White Paper #13: The Fall’s effect on our Souls

There were six key takeaways from our initial consideration of the Fall’s impact.

  1. Sin is always speaking a challenge to God’s ordered world: its nature is to twist what God has made and said and bend it to its opposite.  All sins are lies.
  2. When we add to God’s word, we subtract from the freedom we have in Him.
  3. Our enemy will work hard to soften the edges of his allurements: he will work to convince us what he proposes is just a version of what God does.
  4. We are at risk of being deceived by him if we depart from God’s word and forget God’s character.
  5. Sin will cause us shame that we will work to hide.
  6. Sin will lead us to blame others.

What does this all mean?  Three things. Let’s first consider the impact on our souls: alienation from God.  Genesis 3:22-24

Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—” therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.

We are born separated from God; alienated from Him; without access to Him.  Theologically, we call this “original sin.”  The Ad Interim Committee Study paper says the following:

STATEMENT 3: ORIGINAL SIN 

We affirm that from the sin of our first parents we have received an inherited guilt and an inherited depravity (Rom. 5:12-19; Eph. 2:1-3). From this original corruption—which is itself sinful and for which we are culpable—proceed all actual transgressions. All the outworking of our corrupted nature (a corruption which remains, in part, even after regeneration) are truly and properly called sin (WCF 6.1-5). Every sin, original and actual, deserves death and renders us liable to the wrath of God (Rom. 3:23; James 2:10; WCF 6.6). 

This separation / alienation from God leaves it mark in loneliness, addictions, promiscuity, fear of man and anxiety. Original sin doesn’t end the image of God but makes the image a battleground.  You understand?  Because original sin goes to the bottom of who we are, it effects all of us—it makes holding to our identity very difficult. This is why so many caught up in sexual sin describe themselves by their sin—who else does that?  Alcoholics?  Drug addicts?  Fornicators?  No other sin pattern reaches so deep and is so persuasive as to convince us to relabel who we are.

Identity aspect #1: “Male and female”

The goodness of maleness and femaleness is in question: God made male and female and called it “good.”  The Fall calls it “not good.”  All of the sex and gender issues at root are assaults on the goodness of maleness and femaleness—they all act as correctives on what God has made.

The rightness of upholding (protecting, honoring) maleness and femaleness is suspect: God blessed male and female as male and female.  The Fall blesses opposites: male-as-female, female-as-male. Transgenderism captures the concept of fluidity so that no one has to hold one pole or the other—now it is right to not be one or the other.

The roles of male and female are uncertain: God gave us bodies that lead to complementary roles.  Male bodies are made for work, strength, protection, provision; female bodies are made for life-giving, nurture, development. Life is closest to its intended design when these two are working together. Now, it is not accepted to go from biology to role. It is anti-woman to suggest she stay in the sphere of life-giving, nurturing or development—she must be allowed to transcend her biology. It must also be allowed for a man to transcend his biology—even if it means he crushes biological women in sports or gets them pregnant in a woman’s prison or rapes them in a hospital.

Do you see how this is just plain demonic anti-human? This is the assault on maleness and femaleness.

Identity aspect #2: What about “Image-bearer”? 

God made us to resemble Him, be like Him, represent Him. But now, we decide to bear no one’s image except whatever we choose, right?  The Gender Unicorn helps me decide. In this, we necessarily hide from God while we work to remake ourselves—is it any wonder that the younger generations are both religiously unaffiliated and turning to LGBTQ+ so rapidly? God making us directly breathing life into us is challenged by evolutionary theory. There is no soul since there is only animated matter; there is no image we are perpetrating since we are just clumps of cells that exist randomly.

  • We have no responsibility or accountability to God for who we represent: I get to choose.

Identity aspect #3: “Subject to sin / fallenness”

Fallenness is something we seek to mortify in our flesh; something that makes us long for heaven. But now, we accept fallenness and rebuke godliness: we seek happiness in the brokenness. Since fallenness “feels” natural and godliness doesn’t, fallenness must be true and celebrated.  This is seen in the “I’m born this way” argument for Same Sex Attraction. We ignore sin or we attribute bad action to something else: lack of education, poverty, access to resources  We aren’t content in suffering or having perspective in it; we work to alleviate its pain without dealing with its source through medicine, therapy or even surgery.

Identity aspect #4: “Worshipper”

God made us to worship Him and Him alone. Now, in our fallenness, we worship the created thing rather than the Creator. And in fallenness, we are enslaved to sin rather than bondservants to God.  Peter wrote this (2 Peter 2:17):

These are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm. For them the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved. For, speaking loud boasts of folly, they entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved.

In each of these four ways, the Fall causes alienation to take root at the deepest level of our identity.

We have Lost our Children to the Matrix

I love the Matrix movie. I’ve probably watched it three-dozen times since its release. (I had a college buddy who could recite every line of Chevy Chase’s movie, Fletch. I might be able to do the same with the Matrix!)

One scene intrigues me: when Morpheus or Trinity, in the Matrix would dial up the “operator,” in putting the phone to their ears, they would then dissolve. The pixels of themselves in the Matrix would get reorganized into the flesh and blood in the Real World. Of course, they never left the Real World physically, but mentally, they would “jack” in to the Matrix and do their thing–except that their thing only happened in the minds of humanity jacked in at the time.

This is why Morpheus calls the real world (the non-jacked in world) the Real World. Of course, the Matrix was actually a part of the Real World though it couldn’t be accessed except via computer. Neo would sit in what looks like a barber’s chair while Tank would shove a huge probe into the hole on the back of Neo’s head and voila: Neo closes his eyes to the Real World and opens them to the Matrix.

The Real World was a post-apocalyptic world and it was bad in every way. Those who lived in the Real World had been set free from their role in the Matrix: they are no longer “connected.” They were free but not everyone liked that: Cypher didn’t. He longed to get back in; the Matrix was the escape because in it one could do whatever came to mind: dress, eat, play or kill. Someone jacking in from the Real World curates his experience however he wants. Everyone connected to the Matrix had roles to fill, families, friends, jobs, etc. so there were some limits for them. But not for those set free–they could jack in and be anyone and do anything. (Cypher wanted to be someone important…”like an actor.”)

In our reality, none of us is captive to the Matrix though many, many of us seek to be jacked-in to escape the Real World. Our children–from the young Millennials through to the three-year old sitting in the dentist office with her own iPad–jack in to social media, multi-player games or YouTube for h.o.u.r.s. Just as the thought of a steak was alluring enough for Cypher to return to his pre-Real World slavery in the Matrix, the personally curated online experiences of our children draw them in further and further.

But there’s more. Michael Toscano wrote in First Things an opinion piece titled, “Ensnared in the Web.” He highlights the fact that “Big Tech” hires top neurologists, psychologists and behaviorists to create a product that stimulates an endless supply of addictive Dopamine. He writes of the “search” bar:

The search is presented to us as a tool for looking outward, but in fact is is a biopsy. It “extracts” our interests, habits, convictions, hopes, friends, purchases, politics, exact location and much more….The vast ocean of digital information which requires tools to navigate became the pathway for control.

Michael Toscano, “Ensnared in the Web” First Things, May 2022.

On organizational levels, Big Tech is afflicted with the same tendencies of manipulation, greed and power that each of us has. Only armed with the right algorithm and we go where it wants us to go. And those most affected? They are the least wise and therefore most unsuspecting: tweens, teens and young adults.

Instead of taking the blue pill they turn on the blue lights of the screen. And no sooner than a swipe and voila! They are jacked-in. In the Matrix, to be jacked-in meant you were at risk of discovery by the Agents. Once found it was run or die. At one point Neo asked Morpheus what happens if one dies in the Matrix. “The body cannot live without the mind,” he answered. The one killed in the Matrix slumps in his chair in the Real World: his eyes closed, lifeless, breathless–captured by the Matrix never to be released again.

  • How many of us have walked into our children’s rooms to see them: eyes reflecting the blue light, virtually breathless, apparently lifeless, slumped–captured by the online world (maybe) never to be released again?

What is there to be done? How many of us realize there is no neutral ground anyplace in Creation–including the Web? Do we instruct our children on its dangers? Do we believe there is danger there? Are we suspicious enough of Big Tech? The whole world is moving everything possible online in the vain belief that perhaps it can be a place of utopia. Free speech! Freedom to browse and surf! Freedom to comment! Freedom to vent and curse! Freedom to perform without risk–a place where “I can be somebody important…like an actor”!

The reality is that smartphones don’t belong in the hands of children. They hardly belong in the hands of young adults. Perhaps it’s true that parenting has never been so hard. It is two voices (hopefully) against a Legion of them: truly, what can be done? Pray. Pray for what the apostle Paul warned in Colossians:

See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.

Colossians 2:8

Take your family to a confessing and faithful church. Put the kids in Sunday school and youth group. Encourage other adults to commit to friending your kids. Toss your kids outside and tell them to play. Limit the time they spend on devices and limit the places they can go when they’re on them. Go camping or biking or long-boarding. Educate yourself on the dangers of social media.

You can do it. They won’t like it but what do they know? We might not be able to reform Big Tech but we can educate our children and grandchildren and “play the man” like we’re supposed to do.

White Paper #12: Our Framework: the Fall

With this paper, we jump into the second major part of our framework for considering sex and gender: the Fall. For those who aren’t familiar, an overarching way to view the story of redemption in Christ is “Creation, Fall, Redemption and Glorification.” This white paper begins our look at the Fall.

First, a review. We start with the six (6) facts of Creation:

  • We are all made in God’s image
  • Each person is either male or female
  • God blessed us in our maleness and femaleness
  • To be male and female is necessary for the work the Lord has for us
  • Male and female highlights the relationship between Christ and the church
  • There is no interchangeability between the sexes

Then, from there we recognize “Biology is apology”: It tells us our sex and it tells us our roles. Next, we consider how these things speak to us about “identity” and “identifiers.”

  • Identity is what we have in common with every other man, woman and child: male or female, in God’s image, subject to the Fall, worshipper.  
  • Identifiers are person-specific and can be good and godly or bad and sinful.  

Pronouns matter—but not that much.  And, in this mission, we accept people with an agenda.

