I Wish Someone Initiated Church Discipline Against Me

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.
-Matthew 18:15-20

Here, we find Jesus’ dreaded words about church discipline–what many wrongly see as a harsh and unforgiving process leading up to the ultimate punishment: excommunication. Phase One of excommunication is telling the sinner his fault privately. Phase Two of excommunication is bringing other Christians into the matter. Phase Three of excommunication is bringing it before the entire church. And the terminus of the process is the final phase: treating the sinner as a pariah and expelling him from your fellowship.

In my experience, most Christians shy away from these words. After all, we quite rightly don’t want our brothers and sisters to be excommunicated. What’s more, we worry that the process might be abused by a malicious member of the congregation. We’re afraid that they might sow strife and discord in the church and rouse up a mob against a brother or sister who is either innocent or whose sin is more of a peccadillo when compared to something as severe as excommunication.

These are understandable attitudes to hold, for there is a very real gravity to Jesus’ words here. However, they are also very misguided because they reflect a lack of trust in what Christ has given us–as though he were somehow setting us up to fail. And in this lack of trust we end up completely mischaracterizing these verses. These are not the phases of excommunication at all; they are the phases of gaining our brother. If we followed them, it would lead to more peace among us–not less. This remains true even when there’s a malicious person who wants to attack a fellow believer based on falsehood.

I came to realize this because, as I vented on Twitter a few days ago, my family was recently attacked by a malicious member of my congregation. And I truly wish they had followed Jesus’ instruction in Matthew 18.

To provide some background: I am the father of two boys, 3 & 5, with special needs whom my wife and I bring to church each Sunday. We don’t keep their condition a secret–we tell people who ask or who need to know. But neither do we announce it, and it isn’t obvious at a glance. Accordingly, I won’t go into further detail on the internet for the sake of their future privacy (and because we’re still working with doctors to diagnose our youngest.) However, I will say that it can be a struggle to get everyone ready to go on Sunday morning, and sometimes they can be a handful during the service–a little more noisy and restless than the average boys their age.

Nevertheless, we’re there in the front row every week because my whole family needs the Divine Service. We’re sinners, and each week, Christ delivers us the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation which he won for us on the cross. The Gospel is right there for each one of us every Sunday. So while it’s difficult sometimes, we nevertheless bring them to Jesus’ feet as per his invitation. “Lord, it is good that we are here.

But not everybody thinks it’s good for us to be there. Last Friday, my wife and I received an anonymous letter in the mail (no signature, no return address, everything typed including the mailing label.)  This is what it said:

Mr & Mrs Cochran,

Are you oblivious to the fact that your family causes so much disruption, distraction, & disturbance during the Sunday morning worship service at [church name]? From being late every Sunday morning to the frequent exits and re-entries during the service to allowing your boys to ‘free reign,'[sic] these disturbances not only affect other worshipers of the congregation, but the pastor (and his sermon) as well.

You may assume that you’re being good parents by allowing your boys to do what they want during the service, but you are doing more harm to them than good. You’ll realize this soon when they grow up a bit more and you have NO control over them. “Spare the rod and spoil the child” Proverbs 13:24

How you raise your kids is YOUR business, but please be more cognizant of infringing on the rights of the rest of the congregation.

Perhaps ‘parenting classes’ with an emphasis on church etiquette?   [Note: this last line is a dig at me personally because I’m currently teaching a class for parents/families on using Luther’s Large Catechism to teach the faith in the household.]

I have no problem calling this letter malicious. It is, of course, incredibly presumptuous. We’re by no means oblivious to the disruptions, and we’re certainly not giving our kids free rein. We’ve spoken to our pastor in the past, and he assures us we are not distracting him during the sermon. The people who actually sit around us understand our situation and have all been extremely supportive. The letter was definitely not written in Christian love–concerned as it is with their own supposed rights while our family is strictly “OUR business” until it interferes with them. And considering our children’s circumstances (which they mistake for a refusal to discipline) it’s effectively telling us to go away and stop bothering the rest of the congregation.

But even so, the worst part about this letter is the anonymity, and that’s why I brought up Matthew 18. When our brother sins against us, Jesus tells us to go to them privately–not anonymously. If they had come to us to tell us our fault–even if they were as rude as they were in the letter, which few people will do in person–we actually could have had a conversation about disturbances during the service. I doubt the writer even realizes that our kids have disabilities, but if they had spoken to us, they would have immediately learned about them. They could have learned that certain conditions require different forms of discipline that they might not recognize. They could have learned that they’re not truly speaking on behalf of our pastor or the people sitting closest to us as they presume. We could have talked with them about whether it’s more distracting for us to leave and use the cry room (i.e. the exists and re-entries) or to try and settle them down in the pew. We could have learned which things bother them the most and tried to find additional ways to mitigate them. We could have worked through the situation in love together–they could have gained their brothers and sister.

And if we hadn’t listened? If we were still at odds? Well, then they’d go to the next step and approach us with others in the congregation and we could all discuss it together where cooler heads might be able to moderate the conversation–giving them an even better chance of gaining their brother. If that didn’t work, it would come before the whole church where I know we have the love & support of our pastor and many of our fellow parishioners who could speak on our behalf–and also where there may be more loving people who share the writers’ grievances who could express them in more loving and constructive ways. We all would have had an even better chance to gain our brother. And because of that love and support that we have, I know with all certainty that we would never need to be treated as Gentiles and tax collectors. It would never reach the terminus because my congregation is far far better than that.

Likewise, if they had not been anonymous, I could have gone to them privately in response to this hurtful letter they sent and told them their fault. After all, they have sinned against me and my family. I could have explained our situation to them and sought ways to alleviate their offense. I could have explained Christ’s invitation to the little children. I could have explained the purpose of the Divine Service–that we’re all there to receive Christ’s gifts, not to have a carefully crafted experience as though we were watching some kind of play. I could have told them the blessings my children receive by coming to church which the writer simply doesn’t have an opportunity to observe.

For example, the previous Sunday, my youngest son acted out because he really wanted to go check out the altar when we went up for Communion and I wouldn’t let him. He was pretty agitated at the railing, and I understand if that irritated people–it irritated me. But any irritation was beautifully redeemed that very morning. It took me a minute, but once I understood what he really wanted–and had a chance to let him know that I understood–I was presented with a great opportunity. When we got back to our pew, I told him that the altar was holy–that God made it a special place–and that because of that, we act in a special way around it. I told him what pastor and the elder and deacon were doing up their during Communion and why he couldn’t get underfoot. And then, I promised my son that I would take him up to see the altar after the service was over. So I brought him up there, and I taught him how to pause and bow before ascending the final step because it was a special place. I showed him the altar. I pointed out the cross on it and how it reminds us that Jesus died for our sins. I pointed out the chalice and explained the forgiveness that Jesus offers in his Supper. I pointed out the Bible and how God speaks to us through Holy Scriptures.

And he listened with rapt attention the whole time precisely because he was so stubborn about wanting to go up there in the first place. He’s only 3, so he doesn’t understand penal-substitutionary atonement, the real presence, or the office of the keys. But he knows that God sent his Son to die for him. He knows that because of Jesus he’s forgiven when he does bad things. He knows that our church is a special place where God cares for us. So for now… he knows that there’s something at that altar that truly matters, and he’ll grow into the rest as he matures–as long as my wife and I continue to bring him to Jesus.

Yes, the person who wrote that letter hurt me and my family, and I’ll confess that I was absolutely livid for awhile. But even so, I don’t believe they have a heart of stone. I don’t believe that all those wonderful blessings I could have shared would have been completely irrelevant to them. I don’t believe they would have persisted in stubborn ignorance. No. Call me naive if you want, but I believe I could have gained my brother. And if I couldn’t reach them myself, there’s bound to be someone in the congregation who could.

But I can’t go to them because they remained anonymous. I can’t bring others with me because they remained anonymous. So I did the only thing left:  I brought it before the church.

Each Sunday, my congregation has its own tradition of “happy, sharing moments.” Before the service begins, pastor invites anyone to stand up and share something good that happened to them or a blessing that they received. I’ll admit that it’s kind of hokey, but there’s a beauty in that hokeyness. It gives each person in the congregation a chance to stand up and share something genuine with their brothers and sisters in Christ. After my wife and I spoke about it with our pastor the day before, this is what I shared (or at least my best recollection of it, as it was off-the-cuff):

My happy sharing moment is that we’re here. My wife, my sons, and I are here. And that’s a truly happy thing. Because this is where God forgives our sins–and God knows we need that. This is where we get to hear His word and sing His praises. This is where we encounter the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and that is very happy and very much worth sharing.

