Sunday, July 30, 2017

Ephesians 5 Doesn't Tell You to Respect Your Husband

I was reading an evangelical blog yesterday that assumed that Ephesians 5 tells women to respect their husbands, but that husbands should also respect their wives. The comment section was filled with people giving their definitions of respect. However, the idea that this passage tells women to respect their husband is completely erroneous.

The word is not "respect," but "fear." Now, in the modern mythology of evangelicalism, the term fear supposedly has connotations of respect, but this is, in fact, false. The word "fear" may have some nuances to it given the context, but our modern concept of "respect" is not one of them.

In order to understand this, it becomes important to understand the difference between respect and the biblical concept of fear that it promotes.

I've often give the analogy of a lion in a cage at the zoo. One who gives respect to the lion when he sees him in his cage may admire him. He may also choose to throw peanuts at him, but it is a respect that is given, a chosen authority or sense of awe that is given by the individual. Now, if he suddenly finds himself inside the cage with the lion, that is fear. That is the recognition that the lion has authority over his life whether he grants it or not. The authority is inherent in the lion and his position in the cage. It is not derived from the individual at all. Maybe the individual doesn't admire lions at all and has no respect for them, but at that moment, he recognizes the amount of control the lion has, and he fears because of it.

The simple difference is this: Respect is an admiration of qualities that I choose to give to someone. That admiration gives them authority, a voice in my life, etc. But I am the source of their authority in my life. I am the one granting that they can speak to my life. The authority or influence they have in my life is derived from me.

Fear, the good kind, in Scripture, is brought on by a recognition of an inherent authority. I am not the one who is giving it. I am merely recognizing it and called upon to recognize it.

What the biblical authors are calling one to do when they say that one should "fear" an authority placed over them is to recognize the authority that God has granted that individual over one's life. They are not calling upon people to admire the authority or give an authority to the person that he or she does not already have.

Hence, when Peter argues that Christian slaves are to "fear" their masters, he is not arguing that people should admire masters whether they are admirable or not (2:13) and give them some sway in their lives that they don't already have. He is arguing that they have an authority in his position that is derived, not from the servant, but from God, and as such, needs to be feared as God is feared. His position, not his person, is to be revered as coming from God.

Hence, Peter writes:

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.
Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. (1 Peter 2:13-21)

This is why Paul begins his argument in Ephesians 5 with the statement that each Christian needs to submit to his or her respective authorities (allelous "one another" is not reciprocal here in the context so it refers to wives to husbands, children to parents, slaves to masters) in "the fear of God/Christ" (v. 21), and that this is why the wife is to "fear her husband" (v. 33). She is to recognize the authority and influence that God, not she herself, has given to her husband over her life. She does not give him this authority. He has it in his position over her that God has granted to him.

He is to use this authority over her for her good. Washing her in the Word and seeking to present her as Christ wishes to present His church to the Father in sanctification. He serves her in his authority by loving her as Christ loves the church, sacrificing for her, etc.

So whereas his authority is granted by God and is not given by his wife to him, as a Christian, he is to use it to conform her to the image of Christ in his love/sacrificing for her.

The fear (pun intended) that if we translate this term the way it is supposed to be translated that it will lead to abuse is an argument one can make of anything that is abused. The key is placing both the authority of the husband in the context of God's will for him to use it for the good of the woman and not as a tyrant that uses it for his own benefit at the cost of his wife's good. The answer is never to mistranslate or distort Scripture so that we make what is potent benign.

What is important to understand is that there may be lots of husbands who are not respectable. Peter mentions some of these in Chapter 3 of his first epistle, but the response to a disobedient authority is obedient submission to God, not rebellion, which would condemn both the husband and the wife at that point. Instead of looking at the possible abuses, however, the Christian couple should have God's will in mind, as these commands are not for the husband to submit his wife, nor for the wife to make her husband use his authority in love, but for both to obey God directly by using their respective roles as the vehicle through which they worship God in the home.

The Fear of the Lord as the Vehicle toward True Life

originally published Sept 21, 2011

Have you ever walked into a person's house who has an overly developed concern to child-proof their homes? Pads on the corners of tables, safety plugs in the sockets (that's probably a good one btw), and their kids in some sort of pen that was likely originally constructed for hamsters, these dangerous homes have been transformed into the bouncy house at the carnival. Christianity has been made safe these days as well. Preachers have removed what the Bible considers as the most important component of the Christian life from the pulpit: the fear of God.

