Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Individual Rights are Anachronistic

Stephen Clark on why saying that women did not have full rights in traditional societies is historically anachronistic. All is his except what I put in the brackets.
A second historical error [made by feminists] is the view that women have been deprived of full human rights since the beginning of human society and have only won these rights within the past two centuries-since the beginning of movements for women's rights. In the past two centuries women have attained equal access to education; full rights to inherit, own, sell, and control property; full rights of citizenship; and access to most professions with equal compensation. Women may not always be treated equally with men in these areas, but these rights have a fundamental legal and moral recognition. To be sure, women in most societies did not have these "rights" before 1900. However, this is because traditional society made little or no use of the category of "individual rights" for anyone-men or women.  This concept is an aspect of the shift from a society based on relational groupings to a society based on a mass of individuals...Before the advent of technological society, men did not have these "individual rights" either; the structure of traditional society made these rights a meaningless category. Traditional society was based instead on the rights of relational groupings [Think classes, guilds, wealth, family ancestry, etc.] and the position of men and women formed their personal relationships within these groupings. 
Later he adds:
The purpose of this discussion of women's rights is not to assert that women always received better treatment in a traditional society than in technological society. Such comparisons are difficult to make. Rather the key point here is that "individual rights" is an inappropriate category for making historical comparison between the status of women in traditional and technological society.  
It is easy to take a contemporary way of thinking and apply it to all men throughout history. However, this is a grave error.  Our fathers and mothers did not think like we do. If we assume they did we do not really learn to understand them.

The more I read the more convinced I am that the fundamental shift in the last 200 years has been from a society composed of groups that contain individuals who identified with those groups, were loyal to those groups, and lived within the parameters set by those groups to a society that is composed of a mass of individuals who easily cross lines from group to group with little loyalty to anyone but themselves.  I am no longer Peter, husband of Julie, father of Sam, Will, Ben, Calvin, Amelia, Cecily, Elijah, and Bronwyn, son of Jerry Jones, grandson of Nils Jones, a Protestant American Southerner loyal to my country, family and church. Now I am just Peter the isolated. I could be anyone or no one. I have no creed, no country, no family, no political party, no race, and no gender. I am not saying that family or country loyalty is everything. But when we can't even be loyal to the body parts we are born with there is a problem.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

A Few Words for Parents Who Home Schooled


This is a companion post to the one I wrote to children who were home schooled. I would encourage you to read them both as they balance each other out. I was home schooled and I am currently homeschooling so I have been on both ends of these blog posts. This will apply to a lot of parents, but I address it to those who home schooled. 

This is what I would say to parents who home schooled.

First, the problems you see in the life of your grown children are your fault. It is not only your fault. Your children have a sin nature. But you played a significant role in shaping the sins of your children. This is a hard truth that we would rather ignore. Many home schooling parents have a high view of their responsibility in raising their children when they are at home, but refuse to accept responsibility for how children behave when they leave. They are your children. You raised them. They learned how to think and act from you. If you see things in your grown children that you don't like then look in the mirror and repent. For what you see in them more than likely came from you.

Second, when a child leaves the home your role as a parent shifts dramatically. You need to let them go and live their life. Homeschooling parents often want to keep telling their children what to do after they are grown. This is particularly devastating for men. How can he lead his home when dad still orders him around? How can his wife respect him when he is constantly bending to what mom says? How can a wife make decisions for her family if she has to check with mom all the time? Grown children should respect their parents. But respect does not equal obedience.  A man is supposed to leave his father and mother. Your grown children should have the freedom to disagree with you and make different choices. They need to know they have this freedom. You should not make them feel guilty for exercising this freedom. You can offer counsel when asked, but that counsel should come with no strings attached. In short, when you children leave your home they are free from your authority and ideally they should probably be relatively free of your authority before they leave the home.

