The Seventh Commandment: H.C. Question 108

What does the seventh commandment teach us?
 
Leviticus 18:30 – Keep my requirements and do not follow any of the detestable customs that were practiced before you came and do not defile yourselves with them. I am the Lord your God.’”
 
Ephesians 5:3-5 – But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of
greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.
 
Jude 22-23 – Be merciful to those who doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.

1 Corinthians 7:1-9 – Now for the matters you wrote about: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband. The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. I say this as a concession, not as a command. I wish that all of you were as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.

Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.
 
1 Thessalonians 4:3-8 – It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister. The Lord will punish all those who commit such sins, as we told you and warned you before. For God did not call us to be
impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit.
 

Hebrews 13:4 – Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.



Ephesians 5 – Mutual Submission

Read Ephesians 5

Ahhh, that great chapter on marriage.  Much of what Paul has been talking about continues in the first section of this chapter, living the life that God has called us to live, showing love to each other as Christ has shown His love to us.

Paul then moves on to a more specific application looking at specific relationships; husband and wife, parent and child, slave and master (or perhaps a more contemporary translation, employee and employer).  Each one of these relationship examples is a practical application of living out the Christian life, or as Paul writes, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

All of it finds its credence in the first section as Paul explains what he means using the example of the marriage relationship.  None of this “submission” is meant to create power gaps or abusive relationships, but rather it takes its cue from Jesus Christ who is the example of what true love and submission mean.

Contrary to what some believe, this is one of the most beautiful images of marriage in which both individuals are actively placing the other higher than themselves.  The language of submission is not popular in today’s world because it has been abused by so many and led to a great deal of hurt.  We also don’t like to be told to or involved in actively making ourselves vulnerable.  Certainly, it was never God’s intent or purpose to place people in abusive situations.

That said, when this idea of submitting to each other, to actively loving and valuing the other above our own interests is lived out, taking its cue from Christ, the result is a beautiful relationship and a tangible image of the love that God has for us.

The marriage relationship is one that uniquely images Christ’s love for us.

This, then, can be seen in the other relationships that Paul mentions in the beginning of the next chapter as well, all dictated by the language of mutual submission… or placing a higher value on the needs of others rather than our own.



1 Corinthians 7 – #marriedlife

Read 1 Corinthians 7

Paul would seem ill-equipped to talk about being married, having never been so himself.  In fact, he states often that he sees his position as being better than actually being married.  It is important to understand that Paul is not setting up an argument for people to not get married, or even to get divorced.  Rather, he is continuing in the same line of thinking that he has been for the past two chapters, to stay away from sinning and thus damaging the witness of the church and the message of the Gospel.

All of this is coming in response to the information that Paul heard about the actions of the corinthian church.  Rather than being set apart for the Gospel, as those who believe in Jesus Christ are called to be, they have been behaving in ways that not only damage the witness of the believers but are also detestable to outsiders as well.

His tone also indicates that his greatest desire for believers is to be dedicated to the ministry of the Gospel, having their lives set apart for God and their focus placed solely on Him.  Simply put, Paul says that this is significantly easier for those who are not married.  That said, he also recognizes that being perpetually single is not for everyone.

No matter where we find ourselves in life, there will be trials and difficulties that will come our way.  Being single, or married for that matter, doesn’t change that; neither is a sin.  Paul’s desire for them, though, is that their priorities would be kept straight and that God would be at the center of their lives.  When this happens, even those that are married to unbelieving spouses will see the impact of God’s love and grace on those they love.



RCA and Human Sexuality

Recently, a Special Council of leaders and members of the Reformed Church in America met to discuss the issue of human sexuality.  This meeting took place as a result of the actions of RCA General Synod 2015.  Specifically, this council was tasked with discerning a “way forward” in the denomination as it pertains to human sexuality, marriage, and ordination.  The council met on the dates of April 15-18 in Chicago.

The Reformed Church in America has been addressing the issue of human sexuality for several decades now.  However, this discussion has become much more prominent in RCA meetings at all levels as the issue of human sexuality has taken the center stage of cultural relevance.  There has been, in my opinion, the general consensus from those on both sides is that it is time for the RCA to settle this matter.  Therefore, the purpose, at least on some level, for the “Special Council” was to discern and recommend a way to do so within the denomination.

While the council itself was not open to the public, a report from the council’s leaders has been made available for those who wish to read it.  I have made copies of the full report available in here: 2016SpecialCouncilReport and also the mailboxes underneath the staff mailboxes at church.  You are welcome to take one for your reading if you would like.

