Marriage: Words Have Meaning… Don’t they?

Marriage was amended in America during the 1970s, and it has only become more adjustable over time. Same-sex “marriage” became legal in 2015, but it was during the 1970s that American states began passing laws that would allow for something called “no-fault divorce.” No-fault divorce is a phrase that refers to rejecting the lifelong covenant of marriage without cause. Essentially, two married individuals may decide to break their union for any reason or no particular reason at all. Not only was this a tragedy, it was also a serious redefinition of marriage. Mutual lifelong commitment is one necessary, essential, and fundamental aspect of marriage.

During the last few years Americans have been able to experience just how pliable the definition of marriage really is when it is cut away from its moorings. The word “marriage,” we are told, may now be defined so as to include relationships between two males or two females. It seems that the civil authorities in America might define “marriage” as a contractual relationship between two adults that may be created and dissolved at will, simply with the use of legal counsel. 

The question should be asked, however, “Does civil authority have the ability to define or redefine marriage?” Obviously, the answer to this question will depend heavily on the origins of marriage. Quite frankly, marriage was established as an institution far earlier than the American civil government and legal system. Even if one does not have a Christian worldview, the fact that the institution of marriage predates the America is beyond refutation. Therefore, it is plainly demonstrated that the American government is overreaching its own authority by attempting to redefine marriage.

Christians are not new arrivals to the worksite of defining terms appropriately. In fact, one might argue that Christianity itself rests upon understanding the proper definitions to terms like goodsinjustification, and faith. While Christians are certainly not capable of perfection in this mortal life, the Bible repeatedly commands Christians to live as humble usurpers of a seemingly pagan-dominated world (1 Peter 8:3-17; 2 Peter 3:11-13).

The pagan world may call anything “marriage,” but it is the Christian’s obligation and privilege to live according to God’s definition rather than another.

“Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous” (Heb 13:4).

Marriage: You Live What You Really Believe

While some Christians might be tempted to create a false divide between theology (perceived as sacred) and practice (perceived as secular or at least unrelated), that simply does not work. There is no such thing as a secular-sacred divide! Theology always affects practice. As a smart guy might say, “Orthodoxy produces orthopraxy,” which simply means that right belief will lead to right living. This is true of every area of life, and it is especially true in regards to marriage.

What a person really believes about marriage will always play out in their marital relationship. If a man really believes that he is only obligated to his wife as long as she stays in good physical shape, then he will eventually demonstrate this belief by leaving or looking elsewhere (adultery, pornography, etc.). If a woman really believes that she is only obligated to her husband as long as he provides an acceptable lifestyle, then she will eventually demonstrate this belief by looking elsewhere too. These are just two examples, but one could list many. The point is, what a person truly believes will affect how they live.

The Bible argues that marriage is instituted and regulated by God (Gen. 2:24; Matt. 19:3-12; 1 Cor. 7:1-16; Eph. 5:22-33). In fact, the Bible demands that all people everywhere honor God’s design and regulations for marriage (Heb. 13:4). This more than implies that Christians are not the only ones who are responsible before God to live according to a particular standard of belief about marriage. Furthermore, it is the Christian’s duty and privilege to live as an example of such right belief, no matter what is going on in the world around them. 

You live what you really believe, and the world around you is watching…

Keep your conduct among the [non-believers] honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God (1 Peter 2:12).

Exciting Christianity

Today, rekindle the flame of excitement that burns in your heart because of your inclusion in the family of God.

The walk today began as it normally would…  I was adjusting my ear-buds and setting the volume for my podcast, fidgeting with the GPS and stopwatch app on my iPhone, and pulling my prancing German shepherd close to my side in order to avoid the passing cars.  A few minutes into the walk, however, I knew that it would be different than before.

For months, my dog and I have traversed the all-but-empty neighborhood streets, and we have even walked through the vacant parking lot of a nearby elementary school.  However, this morning the streets were teaming with cars, the school parking lot was bustling with teachers and administrators directing children and traffic, and there were at least 5 families taking advantage of photo opportunities in their front yard.

The first day of the new school year is a big day for many people.  Educators, parents, and students alike anticipate the day with feelings of excitement and trepidation.  Why?  At least one reason is that this day is a marker, a threshold in one’s development.  Today marks the beginning of a new level of learning, another year of consistent investment in the lives of others, a fresh chance to be better and achieve more than the previous year.