Third, just because your children make different choices than you does not mean they have gone off the deep end.  Home school parents often have precise ideas about how things should be done. When a grown child deviates from this it can cause anxiety.  But in many cases this anxiety is unwarranted. Just because your child uses a different school schedule than you did does not mean they are going to leave the faith. Just because they go to the home school co-op and you didn't does not mean they have gone liberal. We could go on and on with this list talking about school curriculum, vaccines, where to give birth, how they dress, what they allow their children to watch, how they celebrate holidays, what type of church they attend, etc. You made the choices you thought were best as you raised your children. Now your children must do the same. Just because they choose differently does not mean they have rejected you, their upbringing, or God. In fact, you should expect them to make different choices. You should expect them to outgrow you, unless you got everything perfect. There should be times where you look at your children, smile, and say, "I wish I had done that."

Fourth, admit to your grown children where you failed them. What mistakes did you make? What would you have done differently? How did you fail to love them? How did you fail to follow the Scriptures? How did you fail to love Christ? I am not encouraging you to call them weekly and tell them what a bad parent you were like some sappy episode of Oprah. What I am encouraging is sitting down and saying, "Son, I wish I had done this and here is why." Or "Daughter, I thought I was right here, but I was wrong. I don't want you to make the same mistakes." Or, "Son, I sinned against you by not doing...Please forgive me for this." This is Christianity 101. Confess your sins one to another. By the way, this is a lot easier to do with your grown children if you did it with them when they were young.

Fifth, trust the Lord with your grown children. You are not God.  He is powerful, mighty, and sovereign. You are not. In many ways, your work is done. That can be terrifying, if you are trusting in your work. Don't do that. Rest in His goodness. Rest in the promises in His Word. Rest in the finished work of Christ. Seek the throne of grace on behalf of your children. Many home schooling parents become fearful and anxious when their children leave the home. This is understandable, but shows a lack of trust in God. Look to Christ and trust that if your children are looking to Him too then all will be well. (Memorizing Heidelberg Catechism questions 26-28 might help with your anxiety.)

Sixth, give thanks to the Lord for your grown children, their spouses, and your grandchildren.  I do not mean be thankful in your hearts. Tell them you appreciate them. Magnify their achievements. Glory in all the good they are doing. Praise them in public and private. Rejoice over the work God is doing in their lives, their spouse's life, and in your grandchildren. No matter your situation, God has been better to you than you deserve. My guess is that many (though I know not all) home schooled children grow up to love Jesus, His Word, and His Church. What more could you want? They may not do exactly what you did the way you did it, but does that mean you cannot be grateful?

A Few Words for Children Who Were Home Schooled


This article is meant to be read in conjunction with the one to parents. They balance each other out. I was home schooled and I am currently homeschooling so I have been on both ends of these blog posts. I think there is much here for all children to learn, but I have addressed this specifically to home schooled children.  

The world of home schooling has blown up over the last year, especially with the ugly sins of Doug Philips and Bill Gothard being exposed. These men influenced home schoolers in significant ways. This has led to blog posts, web sites, etc., by adults who were home schooled, where they decry their upbringing. Often these articles have good points, but, at times, there is an underlying attitude that can leave a bad taste in my mouth. Here is what I would say to adults who were home schooled and look back with disappointment on their growing up years.

First, don't blame your parents and your upbringing for your sins and your problems. Sometimes these articles can be summed up as: Mom and Dad left me with a lot of baggage. All of our parents did that. You will do that to your kids. If you see problems in your life, don't whisper to yourself, "It was my parents' fault."  Don't allow your heart to echo, "If only my upbringing was different." Your upbringing was fine. You did not have it any worse than anyone else. This victim mentality fits in well with American culture, but isn't befitting someone claiming the name of Christ.

Second, stop trying to show your parents all the things they did wrong. Often you should make different decisions than your parents. The problem is not making a different choice than Mom and Dad. It is making a different choice and making a point with that different choice. Make the choices you think are best according to the Scriptures, but don't poke your parents in the eye while doing it. Treat your parents with respect even when you disagree with them or do things differently.  As an aside, grown children should be cautious about calling out their parents, especially publicly. Your parents did sin against you, as you will sin against your children. But grace covers sin. Cover your parents' sins.

Third, rules do not equal legalism. Just because your parents made you wear denim jumpers or wouldn't let you watch R movies does not make them a Pharisee. The word legalism is tossed around too easily today. Different rules from the ones you have for your household does not mean you were raised as a Pharisee. Legalism does exist in homeschooling circles. But it should be carefully defined and then proven. Saying your parents were legalists may score you rhetorical points, but it doesn't prove your point.

