BiblicalTraining.org have made available a free online version of Systematic Theology by Louis Berkhof here. It is available in PDF or ePub format, or you can read it online by section.
This was the textbook for my basic theology courses when I attended Covenant Theological Seminary, and I highly recommend it. If you haven't yet purchased a copy for your own theological library, you can check it out for free to see if you would like to spend the money. Regardless, it is good to have a searchable copy available for use on your computer.
Thanks to Brandon Adams for letting me know about this.
Friday, May 31, 2013
Monday, May 27, 2013
This speech and video were done by Ray Reed, a fellow member of my local VFW Post 454. It gives the perspective of a Viet Nam veteran on the meaning of Memorial Day.
Friday, May 24, 2013
In Part 1 of this series, I discussed how it is that we may discern whether or not a ministry practice is Biblical. I hope all would agree with me that we may deem a practice to be Biblical not only if it is in keeping with Biblical prescriptions or precedents, while avoiding running afoul of Biblical prohibitions, but that a practice may also be deemed to be Biblical if it is in keeping with the wise and faithful application of Biblical principles. I also pointed out that it is precisely when we are discussing Biblical principles that we can say that age segregated instruction of children by the Church is indeed a Biblical concept, since this practice does, in fact, comport with the wise application of such principles. In setting forth these principles, it seems best to begin with the Biblical teaching about the nature of the Church as a spiritual family and how this relates to the Biblical teaching about the biological family.
A Biblical Perspective on the Church as a Family
First, we need to understand the difference between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant with respect to one's biological family.
Under the Old Covenant children were included in the covenant community by virtue of the fact that their parents were members of the covenant community. This is, at least in part, what circumcision signified:
NKJ Genesis 17:10-14 “This is My covenant which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: Every male child among you shall be circumcised; 11 and you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you. 12 He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised, every male child in your generations, he who is born in your house or bought with money from any foreigner who is not your descendant. 13 He who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money must be circumcised, and My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. 14 And the uncircumcised male child, who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant.”
Notice that the children of Abraham and his descendants were considered to be part of the covenant community by virtue of their having been born into this community and their having received the sign of the covenant, namely circumcision. This same idea was carried over into the Mosaic Covenant:
NKJ Leviticus 12:1 “Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 2 'Speak to the children of Israel, saying: “If a woman has conceived, and borne a male child, then she shall be unclean seven days; as in the days of her customary impurity she shall be unclean. 3 And on the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised.”'”
Under the New Covenant, however, one is a member of the New Covenant community – the Church – only by means of regeneration. Since this covenant is foundational for understanding the nature of the Church, it is appropriate first to briefly consider the meaning of the Jeremiah prophecy, in which God promised that He would one day establish a New Covenant with His people, a promise which found its fulfillment in Jesus Christ:
NKJ Jeremiah 31:31-32 “Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah -- 32 not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the LORD.”
Here the Lord says that the New Covenant will be different than the Old Covenant which the the people of Israel broke, and He implies that the difference will be that it will be an unbreakable covenant. That this is so – and how it is so – becomes clear in the following verses:
NKJ Jeremiah 31:33 “But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.”
The New Covenant will not be like the old, breakable covenant because God will ensure that those who participate in the New Covenant have the law within their hearts. Indeed, there will be no one who has partaken of the New Covenant who does not have a new heart. Ezekiel put it this way:
NKJ Ezekiel 36:26-27 “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.”
So we can have assurance that we will be preserved in covenant faithfulness such that we will never lose the blessings of the New Covenant, and this will come about through the gift of the Holy Spirit and the transformation of our hearts. But there is more:
NKJ Jeremiah 31:34 “No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”
There are two New Covenant blessings mentioned here:
First, unlike the Old Covenant, everyone who is a member of the New Covenant community knows the Lord.
Second, unlike the Old Covenant, everyone who is a member of the New Covenant has his sins forgiven.
It is clear that, when God says that all those who participate in the New Covenant will know Him, He does not just mean that they will know about Him, but rather that they will have a personal relationship with Him as believers who have been forgiven by Him. And thus we understand the great difference between the Old Covenant and the New covenant and why the Old Covenant was only temporary. In fact, the author of Hebrews cites this passage from Jeremiah and concludes, “In that He says, 'A new covenant,' He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away” (Heb. 8:13).
So, given that the New Covenant has come (e.g. Matt. 26:28; 2 Cor. 3:5-6) and the Old Covenant has been abrogated (Heb. 8:13), we are not surprised to find in the New Testament that circumcision has been abrogated as well (e.g. Gal. 5:1-6). But the main point here is that only the regenerate, those who have received the gift of the Holy Spirit, whose sins have been forgiven and who know the Lord, are members of the New Covenant community, which is the Church. No one becomes a member of the spiritual family that is the Church by means of physical birth into a biological family, but only through the spiritual birth that is the work of the Holy Spirit. This leads to my next point.
Second, we need to understand the nature of the Church as a spiritual Family.
The church is not a “family of families,” as the misleading language of some might indicate (as addressed here). In fact, Jesus warns us that New Covenant membership may often destroy biological families. For example:
NKJ Matthew 10:35-37 “For I have come to 'set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law'; 36 and 'a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.' 37 He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.”