Why is all this necessary?  Man’s original disobedience.

The impact of the fall cannot be underestimated. Now, thorough-going fallenness is everywhere.  We have only short glimpses of holiness and wholeness, but they are quickly eclipsed by pain, uncertainty, sinful thoughts or persecution. In the Reformed faith, we categorize the impact of the fall as “total.”  Every human born is born with the indelible imprint of the fall upon his or her soul.  David recognized this in Psalm 51:5

Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.

His mother didn’t conceive him sinfully—from fornication—but having been conceived, he was already infected by sin. Every part of us has been infected with sin and, while we are not as bad as we could be, every part of us has been tainted. How did this happen?  This is probably the most important interpretative key to our day-to-day experiences: Genesis 3:1-12.   Let’s look at the progression from sinlessness to sinfulness in these verses.

#1: The challenge to God’s honesty and provision: 3:1

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?”

This is a fundamental charge against God that is inherent in sin: He is not telling us everything, we deserve to know more, He is depriving us, He is not good—sin speaks all of this all of the time. We have to take matters in our own hands because we know better

#2: Eve’s repetition of God’s words + an interpretation: 3:2-3

And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’ ”

We don’t know why Eve added the prohibition of touching the tree; perhaps she and Adam agreed that’s what God’s command required. Do we know better than God such that we can add to His word?

#3: Serpent’s challenge: 3:4-5

But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

What is interesting about the serpent’s challenge is that it is so close to the truth that it seems compelling. If they ate, they would know good and evil, but if they ate, they wouldn’t know it sinlessly because the process of knowing it was sin.

#4: Eve’s deception and disobedient action: 3:6

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.

Eve was deceived into thinking, (a) the tree was actually good vs. deadly, (b) it was beautiful as a tree planted by God so it couldn’t be all bad, (c) it should be taken so that she could be wise like God—why wouldn’t God want that? Her deceit led to her sinful thoughts which led to her sinful actions—including giving some of the fruit that she knew was forbidden to her husband. In this action, she prioritized her flesh over her soul; as did Adam.  The physical / mental took priority over the spiritual—sound familiar?

  • This is sin’s pattern: the flesh over the soul, what I want over what God says I need. 

She sinned against God and then against her husband.  He followed suit by sinning against God and his wife.  

#5: The result: the serpent was right 3:7

Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.

Isn’t it interesting that their recognizing their nakedness made them want to cover it?  Previously, they were naked and without shame. Their bodies were now a problem, “Simply put, spiritual sin has physical effects.”[1]. They each covered the one thing that was central to how God made them and what He made them to do: be fruitful, multiply and fill the earth. The Fall creates inherent opposition to how we are made and what we are made to do.  Each of us is inclined—naturally—to oppose how we are made and what we are made to do.

#6: They hid themselves from God: 3:8

And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.

Them hiding from God is odd since they ate of the Tree believing it would make them like God. They knew they weren’t like God but were guilty before Him—so they hid in order to act like God wasn’t there. The apostle Paul picks up on this in Romans 1:18.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.

#7: God forces Adam to take responsibility for what had happened: 3:9-11

But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?”

He should’ve guarded the Garden including Eve: he did not. He disobeyed God and His command and, as the leader, he would stand before God and admit it.

#8: God calls them both to account and no one took responsibility! 3:12-13

The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

God called the man to accept responsibility: he blamed the woman. God called the woman to accept responsibility: she blamed the serpent. No one took responsibility for what they did. The Fall makes us inclined to blame someone else for our actions, to defend ourselves as right and not take responsibility: “admit nothing, deny everything and always make counter-accusations.”

Key takeaways

  • Sin is always speaking a challenge to God’s ordered world: its nature is to twist what God has made and said and bend it to its opposite.  All sins are lies.
  • When we add to God’s word, we subtract from the freedom we have in Him.
  • Our enemy will work hard to soften the edges of his allurements: he will work to convince us what he proposes is just a version of what God does.
  • We are at risk of being deceived by him if we depart from God’s word and forget God’s character.
  • Sin will cause us shame that we will work to hide.
  • Sin will lead us to blame others.

[1] Owen Strachan and Gavin Peacock, What does the Bible teach about Transgenderism? (Christian Focus; 2020), 43.

White Paper #11: What can we do about pronouns?

During the seminar, I was asked how should we handle a person’s request that we use a specific pronoun even when it violates the person’s biology?  My initial answer was to refuse to accept the request to use preferred pronouns: “It isn’t speaking truthfully,” I reasoned–and I’m correct, almost.

However, as the questioner and I spoke further off-line, she told me that with a relationship in progress and trust being built, it might bring the whole house down if she were to change in mid-stream.  I think there’s wisdom in that. Indeed, the priest in me agreed while the prophet frowned.  I’d suggest to you that it should do that to all of us: create a tension, a grace-truth tension.

This issue might be analogous to Jesus’ approach to the Samaritan woman.  He did not start the conversation with a discussion about her marital status; what may be analogous to our “pronoun issue.” He was ultimately more interested in her soul than her sexual habits.  However, neither did He ignore her marital status: He eventually asked her to go get her husband.

The apostle Paul did something similar at the Areopagus in Acts 17:22-24:

So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.

Paul’s first words weren’t, “My what a bunch of pagans you are!”  Though he would not have been wrong!  He met them where they were—in respect and dignity—and proceeded from there. If we are thinking biblically, we know we should be referring to ourselves according to how God made us: biology is apology. However, those walking in darkness by definition are ignoring and suppressing how God made them.  

Their demand that we use their preferred pronouns is a statement of three rebellious things:

  1. “I refuse to accept how God made me.”
  2. “I am sovereign over my life.”
  3. “You will help me be happy.”

Yet they are statements made by one captive to do the devil’s will—a sinner and a sufferer, remember? Where do we start?  What do we address?  We “accept them with an agenda” (I first saw this phrase in Paul David Tripp’s book, “Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands.”)

  • We accept them: they are like us: male or female, image-bearing, subject to sin and worshippers.  They have inherent dignity and value and worth.  

We were just like them in our sins when we were unconverted—and we are more like them than unlike now. We accept them (even, at times, agreeing to use their pronouns) but with an agenda.  What is the agenda we must have with those who are seeking their happiness in sexual brokenness and expressive individualism? Is it simply to get them off their crazy pronouns? No: that they become worshippers of God through Jesus Christ. 

Remember our new mission field—as needy as any mission field—is characterized by confusion, anger and misdirected joy-seeking in distorted sexuality. The most loving and compassionate thing we can do is lead those who are broken to wholeness in Christ. This agenda sets the boundaries of our love: we are ambassadors of Christ. So:

  • We won’t follow them into sin—we won’t become like them
  • We won’t forsake our confession of Christ or our walk with Christ
  • We won’t minimize the biblical teaching on sexuality
  • We will be honest about our perspective
  • We will be earnest about our interest in getting to know the other person
  • We will display the fruits of the Spirit

What cannot be part of our agenda?

  • Celebrating brokenness as normal and desired: brokenness isn’t normal—it is not God’s design and shouldn’t be celebrated
  • Advocating for policies or actions that make brokenness easier or more acceptable
  • Shaming those who are broken as if something weird is happening to them

What an agenda like this means is that we go at God’s pace in the relationship. This is very hard especially if the one we are working to accept is dearly loved: we want them to be free and the time is NOW! That is normal and it is good but we can’t step into God’s providential plan apart from the fruit of the Spirit and wisdom. Jesus’ work with the Samaritan woman is very instructive.

Even in the midst of a patient pursuit of a person’s worship well-being, there are at least seven reasons why we need to have an agenda: 7 TRUTHS.

#1: God chose the person’s sex, the parents chose the person’s name—our pronouns are received not declared: it is sin to ignore those.

#2: We cannot accept self-sovereignty: the Bible tells us we are not gods over our lives. 

#3: Happiness in this life will not translate to eternal life apart from Jesus Christ; eternal life for the soul has to be our focus.

#4: Is it loving and respectful to God to ignore how He created the person using pronouns that aren’t true?

#5: Does it speak truthfully to the person about who they really are?  

#6: Is it dignifying to them —does it honor them are created image-bearers—to speak falsely to them about them?

#7: What is to be gained by continuing on without confrontation?  For us or for them?  Eventually Jesus spoke to the woman; eventually Paul spoke to the Athenians.  So must we.

To accept them with an agenda is what Jesus did with the woman at the well—He did not shame her or mock her or condemn her, remember? He was willing to engage her.  He dignified her by speaking to her crossing over a number of cultural taboos. He preached the good news to her before addressing her sexual sin. In His honesty, He called her out eventually. He didn’t ask her to leave the man she was living with but rather leave the false religion she was committed to.

Jesus had an agenda—and that agenda meant wisdom and patience in not immediately addressing something that was sinful and obvious.

Pronouns matter yet souls matter more than what pronouns someone chooses to use about themselves.  If we accept people with an agenda—and that agenda is to get them to see who they are based on what God’s word says—them we might have to wade through and compassionately tolerate things we know need to change.

White Paper #10: Creation: Our Identifiers (and a teaser about pronouns)

In White Paper #9, we discussed “identity.” Identity properly answers the question, “Who am I?” in categories found in the Bible. Specifically in our being, our experience and our purpose. In sum, we are “male and female made in God’s image, subject to the fall and its miseries engaging in worship.”

But, that is insufficient to fully answer the question, “Who am I?” There are things about me that are not true of you and vice versa. Those things have come to shape how I approach the world, relationships with men and women, politics even food choices. These are true of me but are not true of others. Identity is what we share with everyone else ever born or will be born but “identifiers” are what is specifically true of me.

Identifiers answers a related question, “What else is true about me?”  Here is where we can avoid some category confusion. Identifiers are things I do not necessarily have in common with others but are true of me.  Identifiers can be good things or bad things, godly things or sinful things. For example, here are some of my identifiers:

My name, Spanish heritage, child of a divorced home, oldest sibling, left-handed, near-sighted, truck-owner, father of 5, husband of one wife, Presbyterian, pastor, American, conservative. I once was a resident of MO, then SC, then NY, then GA, then KS, then IL, then VA, then SC and now, NC.