The council made several recommendations to General Synod that will go before that meeting for a vote.  General Synod meets from June 9 to June 14.  Below you will find these recommendations and some of my thoughts on them.  My thoughts come both from my study of Scripture, my beliefs, and my understanding of what has happened/been happening within the RCA over the past several years.  I also want to encourage you to pray diligently for the RCA right now as this will likely be a crossroads for us as a denomination.  In many ways, we need to get past this issue so that we can return to the mission of the church, rather than quarreling among ourselves.  I firmly believe that both sides want this and the “Special Council’s” work reflects that.  The time for a decision has come and I believe (and hope) that the question will be called this year, whatever the repercussions are.

Please note: in talking about this subject it is important for us to be hospitable and loving toward those who may be struggling with this in their lives, whether personally or through close family or friends.  It is my goal, always, to show this love and understanding in my words, actions, and even preaching, while maintaining what I believe to be Biblical Truth regarding this matter.

On the following page you will see a list of recommendations and commentary that will be in the following format:

Recommendations for General Synod (to be voted on this year)

Commentary from the “Group of 5,” the past 5 presidents of General Synod and the leaders of the Special Council

Commentary from Pastor Jon.

I will be available after church on June 5 and again after General Synod on June 26 for open discussions regarding this subject and what is or may be coming at General Synod next month.  I welcome your thoughts and questions.

 

RECOMMENDED ACTION OF GENERAL SYNOD: To reaffirm:

 

  • That authority and responsibility on ordination of ministers of Word and sacrament rests with the classis by adding clarifying words to the BCO.
  • That authority and responsibility on marriage rests with the consistory and classis by adding clarifying words to the BCO.

 

Observation from the Group of Five: This recommendation appears to have a higher level of consensus from among the ten groups. Nine groups mention this recommendation and seven mention the liturgy changes below. The difference is slight, but should be noted.

Classis authority on matters of oversight and judicial matters with both churches and its ordained member pastors has always been part of the governance of the RCA.  We currently work under the authority of the Southwest Michigan Classis, a body that helped to oversee the transition of this church over the past several years.  This is, in fact, how the denomination has been operating for many years in regards to the issue of human sexuality.  This has presented a problem for some as some RCA churches have married same-sex couples and ordained openly homosexual pastors.  As there is no way to bring charges against those in other Classes who violate what they (and I) consider to be the Biblical definition of marriage between one man and one women, and the current RCA marriage liturgy affirms, this creates a rift in the RCA where as a denomination, matters of “Biblical Truth” are subjective to the classis in which they are interpreted.

There are options here, given some of the structures that are in place where, if a church found itself in a Classis affirming something they disagreed with, they could petition to move to a different Classis.  The problem, however, still remains, that elements of the denomination that a church is affiliated with are still disparate from what that church believes.  Is it possible to still “do ministry” in such an environment?  I think so.  Could it cause potential problems?  I think so.

Ultimately, according to our polity (the way our governmental structures are set up in the RCA), the decision of which services of worship are allowed and not allowed within a particular church rests with the Elders of that church.  As far as I know, the Classis cannot determine this for a church except in the case that they deem the consistory, the elders, and/or its pastor to be supporting and/or promoting doctrine that was heretical in nature.

 

RECOMMENDED ACTION OF GENERAL SYNOD: To change the constitution through amendments to the liturgy.

 

  • General Synod would approve an amendment to our marriage liturgy defining marriage as “between a man and a woman” and send it to the classes for ratification.
  • General Synod would approve an amendment to our marriage liturgy defining marriage as “between two persons” and send it to the classes for ratification.
  • Candidates for ordination will affirm and embody the RCA’s constitutional marriage liturgy in ministry and practice.

 

Observation from the Group of Five: We believe the council was aware that the first two liturgy recommendations might appear to be contradictory. However, by offering both of them, the General Synod and the church, through its classes, will either declare marriage is “between a man and a woman” or “between two persons.” If neither receives the necessary 2/3 support of the classes, the RCA is not prepared to constitutionally mandate either.

The first two options of this may indeed seem contradictory, but I think it is the Council’s way of “calling the question” as it pertains to this subject.  However, the process for this is long and complicated.  If either one of these amendments to the RCA marriage liturgy are approved at General Synod 2016, the amendment then it sent for the classes of the RCA for ratification.  Two thirds of the Classes must approve it to be ratified.  So, even if General Synod is packed with people that lean one way or the other, it is not a done deal until General Synod 2017, if at all.  This may come as some form of comfort or will be a source of considerable angst for many.