I know that not everybody here feels that way. I know that not everyone thinks its good for us to be here because we received an anonymous letter telling us otherwise.

But it is good for us to be here because of these wonderful gifts that God gives all of us every week. Satan would prefer that this church be completely empty every Sunday because he wants to keep each one of us away from that Gospel. Because of that, it’s often a struggle for people to come here. Maybe we struggle against the weather or against an illness or against our circumstances. But we made it! Every single person in the pews this morning is a failure of Satan–and a victory of Jesus Christ. So I am happy that everyone made here this morning; because this is something worth sharing with each other.

Did I gain my brother (or sister)? I have no idea because they were anonymous. I’ll probably never know. And there’s still a part of me that thinks maybe I should have just stayed quiet and ignored it. After all, I absolutely loathe drama, and I worry that because of the anonymity, maybe I accidentally sowed dissension or distrust in the congregation, or maybe I just made the writer angry and tempted them to further sin. I really don’t know. But I made the best judgement I could and said it anyway because I love my family and have a responsibility to speak up for them. And I did it because we ought to share our blessings and burdens with one another. And I did it because some deeds that are done in darkness should be brought out into the light. And I did it because just maybe it would change someone’s mind.

And that’s why I’m writing the story here as well. For one thing, we all need to keep Matthew 18 in mind–not as a threat point, but as a way to be open with one another about our hurts and grievances. If an offense weighs heavily on you, then confront the person about it personally rather than anonymously. Hear their side and let them know yours. And if you’re not willing to do so personally–if it’s not worth the inconvenience or the awkwardness of a conversation–then it’s probably not that significant of an offense in the first place.

On top of that, I know that my family isn’t the only “distracting” one in the Church. So to every last person who struggles to come to God’s house on Sunday morning, I want to encourage you:  Come! Even if you feel embarrassed, come. Even if you’re afraid somebody is going to give you the stink-eye, come. Jesus rose from the dead. He paid for your sins. He’s really present in the Supper, and when your pastor says, “I forgive you your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” forgiveness really happens for you. These things are always true no matter how anyone feels about you or how you feel about yourself–thanks be to God. And treasures like that are truly worth showing up for and bringing our kids to.

Posted in Christian Youth, Family, Gospel, The Modern Church | 9 Comments

More Deceit About Submission

I came across a rather useful proverb on Twitter recently:  “Anytime someone makes a statement no one disagrees with, you immediately know they’re actually saying something else.” It certainly came to mind as I read a blog post on submission in marriage by Keith Gregoire (husband to popular teacher Sheila Gregoire.) In it, he makes quite a show of boldly defending ground that no one is contesting:

Allowing your spouse to influence you and sharing power with your wife clearly leads to healthy marriages, but a marriage based around a husband making all the decisions without allowing his wife to influence him has an 81% failure rate.

So in short, actually listening to your wife and caring about her input enough to be influenced as you go through life together is actually a good idea that makes your marriage healthier. Well, I think we can all agree on that one. As controversial statements go, that falls somewhere between “water is wet” and “Iowa winters can be pretty cold.” Is anyone saying otherwise? Sure, the world is a big place and through the power of the internet, you can find a person who believes just about anything, but is there any significant opposition? Gregoire seems to think so:

In many parts of the Christian church, however, there is this very unhealthy philosophy that the man needs to make ALL the decisions and that the wife’s entire role is just to go along with it. To hear them talk they make it sound like a husband making a unilateral decision which the wife instantly submits to unconditionally is a more godly approach than having a mutually respectful discussion about the issue.

And along with this teaching comes the concept that the wife has no right to question the husband’s decision or to confront him if he is taking the family in a dangerous or unhealthy direction! I have actually heard teaching that if a woman were to confront her husband about a sin issue in his life, she would be herself sinning by treating him disrespectfully, so she dare not do so.

So where exactly are the many parts of the Church in which I can find teachings like this? Who exactly is he contending against? I ask because I’ve written quite a bit about Biblical submission over the years, and I think it’s fair to say that most American Christians today would consider me an extremist on the issue. Nevertheless, I’ve plainly written in support of Gregoire’s (obvious) contention that husbands should seek their wives’ input and consider it well as they lead their households. Neither have I encountered objections to it in any of the other extremists I’ve read on the subject. To be sure, there are times when a husband must resist his wife’s influence–wives aren’t any more sinless than husbands are. Nevertheless, this parody of submission that Gregoire describes as a “100-percent husband controlled marriage” is completely alien to me.

The only source he specifically mentions is Emmerson Eggerichs’ book Love & Respect. And apparently Gregoire and his wife have made it their mission to make sure everyone knows it’s “toxic.” So perhaps this post is part of their feud with Eggerichs and he’s the one forbidding husbands from allowing their wives to influence them? I haven’t read the book, so I cannot comment on its contents. However, it only took a few minutes of browsing his website to find pretty clear evidence that he’s not proclaiming a “100-percent husband-controlled marriage.” This post, for example, pretty strongly echoes Gregoire’s own (thus far uncontested) view. Accordingly, I’m rather dubious that Eggerichs is actually teaching what Gregoire describes.

So what’s Gregoire really saying here with this contention that basically nobody disagrees with? The answer can be found by analyzing his deceptive rhetoric.

The first deception, of course, is the blatant straw man that we’ve already described: this curious view that’s supposedly in many parts of the church but of which he has not named a real example. Again, I haven’t read Eggerichs’ book, but it’s pretty clear he teaches some form of submission of wives to husbands that Gregoire opposes but which nevertheless doesn’t really fall into the absurd category he creates. It’s also pretty clear that the Gregoires are from the teaching-submission-primes-women-for-abuse school of thought. It’s hard not to conclude that he’s falsely painting those who hold to the Biblical teaching as promoting his no-influence, husband-dominated marriages in an attempt to scare people away from it.

The second deception is the old “that’s just your interpretation” canard. He writes:

The idea they put forward is that their position is “the Biblical position” and everyone else is a compromiser following the “way of the world” or “man’s teaching rather than God’s.” This is a complete misrepresentation of the facts. What they are espousing is an interpretation of God’s word, not God’s word itself, but they phrase their arguments to suggest that if you disagree with them you are disagreeing with God.

From there, he goes on to recount the mostly-false story of Galileo being persecuted by the Church for teaching heliocentrism–a fable he’s apparently swallowed hook, line, and sinker.

I’ve written about this kind of “interpretation” deceit before at length, but the gist is this: Interpretation is not some kind of barrier between us and a text; its simply part of the substance of reading it. You can speak about the grammatical ambiguity of a text. You can speak about the poor reading comprehension of an individual or a community. But once you begin speaking of “interpretation” as a thing distinct from both text and reader which prevents anyone from actually reaching the text itself, then you’ve missed the mark.

People use this deception because it allows them to cast doubt on someone presenting the substance of a text without doing the hard work of actually making an argument against him. Inasmuch as a teacher’s reading comprehension of the Bible is accurate, then he is indeed teaching God’s Word. If you want to contend that it’s not accurate, then you actually have to explain from the text where his errors lie. And to be sure, we frequently need to do just that because, as Christ warned us, false teachers abound and lead many astray. Nevertheless, intellectually honest people don’t just label a view they disagree with as an “interpretation” and use that to casually dismiss it. Neither do intellectually honest people present a fable about some other time Christians have been wrong as though that somehow seals the deal. Merely presenting the possibility of error does not mean an error therefore must exist.

The third and final deception is a ubiquitous one when feminism intersects with Scripture: the conflation of power with authority. Like the critical theory which spawned it, feminism has no room in its worldview for things like ordinance or authority. Instead, it reduces all such things to disparities in power between men and women. As Gloria Steinem once put it, “Feminism starts out being very simple. It starts out being the instinct of a little child who says ‘it’s not fair’ and ‘you are not the boss of me,’ and it ends up being a worldview that questions hierarchy altogether.”

You can see this one at work in all the times Gregoire speaks of the importance of “power sharing.” You see, in the feminist mindset, all abuse must proceed from a power differential. After all, while it’s far more sensible to characterize abuse as the misuse of authority against its inherent responsibilities, feminists are effectively color-blind to authority and only see power in its place. Therefore, the feminist solution to any abuse must be to rebalance power between men and women in some manner. Accordingly, when this faulty reasoning is applied to Biblical submission in marriage, it can only conclude that wives should be wary about submitting too much lest they invite abuse by relinquishing power in the relationship. After all, relative power between two people is always a zero-sum game–one person’s gain must be another person’s loss.