NKJ Matthew 12:46-50 “While He was still talking to the multitudes, behold, His mother and brothers stood outside, seeking to speak with Him. 47 Then one said to Him, ‘Look, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, seeking to speak with You.’ 48 But He answered and said to the one who told Him, ‘Who is My mother and who are My brothers?’ 49 And He stretched out His hand toward His disciples and said, ‘Here are My mother and My brothers! 50 For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.’”
NKJ Luke 14:26 “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.”
Clearly Jesus viewed as His true family those who are of the faith, and He called for a commitment to Himself that required the same understanding of His followers. So, there is a sense in which our Church family has priority even over our biological family. It is a blessed thing indeed when these overlap, with the members of our biological family being also members of our spiritual family, but when they do not, I do not see how we can avoid the implication that we have a loyalty and an obligation to Christ and His Church that supersedes the devotion and loyalty we should have to our biological families.
Thankfully, however, even if we are put in a position in which we must lose our biological family relationships for the sake of Christ, we are promised by Him that we have another family among the faithful. Consider, for example, Jesus' reassuring words to Peter:
NKJ Mark 10:28-30 “Then Peter began to say to Him, 'See, we have left all and followed You.' 29 So Jesus answered and said, 'Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel’s, 30 who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time – houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions – and in the age to come, eternal life.'”
It is no wonder, then, that the New Testament consistently refers to the church as “the brethren” and that the Apostle Paul likened the church not only to the body of Christ, but also to a family. For example:
NKJ Galatians 6:10 “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.”
NKJ Ephesians 2:19 “Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God ….”
NKJ Ephesians 3:14-15 “For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, 16 that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man ….”
Also, when Paul described the qualifications for elders he said that an elder must be “one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?)” (1 Tim. 3:4-5). Because the Church is a spiritual family, one can see who will be most qualified to rule in it by seeing how he rules his own biological family.
This understanding of the church as a spiritual family also helps to explain why Paul tells Timothy, “Do not rebuke an older man, but exhort him as a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, with all purity” (1 Tim. 5:1-2). In other words, treat others in the body of Christ as though they are family, because, as we have seen, they are family.
In my opinion and experience, those who appose the age segregated teaching of children in the churches rarely think deeply enough about the implications of such New Testament teaching. Yet I think it does have some important implications. For example, when we come together as the family of God in Christ Jesus, I see no reason why other spiritual fathers, mothers, sisters, and brothers cannot teach my children as I would (so long as they are gifted by God for such a role in the church). Why can’t a woman take some of the children apart, for example, and teach them the things of God, much as a mother in a biological family might do with her children? Shouldn't my believing children be able to be recipients of the gifts God has given to their spiritual family? Are they not every bit as much members of this spiritual family as I am? And, if I have unbelieving children, why wouldn't I want them to meet my spiritual family, hear the Gospel from them, and experience their witness to Christ as I have?
This is a crucial issue with a number of the families I have encountered over the years who claim to be part of the Family Integrated Church Movement (FICM). Not only do they often minimize the role of the church body in the lives of their children, they also very often minimize any authority the local church may have with regard to their family members as well. Sam Waldron has done a good job addressing this issue in his article entitled The Relation of Church and Family, in which he deals with the relationship of the authority of the local church to that of the family. For example, after listing some “praiseworthy features” of the FICM (and there are several), Dr. Waldron warns:
All this being said, there are significant philosophical and practical issues raised by this movement that contradict a biblical ecclesiology and infringe on the rights and authority of the church ….
The church is not a collection of families, but a collection of believers. It is not an extension of the family, but a completely different and sovereign institution. The family was instituted at creation and is a creation institution, while the church in its present and final form was instituted after the work of redemption accomplished by Christ and is a redemptive institution. This means that the head of the household in virtue of his being the head of the household has no authority in the church. His rights and liberties as to church membership and as a church member are no different than those of his 20 year old son who lives at home but is also a member of the church. The family-based church idea makes some sense from a paedobaptist and Presbyterian standpoint. They often have held that only heads of households should vote in the church. They have always held that the membership in the church is family-based and composed of families. But family-based churches are a specific contradiction of a Baptist view of the church and make no sense within a Baptist viewpoint ….
When the church is seen as a distinct and sovereign institution under God, then its right and duty to fulfill the Great Commission in many ways beside the meeting of the church becomes clear. The elders of the church and their appointed delegates have the right to instruct the men, the children, and the women of the church in age-segregated situations. The Great Commission gives the church the right to evangelize and instruct the entire world and so certainly the children and wives of believers. It does not limit this instruction to church services. Only a specific, scriptural prohibition would warrant a man in refusing as a matter of principle to cooperate with the church in such attempts to evangelize and edify all those to whom the church is sent by the Great Commission. No such prohibition exists. In principle the choice to join a church is a choice to subject one’s wife and one’s children to its instruction. This is what church membership means—subjection to the authority of a specific, local church to fulfill its commission with regard to one’s children and one’s wife. In principle refusal to allow this in one’s absence represents a misconception of the nature of the church and her authority.