Fourth, in most cases your parents were first or second generation home schoolers. They were pioneers. When my mom home schooled me the choices were limited. Now they are almost unlimited. Blazing a trail is different from settling down and building a city. They had to cut down their own trees. There were no paved roads. That means the path was rougher and maybe they got off track here and there. Be gracious and humble. They did a good work by trying to bring you up in the ways of Christ. Was it perfect? Of course not. Were there things about the home schooling movement that were off track? Of course. As 2nd or 3rd generation home schoolers we need to keep building the city, but not with a pride that looks down on those who got us here.

Finally, give thanks for the parents God gave to you. I do not mean a warm, fuzzy feeling just above your rib cage. Tell them how thankful you are for what they did. Tell your children how thankful you are for your parents. Call them often and tell them of your love. Speak well of them in public and private. All of us could find things wrong with our parents. All of us could snipe and pick and bite them. But as Christians is that what we are supposed to do? Doesn't love cover a multitude of sins? Would you want your grown children sniping at you that way? Didn't the same God who sent His Son to deliver you send those parents to raise you? Be grateful for what they gave you, not bitter over what they didn't.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Parental Consent to Marriage in Geneva

In most cultures parental involvement in who someone married was a given. Children assumed that the approval, especially of the father, was good and in  many cases necessary for a marriage to move forward. Geneva was no different. Eight of the first ten articles in Geneva's 1546 Marriage Ordinance were devoted to parental consent. The prominence of parental consent issues in this document show the importance of the doctrine to John Calvin. Here is a summary of those eight articles.

1. Any son under twenty and daughter under eighteen years of age had to have the father's consent to marry. After that age they were free to marry whom they wished though the father's consent was still desirable.

In this article the age at which a child can marry without parental consent is given. However, there was "no minimum age children needed to be to enter into marriage in the first place." This was flexible. The child had to be able to bear or sire children and thus must be post-puberty. In theory, any time after puberty a child could be given consent to marry. In reality, the maturity or lack thereof of a child played a big role in when consent was given. I will look at this more closely in the next blog post.

2. If the father was dead, a ward or guardian could take the father's place. Relatives of the child were to be consulted about a child's marriage choice if the father was dead.

3, If two people under-age have entered into a secret marriage it can be dissolved at the parents' or guardians' request.

4. Secret promises to marry between under-age couples were not valid.

Note that the marriage "can be" dissolved in #3 at the parent's request. It does not appear that it had to be

The authors make this note. "All the leading Protestant reformers allowed parents to annul their children's secret engagements. The question that divided Protestants sharply was whether parents could annul their children's secret marriages, too."  By 1560 Calvin decided that secret marriages, which had been consummated, could not be annulled just because the couple was under-age.

The authors add
The medieval canonists used sacramental logic: even secret marriages could not be dissolved because they were sacramental. Calvin used prudential logic: Even secret marriages could not be dissolved because that catered to parental tyranny, left despoiled virgins vulnerable to spinsterhood, and consigned any children of the union to the bane of bastardy. 
5. A father cannot withhold the dowry if a daughter above age has married lawfully, but against the father's wishes.

6. A father cannot compel a child to marry against their will. If a young person refuses consent the father cannot punish them for this.

7. If a child rebels against their father's will and marries badly the father can refuse to provide for the child.

This is the balance to #5 and #6. Children had freedom in who they married, but if it could be proven that they married a wicked or immoral spouse then the father had the right to refuse financial support.