This is why every feminist representation of Biblical submission is ultimately a misrepresentation. Rather than the stark black-and-white world of power, God gives a husband authority over his wife, which is a far richer and more colorful concept to work with. Unlike power, authority is always accompanied by responsibility and entitlement (and you can see that right in Ephesians 5 where husbands are instructed to self-sacrificially love their wives alongside wives’ instruction to submit.) So while any authority can be abused, every God-given authority is ordained for the good of those in its care. So teaching Biblical submission is categorically not teaching abuse because that Biblical teaching always includes the loving responsibilities for which the authority is ordained. Can the authority be misused? Of course. But if you intend to take away everything good that might be abused, your only recourse is to reduce creation to dust. After all, in our sinfulness, we can abuse every good gift that God provides.

Another key difference is that unlike power, authority is not a zero-sum game. Husbands absolutely do share authority with their wives in healthy marriages, but they do so by means of delegation. Again, this is inherent in God’s design of marriage in the first place. He created Eve to be a helpmeet for Adam as he reigned over creation. It would be awfully hard for Eve to help Adam without being given any kind of responsibilities, and she could not have been given any responsibilities without also being given the authority to carry them out. Neither could she be of much help if Adam never cared about her insights into those responsibilities. But Eve’s authority would have remained Adam’s, just as Adam’s would have remained God’s, for God is the one who told them to have dominion over the Earth. God does not lose his authority when he delegates to parents, to husbands, to civil government, and so forth. Neither do husbands lose authority when they delegate to their wives. Neither do wives lose their authority when it comes from God through their husbands.

Understanding submission in terms of authority rather than power actually defuses the selfish contention for power that characterizes so many marriages. Indeed, this is precisely what God warns Eve of when he tells her that her desire shall be for her husband but that he shall rule over him (the language for Eve desiring her husband there is the same used later on when God warns Cain that sin desires him). Whereas feminism breeds nothing but resentment because every gift by which her family gains is necessarily a woman’s loss, Biblical submission makes marital love and unity possible.

Submission is a tremendous blessing and a glorious picture of Christ and his Church. Shame on those who obscure God’s beneficence and portray it as evil–a group that includes both those abusers who do so by example and those teachers who deceitfully characterize Biblical submission as a curse. Trading Biblical marriage for a feminist counterfeit is truly selling one’s birthright for a bowl of pottage.

Posted in Family, Feminism, Law, The Modern Church | 6 Comments

What Schools Assisting Parents Might Look Like

In my last post, I considered an intriguing piece of Luther’s commentary on the 4th Commandment–specifically the idea that all temporal authority proceeds from parental authority–along with its key implication:  All temporal authorities exist for the sake of families because they are delegated by parents to assist in their responsibilities.

I also considered one of the most insidious ways these authorities become abused–usurping parental authority by absorbing their functions. Schools are, of course, the first place this has tended to happen in the West. Having been created for the sake of assisting parents in educating their children, they’ve largely become institutions that indoctrinate according to the ideologies of professional educators over and against the will of parents (consider, for example, a story a commenter on that post pointed out.)

Our public schools, of course, are where this abuse has most severely advanced. When it comes to respect for Christian values and the parents who hold fast to them, individual school districts and buildings are a crap-shoot at best and spiritual poison at worst. If they’re not already indoctrinating your kids on abortion, gender insanity, sexual degeneracy, and progressivism, they’re only a single teacher, administrator, or lawsuit away from beginning to do so. That die has long been cast.

Unfortunately, our private religious schools are often on the same trajectory. In many cases, they ape the values of secular education for the sake of things like public appearance, submission to the ideals of accreditors, SJW convergence, and the like. But even where they’re not adopting worldly standards and practices, many of the more insidious cultural attitudes can easily persist. For generations now, most religious parents have effectively been outsourcing the education of their children to modern schoolmasters rather than merely seeking their assistance. That is simply the normal way of looking at it in our society, and people must be convinced to adopt alternative perspectives.

Homeschooling is, of course, a wonderful alternative. However, it does not altogether eliminate parents’ need for assistance. Christians should not complacently allow homeschooling to become the *only* alternative for our brothers and sisters for two simple reasons:

First, not everyone can homeschool.  Yes, I know: there are a whole lot of people who really could homeschool, but aren’t willing to make the necessary sacrifices. I completely agree. That might even describe a majority of families. Nevertheless, there are other families dealing with relatively unique situations who genuinely cannot manage it on their own. Perhaps the family includes children with special needs that complicate matters in peculiar ways. Or perhaps one spouse isn’t on board with homeschooling for some reason or another. After all, even if the other spouse is convinced that homeschooling is the best path, it’s nearly impossible for them to do it unilaterally with antagonism in place of support. Even if most families really can homeschool, that doesn’t mean they all can. We shouldn’t be sanguine about leaving our brothers and sisters in Christ behind in this way.

Second, not everyone who really can homeschool believes that they can. Sure, folks in this category are incorrect in their belief. But like it or not, that error is a reality that must be dealt with. The old saw that you can do anything if you just believe is a lie, but at the same time, not believing is a very real obstacle. You’ll never accomplish something that you’re convinced is impossible for you. Once again, we need to consider our roles as brothers and sisters in Christ. Do we abandon them behind the obstacle they’ve made for themselves, or do we help them over it? We can’t do it for them, but it is possible to lower the barriers to entry.

With this in mind, what then might schooling look like? How could we conceptualize a school that assists parents who need it without either deliberately or absentmindedly absorbing their responsibilities? There are no doubt many workable answers to that question, but this is what I would like to see out of Lutheran education: We need schools that are designed around students having customized dual-enrollment in both traditional and homeschooling.

This means that there would be a school-building of some kind with employed teachers and regular classes that cover the necessary subjects of a classical education. However, the typical student would not be attending for the entire school day. Instead, they would be instructed in subjects of their parents’ choice at school during part of the day while their parents cover the other subjects at home. Some children might be in the classroom for 75% of the day, others for 25% depending on the child’s circumstances and the parents’ needs. In addition to the school’s paid staff, some parents would volunteer to serve in various paraprofessional roles in the classroom on a rotating basis–perhaps in exchange for some reduction in tuition or fees.

Assisting parents through this kind of model would come with a number of substantial benefits:

1) It would re-integrate parents into the education of their children.

As I wrote last time, we have the institutions we deserve. As parents, we facilitated the usurpers. Merely sending kids off to school to let the professionals handle it created considerable distance between parents and their children’s education. One of the reasons Christians have to worry about what kind of nonsense our children are being taught in government schools is because it’s become normal for us to be on the outside of education looking in. Rather than schools assisting parents, it’s become a matter of parents assisting schools–helping with homework, providing resources, making sure the bureaucratic procedures are followed, and so forth while schools take primary responsibility for educating.

By directly providing some portion of their child’s education–both at home as teachers and in the classroom as paras–parents return to their natural integral role. They just don’t have to do it alone. Teachers and parents can word side-by-side with transparency and well-defined roles to mitigate many of the current tensions. Students can benefit from the experience and knowledge base that professional educators can provide. Parents can benefit from the teachers modeling effective techniques for them. Teachers can benefit from the parents’ experience in dealing with their own children’s personal quirks and challenges. Everyone could potentially benefit from this kind of cooperative arrangement.

2) It would gently introduce parents to homeschooling in a guided fashion

Whenever parents look into the mechanics of homeschooling, the first thing we hear is always something along the lines of “you can do it however you want!” While that may sound exciting to some, the open-ended nature of the challenge is incredibly daunting to others. When you’re just starting out, you have no idea whether “however you want” is actually good for your child. Plus, while finding or building small homeschooling communities and cooperatives comes naturally to more extroverted parents, it can be extremely hard for introverts to ensure their children don’t end up in isolation. All-in-all, homeschooling takes an incredible leap of faith at the beginning before you find your footing, and to many parents, it feels like gambling their children’s education. That uncertainty is only magnified by a wider culture and older generations that are antagonistic and distrustful of the entire concept.

Having an established institution built around dual-enrollment could help ease this transition. Instead of having to figure out what “however you want” means for their children all at once, parents can use a comfortable school environment as a foundation as they discover for themselves that educating their children isn’t voodoo. They would be immediately surrounded by fellow believers who are at different points on the same schooling journey. They could begin with most of the teaching taking place at school, while they take advantage of the school’s resources to learn to teach at home. As they grow more comfortable, they may transition to more of a pure homeschooling approach. Or, perhaps their peculiar circumstances might still make that a bridge too far. Nevertheless, they can continue to be assisted in educating their children all the same because it can be easily customized.