You following?  All of those things have left a mark on me—more than a mark, they have shaped me; they color the filter that I use to look at life.  They influence how I make decisions.  They are experiences, part of my upbringing, God’s specific providence for me.

In a real sense they are “me” but only in a sense.  Identifiers don’t extend all the way down to identity though they run deep. This is where some who want to call themselves “Gay Christians” get it wrong: homosexual interest and practice is an identifier not an identity. At the same time, to answer the “Who am I?” question, if I only used identifiers, my answer is inadequate.

As I mention, there are good identifiers and bad, sinful ones. In my example above, I explained what could be called “good” identifiers.  Nothing about how I describe my experiences can be called sinful. Inappropriate, sinful identifiers are those things about me and my conduct that do not glorify God, that is, are contrary to His word.  

There are things in my past that have had shaping and influencing effect on my life that are not good: sport idolatry, achievement idolatry, views of sex, drunkenness, aloofness, rudeness and manipulation.

These have taught me ungodly lessons and habits—all of which I have had to learn from and some of which I have to regularly mortify. Things like these that, if taken from desire to act, would be sin. Paul gives us a list in Galatians 5:

…the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these….those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Any one of these (and those like these), from desire to act, is sinful.  These need to be mortified whenever they arise; not contemplated but killed. Each of these, when they become lifestyle choices, aren’t part of our identity but are identifiers—things uniquely about me. If we mis-categorize them as part of my “identity” then we make an error since they might be true of me and not you.

Want to end this post with a little pizzaz? Let’s talk about pronouns. “What are your pronouns?”  Is that a question of identity, identifiers or both. It matters, doesn’t it?  If it is a question of identity, then I answer, “I am a male, image-bearing, living in a fallen world worshipper of Jesus Christ.”  That’s who I am: I am a “he, him.”  It’s what the Bible and my biology tell me.

I am more than that but I am no less and those are the necessary basics that without them I am not speaking truthfully about myself.

White Paper #9: Creation, part 6 “Identity”

How God has created us male and female with distinct but overlapping responsibility is the essential starting point for discussing identity.  In order to best understand the biblical teaching, we need to consider the difference between “identity” and “identifiers.” In this post, we’ll look at identity.

Strictly speaking, identity answers the question: “Who am I?”  It is this very question that so polarizes people: am I my sexuality? Am I my ethnicity? Am I my nationality? These aren’t unimportant questions but they aren’t answered by appealing to identity. The answer our culture gives is some form of “I am whoever I want to be—whoever it is that makes me feel happiest about myself.”

That’s a key point in our culture: we answer the identity question in light of my happiness. To tie happiness to my answer to “Who am I?” is treacherous. Instead, the Bible answers this very profound question in a three-part answer. I draw from the Ad Interim Study Committee Report on Human Sexuality.

There, we find three strands that are woven together to answer the identity question.

#1: Ontologically: “in our very essence” we are male and female in the image of God. This is our non-reducible, common-to-all-mankind answer.  We are no less than male and female in God’s image—all of us.  One writer calls this “indelible, central and direct from God.”

  • In other words, when we are answering the identity question, we must search for what all mankind has in common.

The study report says, “We are made male and female and therefore these categories are not merely cultural constructions or fluid components of our self-understanding—they are identities imprinted upon us in our creation by God.” In our very essence, we are male and female in the image of God.

#2: Phenomenologically: “in our experience” of the world we are beset with original sin and actual sin that flows from it as well as the miseries of this life.  We cannot think of ourselves simply as male and female image bearing soul carriers—we exist in time and our time is fallen. In fact, it is not possible to extract who we are in our essence from who we are in our experience.  I’m not trying to be abstract or philosophical.  I’m simply saying it is impossible to think about “me” apart from “me—in my history and in my present.”

#3: Teleologically: “in our purpose” we are to be worshippers of the God who made us. Again, not just male and female image bearers subject to sin and misery but also worshippers—we were made to worship. All of mankind’s purpose is to give worship to whom it is due, namely our Creator.  Yet the Fall corrupted our ability to fulfill this purpose.  

It doesn’t mean, however, that fallen mankind don’t worship—they do!  Paul tells us they do in Romans 1:

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

Men and women who do not follow the one, true and living God of the Bible now worship the creature and created things and are enslaved to what is false. Now, only those in union with Christ are rightly ordered to our created purpose.  For we have been born again and are being renewed in the image of our Redeemer.   Our fundamental purpose is worship of God through Christ Our Lord.

Identity—a summary. Identity is what all mankind shares with each other:

  • We are male and female created in God’s image—ontologically, “in our essence.”
  • We are male and female created in God’s image in a fallen world—phenomenologically, “in our experience.”
  • We are male and female created in God’s image in a fallen world and worshippers of God (or of the creation)—teleologically, “in our purpose.”

White Paper #8: Creation, part 5: Eve’s distinct calling as a woman

First, as with men, God, also, reveals His purpose for Eve in the story of her creation: Genesis 2:18

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”

How God made female was that she is “a helper fit for him” which means she is like Adam, she corresponds to Adam, she is useful to Adam and his task. Here’s a quote from Gary Yagel’s book:

She is to be for the man as an ally to benefit him in the work they were given to do.  Just as ezer [the word for helper] tells of God’s relatedness to Israel as the necessary support for survival and military perils, the woman is the ally to the man without which he cannot succeed or survive. Unlike “helper” which could seem optional and allow the man to think he’s otherwise adequate for his task without the woman, the distinction of “ally” marks the man’s dependence upon her contribution. The dependence is plain when we consider Israel’s need for God’s contribution as her ally. What sort of ally is the woman to the man?  She is a necessary ally, the sort without which he cannot fulfill humanity’s mission.

Several times in that quote, he referenced God as helper. Indeed, God is called “helper” in many circumstance thereby dignifying that role.

Secondly, importantly, the essence of her femininity is found in her biology.  Her essence is not in her function—it is her femaleness. She is created to be a giver of life, a nurturer.  Genesis 1:28:

And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it….”

Genesis 3:20:

The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living.

“Eve” sounds like the Hebrew, “life-giver” and resembles the word, “life.” Dr. Yagel, “She is designed to receive her husband and surround him with love.  Her breasts as made to nurture and her life-giving womb nourishes and surrounds the developing child.”

This is how women are made: their biology—from birth—carries the potential to give and nurture life.  That is the role they have based on their biology. Now I said, “potential” because the fallen world often wars against a woman’s opportunity or ability to marry or to have children. In those cases, a woman is no less a woman than a married woman with 5 kids.  How do we know? That woman, made in God’s image, is female, and her virtue and worth is in that.

Thirdly, the virtuous woman of Proverbs 31 teaches us that to be a necessary ally—inclined towards life-giving and nurture—is done in many activities.

An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels. The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life. She seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands. She is like the ships of the merchant; she brings her food from afar. She rises while it is yet night and provides food for her household and portions for her maidens. She considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard. She dresses herself with strength and makes her arms strong. She perceives that her merchandise is profitable. Her lamp does not go out at night. She puts her hands to the distaff, and her hands hold the spindle. She opens her hand to the poor and reaches out her hands to the needy. She is not afraid of snow for her household, for all her household are clothed in scarlet. She makes bed coverings for herself; her clothing is fine linen and purple. Her husband is known in the gates when he sits among the elders of the land. She makes linen garments and sells them; she delivers sashes to the merchant. Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come. She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her:

This isn’t a picture of a single woman—this is a picture of the essence of femininity is action.  The proper leveraging of her biology.  This is what life-giving and nurture looks like in many forms. Where is weakness?  Where is frailty?  Where is second-class citizenship?  Where is the door mat and the helpless? They are utterly absent. 

To be made female is to possess a strength and glory that is on brilliant display when a woman chooses to live consistently with her biology!  That manner of life isn’t frittering along in all the greatest shops and salons and exquisite parties: it is a giving of oneself as a servant and partner to a husband, to a family, to a church.

Lastly, a woman is called to inner beauty and external modesty: a message utterly lost in the culture of our day. 1 Peter 3:3-4:

Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.

What do we make of this?  If we could make a class, “What makes a woman?” We would answer with “a gentle and quiet spirit.”

Gentle is not weak—it is meek.  That is humble.  It isn’t outwardly showy, loud or arrogant. Doesn’t even a woman’s biology urge her to such a thing?  A life-giver and nurturer is gentle, no?  

Quiet isn’t silent—it is at rest.  That is confident.  It isn’t demanding or offensive. How might she raise up her children and assist her husband unless she is at rest in her soul—convinced (and resting in) God’s love and purpose for all things. And, if she is unmarried or childless, will she be humble and at rest in the Lord?  Dedicating herself to the service of the church as Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 7? As 84-year old Anna in the Temple (Luke 2:36-38), who had dedicated her life to the Lord for probably over 60 years?

A gentle and quiet spirit is a thoroughly theological spirit that’s why it can rest.  Such a woman knows: 

  • The greatness and steadfast love of God
  • The unassailable salvation and intercession of Christ 
  • The ever-present help of the Holy Spirit.  
  • You know God’s providence.  
  • You know adoption and sanctification—that God is at work changing you and all those around you into degrees of glory.
  • You know it is only a matter of time until we receive all that Christ earned for us.

And as the context of 1 Peter 3 bears this out, a gentle and quiet spirit rests in the control of the Lord over all things in her life—just as Sarah did when Abraham sinned against her and sent her into a harem. 

All Christian women possess the potential to live as Peter insists.  The only issue confronting women today (as in every age) is will a gentle and quiet spirit be your aim, your study, your practice? Humble and confident.  Patient and trusting. Asked another way: will you allow your biology to constrain your expectations and your conduct?  

Where feminism has failed women is convincing them they can (and should) do anything a man can do.  Perhaps that is physically possible, but is it right?  Indeed, that’s not the issue. Sisters, God has made you female—a life-giver and nurturer with a calling to a gentle and quiet spirit—will you act as a female?

White Paper #7: Creation, part 4: Adam’s Distinct Calling as a Man

From the Genesis creation account (Genesis 1-2), we see Adam’s calling as a man in four parts: provide, protect, pursue and strength.