8. A previously married child is free to remarry without the father's consent though it is desirable.

Calvin felt that parental consent was essential in making the decision to marry. It gave the child guidance and direction in determining whom to marry. Here are few quotes from Calvin on the matter:
Since marriage forms a principle part of human life, it is right that, in contracting it, children should be subject to their parents, and should obey their counsel. This order is what nature prescribes and dictates.
It is not lawful for the children of a family to contract marriage except with the consent of the parents. And, certainly, natural equity dictates that, in a matter of such importance, children should depend upon the will of the parents.
However, Calvin was no fool and he knew the doctrine of depravity extended to parents as well as children. He often condemned men in the Bible, such as Caleb, for holding out their daughters as prizes of war without consulting them. Here are some quotes that show the balance between the consent of the child and the will of the parents:
Children should allow themselves to be governed by their parents, and that they, on the other hand, do not drag their children by force to what is against their inclination, and they have no other object in view, in the exercise of their authority, than the advantage of their children.
Although it is the office of parents to settle their daughters in life, they are not permitted to exercise tyrannical power or to assign them to whatever husbands they think fit without consulting them.  For while all contracts ought to be voluntary, freedom ought to prevail especially in marriage that no one may pledge his faith against his will. 
Here is a quote from Theodore Beza, John Calvin's successor:
Are children to agree necessarily with those in whose power they are? I reply that they are not forced since a free and fully voluntary consent is a first requirement for marriage. But still the respect owed to parents  and to those who take the place of parents demands that [a minor child] should not disagree with them, except for a very serious reason. But in turn, it is only fair that parents treat their children with moderation and not force them into this or that marriage against their will
Parental consent like individual consent was essential to a valid engagement in Geneva.  A few closing thoughts on Geneva's laws regarding parents involvement in the marriages of their children.

There is a wonderful balance, at least on paper, between the will of the parents and the will of the child. We tend towards extremes. Many evangelical parents have little say in who their children marry. They assume a child can make their decisions with little guidance. In reaction to this many family-centered types have made the will of the child of little consequence. If dad doesn't like the boy then the daughter cannot marry him even if he is godly. In Geneva, neither the child nor the parent got to dictate. Both were to work together towards a mutually agreed upon marriage. Parents should be involved in whom their children choose to marry, even if the child has left the home. But the will of the parents does not trump the will of the child.

In Geneva, the father had real authority, but not absolute authority. In family-centered/patriarchal churches it is often assumed that whatever dad thinks must go. A father makes decisions about his daughter's future and assumes there is no one above him to whom he is accountable. But in Geneva fathers would be chastised by the Consistory if they were exercising their power in a tyrannical fashion. Children could appeal to the Consistory if the father refused consent for selfish reasons. It was specifically said that if a child and parent could not come to an agreement then they should go to the magistrate. Beza said, "Severity of fathers in all aspects of their role should be shunned, and likewise fathers must be warned against abusing the power entrusted them by God."  Patriarchy, as understood by the reformers, meant that fathers were accountable to the elders, the broader community, and the magistrate. The fear some have of patriarchy could be alleviated if there was more authority over fathers and if fathers submitted willingly to that authority. On the flip side, some of those anti-patriarchy folks need to remember that fathers do have real authority over their children. 

The above paragraphs show how Geneva tried to functioned as a community, not a collection of individuals. The decision to marry was not left up to the man and woman only, as is often the case in our society. The parents, extended family, community, state, church, prospective spouses, and of course God speaking in the Scriptures all had a say in who married who.  Today if one person "loves" another person that is assumed to be all that is necessary for a marriage to be formed. But in Geneva that would have been impossible. Outside consent was as necessary as individual consent. The decision to marry was built on the consent of the community not just on the feelings of the individuals involved

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Visible Line

Samuel Miller on why certain men hate creeds and confessions:
 From those, then, who have departed, or at least begun to depart from "the faith once for all delivered to the saints," almost exclusively, do we hear the "oppression" and "mischief" of Creeds and Confessions. And is it any marvel that those who maintain the innocence of error, should be unwilling to raise fences for keeping it out of the Church? Is it any marvel that the Arian, the Socinian, the Pelagian, and such as are verging toward those fatal errors, should exceedingly dislike all the evangelical formularies, which tend to make visible the line of distinction between the friends and enemies of the Redeemer? No; "men," as has been often well observed, "men are seldom opposed to Creeds, until Creeds have become opposed to them." That they should dislike and oppose them, in these circumstances, is just as natural as that a culprit arraigned before a civil tribunal, should equally dislike the law, its officer, and its sanction." 
From The Utility and Importance of Creeds and Confessions by Samuel Miller.  All punctuation is his.

