Them’s Fightin’ Words

Say what you will about the brutality of dueling, at least it was a mechanism which reminded men that their words have value–that they can be worth fighting over.

As we sit and lament cancel culture, it may be tempting to think this is still the case. After all, we experience conflict over words all the time, and certain kinds of speech have once again become personally dangerous. But while we may think words are worth destroying another person over, we do not think they’re worth fighting over. The “beauty” of the duel was that it was a two-sided fight. When an insult was offered, both the target and the insulter needed to think it was worth shame, injury, or possibly even death in order to proceed all the way to a duel. Otherwise, one would simply withdraw either the insult or the complaint.

Cancel culture, in contrast, is entirely one-sided. A mob conspires to go after a man’s reputation, his livelihood, his family, his life, and anything else they can destroy. All this they do without any real threat of reprisal. That’s why the mob is far quicker to pull the trigger on violence than any duelist–they have no skin in the game themselves. Cancelling is no less brutal than dueling, but it provides cowards with a risk-free path to the violence they wish to inflict on their enemies.

Given such circumstances, it shouldn’t be surprising that many people who desire to publicly gore our culture’s sacred cows will use pseudonymous accounts on social media–they write under persistent handles rather than their real names. After all, there is no such thing as engaging the mob on equal terms. Public discourse is no longer a fair fight, and acting as though it were is a delusion that can lead to severe consequences.

Nevertheless, I’ve observed a great many Christians deride pseudonymity as cowardly. Some of them do so because they are too out-of-touch to truly understand the nature of cancel culture. Others, unfortunately, do so because they themselves are part of the mob. They allow the world to teach them when to be offended and react with all the fury of an SJW when it comes to non-sins like racism and sexism (though they usually try to create a false contrast with the radical left by appealing to “real” racism or “real” sexism.) Of these two types of Christians, only the latter desire to dox, but both join together in accusing the pseudonymous of cowardice.

This is a fundamental misunderstanding of courage, and I’ve witnessed a number of exchanges recently that have made this plain. They’ve gone something like this:

1: Why don’t stop hiding behind an anonymous Twitter account and put your name on your words, you coward.
2: Well, why don’t you and me step outside and we’ll settle this like men, you coward.

By themselves, there’s nothing particularly remarkable about either of them. But what stood out to me was how many people would cheer on #1, but then immediately decry #2 as childish bravado. Making threats, you see, is beneath such fine, upstanding, and mature men.

This is nonsense. If you really believe such threats are just machismo, then there is no functional difference between the two statements in that respect. You should be condemning both. Make no mistake: “Step outside so we can fight” and “Dox yourself so we can cancel you” both threaten violence in 2023 America. Boomers might be oblivious enough to believe otherwise; but anyone else who would deny the equivalence is likely part of the mob trying to passive-aggressively obscure their attempted attack.

But while both threats are paired with an accusation of cowardice, they are differentiated by the aforementioned difference between dueling and cancelling: whether or not the proposed violence is entirely one-sided. Demanding a dox is a desire to be able to inflict violence on a person from a place of personal safety within a mob. Demanding a fist fight is a desire to be able to put oneself at risk in order inflict violence on your opponent one-on-one. So which of these threats really requires bravery? Demanding the abandonment of pseudonymity in cancel culture–to tell a man he must let you safely destroy him for the sake of his honor–is an act of cowardice, plain and simple. Though cowardice is the accusation on both sides, only one of them has thoroughly proven their own.

When Aristotle wrote about the virtue of courage, he found it to be more a matter of skill than of temperament. The veteran soldier, for example, was almost ipso facto more courageous than the new recruit because he had been through many battles in which his courage had been honed by practice. Many American Christians today have overlooked this aspect of courage because in the past few generations, bravery has seldom been demanded of us.

It wasn’t that long ago that I attended a Bible study in which we were discussing Jesus’ warnings about persecution. The teacher made an assertion which I have been taught by Christians my whole life: “We are fortunate to live in America where we don’t have to worry about such things.” That presumption is an echo of the America in which the Boomers grew up–a country which may not have been particularly faithful, but which could at least be called Christian without immediately provoking scornful laughter. This is no longer the case.

Jesus warned of even family turning against each other on His account. It’s hard to consider that merely hypothetical when half your family has disowned you precisely because you openly embrace Jesus’ teachings on controversial subjects. In our current age, Satan is most fiercely attacking the First Article gift of family–and all the sub-topics which orbit it like sexuality, education, headship, and nation. Any layperson who has publicly spoken out on those topics has learned the risks it entails from friends, employers, family, and government.

This reality on the ground is completely outside the experience of many of the aging pastors and members of my denomination. Those who can still can consider Jesus’ warnings hypothetical generally do so because they themselves haven’t had to pay for being faithful. When you haven’t experienced any significant repercussions, it’s easy to think that any talk of persecution is an exaggeration and that Christians are therefore “hiding” behind pseudonyms out of cowardice. And yet that assessment is merely their own lack of courage in the Aristotelian sense. They have not practiced. Nevertheless, that does not stop them from loudly decrying “anonymity” with all the self-righteous ferocity of a Pharisee. “If you were really witnessing faithfully, you’d embrace the consequences instead of hiding!”

Scripture has promised persecution to faithful Christians, yes. But Scripture and history alike have also taught us that there is both a time to embrace persecution and a time to put it off for another day. Paul escaped Damascus in a basket because he had better things to do than face the lethal consequences of proclaiming Christ in the synagogues there. Luther lived under the pseudonym of Sir George at the Wartburg to avoid his death sentence and continue his work of teaching the Gospel and translating the Bible. Jesus repeatedly slipped away from the Jews who were trying to stone him because his hour had not yet come; He had other things to do first.

None of these men were cowards. They were exercising their own God-given wisdom in deciding when to accept persecution and when to avoid it to continue their work. There are times when faithfulness demands our reputations, our suffering, our families, or even our lives. Christians must be willing to give up any of those for our Lord. But that doesn’t mean we eagerly jump on our swords at the first opportunity, as though our reputations, families, & lives were worthless or as though the vocations God has given us were of no significance.

Upon hearing this, some will try to paper over their own cowardice by stealing the bravery of others. “How *dare* you compare getting doxxed and cancelled to the real threats directed at men like Paul or Luther!” It’s true that there is (so far) a disparity in threat level, just as there is a disparity in response (being pseudonymous isn’t exactly as severe as fleeing a city.) But at what point does a Christian’s suffering for his faith actually become real to such men?

When the world merely mocks a man for being Christian, does his brother in Christ who lost his job for the Faith sneer at the pain? Does a third man who was beaten for Christ dismiss the first two as drama queens? As the martyrs beneath God’s throne cry out “how long, oh Lord” do they also call out “that’s nothing, you sniveling pansies” to all their brothers still on Earth? Nothing could be further from Christian love. Creating a hierarchy of persecution with which to dismiss those on the bottom is merely a conceit by which one pretends that him who assumes small risks is the same as him who assumes no risk whatsoever. In contrast, those who truly walk the same road are more likely to experience comradery than contention–even when one is further ahead.

Obviously, I don’t use pseudonymity myself. Considering what I’ve already written under my own name both here and on far larger platforms like the Federalist, what would be the point? But I decided against pseudonymity well over a decade ago in a very different world where cancel culture was not yet a thing. It was an act of naiveté rather than courage–one I suspect I’ve only made a down payment on. But there’s no taking it back now. Nevertheless, I will by no means judge another man for choosing differently. What gives any of us the right to condemn another for making that choice in their lives and according to their own God-given wisdom and vocations?

And those of you who are tempted to condemn the pseudonymous as cowards would do well to ask yourselves what price you’ve paid for faithfulness. If God has spared you all of this, you should devote yourself to gratitude rather than self-righteousness. And if the world does not even consider you enough of an enemy to bother hating you, you should consider which side of the Great Conflict you’re truly on.

Posted in Culture, Ethics, Musings, The Modern Church | 3 Comments

Silencing God

Arguments from silence are generally recognized as being weak, proceeding as they do from a lack of evidence rather than an abundance. But the most pathetic form of this argument–the weakling among weaklings–is when you actually have to create the silence first by hiding, dismissing, or otherwise disqualifying all the evidence contrary to your position.

But weak or not, many Christians today are particularly vulnerable to such arguments. Many of us have been taught a hideously disfigured version of Christian freedom that says, “Do whatever you want as long as the Bible doesn’t forbid it.” Not only does such false teaching deprive us of God’s positive laws–the things He has commanded us to do–and replace His will with our own desire, it also provides us with a perverse incentive to find as little in the Bible as possible.

Satan, of course, does not neglect to take advantage of our idle hands. He has given us a surfeit of false teachers who try to silence Holy Scripture. If they can inject just enough uncertainty or just enough confusion, then the Bible no longer applies. To our poorly catechized minds, those troublesome verses just float away into the ether, leaving us “free.” From there, “do as thou wilt” becomes the whole of our law.

One of the most common methods the Devil and his thralls use is to create a mythology and place it alongside Scripture. They then use this mythology to determine what the Bible is “allowed” to say. And the most obvious way to recognize this tactic is when you notice that actually reading the Bible is irrelevant to their conclusions.

I ran into one example of this in the wild recently. According to this old saw, what we know as “homosexuality” today was unheard of when the Bible was written. They allege that it is therefore impossible for the Bible to directly address something which was so completely outside of its context. And since the Bible says nothing at all, dilapidated “Christian freedom” demands our silence as people simply do what they feel like.

This argument appears compelling to many because we have been so well-trained in shallow thinking. But once you take a closer look, it’s a very different story.

To be sure, the modern mythology we’ve constructed around homosexuality was not present in the ancient world. After all, “homosexuality” is a relatively new word. It was invented by psychologists in the late 19th century first to clinicalize and then to destigmatize sodomy. Antiquity did not consider “sexual orientation” to be cast in stone the way we (erroneously) believe today, nor did they consider it an identity. Neither did the ancient world have the kind of rigorous advertising campaign homosexuality now enjoys. Here, it’s advocated by activists, endorsed by law, celebrated in parades, normalized in mass media, and even taught in schools with truly obscene levels of detail.

But to assert that this mythology makes a difference is to perform a Biblical bait-and-switch. It presumes without warrant that when the Bible condemns sodomy, it is only condemning specific cultural incarnations thereof rather than the thing itself. “But sodomy has received a facelift since then! Today, sodomy is romantic! Today, it leads to lasting relationships!” Great. But your idea that serial monogamy and romance legitimize sex is wholly modern; it’s not Biblical. You might as well say that you can have sex with your dog because Moses couldn’t have been writing about Labradoodles. They weren’t bred until the 20th century, after all! “Missing the point” is an entirely inadequate phrase to describe desperately running away from Scripture’s point in such an obvious fashion.

The fact that this argument is pure presumption that deliberately disregards the Bible is made even more apparent when you realize that it makes its conclusion without ever cracking open the Good Book. It asserts that it is “impossible” for it to condemn sodomy based entirely on historical context. So no matter what the Bible actually says, it cannot say what they don’t want it to say. If your hermeneutic determines what the Bible says without having to actually read it, then it’s not a good hermeneutic. And yet, they actually think their wordplay has silenced God–and many Christians are foolish enough to agree with them.

Now, if I wrote for the sake of conservative applause, this would be a great place to stop. Most of the more conservative Christians would be completely on board with it. After all, they were never taken in by this deception.

Or were they?