They have removed it by speaking of God as a giant grandfather figure in the sky. They have removed it by speaking of Him as your friendly neighborhood therapist, who is always there to counsel you in whatever decisions you choose to make in life. They have presented Him as the fairy godmother, who exists to turn all of your pumpkins into carriages and all of your rags into gowns. But they do not talk about His wrath anymore. They do not talk about hell (when's the last time you heard a message on hell that wasn't meant to undermine it as a horrible place to be feared?) God isn't our judge. He's our buddy. What's there to fear?

One of the ways that preachers have removed the fear of God, however, has been in redefining it. It's not fear. It's respect. Fear just means respect in modern evangelical pulpit fiction. Now that's a sermon I have heard many, many times. But is it right? Is that what the word "fear" means in the Bible? Is that what the "fear of God" is? The answer is, No, it isn't.

There are words that describe respect in the Bible. The words "honor" and "glory" are better fits. They describe an attribution of awe to the majesty and splendor of God. So we are to respect God. There's no doubt about that. But fear is something much different than respect.

Let me explain it this way. Respect is something I choose to give to the lion, as I observe his strength and majestic features, while I am standing outside of the cage. I can also choose to disrespect him. I can make fun of him, and more importantly, I can ignore him. I can just forget about him altogether and go watch the monkeys.
Fear, however, is what I have for the lion when I am inside the cage with him. It is not something I can choose to give, but a recognition of the lion's power over me. I realize that whatever happens, he has the upper hand, as he has all the power. I won't be winning a fight with a lion. Fear focuses my attention toward the lion. It does not allow me to ignore or forget about him. It causes me to be cautious about what moves I make, and how I make them. Fear is a recognition of an authority that is possessed by another, with or without my choice to give it to him, as opposed to respect, which is an authority/attention I choose to give to another.

You see, fear takes away the pretense of my power. It removes the falsehood that I am in control here. It reminds me that I am helpless, and am completely at the mercy of another. It makes me realize my need, my lack. That causes me to seek out help, direction, instruction, from one who has authority.

So when Proverbs (1:7; 9:10) says that the "fear of God is the beginning of knowledge/wisdom" (i.e., understanding life), it means "fear," not respect, must be one's starting point and presupposition before he pursues other questions in life. If we start in the wrong place, one that does not pay careful attention to God as the authority of truth and good, we will end in the wrong place as well. Our conclusions will be false because our premise is false.

Proverbs tells us that the fear of God leads us to love true knowledge, as opposed to what makes us comfortable (1:29). It gives us a hatred toward evil, which is viewed as a self-willed life that seeks to make sense of life through one's own experiences (8:13; 15:33; 22:4--this is what pride and arrogance are in the Bible, humility/the fear of God being their opposite). It leads to a longer life (10:27; 19:23--which for us is eternal life). It gives us certainty (14:26) and is our source of life that keeps us from being trapped by chaotic ideas, i.e., the cultural philosophies the devil has set in place to destroy us (v. 27). It gives us the motivation to stop doing what is wrong (16:6). More importantly, it gives us the path to know God (2:5). This is in contrast to fearing man (i.e. paying attention to human ideas/seeing man in the place that God should be seen/starting with human authority instead of God's in one's view of life). In fact, the proverb, "there is a way [i.e., an understanding of life and the direction one should go] that seems right to a man, but the end is the way of death" is repeated twice in the Book of Proverbs (14:12; 16:25), which means it's being emphasized in the book. The Hebrew literally reads that the a path that seems right to man according to his experience (lit. "that which is before him") leads to "paths (plural) of death." Hence, to get the starting point concerning how we approach life wrong leads to multiple paths to death.

Now, that's just Proverbs. The term appears throughout the Bible, and we are told essentially, therefore, that the promises of God are only for those who fear Him. These promises of understanding life and being saved from darkness and death are only for those who fear YHWH (which is what the translation "Lord" is representing in these texts). Hence, the fear of the Lord is bound up with the Bible as God's revelation, and cannot be attributed to another religion. I can transfer the fear of the lion to the penguin in the cage, but I'm going to be paying attention to the wrong entity, and pay dearly for it.