Book Review: Mystic River

Mystic RiverMystic River by Dennis Lehane
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A devastating novel about men, their wives, their children, their friends, and their sins. It is better than Shutter Island. What I love about Lehane is he makes you feel the history of a character. Where they have been, what they have been doing, what they love, what they hate, and what they are thinking. Sin and the results cling to his characters like clothing. His locations are just as real. You feel like you are sitting in the living room or at the party or in the car. He is a wonderful writer, but dark. One theme of the novel is that you really can't escape your past. Jimmy ends up where he began the story and so does Dave. But for a Christian the past can be escaped or redeemed however one wants to look it. Books like these are good reminders of how the world is seen when Christ is taken away. Without Him there is no hope. Lehane shows you that world. But it is not one I would want to be in for too long.

View all my reviews

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Consent, Coercion, and Conditions in Geneva


 "In Calvin's Geneva, as much as today, marriage was a contract between a fit man and a fit woman of the age of consent.  It was, of course, much more than a contract: it was a spiritual, social, natural, and economic relationship that could involve many other parties besides the couple. But marriage was never less than a contract. It could not be created unless both the man and woman consented voluntarily to this union."
So begins Witte and Kingdon's fourth chapter on marriage in Geneva. In this chapter the authors explore how Geneva dealt with coerced marriages or false promises of marriage that were never fulfilled.

First, they offer this summary,
Like the medieval canonists, Calvin treated marriage as a "sacred contract" that depends in its essence on mutual consent. Calvin repeated this teaching many times. "While all contracts ought to be voluntary, freedom ought to prevail especially in marriage, so that no one may pledge his faith against his will." When a woman wishes to marry, she must not " be thrust into it reluctantly or compelled to marry against her will, but left to her own free choice." When a man "is going to marry and he takes a wife, let him take her of his own free will, knowing that where there is not a true and pure love, there is nothing but disorder, and one can expect no grace from God"...The doctrine of mutual consent was so commonplace and uncontroversial in his day that Calvin offered little sustained theological analysis.
As background to what follows, remember a public promise to marry someone said before witnesses was binding.You couldn't promise to marry and then back out tomorrow. As you can imagine many couples made public promises they later regretted. And because promises were held in such high regard unscrupulous suitors would try to coerce a girl to promise marriage when under normal circumstances should would have ignored his advances.

Because promises were taken so seriously coercion was a constant problem. Geneva worked hard to make sure both the man and women freely agreed to a marriage. When a person was "physically threatened or coerced into marriage, or they were seduced, tricked, blackmailed, or fraudulently induced into giving their consent, the Consistory annulled their engagement or their marriage and often punished the coercing party quite severely."

What were some of the situations that qualified as a coerced promise of marriage? Getting a girl drunk and then having her agree to marriage or both parties being drunk. Frivolous promises, such as promising marriage after just meeting someone, could also be considered coercive. Getting a girl who was not yet of age to promise marriage without her parents' consent.  In one case, a man asked a girl to marry him if he arranged to get her out of prison. She agreed, but later wanted to back out. The Consistory allowed her to back out because the man had coerced her. A similar situation arose with a girl fleeing persecution. A man promised to pay for her escape to Geneva if she married him. She wanted to back out after arriving in Geneva. The Consistory allowed her to because the promise could not be made freely when she was under duress. In one case, a mother had tricked her daughter into marrying. Calvin said that the marriage should be annulled and that all parties involved in the deceit, mother, witnesses, and the minister should be punished severely. Any contracts where the one of the parties, usually the woman, were "physically threatened or psychologically coerced into marriage could be annulled." (Would Calvin have annulled Jacob's marriage to Leah?)

Sometimes men were forced to keep their promises of marriage. As has been true throughout history, men often want women, but don't want marriage. A man would say to a woman, "Have sex with me and I will marry you." The woman obliges and the man then refuses to marry. The girl would often get pregnant in such situations and be left without support or future prospects. The Consistory would punish both parties for fornication and then force the man to keep his promise.