3) It would be better equipped to serve children with disabilities.

This is an enormous drawback at most parochial schools. All you need to do to trigger a deer-in-the-headlights stare when you’re touring a Lutheran school is ask about a disability. To be sure, this isn’t really the school’s fault–most don’t have the resources to be truly adaptable to these kinds of challenges. They can’t forcibly extract funding from the general population the way public schools can. Nevertheless, it leaves parents of special needs kids out in the cold all the same. Some have no choice but to subject their child to a public school where they can arrange an IEP (individualized education program.)

In contrast, a school based around customized dual-enrollment would have a lot more options. This is where parents volunteering as a kind of paraprofessional would be truly invaluable. Rather than leaving the school to figure it out on their own, they could bring their own expertise on their child’s condition to the table. If they need one-on-one assistance in the classroom (as many IEP students do), a parent who is already used to handling the student’s condition could be there as-needed. And because other parents also serve in the classroom on a regular basis, it might create less of a stigma. While some disabilities might still be too much for the classroom to accommodate, this model is nevertheless far more adaptable than traditional schooling. It could always do more than merely saying “good luck with that” as fellow Christians are very politely guided out the door.

4) It would help build better communities among Lutheran families

This is something we desperately need in our churches, and it’s something that traditional schooling just doesn’t provide very well. It’s simply the nature of outsourcing work to professionals–fellow clients don’t usually form communities among themselves. And no matter how many PTO’s you put together, parents always remain on the outside of education looking in. But a school built around customized dual-enrollment would put parents on the inside. What’s more, they would actually be alongside one another as they’re facing the same challenges–getting to know each other and each other’s children. There’s far more potential to bond with one another in this kind of setting than in simply dropping your kids off at the same building every weekday and spending an hour or two in the same building on Sunday morning.

Families need communities based on more than mere proximity. American culture has become more antagonistic towards faithful Christianity–and even basic natural law–than ever before. Instead of making each family stand against these forces alone and figure it all out for themselves, why not have them stand together as they collaborate on resisting the darkness? As our institutions and communities fail all around us, we have no choice but to build new ones–why not do so rooted in a common confession of faith and common cause?

This is a bare-bones idea to be sure.  I’m not in a position where I can supply the millions of little details that would make it work in practice.  Nevertheless, when I ponder the challenges of Christian education today, I find my thoughts continually returning to this kind of arrangement. Christians in America are, I think, at a crossroads of sorts. Do we continue to drift along with our culture into oblivion, or do we reassess and rebuild according to what we say we believe?

Family inevitably lies at the heart of that decision. For those who do invest our flesh and blood in the future, our foremost responsibility is to raise our children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. Every parent needs to find a way to make that happen, but there are advantages to doing so together instead of in isolation. Whether it ultimately looks like this or like something completely different, I hope and pray that we find a way to replace or rebuild our failing institutions while we still have an opportunity to do so.

Posted in Christian Youth, Family, Musings | 2 Comments

The 4th Commandment & Temporal Authority

Over the past few months, I’ve been leading a study of Luther’s Large Catechism at my congregation. Most Lutherans have memorized Luther’s Small Catechism at some point in their lives–for those of us raised Lutheran, that’s a standard part of Confirmation as it covers the most basic essentials of the Christian Faith. But we do ourselves a disservice when we forget the Large Catechism as it offers us a great opportunity to revisit those very same basics but dive into them far more deeply. In doing so, we not only grow in knowledge that we may be better equipped for every good work, but we also grow in humility as we begin to understand just how little we know and how poorly we keep God’s commandments.

This study has been edifying for me (and hopefully for my students as well!) in many respects, but I was particularly struck this past week by a passage from Luther’s explanation of the 4th Commandment:

In this commandment belongs a further statement about all kinds of obedience to persons in authority who have to command and to govern. For all authority flows and is born from the authority of parents. Where a father is unable alone to educate his rebellious and irritable child, he uses a schoolmaster to teach the child. If he is too weak, he gets the help of his friends and neighbors. If he departs this life, he delegates and confers his authority and government upon others who are appointed for the purpose… So all whom we call “masters” are in the place of parents and must get their power and authority to govern from them… From antiquity the Romans and other nations called the masters and mistresses of the household “housefathers” and “housemothers.” They called their national rulers and overlords “fathers of the entire country.” This is a great shame to us who would be Christians because we do not give them the same title or, at least, do not value and honor them as fathers.

To be sure, all authority is ultimately established by God (this is His commandment after all.) Nevertheless, the way Luther describes it here, all temporal authority penultimately proceeds from parents by way of God’s explicit command to honor our fathers and mothers. And, of course, though we loathe to think of it in our feminist culture, that parental authority is most properly paternal authority—for God has explicitly established the husband as head of the wife and instructs the wife to be submissive to her husband. So in sum, whatever governing institutions we may be under, they exist because somewhere along the line, our forefathers delegated their own authority over their households to others in order to assist them with specific tasks.

To be sure, this assessment indicates that we owe honor and obedience to various authorities in this world—just as the New Testament repeatedly instructs Christians. Nevertheless, it also has a rather profound implication for how we ought to view civilization which we would do well to consider: All temporal authorities exist for the sake of families.

Like all authorities, parental authority is ordained in connection with certain responsibilities—namely, responsibilities to raise, nourish, and protect their children. Parents are the ordinary means by which God protects and provides for human beings during the rather lengthy period it takes for us to mature enough to even survive on our own. As Luther colorfully put it earlier, “Each child will discover that he has from [his parents] a body and life. He has been fed and reared when otherwise he would have perished a hundred times in his own filth.”

As societies grow more complex, it is certainly meet, right, and salutary that fathers should collaborate and delegate to a certain extent. It’s only natural for us to specialize in our economics and cooperate in our civics. Even in terms of civil government, when it comes to the duties that Paul lists in Romans 13—namely punishing wrongdoers and commending rightdoers—there are substantial limitations to what we can each do on our own. After all, vigilantism has some rather obvious drawbacks, and providing for the common defense has always been a struggle in a fallen world.

But as generation after generation becomes absorbed in the day-to-day tedium of life and civilization, knowing this nature and purpose of temporal authorities affords us an opportunity to step back and see the forest for the trees. After all, authority can be and often is abused—both deliberately and absentmindedly. Most obviously, of course, temporal authority is abused when divorced from its inherent responsibility–when the one in authority directs those in his charge for his own benefit rather than theirs. Abuse of delegated authority, however, can also come in the form of overreach-and this is a far more insidious variety.

Overreach cam occur with the best of intentions because it need not forget the responsibilities for which the authority exists; it need only forget the one who delegated the authority in the first place. You can think of it in terms of a steward who comes to believe himself the true king. Rather than executing the king’s will to the best of his ability, the abusive steward begins to execute his own will with the king’s authority. The reason it’s so insidious is because it’s hard to discern when the king and the steward are on the same page and only becomes obvious when differences of opinion proliferate and it’s somehow always the steward’s will that’s accomplished rather than the king’s. Instead of assisting the king in his responsibilities, the abusive steward absorbs his regent’s functions into himself.

It is now painfully obvious that many of those to whom parents have delegated their authority have become abusive stewards. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Luther’s example of the schoolmaster. Most parents in the West have enlisted others to educate their children. And as much as I adore homeschooling, I have to point out that this was not an entirely foolish decision on our part. Any father who wants his child to know significantly more than he himself does will need to enlist help at some point. And in the modern world in which science and technology have rapidly advanced, this hope became a relatively sensible expectation.

Nevertheless, the task of the schoolmaster is to teach the children what the parents deem important and oversee them in a way that parents deem appropriate. That is why the expression in loco parentis was once so frequently used at our academic institutions. It’s why so many of the rules we now consider quaint—like curfews, sex-segregated dormitories, and robust dress codes—were once commonplace in various levels of schooling. Teachers and administrators sought to govern their charges according to the ordinary sensibilities of the parents who entrusted them to the schools in the first place.

It would be hard to overstate how far our academic institutions have fallen from this.

This is most obviously evident, of course, is the fact that our public education system has taken it upon itself to teach all manner of nonsense that most parents abhor. We never asked them to teach our kids that boys are actually girls, that the right equipment makes fornication safe, that God is irrelevant, that nationalism is sinful, or that we’re all going to burn along with this planet unless we eat bugs and live in grass huts. No, this all comes from an education-industrial-complex that believes itself far more enlightened than the parents whom they often consider to be rubes and amateurs.