Conservative Christians may still be loud and proud about opposing sodomy. They are, after all, traditionalists at heart, and sodomy has not yet become Western tradition. But other sins have, and many who consider themselves staunch, faithful conservatives have fallen for this same kind of deception hook, line, and sinker. Feminism has been embedded in our culture long enough to become a tradition, and many conservative men are quite eager to carry water on its behalf. This can be easily seen when it comes to the issue of women teaching men in the Church.

Here too, we have invented a modern mythology. As the story goes, there are many women today who have been called by God to teach men in the Church. They have been given exceptional gifts to this end–indeed, we are told that they are far superior in skill to any available male teachers. We are told that lazy and evil men have abandoned their posts, and so women must now pick up their slack. We are told that evil misogynists have been keeping these brave women down for so long that no Christian had even realized this sad state of affairs in the past 2000 years. If you should even open your mouth to stand in the way of their “divine” call, you must be a goblin, a Pharisee, or the like. So sayeth our modern mythology.

As with sodomy, this mythology is used to wipe away the clear Biblical prohibitions. When Paul wrote “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet” he could not possibly have been referring to modern women called by God to teach! No, he must have been referring to something else. Women in antiquity were uneducated, so maybe he meant that women should remain silent only until they’re educated. Or maybe he was referring to one specific woman who was a troublemaker for Timothy, and that’s why it’s singular. Or maybe he was referring only to the very specific and narrow title of pastor and not to any pastoral responsibilities. Or maybe he only meant that wives shouldn’t be in authority over their husbands–unless absolutely necessary, of course. Or maybe it’s something else altogether. All of these different interpretations are deemed acceptable because it doesn’t even matter what the verse really means so long as it doesn’t mean what it actually says. All we know for sure is that it couldn’t be referring to modern, educated women because this is an entirely new situation which the Bible could not possibly address.

This is just as much a bait-and-switch as our mythology of homosexuality. Instead of the plain meaning of the text, the words must be so culturally conditioned as to become a secret code for something else altogether. It is true that our culture is different than Rome’s. Nevertheless, it is only modern convention which demands that skill is the only legitimate qualification for anything, that women be leaders, that they be counted as equal to men in every way, and that we must be offended at any suggestion to the contrary. The Bible demands nothing of the sort from us. If we take off our feminist glasses for a moment, we see that the “calling” they speak of is merely what these women feel like doing and their supreme qualifications generally amount to them doing well in school–a matter that is hardly surprising given how feminized schools have become.

And as with Sodomy, it is a conclusion which precedes anything they might read in Scripture. Many advocates of women teachers make this quite obvious:

Make no mistake, this is not a statement about what God says. This is a statement about what God is allowed to say. Jesus must measure up to the feminist standard, or he is simply unacceptable as a deity.

And it really should be no surprise that conservatives fall for this as well. We have imbibed the disfigured version of Christian freedom as deeply as anyone. Lutherans in particular seem perpetually terrified of actually teaching us the things God has told us to do. We’ve made it easy for Satan to take advantage of us.

But we need not simply lie back and accept this state of affairs. We have Scripture. We have theologians from outside of our time & culture who were far wiser than us. And any one of us can take a good long look at our own lives and aspirations and consider whether we are pursuing God’s priorities or our own.

So you have a dilemma on your hands, conservative Christians. Do you continue to follow the world–just 10 steps behind due to your traditionalism? Or do you instead recognize the world’s deception and repent of your having fallen for it?

Posted in Apologetics, Chastity, Culture, Ethics, Feminism, Law, Lutheranism, The Modern Church, Theology | 7 Comments

Who Told You to be Offended?

Back in the day, I spent about seven years living in one of America’s most comically liberal cities. It wasn’t Portland, but it was very much like Portland. It even had the same slogans about keeping the city weird and citizens affectionately referring to it as a “people’s republic.”

While I’m happy to be living somewhere saner now, it was still a positive experience. For one thing, it made me comfortable being controversial. As a conservative Christian, I essentially had no choice in the matter. After all, merely thinking that parents should at least be notified when their 12-year-old has an abortion would have been considered too right wing by many of the residents. Learning to take it in stride when I upset people didn’t take too long.

But other learning experiences came when I returned to the Midwest and actually experienced mild culture shock. The first time I pulled into a gas station near my next home and heard explicitly Christian music playing on the loudspeaker, I actually felt offended. This was in public, not in Church! What was wrong with them? I had the same feeling when I walked into a public hospital (built by Seventh Day Adventists) and saw murals of the six days of creation in the lobby. And there have certainly been other weird reasons for offense. For example, when I eventually moved out into the country, I once saw a neighbor walking down our dirt road with a rifle on his shoulder. How could somebody just casually stroll around with a deadly weapon like that?

These feelings were only momentary. They might have been very unusual sights and sounds to me at the time, but I quickly remembered that I was a actually a Christian or actually a Second Amendment supporter and realized that I had no good reason to be outraged. But my own knee-jerk reactions still bothered me. It took less than a decade of living “abroad” for me to be programmed to take mild offense at good and positive things.

It’s sad how easily the world can shape us, but for the time being, we have nowhere else to live. That’s why we must continually ask ourselves this question: Who told us to be offended?

Sometimes it is God who explicitly inclines us towards offense. Offense, outrage, and hatred are all on the same spectrum; and as I’ve written before, even hatred can be a Christian’s job. One cannot help but think of men like Christ and even Phineas whose zeal for God required outrage at the evils they witnessed. Clearly, like hatred, outrage is sometimes our business–a matter of vocation. Parents’ outrage over pedophiles grooming their children, for example, proceeds directly from the Fourth Commandment. Likewise, outrage over the way one’s people are being treated proceeds from our God-given responsibilities to our respective nations. Clearly, there is a time and a place to take offense: when God’s Law is being violated within our own domains.

But at the same time, being offended has become a way of life in America. Fueled by our civilization’s breakdown and facilitated by the nature of social media, outrage is simply the air many of us breathe. We are quite willing to act on our outrage, but very often, our offense proceeds from the Spirit of the Age rather than the Holy Spirit. Accordingly, when we continually feel offense welling up within us over some issue or another, we must remember our vulnerability and compare our standards to God’s–both through His Word and through natural law–to see how we measure up. Inevitably, we find that most of the world’s sacred cows were never established by God.

So what typically outrages Americans the most? In other words, what drives ordinary Americans to vehemently condemn their neighbors to the point of choosing to personally inflict punishment? Cancel culture has made the identities of our little tin gods quite clear.

Racism is probably the most obvious example. And yet, the leading experts on racism reliably inform me that it’s a matter of privilege–being born white in a civilization built by whites to the advantage of their white children. But there is no sin in being born a specific race in a specific place. What’s more, building an inheritance for your children–privileging them–is a Biblical command. And while conservatives love to appeal to “real” racism, that’s a pretty absurd approach to a neologism with less than a century under its belt. There are sins that can be justly called racist, but that’s not the same thing as racism being a sin. When in doubt, the rule of thumb is that if you cannot convincingly explain why something is sinful without resorting to the word “racist,” it’s not really sinful.

Sexism is another ubiquitous example, but it should be even more obvious to Christians that sexism is by no means a sin. It’s an even more recent neologism that has no weight outside of 20th century egalitarianism. God’s Word, however, is anything but egalitarian. God even explicitly and repeatedly requires sexism in some of the most important areas of life. When our feminist culture complains that the Bible is a sexist document, we shouldn’t attempt to affirm their terminology by explaining why it’s not. Rather, we should be forthright that men and women are not the same and ought not be treated the same.

And, of course, we cannot forget Liberal Democracy and its pantheon: equality, democracy, The Science, secularism, and so forth. All these things are (at best) tools with specific advantages and disadvantages. But anyone who points out the latter and considers using different tools knows how quickly one is accused of blasphemy. Even pointing out the failures of election integrity is ironically enough to make one an “enemy of democracy.” What the so-called Enlightenment presented to us as servants have instead become our masters.

These are the kinds of idolatries which fuel most of our outrage, but they do not proceed from God’s word or from natural law. And they suffuse our entire culture. Do not think that just because you are Christian or conservative that you are somehow immune to the world’s discipleship. Indeed, sometimes the worst offenders are conservative Christians desperate to prove to the world that they’re on its side–that they’re not one of those Christians.

You will know them by the way they dialogue. Many Christian conservatives will eagerly be winsome bridge-builders with anyone living in open sin by Biblical standards. After all, they would not want to appear as Pharisees. However, they will only do so when the sinners belong to culturally esteemed groups (sexual perverts, vehemently anti-Christian academics, etc). When it comes to our society’s true lepers and tax collectors, they make sure everyone knows how much distance they maintain. When the world’s standards rather than God’s standards are at stake, they will no longer risk such impious association with sinners. Sometimes, they will even eagerly serve as the world’s enforcers to maintain their reputations.

It’s easy to make these kinds of mistakes from time to time. Any of us can be lax and let bad company corrupt good character. Any of us can be self-righteous and lose an opportunity to serve a fellow sinner out of a false sense of piety. However, when you see that same pattern of steadfastly adhering to worldly standards while never sweating God’s, one can only conclude that such men are acting as foot soldiers of the Devil rather than as faithful Christians.

So beware. Don’t ignore your outrage, for your instincts and intuitions were given to you for a reason.  But allow your sensibilities be cultivated by God’s Word instead of abandoning them to the world’s discipline. When your God-given vocation requires your outrage, don’t wait for society’s permission to take action–Jesus certainly didn’t. But when it is only the this world and its Prince who require it, stay your hand. And when you see men who call you brother allying themselves with the world against you, learn to love them as enemies rather than as friends.

Posted in Christian Nationalism, Ethics, Feminism, Natural Law, Politics, The Modern Church, Vocation | 10 Comments

The War on Thanksgiving

On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”

We talk about the War on Christmas all the time–the ongoing effort by corporations and public institutions to maintain the pageantry while ignoring the One whom it was meant to honor. But despite all that effort, their warfare has only achieved marginal success. Not only are Christians still quite willing to point out the absence, the void they’re trying to create is so conspicuously Christ-shaped that it inevitably reminds everyone of the birth of Jesus anyway.

There is, however, another holiday in much greater danger. I am referring, of course, to Thanksgiving–far and away the greatest holiday Americans ever invented. It’s besieged on one side by the commercialization of Christmas. On our two extra days off work, more effort is made to participate in Black Friday–the celebration of unbridled greed that used to launch the Christmas shopping season–than to actually give thanks. On the other side of Thanksgiving, the growing tumor of Halloween is rapidly overtaking the entire season of Autumn. These days, October routinely sees Christmas and Halloween displays side-by-side, leaving no room in the landscape for anything else.

At the same time, Thanksgiving Day itself is under assault by the atomization of America. The core of our celebration is joining together with our families for a great feast. But more and more, that gathering is marked by strife. We’ve all been indoctrinated by film and television to see friends–those we choose for their similarity to ourselves–as our “real” family. We disdain the ones with whom we share our flesh and blood for petty reasons. Politics has also become the religion of many, which has lead to everything from meaningless contention at what should be a peaceful celebration to excommunicating family members for blaspheming political idols. And because the usual American rite of passage is to leave your family for college and move across the country for career, it’s become harder and harder to actually gather in the first place.

While the war on Thanksgiving may not be waged by government and corporation like the war on Christmas, it is certainly being waged by Satan. The devil would like nothing better than to remove thanks from our lips and gratitude from our hearts. This cultural shift away from thankfulness is a bad sign for America, for cultivating gratitude is of profound spiritual importance in any number of ways.