To sum up the church does not exercise authority over its members through the mediation of heads of household or as families, but as individual believers. Its authority over the women of the church is not exercised, for instance, through the head of the family. Its authority is direct. While children are under the care and authority of the family, parents of children who are members ought to be grateful for and recognize the right of the church to evangelize their children with their consent. (Italics mine)
I think Dr. Waldron is correct. Nowhere in the New Testament is the authority over the church given to fathers by virtue of their role as fathers. Authority is given only to a plurality of elders and to the larger local church body in cases of discipline that may require excommunication. The church is not a “family of families”; it is a family in itself, a spiritual family, and devotion to this family in some ways supersedes the obligation to one's biological family. And those who have authority in this family do not have to mediate that authority through the father as the head of the biological family. However, this does not mean that the elders of local churches may simply ignore the God-given of authority that fathers have over their families, to which we will now turn our attention.
A Biblical Perspective on the Family
I suppose the first thing we can say about the Biblical teaching on the family for the New Covenant people of God is based upon what we have already seen concerning the Church, namely that the family provides one of the dominant metaphors for describing the nature of the church. This means that biological family relationships, when at their best, are a picture of the church. But there are also some key passages we should consider when discussing the Biblical teaching on the importance of family relationships. For example:
NKJ Genesis 1:27-28 “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. 28 Then God blessed them, and God said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.'”
NKJ Genesis 2:23-24 “And Adam said: 'This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.' 24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”
Most commentators and theologians would agree that these passages provide the foundational texts regarding the institution of the family. Later in Scripture we find that family relationships were a crucial part of God's plan for Israel and that He placed great significance upon the role of parents in training their children about His ways. For example:
NKJ Deuteronomy 6:1-9 “Now this is the commandment, and these are the statutes and judgments which the LORD your God has commanded to teach you, that you may observe them in the land which you are crossing over to possess, 2 that you may fear the LORD your God, to keep all His statutes and His commandments which I command you, you and your son and your grandson, all the days of your life, and that your days may be prolonged. 3 Therefore hear, O Israel, and be careful to observe it, that it may be well with you, and that you may multiply greatly as the LORD God of your fathers has promised you-- 'a land flowing with milk and honey.' 4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one! 5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. 6 And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”
NKJ Malachi 2:13-15 “And this is the second thing you do: You cover the altar of the LORD with tears, with weeping and crying; so He does not regard the offering anymore, nor receive it with goodwill from your hands. 14 Yet you say, 'For what reason?' Because the LORD has been witness between you and the wife of your youth, with whom you have dealt treacherously; yet she is your companion and your wife by covenant. 15 But did He not make them one, having a remnant of the Spirit? [Recall Gen. 2:23-24] And why one? He seeks godly offspring. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously with the wife of his youth.”
It is clear from such passages that God expects believing parents to have a role in teaching their children spiritual things. When we turn to the New Testament, we find that this stress on the importance of family relationships, including the importance of believing parents teaching their children, continues. For example, Paul demonstrates the importance of family in a key passage in his epistle to the Ephesians:
NKJ Ephesians 5:25-6:4 “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, 26 that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, 27 that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. 28 So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. 30 For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. 31 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.' 32 This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. 33 Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. 6:1 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 Honor your father and mother," which is the first commandment with promise: 3 'that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.' 4 And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.” (See also Col. 3:18-21; 1 Pet. 3:1-7.)
Here Paul clearly sees a crucial role for believing parents in the spiritual instruction of their children. As members of the Church they have been given the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20) and are responsible to carry it out first of all in their own families. If Christian parents are to raise their children “in the training and admonition of the Lord,” as Paul says, then aren't they called upon to evangelize their unbelieving children and to disciple their believing children? And aren't they called to do so not simply because they are parents who have a biological family but because they are Christian parents who are members of the spiritual family that is the Church of Jesus Christ? Clearly one primary aim of believing parents is to seek to bring their children into the family of God.
Later, in the first epistle to Timothy, Paul also reflects Jesus' concern (cf. Mark 7:9-13) that one should take care of his biological family:
NKJ 1 Timothy 5:3-8 “Honor widows who are really widows. 4 But if any widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show piety at home and to repay their parents; for this is good and acceptable before God. 5 Now she who is really a widow, and left alone, trusts in God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day. 6 But she who lives in pleasure is dead while she lives. 7 And these things command, that they may be blameless. 8 But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”
Thus it is clear that Christians are still to have a deep and abiding love and concern for the welfare of their biological family members whether or not they are fellow members of their spiritual family. But to such passages we may also add one cited earlier concerning the qualifications for elders in the Church, namely that an elder must be “one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?)” (1 Tim. 3:4-5). The biological family is so important that – at least in the case of men with families – one may not rule in the Church unless he has first demonstrated the ability to rule his own home in a Christlike manner.
Clearly, then, both the Old and New Testaments view the biological family as extremely important. And clearly the Church must seek to support the unity and strength of the biological family to the extent that this is possible without undermining or ignoring the importance of the spiritual family that is the Church.
However, as important as the biological family continues to be in the New Testament, we must also consider a couple of passages which indicate the temporary nature of family relationships and of priorities that may be more important than having a family. Consider, for example, the following teaching of Jesus:
NKJ Matthew 22:30 “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels of God in heaven.”