But you can also see it in the way relationships between parents and teachers have become so contentious over the years. Much of the time, we seem competitive rather than cooperative. I remember hearing one educator dismiss parental complaints about common core’s infamous new math as a matter of mere ego. Those parents, he thought, were just feeling left behind because they’ve found themselves to be too impotent to help with homework and are simply failing to cope with their own obsolescence. It was a pretty absurd point of view given the dismal failure of common core. But even apart from extreme attitudes like that, so many teachers see parents as overweening busybodies who are constantly micromanaging them, expecting their brood to be treated like special snowflakes, and interfering with their job of educating children.

And to be fair, that attitude is not entirely unwarranted because we do live in an age of helicopter parents who don’t particularly trust their child’s educators. Nevertheless, our education system has provided ample evidence that it’s infested with many untrustworthy and incompetent individuals. In a way, both sides are right and both sides are wrong—and it’s all because both sides have forgotten where educators’ authority comes from. A parent who understands that she’s delegating is only going to do so to someone she trusts—someone she won’t be trying to micromanage. Likewise, a teacher who knows she’s assisting parents isn’t going to go her own way on what’s best for their children.

While schools are the obvious example, this dynamic of absorbing rather than assisting the family is by no means restricted to them. Under the guise of assistance to poor families, our social welfare systems have effectively come to replace fathers. As evidence of this reality, one need only look at the rise of illegitimacy in those communities which made the most use of those systems. Our entertainment industry has likewise eschewed any respect for parents. In its schizophrenic need to simultaneously cater to the lowest common denominator and preach its pretentious social gospel like raving televangelists, Hollywood has wallowed in the destruction of the family—churning out product after product in which parents must be escaped and cliques are our only true family. Worst of all, rather than recognizing its charge to protect and serve American families on behalf of parents, our federal and state governments instead see their primary mission as micromanaging a collection of fungible individuals. As more Americans reject the challenge of family for themselves, more and more will ignorantly accept the backward notion that government is the ultimate authority which graciously delegates a trifle of its jurisdiction to the parents of its children.

But with this complaint about the state of society—those people—laid out there, we must also remember the far more uncomfortable implication of temporal authority proceeding from parents: The temporal buck stops with us. If the steward absorbs the king’s office, then the king has let it happen for one reason or another. The sad truth is that we have the society we deserve. We delegated our authority for our own convenience and, in our sloth, failed to supervise how it was used. We’ve broken up our own families—undermining fathers and even throwing them out of their homes. We’ve seen our children as inconveniences and sent them off to be educated by people who openly loathe our values. We’ve voted away our own authorities so that we could evade our responsibilities.

We are therefore left with two tasks. The first is simple: Repent. As is always the case when we look deeply and honestly at God’s law, we cannot help but notice our failure to abide by it. May God forgive us for our foolishness and ineptitude! And we know that He will because he has promised to forgive all who repent for the sake of Christ.

The second is just as simple but a great deal more difficult: Take our authority back. All of the authorities being wielded against us come from us. We need to withdraw our support from failing institutions. If we can do things on our own, we shouldn’t rely on them. If we can’t do it on our own, we need to either fix those institutions or build new ones that avoid our old mistakes. And yes, I know that’s all very abstract. Crystallizing these ideas into practical action is a lot harder, and I’m currently struggling with that just like everyone else. Some more entrepreneurial-minded folks on the right are already building their own platforms and institutions, which is fantastic. But that’s not most people, and it’s admittedly not me either.

So if we’re not yet up to thinking big, then we need to at least think small and begin with our own homes. Honor your parents. Learn skills and earn a living using them. Find a spouse and be faithful to them. Follow God’s design for the family. Actually have kids and invest yourself in raising them. Homeschool if it’s at all possible. Be involved in your church and defend it against error. Catechize your children yourself (Confirmation is great, but you can’t outsource teaching the faith.) Help and encourage them to marry well and have families. And as you carry out all these vocations, always resist the Lie—never use your authority to countenance the Spirit of the Age.

We can’t take our civilization back in a generation—things are too far gone for that. But though we can’t do it for ourselves, we can do it for our children—for our posterity. That is the only motivation that will do the trick, for civilization isn’t built in a day or a lifetime. It is, as they say, about planting trees in whose shade you will never live to sit. But rest assured: your kids are worth it. And God—having attached a wonderful promise to this commandment and having called us to such small and mundane tasks—will be well pleased when we take them up in faith.

Posted in Christian Nationalism, Culture, Ethics, Family, Law | 2 Comments

A Brief Spoiler-Free Review of Rise of Skywalker

Against my better judgment, I went to see Rise of Skywalker this weekend. Oddly, it was actually the negative critical reception that gave me a new hope (ba-dum-tish.) After all, these were the same idiots who loved The Last Jedi because it was subversive, and here they are complaining that it’s just more of the same old Star Wars. More of the same actually sounded pretty good. So how did it turn out?

Well, it’s definitely not offensively bad the way The Last Jedi was. Unlike Rian Johnson, J.J. Abrams actually wants fans to be happy with this movie instead of seeing it as an opportunity to give them the finger. He does his best to pick up the pieces he’s been left with and craft an epic end to a long-running saga. He has the three main characters go on a long-overdue adventure together (something that should have happened in Force Awakens.) He blatantly repudiates The Last Jedi on some key points and even throws in a bunch of enjoyable little touches and moments that would have made a good movie great.

The problem, unfortunately, is that it’s just not a good movie. It’s not impossible to enjoy it, but your enjoyment hinges on your willingness to accept “just because” as the rationale for pretty much every major development. The movie introduces all manner of big over-the-top ideas, but none of them flow organically from the saga thus far or even the movie itself. Most of the characters go through some manner of character arc this time around (a first for Rey). Unfortunately, they’re less “arcs” and more “seismographs” because the movie seldom pauses long enough for any reflection that would help us understand why anyone does what they do. Their experiences of triumph and tragedy fall flat because we were never given enough reason to care about them. The film rushes and rushes to make up for lost time–extending itself with an endless sequence of fetch-quests straight out of a video game–but the third installment of a trilogy can’t do both its own work and all the work of its predecessors.

And that’s really the unsolvable problem with Rise of Skywalker. If J.J. had full-on retconned Last Jedi (e.g. “it didn’t happen the way Rey remembered it because Palpatine were altering her perceptions” or some other excuse) it might have worked, but it still would have been nothing short of a miracle to pull it off well. As it stands, it doesn’t dig the hole any deeper, but neither does it escape from it it. Rise of Skywalker really needed a solid predecessor to set up all the big things that should be paying off in the final installment. It needed character development, foreshadowing, and a slower introduction of new elements–all of which should have happened in the first two movies. But it didn’t, and Rise of Skywalker never really adapts to that handicap.

I don’t blame Abrams on this one. He did his best, but he just wasn’t able to pull off the miracle necessary to make this film a success. If The Last Jedi was the freak accident that killed the new trilogy, Rise of Skywalker was the funeral. As director thereof, Abrams does his best to make the corpse presentable and cater to the family’s needs, but he cannot breathe life, and the result remains empty and unnatural.

Posted in Culture | Leave a comment

Is the Eternal Submission of the Son Heresy?

Christian theology is quite clear that Jesus Christ submits to his Father according to his human nature. But what about according to his divine nature? In other words, does the Son submit to the Father from eternity apart from the incarnation? This question of Eternal Submission of the Son (ESS) has come up in recent years in connection to the ongoing debate about Ephesians 5. There are hordes of feminists who believe that God’s command for wives to submit to their husbands is inherently denigrating–that it makes women inferior beings compared to men. In response, some of those who accept a plain reading of Ephesians 5 argued that submission implies nothing of the kind because even Jesus Christ submits to his Father. In other words, If it’s good enough for God Himself, why do you think it makes you less?

They will also point to the image of God as evidence for their claims. After all, in Genesis 1:27, it says “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” This explicitly connects our being male and female to our being made in God’s image. And, of course, biology explicitly connects children to our being made male and female. So you have men and women being of one flesh (both in marriage and in woman being made from man) and children who are the very flesh and blood of their parents proceeding from that unity. It would be pretty hard not to the see the analogy between a God who is three persons and one substance (with the third proceeding from the Father and the Son) and the way God designed humanity in his image.