#1: Adam was put in the garden to provide by causing it and its inhabitants to flourish: Genesis 2:15

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it… 

Men are to provide what is needed to flourish physically: God has built the male body for hard work in order to provide; “work” means cultivate. God’s expectation was that Adam would have dominion over creation, that is, cultivate, develop and build it. He was to establish structures so that the inherent fertility of the Garden was produced for the good of all.

Also, Adam was to provide what their families need to flourish spiritually. As the priest of his family, he was given instructions on what to do and how to live. Further, in the New Testament, all married Christian men have this role: Ephesians 5:27 (for wives), Genesis 18:19, Colossians 3:21 (for children). This calling to provide for the flourishing of others is a sacrificial one. Once again, drawing from Ephesians 5:25, just as Christ sacrificed for the church, husbands are to sacrifice to provide for the good of their families. 

#2: Adam was put in the garden, also, to protect it: Genesis 2:15:

The LORD God took the man and put him the garden to…keep it.

“Keep” means to guard, protect and watch.  The need for this role was very shortly seen with the invasion into the Garden of the snake. As we saw when we discussed biology, Adam was specifically and physically built to have this role. As Eve would be mothering and raising children, for Adam to be the guard and provider for them is an apt display of their complementary relationships. This same dynamic is seen in the story of Boaz caring for Ruth and Naomi. Indeed, one reason why God confronted Adam in the garden was he failed in his duty to “keep it” or “guard it” from intruders like the snake.

#3: A man is called, also, to leave his home to pursue a wife: Genesis 2:24:

Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” 

This isn’t just rapturous prose or poetry.  It isn’t just a man amazed at what he sees.  He sees in her a profound purpose for his life—thoughts of family, flourishing, vocation possible because he was made male.

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

Our biology demands we pursue a wife so that we can consummate how were are made in every way.  So that a man may use his maleness to be who God designed him to be—made possible because of his wife. It is a great coup of our enemy that young men are convinced to forsake pursuing young women in marriage.  They act as if their purpose in life is simply a hedonistic enjoyment of Halo.

Ever thought of that?  It is by design and it is right that a young man must look upon a young woman and see in her, the means to fulfill how God has created him. Now, one caveat, there is no shame in singleness—indeed there is glory in it if it is chosen for the glory of the Lord and the good of His church. Apart from a spiritual conviction to singleness, Adam’s distinct calling (as ours is today) is to pursue a wife in order that, with her, he can be all who God made him to be.

#4: Lastly, men are called to strength.  

We are made physically strong. Men have:

  • 20% more muscle mass
  • 40% more upper body strength
  • 33% more lower body strength
  • Larger fast twitch muscle fibers
  • Larger heart, lungs, legs

What is this for? This isn’t simply an accident of creation that has somehow endured to this day. Men are called to strength so passages like this make sense:

1 Kings 2:2-3

When David’s time to die drew near, he commanded Solomon his son, saying, “I am about to go the way of all the earth. Be strong, and show yourself a man, and keep the charge of the Lord your God, walking in his ways and keeping his statutes, his commandments, his rules, and his testimonies, as it is written in the Law of Moses, that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn,

1 Corinthians 16:13

Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.

1 John 2:14

I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.

1 Peter 3:7

Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.

As we could see from the verses cited, we cannot misunderstand the strength of men to be physical only.

I’ll call your attention to two things. First, the qualifications for elder and deacon: is physical prowess listed among them?  No.  You might summarize what is found there as faith, courage, godliness and service–strong in humility and faith. Second, this picture of strength was perfectly modeled by the Lord Jesus who displayed strength of courage and resolve more than the physical dominance we typically regard as masculine. Remember, though we are biologically stronger, our strength must be in the courageous and faithful service of our families and our Church.

These are four created areas that give men our distinct calling in this world.

White Paper #6: Creation, part 3: Biology is Apology

Biology is apology.”  Biology is our apologetic–our rationale and our foundation–for charting a path through the slough of sexual despondency. You know the saying, “All I ever needed to know I learned in kindergarten”?  Well, in a similar manner, almost all we need to know about being male and female we learn from our biology. The modern trend is to bend biology to whatever conceptions the mind has about what it means to be male and female.

This is wrong: God has determined who we are when we are conceived and then born male or female. One significant step to clearing away confusion and creation a starting point for restoration is found in the primacy of biology. Our biology tells us two things.

#1: Biology tells us our sex—whether we are male or female. Our biology tells us whether we are male or female: hormone level, genitalia, reproductive organs, chromosomes and muscle mass. This is an obvious point, to be sure. “What is a man?” or “What is a woman?” in one sense is answered by a biologist (though it is not needed, strictly speaking).

A biologist would have to report that there are measurable differences between men and women—some of which cannot be altered by hormone blockers or gender reassignment surgery.

[By the way, Matt Walsh at the website, “The Daily Wire,” has written an article and is producing a program called, “What is a woman?”; it is from there that I pulled these pieces of data.]

  • .5% of women are over 6 feet tall; 20% of men are
  • All men have the XY and all women have the XX chromosomes in every cell
  • Women have 20% less muscle mass
  • 40% less upper body strength
  • 33% less lower body strength
  • Smaller fast twitch muscle fibers
  • Smaller heart, lungs, shorter legs
  • More estrogen than men but far less testosterone (men have a 1000x more)
  • Lower capacity to make oxygen when they are exerting themselves.

In rare cases some image bearers are born with ambiguous genitalia; “intersex” is what they are called. This physical abnormality is medical and very rare (less than 1 in 5000).  This condition is clearly a result of the Fall’s impact.

No one gets to redefine his biology—rather we only accept it or reject it.

#2: Biology gives us our roles. As I mentioned above, biology tells us almost all we need to know about how to live as male and female. Gary Yagel, in his book, “Anchoring Your Child to God’s Truth In a Gender Confused Culture,” writes this (24):

God’s idea of womanhood is expressed in the physical body He has designed for her.  God’s idea of masculinity is revealed in the carton masculinity is delivered in—his male body.

When we suspend historic debates about the roles of men and women and we step back and look at our bodies, we can be greatly helped. Our roles in this world are fruits of our biology—God has made man’s body in such a way that he can do what God created him to do.  What was that?  Genesis 2:15:

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.

“Work” or cultivate; “keep” or guard. These are the categories of work Adam was made to do. Indeed, when we look at Genesis 3:17-19 we find what was cursed due to Adam’s disobedience was his work. 

Likewise, God makes a woman’s body in such a way that she can do what God created her to do.  What was that?  Genesis 1:28:

…Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it.

Physiologically, this is obvious. There is much more biblical data to assimilate but we can’t ignore God made woman for a specific function captured in this verse. Again, how do we know?  Genesis 3:16.  What is cursed there?  Family building.

I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children.  Your desire shall be for your husband and he shall rule over you.

There is more to say about men’s and women’s created roles, but we cannot rightly understand more until we have accepted the foundational data from Genesis.

White Paper #5: Creation, part 2: Six Facts of Creation

We are about to meet the 4th challenge we wrote about previously: putting our sexuality in the perspective of the whole Bible.  Any discussion of human sexuality in its proper or improper expressions has to start with Creation. The aim of this post is to teach a positive and thorough (not exhaustive) view of male and female. 

#1: All are made in God’s image: 

Genesis 1:26-27:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 

Each human is made in the image of God, after His likeness.  The Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 4 states it this way:

After God had made all other creatures, He created man, male and female, with reasonable and immortal souls, endued with knowledge, righteousness and true holiness, after His own image…

The image of God is remained even after the Fall. Genesis 5:1, 9:5:

When God created man, He made him in the likeness of God. Male and female He created them and He blessed them and named them Man when they were created…Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.

The point here is not to dig into what defines the image of God. Other writers have aptly worked through that issue. What is germane here is that however we define the image of God in man, each human being has it.

#2: Each is either male or female.

27So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. 

To be human is to image God; to image God is to be male and female.  That is, male as male and female as female.  Our sexuality—our maleness and femaleness—is not an accident of nature nor simply biological: sexual identity and function are part of God’s creation; His will for His image bearers.

  • In other words, having been made female (or male), to live consistently as female (or male) is God’s will for female (or male) image-bearers.  

The sex we were given at birth is God’s will for us; it is the means by which He will accomplish His will using us: me as a man, my wife as a woman. Indeed in verse 31, God called male and female, “very good.”  For Adam to live as a man and Eve as a woman was “very good.”

Since our culture has rejected God and the church, it has rejected its origin story.  Now, thanks to evolutionary theory, we are simply the result of mindless, random acts of chance: blobs of matter coalesced into man and woman.  If that is true, then it doesn’t matter what we do with our bodies—we are male and female by accident so…live it up!  And our souls (if they exist) don’t matter, either.  All that matters is that we maximize our happiness because, in the end, who cares.  

God cares because He made us male and female.

#3: God blessed them after He created them male and female.

28And God blessed them. 

Being male and female is the blessed state.  This is important: being male and female in the fallen world is sometimes very hard for people—there is such a thing as “gender dysphoria” and, while very rare, is real.  Helping bring people back to realize celebrating created maleness and femaleness is the blessed state is an act of love and compassion.

Experiencing the blessedness of created maleness and femaleness is behind biblical commands to maintain the distinction between male and female.  One place where this is stated is in Deuteronomy 22:5:

A woman shall not wear a man’s garment, nor shall a man put on a woman’s cloak, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord your God.

To obscure the maleness and femaleness by our choice of clothing is to dim the blessedness of what God has created.  This is very popular today among youth—especially young girls.  They now wear clothing that resembles their brothers or fathers.  In a previous post, we linked to that article about Gucci designers: they are committed to putting men in skirts.  To try with clothing—or hormones and surgery—to obscure or hide created maleness and femaleness is not only an abomination it is not the state of blessedness.

Another place is 1 Corinthians 11:14-15

Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? 

In that text, Paul is correcting a practice at Corinth that minimized maleness and femaleness—Paul even refers back to creation as the corrective.

What is very important in this point is the principle that God has never wanted men and women to obscure their maleness or femaleness with clothing and, by implication, our actions. Different cultures will define cultural expressions for men and women; these historic traditions had been well established. Nonetheless, the Bible doesn’t give dogmatic instruction on what constitutes male or female clothing simply that however we work out the principle, we cannot purposely obscure or hide the blessed states of maleness and femaleness.