Gratitude is the antidote to entitlement. In reminding us that our blessings are gifts rather than our just rewards, we are saved from the bitterness of constant dissatisfaction when we feel we are given only or less than our due. The less grateful we are, the more we perceive the world as failing us personally.

Gathering to give thanks alongside our families works against the atomization wrought by American hyper-individualism. It reminds us that we never seized our lives and bodies for ourselves, but received them entirely as gifts from our parents and grandparents and great-grandparents who freely gave so much love so that we and our own children could live.

Thanksgiving moves us to acknowledge God. We do not thank the void or an impersonal universe; we only thank persons. And the Creator is the chief of these persons to whom we ought to give thanks.

Gratitude likewise reminds us of divine providence. God provides for our needs through means–through springtime and harvest, through parents, through workers, through everything which he created and still preserves. We do not live in the nihilistic worlds presented to us in modern fiction, but in a living world where goodness exists and in which God causes the sun to shine on us all. We are not simply abandoned to our own devices, but live in a world where the buck does not stop with us.

Feasting reminds us that there is good amidst the bad. Even when the world assails us with all manner of evils and privation, we can still take the time to remember the light we’ve been given in the darkness and that hard times come to an end by God’s grace. This will be all the more important as America descends into far greater hardships than we are used to experiencing.

The blessings of gratitude should propel us towards making sure that we give thanks within our own homes. The primary battleground of the war on Thanksgiving is in each of our households. Don’t let it end in defeat.

So go to church this Thursday and praise God. Gather with your family and tell them your love them. Enjoy their peculiarities. Host a meal or bring a dish to share with others. Pray together to join your voices in thanksgiving. Revel in everything good which God has showered upon you, and know in your heart that it is not of yourselves, but of the love your Creator has shown to you.

Happy Thanksgiving. May God bless you all.

Posted in Culture, Family, Musings, Tradition | 1 Comment

Spotting False Teachers 101

If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain. (1 Timothy 6:3-5)

Scripture warns us repeatedly against false teachers who depart from the Word of God and teach their own words instead. With Scripture readily available in the West, it’s shouldn’t be that hard to tell the difference–we do what the Bereans did and compare the teacher’s words to a plain reading of Scripture to see whether they are in accord. Jesus said the same thing, for in His own warning against false prophets, he concludes by affirming the man who hears His words and keeps them, rather than those who hear but do not keep them.

And thankfully, we are not left to our own devices when we make that comparison. We were preceded by millennia of Christians who stood against the false teachers of their own day. They left us with creeds, confessions, and other writings we can use to help us discern whether or not a teaching conforms to Scripture. We therefore have the opportunity to read Scripture alongside of them and make use of their insights.

Satan, however, does not rest simply because we enjoy these advantages. The entire reason we have teachers is because many parts of Scripture are less clear to us than others. And because our own circumstances are not identical to our ancestors in the faith, we all must take steps of our own even as we are guided by the Holy Spirit and His Church. Accordingly, one of the Devil’s favorite tricks is to have his false teachers do a bait & switch. They claim that a clear part of Scripture is ackchyually obscure and “helpfully” provide you with a verbose secret decoder ring to tell you what it really means.

This can make life difficult because their quarrelling over words often delves into Greek & Hebrew, academic jargon, and other details most people aren’t equipped to parse. On top of that, faithful Christians want to learn from those who know more about God’s Word than they do. We need teachers who really do know the Biblical languages and have studied theology in depth. So how are we to defend ourselves against this trick? Or to put it more precisely, how are we to discern between false teachers deceiving us and faithful teachers correcting us?

When you are unable to tell whether a teacher is false from his argument alone, it’s time to start looking outside of that argument for your answers. Here are some factors Christians would be wise to consider:

Is the teaching novel?

This is the simplest test to perform, but that makes it no less important. The New Testament was written 2000 years ago, and Christians have been reading it ever since. If the teaching they’re trying to sell you on has never, in all that time, arisen out of the Church’s study of Scripture, that should make you extremely suspicious that it’s not actually coming from Scripture. It’s not impossible for a novel teaching to be correct, but it’s so unlikely at this point that you should default to deliberate skepticism.

The origin of an idea matters, especially when it comes to the Christian Faith. What we do and what we believe ought to grow out of what God has told us. Inasmuch as it grows out of worldly philosophies, fads, and customs instead, we are following voices other than God’s–very often the devil’s. That has no place at all in doctrine. And our doctrine must always stand in judgment over our practices. Even where adiaphora–things neither forbidden nor commanded–are concerned, it is always a matter of what is wisest rather than of what is convenient, desirable, or typical. We have no business allowing worldly wisdom to determine the course of the Church.

When a teaching is novel, it is far more likely to be a product of the changing wisdom of the world rather than the unchanging wisdom of Christ. Always be skeptical of a novel teaching, and always be suspicious of any teacher who isn’t bothered by his novelty. As for those who revel in it, simply mark and avoid.

Does the teacher show contempt for a plain reading of Scripture?

Sadly, there are some forms of stupidity of which only the intelligent are capable. So it is among those who treat theology academically.

There is, of course, nothing wrong with studying Scripture with intellectual rigor. All Christians are to love God with all their minds, but in every age, God has given some men more mental capacity than others. Accordingly, those men will inevitably take a more intellectual approach to studying the Bible. What’s more, it is wise for more intelligent Christians to gather together in their study, for iron sharpens iron. Over time, that’s naturally going to lead to some kind of more formalized study, whether in academies, seminaries, monasteries, public writing, or some other setting. And there is nothing wrong with that, per se.

But this kind of study poses a peculiar problem for those who engage in it. After all, a big part of how one learns among other theologians is through argument and discussion. And so when they see Paul warning about controversy, friction, and especially quarrels about words, they can get confused. After all, shouldn’t they always be looking closely at the words of Scripture? Shouldn’t they often argue about those words with other theologians? Surely it cannot all cross the line Paul describes, and so many end up discarding the warning altogether because they cannot make practical sense of it.

As a result, theologians often have a serious problem when someone compares their teachings to a straightforward reading of Scripture. “Plain” and “straightforward” are good, accurate, and useful labels, but they do not have the kind of precision men quarrelling about words prefer, and so they are often disdained. When ordinary Christians appeal to a plain reading, theologians are tempted to respond by implicitly replacing “plain” with the more precise but less accurate “literal.” And because Scripture, like any book, isn’t always to be taken literally, they arrogantly disregard these appeals that would save them from false teaching. After all, how can one even tell whether the words are meant literally, metaphorically, allegorically, typologically, or in some other sense without endless debates with other experts? When one proceeds down this path, it’s frightfully easy for the theologian’s primary question of “what did God say” to become the devil’s primary question of “Did God really say?”

But while this may be an easy mistake to make, it’s not a permissible one. Anyone who has difficulty telling the difference should give up their aspirations of being a theologian. It’s not for nothing that James warns us, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” The only way out of this trap is for theologians to constantly strive to cultivate humility; and it’s usually very easy to tell whether your teacher is humble. Do they sneer at “fundamentalists” for believing God’s word in simple way? Do they despise accurate but imprecise concepts like “common sense,” “plain,” “straightforward,” and so forth as somehow beneath them? Do they act as though reading solid translations typically leads ordinary Christians astray rather than feeding them? Do they go so far as to take offense that someone would steadfastly hold to a simpler reading than their own? If so, odds are good that you are dealing with either a false teacher or one who is teetering on the brink.

Why are they departing from the literal sense of the text?

As I already indicated, a plain reading and a literal reading are not always the same thing. A plain reading is a policy of departing from the literal sense of the text only when the text itself directs you to. Sometimes, Scripture does so quite explicitly. For example, oftentimes when Jesus tells parables, the Gospel writers label them as parables. Sometimes, they even record Jesus’ explanation of the meaning behind the imagery, so there’s no confusion that it is, in fact, imagery. The same can be said of Revelation, which wastes no time informing the reader that the lampstands are actually churches and the stars are actually angels of those churches. It tells you right away not to read the book literally.

Other times, it’s more implicit. For example, reading the text will usually make it clear what genre of literature you’re reading, and so you accept imagery accordingly. When Proverbs begins by calling itself “the proverbs of Solomon” you read the proceeding text as wise sayings. You likewise read the psalms as poetry. In contrast, when Luke tells you he’s writing a narrative about the things that have happened, you read it as an historical narrative. And these are only examples.  There are various ways in which Scripture lets us know that it’s being figurative.

There’s nothing magical or mysterious about this process. There are some ways in which the Bible is different from any other book, but it remains a book. Most of us read books that use figurative language all the time without much confusion. The Bible shouldn’t be generating much more confusion in this regard than usual. Biblical “interpretation” should always be a matter of reading comprehension first and foremost. Lutherans have historically referred to that as “ministerial” use of reason. It’s just the ordinary process of using our brains to understand language as best we can. Our reason is a servant to help us receive the text.

False teachers, however, have more dubious reasons to depart from the literal sense. Some do it for philosophy. Zwingli’s metaphysics, for example, told him that Christ could only be bodily present in one place at a time. He allowed this philosophical belief to override Jesus’ plain statement of “this is my body” when instituting the Lord’s Supper. Others do it for their culture; we can certainly observe those living in an egalitarian society always looking for what God “really” meant by all those different instructions to men and women. And of course, our sinful nature constantly seeks to lead us astray as well, as is the case when, say, we want to indulge in errant sexuality. The devil, the world, and our flesh provide us with no shortage of temptation to use our reason to subvert Scripture rather than to understand it.

This is what Lutherans have called “magisterial” use of reason. The difference is that our reason is no longer a servant content to receive God’s Word, but instead deems itself its master, deciding what the Bible is allowed to say. If you’re unsure whether a teacher is false or not, pay careful attention to what baggage he’s bringing to God’s Word. In America today, trying to “save” God from committing cultural “sins” (e.g. racism, sexism, homophobia, etc.) is one of the biggest red flags that a teacher is doing this (but it is by no means the only one.)

Is their explanation of the text deeper or is it entirely different?

There is always more to learn from God’s Word. You can read the same part of the Bible again and again but still receive new insights from it every time. But even as we deepen our understanding, we do not depart from the simpler understanding. The clearest example of this for me is Luther’s Small and Large catechisms. The former explains key parts of Scripture in a simple way appropriate for children. The latter explains those same key parts in a far more extensive fashion. However, it’s not as though the Large overturns the Small or that the Small overturns the Bible. Each merely exposits it at greater length. Scripture says “You shall not murder.” The Small Catechism says that means “We should fear and love God that we may not hurt nor harm our neighbor in his body, but help and befriend him in every bodily need.” The Large Catechism goes on at some length, applying the Commandment to both ordinary and extraordinary circumstances of life. But all retain and are built upon that plain sense of “you shall not murder” as even a child would understand it. That kind of exposition is what we should look for from our teachers.

Contrary examples are unfortunately legion, but the recent controversy over 1 Timothy 2 provides a timely one. The Bible says “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.” Here, God gives both a prohibition and the reason for that prohibition in a simple and straightforward way. One might not understand why Adam’s priority in creation or Eve’s deception matters with respect to teaching and exercising authority in Christ’s Church, but it’s plain from the text that it matters.