Finally, conditions were a big part of Medieval marriage contracts. A man would say something like, "I will marry you if your father gives us the house he promised you." Prior to the Reformation there were complex laws to address the conditions people used to arrange marriage contracts. Geneva simplified things. They divided conditions up into two types: ancillary and essential. Most conditions, like the example above, were ancillary and often involved the promise of a possession or money, such as a ring or dowry. Even if an ancillary promise wasn't fulfilled the couple still had to marry, which was in contrast to Medieval practice.  An example of an essential condition would be  "I will marry you if your divorce goes through." This condition struck at the essence of marriage. A failure to meet this condition would lead to an engagement or marriage being annulled. This might seem odd to us, but in Geneva the promise to marry was to be freely given without conditions except those essential to a proper marriage. Property, rings, dowries, living quarters, etc. were not considered of the essence of marriage. Thus to force a potential spouse to give something like this before you marry was a form of coercion. Geneva was fine with conditions being attached to the marriage contract by mutual consent. But if the condition was ancillary its fulfillment could not be made a criteria for marriage.

In conclusion:
The Consistory and Council thus annulled engagement or marriage contracts where they found no full or free consent on both sides...Where the parties gave their mutual consent to engagement but then later changed their minds, however, the Consistory held them to their promises...If it had been properly formed, the engagement contract could not be dissolved even by mutual consent. 
Just a couple of short thoughts from this history lesson.

It continues to astound me how seriously people took spoken vows and promises. Often our promises, even major ones, are broken for the slightest reason. That was unheard of in Geneva. A promise spoken was assumed to be a promise kept.

Second, marriage required full and free consent of both parties. Note Calvin's phrase in the earlier quote, "where there is not a true and pure love, there is nothing but disorder, and one can expect no grace from God."  We often view our fathers in the faith as dictators who cared nothing for the feelings of their children. "Daughter, I know you love John, but you will marry Steve because I said so." The reality was far removed from this. The caricature of hard fathers forcing daughters to marry against their will for money or position and getting away with it is unfounded, at least in Geneva.  The feelings and desires of the child could not be overthrown by the father. Love for a potential spouse, while not the only or primary consideration, was not ignored.

Third, most of the laws and rulings of the Consistory were designed to protect young women. The more history I read the more sure I am that women in America are some of the least protected either by law or societal norms of all women throughout the history of Western civilization.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Why Princeton Seminary was Created

Here is a summary paragraph from the plan for Princeton Seminary when it was founded in 1812.
That, as filling the Church with a learned and able ministry, without a corresponding portion of real piety, would be a curse to the world, and an offence to God and his people; so the General Assembly think it their duty to state, that in establishing a seminary for training up ministers, it is their earnest desire to guard, as far as possible against so great an evil. And they do hereby solemnly pledge themselves to the churches under their care, that in forming, and carrying into execution the plan of the proposed seminary, it will be their endeavor to make it, under the blessing of God, a nursery of vital piety, as well as of sound theological learning: and to train up persons for the ministry, who shall be lovers, as well as defenders of the truth as it is in Jesus; friends of revivals of religion and a blessing to the Church of God."
Quoted in An Able and Faithful Ministry. 

Do Not Confuse Morality with Righteousness

I John is heavy on obedience. Frequently John tells us that if we claim to know God and believe in Christ then we must obey God's commandments (I John 2:4, 3:22, 5:3).  When we read these verses we often think of being moral. We think of not getting drunk, refusing cuss, not fornicating or being generally a nice person.

But John has a different idea in mind. For him righteousness, obeying the commandments of God, means conformity to Jesus Christ. We see this specifically in two places, but it is woven throughout the epistle. In I John 2:6 John says that anyone who says he abides in God must walk as he walked. Anyone who claims to be a Christian must walk as Jesus walked. In John 3:7 he says that he who practices righteousness is righteous just as he is righteous. Righteousness is defined by Jesus.  This is important for us because there are many good people in the world. There are Muslims, Mormons, and atheists who all live clean, moral lives. They are faithful to their wives. They do good in the community. They are hard workers. So if we define "righteousness" as good clean living then there are a lot of pagans who fit.  The Bible however defines righteousness as Jesus. There will be some overlap of course. There are many things good people will do or not do that correspond with righteous living.  But there is a world of difference between being moral and being righteous.