#4: To be male and female is necessary for the work the Lord created us for:

28And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

This mandate was restated after the Fall with slight modification. Genesis 9:7:

And you, be fruitful and multiply, increase greatly on the earth and multiply in it.

Our created design was purposeful: God has specific work for us to do that requires we be male and female.  It is especially obvious that to be fruitful and multiply and increase greatly requires the binary male-female.  It is our design in order to image God and it is our design to accomplish God’s purposes for us.

#5: Paul highlights that this being made male and female was designed to display the complementarity between Christ and the church.  That is, the created differences between man and woman and how we are designed to be together—this is illustrated graphically in marital sex–displays the relationship between Christ and the church.  

From the very beginning of creation, God made us in such a way that the glory of the union of Christ and the church could be seen in the union of male and female—husband and wife.  Ephesians 5:32:

This mystery [of marriage] is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.

God’s intent with creating male and female was ultimately so that the complementary relationship between Christ and the church could be seen.  Christ would never trade places with the church; the church could never trade places with Christ.  The Person of Christ and the Bride of Christ are not interchangeable: we could not be Him nor He us.

  • In this way alone, we see all sexual deviation from maleness and femaleness is against nature and against redemption.

#6: There can be no interchangeability between male and female.

  • For the accurate imaging of God our Creator, there must be male-as-male and female-as-female.
  • For the experience of the created blessedness, there must be male-as-male and female-as-female.
  • For the work that God has created us to do, there must be male-as-male and female-as-female.
  • For the proper representation of Christ and the church, there must be male-as-male and female-as-female.

White Paper #4: Creation, part 1

A culture that ignores God replaces Him with something lesser.  Much is lost as a result.  Our enemy in the Garden deceived Eve into thinking she could replace God.  She fell for it, Adam did nothing about it.  This has devastated every culture since.

Let’s review:

  1. What is now driving our culture?  The pursuit of happiness.
  2. Where is our culture now looking for that happiness?  Sexual  brokenness.  
  3. What is the main means our culture uses to ensure it can achieve what it seeks?  The sovereignty of personal “Choice.”  

No longer is faith, hope and love animating our approach to sexuality.  Now, the three guiding tenets of our culture are “happiness,” “brokenness” and “choice.”

God created us to seek our joy in Him.  So in our fallenness that inner drive that should be seeking to accelerate towards God is bent inward instead.  Its main pursuit and preoccupation is happiness found in the things of this world—the broken and fallen things of this world.  While this has always been the bent of man’s heart, now, it is even more a prime motivating factor for how people live. 

Keep in mind also, every other person in my orbit is responsible to participate in my drive for happiness.  Not by simply allowing me to do what I want but cheerleading me as I do it, making obstacles disappear for me, allowing me to be sovereign over the pursuit including how you are a part of it.  

  • This is what makes our cultural moment so tense and volatile: we fear that unless we can get others to validate our pursuit of happiness that we won’t be happy.

Our discussion of human sexuality must begin at creation: Genesis 1-2.  

A main reason why the modern discussion about sexuality is so fractured—why the sexual acronym now officially is LGBTQQIP2SAA which stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, queer, intersex, pansexual, two-spirit (2S), androgynous and asexual—why this is so fractured is because the culture is looking to answer a fundamental question about humanity apart from any influence of the One who made humanity.

Imagine an aborigine who was scooped up from the Australian outback, taken to LA and given keys to a mansion and a Rolls and then left there.  What’s the likelihood he would know what to do with anything in that house or with that car?  Probably 0%.  Why?  He has no idea what these are—they are foreign to him—he doesn’t know how to use any of them because he has no experience with any of them; he has no instruction manual for them.  And, apart from a long process of education, he would likely end up sleeping in the backyard, eating the squirrels and setting the place on fire—just like he’d do at home.

Let’s begin our study of creation citing statement #2 from the Ad Interim Committee Report on Human Sexuality:

We affirm that God created human beings in his image as male and female (Gen. 1:26-27). Likewise, we recognize the goodness of the human body (Gen. 1:31; John 1:14) and the call to glorify God with our bodies (1 Cor. 6:12-20). As a God of order and design, God opposes the confusion of man as woman and woman as man (1 Cor. 11:14-15). While situations involving such confusion can be heartbreaking and complex, men and women should be helped to live in accordance with their biological sex. 

Nevertheless, we ought to minister compassionately to those who are sincerely confused and disturbed by their internal sense of gender identity (Gal. 3:1; 2 Tim. 2:24-26). We recognize that the effects of the Fall extend to the corruption of our whole nature (WSC 18), which may include how we think of our own gender and sexuality. Moreover, some persons, in rare instances, may possess an objective medical condition in which their anatomical development may be ambiguous or does not match their genetic chromosomal sex. Such persons are also made in the image of God and should live out their biological sex, insofar as it can be known.

White Paper #3: Our Challenges

Challenges Ahead of the Church

With the Lord’s interaction with the Samaritan woman in mind, the faithful Christian Church faces several challenges.

#1: Address the driving force behind the narrative: pursuing individual happiness.

The modern sexual narrative clearly differs from God’s word in its propositions and practices.  At some point, that must be addressed.  Why?  To win?  No—that’s not why Jesus addressed the Samaritan woman.  We must do it because compassion calls for it: if it is sinful, it is also enslaving.  John 8:34:

Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.

Romans 6:16

Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?

The main reason we cannot just “live and let live” or celebrate sexual diversity is because to live in a way contrary to God’s word isn’t freeing—it is enslaving.  Love demands that we not turn away from those who are sexually broken.

But it is more than sinful: it is sinister.  It co-opts God’s design in us that our souls would be joyful in the Lord.  That principle in us is perverted into the pursuit of physical happiness.  In effect, we must keep in mind that the soul is more important than the body—because as we see in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus: it is.  This will keep us away from potential pitfalls like an over-emphasis on the person’s lifestyle—something the church has historically been rightly blamed for (like when the disciples returned to Jesus at the well they wondered why He spoke to a Samaritan woman.)

  • Sure trans and bi and homosexual is sin and no one who practices these as a lifestyle will be saved (1 Corinthians 6:10—is very clear) but helping someone turn away from brokenness requires more than using the Law.

Remembering the soul is more important than the body will also help us rightly categorize their anger, their insults and their efforts to cancel us.  In other words, those things come out of a sinful, suffering soul that has been challenged. It is sinful and sinister and yet it issues from a soul that is convinced happiness—now—is the highest good and not the greater joy in the pursuit of God now and heaven in the next life.

  • It is looking for happiness in brokenness and it will fail in this life and be condemned in the next.

#2: Breaking down echo-chambers.

The modern culture can be compared to a mason jar filled with glass marbles.  Each marble is next to but not in the next.  Rub them hard enough together and they won’t join (like Play-Doh)—they will shatter.  Our culture has become like that mason jar: each marble is a person who curates his life including in it only those voices and influences that make him happy.

This is especially obvious on social media.  Indeed social media has been training our culture to make echo chambers.  TikTok, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, Snap Chat—not a single one of the most popular social media apps makes our community for us.  This is also true for music and video streaming services.  These each require us to make our own community—that’s part of why they have become so popular. It makes sense then if I’m looking for influences that will make me happy I will include only those and actively exclude those that don’t. Hence, I am sovereign over my marble—I am the god of my life.

There are a number of problems with this (obviously).  One of the largest is this cannot cope with reality.  God hasn’t wired this world or His providence so that we can act like gods over our lives.  No one can do this.  This is why, as a culture, we have never been angrier.  We have never so lacked the ability to disagree.  We haven’t had so much difficulty just speaking to each other.  We can’t have conversations in which we disagree without the threat of getting canceled, ignored or marginalized. 

  • People will not be coaxed out of the so-called “safety” of their echo chambers.

The one way to break down the echo chamber is the gospel.  The gospel shatters my small marble that I am protecting with huge emotion with a message that tells me what’s in my marble is actually garbage—and real beautiful and free life is found somewhere else.  Of course we know this is the path to freedom but it is destructive before that.  

#3: (AIC, 35) Addressing the modern identity narrative: identity, freedom and power.

Identity. Christian teaching about sexuality no longer makes sense because the modern view is that “…sexuality is crucial for the expression of identity.”  Our sexuality is the pathway to unlocking our true and deep feelings and desires—to be authentically “me.”  “I am truly who I am when I am having sex with whomever I choose or I’m expressing whatever sexuality makes me happy.”

  • “…identity is now found in one’s desires, while in the past it was found in one’s duties and relationships with God, family and community.”

“Be true to yourself” and “live your own truth” or “no one can tell you who you are but you” are the repeated mantras and they are everywhere. The modern self is based on feelings and there is nothing rock solid or unchanging about feelings—feelings can change depending on what we eat. This is all very fragile, isn’t it?  My choice and my feelings are supreme and it is up to me to pursue what makes me happy. And everyone needs to get on board with making me happy.  

Freedom and power. Believe it or not, it is no surprise that this is also Critical Race Theory’s ascending hour.  CRT supercharges all of this: the CRT lens says the world is made of the oppressed (who are unhappy) and the oppressors. In a culture committed to personal happiness, of course it makes sense that those who stand in the way of this pursuit are actually “oppressors.” The sexual traditions and teaching from ancient texts are repressive and constraining: they are oppressing our ability to express ourselves sexually so they must be ignored

Is it any surprise the millennials and younger generation consider themselves religious  “Nones” or no religion? “The meaning of life is to determine who you are and to throw off the shackles of an oppressive society that refuses to accept and include you.” Isn’t this the message of the Oscars, The Little MermaidFrozenMulanMillion Dollar Baby, RuPaul, Caitlyn Jenner, Lia Thomas and “Be all you can be”?  

There is a power element here as well.  This we see in categories like “micro-aggressions” and safe spaces, statue removal and approved censorship. For the so-called “oppressed” their use of language trumps all others—try refusing to call a person by his chosen pronouns: there have been educators fired for that!   Our culture is now giving power over to those who are consumed with personal happiness uninformed by reason, wisdom or religion.  The young now dictate to the old.  It is a Machiavellian culture modeled after the Lord of the Flies.