And, of course, if you want to faithfully deepen your understanding, you start with that plain understanding of the text and then delve into it more deeply. For example, you could go back to the stories Paul refers to. You open Genesis 2 and read about God creating Adam first and realize that God made woman to be man’s helper and that man was appointed as her head. You go back to Genesis 3 and read that God condemned Adam specifically for listening to his deceived wife–for knowingly prioritizing the word of the helpmeet God had made for him over the word of God Himself. And knowing that we are sons of Adam and daughters of Eve makes it clear to us that we are not different kinds of beings possessing less vulnerability than they. We maintain this order of creation in the Church because that is the kind of beings God has made us. That kind of explanation maintains the simple sense of the words while deepening our understanding of them.

Compare that to an alternative explanation I recently came across. His claim is that Adam being formed first and Eve being deceived is only a statement about Eve’s lack of instruction relative to Adam. And so what those verses “really” mean is that women aren’t to teach or exercise authority over a man until they have been adequately instructed. Forget for a moment how little sense this explanation makes on its own. Forget that Eve was instructed in the only way that mattered and that women in the early church were likewise being instructed from the beginning. What I want to call attention to is how this explanation subverts and replaces the plain sense of Scripture rather than deepening and expounding on it. In this explanation, the God-given reasons for this prohibition are deemed merely correlative to the “real” reason. As a result, the timeless God-given reasons rooted in Creation and Fall are deliberately put away and replaced with a different one: educational standards. From there, the entire prohibition is set aside wherever educational standards are considered met.

The upshot is that the plain understanding of the text is obliterated and an entirely different understanding is substituted–wearing Paul’s words like an ill-fitting skin suit rather than proceeding organically from them. That kind of substitution is another mark of false teaching. And it’s hardly a new one. That is, after all, precisely how the Devil deceived Eve into interpreting God’s command in the first place. It’s also the same trick Baptists pull when they deny the plain sense of “Baptism now saves you” and argue that it “really” means that something else which merely correlates with Baptism is what truly saves. It takes God’s word and provides a secret decoder ring where the ordinary sense of the text needs to be swapped out with whatever the false teacher prefers. Do not trust teachings based on this kind of explanation or teachers who regularly participate in it.

If a teacher or teaching fails any of these tests, you should be on guard. Take it as a reason to look even more closely. If they fail all of them (like the fellow arguing against 1 Timothy 2) you should mark them as a false teacher and treat them accordingly. That goes beyond treating it as a mere gentleman’s disagreement. Jesus likens false teachers to ravenous wolves in sheep’s clothing. The sheep does not have a civil discussion with the wolf and seek friendship. The sheep seeks protection from him, and the shepherd simply drives him off. You do not owe false teachers courtesy. You do not owe false teachers the benefit of the doubt. Jesus himself tells you they are dangerous enemies. When you recognize them for what they are, trust Christ’s warning enough to treat them accordingly.

Posted in Lutheranism, Musings, Sanctification, The Modern Church, Theology, Tradition | Leave a comment

Only a Pharisee Would Object to Women Teaching?

My recent blog post, “On Lutheran Women and the Writing of Books” found a considerably larger audience than usual. One of the things I appreciate most when that happens is that such posts also generate more pushback. I usually get a number of counter-arguments that were either overlooked or inadequately addressed in the original piece and then have a chance to strengthen my arguments by responding to them.

Sadly, that didn’t really happen this time.

There was one guy who spoke about the existence of powerful counter-arguments but didn’t actually offer them. The only direct pushback I received was being called a Pharisee a few times.

But while that was ad hominem rather than a genuine counter-argument, it is a common one. The accusation is raised pretty much anytime a Christian takes God’s Word more seriously that the world likes. It’s therefore a favorite insult among those who avoid taking Scripture seriously. It not only gives them license to continue whatever Scripture speaks against, it even lets them pretend to be morally superior in their sin. But if you actually look up the many and various places in the Gospels where Jesus argues with the Pharisees over Scripture, Jesus never once condemns the Pharisees for taking the Bible too seriously. Rather, Jesus consistently points out that the Pharisees aren’t taking Scripture seriously enough.

This pattern extends to the Pharisees’ treatment of God’s Law. Many falsely conclude that Jesus opposed them because they held to a strict moral code rooted in Scripture whereas our Lord rejected the Law in favor of the Gospel. (The fact that Jesus explicitly said he didn’t come to abolish the Law doesn’t seem to phase these antinomians.) But if you look at Jesus’ actual words to the Pharisees, you’ll see that their problem with respect to God’s Law was always undermining it with their own ethical code.

So let’s take a look at a few of Jesus’ condemnations of the Pharisees and consider exactly which side of the “women teaching in the church” debate they condemn.

“You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”

This is, perhaps, the most obvious one. The traditions of the Pharisees might have been intended to guide people in following God’s Word, but at the time of Christ they had supplanted Scripture instead. Whether it was using “corban” as an excuse to disregard the 4th Commandment, their misreading of Deuteronomy 24 as an excuse to divorce for any reason, or another of the “many such things you do” that Jesus asserts,  the Pharisees were rigorous with respect to their own traditions but lax on the things God had actually commanded.

This pattern is certainly present in the current controversy, but not on the side my critics think. After all, what they view as a mere tradition is actually a command of God: “I do not permit a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.”

At the same time, the pushback against that command proceeds entirely from a tradition of men: feminism. In the long history of the Christian Church, this controversy only sprang up after egalitarianism started to become normalized in the modern West. Our culture insists that women be made as equal with men as possible, and worldly Christians have rushed to accommodate that impulse. God, however, has never given us any imperative to include women in leadership, to make sure “highly qualified” women are teaching men in the church, to train them to be teachers of men, or to make sure the Church’s theology includes women’s voices. No such ambition proceeds from God’s instructions. Nevertheless, many Christians seek to leave the commandments of God because they get in the way of the feminist traditions of Western men upon which such ambitions rest.

So it is in this controversy.

“Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.'”

When Jesus pronounced this judgment on the scribes and Pharisees, he was condemning their penchant for escaping the moral law through ethical technicalities. In essence, they thought they could escape their oaths if they worded them carefully–swearing by the temple instead of the gold or by the altar instead of the gift upon it–and it therefore wouldn’t “count.” As Jesus said in Mark 7, they had many such legalisms by which they could relieve themselves of having to actually obey God’s plain instructions.

Once again, we find the same pattern in this discussion about women teaching in the Church. Once again, it is the proponents of women teaching who engage in the kinds of meaningless legal technicalities condemned by Christ. It’s hard to even keep track of all of them: Teaching by means of the publishing arm of our church body isn’t technically teaching the church. If a woman teaches men in Bible study after the Benediction, it’s not technically teaching men in the church because the divine service is over. If a women delivers a “message” to the congregation rather than a “sermon,” it’s not technically preaching. If a woman preaches and administers the sacraments as a deaconess rather than a pastor, she’s not technically usurping the pastoral office.

As I wrote in the original piece, the entire endeavor is an attempt to circumscribe the pastoral office with dubious technicalities so that it will not get in the way of what women feel like doing. That is quite in keeping with the legalisms of the Pharisees.

“You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!”

Here, Jesus condemned the Pharisees for their lack of proportion. They would take tithing to ridiculous precision–including even their spices–but deliberately ignored “the weightier matters of the law.” In essence, they prioritized the minutia of the ceremonial law (given only to Israel to set her apart) over the universal moral law (rooted in God’s eternal character and expressed in creation itself.) And it is specifically the priority he condemned here rather than extreme diligence in observing the ceremonies, for Jesus said “this you should have done without neglecting the other.” But they should have been able to keep the two in perspective because God had said, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”

The proponents of women teachers are certain they have us on this one. After all, what difference does it even make if a women rather than man teaches? Why should someone’s genitals be a qualification for the pastoral office? I even had one critic go so far as to suggest this prohibition is merely a ceremonial law akin to the Sabbath.

But once again, the shoe is on the other foot. The reason they see God’s prohibition on women teaching and exercising authority as a gnat rather than a camel is because egalitarianism has rendered them incapable of understanding it. The world teaches them that except for reproductive organs, men and women are essentially the same, and they are eager to adhere to its prince’s standard.

Consider how God, in contrast to the world, explains Himself. In 1 Timothy, He says “For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.” God ties His prohibition directly to both Creation and Fall–two fundamental aspects of human nature which we are unable to alter. This is explicitly a universal command, not a ceremonial one. 1 Corinthians also highlights the importance of this, for when Paul says it’s shameful for a woman to speak in church, he goes on to add, “If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized.”

This is in keeping with how Paul talks about the sexes elsewhere. In Ephesians, men and women are described as living images of Christ and his Church respectively. Earlier In 1 Corinthians, he talks about how nature itself proclaims that long hair is shameful for a man but a glory to a woman and about how man is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. These are grand and sweeping distinctions. The simple fact is that God made men and women to be ontologically different–and part of that difference is women being fundamentally unqualified to teach and exercise authority over men. Anyone trying to minimize that difference to “just this” or “merely that” is opening wide to stuff that camel in.

“They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.”

Here, Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for burdening their people with rules and traditions that went far beyond God’s commands. Those who would forbid women from writing teachings for men in the church are clearly the ones doing the same, right? That’s what one LCMS pastor contended when weighing in on this controversy. He termed it the “4th use of the Law” and wrote:

Don’t fornicate – so don’t dance.
Don’t gamble – so don’t use face cards.
Don’t violate the Sabbath – so don’t go over X steps.
Don’t misuse the name of the LORD – so don’t even speak Jehovah.

So on and so forth the pattern goes. And the arguments are always wonderfully appealing – there is a danger, and clear and present danger – and we can’t give in an inch to them, so to make sure they stay far, far away, we are going to… add things. Expand the meaning. Give our holiness a little lebensraum so that it is not defiled.

And these always go poorly. Wickedly. The gateway to tyrannical legalism because is it as much and as wicked a sin to add to God’s Law as it is to take away from it.

Surely, if men were to forbid women from anything other than the pastoral office–which this man has repeatedly circumscribed to a mere hour on Sunday mornings–they are sowing the seeds of this creeping legalism. How dare you go beyond the explicit text of Scripture like a Pharisee!

But who exactly is adding numerous rules and regulations to the text of Scripture here? This precise and narrow definition of the pastoral office as only existing during the divine service is not to be found in Scripture. The texts in question speak more broadly–teach or exercise authority over a man–and include alternatives like bearing children that extend beyond Sunday morning. Likewise, his rule that Christians must not rebuke a woman for teaching or exercising authority over a man unless she does it during that one hour on Sunday is not a Scriptural one; he added it. But the worst man-made rule from him that I’ve seen is his contention that it’s actually dangerous to be concerned with fidelity to Scripture. Where does God say that?

The Bible is not a flowchart by which every choice in our lives is automatically made. God expects and instructs us to use godly wisdom to apply Scripture’s teachings to life. “Don’t fornicate, so don’t dance” was chosen as an example because it’s quaint, but one could just as easily use “Don’t fornicate, so don’t hire a beautiful & libertine secretary and then share a hotel room when you take her on business trips” or “Don’t fornicate, so don’t seclude yourself with your girlfriend and explore your mutual romantic feelings.” The Bible doesn’t say that, so how dare you add to God’s word! But what does the Bible say? It says “sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you” and “Flee from sexual immorality.” In other words, what he calls “4th use” and condemns as wickedness is explicitly commanded multiple times in Scripture.