Here we see that there will not be the same kind of family relationships in Heaven that we experience now. After all, if marriage is the cornerstone and heart of the family – which it is – and marriage will no longer be applicable in Heaven – and it won't – then surely families as we know them now will not exist. As a matter of fact, this temporary nature of earthly family relationships may provide part of the reasoning for Paul's later encouragement to the Corinthian church:
NKJ 1 Corinthians 7:6-9; 32-35 “But I say this as a concession, not as a commandment. 7 For I wish that all men were even as I myself. But each one has his own gift from God, one in this manner and another in that. 8 But I say to the unmarried and to the widows: It is good for them if they remain even as I am; 9 but if they cannot exercise self-control, let them marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion … 32 But I want you to be without care. He who is unmarried cares for the things of the Lord-- how he may please the Lord. 33 But he who is married cares about the things of the world-- how he may please his wife. 34 There is a difference between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman cares about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit. But she who is married cares about the things of the world-- how she may please her husband. 35 And this I say for your own profit, not that I may put a leash on you, but for what is proper, and that you may serve the Lord without distraction.”
So, as important as the family mandate of Genesis 1:27-28 and Gen. 2:23-24 is, Paul indicates that serving the Lord for the sake of the kingdom is even more important. We might say, then, that as good as marriage and producing a biological family is, devoting oneself to the propagation of the spiritual family that is the Church is even more important. So, even when Paul teaches on marriage and family, he always places the Church on a higher plane, just as Jesus did.
Application of Principles
Having thus briefly surveyed the foundational teaching of Scripture, perhaps we can highlight a few principles concerning the relationship of the Church and the family:
First, the local church should not shift its responsibility to evangelize and edify the saints to the family. The elders of the churches have a responsibility to teach and equip the body that supersedes that which is given to fathers with regard to their families. Although Christian fathers – as heads of their households – have been given a responsibility to evangelize and instruct their families, this must be done in submission to the elders of the church and in cooperation with their overall church family. And it should be done in a way that welcomes the involvement of the larger church family in the lives of their children. In fact, an approach that in effect does the opposite, and leaves one's children with the impression that the biological family is the most important priority in one's life – even more important than the family of God – fails to adequately “bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4).
Second, on the other hand, the church family should not seek to overwhelm the biological family such that these relationships are viewed as less important than Scripture teaches. It is a tragedy when a person's commitment to Christ leads to the destruction of family relationships, a tragedy that is sometimes unavoidable (as we have seen above in the teaching of Jesus), and the church should seek to avoid such destruction whenever and wherever possible.
Third, as a part of their God-given task to teach the Church (e.g. Acts 20:17-32; Eph. 4:11-12; 1 Tim. 3:1-7; Tit. 1:5-11) and to serve as examples to flock (1 Pet. 5:1-4), elders must model a strong family life and seek to help families learn to live according to Scriptural principles. But they must also stress the priority of one's relationship to Christ and the implications of being members of the spiritual family that is His church.
Thus the church and family must not be pitted against one another. They must work together, as much as is possible, appropriately recognizing their God-given spheres of authority and priority of obligation. And they must avoid succumbing to the false choice that says that either parents are responsible for evangelizing and training their children as believers or that the local church is responsible for evangelizing and training the children in their midst. Clearly God has given a certain authority both to parents and to local churches to perform these tasks, and they must work together to carry them out.
So, is it true that “the church is a family of families” as some have rather badly put it? No, it isn't. The church itself is a family, and it is the most important family to which one can ever belong. Is it true that “families are the building blocks of the Church” as some might suggest? No, it isn't. The church consists of individual believers, and thus it is individual believers who are the building blocks of the church. Although biological family relationships are extremely important, and we should seek to evangelize our family members as well as reach out to families, only those who are children of Abraham by faith are a part of the New Covenant community. Any distortion of these facts leads ultimately to the destruction and not to the building up of the church.
But what does all of this tell us about the specific issue under discussion? In what way do these Biblical principles inform our decision regarding the practice of age segregated instruction of children in the churches? Well, we can assert at the beginning that the complaint in some circles that involving our believing children in age segregated Sunday school classes means that we are somehow undermining or dividing families is simply not true. When we bring our believing children to church and allow them to be instructed by other believers – in addition to, not instead of, our instruction of them – they are not being separated from their family because they are actually with the most important family they could ever belong to, their spiritual family, the family of God. It is really no different than when parents take their children to a large family reunion and allow a trusted uncle or aunt, or perhaps an older cousin, to take a group of children to play on the swings or to do some kind of constructive activity while the adults are catching up with one another. No one I have met would complain in such a case that the children are not with their family, or that the family was being undermined or divided, since the whole point is to introduce the children to their larger family so that they might get to know and appreciate them. The same holds for allowing one's children to take part in an age segregated Sunday school class in the local church. When we allow our children to take part, we are not only introducing them to our spiritual family so that they may get to know them, but we are allowing them to be the recipients of the gifts and blessings God has bestowed on the various members of our church family. We are allowing our unbelieving children to be evangelized by others in the church who may be more gifted than we are, and we are allowing our believing children to be taught by others in our church family who may be even more gifted in teaching spiritual things to our children than we are. As a matter of fact, this is but one way in which we can fulfill our obligation as parents to our children to “bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4).