#4: Rooting the church’s teaching in its full theology rather than simply its ethics: placing human sexuality in the broader framework of the Bible.

Historically, the church has had mainly one sexual message: No sex outside of a marriage between a man and a woman. While that is a true representation of biblical teaching, it minimizes all the rest of the Bible’s teaching on sex and sexuality. This was pointed out in an article written by a woman struggling with homosexuality written to her pastor: “Seven Things I Wish My Pastor Knew about my Sexuality.

From the AIC, 40:

Christian theology answers that sex is part of the image of God–it must image God and in particular, His redeeming love. Sex is not about enhancing one’s power but about mutually giving up power to one another in love, as Christ did for us. The Christian answer to “Why must sex be within heterosexual marriage?” gets us into the very heart of the gospel. We should not, then, present the sex ethic without rooting it in the Bible’s doctrines of God, of creation and of redemption….So what is sex for? It is a signpost pointing to God’s design of saving love, and it is a means for experiencing something of that same pattern of love at the horizontal level between two human beings that we know at the vertical level in Christ.

This is our missionary moment.

White Paper #2: Our Cultural Moment

Recently, Rev. Dr. Kevin DeYoung, senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, NC, wrote an article for World Magazine online titled, “We live in confusing times: the progressives can’t keep their story straight on sex and gender.” It is very much worth reading because Kevin assimilates many of the messages the LGBT advocates push here and there. Indeed, what the article points out is both the very confusing and irreconcilable differences that exist in the modern sexual messaging.

Here is a short list of other online articles, each of which adds a brick to the overall sexuality structure:

I found these articles in one day. A single day cannot pass without just as many and more articles pushing, defending, advocating or decrying the ubiquitous sexual messaging. What is clear enough is there is no real clarity to be found in our culture regarding sex and gender. We are living in the fruit of expressive individualism, post-Christian and post-modern thought and the abandonment of those ideas and institutions that has carried the West.

In must the church step. My denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America, commissioned a group of pastors and scholars to do a study paper on human sexuality. It can be found here (abbreviated AIC, hereafter). It is biblical, pastorally sensitive and widely accepted in our denomination. The authors summarize the modern sexual messaging in five statements that read as if they are being spoken by an advocate:

The oppression of the past. In the past, ancient cultures surrounded sex with all sorts of taboos. In general, sex outside of marriage was forbidden in order to control women, to help men protect their daughters and wives as their property. 

The need for authentic expressionIn modern times, however, we have come to believe in the freedom and rights of individuals, including the right to love whomever we choose in a consensual relationship. Science has shown us that sex is a healthy thing and a crucial part of one’s identity. It is also a human right, and therefore we will only thrive and flourish as human beings if that right to choose is equally available to all people. 

The fight to love whom we want to loveOver the past century a number of brave individuals—usually women, gay, and transgender persons—have heroically stood up to the oppressive culture and said, ‘This is who I am! Don’t let anyone tell you who you can or cannot love!” Many of the early heroes of this movement were marginalized and many died for their willingness to challenge the cultural elites. 

The hard-won rights of today. But today we have a culture that affirms the right to have sex outside of marriage, to conduct same-sex relationships and include them in the legal institution of marriage, and to allow people to choose their own genders. In all these changes we are forging the first human society in history which is sex-positive and in which all persons can live as equal sexual beings. 

The continual dangerDespite these great accomplishments, most places in the world, and many places in our own society, still resist this healthy culture of sexual freedom and justice. Indeed, there are those who would try to turn back the clock and roll back these rights. Under no circumstances must we allow regressive forces—the foremost of which is religion—to take this away from us again. 

The bottom line (35), “This modern moral story about sexuality creates a plot-line of a struggle between courageous heroes and bigoted oppressive villains—all toward a  happy ending.” Happiness is the goal.

The modern sexual narrative is driven largely by people seeking to be happy and thinking expressing their individualism in sex is the way to get there.  “If you want to use sex for the development of new human life, that’s an option and your choice, but it’s not the primary reason people have sex.  Rather, sex is for individual fulfillment and self-realization” (AIC, 34).  In a word, “happiness.”

Among the bulk of the present young generations there’s been an abandoning of the church. In this way, finding true and lasting joy in our created sexuality is impossible. In its place, many are turning inward and seeking happiness in self-expression.  As a result, we are witnessing the success of the Freudian paradigm—happiness through sexuality.

Just a sample of the evidence of this carnal pursuit of happiness:

  • Centenary University in New Jersey just announced a master’s degree in “Happiness Studies.”
  • The intersection of happiness and sexuality is seen in Lady Gaga’s song, “Born this way” in which she equated being gay, bi-, lesbian or transgender with being black or white… “I’m on the right track, baby, I was born this way!”

The Gender Unicorn is a case in point.  The “Gender Unicorn” is a soft and friendly picture created by the Trans Students Educational Resource group to be used in schools at the lowest levels.  It teaches a “fractured” view of human sexuality and identity.  According to the dogma behind the Unicorn, now, when it comes to sex and gender, each person has five (5) decisions to make:

  1. What gender identity will I take: male, female, neither, both?
  2. What gender expression will I make?  How will I live this out?
  3. Who am I physically attracted to: boys, girls, both?
  4. Who am I emotionally attracted to: boys, girls, both?
  5. Will I live consistently with the sex I was born with?

With the Gender Unicorn, there are sex-ed courses of instruction for high schoolers, elementary school–even three year olds. Mark Bauerlein in his excellent book, “The Dumbest Generation Grows Up,” reports having taken his child to music camp at a school in Vermont, he was sitting with other parents waiting for a particular workshop to end. While he waited, he heard a 30-something choral teacher leading a song with 5-7 year-olds that had this chorus, “It doesn’t matter who you love.” He writes:

“I peered through the small window in the classroom door and saw her clapping and singing and swaying back and forth with the kids repeating the refrain with a kindly maternal glee, everything about her posture, countenance, motions and voice reinforcing the warmth of the message.”

Recently on an NPR podcast “Embodied,” host Anita Rao in the podcast titled, “Parented: Raising A Gender-Expansive Kid,” lamented that she was guilty of perpetrating the gender binary problem with her nephew.  (“Gender binary” refers to the male-female distinction.) She said it was not by denying him the opportunity to try on lipstick or a headband but by not offering them to him. Further, she calls organizing our experience using gender is “limiting at best and harmful at worst.” Why? She reports (with no empirical evidence) gender binaries are not helpful for kids exploring who they “are.” 

Further, she interviewed a family in Raleigh, NC, whose daughter just decided to be a boy.  At some point the daughter (still believing she was a boy) asked her dad how to dress like a man and he said affirmingly, “However you dress is how a man dresses.”  This child is 14.  She has a 5 year old brother who is willing to correct people when they don’t follow the pronoun change of his big sister.  A five-year old correcting people.

Another part of the podcast recorded a conversation between an adult and a 6 year old boy—who had decided that when people called him a boy it made him sad but now that people call him a girl he’s happy because, “Now I feel happy that they understand.” He was asked about his favorite thing about being transgender.  He said, “I’m myself now.”  Ten years later, the same host interviewed the same boy because in a week he was going to get puberty blockers.  Here’s what he said,

“A lot of trans people, people who want this can get a blocker because it can block the wrong puberty…so that I don’t grow a beard and my voice doesn’t deepen…and I can grow some breasts and I can go through the puberty I want to go through.”

The program closes with advice from the 16 year old about so-called trans youth, “Hearing what they need is the most important thing ever and simply just using their preferred name and pronouns.” I can’t tell you the number of times I heard the word, “happy” in that podcast.

This fractured view of human sexuality, driven by the pursuit of happiness is united only by one thing: choice.  The highest good in today’s sexual narrative is choice: “I get to choose and no one can tell me otherwise.” With a prior commitment to personal happiness this makes sense. But of course we can see how problematic this is for young people. Think about that fractured view of sexuality and identity: what if they choose wrongly?  The current cultural indoctrination says authentic humanity depends on them making the right choice: that is a lot of pressure.

But what is the right choice?  It isn’t what is historic or traditional.  It isn’t what Mom and Dad and Nana or the pastor says.  So is it: What feels good?  What is accepted by friends or on TikTok or by Lady Gaga (or whoever is popular)?  And, how on earth is a teenager, with a dozen and a half years of life—whose sexuality is under hormonal assault anyhow—supposed to make an informed decision about his or her sexuality?  

  • These facts don’t matter for two reasons: Happiness is all that matters. And our culture is telling them that it is their right to make and theirs alone.

White Paper #1: Our Approach to our Gender Confused Culture

A Forsaken Moment?  Psalm 10:1-11

Why, O Lord, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? In arrogance the wicked hotly pursue the poor; let them be caught in the schemes that they have devised. For the wicked boasts of the desires of his soul, and the one greedy for gain curses and renounces the Lord. In the pride of his face the wicked does not seek him; all his thoughts are, “There is no God.” His ways prosper at all times; your judgments are on high, out of his sight; as for all his foes, he puffs at them. He says in his heart, “I shall not be moved; throughout all generations I shall not meet adversity.” His mouth is filled with cursing and deceit and oppression; under his tongue are mischief and iniquity. He sits in ambush in the villages; in hiding places he murders the innocent. His eyes stealthily watch for the helpless; he lurks in ambush like a lion in his thicket; he lurks that he may seize the poor; he seizes the poor when he draws him into his net. The helpless are crushed, sink down, and fall by his might. He says in his heart, “God has forgotten, he has hidden his face, he will never see it.”

The writer didn’t understand God’s absence from his experience.  In this lament, he records situation after situation where it appeared the wicked was unhindered in his evil.  One poignant reference is “…in hiding places [the wicked] murders the innocent.  His eyes stealthily watch for the helpless…”

It’s true: when righteousness wanes and wickedness waxes, the righteous can be bewildered.  Let’s jump ahead: rampant sexual immorality flows through our culture unchecked, unhindered.  The Bible is clear in its condemnation of the behavior while holding out hope in Christ for those who perpetrate it.  Let’s call it what it is: evil.  