Whether on fornication or some other issue, we all must use godly wisdom to practice what God’s Word’s preaches. When one denies this, he inevitably uses ungodly wisdom to undermine God’s Word with his many and various rules. That is what the Pharisees’ rules did. That is what I observe from the proponents of women teachers, not their detractors.

So who are the Pharisees in this matter? I leave that for you to judge, dear reader. But do not judge by the wisdom of the world and claim that the Pharisees are those who take God’s Word too seriously and try too hard to abide by it. Instead, judge by Christ’s words and consider which side is undermining Holy Scripture with a multitude of man-made traditions, legalisms, and a disregard for the importance of God’s commands.

Posted in Ethics, Feminism, Law, Lutheranism, The Modern Church, Theology | 5 Comments

14 Points of Christian Nationalism – A Draft

As Christian Nationalism gains more steam amidst the ongoing collapse of Western liberalism, I’m seeing a lot of detractors attempting to dismiss it as meaningless. They take theological and political disagreements among Christian Nationalists as a sign that even we don’t know what it is. They also make bizarre and illogical conclusions about what Christian Nationalism entails and portray them as core principles. The result is confusion all around.

Part of that confusion is deliberate and malicious, of course; it’s easier to dismiss an idea than truly engage with it, after all. Another part of it is a matter of unrealistic expectations. A nascent political movement isn’t going to have the kind of solid and precise definition that other movements only acquire after a generation or two.

Nevertheless, as Christian Nationalism matures, it must begin to define itself more clearly as well. Having written about Christian Nationalism several times myself, I’m keenly aware that none of my descriptions amount to a clear definition or statement of principles. And so, I thought it would be appropriate to put together a list of 14 points of Christian Nationalism to help the concept coalesce.

I put it forward not as definitive, but as a personal draft. The list expresses what Christian Nationalism means to me right now.  Nevertheless, they may not be shared by other Christian Nationalists at present for whom I certainly cannot speak. Likewise, my own views are still evolving. So I expect this list to evolve as well as points drop away or new ones are added in.

We live in a time of great change, and none of us truly know what course the future will take. We only know that the present order cannot continue as before for much longer. May iron sharpen iron as Christians rediscover how to govern their nations in accordance with our faith.

  1. Christian Nationalism is a political ideology informed by the Christian faith, not a religion informed by political ideology.
  2. The Church does not need Christian Nationalism for its wellbeing. Nations need Christian Nationalism for their wellbeing.
  3. Christian Nationalists understand nation as meaning a people who share common ancestry, religious heritage, language, culture, and history together.
  4. We put our own nation first–not because it is superior to all others, but because it is the nation Christ has made us a part of. Accordingly, we serve it above all other nations, love it above all other nations and, when necessary, defend it against all other nations.
  5. We respect that other nations are likewise responsible for themselves first and therefore seek to govern ourselves separately from them but live in peace with them whenever possible.
  6. Christian Nationalists reject the incoherent religious neutrality of classical liberalism, and strive to honor Jesus Christ as king in every area of life, including government.
  7. Government is incapable of forcing conversion to Christianity because conversion depends on a faith that cannot be coerced into existence.
  8. Government’s purpose is not to make men righteous, but to restrain human wickedness by commending rightdoers and punishing wrongdoers.
  9. Wrongdoing may be tolerated by government when legal suppression of evil would lead to even greater evils.
  10. Christian nationalists distinguish right from wrong and weigh greater vs lesser evils according to Christian moral principles, and we explicitly carry out the purpose of government in accordance with those principles.
  11. Forms of wickedness which must be legally restrained when intolerable include, but are not limited to: clear blasphemy against Jesus Christ, murder (regardless of age), sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, and unbridled greed. A government which does not seek to restrain such evils is incompetent.
  12. God has appointed fathers to govern their own households. National government proceeds from this household government and exists to serve it. It does not replace it and may not usurp it.
  13. Immigration is tolerable only insofar as it neither unduly burdens nor harms our nation. Mass immigration is always harmful. Smaller scale immigration is more harmful the more an immigrant differs from our nation in terms of ancestry, language, history, culture and religious heritage.
  14. It is good and proper for governmental institutions to participate in religious expression so long as that expression is Christian. This includes prayers, ceremonies, holidays, and the like.
Posted in Christian Nationalism, Musings, Politics | 5 Comments

On Lutheran Women and the Writing of Books

A Lesson from History

In the mid-20th century, the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod had a problem that came to be called “Gospel Reductionism.” Modernism had long been waging a fearsome war against Christianity. The academic style from the Enlightenment onward had been to discard the Bible as, at best, a book of myths and legends. Science had been made the measure of all things; and because the miraculous is outside of its purview, anything which spoke of resurrections, incarnations, virgin births, and the like was assumed to be mere superstition.

Naturally, that meant Christianity was under attack from all sides. There was, at the time, a large contingent of pastors and theologians in the LCMS who did not wish to fight those battles. After all, the forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ is the most important part of Christianity, right? So why bother fighting evolutionists over the six days of creation? Why bother fighting Higher Criticism over the divine inspiration of Scripture? Why bother fighting egalitarianism over America’s most hated bible verses? Why bother fighting the sexual revolution over fornication? By their reckoning, such battles were wasted effort. As long as one could still proclaim the forgiveness of sins, they thought these tertiary issues could be faithfully abandoned. That way, they could call themselves Christian theologians without being reduced to second-tier academics in the eyes of the world.

History, of course, has since revealed a folly which should have already been quite clear. When you carve away the parts of the Bible which embarrass you as obsolete, it’s a pretty short path to “Jesus died for your sins” becoming literal nonsense. After all, what does death have to with sin? Why should my actions be considered sinful? What difference does a great teacher’s death even make 2000 years later? It’s quite impossible to make sense of the Gospel without the rest of God’s inerrant Word. That’s why the “gospel” of theologically liberal “churches” like the ELCA (which eventually absorbed most of our leftover heretics) is nothing more than a baptism of fashionable politics.

We should have learned our lesson, but history amply demonstrates how quickly such lessons are forgotten. After all, we sinners will always hate parts of God’s Word, and the Devil will always tempt God’s people to start trimming at the fringes. A generation or two of laxity is all it really takes.

And that brings us to today’s controversy about women teaching in the church–the latest fringe of God’s word to be slowly trimmed away because we think it’s problematic.

Women and Teaching in the Church

At the center of this issue lie two key instructions from God on the subject:

Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing–if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.  (1 Timothy 2:11-15)

As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. Or was it from you that the word of god came? Or are you the only ones it has reached? If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized. (1 Corinthians 14:33b-38.)

Typically, the LCMS has summarized these verses as teaching that God forbids women from being pastors. And that’s not an unfair summary. When it comes to the public teaching of the Word, the exercise of ecclesial authority, and speaking in church, pastor is the first and most obvious role we all think of. That’s certainly the core of this teaching.

However, we must not make the mistake of taking the summary and treating it as though it were the whole. The church is filled with a multitude of roles to assist the pastor in teaching God’s Word rightly and administering the sacraments properly. There are trustees who care for the building in which these things are done. There are treasurers who help manage the finances inherent in every kind of church work. There are ushers who ensure the divine service goes smoothly. There are teachers and boards who ensure that there is Christian teaching available for every age and aptitude in the congregation. There are elders who help keep track of the different congregational needs and directly minister to the pastor and assist him with his duties. There are bishops who help organize pastors and maintain order in the broader institutional church. There are people who decorate the church according to the season and secretaries who keep track of the multitude of administrative tasks. I could go on for paragraphs describing all the different tasks every moderately sized congregation needs to tend to.

Every one of those roles, however, has one thing in common: they work to make sure that each community of believers grows together through Word and Sacrament ministry. In other words, all of them are a support for that office of Pastor in one way or another. Some have more degrees of separation than others, of course–the person who organizes the summer picnic is further from the center than those who assist with Communion, for example. But all are members of the same body involved in the same work, and the heart cannot say to the big toe, “I have no need of you.”

This interconnectedness is precisely why “women cannot be pastors” can only be a summary. The Apostles learned very quickly that they needed to delegate, but it took some time for the various roles we’re familiar with to coalesce. You can see that in the multitude of different terms the New Testament uses for pastors and for their helpers.

But you’ll notice that in the verses cited above, the rule is not attached to any particular name for the pastoral office, but to specific responsibilities inherent in it: teaching, having authority, preaching to the congregation, and so forth. Accordingly, it is quite natural to understand the prohibition on women extends further than just forbidding a specific job title. The closer the role is to the pastoral center, the more it needs to be reserved for men alone. This is why congregational roles like elder and President are only given to men in most LCMS congregations–and why the role of voter should be.

This is, indeed, how most jobs are treated. If, for some reason, I am temporarily unable to fulfill any of my responsibilities at work, they need to be fulfilled by someone who is actually qualified to do those parts of my job. Like it or not, being a man is one of the qualifications for teaching or exercising authority over men in Christ’s church. Inasmuch as any role involves assisting with those pastoral duties, it likewise must be carried out by a man–just as it must be carried out by someone of good character, husband of only one wife, not a drunkard, etc.

The Current Controversy

This straightforward wisdom rooted in Scripture is precisely where Satan’s scissors are busily snipping away, and a recent controversy in the LCMS over a book is a good illustration of this.

The reflexively deceitful will tell you that people are upset because “a woman wrote a book.” This is akin to saying that Noah went for a boat ride or that an unborn child is just a clump of cells. It deliberately leaves out the most pertinent details, and is done in order to obscure the issue rather than clarify it.

Here are some more relevant facts: Concordia Publishing House is the publishing arm of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. They primarily publish doctrinally-reviewed books and teaching materials for our church body–pastors, theologians, and laity alike. In this case, they published a theology book by a woman intended to teach the men and women of the LCMS. (And lest anybody equivocate about whether it’s “really” teaching, it comes complete with “study questions” at the end of each chapter. Don’t be an idiot.) This is a very plain example of our church assigning a woman to teach men in the church–one of the specific duties which God forbade women.

And that is the true root of the controversy: a course of action taken by members and institutions of our church body which violates a reasonable, straightforward, and natural reading of the Biblical text. What’s more, it’s a text that is already under assault from without by our feminist culture. Christians who are aware of this assault are naturally going to object when it comes from within. They do so faithfully and in good conscience.

An Ungodly Defense

I wish the same could be said of most of those defending this, but here are the kinds of objections I’m seeing the most:

First up is the classic “You’re misogynists!” Whether through malice or simple Biblical ignorance, the most common complaint is that the objectors are terrible misogynists, sexists, and incels who, in the manner of mustache-twirling villains, are just out to get women. One could complain about their ad hominem and psychologizing, but neither is really the biggest issue with this complaint. The biggest issue is that misogyny is a fake sin. That term is meaningless outside of the modern egalitarian context. And in the Biblical context, God straightforwardly undermines that entire enterprise and dethrones its false god of equality.

What these proponents are doing is uniting their voices with that of the world to condemn whatever dares set itself against their common idol. The fact that they and Holy Scripture have frequently drawn that same label for acknowledging that anything is forbidden to women does not concern them. They are quite content not only to wield the Enemy’s weapons against Christians, but also to sharpen those weapons for future use against themselves. There comes a time when one must objectively consider which side of the Great Conflict they are truly fighting for, and recognize, like Luther did with Zwingli, that we are not of the same Spirit.