A Righteous Man Worships God

Perhaps most important is that righteousness is about worshiping God. Being righteous means we obey the first four commandments.  We have no other gods, except Yahweh. We do not worship idols. We do not take his name in vain. We rest so that we might worship him. It is impossible to be righteous without worshiping God. Perhaps this is why I John ends the way it does (I John 5:21).

A Righteous Man Believes in Jesus Christ

In I John 3:23 John commands us to believe on the name of Jesus Christ. A man can be good in some sense without trusting in Jesus, but he cannot be righteous. He cannot be obedient to God if he does not believe in Jesus Christ. Belief in Jesus Christ is the foundation of a righteous life. Without faith in Christ a man is not righteous. By the way, this also means that a righteous man calls upon others to believe in Christ.

A Righteous Man Confesses His Sins

John begins his letter, which is so heavy on obeying, with a reminder that we are sinners and we need to confess our sins (I John 1:8-2:3). Confession of sin is essential to righteous living. A righteous man wants to be more like Christ. When he isn't he repents of his sins and flees to the Advocate (I John 2:1). Here again is a great dividing line between good, moral living and being righteous. Moral men do not confess their sins. They may admit they made mistakes and did something wrong, but they do not confess that they have sinned. Righteous men do.

A Righteous Man is Concerned about His Heart, Not Just His Actions

Morality is concerned primarily about outward behavior. Now, we must be careful here, a righteous man will be concerned about outward behavior. Learning to be more like Christ and confessing our sins when we aren't will result in concrete action. We cannot just be righteous in our hearts. This is clear throughout the whole Bible. Even if we only look at Ephesians 4:25-5:7 we see that we shouldn't lie, steal, fornicate, sin in our anger, etc. Anyone who defines righteousness as primarily internal is going against God's Word. But when we define righteousness as primarily external then we sin the other direction. We are equating morality with righteousness. A righteous man knows that failing to love is like murder (I John 3:14-15). Murder is murder, but so is hate, which is internal. A righteous man knows that lust is adultery (Matthew 5:28). Adultery is adultery, but so is lust. A righteous man knows that coveting is idolatry (Ephesians 5:5). Idolatry is idolatry, but so is coveting. The righteous man understands that who he is on the inside matters as much as what he does on the outside.  A moral man does not understand this.

Taking all of these together we  can see that righteousness, as defined by the Bible, cannot be equated with good, clean living or being moral. There will be some overlap between the two, especially in certain outward actions. But righteousness is vertical.  It requires worship and belief in  God and His Son Jesus Christ. Righteousness is conformity to Christ. It requires confession when conformity is lacking. Righteousness is internal. It requires an inner spiritual life that focuses on movement of the heart and mind toward God, as well as what we do with our hands, feet, eyes, and mouth.

Morality is not righteousness. When John tells us that we need to obey the commandments of God we need to see a picture of Jesus, not a picture of a good, upstanding, moral citizen.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Book Review: Finally Alive

Finally Alive: What Happens When We Are Born Again?Finally Alive: What Happens When We Are Born Again? by John Piper
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A good book on understanding the new birth. He spends a lot of time in I John, which makes sense. He does a good job showing why regeneration in necessary, how it occurs, and what are the results of it. He also nicely balances God's work and the necessity of means. God does not believe for us nor does God magically change people's hearts apart from the Word of God. I especially enjoyed his last chapter on how to be more proactive in evangelism. A really good book on this topic and worthwhile read for anyone working through I John.

What did I not like? Piper is still too revivalistic for my tastes. Too many altar calls in the book. Second, he has a low view of the institutional church and the sacraments. Both of those are almost non-existent in this book. Finally, I do not think he adequately addresses the continued presence of sin in the believer. That was not the point of this book. However, with all the time he spends in I John he should have explained more clearly how a regenerate person can keep on sinning. His view of regeneration is so dramatic that a natural reading leads to perfectionism. But he does not believe Christians are perfect. I did not think this tension was adequately explained.

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Let the saints be joyful in glory, let them sing aloud on their beds, let the high praises of God be in their mouth, and a two edged sword in their hand, to execute vengeance on the nations, and punishments on the peoples; to bind the kings with chains and their nobles with fetters of iron. Psalm 149:5-8