Having said of all of this, however, I do not wish to imply that I think every parent must avail themselves of age segregated education for their children if offered by their local church. I am merely seeking to demonstrate that the practice is indeed a Biblical one, not that it is the only Biblical way to do things.
In conclusion, I would simply assert that the Bible's teaching concerning both the Church and the family under the New Covenant demonstrates that there is no reason at all to assume that age segregated instruction of children is not Biblical. In fact, as I see it, if anything such teaching would lead us to assume the opposite, at least if we want to maintain a Biblically balanced perspective concerning the distinctive roles both of local churches and of believing parents who are members of such churches.
However, we still have further to go in our endeavor to discover whether or not the age segregated education of our children is in keeping with Biblical principles. I have thus far only laid a foundation. I need to build upon that foundation by relating some other important principles found in Scripture. This I will seek to do in my next post on this subject.
Saturday, May 11, 2013
NKJ 1 Kings 2:19 Bathsheba therefore went to King Solomon, to speak to him for Adonijah. And the king rose up to meet her and bowed down to her, and sat down on his throne and had a throne set for the king's mother; so she sat at his right hand.The Fifth Commandment's admonition to each one of us is, “Honor your father and your mother” (Exodus 20:12a, italics mine), and King Solomon obviously honored his mother a great deal! Yet bowing before her and seating her on a throne would have meant little or nothing if he did not honor her the rest time and in other ways. But in what other ways did he honor his mother? Exactly how did he honor her the rest of the time?
We don't have to wonder too much about this, since the Holy Spirit who gave Him such great wisdom also inspired him to write some of it down. For this reason, I want us to take a look this morning at the Proverbs of Solomon to better learn from our departed brother, one of the two wisest men who ever lived – Jesus was the wisest! – what it means to honor our mothers.
NKJ Proverbs 1:7-9 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction. 8 My son, hear the instruction of your father, and do not forsake the law of your mother; 9 for they will be a graceful ornament on your head, and chains about your neck.The first thing to notice about Solomon's statement in verse 8 is that it includes the mother alongside to father as the teacher of godly wisdom. Such a prominent place for the role of the mother – or women in general – was unique in ancient times.
In his commentary on Proverbs, Derek Kidner speaks of “the fully personal bond taken to exist between husband and wife. The two share the children's training and are assumed to speak with one voice … This is a far cry from the not uncommon ancient idea of a wife as chattel and childbearer but no companion” (TOTC, Vol. 15, p.49-50).
Or as David Hubbard writes, “That both parents are mentioned is a tribute to the prominent role of Israel's mothers. We find no similar references to mother as teacher in Babylonian or Egyptian wisdom literature” (The Communicator's Commentary, Vol. 15A, p.49).
Indeed, the mother is clearly referred to in this passage as a teacher. For, when Solomon says, “do not forsake the law of your mother,” it is in parallel with the father's “instruction.” Also, in the Solomon must mean by the phrase “law of your mother” the law of God as taught by your mother. He assumes that your mother has learned the wisdom that comes from the fear of the LORD, which leads her to submit to the instruction of His Word.
It is this same fear and instruction that she then passes on to her child. In this context, then, to honor your mother means to place great value on the things of God that she seeks to share with you and to listen to what she says. It means to recognize her as God's mouthpiece in your life.
Now, not all of us have mothers who know the Lord, but that doesn't mean we cannot seek to honor them for whatever good things they may have to tell us. Even if we may have to look closely to find such things, we should seek them out and then honor our mothers for having the wisdom to share them with us. We should also thank them for whatever good things they may have taught us. And, even more importantly, we should thank God for anything good that has come from our mothers.
NKJ Proverbs 4:3-4 When I was my father's son, tender [רַךְ, raḵ] and the only one in the sight of my mother 4 he also taught me, and said to me: “Let your heart retain my words; keep my commands, and live.”Solomon refers to himself in two ways here. First, he remembers having been tender when he was little. The Hebrew word is רַךְ (raḵ), which refers to the “quality of being soft, weak, [or] tender” (Holladay #7894, BibleWorks).So apparently Solomon was pretty frail as a boy, or at least he is referring to a time in his childhood – probably his early childhood – when he was particularly weak. But his memory of that time is a good memory, because as far back as he can remember his father and mother were teaching him the way of life. And he remembers especially the way his mother treated him.
This leads to the second way in which Solomon refers to himself here, and it is striking. Notice how he says that he was “the only one” in the sight of his mother, who we know was Bathsheba. But we also know that Bathsheba would have had at least some love and high regard for David, Solomon's father. And we also know that David and Bathsheba had three other sons, as 1 Chronicles tells us:
NKJ 1 Chronicles 3:5 And these were born to him [David] in Jerusalem: Shimea, Shobab, Nathan, and Solomon – four by Bathshua2 [Bathsheba, 2 Sam. 11:3] the daughter of Ammiel [Eliam, 2 Sam. 11:3].So how is it that, when reflecting back on the earliest days of his childhood that he can remember, Solomon says that he was “the only one” in the sight of his mother? Well, perhaps he was treated in a special way because of his frailty, and he remembers with fondness the special care his mother gave him. Or perhaps she just had a way of always making him feel special. Whatever the precise meaning he has in mind, one thing is certain: Solomon never forgot how special he was in the eyes of his mother. And he never forgot how caring she had been to him. No wonder he treated her with such honor later when he became the king. He knew that he owed a great deal to her!
