. Some trace it back to the Enlightenment, but Gnostics have been around since the dawn of time. The Secret‘s creator Rhonda Byrne got the idea for her 2006 film from a book published in 1910, The Science of Getting Rich by Wallace D Wattles.
Reverend Ike was born in 1935, in the middle of the Great Depression. No doubt he’d read some of these growing up, even during the Second World War. Books involving a ‘scientific’ formula ‘guaranteed’ to bring riches via positive thinking are always popular. This brings us back to Norman Vincent Peale. On the secular side, the famous motivational author Napoleon Hill was writing when the Reverend Ike was born. His most famous book is Think and Grow Rich, published in 1937. Like Ike, Hill was also from a small town in the southern United States. By the time Ike was born, Hill was already serving as a special adviser to President Franklin D Roosevelt. Hill took his own inspiration for success from the life of Andrew Carnegie, a self-made man.
Another of Hill’s books was called The Law of Success. I would posit that Hill, Peale and many others offering ‘laws’ or ‘science’ promising success no doubt gave rise to the countless self-help books which have been flooding bookshops since the 1970s. What used to be a trickle is now a flood, and not just in the United States. Even France has been inundated by a plethora of these volumes over the past 15 years.
But I digress.
The Reverend Ike Ministries has — and sells — a programme called Thinkonomics which operates on this Gnostic-scientific-visualisation formula:
Rev Ike’s Life-Changing
Audio Products on CD!
Spiritual growth and development involve continual study and practice. Rev. Ike’s dynamic AUDIO LESSONS will show you how to use your GOD-GIVEN MIND POWER to overcome life’s challenges and to have all the good you desire!
Reverend Ike died in 2009 at the age of 74. His only son, Bishop Xavier, continues his father’s ministry. Like Ike, Xavier grew up in his father’s church. Like Peale’s ministry, Xavier states that his combines
ministerial and psychotherapeutic work.
It also draws heavily on
Another Reverend Ike offering is his Pealesque Science of Living:
Some ‘religious’ people are going to be shocked by what I have to say next…
…You see, Rev. Ike’s teachings are based on the Bible, — but not the literal translation of the fundamentalists…
… Rev. Ike interprets the Bible SYMBOLICALLY, not literally. He considers the Bible the greatest book of Mind Science — the greatest book of spiritual psychology – ever written!
When he gets through with you, the
Bible will never be the same…
You will UNDERSTAND it for the
first time in your life!
Note the Gnosticism.
With Reverend Ike and Norman Vincent Peale, the Bible became a self-help book, not two Testaments of God’s covenants and redemption through faith in Jesus Christ. Faith to Peale and Ike revolved around self-belief. According to them, there is no Gospel of grace and no Holy Trinity active in our lives.
There is nothing wrong with much of self-help as such — however, it does not belong in church and is not Christianity.
Positive thinking for everyday survival is all well and good. But it is not the holy, God-centred message of the Bible. Nor is the Bible a set of fortune-cookie verses.
Therefore, those who are interested in positive thinking would do well to study the practical information in self-help books but avoid confusing their content with faith, grace, Christian belief and history as spelled out in Holy Scripture. Let’s not forget Jesus’s words in Matthew 6:21:
For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Our treasure should be set on Jesus Christ and praying for divine grace so that we live with Him for all eternity.
There is no Gnostic Secret in the Bible. Some preachers are getting rich off CDs, books and ‘churches’. This fortune rarely extends to the people sitting in the pews.
Tomorrow: Joel Osteen
The prosperity gospel continues to gain currency throughout the world, including the Far East and Africa.
When I was growing up, two of the motivational preachers — targeting different markets, so to speak — were the Revd Norman Vincent Peale and the Reverend Ike (Frederick J. Eikerenkoetter II, whom I’ll look at tomorrow).
Peale’s books and sermons were a staple in the households of my family’s Protestant friends. It is understandable as many of those adults were either young parents or children during the Great Depression. During that time, he was famous on radio for his ‘Art of Living’ programme which no doubt inspired many to have hope and persevere during that period of economic devastation.