To sum up, the fear of the Lord is our recognition of His authority over life in general, and over our lives specifically. In other words, it is a God-centered, rather than self-centered (i.e., arrogant) way of thinking. It recognizes that He already has the power over our lives and wields that sword daily. What He has given us the privilege to do is to know and understand life by giving us His Word. Through it, we not only recognize God's authority, but we can carefully and thoughtfully come to a true knowledge of God and ourselves. Our crooked paths are set straight. Our fear for God grows into respect, and respect, love. Hence, contrary to popular opinion, fear of the Lord and love are not opposites. The kind of fear that runs from God, which is not the fear of the Lord, is cast out by the love born from the true fear of the Lord.

So "fear" means "fear," but it is a fear that is a recognition of authority that pays careful attention to what that authority does (or in this case, says as well). I cannot ignore the lion any longer. Once my eyes have been opened, I realize the truth that C. S. Lewis noted years ago: that God is a dangerous lion, but He's also good and worthy to be followed. If our lives are constructed around ourselves, then He will do great damage to them. He is very dangerous. But we cannot God-proof our sermons anymore if we are to remain in the fear of God ourselves. If we are to bring the people back to Him, the fear of the Lord must be made known. If we do not, then we are all doomed to a misunderstood, misdirected, and missed life that was always meant to thrive in a God-centered world, but dies in one that is not. There is no doubt that the Word of God's place in our lives is diminished today, precisely, because we are a fallen people who do not fear the Lord (Rom 3:9-18); but for those of us who claim Christ, there must be a humility to God's Word that follows.

So take off the pads. Take out the safety plugs. And deflate the bouncy house. Because a true human life is not lived until it is lived in the fear and loving presence of God.

Thus says the Lord:  "Heaven [is] My throne,  And earth [is] My footstool. Where [is] the house that you will build Me?  And where [is] the place of My rest? For all those [things] My hand has made,  And all those [things] exist,"  Says the Lord.  "But on this [one] will I look:  On [him] [who] [is] poor and of a contrite spirit,  And who  trembles  at My word. (Isa 66:1-2)

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Eugene Peterson's Apostasy

EP: "I haven’t had a lot of experience with it [i.e., homosexuality and same-sex marriage]. But I have been in churches when I was an associate pastor where there were several women who were lesbians. They didn’t make a big deal about it. I’d go and visit them and it never came up for them. They just assumed that they were as Christian as everybody else in the church.
In my own congregation — when I left, we had about 500 people — I don’t think we ever really made a big deal out of it. When I left, the minister of music left. She’d been there ever since I had been there. There we were, looking for a new minister of music. One of the young people that had grown up under my pastorship, he was a high school teacher and a musician. When he found out about the opening, he showed up in church one day and stood up and said, “I’d like to apply for the job of music director here, and I’m gay.” We didn’t have any gay people in the whole congregation. Well, some of them weren’t openly gay. But I was so pleased with the congregation. Nobody made any questions about it. And he was a really good musician.
I wouldn’t have said this 20 years ago, but now I know a lot of people who are gay and lesbian and they seem to have as good a spiritual life as I do. I think that kind of debate about lesbians and gays might be over. People who disapprove of it, they’ll probably just go to another church. So we’re in a transition and I think it’s a transition for the best, for the good. I don’t think it’s something that you can parade, but it’s not a right or wrong thing as far as I’m concerned."
In other words, he, and the churches in which he resides, have been in open rebellion and unrepentant sin for years by not disciplining those who claim to be Christians and are in open rebellion and unrepentant sin. It is no wonder he, and they, are given over to deception and further lawlessness.
Can you imagine if someone said this of something we actually still consider sin? "I knew of a couple serial killers in our church, and would just visit them and not make a big deal about it." Um, then you're a broken minister and should not be teaching anyone anything, much less a highly idiosyncratic paraphrase of the Bible. 

RNS: "A follow-up: If you were pastoring today and a gay couple in your church who were Christians of good faith asked you to perform their same-sex wedding ceremony, is that something you would do?"

EP: "Yes."
We are all sinners, but we do not endorse sin, our own or that of others. If we do, we are not of God, but of the adversary who was a liar and a murderer from the beginning.
I never understood why Reformed folk would interview Peterson as though he was one of us (the White Horse Inn comes to mind) when it was always very clear to me, both from the Message paraphrase and his theological leanings toward postmodern/emerging religious tendencies that his spiritual and intellectual makeup was made more out of the zeitgeist than the Heilige Geist. 
"But he is a Presbyterian," some might say. To which I would respond, "Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep's clothing." This man can believe anything he wants, but he is not a Christian minister.