But analogies have limitations, and we must be especially careful when it comes to analogies and the Trinity. After all, while humanity is, in a sense, God’s self-portrait in creation, that doesn’t mean God is the only thing we represent. Going right back to Ephesians 5, Paul points out that husbands and wives represent Christ and the Church to one-another. There’s no necessity that the submission in that relationship also comes from being made in the image of God when we know for sure that it comes from our being representative of Christ and his Church. So it is, perhaps, unsurprising that many Christians are now standing up to declare that ESS is actually an anti-Trinitarian heresy akin to some form of subordinationism.

But is that really the case? Heresy is, after all, a serious charge. It is not merely a false teaching, but a matter of having the wrong God or believing wrong Gospel under the guise of proclaiming Christ. Is ESS really an anti-Trinitarian heresy?

First, a few caveats:

1) Trying to determine Trinitarian doctrine as part of a debate about Ephesians 5 is a terrible idea. Don’t get me wrong, God’s design of the family is an incredibly important topic, and the Church needs to recognize the fact that we’ve largely abandoned God’s word on the subject. That’s why I’ve written about feminist rebellion at length.

Nevertheless, I believe it’s unwise to start nuancing Trinitarian theology specifically for use in that debate. The Trinity is an even more important doctrine, and amidst such contention, it’s just so easy to make poor judgments concerning it. Of course, one side begins with a hatred of God’s word, which is always a poisonous place to begin theology. But at the same, the other side’s temptation to alter/broaden Trinitarian theology for the sake of dialectical convenience more than Biblical truth is dangerous. We must always approach the Trinity with reverence–not with pragmatism in mind.

2) I am undecided on whether or not ESS is true. I really don’t know; I haven’t done the kind of rigorous study that would lead me to affirm or deny it. Because of my first caveat, I believe it’s something that needs to be approached with caution and without an ax to grind. That’s why, when I first heard it a few years ago in the context of people furiously working their whet stones, I didn’t really engage with it one way or the other.

So what changed? Why am I talking about it now? Well, it’s been an odd couple of weeks, and all of the sudden, I keep encountering the topic in different places seemingly independently of one another. Among those, many of the accusations of outright heresy are made in incredibly presumptuous ways that ultimately include error themselves. With those particular sparks flying, I think it’s worth grounding the topic a little bit. So while I’m not going to discuss whether ESS is true, I am going to consider whether it’s heresy.

So Is it Heresy?

The charge always seems to proceed from the idea that ESS is anti-Trinitarian. Orthodox Christianity teaches that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are of one substance, co-eternal, co-equal in glory & majesty, and so forth. The anti-ESS side contends that if the Son were in submission to his Father in his divine nature rather than simply his human nature, it would violate that teaching–relegating the Son to 2nd-class status within the Godhead.

But that’s not actually the case. The various forms of subordinationism (like Arianism) portray the Son or the Spirit as inferior with respect to substance–clearly anti-Trinitarian since we proclaim one substance and three persons. Submission, however, is a matter of relationship and therefore person–not substance. And according to orthodox doctrine, the Persons and their relationships are plainly distinct. After all, the Son is not the Father, the Father is not the Spirit, etc. Likewise, the Son is begotten, but the Father and Spirit are not; the Spirit proceeds, but the Father and Son do not. Accordingly, I cannot see how the core idea of ESS–that the Son submits but the Father does not–must be construed as anti-Trinitarian. While it would certainly be possible to formulate ESS in a heretical way, I cannot say that it must be heretical.

As long as we’re on the subject of heresy, it’s ironic that the reasoning of the anti-ESS crowd resembles the reasoning of Arius. He firmly believed that the Son being begotten of the Father clearly implies that He must have come into existence at a certain point in time (i.e. there was a time when the Son was not.) And if the Son is not co-eternal with the Father, then he cannot be God in the same sense, but is merely a subordinate deity created by the Father. Arius was wrong, of course, but he was wrong precisely because he projected a temporal and worldly understanding of “begotten” onto eternity without considering the ramifications. Begotten describes a relationship, but if that relationship is between two eternal Persons, then it no longer implies a beginning. The eternal Son is eternally begotten.

It’s a similar case when we take a divine perspective on submission or obedience. From the selfish perspective of sinful humans, submission implies inferiority because the person who submits get less of what he wants. Being bent inward by sin, we often think that one person getting more can only mean that this person is more important (leading us either to idolize the one who has more or to take what he has away lest he outshine us.) But if you remove sin and selfishness by filling the void with perfect sacrificial love, it’s an entirely different story. Athanasius’ image of the Trinity is three Persons who lovingly give themselves to one another so completely that there is only a single substance between them–one God. In such a relationship, there could be no loss through submission for everything always belongs wholly to each person. The substance remains the same despite any submission–each Person remaining coeternal, coequal, and so forth.

The same can be said when people object that ESS must imply a division of wills within the Godhead. After all, from a human perspective, submission must always entail one person setting their own desires aside for the conflicting desires of someone else–altering their will so that it conforms with the will of another. But notice that this reasoning entails a temporal if/then: If my will differs from yours, then I will change my own will to match. Such temporal mutability has no place in eternity. Perfect submission between two perfect persons eternally united in sacrificial love need not imply any division of will. On the contrary, perfect submission implies a perfect unity of will, for no Person seeks to take from the others but instead gives themselves completely. As such, the division of wills argument turns out to be a red herring. Submission suggests no such thing from an eternal perspective.

And this projection of either sinful or temporal reasoning onto the Trinity seems ubiquitous. I have yet to encounter a substantive objection to ESS that avoids projecting a worldly distaste for submission among humans onto any potential submission among the three Persons of the Trinity. Those who cannot fathom a perfect submission without the corruption of sin naturally seek to defend Christ’s honor by refusing to countenance the idea of Him submitting. But exactly what business do we have trying to dictate to the Son what is or is not appropriate in his relationship with his Father?

It is precisely that prejudice against submission that lies at the heart of the entire matter–which is why ESS does little to resolve objections against God’s command that wives submit to their husbands. On one side, many want to use ESS as a demonstration that submission doesn’t make a woman less because it doesn’t make the Son less. But on the other side, many are already convinced that submission makes women less, and therefore they cannot allow it to make the Son less as well. It’s effectively an example of one man’s modus ponens being another man’s modus tollens. It doesn’t really resolve anything.

Consider the two syllogisms at work. On the ESS side, we have the modus ponens:

1) If the Son is in eternal submission to the Father, then submission does not make one less.
2) The Son is in eternal submission to the Father
3) Therefore submission does not make one less.

On the other side, we have the modus tollens:

1) If the Son is in eternal submission to the Father, then submission does not make one less.
2) Submission *does* make one less.
3) Therefore the Son is not in eternal submission to the Father.

Neither argument undoes the other. Because both are logically valid, which one is sound depends entirely on the truth of the premises (specifically the 2nd premise since both arguments share the first.) And that leads us right back to the prejudice against submission. The problem is the fact that so many of us falsely believe that submission makes a person less. That’s not a Biblical teaching, of course. Submission to governing authorities does not mean that peasants are inferior beings compared to princes. Submission to parents doesn’t mean that children are inferior beings. Submission to pastors doesn’t mean that laity are inferior beings. Neither does submission to husbands mean that wives are inferior beings. Accordingly, if the Son submits to the Father, it need not make the Son an inferior being. But false or not, as long as worldly Christians firmly believe it, then arguments based on the eternal submission of the Son will never carry much weight.

Does ESS paint a beautiful picture of submission? Of course! What could be more glorious for humanity than embracing such a place in God’s self-portrait? The thing is, Paul already paints a beautiful picture of submission much more explicitly in Ephesians 5–being an image of the Church’s submission to Christ. The primary problem in the debate over Ephesians 5 isn’t that submission is insufficiently appealing. Faithful Christians will know that it is good simply because God commands it of us. The problem is rebellion against God’s word and ordinance–full stop. You can talk about abuse, inequality, unfairness all you want, but you’re only talking about why you’re tempted to rebellion. You can talk about how submission doesn’t really mean submission all you want, but that’s just a hypocrisy you place over the fact that you wouldn’t obey a divine call to submit even if you had never thought of that particular excuse. After all, if you’re honest with yourself about the timing, you’ll realize that you came up with the excuse after deciding that submission was bad. I’ve yet to encounter a woman who wholeheartedly strove to be a submissive wife because she thought submission was a wonderful & godly thing, but then changed her mind only after rigorous exegetical study revealed that she was submitting the wrong way the whole time.