Embarking on a new journey, or passing signposts along the way, evokes feelings of accomplishment and adventure.

It has been said, though, that excitement diminishes over time.  Just a month or two from now parents will not be pausing for photos of their children in the front yard.  Instead, they will be hurrying their children out the door with frazzled angst so that they will be no more than 15 minutes late to school.  The decline of excitement can be equally applicable in the lives of Christians.

Recall the excitement you experienced upon understanding the love of God that was demonstrated for you in the person and work of Jesus Christ.  Do you remember what it felt like to know for the very first time that the Creator of the universe was deeply interested in the eternal destination of your soul?  What emotion, what conviction, what joy came over your heart and mind when you first understood the incredible sacrifice of Christ (His life, His suffering, His death, and His victory over the grave) as having been done on your behalf?

Then, as time went on, it is possible that your initial excitement grew colder.  Maybe you have even come to view the incredible grace of God as something that you now deserve.  “Sure, you once needed unreserved love from God in order to be accepted by Him… But now, you bring so many great things to the relationship, don’t you?”

Does the message of salvation only apply to us at a single point in our lives?  Is this exciting Gospel only meant to stimulate us for a moment?

“NO!” is the short answer to such questions.

You and I need the Gospel today just as much as any other day!  It is just as exhilarating today, as any other, that God would demonstrate such marvelous love towards sinners like us!  This message does not merely avoid becoming timeworn and dull; it is all the more wonderful to ears that have come to understand the meaning of the message more fully than they once did.

Oh, Christian… remind yourself of your sinful posture towards your Maker, remind yourself of God’s justice and the salvation found in Christ alone!  Renew your thoughts of humble gratitude for God’s grace and mercy pictured in your own redemption.  Today, rekindle the flame of excitement that burns in your heart because of your inclusion in the family of God.

This fiery joy is that which motivates us to lives of worship, love, service and commitment.

Do you notice a lack in your worshipful intensity?  Do you see a puddle of love where there should be an ocean?  Do you avoid serving others?  Do you quickly draw back from commitment to the eternal task?

Remember the God who saved, is saving now, and will save your soul!  Remember the Gospel of Jesus Christ – the message of His person, His word and His work!

Today, may my mind and yours be overwhelmed by the goodness and mercy of the God of grace.  May our hearts spill over with intense love for God and neighbor because of the love with which God first loved us.

A Candid Approach on Mother’s Day

Last Sunday was my second Mother’s Day as pastor of FBC Diana. Here is the brief statement I made at the opening of our service on Mother’s Day 2016.

A mother found a paper on the table one morning. It was a bill from her young son. “For being good: $1. For taking out the trash: $1. For feeding the dog: $1. For brushing teeth: $1. Total: $4.” At lunch, later that day, the young boy saw a note beside his plate at the table. It was a bill from his mother. “For making your breakfast: nothing. For washing your clothes: nothing. For driving you everywhere you go: nothing. Total: nothing.”

The message was clear, mom does all she does because she loves, not because she will be rewarded.

And yet, the Scripture speaks of the praises of her husband and children for the “excellent” wife and mother described in Proverbs 31. Certainly there is good reason to praise, to admire, and to honor a wife and mother who exhibits such wisdom and faithfulness. However, we would miss the entire point of Proverbs 31 if we overlook a single verse. The book of Proverbs is all about wisdom, and the constant refrain is that wisdom is granted by God to those who fear Him (that is revere and love Him). No less than 20 times, the author presents the “fear of the LORD” as desirable and profitable. Proverbs 31:30 is the last of these verses, and it says, “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” That’s it! That’s what Proverbs 31 is all about!

Since this is true, then we may (and should) put less emphasis on the accomplishments of this wife and mother. Rather, we should emphasize the wonderful benefits of a life devoted to God and motivated by reverence towards Him. This is great news for all women, not just for moms.

As a pastor, I am aware of many people who love Mother’s Day. Some moms are able to convince their children to come to church on at least this one Sunday each year. However, I am also aware of the reality that not everyone is so excited about Mother’s Day. There are likely some women here who want to be mothers, but have been unable to conceive. There are women here who have lost one or more children in death, and there are many here whose mothers have already died.