In 1939, Peale also teamed up with well-known radio star Arthur Godfrey and industrialists to help form the first board of Henry Simler’s 40Plus, an organisation originally set up to help unemployed professionals find work after the age of 40. Currently, the remaining chapters of the organisation have broadened their membership to younger people with employment challenges. At the time he set up 40Plus, Simler was an executive at Remington Rand (now Unisys; no relationship with the RAND Corporation).
Norman Vincent Peale courted controversy. Although he had countless admirers around the world, especially in the United States, his detractors opposed his black and white views on life, society and politics.
Although Peale was originally ordained in the Methodist Church in 1922, he joined the Reformed Church in America (Dutch Reformed) ten years later. He served as pastor of their Marble Collegiate Church in Manhattan (New York City) for 52 years. (The term ‘collegiate’ in the Dutch Reformed context refers to a group of clergy who rotated among the city’s other collegiate churches. Although the practice stopped in 1871, the four churches concerned continue to use ‘collegiate’ in their names.)
During Peale’s tenure, the congregation increased from 600 to 5000 members. In the 1940s, Peale teamed up with a psychoanalyst, Smiley Blanton, to set up an ‘outpatient clinic’ of sorts next to the church. It offered a blend of Christianity and psychology. In 1952, Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking hit bookshops. Whilst many who read it found it helpful, various psychoanalysts — Albert Ellis, for one, the founder of cognitive therapy — found Peale’s suggestions destructive and warned they could backfire on those trying them out, leading to more personal disillusionment than previously.
Theologically, Peale’s teachings landed him in trouble with orthodox Protestant clergy. An Episcopal theologian, Dr John M Krumm, later bishop of the diocese of Southern Ohio (1971-1980) had this to say about the ‘heretical character’ of what Peale taught (emphases mine):
the emphasis upon techniques such as the repetition of confident phrases … or the manipulation of certain mechanical devices … gives the impression of a thoroughly depersonalized religion. Very little is said about the sovereign mind and purpose of God; much is made of the things men can say to themselves and can do to bring about their ambitions and purposes…
The predominant use of impersonal symbols for God is a serious and dangerous invitation to regard man as the center of reality and the Divine Reality as an impersonal power, the use and purpose of which is determined by the man who takes hold of it and employs it as he thinks best.
You can see for yourself in this ten-minute Peale video ‘Be Your Best’ where, near the end, he describes life as a process governed by scientific principles!
There is no mention of the Bible, God’s sovereignty or Jesus’s promise of redemption in Peale’s sermon.
As Dr Felix James of Eternal Dignity writes — not specifically about Peale, but in general (emphases in the original):
The main focus of Christianity is a secure eternal life. When compared to eternal life, visible life over here is like a drop of water in an ocean or like a grain of sand in the desert. Such a vast dimension of our life, if it is real, should not be ignored out rightly by the scientific mind. The statutes for attaining eternity is presented in Matthew: 25: 35 -40:
‘For I was hungry, and you gave me to eat: I was thirsty, and you gave me to drink: I was a stranger, and you took me in: Naked, and you covered me:
Sick, and you visited me: I was in prison, and you came to me…… Amen I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these my least brethren, you did it to me.’
This solution for humanity’s woes, where human virtues are given priority ensures cooperation among human beings. It considers everyone to be members of the same global family.
Science provides technological solutions to help humanity in making their life easier. Cooperation among individuals is mostly limited to the success of the technology. Then the interaction comes with the media and the market. Scientific man without the concept of eternity has lost the meaning and purpose of life. Human values of love and mercy are gradually being lost.
Understanding the new friend (science) of humans and defining its arena in determining our life is important. The religious dimension incorporates the visible as well as the spiritual aspect of man. Religion understands man as a whole and gives direction, meaning and purpose to our lives. Science comprehends only the objective nature of life. Science adopts a neutral attitude regarding the human virtues and when it is allowed to continue unchecked, it is spiritually corrosive burning away ancient traditions and culture. The power of discretion is with the user.