In this social-media saturated environment, it certainly seems that we are in our own version of a forsaken moment.  Where is God in this confusing cultural moment?  How do we live in the “forsaken-ness” of it? 

Preliminary Principles

The goal of this White Paper isn’t yet to lay out our moment, but rather our approach to it.  Unless we are certain ofhow to approach our moment, we may certainly not live in it as we should before the Lord.  Here are a few preliminary principles.

First, only the kingdom of this world—common to all mankind—is in decline.  Even as immorality seems to be running the place, it has not and will not penetrate the redemptive kingdom.  That is not to say the church is immune for we are not; simply, the gates of sexual hell will not prevail against the church.

Second, when God made the covenant with Noah, He did not promise to save the common kingdom but to preserve it until the return of Christ.  As we see in the steady circular movements of history John records in the Revelation, we inch closer and closer to the return of the Lord.  In other words, the degradation is part of the birth pains the Lord promised (Matt. 24:8).

Third, for a long time in the West, Christendom influenced the cultures of the West—there was a shared sense of morality.  This is a large topic that is beyond the scope of this paper.  As Aaron Renn wrote recently in First Things, (“The Three Worlds of Evangelicalism,” Feb. 2022) and as Carl Trueman has written in his latest book, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, the trappings of Christendom that had given the Western world a common moral lexicon, is dimmed.

Fourth, the influence of Christianity over culture is declining but its power to grow the redemptive kingdom is not—the power of the gospel to save is not weakened.  This might seem like a contradiction.  But the more Christendom is stripped from our culture, the more the real thing will shine.  We don’t need to lose hope that things are beyond the reach of God and the gospel—indeed, they are not.  

Lastly, sexual brokenness is not new.  Our cultural moment is new to us but as we see from the Scriptures, sexual brokenness seems to define every age in some way.  

Governing our Approach: Jesus with the Samaritan Woman

These preliminary principles lay out some of the landscape of our approach.  Still, we have to be careful and compassionate upon those who are lost or wayward as seen in their sexual choices.  Dr. Gary Yagel, in his book, Anchoring your child in God’s Truth in a Gender Confused Culture, began his study very helpfully in John 4:7-26, the Samaritan woman.  Some of what follows will resemble his work.

What we see with the Lord’s interaction with the Samaritan woman is at least five things that should mark our approach to the sexually broken.

First, His willingness to engage her (John 4:7).  He didn’t turn away from her but took the initiative to engage her.  It is quite likely this took her by surprise given what she said about the standard interactions between the Jews and the Samaritans, “How is it that you, being a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?”

Second, His willingness gave way to His interest: He spoke to her.  In speaking to her, He dignified her—he treated her as an image-bearer worthy of the Lord’s interest.  Indeed, by speaking to her He transgressed a number of cultural taboos that John even mentioned (John 4:27).

Third, His discipling: He cared for her soul.  It was evident very quickly that He was prepared to present to her living water even if she didn’t quite grasp the concept (John 4:10, 13).  He preached the good news to her before addressing her sexual sin and situation in life.

Fourth was His honesty: called her out for her failure to live by the law of God: she had five husbands and the one she was with was not her husband (John 4:16).  He didn’t do it to win points or prove Himself but because her sin was enslaving.  He accepted her with an agenda.

Fifth, His commitment was her true worship.  He didn’t ask her to leave the man she was living with but rather leave the false religion she was committed to.  All of the sexual brokenness will come to an end if she turned to embrace the gospel.  It might not come to an end in her lifetime—like Gomer the harlot, she may return to sin again and again—but its grip on her, broken by the gospel, will be weakened over time by the Spirit.

In all of these ways, we see the Lord Jesus model for us how to approach those who are broken and lost in sin, specifically sexual sin.  Our mission field has changed—now our “new” cultural field is sexual.  

Sinners and Sufferers

The last part of our approach is to recognize two truths about those we may strive to serve and help.  Our attention is to people who are, at the same time, sinners and sufferers.

First, they are sinners, indeed, they know the truth and choose to suppress it (Romans 1:18ff).  As sinners they need to repent of their rebellion against God that is witnessed in their lifestyle choices and embrace freedom from sin and judgment by faith.  We have a duty to share the converting and free gospel of grace.

But secondly, they are, at the same time, sufferers.  They are blinded by the prince of the power of the air (2 Cor. 4:4; Eph. 2:1-4).  They do not know what they are doing.  They are captive to do the devil’s will (Romans 7:5-6) and so they need to be rescued.  In this way, the sexually broken and wayward are the new “widows, orphans and sojourners” who need protection from those who would subjugate them further.

In this way, they are subjects of our mercy and our interest—just as the Lord modeled with the woman of Samaria.  We cannot categorize the sexually broken and wayward as untouchable outcasts; they are not.  They are suffering at the hands of their sin and our enemy.

In a word, our approach is grace and truth (see John 1:14).  

Christians, churches and culture

Today is the March For Life in Washington, D.C. For 49 years Americans have been killing the unborn out of convenience. It’s no surprise our culture is a mess of contradictions and conflict. Is American culture by and large sick? Yes. Why? Perhaps because it has been growing in the blood of 60+ million abortions.

What do we do? It depends on who’s asking.

If “we” is a man or woman committed to following Jesus Christ and the Bible’s teaching that the strong must advocate for and even fight for the helpless, then vote, blog, podcast, canvas neighborhoods, run for office, call your political leaders, share the gospel, create school clubs or non-profit organizations, hold conferences, write books and pray–all for the purpose of seeing abortion end.

We happen to live in a culture (mostly) governed by the Constitution that makes all of this possible and even desirable. I’m often surprised that Christians somehow don’t believe we have power enough to effect cultural change. How did the culture get the way it is? Men and women of all political inclinations and religious persuasions have done all the things I listed above. There is no special power to change culture: it is done by the consistent use of the opportunities and freedoms we have at our finger tips.

If “we” is a local church then preach the full counsel of God’s word, eat the Lord’s Supper, pray together (all from Acts 2:42) and plead for the Lord to return and roll up the evil world like a scroll (2 Peter 3:10) delivering the New Jerusalem.

You’ll notice the scope of activity is very different than the first? The business of the church is to grow a different kingdom in a different manner. The Bible tells us the power of the Holy Spirit is not for the sake of building worldly institutions: family, school, government or culture. It is for the building up of the church, the Temple, the House of Living Stones whose Cornerstone is Christ.

Why is it that there are some in Christendom who believe there aren’t two “we’s” here? That the work of the church and the work of the Christian aren’t distinguishable? Would they have the State ordain Ministers? Then why would they have the Ministers give orders to the State? “State Church” experiments in human history have rarely produced faithful churches–they still don’t. Have “Church State” experiments fared any better?

There simply is no benefit in conflating the work of a Christian in the culture with the work of the Church in the culture. There is no greater power for the Christian if this was so; indeed, there is only the danger of the culture contaminating the church (the mainline churches who have abandoned Apostles’ Creed Christianity for some social variant is proof of this).

It is also not true that if the Church were to build its house in the ways mentioned above and stay out of political or cultural advocacy that becomes a version of isolationism. Culture changes from the inside-out, not the outside-in (education is far more effective and long lasting than litigation / legislation). Faithful churches make cultural change each Lord’s Day as the word and sacraments tinker with the souls of the redeemed to give them courage and Christlikeness. As a result, individual believers are subjectively motivated to glorify God in all we do and objectively equipped by the truth of God’s word.

Our culture doesn’t need the church telling it how to behave–that’s not the church’s role. It needs individual Christians motivated and active in making change to unjust institutions working with men and women of all stripes.

Seven reasons why I need the church

According to a Christianity Today (CT) publication (November 2021), the abandonment of organized religion is a new “public health crisis.” That got me thinking because anecdotally I know this to be the case. We are a committed individualized culture and that has inevitably spilled out into organized religion. We go where we want (not necessarily what’s close). We leave when we want (despite membership vows). We give what we want (instead of pitching in the tithe at least). It can be a lot more than this but it isn’t less.

We have to be taught to be corporate. CT and other publications discuss the very practical benefits to going to church (e.g., reduced health risks, happier marriages, reduced risk of divorce, reduced rate of adolescent depression, etc.). These things are good as we make our way in this world. Yet, these things can be sought and found (at least in some measure) outside the corporate body of Christ.

I’m not sure the church spends enough time self-consciously reflecting on what makes the church unique in the world and why it is necessary (in a logical sense: essential) in a person’s life. Below are seven reasons why I need the church.

#1. I will hear messages I need but wouldn’t seek.

I preach every week. Early on in my professional ministry career, I decided that I (with the elders) would choose whole books of the Bible and preach through them. Once I’d complete a book, I’d move on to the next one. What I have discovered is this process doesn’t allow me to linger on texts or on points that are “hobby horses.” This doesn’t allow me to hammer a topic endlessly–unless the topic is in the text or flows from it naturally.

So, not only do I not choose the text, I am subject to the movement of the Holy Spirit’s illumination as I write a sermon. Many times before worship when the elders gather to pray, I’d say with fear and trepidation, “I’m not sure about this one!” Without trying to sound mystical, the text and the sermon choose me not the other way around.

This is in stark contrast to my Twitter feed, Facebook friend-group, news outlets I choose and Instagram account. Each one of those does what I tell it to do (usually). I work to curate every aspect of my life (as we all do) with the one exception of Sunday morning worship. I don’t even know how much I need messages I would never seek.

#2. I will have fellowship (community) with people I wouldn’t otherwise choose (mostly).

I think it’s fair to say that each of us has a picture in our minds of what kinds of people we’d choose to be in our community. It varies depending on each person but all of that is obliterated at church. God brings to our local church exactly who is supposed to come to our church. One downside of large churches (and I’ve served them) is you can still curate your fellowship by surrounding yourself with people you’d choose. Not so at 90% of all the churches in this country.

And not true at our church. At our small church, we have a large variety of ethnicities, education levels, career choices, family sizes, schooling choices, preferences for food and drink and sports teams. We have every age and have much of the United States represented. What is probably true at most churches is true of us: we are a group of people thrown together by the grace and mercy of God and that’s all. Since this is true, we all have to learn to live with that.

#3. I am lifted out of the common into the covenantal.