Additionally, I am aware of the painful reality that some mothers were or are not exemplary mothers. The thought of your mother may not bring back fond memories, and the thought of your own attempt at motherhood may stir feelings of guilt and despair. All of this swirls about in my head during the days that lead up to Mother’s Day, and as I stand before you now I nearly tremble at the thought of addressing such a complex and emotional matter, so full of expectation.

Since I am inadequate for the task (as with so many of my pastoral responsibilities), I find great confidence and comfort in the Word of God on this matter. So, let us briefly return to the oft-cited Mother’s Day passage – Proverbs 31.

Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised” (Prov. 31:30).

A woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. A woman who reveres God, is devoted to God, and is marked by a heart-felt love for God; that woman is to be praised.

Well, if your mother fears the Lord, then praise her this day. Make the time to praise God for His gift of such a mother. For a God-fearing mother is a true gift indeed.

If your life has enjoyed the benefit of a God-fearing, God-honoring, and God-loving woman, then be grateful for such an influence. Praise her, and praise God for her.

If you hope to be a praise-worthy woman, then you should not aim to be like the Proverbs 31 woman… at least not in any way she is described before verse 30. If you try to accomplish these feats in order to receive the praise of others, then you will be sorely disappointed.

Rather, begin with the fear of the LORD, for here is the beginning of wisdom, and here is the true treasure.

Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised” (Prov. 31:30).

3 Attributes of A Real Man

Since I can remember, I have looked up to men who I perceived to embody the kind of attributes I admire. Even before I was a Christian, seemingly without effort, I gravitated towards those men who served as a real-life example of true masculinity. In our contemporary American culture of androgynous humanity, it seems all the more important to extol, exemplify, and encourage appropriate manhood.

The term itself, “manhood,” is already controversial in American culture, but I will venture even further into controversy by adding the qualifying term “biblical” to it. I am not interested in social norms or ever-changing psychological categories of gender identity (at least not in the sense of allowing them to define what manhood ought to be). I am interested in manhood as it is defined by the One who made man (Gen. 1:27). Therefore, I am interested in “biblical manhood.”

As I consider the relatively few truly godly men I have met over the course of my lifetime, I pondered some similarities between them. There is much more that could be said in regards to their similar characteristics and patterns, but I will narrow my focus to three attributes. These are three attributes of real men (i.e. biblical manhood).

First, godly men exhibit hunger and humility concerning God’s Word. Each of the men I admire as truly godly men have a voracious appetite for God’s Word. They have a very high view of Scripture, embracing the doctrine of inerrancy and the Reformation battle cry “sola Scriptura.” Even those who may not know the terms or phrases affirm the truths which these represent. In addition, these godly men have a great personal dependence upon the Bible. They are humbly hanging on God’s every word because they truly believe that God has spoken.

Second, godly men have an honest discontent with sin and desire for personal holiness. These men have a real sense of their personal sinful corruption, yet they are not content to abide with things as they are. While they are quick to acknowledge their failures and their proclivity for them, they are also not satisfied with the status quo. They war against personal sin, and they are quick to bear with others in their fight to do the same. They trust God’s promise to forgive and His promise to renew.

Third, godly men have a captivating love for and gratitude towards Christ. These men might be best described as keenly Gospel-focused in all things. Their understanding of the Gospel is ever-growing and their ability to filter all of life through the lenses of the Gospel is also ever-expanding. Christ is truly Savior, Redeemer, Master, Friend, and Lord. The affections of godly men are stirred by the reality that Christ has actually done something, Christ is actually doing something now, and Christ will actually do something in the future.

It is important for me to note, these attributes are not necessarily particular to “manhood” in themselves. A godly woman may exhibit these same attributes. However, a real man will distinguish himself (both from other men and from women) by his exemplary leadership in these areas. In other words, a godly man will lead himself, his home, his church family, and his extended community by exhibiting these attributes. The real man will provide a living example and make an influential impact on others.

May God raise up a multitude of real, godly men. May God create in our hearts the desire and the commitment to live to His glory. And, may God help us to extol, exemplify, and encourage appropriate manhood.

Regret & False Repentance

Every honest person must admit to experiencing regret. Maybe you bought a car, a pet, or a meal that you regretted purchasing soon after. Maybe you said something you immediately wished could be taken back, or maybe you did something that caused you to fantasize about Superman’s ability to rewind time. Probably on more than one occasion, you have experienced regret.