The fact that candidates for ordination will be required to “affirm and embody” the RCA’s constitutional marriage liturgy is also important.  It means that anyone seeking ordination within the RCA must abide by this decision, whatever one (if any) is made.  

Also important to note here is that already ordained pastors have pledged to uphold the constitution of the RCA.  This may present a problem for me in the future should I be “forced” to uphold something I cannot in good conscience, or as a matter of faith, agree with.

One other thing that bears mentioning is what happens if neither of these amendments gets passed.  If that is the case, we continue to live in a place of indecision.  Sadly, I forsee this being yet another way that the enemy will work within the denomination to divide and deter us from ministry.  Whatever the outcome, I think this needs to be defined here in our bylaws.

 

RECOMMENDED ACTION OF GENERAL SYNOD: That Synod establish at least one affinity classis that includes people and congregations regardless of their perspective on human sexuality to ensure and allow relationship and mission together.

Observation from the Group of Five: This recommendation did not receive the frequency of mention as the others above. However, it might provide a way for those with differing interpretations of Scripture to remain in the RCA. While we do not see it as having the level of consensus of the others, the idea was frequently mentioned throughout the meeting of the council. We believe it worthy of General Synod attention and would suggest it may also be seen as an issue of implementation.

While I am not entirely sure what an “affinity classis” would look like, this idea is not a new one for the RCA.  There have been Classes formed based largely on similar demographics and mission.  The “City Classis” is one example being a Classis formed by RCA churches in urban settings.  As we often experience here, the needs of churches in Kalamazoo are drastically different from our out here in Hopkins.  Thus, affinity Classes like City Classis are beneficial for the mission of the church.

Having an affinity Classis based on different church’s interpretation of Scripture when it comes to human sexuality, though, is troublesome at best for me.  Would it be a place of inclusion?  Certainly.  However, would it also be a place of division within the denomination?  I think so.  An argument could be made for a number of other Biblical issues that may not yet be solved too.  Should we have an affinity Classis for those who read that the next great cultural issue is either for or against Scripture?  Rather than embracing our brothers and sisters in the midst of disagreement, keeping the unity of the Spirit, we would be dividing ourselves up based on what we “like” and what we “dislike.”  I’m not sure if I can see the wisdom in this.

 

RECOMMENDED ACTION OF GENERAL SYNOD: That Synod instruct the General Synod Council to appoint a task force to explore and articulate the options and consequences within the RCA for grace-filled and orderly separation over time, should the different perspectives regarding human sexuality keep us from remaining as one, for report back to the 2017 General Synod.

This is an Additional Recommendation from the Group of Five: In addition to the constitutional recommendations listed above, it was clear to the Group of Five that there was another implementation concern that was voiced by many of the participants and needed to be dealt with in a timely manner. Implicit in the recommendations from the ten assigned small groups was a common concern that if it were not possible for some congregations and classes to stay together with the RCA after whatever actions are taken, there would be a way for grace-filled, orderly separation over time from the RCA. Therefore, believing that we speak to the spirit and intent of the special council participants, the Group of Five offers this additional recommendation.

I think that this is the most obvious recommendation that would have come out of the Special Council.  Whatever the outcome here, there will be people and churches that are unhappy and desire to leave the denomination.  What is actually important about this is not the fact that there could be separation, but that the council hopes for one that is orderly and full of grace.  There are a lot of things wrapped up in the issue of human sexuality, but I believe the hope of the RCA is that, no matter what the course, our actions stand as a testimony to who we are in Christ and that we can indeed love each other through our differences.



Day 332: 1 Corinthians 5-9; Questions and Answers

There are two main purposes that Paul had in writing this letter to the church in Corinth.  The first reason, as we saw yesterday, was to deal with some pretty major issues that the believers were dealing with.  Some of the first things that we saw Paul addressing in this community of faith were divisions that had cropped up among them.  People were raising up the teachings of some higher than that of others and this was causing a divide among them.  After addressing that, we see today that Paul is moving on to what one of my Bibles calls “disorder” in the church.  I would say this is an understatement as the first thing that is brought up in 1 Corinthians 5 is that of incest.  To be honest, I think this passage is a bit shocking for many people to read as we don’t hear much about incest today… but issues just as horrific as this are present in church communities across the world aren’t they?