This is why celebrating Mother's Day is such a good idea. It hopefully gives us a chance to think back on even the earliest memories we have of our mothers, to remember them with fondness and to appreciate anew the role they have played in our lives.
NKJ Proverbs 6:20-22 My son, keep your father's command, and do not forsake the law of your mother. 21 Bind them continually upon your heart; tie them around your neck. 22 When you roam, they will lead you; when you sleep, they will keep you; and when you awake, they will speak with you.Here again we have an admonition not to forsake “the law of your mother.” But the idea here is emphasized by the reference to her godly teaching as something to be continually bound in your heart and tied, as it were, around your neck. This means that we should keep constantly in mind the things that our mothers have taught us. If we do this, we are told, then wherever we go and whatever we do, our mother's teaching will guide us.
You might say, based on this verse, that in a sense every day ought to be a Mother's Day! Is there any better way to honor your mother?
NKJ Proverbs 10:1 The Proverbs of Solomon: A wise son makes a glad father, but a foolish son is the grief of his mother.It is not hard to see what we can learn from this proverb about honoring our mothers. All we have to do is avoid the kind of foolishness that will cause them grief.But it is important to remember that terms like “wise” and “foolish” are primarily moral rather than intellectual terms. Thus, a wise person is a person who has spiritual understanding, and a foolish person is one who is spiritually daft. What Solomon has in mind here is that we should avoid bringing grief to our mothers by living in ungodly ways and making bad moral decisions.
Of course, he again assumes that one has a godly mother who will care about such things in the first place. Yet not all of us have been blessed with such a godly mother. But that doesn't mean we can't find a way to apply this proverb. For example, my mother did not know the Lord when I was growing up, and I still don't know that she is a believer. But I have often found comfort in a teaching of Jesus, in which He promises that He will give His disciples other people in the Church to replace their lost parents:
NKJ Mark 10:28-30 Then Peter began to say to Him, “See, we have left all and followed You.” 29 So Jesus answered and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel's, 30 who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time -- houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions -- and in the age to come, eternal life.”I can testify that Jesus has indeed given me a number of women over the years who have been like spiritual mothers to me. So, for example, I might want to avoid behaving in any way that I know would bring grief to Eunice Campbell, an older woman who – along with her husband Irvin – had a formative influence on me when I was a young Christian. Or, for a more recent example, I can tell you that I would never want to exhibit the king of foolishness that would grieve Lena Drye or Diane Luhn.
You see, even though some of us do not have a godly mother to honor in this way, God has still given us spiritual mothers to honor. But, as I pointed out earlier, we can still also try to honor our own biological mothers in this way to the degree that they wish truly good and honorable things for us.
NKJ Proverbs 15:20 A wise son makes a father glad, but a foolish man despises his mother.This proverb is much like the last one, but it states things in a bit stronger way. For here Solomon says that a foolish son that grieves his mother acts as though he hates her! To reject her godly counsel and to live in a way that brings her continual grief is hateful and does not honor her! Conversely, then, to follow the wisdom she seeks to instill from God's Word is to show her love and to honor her as God desires.
I wonder how many men, women, and children claim to love their mothers but act as though they really hate them because they constantly reject what they have been taught by them. Young people and children, don't be deceived by such hypocrisy. To continually disobey your mother is to act as though you despise her. If you want to honor her as God tells you to do, then you will want to obey her. Remember that the Apostle Paul stresses that obedience is the primary thing that God had in mind when He gave the 5th Commandment:
NKJ Ephesians 6:1-2 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 “Honor your father and mother,” which is the first commandment with promise ….One of the chief ways we honor our mothers is by obeying what they have taught us. And this means that we will live by what they have taught us for the rest of our lives, even when we are no longer living with them under their direct authority.
NKJ Proverbs 19:26 He who mistreats his father and chases away his mother Is a son who causes shame and brings reproach.David Hubbard sums up this proverb nicely when he writes that:
“Mistreats” suggests violence, even destruction. “Chases away,” literally “causes to flee,” pictures a son old enough and strong enough to commandeer the parents' household and physically eject them. The New Testament son took his share and played the fool by abandoning his family and squandering his resources (Luke 15). This Old Testament fool is much more to be censured; he has confiscated his parents holdings and cruelly sent them packing. Their inward pain is amplified by horrible “shame” and “reproach” (see 27:11), since the whole affair has been placarded in their community. (The Communicator's Commentary, Vol. 15A, p.258)Granted, this is an extreme case of dishonoring one's mother, although such things do still happen. But there are other more subtle ways in which one's mother can be chased away. As John Gill observes, it may just involve that fact that, through his foolish and sinful behavior, the son “causeth her to avoid and abhor his presence and society” (Exposition of the Whole Bible, e-Sword).
So, at the very least, we can each honor our mother by being the kind of person she really wants to be around.