The adults I knew who digested and followed what The Power of Positive Thinking said all mentioned that they felt a sense of superior self-confidence and invincibility. They added that they liked Peale because he didn’t preach about God but them. That tells us all we need to know, really.
At best, Peale’s books and sermons were about man not God. Motivational, yes. Christian? No.
Tomorrow: Reverend Ike
Pastor Mark Schroeder explains that Pastor Niemöller had already received threats from
Nazi-controlled Church authorities. Earlier, Niemöller had a face-to-face confrontation with Adolf Hitler regarding freedom of religion.
In the sermon, there was five minutes’ reading of the intercessory list, that is of those who have been forbidden to speak, or evicted or arrested by the Nazi authorities.
Much online debate takes place about the influence the Nazis had on the Church and how complicit clergy were, not to mention that ‘Hitler was a Catholic’. Much misinformation floats about, a lot of it circulated by those secularists who hate Christianity. Hitler might have been brought up a Catholic, but in adulthood he embraced paganism. One could also say that Stalin was a seminarian, which he was for a time. He did not continue in Russian Orthodoxy. However, those are subjects for another day.
These brief excerpts from Niemöller will become increasingly relevant as our churches — ‘established’ (national) or otherwise — suffer the onslaught of imposed legislation in dictating worship and ceremonial obligations. This is no different from what happened in Nazi Germany (and in Soviet Russia with her ‘show churches’ run by Communist officials). Emphases in the original below — purple highlights mine:
The problem with which we have to deal is how to save the Christian community at this moment from the danger of being thrown into the same pot as the world: that is to say: it must keep itself distinct from the rest of the world by virtue of its “saltiness.” How does Christ’s community differ from the world?
We have come through a time of peril – and we are not finished with it yet – when we were told: “Everything will be quite different when you as a Church cease to have such an entirely different flavor – when you cease to practice preaching which is the opposite of what the world around you preaches. You really must suit your message to the world; you really must bring your creed into harmony with the present. Then you will again become influential and powerful.”
Dear brethren, that means: The salt loses its savor. It is not for us to worry about how the salt is employed, but to see that it does not lose its savor …
That is our responsibility- “Ye are the salt of the earth.” It is precisely when we bring the salt into accord and harmony with the world that we make it impossible for the Lord Jesus Christ, through His Church, to do anything in our nation. But if the salt remains salt, we may trust Him with it: He will use it in such a way that it becomes a blessing.
A few of my secular readers might think, ‘Marriage? Open it up to everyone’.
Below are excerpts from a defence of marriage from a Lutheran pastor, the Revd Joshua Scheer, who contributes to Steadfast ‘No Pietists Allowed’ Lutherans.
Before reading it, however, let’s think about how we prepare our children for what should be holy — yes — matrimony.
Some women romanticise about the partner their child or nieces and nephews should choose for a life partner: ‘You could marry an Irish Catholic — that would be so cute!’ or ‘My daughter is going out with the handsomest man in the world’. It’s all so superficial with some: style over substance. What if the man turns out to be a cad? What if the woman turns out to be lazy?
The increasing divorce rates over the past 50 years speak for themselves. Now we have same-sex marriage instituted by law, recently passed in the UK and in France — at least in its initial stages. It is also under consideration in the US. Several other European countries have already given it the go-ahead.
As far as heterosexual marriage is concerned, however, what we forget to explain to our children is that sexual attraction and physical beauty last only so long. There needs to be a permanence and a gravitas in the union of two people. The vows a couple make at the altar before God and the congregation of family and friends are for life, not just for a week, six months or a year.