We’ve seen hundreds of clergy, religious leaders, and pastors brought into the public eye for the criminal sexual abuse that they had been committing over the course of many years.  The Roman Catholic church is still reeling from the vast number of pedophilic church leaders that were brought into the public eye over the past decade.  Even more people turn a blind eye to the domestic issues of people within our congregations as well.  Child and spousal abuse run rampant throughout our communities and we look the other way.  I wonder what Paul was referring to when he was talking about the boasting of the church in Corinth.  Could they have been honestly been proud and boasting about this man and his “father’s wife” (aka. HIS MOTHER)?  Or maybe it was that they were boasting about the great community that their church had while turning a blind eye to this particular happening.

That might hit a bit more close to home for us.  We talk often about our churches and how we can make them more welcoming, ignoring the fact that people in oppressive relationships walk through our doors every week and we do nothing for them.  Paul doesn’t mince words when he talks about this stuff going on.  “A little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough,” he says.  He says too that we need to get rid of these people; remove them from the body.  Now, I think that this may seem a bit harsh, especially for today’s standards.  What about “let him who is without sin cast the first stone?”  It is true that, even as a community of faith, we are all sinners.  Yet in our redemption through Christ’s blood we are called away from a life of sin and into that of Christ.  Anyone living in sin like this, blatantly disregarding the Word of God, ought not to be allowed among other believers who may also fall into this lifestyle.  Church discipline is one of the most difficult things that a Church has to do, and it is not the Church’s way of allowing itself to be the judge and jury, but rather something that is done in love in an effort to correct and reconcile a person or people.  Never are we called to hate the sinner, lest we would find ourselves filled with self-hatred, but rather to understand that the Love of Christ is poured our for them as well as us, in equal measures.  Corrective action such as church discipline, like that which Paul speaks of here, is ultimately meant to awaken someone to that love so that they may turn from their ways and be healed.

The second main purpose of Paul’s writing this letter to the church in Corinth is to answer questions that the church apparently asked him in a prior correspondence.  Paul makes a sharp transition towards these questions, which he will address throughout the rest of this book, in chapter seven.  These folks had a lot of interesting questions that came up for Paul.  While Paul addresses a great many things around the subject of marriage and singleness, as well as that of food that is sacrificed to idols, and even Christian freedom, all of it revolves around the same point: keeping Christ at the center of it all.  Note that Paul advice on marriage doesn’t have so much to do with marriage as much as it has to do with living a life that is pleasing to God and ultimately following and growing in Him.  Even for those that are “unequally yolked” in marriage to a non-Christian, Paul encourages them to continue in that relationship.  He says that the unbelieving spouse will be “sanctified” by the believing spouse.  There is much discussion around this topic, but what Paul writes here is quite clear.  The use of the word ‘sanctified’ is also very telling as sanctification has to do with the continuing work of the Holy Spirit on the lives of people.  Perhaps Paul is revealing how the Holy Spirit would be working in the lives all family members through the life of a believing member.

Paul has much to say, and I think it deserves noting here, about divorce as well.  “To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband.  But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.”  In a culture where divorce happens to almost one in every two marriages, even in the church, this is a very telling statement and I think that it stands pretty well on its own.  There are often debates about situations of spousal abuse, etc.  I would submit that these are not what is being addressed here and are special situations.

Finally, Paul turns his attention to Christian freedom.  A lot of what he says here also stands on its own and needs little explanation.  The main thrust of what he is saying is that, like he writes to the church in Rome, being free from sin and given salvation does not grant the right to live however we want.  Paul didn’t do whatever he wanted, instead he did whatever was NEEDED to win more people for Christ.  This, I think is very important, and not something that we can just do when the need strikes.  Like an athlete that trains for each game, not knowing what will happen when he or she plays, Paul too says that he did and we must work hard so that we can be ready to win people for Christ at any time, wherever we are.



Day 196: Song of Solomon 5-8; Love Song of Love Songs (part 2)

So yesterday we talked about love in today’s culture.  There seems to be a lot of misconceptions about “love.”  Sadly, our culture does a great misuse to this word, infusing it with all the sexual innuendos and experiences that it has to offer.  We have traded true love for cheap lust, the gift of sex for meaningless pleasures, and the lasting covenant of marriage for a string of one-night stands and throw away relationships.  Everything seems to be turned on its head; culture has taken all that has been given to us by God and made it into a sinful abomination.

There is more to this book too though, more than just a love song between a man and the woman to which he is going to be married.  There is also more to this book than the appropriate modeling of what clean, pure, Biblical love looks like.  The standard that is set here is high; the standard of a man with eyes for the one that he loves, of a man who cannot wait to be married to his bride to be.  I see this as being so different from the idea of what marriage is, or how we are to be excited for it.  As I prepare to be married and seek advice from those already married, I’ve been encouraged to enjoy being single.  People describe marriage as a “Ball and Chain” or even relate it to like “being in prison.”  We are taught to see marriage as a hindrance to our individuality rather than an amazing addition to our lives much less something we are actually looking forward to.