I share a street with neighbors. If I “tagged” people, I’d find we all go to the same grocery stores, restaurants, hospitals, movie theaters, coffee joints, beer pubs and bathrooms. What God is preserving through the covenant He made with Noah is all around us. We share it in common and it has many really good things about it (I had some shrimp and cauliflower grits the other day…OH MAN…).

It is common all around us except at Sunday morning church. At church, I step into the Embassy of the Eternal. There is nothing common about the Call to Worship, the invocation, the confession of sin and affirmation of faith, the assurance of pardon (!), the prayers, the preaching and the weekly Lord’s Supper. You can’t find this anywhere “out there in the world” because these things are not of this world.

It isn’t just that by being a church-goer I might have a better marriage or less depression; if God wills it. It is that I step out of the matrix and into the real world; that is, with the entrance fee paid by our Savior, we get to stroll in the halls of the “not yet” with the Lord by His Spirit. We step into the rest that He has earned for us that He gives us through the means of grace. It is for these reasons online worship isn’t worship; it is being a spectator as worship is happening. Sure, there’s a time and place for such a thing but it isn’t the real thing!

#4. I am reminded of my citizenship.

I’ve traveled widely on this continent and in Europe. I have been regularly amazed at what happens when I come back to the States and I go through customs. “Welcome Home” is one of the sweetest phrases there is. I remember once I came back from abroad and went through some electronic customs situation and was greeted by no one. It was a dejected feeling to have lost the opportunity for someone to welcome me home.

I’ve been to some wonderful places but I am a citizen of only one. Sunday morning worship is the only place in all of creation where I’m truly “home.” I wonder if we spend enough time contemplating that fact. At church, I am reminded that I am a citizen of heaven–the new heavens and the new earth waiting to be revealed at the return of the Lord.

I like America (a lot). But living here can be hard; harder for some than others. All human communities are like that. I am a citizen of this country but I’m really just a sojourner, a resident alien, a stranger here. These true facts can easily be obscured if we minimize Sunday morning worship.

#5. My sojourning in this life gets fresh perspective.

I mentioned my Twitter feed. When I read it, I feel like Gollum did with the Ring: I love it and I hate it. I try to populate my feed with opposing viewpoints to mine. On those and the others similar to my own, so much seems so daunting, divisive, dangerous. The globe is warming and we’re all dead in a generation; Iran-NKorea-Russia-China all seemed poised to pull the trigger and blow it all up. Gas prices, inflation, national debt, abortion all just pile on and pile on.

Turning away from Twitter doesn’t solve much. The gloomy messaging is all around us. Almost. Inside the halls of the sanctuary on Sunday mornings, there’s no gloom: resurrection. There’s no despair: salvation. There’s no alienation: community. There’s no poverty: depth of soul. There’s no wandering: glory of God. There’s no threat: Christ, the Head of all.

We step into church and these are the emblems and they give perspective on all the rest. Yeah: there’s a lot that sucks out there and there always will be. But inside, where Christ is by His Spirit, I recognize that one day, what is common will be rolled up like a scroll to make room for what is new. I have a stake in that and I am reminded of it each Sunday.

#6. I receive God’s grace.

God is kind and merciful to His people all the time. He even upholds creation for the good of all those made in His image and by His hand. But there is only one place where full measures of grace is dispensed: in the community of the faithful on Sunday morning through the means He has chosen: prayer, preaching, fellowship and the sacraments.

Only on Sunday morning is God invoked to attend to us. Only there do we pray as a body for His help, saying, “Our Father….” Only there is the word of God preached with power by the anointing of the Holy Spirit. Only there will we find the Supper table set and the Spirit ministering more sanctifying grace to the worthy eater.

The teaching of Scripture is that we must not forsake the assembling together. To do so, we constrict the grace of God in our lives: He has designed us to worship together and receive His grace. Only in individualized Western countries have we compartmentalized God such that I think might think all I need is “me and Jesus.” Hogwash. Jesus is with me, true. Yet when I am with His Body, He is there in ways I do not receive when I am alone. If there is fuller measures of grace to be had in the corporate worship, why wouldn’t I go regularly?

#7. I minimize what should be minimized.

I will take with me through the grave only one thing: the righteousness of Christ. In heaven, I will greet those rewards that I have earned in obedience to Christ in this life. But those are prepared for me “over there.” That means the things that I have “over here” are important but not ultimate: my health, my wife, my children, my roles, my job and on.

Too often, in the church, we maximize what we should minimize: COVID sure made that obvious! In the church, where all the things of this world hold no place of prominence, I am reminded of what I should give my life to. Serve my wife, love my children, work hard – of course! Live for them? No. I’d never hear that if I didn’t go to corporate worship every Sunday.

Aggregation of COVID Articles: UPDATED 12-6-21

It is easy to find pro-vaccination articles on the mainstream media. Stopping at the CDC website, the WHO website, state COVID-19 websites, etc. provide articles and exhortations to be vaccinated. I have been vaccinated.

At the same time, to be vaccinated or not to be vaccinated has left the realm of individual conscience into the world of Christian love, civic duty, “following the science” etc. In other words, now, vaccinations–an extremely private concern–is now everyone’s business. The government (including leaders who claimed mandating vaccines would never happen or is unAmerican, etc.) is mandating vaccines. Businesses are mandating vaccines for their workers. Families mandate vaccines for each other as conditions of fellowship.

My intent with this post isn’t to debate these matters; others have done so. Neither is it to minimize the dangerous nature of the virus. In the congregation where I serve, our leaders (elders) have neither minimized this issue nor made this issue a public one but have encouraged our people to make their own decisions. We believe that is both biblical and practical as church leaders.

Still, I have this insatiable appetite for research and information. I am a man of science in the sense that I feel obligated to know as much as I can so that I can lead my own family and, if asked, advise the church members where I serve. For this reason, I have been collecting articles that present data (and some opinion) about being vaccinated with the COVID vaccine. It seems, now that we’ve been in this season for some time, studies are producing data that should further inform our decisions.

Below, I have linked to a collection of articles that I have read that I consider worthy enough to present so that any interested reader could view them. As I mention, it is easy to find pro-vax information and opinion. What I present is data that might challenge many of those often strident pro-vax assertions.

As I said, I have been vaccinated as have many others I love and respect. Yet also, men and women I love and respect have not been. I leave it to the reader to decide.

UPDATED: December 6, 2021. “Simply put, the very best scientific evidence currently available to mankind does not support the widely held contention” that these vaccines lower the risk of death in the studied time period.”https://justthenews.com/politics-policy/coronavirus/covid-vaccine-mandates-undermined-research-sponsored-vaccine-makers

Current data suggests vaccines are less effective than previously thought: https://redstate.com/scotthounsell/2021/11/05/the-latest-data-makes-the-vaccine-mandate-push-seem-all-the-more-stupid-n470569

Vaccination rates do not correlate to lower to lower virus transmission: https://redstate.com/scotthounsell/2021/11/29/the-latest-covid-data-offers-yet-another-factual-rejection-of-covid-vaccine-effectiveness-narrative-n483116

Why are we vaccinating our children? https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S221475002100161X

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-08-27/previous-covid-prevents-delta-infection-better-than-pfizer-shot  Having and recovering from COVID provides more protection than the vaccine

https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa2114114?query=featured_homehttps://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa2114583?query=recirc_mostViewed_railB_article NEJM on the quickly waning efficacy of the vaccine over time

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S221475002100161X Questions the appropriateness of vaccinating children against COVID; important article showing the flaws in the clinical tests

https://fee.org/articles/vaccination-rates-not-linked-to-lower-covid-rates-epidemiology-paper-finds/ linkage between higher vaccination rates and lower COVID cases questioned

https://www.health.nd.gov/sites/www/files/documents/COVID%20Vaccine%20Page/COVID-19_Vaccine_Fetal_Cell_Handout.pdf documents the connection between COVID vaccine development and the use of aborted fetal tissue

https://gbdeclaration.org “Great Barrington Declaration” doctors and scientists with “grave concerns” about COVID policies

https://fee.org/articles/stanford-epidemiologist-says-covid-vaccination-is-primarily-a-matter-of-personal-health-not-public-health/ This researcher highlights the results of a study done in Qatar that says after 20 weeks post-jab, the vaccinated are as likely to get COVID and transmit it as the unvaxed.

https://fee.org/articles/education-secretary-touts-mask-study-gets-rebuked-by-senior-author-of-the-study/ No evidence has been found promoting the use of masks in schools reduces infection or transmission rates. US county masked-schools were compared to European unmasked ones

https://fee.org/articles/cdc-schools-with-mask-mandates-didn-t-see-statistically-significant-different-rates-of-covid-transmission-from-schools-with-optional-policies/

https://fee.org/articles/cases-are-down-60-in-denmark-since-the-government-lifted-all-covid-restrictions/

https://fee.org/articles/4-ways-americans-are-fighting-back-against-anti-science-covid-restrictions/

https://fee.org/articles/new-study-finds-mask-mandate-failed-to-reduce-covid-deaths-hospitalizations-or-cases/ Mask mandates in a large Texas county were not found to reduce COVID cases

https://www.thelancet.com/journals/laninf/article/PIIS1473-3099(21)00648-4/fulltext From Lancet showing data that say vaccinated patients with breakthrough cases transmit COVID at similar rates as unvaccinated patients

Vaccinated people carry as much of the virus as unvaxed people https://apnews.com/article/science-health-coronavirus-pandemic-d9504519a8ae081f785ca012b5ef84d1

https://fee.org/articles/vaccination-rates-not-linked-to-lower-covid-rates-epidemiology-paper-finds/ A new paper in the European Journal of Epidemiology that analyzed 68 countries and 2,947 US counties found that higher vaccination rates were not associated with fewer COVID-19 cases. Here’s a quote, “In fact, the trend line suggests a marginally positive association such that countries with higher percentage of population fully vaccinated have higher COVID-19 cases per 1 million people.” (emphasis in the original)

CDC data which shows only 6% of all deaths are directly attributed to COVID-19 alone. In all the other deaths, each patient had at least 3 other comorbidities https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/health_policy/covid19-comorbidity-expanded-12092020-508.pdf

November 9, 2021