Pastor Scheer explains the meaning of Christian marriage (emphases mine):
Marriage is God’s institution. When God wants to get something done He creates an office to do it. So, to fill the earth with children He creates His offices of husband and wife. He then sets qualified individuals into those offices (men for husbands, women for wives). The abomination that is same-sex marriage is in complete rebellion to this, but reflects the ongoing shift away from God’s institution of marriage. We have replaced God’s estate of marriage with mankind’s perverted imposter of it. So God puts men into the office of husband and women into the office of wife. Literally God is the only matchmaker for marriage. As Luther points out in his sermon on the Estate of Marriage, Christians need to look at marriage as something that is God’s work and that He places people together and unites them (just like the first marriage where there could be no doubt in Adam’s mind that God put he and his wife together). The inbred synergism of mankind has of course perverted this view also as we think of marriage as some sort of human work to find each other and pick a spouse.
Marriage has another purpose. It was not good for man to be alone. This “not good” happens in the litany of “goods” that one finds in the creation account of Genesis 1 and 2. God’s fix for it is the helper fit for the man. Companionship and mutual support becomes a purpose of marriage as well …
… The first two purposes happen in the perfect creation. This third one is necessary in a fallen creation. It is the idea that St. Paul touches upon in 1 Corinthians 7 that not all are given the gift of chastity so others will need to be married in order that they not burn with passion. This is also of course been assaulted by the world, as terms like friends with benefits and rampant fornication have been accepted and even celebrated ways of life.
Martin Chemnitz in his “Examination of the Council of Trent” deals with marriage in the second volume. In it he not only list these first three purposes for the estate of marriage and the offices of husband and wife, but he lists two more which are wonderful to think about.
The fourth purpose according to Chemnitz is that God is a God who blesses. This is evident of course in the first purpose to bless with children, but there are many more blessings to living in the married estate. There is joy and blessing to found in marriage. Yes, there are trials, but even trials are a blessing from God. Think of the effect that suffering has on the Old Adam and teaching self control and discipline. A good example of this is Jesus blessing the couple at the wedding at Cana in John 2. God is a God who blesses, and He loves to bless in marriage.
The fifth purpose Chemnitz poses is probably theologically the most important. Chemnitz lists that marriage has the purpose of being a mysterious picture of the relationship between Christ and His Church. This is in accord with St. Paul’s words found in Ephesians 5 concerning husbands and wives. Marriage points us to Christ as head and self-sacrificing husband for His bride the Church, who out of respect for His office as head and His sacrificial work subordinates herself to Him. This of course can become a great lesson for husbands and wives in how they should handle the offices which God has given to them. More than that we can see the mystery of Christ and Church behind the offices of husband and wife …
Do you see why divorce can be called evil? It goes against God’s design and brings offense against His Word. Yes, Jesus allows for the possibility of divorce when adultery is committed. Yes St. Paul says that divorce may happen to a Christian whose unbelieving spouse leaves. In a fallen world sinners are going to sin.
Now the real challenge is this: do we listen to God’s Word on this (or really any great moral issue or controversy) or do we mask our past sins by trying to self-justify our actions [?] …
I know of one couple where the husband left because his father-in-law died suddenly. He said that he couldn’t handle death. Escaping his wife and in-laws nearly a year ago appears to his immature mind as a solution to mortality. To make matters worse, he has not formally separated from his wife or instituted divorce proceedings. He’s simply gone, vanished. This makes it difficult for his wife, not only emotionally but also in matters of property.
Where a couple wishes to marry, parents of the two should take the time to discuss matrimony. Marriage vows contain a lot of hidden eventualities, not least the health of in-laws. These days, money enters into the equation as couples — particularly the husband — might need to financially support an ailing in-law. It does happen.
This is why, awkward as it is, many pastors insist on interviewing engaged couples before the wedding ceremony. Some churches also require couples to attend classes before the big day.
Many years ago, I knew a Catholic couple who attended what were called pre-Cana conferences. They must have had a good priest giving the series because by the end of it at least one couple broke up and another postponed their wedding. Money, children, sexual habits and in-laws bring with them big questions and serious scenarios for discussion.
Romance might be fun. Marriage is a serious proposition. Let’s honour it as such.
Tomorrow: Martin Luther on marriage