NKJ Proverbs 20:20 Whoever curses his father or his mother, his lamp will be put out in deep darkness.Today most people think of cursing as simply saying a bad word and thus may think that we should avoid swearing at our parents. Well, I definitely agree that we should avoid such disrespectful behavior. But this isn't really what the Old Testament idea of cursing involved. The concept has to be understood within the Old Testament context of covenant blessings and curses.
David Hubbard is again helpful and quite correct when he asserts that, “'Cursing' implies the wish and the threat that all blessings be cut off, all mercy withdrawn, and all harm invoked upon them [the parents]” (The Communicator's Commentary, Vol. 15A, p.258).
No matter what his or her mother may have done, a Christian should never be so hateful as to wish her cut off from God! And the person who desires such a thing can be assured that it is he himself who will be judged by God, for this is what it means when the text says that “his lamp will be put out in deep darkness.” It means that his own dark demise will one day come upon him.
But, conversely, to honor you mother would mean to wish wish her every blessing from God. And this is one of the very best things we can do to honor our mothers. It will involve telling them that we wish God's best for them, as well as praying that he will indeed bless them in every way.
NKJ Proverbs 23:22 Listen to your father who begot you, and do not despise your mother when she is old.This proverb is easy enough to understand. The older your mother gets, the harder it may become to be around her, the more difficult it may become to take care of her, and the easier it may become to hate having her around. It will be easy to start thinking of her as hopelessly out of touch with the times and as having nothing good left to say. But, Solomon reminds us, to start to think this way is, in fact, hateful.
Conversely, to take an interest in what she has to say, to genuinely care about her point of view, is a good way to honor her.
NKJ Proverbs 23:24-25 The father of the righteous will greatly rejoice, and he who begets a wise child will delight in him. Let your father and your mother be glad, and let her who bore you rejoice.This repeats some of the same concerns as a few of the proverbs we have already considered. If you want to honor your mother, then seek to make her life a joy because of the way you are living a wise and righteous life. This is one of the greatest joys a godly mother will ever receive from her children.
NKJ Proverbs 28:24 Whoever robs his father or his mother, and says, “It is no transgression,” the same is companion to a destroyer.This proverb refers to the person who wastes his parents money and goods and thinks it is no problem. As David Hubbard observes:
The person who “robs” (or defrauds, 22:22) his parents may claim “'It is no transgression'” (Heb. Pesha means “insubordination,” almost “mutiny”) by arguing that the money or the property will come to him anyway at the death of the “mother” or “father.” The wise rightly branded the argument as specious and pinpointed the viciously cruel conduct of one who broke faith with those who gave him life and burdened their later years with regrets about their son's behavior and anxiety about their means of sustenance. (The Communicator's Commentary, Vol. 15A, p.258)Jesus addressed this same attitude and behavior in His confrontation with the Pharisees and scribes:
NKJ Mark 7:9-13 He said to them, “All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition. 10 For Moses said, 'Honor your father and your mother'; and, 'He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.' 11 But you say, 'If a man says to his father or mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is Corban”' -- (that is, a gift to God), 12 then you no longer let him do anything for his father or his mother, 13 making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down. And many such things you do.”So, if you want to honor your mother, then take care of her when she gets older and can no longer look after herself. And don't make excuses – however spiritual they may sound – for avoiding this responsibility.
NKJ Proverbs 29:15 The rod and rebuke give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.This proverb points out how good discipline is for a child. And it warns that a mother who doesn't want to discipline her child will not instill the wisdom she desires him or her to have. And – as a general rule – the child will just become a disappointment in the future.
But the converse is also true, namely that a well disciplined child will – as a general rule – be a source of pride to his mother rather than shame. And this means that, if you want to honor your mothers, children, you will appreciate the discipline they administer to you, whether by way of the rod (spanking) or rebuke. I know it may sound strange to you now, but it is God's will for you! And it is good for you!
Conclusion: Well, I hope I have given you all – no matter how young or old – plenty of food for thought today. I hope I have helped you to see from the wisdom of Solomon how you may better honor your mother on Mother's Day … and every day. But remember that in doing so, it is really God that you seek to honor, for it is He Himself who has commanded you, “Honor your father and your mother” (Exodus 20:12a, italics mine).
Saturday, May 04, 2013
Today I am beginning a three part series that seeks to answer the question, “Is age segregated Sunday school Biblical?” But in order to answer the question, it seems to me that we must begin by establishing what we mean when we ask it. We must think about what we will accept as Biblical in the first place and why we will accept it as such. In my opinion, much of the confusion in discussions about the subject of age segregated education in the local churches starts with conflicting assumptions about this very issue.
For example, I have heard many people from within the Family Integrated Church Movement (FICM) adamantly assert that age segregated Sunday school is most definitely not Biblical, but I don't think they mean what I mean when I speak about whether or not something is Biblical. For the most part they seem to mean that the practice of age segregated education of our children is not Biblical because it is not specifically prescribed in the Bible. That is, they often appear to operate with the assumption that the local church needs a specific command in Scripture in order to justify a ministry practice as Biblical. But I do not think that we should restrict our assessment of whether or not a practice is Biblical to such a narrow parameter, even if it is a very important parameter. So, in this post I would like to begin to set forth a more complete set of parameters under four main headings:
1. Biblical Prescriptions
To begin, I certainly agree that a practice should be accepted as Biblical if we have a Biblical prescription to do it – that is, if we have positive command to do it. Examples of such prescriptions would be the practice of baptizing believers (Matt. 28:19) and the observance of the Lord's Supper (1 Cor. 11:23-26). We know these practices are Biblical because the Bible clearly teaches that we must do them. This is not the case, however, with the practice of age segregated instruction of our children on Sunday mornings, as opponents of the practice are quite fond of pointing out. But, as I have already indicated, I do not think the discussion should end here.