More than that though, Song of Songs is about love… true love.  Love and marriage are things in our lives that help us to understand the love that God has for us as well.  Marriage is something that the Bible uses again and again to talk about the love that God holds in His heart for us.  In the New Testament, the Church is called the bride of Christ.  Some of the prophets relate the people of Israel as if the whole nation were God’s wife.  As we read through Song of Solomon and as we gather a much clearer view of the passion, feeling, and attraction that the husband and wife have for each other, we begin to see a picture of how Christ loves us.  This is a sacrificial, self giving, unconditional love with which He loves us.  Throughout Scripture this is a continuing motif and appears again and again.  Many times these Scripture verses are misinterpreted as ways that one spouse can get the other to do something or act a certain way, but this too is a gross misinterpretation.  The love that spouses have for each other is to be modeled after the love that God has for us.  This is the type of love we are called to as Christians… it is counter-cultural… but this is how we are loved by God and this is the love we are to pass on to our spouse, our children, and our neighbors.



Day 195: Song of Solomon 1-4; Love Song of Love Songs

I can honestly say that I do not remember learning about this book in Sunday School.  I’m sure most Sunday school attendees don’t.  I don’t believe I have ever heard it used as the topic for a sermon either.  Many times, though, I have been told to avoid this book, that it is the X rated part of the Bible that talks about all that dirty sex stuff.  Some people have even questioned the reason for having this particular book in the Bible.  What is the point?  Why is it here?  There is very little talk about God, and a whole slew of sexual references… clearly this doesn’t belong in the Bible…

Photo Credit: www.intelmin.org

Photo Credit: www.intelmin.org

That’s what some have said, I would beg to differ, largely due to the fact that the book is there, part of the Biblical Cannon, and therefore it is as Scripture says in 2 Timothy, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”  I also think, that in a culture that is grossly over sexualized and the church disturbingly comfortable (or perhaps silent) in regards to the amount of sexual imagery and promiscuity that is present even within its walls, Song of Solomon (also know as Song of Songs) stands as a testimony not only to appropriate Love and Sex, but to God’s will for it as well.

Song of Solomon Photo Credit: www.religion.lilithezine.com

Song of Solomon
Photo Credit: www.religion.lilithezine.com

Solomon and his wife take turns complimenting and describing each other using metaphors that we most likely won’t understand without the socio-cultural context of the day.  It is enough to say that as they are describing each other they are using the most beautiful, strong, and meaningful words that they can think of, ones that do honor to the other.  Sometimes I think we tend to avoid this.  Our culture is overflowing with words that seek to objectify and even dehumanize the other for the sake of their sexual features.  It is not wrong to be attracted to someone, certainly we are designed for that, but the way that is modeled for us here in Song of Solomon is that of description that is motivated by LOVE, not lust.  Solomon and his bride to be are not saying these things to just any person on the street, they are committed to each other, they love each other, and in that they are free to express their love in the best ways that they know how.

We’ll talk more about this tomorrow including the relationship between a husband and a wife and how Christ’s love for the church is exhibited in this.  For now though, there is one repeated phrase that we read today that I think was very interesting:

I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem,
    by the gazelles or the does of the field,
that you not stir up or awaken love
    until it pleases.

The word “adjure” means to put a person on oath.  I think this phrase is interesting especially in the context of our culture today.  Maybe its because I’m getting older (I’m 29), but it seems like children getting involved in sexual things, even dating are getting younger and younger.  I guess I’ve noticed this in young girls especially, wearing more and more revealing, provocative clothing, going after older guys, feeling like they are’t complete unless they have some boy chasing after them.  My fiancee and I had this discussion just last weekend as we were walking the peer on lake Michigan and I observed that the girls that were running around out there didn’t look older than 15 (that might have been generous too) and were wearing some of the smallest, most revealing bathing suits I think I have ever seen.  But I wonder if this too isn’t a cultural thing, with more and more kids shows on The Disney Channel and Nickelodeon having a high level of sexual innuendos and having a great deal to do with dating.  As technology and access to everything increases, more and more our children are being taught the ‘normal’ way to live by the media rather than their parents (who seem to be increasingly absent as well).  Solomon’s wife-to-be here charges the women of Jerusalem to not do this.  I have to imagine that, in this day and age, she would charge our daughters to avoid these things, to find their true meaning in Christ and not the attention of a boy.

Maybe I’m just old fashioned… I hope not…