Next is the contention that CPH is a publishing house, not the church. Like the aforementioned “just writing a book” sophistry, this is another fine example of legalistic excuse-making. Its closest kin is a little brother holding his finger a millimeter away from his sibling and declaring, “I’m not touching you!” But sadly, it is even more inadequate than that. After all, the LCMS is a major church body. CPH describes itself and is described by us as the publishing arm of that church body. We cannot simply pretend that the arm is amputated from the body when it suits us but attached when it’s trying to peddle doctrinally trustworthy wares. One might as well declare “It was not I that was touching you, but merely this arm which I’m only subtly attached to.” In terms of this kind of action, there is no meaningful distinction.

And, of course, you have folks arguing that God’s command doesn’t matter because the author is a very very good teacher. But notice how we don’t do this with any of the other Biblical requirements. We do not permit our pastor to have four wives just because he’s not even a little bit quarrelsome. Neither do we say that it’s no big deal if a man is a drunkard because he’s extremely hospitable (you should see his keggers!) These are not human requirements established by HR that we can adjust on-the-fly, as when a candidate has no experience in SQL, but his expertise in Angular makes up for it. These are handed down by God. We may not understand why being a man is a requirement. We may not like that it is. But our own failures to grasp God’s revealed will do not excuse us from treating it as important.

But all of these are only cheap attempts to get the issue quickly dismissed on a technicality. The real problem is when weak pastors actually begin to circumscribe the pastoral office–deliberately making it tiny so as not to restrict any feminine ambition. While they, unlike the excuse-makers, are at least looking to Scripture, their stubborn misuse of it ends up far more damaging. Just like the Gospel reductionists of the last century, they do not have the stomach for individual battles over women lectors, teachers, writers, children’s sermon preachers, and so forth. They therefore abandon the battleground by repeatedly retreating to whichever part of the pastoral office isn’t currently under attack in the LCMS.

Some will try to restrict the scope of these commands to the divine service itself. They restrict “in all the churches” from 1 Corinthians to an hour on Sunday morning, and surreptitiously add it to 1 Timothy as well. Of course, if the scope were truly as hermetically sealed to Sunday morning as they contend, the latter passage would become truly strange. After all, God gives women an alternative to teaching and having authority: childbearing. Is God therefore saying that births should take place during the divine service?

Others, of course, realize that even that stand isn’t narrow enough to avoid a battle, for women lectors who teach God’s authoritative Word to the congregation during the divine service are a relatively common sight in the LCMS. (That is how women’s ordination began among Anglicans a century ago, by the way.) So the pastoral office needs to be made even more cartoonishly small. I saw one LCMS pastor casually arguing that unless a woman is specifically delivering a sermon during the divine service on Sunday morning, she is not usurping the office of pastor. Although, with women delivering children’s sermons is many places, even that may not be sufficiently narrow to avoid controversy. So we’d better just call it a children’s “message” instead.

It becomes a truly silly position in the end. Most obviously, we reduce our God-given shepherds to mere figureheads sporting an empty title disconnected from anything tangible. But the overt foolishness built up by this kind of retreat will, itself, inevitably lead to discarding God’s requirement altogether, as the ELCA has done long ago. After all, if a woman can do whatever she wants so long as she doesn’t claim the title of pastor or call her sermon a sermon, it’s only a decade or so until that obvious legal fiction is discarded as well and women’s ordination becomes an explicit practice.

Using the Women of the Bible Against the Bible

Nevertheless, one does not teleport directly to that extreme, but takes a path well travelled. It proceeds in increments achieved by wielding Scripture against itself under the guise of using Scripture to interpret Scripture. After all, don’t we read stories about Deborah, Miriam, or Mary addressing the Church in song? Wasn’t Priscilla a strong independent woman in control of her own life who set that teacher Apollos straight about his theology? Doesn’t Junia being well-known among the apostles testify to her teaching ministry? Surely these examples must demonstrate that 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy can’t mean what they sound like!

Using Scripture to interpret Scripture properly is indeed an essential element to reading comprehension. However, there are appropriate priorities when doing this. For example, one must interpret less clear passages in light of the more clear passages. When, say, foolish Christians try to decide the date for Christ’s return they do the opposite: They interpret Jesus’ clear statement that no one knows the day or the hour in light of difficult passages in Revelation which they think they’ve “decoded.”

Likewise, one must understand descriptive passages in light of clear prescriptive passages. That’s why Christians don’t use Acts 4:32-5:11 to impose Christian socialism, but rather interpret that event in light of prescriptive passages about generosity. That’s why we don’t use Jacob or David to argue that polygamy is A-OK in all times and places. But that is also why one shouldn’t use descriptive passages about women to determine what prescriptive passages like 1 Timothy 2 are “allowed” to tell us. So let’s look at a few of these examples and see whether it’s at all difficult to interpret any of them in light of the prescriptive passages.

Junia is pretty easy. All the Bible says is this: “Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners. They are well known to the apostles, and they were in Christ before me.” This says nothing about teaching or having authority–only that she is imprisoned like Paul and known to the apostles.  The same could be said of Phoebe, whom Paul called “a servant [deaconess] of the church at Cenchreae” and “a patron of many and myself as well.”

This is only an issue when one is so mentally broken by the Spirit of the Age that he cannot conceive of anyone being well-known unless they’re teaching and exercising authority over men. Do you really think there’s nothing else that a woman could do to serve? Is there nothing else a Christian could be imprisoned for or that would garner apostolic attention? This is a failure of the impoverished egalitarian imagination, not a barrier to a straightforward understanding of the prescriptive verses.

Then what about Mary? Do we need to excise the Magnificat from liturgy and Scripture alike because she’s a woman teaching theology? One need only read the Gospel of Luke to refute this. Mary spoke the Magnificat to Elizabeth concerning the ultimate work of motherhood that God had called her to. It is Luke who then gave this treasure to the Church through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. We, then, faithfully repeat these blessed words from God as we worship Him. It shouldn’t need to be said that a man teaching about a woman–the mother of God–is not a woman teaching. Nevertheless, even the obvious points must be spoon-fed to those determined to distrust God’s commands.

How about the women who first proclaimed Jesus’ resurrection? Weren’t they preaching every time they gave their testimony of what they witnessed that first Easter? Of course they bore witness to the miracle they had seen. How could they not? I’m sure they eagerly spoke to many early Christians about what it was like to see their risen Lord. But once again, it is the apostles who delivered their testimony as teachings of the Church through their preaching and through Holy Scripture. Once again, God called men to proclaim what these women had seen and heard to the churches.

One must truly close his eyes to be unable to see the difference. This deliberate confusion is as silly as going to a courtroom and confusing a witness with the judge. One is presiding. One is giving testimony under that judge’s purview–with all manner of process and ceremony to separate the two in the eyes of the jury. Courts do not blur those lines. Neither should the Church.

What then of prophetesses like Anna and Deborah? Didn’t they proclaim the very word of God for the edification of his people? In a sense, yes, but people really need to think this one through before giving those examples. Does anyone seriously contend that the woman in question is a prophetess? Because that is a whole different can of worms.

Even setting aside God’s penalties for falsely claiming to be a prophet, prophet and pastor are not the same office. Pastor is a mediated call–meaning he is called to his office by men acting in the stead of Christ. That’s why there are lists of qualifications for pastors. There is no such list for prophets. To be sure, prophets don’t have to be men. But then, they don’t have to be believers either, seeing as how Saul became a prophet while trying to murder David. For that matter, prophets don’t even need to be human. After all, God opened the mouth of Balaam’s donkey to speak and Christ warned the Jews that if his followers were silent the very stones would cry out. God had the prophets do some crazy things, and the way He worked through them is often mind-boggling. But as each case is God’s direct action, it has absolutely no bearing on the matter of women being appointed by men to teach in the church.

Then what about Priscilla? Let’s consider the text. Acts 18 describes the eloquent and competent Apollos teaching in the Synagogues, but Priscilla explained things to him even more accurately. Clearly this is a woman teaching a learned man in the church, right?

Well, for one thing, the text is about Priscilla and her husband, Aquila, but he always seems to get left out even though Scripture attributes the teaching to “them” rather than “her.” Second, it explicitly says that they took Apollos aside to explain these things. So you have a Christian couple conversing privately and informally about Christ as they bring a man up to speed on Christian Baptism. You can tell a lot about this argument by the details that are usually left out:  private, informal, working in conjunction with and under the authority of her husband. These details mark a profound difference from the situation at hand: publishing and marketing an instructional text for a church body.

This narrative about Priscilla and Aquila does not undo the prescriptive texts that forbid women from teaching and having authority over men in the church. Neither does it bind the prescriptive texts to the divine service itself or possession of a particular title. All it does is suggest a difference between the overt work of the church and casual correspondence among believers–something that is already an organic part of literally any human community and should therefore appear exceptional to precisely no one.

Disciplining our Sinful Nature

There is, however, a relevant point we can learn from this text, and it has to do with legalism. One might ask: “Where exactly is the line between having an informal but informative discussion about theology and this act of teaching which God forbids?” But if it’s a clear and well-defined line you’re looking for, you’re out of luck because that’s not how this works.

The situation is analogous to asking “what’s the line between healthy, God-given sexual desire and lust?” We know from Scripture that both of these things exist and that there is absolutely a difference between the two. We can also easily think of clear examples on either side (e.g. letting your wife’s breasts satisfy you as Proverbs instructs vs leering at pornography.) God even freely gives us a fair amount of Biblical wisdom to discern between the two in the many non-extreme parts of our lives. But discernment is not a flowchart that defines a clear line and therefore justifies us.

The reality is that we can’t always tell. What we can do, however, is recognize what our sexual desire is for and work to discipline it so that it leads us into godly marriage rather than fornication. And that discipline does take work because our nature is fallen–our desire will always be sinful to some extent. That’s why we must also depend on grace from beginning to end.

The same is true with women talking about theology. We know there are innocent and evil ends of the spectrum. We can easily think of clear examples. We have Biblical wisdom to help us discern in genuine middle cases. But there is no flowchart by which we can justify ourselves because our desires themselves are disordered. Eve’s curse–to want to control her husband–is part of fallen nature. Like errant sexual desire, a women’s desire to take authority over men must be mortified through discipline.

One form of that discipline is that women need to devote themselves to what God has explicitly called them to do. As they serve their families and the Church in many and various ways, they will naturally end up having many innocent theological conversations. But insofar as they stick to their vocations, those conversations will not evolve into forbidden teaching.

The other form of that discipline is listening to faithful Christians point out when you’ve gone too far. In a healthy community, this will happen naturally when a situation first starts looking sketchy. People will speak up about propriety well before things go too far. Those willing to listen will quickly get back on track, and those persist in refusing to listen will ultimately leave that community one way or another.

One of the most obvious indications that CPH’s decision to publish is squarely in the sinful end of this spectrum is that the arguments defending it vehemently reject both those forms of discipline as quaint or foolish. Instead of recognizing the ambiguity in the middle and working to keep their distance from sin, they strive to get as close as possible to a line they cannot clearly see and inevitably careen over it.

When proponents mockingly straw-man the opposition with lines like “they say women aren’t allowed to do anything but have babies!” they are undermining women’s primary God-given vocation with their derision. Many of them genuinely betray an inability to think of women’s Biblical roles as godly or valuable. Like the medieval monastics, they possess the attitude that official church work is the only truly God-pleasing work and that denying women such an opportunity is wicked and sinful.