So even if ESS is true, I don’t think it’s particularly useful when it comes to the controversy that brought it to mind. If we have faith in God’s word, then we will embrace His command to submit no matter how we feel about it, and thereby come to understand the goodness of submission eventually as our faith seeks understanding. Without such faith, we will dutifully believe the word of the Spirit of the Age, and at present, that means embracing feminism. Feminism won’t end because the Son submits to the Father; it will end because its suicidal for the cultures that embrace it.

What then of ESS? Given that it recently sprung up from a debate over Ephesians 5, I’m not sure yet that it will ultimately have any relevance outside of that context. When all is said and done, the ESS debate is probably going to end up in the same mass grave that feminism is bound for. Accordingly, it’s worth keeping the controversy in perspective. I have no problem with Christians exploring the idea of ESS. Neither do I have a problem with skepticism of it–on the contrary, skepticism is our duty on any new theology we encounter. But either way, let’s be careful. Let’s be careful about our enthusiasm for convenient theology. Let’s be careful about how we throw the H-word around against inconvenient theology. But more than all, let’s be careful about honoring God’s word and the key doctrines which proceed from it. After all, we have been given a great treasury, and it’s our responsibility to care for it all.

Posted in Feminism, Musings, The Modern Church, Theology | 6 Comments

How Christians Value Politics

The world is a den of murderers, subject to the Devil. If we desire to live on earth, we must be content to be guests in it, and to lie in an inn where the host is a rascal, whose house has over the door this sign or shield, ‘For Murder and Lies.’
-Martin Luther

It’s good for Christians to keep politics in an eternal perspective. By that, I mean we need to recognize that we live in a fallen world that will be destroyed in fire and created anew entirely apart from our politics. Our parties, our nations, our ideologies, and our causes will neither spare it from the fire nor immanentize the new creation. Satan is the prince of this world and our politics do no prevent us from living as guests in his treacherous inn. Nevertheless, he has already been defeated by Christ alone in a victory without politics that will be unveiled to everyone on a Last Day known only to the Father.

These things are useful to keep in mind because they temper our political zeal by reminding us where the cosmic buck really stops. As I’ve written before, placing the world on our own shoulders tempts us to desperation. When, for example, people take it upon themselves to end all suffering in the world because they think there’s no benevolent sovereign power, they will pay any price to make it happen. After all, we have to do somethinganything–if we are to have any chance of peace. The past century and it’s 9-digit body counts are a monument to the progressive political ideologies which would make any sacrifice for utopia.

They are also useful reminders that Christians need to keep the Two Kingdoms straight–not relying on the State to redeem souls or the Church to execute temporal justice. Though Christians have political responsibilities, the Church itself does not. What’s more, while there is a seemingly ever-growing necessity to condemn various political actions and advocacy under God’s Law, we must never confuse our politics with the Gospel. Whatever good political works the Gospel may lead us into, they are consequences of salvation rather than prerequisites.

But there is an important distinction to be made between keeping politics in perspective and trivializing them–an alternative that can be seen in tweets like this: [HT: Nathan Rinne]

It’s an example of a very common sentiment among contemporary Christians.  Statements like these are likely intended to provide perspective to political ideals, but in actuality, they provide nothing more than confusion.  The idea is flawed in several key ways:

First, it reduces service to neighbor to mere interest and entertainment, as though there were no greater relevance.

The implication here seems to be that people get caught up in politics as a kind of pastime or amusement; and because it’s here in Babylon, they aren’t engaging with anything more significant. The problem is that this isn’t God’s perspective on earthly politics. On the contrary, the left-hand kingdom is established by God for the sake of our well-being in this world. As Paul makes clear in Roman’s 13, the governing authorities are God’s servants for our benefit whose responsibilities include commending right-doers and punishing evil-doers.

This means that the people who fill these offices are tasked by God with important work in service to their neighbors. In the United States, a substantial measure of that authority is given to ordinary citizens, for our governing bodies were founded with ideals of self-government in mind. So when we engage in politics–even as voters and citizens engaging in political discourse–we are acting as servants of God for the good of our neighbors. If even God doesn’t dismiss Babylonian government as merely interesting and entertaining, why should we think it pious for us to do so?

To be sure, politics aren’t the only way of helping our neighbors. More than that, they’re not even the best way of helping our neighbors. A mother caring for her child or a man raking his elderly neighbor’s leaves is more fundamental to human happiness than any amount of blathering by talking heads. Nevertheless, all of our political officials, institutions, and conversations are ordained to be means by which we help live among one another peaceably. Since God has given us this work, we ought to embrace it rather than hold ourselves aloof from it in our false piety.

Second, it ignores vocation by setting all earthly allegiances against our ultimate allegiance to Christ.

As we’ve already considered, governing authorities–including citizens and voters in the United States–are servants of God. We have been appointed to care for a specific set of neighbors: American citizens. As such, we ought to have earthly allegiances to our nation and, for her sake, also to those organizations that truly hold her best interests at heart. And just like we ought to concern ourselves more with our own children and families than with others’, we should also concern ourselves more with our own nation and her politics than others. After all, God has called us to those tasks specifically by putting us where we are. We choose neither our parents nor the nation into which we are born–both are gifts of God.

Of course our highest allegiance must always be to Christ who brings us to our true homes. Nevertheless, we have lesser allegiances to our nations and consequent concerns for her well-being precisely because we have allegiance to Christ first.

Finally, it creates a dichotomy between “redemptive” and “not-redemptive” which is not terribly useful.

It’s true that politics are not redemptive–certainly not in the sense that Christ’s atoning death is. But that’s an argument that proves far too much. As one who believes in salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, I necessarily confess that absolutely nothing else is redemptive in that sense. God becoming man, dying on a cross for the sins of mankind, and drawing us into faith towards God is utterly unique. When something is matchless and incomparable to such a sublime extent, it’s not particularly meaningful to ding anything other than idols for not matching it or comparing favorably with it.

But in the end, it becomes worse than merely useless, because when taken to its logical conclusion, it effectively leads to nihilism with respect to this life. Caring for your children isn’t redemptive in that sense.  Feeding the hungry isn’t redemptive in that sense.  Writing a novel or painting a mural isn’t redemptive in that sense.  And no, politics isn’t redemptive in that sense.  Nothing you or anyone else does in their life is. If everything that isn’t redemptive in that sense is no more relevant than an entertaining curiosity while you’re stuck here in Babylon, then the sum total of all of our lives on Earth is irrelevant.

And yes, there is a reason that I keep saying “redemptive in that sense.” Ironically, this kind of nihilism blinds people to a different sense in which such simple and everyday work is redemptive. In 1 Timothy 2, when Paul explains why women aren’t called to the pastoral office, he instead points women to their unique early calling of motherhood. In doing so, he describes it in a remarkable way: “Yet she will be saved through childbearing–if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.” While Paul certainly isn’t saying women are saved by childbearing, neither is he afraid to speak of an earthly vocation as being related to one’s salvation in a turn of phrase that would make many Christians today aghast.

But then, Christ does something similar when he talks about the final judgement in Matthew 25. When he welcomes believers into his kingdom, he will say “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.” The righteous will be surprised at this, for even they didn’t realize that their simple acts of kindness to God’s people had such significance. Neither will the cursed realize the significance of their inaction.

Neither Jesus nor Paul are teaching that we are going to be saved by our good deeds on the Last Day. We are, however, going to be saved through them–they are inevitable stops along the way. These are the paths through which God leads us into eternal life–or, at times, through which He drags us kicking and screaming. God produces meaningful works in those whose faith saves them. Among those meaningful works are things like politics in which he calls us to serve the nation into which we were born. These works don’t redeem us, but they are fruit of that redemption which cannot help but to grow on the vine. If God’s work inevitable produces in this way, then who are we to cast shade on it all as merely interesting and entertaining?

It’s true enough that we shouldn’t place too much significance on politics or any other work. But what that means is that we are not to remove them from the place that God has given them. In their attempts to be piously above it all, many Christians do precisely this, using Christ as their excuse. But the Christian life isn’t a life in which we’re above it all–it’s a life in which God Himself brings us through it all.

Posted in Christian Nationalism, Politics, The Modern Church | Leave a comment

Zombie Heresies – Arianism Part 2

Given the extent of the division, how did the Church ultimately overcome Arius and his false Christ?

Thankfully, whenever Satan raises an Arius against us, God provides His Church with an Athanasius–along with the Holy Scriptures on which he stood.