2. Biblical Prohibitions
Just as we know with certainty that a ministry practice is Biblical if we have a positive command in the Bible to do it, we know with just as much certainty that a ministry practice is not Biblical if we have a prohibition in the Bible against it. One example of such a prohibition would be women teaching or having authority over men in the churches. The Apostle Paul clearly says, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence” (1 Tim. 2:12). Yet we have no such prohibition against age segregated instruction of children. In fact, if we are seeking either a prescription or a prohibition for the practice, we find that the Bible is silent on the matter.
3. Biblical Precedents
But there is yet another way in which we can discern whether or not a ministry practice is Biblical, for we can look to see if a practice has a Biblical precedent. One example of such a precedent would be the practice of worshiping on Sunday (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:1-2). Another example of such a precedent would be the inclusion of children in the worship gatherings of the church. It would appear obvious, for instance, that the apostle Paul assumed that children would be present with their parents at church gatherings when he included instructions for them in at least two of his epistles (Eph. 6:1-3; Col. 3:20), epistles which he expected to be publicly read when the church gathered for worship (Col. 4:16). So, we have a clear precedent for age integrated instruction of children in the churches, but in the case of age segregated instruction of children we find no such clear precedent in the Bible (although there does seem to be a precedent for the general concept and practice of age segregated instruction, which I will address in part three of this series).
4. Biblical Principles
However, we still haven't exhausted our means of ascertaining whether or not a practice may be considered to be Biblical, for we haven't yet addressed the matter of whether or not a practice is in keeping with Biblical principles. Yet it is through the application of Biblical principles that we ascertain whether or not many practices are to be accepted as Biblical. Indeed, the Church throughout her history has recognized that much of what we do is informed not by clear Biblical prescriptions, prohibitions, or precedents, but rather by the thoughtful application of Biblical principles. Consider what the Baptist Confession of 1689 says in this regard:
The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man's salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down or necessarily contained in the Holy Scripture, to which nothing is to be added at any time, either by new revelation of the Spirit, or by the traditions of men.
Nevertheless, we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word.
There are some circumstances concerning the worship of God and church government which are common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word which are always to be observed. (Chapter 1.6, italics mine)
Notice that the Confession first of all refers to those things which are essential and which are either expressly taught in Scripture or may be derived therefrom by way of good and necessary inference (the meaning of “necessarily contained” in the first sentence of the text cited). Yet it also recognizes that not all matters faced by the Church are so directly addressed. Thus, when we are dealing with an issue or practice for which we have no explicit teaching in Scripture, the Confession recognizes that we are to rely on our wisdom and experience as informed by “the general rules of the Word,” which in this context must refer to the application of the general teaching or principles of the Word.
One example of such an issue or practice that is not addressed directly in Scripture would be the type of music used in corporate worship in the churches. The Bible simply doesn't indicate a particular style of music or song writing that should be utilized by Christians when they meet to worship. But that doesn't mean that we must be silent about the matter, does it? Absolutely not! For there are a number of principles that we may employ in addressing the issue. Thus we would want to see what the Bible says about God, about how God works in His people through the Word, about the role of the Word in worship, about the nature of the Church as the body of Christ, about attitudes we should display in worship and how music might affect these, about the unity we should seek as we worship God together, etc. So, for example, if we believe that we should seek to worship God in a unified way and with one voice (as Jesus and His disciples apparently did, Matt. 26:30), we will want to choose a style of music that is written to better enable and enhance congregational singing rather than a style of music that is written to be performed for an audience.
At any rate, I think we should all be able to agree that there are any number of ministry practices that may not be directly addressed in Scripture in terms of a prescription, a prohibition, or a precedent, but for which we may find many principles that apply. And insofar as we seek to faithfully, wisely, and prayerfully apply these principles, we may indeed say that our practice is Biblical.
It is precisely here, it seems to me, where we can say that age segregated instruction of children by the Church is indeed a Biblical concept, since I think that this practice it is in keeping with the wise application of Biblical principles. In setting forth these principles, perhaps it would be best to begin with the Biblical teaching about the nature of the Church as a spiritual family and how this relates to the Biblical teaching about the biological family. This I will attempt to do in the next post in this series, followed by a third post that will focus more specifically on Scriptural teaching about the nature of physical, mental, and spiritual maturation and even the idea of age segregated instruction itself.
I will just say in conclusion that it was not my intent in this post to be exhaustive in delineating criteria for how to determine whether or not a particular ministry practice is Biblical. My intention was merely to demonstrate that the matter is not so simple as some appear to think and, hopefully, to help many of my brothers and sisters in Christ to think a little more clearly about this important issue.
See Part 2 here.