They reject the other form of discipline even more firmly. They relentlessly attack those of us who dare suggest that a woman has gone too far. They attempt to shame and cancel anyone who suggests a situation is sketchy or speaks of propriety. They even try to reduce the pastoral office to practically nothing in order to take away examples that would have been quite clear to every Christian who lived outside of our modern egalitarian culture.

In Conclusion

You may have noticed that my entire argument concerns the controversy rather than the author or her book. This is deliberate; I know neither the author nor her book apart from the controversy, so I have nothing to say there. I do not object to what she wrote or to the fact that a woman wrote a book, but rather that she and CPH are working together to set her up as a teacher in the church. That is the problem. And no amount of legalistic hedging or minimization of the pastoral office resolves that problem.

This controversy has exposed the sad fact that the LCMS is not a particularly healthy community at present. We pat ourselves on the back for our devotion to worldly values like representation, inclusion, and the shattering of glass ceilings. In contrast, we can only muster a shrug at the Word of God when it speaks against those values. What’s more, there are many wolves among us who attack those who faithfully resist the world on the sure ground of Holy Scripture. They undermine sound doctrine and faithful men alike.

Just like last century’s gospel reductionism, the root of this controversy lies in a refusal by Christians to fight the good fight of the faith. Back then, they were afraid of standing up to academics. Now we’re even afraid of standing up to women. But we do not get to choose how Satan attacks the Bride of Christ; ours is only to respond as God has instructed us.

May God once again have mercy on this Synod and raise up Godly men of courage and character who will testify to God’s Word over and against this world and its prince.

Posted in Feminism, Lutheranism, The Modern Church, Theological Liberalism, Theology, Tradition, Vocation | 6 Comments

Christian Women and the Abandonment of Vocation

Women studying at seminaryWomen writing books of theological instructionWomen leading the liturgy and administering the Sacraments…  Feminism’s self-insertion into the pastoral office has not yet slackened if these ongoing debates in ‘conservative’ churches are any indication.

Clearly, we are surrounded by a multitude of women who wish to teach and guide Christ’s Church. We are also surrounded by a multitude of weak men who want to score worldly brownie-points by encouraging women to get as close to being a pastor as possible without crossing “the line.”

The line, of course, refers to God’s explicit commands like “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man.” In light of that, anyone pushing women teachers (who still pretends to be faithful) must ask themselves how far women are really allowed to go in fulfilling their desire to be teachers and leaders. Congregational offices like voter and president aren’t explicitly forbidden in Scripture, right? Is writing theology books for my church body really “teaching” per se? Is standing at the front of the congregation and reading God’s Word actually “preaching”? How about preaching the weekly children’s sermon that’s also heard by the whole congregation? Their answers to these questions vary, but they universally produce some kind of “pastor lite” role for women.

And that should be our first clue that the problem is actually in the question. “To what extent does God forbid what I want to do” is not what Christians should be asking themselves. The better question is, “what has God instructed me to do?”

This question of vocation, or calling, is one of the highlights of the Lutheran Reformation. While many at the time saw the height of spirituality in the works of monasticism and its rigorous traditions, Luther the former monk knew how much of it was human invention that God never actually commanded. And unfortunately, the Church had lost the habit of searching Scripture, which is so replete with true instructions from God. Had they maintained that habit, no ordinary Christian would ever have thought there was a shortage of truly good works to perform outside of church work.

While Americans typically look at God’s rules as a string of thou-shalt-nots which fence us in, the reality is that taking them seriously will always provide us with an infinity of thou-shalts as well. For example, if our neighbor’s bodily well-being is so important that murder is a grievous sin, then we should also seek to care for his bodily needs. If his property is so important that we mustn’t steal it, then we should do what we can to help him keep and enlarge it as well.

Luther’s Large Catechism is an excellent work of theology that (among other things) explores each of the 10 Commandments in this way. And it includes many lines such as “Whoever now seeks and desires good works will find here more than enough to do that are heartily acceptable and pleasing to God. In addition, they are favored and crowned with excellent blessings.” Christians should be overjoyed to receive such treasures from our Lord.

God’s instructions for us don’t end with the 10 Commandments, of course. But my point is that Christians should not be looking to Scripture merely for limits on what we want. When we do this, we are still pursuing our own ends while “allowing” Christ to trim the fringes. Rather, we should be looking to the Bible for direction in what we ought to want and what God has given us to do. It is precisely in that respect that most conversations about women’s roles in the Church utterly fail.

Women who aspire to be teachers (and the men who encourage them) scour Scripture to try and find some license for what they’ve already decided to do. They take brief mentions of Phoebe or Junia and use them to spin great and expansive yarns about deaconesses and “women apostles.” They try to project “attitudes” onto Christ apart from His instructions, which always seem to match their own attitudes and always seem to allow exactly what they want to allow. They wax as legalistic as any Pharisee to explain why the specific teaching and authority they seek isn’t technically the same teaching and authority which God forbids them.

Very tellingly, however, most would-be female teachers ignore the places where God explicitly instructs women to teach. According to Titus 2, “[Older women] are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.” You say you are called to teach in the Church? Very well, God has just explicitly assigned you both your students and your curriculum! What greater and more God-pleasing work could you ask for than for what He’s specifically set aside for you to do?

And this is not the only teaching to which women are called. Solomon begins Proverbs by saying “Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching, for they are a graceful garland for your head and pendants for your neck.” Paul likewise says of Timothy’s faith, “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well,” explicitly honoring the great and mighty works that the most important women in Timothy’s life had performed. After all, when God forbids women from teaching and having authority over men in the church, He immediately provides women with a different responsibility, saying “Yet she will be saved through childbearing–if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.” Once again, what greater work of teaching could you aspire to than teaching the children God has called you to bear and to raise?

It is precisely these God-given vocations which are shunned by feminists. Most of these aspiring teachers would happily give up the most fertile years of their lives, spend a hefty sum of their parents’ money, and subject their future households to crippling debt all to prepare for what they want to teach. But what effort have they put into preparing themselves for the great tasks that God has actually given to them? Instead, how many have waited for a husband to show up rather than seek one? How many have deliberately put off marriage & children or minimized their time in the home for the sake of a career? How many have despised God’s instructions to submit to their husbands? And, of course, how many of the older women of the previous generations who should have been teaching them these things abandoned their own God-given posts and encouraged college above all else?

The sad reality is that American Christians–men and women alike–have long been taking their marching orders from the world rather than from the Lord. We make idols of education & career and then literally cannot conceive of any truly God-pleasing work outside of those narrow spheres. In the terminal stages of this worldliness, we actually become resentful of Jesus because He gets in the way of worshiping our idols. Far be it from Christians to live this way!

God’s instructions should not just be holding us back; they should be propelling us forward. That means we have to sit at Jesus’ feet and truly learn from him. And that includes letting him teach us about His creation of humans as either men or women. When God appoints men rather than women to teach & have authority in the Church and when He places fathers in charge of the home, it is not the result of a coin flip. It is not an arbitrary difference in roles for fundamentally interchangeable parts; it is what He specifically shaped each sex for. Scripture explicitly ties God’s command to both Creation and the Fall–two fundamental aspects of our nature which we cannot change. He has crafted men and women differently for the different good works prepared in advance for us to do.

So let us truly be His servants. Let us accept the works our Master has given us–even at the expense of the very different works which the world and its Prince acclaim. As our Lord said, one cannot serve two masters. So choose this day which one you would serve.

Posted in Family, Feminism, Law, The Modern Church, Vocation | 3 Comments

A Biblical Case Against Polygamy

It shouldn’t be surprising that civilization hinges on getting sexuality right–or at least right “enough” in a fallen world. Investing our own flesh and blood in the next generation is perhaps the most literal understanding of “having skin in the game,” civilizationally speaking. Family is how we are first dragged kicking and screaming out of our selfishness, and as a casual perusal of child-free reddit suggests, that process seems to halt if one deliberately refuses to have children of his own. Broad and ordered participation in marriage and family is man’s greatest motivation for restraining wickedness.

As our own civilization unravels in response to the thread of sexual morality being yanked out, Christians must be equipped to speak to not only the new barbarisms of our day but the resurging barbarisms of the ancient world. One of those is polygamy. As I wrote a long time ago, fallen male and female nature have their own insidious complementarity. Sexually barbaric men like to accumulate harems, and sexually barbaric women like to trade up to the highest status man available to them. But as more men become incels and more women simultaneously become slatterns, the math alone makes it clear that this shift is already well underway–a larger number of women are opting to sleep with a far smaller number of men.

In light of this change, the Church must be careful. We are no less in a time of change than  the rest of the Western world is. There’s a reason we all have the growing sense that things cannot remain as they were. History has amply provided us with examples of men embracing polygamy as they take advantage of such weakened churches (e.g. the rise of Mohammed, the Munster Rebellion, Joseph Smith, etc.) And as the devil and the world continue to change the kind of pressures they apply against us, Christians would do well to look closely at what God’s Word has to say on the subject.

Now, some will claim that the Bible is silent on the issue. After all, polygamy seems fairly common among the Old Testament Patriarchs and kings. Likewise, there is no explicit or universal prohibition on polygamy in Scripture like there is for sins like murder and adultery. However, the absence of explicit command is a call for us to exercise our God-given wisdom rather than license to do whatever we feel like. And the Bible provides us with a great deal of wisdom on the subject. Let’s look closely at a few examples.

“Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”

When the Pharisees brought up the issue of divorce, Jesus went right back to the beginning. He quoted Genesis 2 and reasoned from it, saying “what God has joined together, let not man separate.” When the Pharisees used the example of Mosaic law to justify themselves, Jesus had none of it. He made it explicitly clear that God merely tolerated divorce–going so far as to regulate it by means of giving a civil law to somewhat restrain its evil. But outside of specific narrow exceptions (adultery and abandonment) he established quite clearly that divorce is adultery, a mortal sin. And I do find it interesting that Jesus quotes from Genesis 2 rather than Malachi 2 which makes his exact point. He expects those who hear and believe God’s Word to be able to use it to make sound judgments.

It would be difficult not to reason in the same way as Christ and apply it to polygamy as well. “Have you not read that the two become one flesh?” Therefore what God has made one, let not man divide amongst others so that the three become two fleshes. The self-giving nature of marriage such that two persons share one flesh is certainly undermined by dividing oneself among many instead. And indeed, “wife” is quite singular in this original institution of marriage. “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve” is a hokey saying, but it’s also a legitimate argument among those who wish to learn from Jesus rather than just making sure He doesn’t step on their toes. “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Eve, Cheryl & Susie” is no less legitimate. And if God tolerated Polygamy among his people, let us not be like the Pharisees and take His longsuffering & forbearance as license.

The First Polygamist

Genesis is sparse on the details of the antediluvian world. That’s why it’s a good idea to sit up and take notice when a detail is important enough to provide. That includes highlighting history’s first polygamist, Lamech. It’s worth observing that he arises out of the ungodly line of Cain. It’s also worth observing that this is the same man who murdered a young man and boasted about it to his two wives, saying, “If Cain’s revenge is sevenfold, then Lamech’s is seventy-sevenfold.” To be sure, this is by no means conclusive. After all, we don’t call metalworking or musical instruments sinful simply because they arose out of Cain’s line. Nevertheless, if you want Scripture to inform you about polygamy rather than just working to justify it, then the deliberate association of polygamy with Lamech should certainly give you pause.

“Rejoice in the wife of your youth.”