Introduction to Zombie Heresies: https://youtu.be/WhXcjI52eO8
Arianism Part 1: https://youtu.be/HcLMoTxLi1M
Arianism Part 2: https://youtu.be/D-0Z_J-s7os

You can find more of my material at…
The 96th Thesis: http://matthewcochran.net/blog/
The Federalist: http://thefederalist.com/author/matthewcochran/
Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Though-Were-Actually-True-Apologetics-ebook/dp/B01G4KWQJW/

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Chick-fil-A, Conservatives, and the Nature of Satan’s Power

As you no doubt have heard by now, numerous media outlets are reporting that Chick-fil-A has cucked and reversed course on the charitable giving that has so enraged the rainbow mafia. In a recent statement, they announced that they were restructuring their philanthropy in various ways–focusing on education, homelessness, & hunger as well as moving towards annual grants rather than multi-year partnerships. In the midst of those changes, they’ve ended their relationships with the Salvation Army and Fellowship of Christian Athletes–the two remaining connections which drew so much ire for not toeing the Spirit of the Age’s line on issues of sexual deviancy.

So is this really a capitulation? I’ve heard a lot of conservatives dispute that. After all, Chick-fil-A says it isn’t surrendering–that dropping both of their most controversial associations was just an entirely coincidental side effect of their restructuring. Of course, trusting that would be the first time I’ve ever whole-heartedly embraced a corporate statement intended to save face with an incredibly loyal customer base that suddenly feels very betrayed. Their president’s interview with Bisnow certainly doesn’t help their case either. There’s a whole lot of talk about how much “clarity” this restructuring provides and how that clarity improves their ability to expand into new markets. It’s really hard to interpret that in any way that doesn’t imply laying down arms in the culture wars. On the contrary, the most natural reading is to see it as an attempt to rewrite history and imply that it was actually their historical associations with “anti-LGBT” organizations that were the real coincidences. So while it’s possible that Chick-fil-A pulled the corporate equivalent of accidentally throwing out grandma’s ashes while they were cleaning, I think it’s more likely that they just didn’t want them taking up space in their home anymore, and the “accident” was more of an excuse.

But alongside the conservatives who simply do not believe they were betrayed, exist a more insidious variety. These too-cool-for-school conservatives instead take the line that the capitulation simply doesn’t matter. It doesn’t bother them one little bit because such mundane concerns are beneath them. “Don’t put your trust in chicken sandwiches!” “Waffle fries aren’t sacraments!” “Chick-fil-A isn’t the Church and fast food isn’t the Gospel!” The rhetorical point of these pious ejaculations is to suggest that Christians who feel angry, betrayed, or disappointed were foolishly projecting spiritual relevance onto matters that were entirely mundane.

Back in 2012, some big-city mayors loudly declared “Not in my town!” to Chick-fil-A because they had supported charities run by Christians who believe what 99% of people who ever lived on planet Earth believed about homosexuality until about 5 minutes ago. Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day was organized in response. It was a huge outpouring of support from Christians who let the company know that (contrary to what the bullies wanted the company to believe) they didn’t stand alone–that they could succeed without caving. Progressive critics who are used to having a monopoly on activism quickly poo-pooed the situation. “All you did was eat a sandwich!” they fitfully shrieked. “It doesn’t matter!”

It’s strange that 7 years later, I’m hearing exactly the same argument being made by conservatives. It’s a fundamentally Gnostic way of looking at the situation. After all, the implication is that there is no relevance to day-to-day life. It doesn’t matter if you stand up to bullies. It doesn’t matter if you remain loyal to friends. It doesn’t matter if you refuse to back down for telling the truth. At the end of the day, it’s all just chicken and fries.

But it mattered in 2012, and it matters now. It matters because our life on this Earth and the vocations we’ve been given to do here matter. It is precisely in this physical world in which we are enfleshed that we participate in higher struggles. Paul makes this abundantly clear in Ephesians 6 where he writes “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” He tells us this with a “finally” at the end of a long stretch in which he discusses… (drumroll)  how Christian wives & husbands, children & parents, and slaves & masters properly relate to one another. In other words, it’s in the context of everyday mundane relationships. Before that, Paul provided instruction not to walk as unbelievers do. He told us to avoid simple everyday sins like callousness, sensuality, greed, or corrupting talk, and encouraged simple everyday virtues like telling the truth, working with your hands, and sharing with those in need. Its precisely in the midst of this daily grind that we most often meet Satan in battle.

The condition for defeat in that battle is also very simple.  For all his worldly powers and authorities, there is only one way the Devil can actually hurt us when all is said and done: He can convince us to believe his word instead of God’s.  Even when that deception comes in the form of temptations to sin, it’s not simply a matter of getting us to sin.  After all, we fall into sin daily, but Christ also forgives us those sins daily. No, our falls only permanently injure us when we refuse to get back up–when we decide that we like it just fine laying in the dirt. The Devil gets his hooks into us the moment we decide to believe something he says about our sins instead of what God says about them. It’s ultimately our choice to let him defeat us.

This deceit can take any number of forms. He can convince you that your sin is who you are–that it’s your identity rather than a corruption thereof. He can convince you that your sin isn’t really sin. He can convince you that what God says about sin is either unimportant or sinful itself. He can convince you that sin is permanent and inevitable–that you might as well make peace with it now because it will always be this way. His worldly power is used solely to make options like these seem appealing to us.

At present, one of the most popular tactics towards to which that power is applied is convincing Christians that they are being forever left behind by an inevitable march towards progress. He wants us to believe that sin is the inevitable future rather than a past which has been defeated by Christ. This is ultimately why we have all the codes of conduct, the hate-crime laws, the various -ist/-phobe labels, and the “no place in society of people like you” attitudes of the devil’s SJW’s. It is all about pressuring Christians into abandoning something they know to be true so that they can embrace something they know to be a lie.

The irony is that the pressure utilized by SJW’s is nothing more than what society cedes to them. It operates only when we ourselves decide to isolate or punish those who bear the labels they fling about like so much feces. What does it matter when the rainbow mafia labels you “anti-LGBT”–the very same label they give to Holy Scripture!–except when some chucklehead CEO or judge actually treats it like a legitimate indictment? That is the only power they wield, and Chick-fil-A just granted more of it to them.

Christians aren’t upset because a food vendor doesn’t share their values. That’s just business as usual. We’re upset because we just watched an organization which had been an ally fail in our common struggle against the devil by lending aid and comfort to the other side. What makes it worse is that it was an unforced error. They didn’t change their tune because their business was failing and desperately needed to keep the lights on. On the contrary, they’ve been enormously successful. Sure, they drew their fair share of hatred from the world, but they also continued to endear themselves to a growing customer base. We just watched them surrender on the field of victory because of mere words. It is meet, right, and salutary that we should mourn when an ally falls and believes the Lie–what kind of callous and indifferent boor wouldn’t feel anything?

It’s fair enough that those who genuinely believe Chick-fil-A’s official statement don’t feel that way. After all, they simply don’t perceive the defeat. I think they’re incorrect–time will tell one way or another–but we can disagree on such things without embracing the Lie.

The too-cool-for-school conservatives, on the other hand, are a different story. They feel nothing because they actually have embraced the Lie–just in a different way. Satan has managed to convince them to leave the battlefield behind by telling them that it would be beneath them to fight on it. After all, it’s just chicken sandwiches and waffle fries–the deeper values that other people see are just hallucinations which they’re too clever to fall for. They’ve convinced themselves that they will fight when it truly matters–they just haven’t found a battle that truly matters yet. They want to slay dragons, but look down on the day-to-day tasks which comprise the vast majority of soldiering on. Consequently, they pose no actual threat to dragons.

As for Chick-fil-A, they will realize very quickly that their new master is rather unforgiving. The rainbow mafia has already made it clear that their act of capitulation is insufficient. Nothing short of throwing their most loyal customers under the bus will do–something no business is going to recover from. Jesus warned us that that it profits a man nothing to gain the world but lose his soul. And yet, even worldly success is absent from this new path on which Chick-fil-A has planted its feet. How much more embarrassing must it be to trade away your soul for nothing at all?

Posted in Culture, Musings, Politics | 6 Comments

Zombie Heresies – Arianism Part 2

One of the great advantages to learning about history is that we can learn from all kinds of mistakes without having to make them ourselves. And boy, did people in the Church make mistakes when it came to a man named Arius.

Introduction to Zombie Heresies: https://youtu.be/WhXcjI52eO8
Arianism Part 1: https://youtu.be/HcLMoTxLi1M

You can find more of my material at…
The 96th Thesis: http://matthewcochran.net/blog/
The Federalist: http://thefederalist.com/author/matthewcochran/
Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Though-Were-Actually-True-Apologetics-ebook/dp/B01G4KWQJW/

Leave a comment