When Solomon advises his son to avoid the adulteress, he also commends to him an alternative: “Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely deer, a graceful doe. Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love.” Once again, we must make two observations. First, “satisfy yourself by marrying another woman” and “remember how many wives you already have” are not among the advice. Second, Solomon and the Holy Spirit make the word “wife” singular here. It is only in verses 16 & 17, where Solomon speaks of promiscuity, that he uses plurals in his imagery of streams flowing in the streets. When he goes back from metaphorical to literal language, he also goes back to a singular wife in his instruction. Both of these observations are in stark contrast to the enormity of Solomon’s own harem. It is clearly not his own norm that Solomon is delivering here, but rather God’s norm. If we seek to heed God’s Wisdom here, then we should necessarily seek monogamy.

Song of Solomon

Here we have a book about the love between a husband and wife as both a good gift of God and as an image of God’s love for his Church–a point reiterated in Ephesians 5. But in each case, there is but one bridegroom and but one bride. No other lover or beloved intrudes on the intimacy therein. Neither is there a “2nd Song of Solomon ” about one of his other wives. In these places we get a glimpse into marriage as God designed it, and in both cases, polygamy is completely alien to the imagery God gives us. There’s nothing we can do to shoehorn it in.

“Each man should have his own wife.”

In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul instructs Christians on how to resist temptations to fornication: “Each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband.” As always, we find the same singular nouns used throughout–a consistency in God’s instructions regarding marriage we dare not overlook. But there is another practical point to be found in Paul’s instructions. If each man is to have his own wife, simple math would suggest that men should not seek to acquire more wives.

Polygamous societies always result in lower status men being denied the option of having their own wives. Accordingly, the man who hoards women for himself falls under the judgement of James’ words: “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?” We rightly condemn women who subject their husbands to temptation by withholding sex. In ordinary circumstances, polygamists likewise create such temptation for their brothers in Christ.

“An overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife.”

When the New Testament establishes the qualifications for pastors and deacons, it consistently starts with the stipulation that he must be the husband of one wife. These lists include items that concern moral character (e.g self-controlled), skills (e.g. apt to teach), and items that are really both (e.g. hospitable). Now these positions obviously require a higher standard coram mundo than what is applied to laity. So it’s not an explicit requirement that all Christian men be monogamous. Nevertheless, there is no other entry on theses list that ordinary Christian men are morally exempt from.

We are all to be sober, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money, etc. These are all things every Christian man ought to aspire to and strive for. There is no Scriptural reason to place “Husband of one wife” in a different category. They are higher standards for church workers because every Christian is a sinner, and sanctification is a lifelong process. If a man is not sufficiently there yet, then he shouldn’t be put in charge. Nevertheless, recent converts, men who have lapsed, and the like are still to be morally reformed through the teaching of God’s Word in all of these respects.

This is not intended to be an exhaustive list, but these are the passages of Scripture that came to my mind first. None of them are a blatant “thou shalt not marry a second wife.” But together I think they make it clear that polygamy is an evil of a fallen world which Christians ought to resist. But before I address some possible objections to my case, I do want to make two caveats:

First, this case against polygamy is a matter of moral wisdom, not a moral absolute. In other words, it is possible for there to be real exceptions in exceptional circumstances. I would compare the matter to divorce or contraception. I have no problem saying that both of these things are great evils. Nevertheless, I also acknowledge that there are Biblical exceptions in which divorce is not counted as a moral infraction, namely abandonment and adultery. Likewise, though the vast majority of our uses for contraception are blatantly sinful (fornicating freely, hating children, breaking the golden rule, etc.) there are a handful of cases in which it could be considered legitimate medicine (for example, when a wife belatedly discovers that pregnancy would be fatal to both her and her unborn child.) But beware, because exceptions are exceptional–by their nature, it is quite unlikely that they apply to you.

Second, this case against polygamy is with respect to marrying additional wives. It is not my contention that having two wives puts one in some kind of state of perpetual adultery. It’s not as though the 2nd marriage were not a real marriage or that one has a duty to divorce once he realizes the immorality of polygamy. Divorcing a faithful spouse, after all, is an even greater evil. We repent of our sins, but we cannot always undo them–anymore than one could undo a past of fornication and debauchery.

With that clarified, let’s move on to some objections.

What about the Old Testament kings and Patriarchs?

Certainly, many of them had multiple wives, and we don’t consider them unrepentant sinners because of it. Nevertheless, we do consider them to be sinners in general; their actions aren’t universally endorsed by Scripture. True, God never calls any of them on the carpet over their polygamy. But then, God directly calling out anyone in an explicit and visible way is a relatively rare event–even for the patriarchs. We often think of the Old Testament as wall-to-wall miracles, but that’s only due to the nature of the writing. We only get a few pages in between times God talks to Abraham. Abraham got a few decades.

It’s also true that we never see them repenting over their polygamy either. But then, I doubt they realized all of their moral failings anymore than I realize all of mine–especially things so normalized by one’s culture. If our status as a Christian required us to be cognizant of our every failing, then no one would be saved. So the mere fact of Patriarchal polygamy isn’t compelling license by itself.

The Patriarchs were also a lot more likely to find themselves in exceptional circumstances. Abraham took Hagar essentially as a concubine at Sarah’s behest in order to make God’s promise of a child happen (I don’t think we can commend Abraham for that episode, though.) Jacob contracted to marry Rachel, but was swindled into marrying Leah instead. He then fulfilled his original engagement. As for his other wives, he took his first two wives’ maids as concubines in submission to their impulsiveness. (Again, I don’t think we can really commend Jacob for that choice. In Genesis, “He listened to his wife” never ends well.)

David, a man after God’s own heart, certainly had multiple wives. However, he also continually gained, lost, and regained them his entire life–generally due to his anointing as king in one way or another. Once again, we find that his circumstances were truly exceptional. How often does God just strike a woman’s husband dead because he insulted you and you may want to take responsibility for this new widow you’ve made who just went far our of her way to assist you as king? How often are you thrown into exile and your wife is forcibly married to someone else? How often do you receive wives as inheritance, spoils of war, or tokens of political alliance?

The wives of David and Israel’s other kings are inextricably wrapped up in a vocation that is largely alien to the modern mind. It is in that context which we must understand God’s comment to David through Nathan, “I gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your arms… and if this were too little, I would add to you as much more.” God is explicitly speaking about David’s inheritance of the kingship.  Certainly his multiple wives were declared to be good gifts of God, but that is in keeping with David’s office. We cannot therefore conclude that God approves of polygamy per se just because He counted David’s as a gift.

God has often blessed individuals, nations, and the world even through the sins of men. Jesus’ family tree, for example, includes both incest (Ruth was a Moabite) and prostitution (Judah and… Tamar?) but we can hardly consider that a mark of God’s approval. As Joseph wisely said of his brothers, “what you meant for evil, God meant for good.” Between that and David’s unique vocation, his polygamy is adequately explained without resorting to some broad permissibility.

To be sure, it’s not our place to retroactively judge David or Jacob on matters of moral wisdom. We are too far removed from their lives to do so adequately. Nevertheless, it is out place to decide whether or not it’s right to follow their examples in our own lives based on the wisdom God has given to us. When it comes to polygamy, I see no Godly wisdom to commend it as good or right today.

Didn’t Luther endorse bigamy?

The question of polygamy is not a new one in the Lutheran tradition. The Reformation was also a time of great change, and occasionally, people had suggested polygamy as one of them. There are several cases in which figures like Luther and Melanchthon refused to forbid a man from taking another wife.

One of them was with respect to a man whose wife became incapable of intercourse due to illness and sought a second wife for the sake of children and his chastity. That is where we get Luther’s infamous quote, “I confess that I cannot forbid a man from marrying several wives, for it does not contradict the Scripture.” But that quote is not the full story. Luther wrote this as advice to the husband’s ruler–on whether to allow his desire to legally stand or not. The husband in question had already received permission in his spiritual counsel from Andreas Carlstadt (who later broke from the Lutherans and became a notorious radical.) Luther’s advice to the husband’s ruler is simply to not interfere with what had already transpired. The larger quote is this:

The husband must be sure and convinced in his own conscience by means of the Word of God that it is lawful in his case. Therefore let him seek out such men as may convince him by the Word of God, whether Carlstadt, or some other, matters not at all to the Prince. For if the fellow is not sure of his case, then the permission of the Prince will not make him so; nor is it for the Prince to decide on this point, for it is the priests business to expound the Word of God, and, as Zacharias says, from their lips the Law of the Lord must be learned. I, for my part, admit I can raise no objection if a man wishes to take several wives since Holy Scripture does not forbid this; but I should not like to see this example introduced amongst Christians. … It does not beseem Christians to seize greedily and for their own advantage on every thing to which their freedom gives them a right. … No Christian surely is so God-forsaken as not to be able to practice continence when his partner, owing to the Divine dispensation, proves unfit for matrimony. Still, we may well let things take their course.

This is not a statement of license for polygamy. It is a statement of political tolerance in a particular case–entirely in keeping with the argument I’ve laid out thus far.

Another better-known example of Luther permitting bigamy is in regards to Phillip of Hesse, a German prince and supporter of the Reformation who sought another wife because he hated his first wife and continually fled from her into fornication. He nagged Luther for years on the issue, even leveraging political pressure against him. Eventually, Luther wished to quietly concede the point and permit it.

However, the fact that Luther wished to concede the point quietly is really all you need to know on the matter. Luther was not exactly known for shrinking away from making controversial public statements. The fact that he himself was so uncomfortable with that private judgment should be a huge red flag for us. At best, in the course of pastoral council, he allowed bigamy in what he believed was an extraordinary circumstance. At worst, it was a rare example of Luther caving to political pressure despite his reputation for resisting it. You may judge the matter for yourself, but neither of these constitutes a blessing of polygamy.

Instead, let’s consider an earlier (and better) statement from Luther to Phillip on the subject:

As regards the other matter, my faithful warning and advice is that no man, Christians in particular, should have more than one wife, not only for the reason that offense would be given, and Christians must not needlessly give, but most diligently avoid giving, offense, but also for the reason that we have no word of God regarding this matter on which we might base a belief that such action would be well-pleasing to God and to Christians. Let heathen and Turks do what they please. Some of the ancient fathers had many wives, but they were urged to this by necessity, as Abraham and Jacob, and later many kings, who according to the law of Moses obtained the wives of their friends, on the death of the latter, as an inheritance. The example of the fathers is not a sufficient argument to convince a Christian: he must have, in addition, a divine word that makes him sure, just as they had a word of that kind from God. For where there was no need or cause, the ancient fathers did not have more than one wife, as Isaac, Joseph, Moses, and many others. For this reason I cannot advise for, but must advise against, your intention, particularly since you are a Christian, unless there were an extreme necessity, as, for instance, if the wife were leprous or the husband were deprived of her for some other reason. On what grounds to forbid other people such marriages I know not.

That, I believe, is where the matter truly stands. We should never broadly say “polygamy is not a sin” anymore than we should broadly say “divorce is not a sin.” The rule is that it is a sin; it’s only in the exceptions that it may be permissible. At best, it can be tolerated in certain circumstances.

We have been blessed to have lived in a civilization where polygamy has long been unthinkable, and we are cursed to now be losing that civilization due to our own sin. But in the chaos of one age passing into another, let us not allow bizarre circumstances or worldly pressures to cause us to forget God’s Word and design. Neither let us take an absence of moral command as a license to flout moral wisdom.

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