Regret is common to the human experience after Genesis 3, but repentance is not. Regret is universal, but repentance is a special gift of God only to those who truly trust Him as Savior and Master (Acts 11:18). Jesus included “repentance” with “belief in the Gospel” when He urged His message of saving grace (Mk. 1:15). Jesus said that “repentance” should be proclaimed in His name to all people (Lk. 24:47). The first Gospel presentations we see in the book of Acts each include the call to “repent” (Acts 2:38, 3:19, 5:31, and 8:22). The Apostle Paul said that God commands “all people everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30).

Since Repentance is a key aspect of right relationship to God and genuine trust in Christ, it is exceptionally important that we assess ourselves to discover if what we are experiencing is actually true repentance. Repentance is different from Regret in several ways, but the following distinctions may be helpful for understanding the differences better.

Here are five marks or signs of regret that falls short of true repentance:

1) Denial of Responsibility

I didn’t do it!” or “She made me do it!” Both of these are examples of denial. Anyone who looks for others to blame or tries to make others join in the blame is still not fully admitting to their responsibility in the violation. Adam’s blame of Eve and Eve’s blame of the serpent is a great example of this feature of temporary regret without true repentance (Gen. 3:12-13).

2) Concern for Punishment, but not for Violation/Sin

When a person is caught in a violation, and their punishment becomes the focus of greatest interest to them, it might be evidence of false repentance. When Cain had just murdered his brother (Abel), the only worry he ever mentioned to God was care for his own life and peace (Gen. 4:13).

3) Self-centered Perspective

This is demonstrated by #2, but it may also manifest itself in numerous other ways. If a person emphasizes their own needs, wants, and desires to such a degree that it detracts from the heinousness of their violation or minimizes their punishment, then this is evidence of a self-centered perspective and false repentance. David’s initial actions concerning his sinful relationship with Bathsheba is an example of a treacherous self-centered perspective (2 Sam. 11).

4) Disinterest in Avoiding Future Violations/Sins

It is usually fairly easy to get someone to admit that what they are doing is wrong or displeasing to God, but it is quite another thing to see a person change course because of the fact. If a person admits he or she is in error, this is only part of it. True repentance will include a desire and a plan to avoid future or continued error. The “rich, young ruler” who “went away sorrowful” from Jesus had no intentions of avoiding the sins of greed, pride, and idolatry (Matt. 19:22).

5) Vow of Avoidance is Superficial

On some occasions, it is possible that a person may promise some retribution or future avoidance. However, this can be only superficial, and disingenuous. False repentance will be demonstrated when the person promises, “I’ll never do that again!” or “I’ll give it back, and everything will be fine...” Neither of these takes into account the underlying motivation for the violation or the real future struggle that lies ahead for anyone who hopes to avoid satisfying sinful desires.

True repentance, then, will simply be demonstrated by the opposite of these five above. The truly repentant person will be willing to take full responsibility for their thoughts, words, and deeds. Genuinely contrition will be evidenced by a deep sorrow for what was said and/or done, and the sting upon others will be of greater care than the sting of punishment. Real penitence will focus less upon self, except in the area of honest confession. There will be a heartfelt desire to avoid sin and a humble approach to actually changing course in order to avoid sin.

 

How do you measure up? Do you generally see a pattern of mere regret and false repentance in your life? If so, here are three things you should do right now.

1) Pray. Confess your sinful pattern to God, and ask Him to give you true repentance and a broken heart over your sin.

2) Plan. Think about how you may cultivate godliness in your own heart and mind, and make a plan to do it.

3) Partner. Join with other Christians in a Gospel-centered local church family, and go to war against personal sin together.

If you are in East Texas, I recommend FBC Diana 🙂  www.fbcdiana.org

Do you have True Love?

As a pastor, one of the most challenging and risky conversations I ever have is on the subject of true love. Now, you probably think I mean something I do not intend here with this phrase. I am referring to true or genuine or real love for Christ. Nearly every person I have met in East Texas has claimed to love God or love Christ, but we can all be sure that not everyone in East Texas actually possesses the love they might claim. “How can we be sure?” you might ask. Well, because true love for Christ has a real and meaningful affect on a person.

I bump into people all the time who are perfectly at ease with their lazy and non-transformative relationship with God. “I love Jesus,” they will claim, but it is rare that I meet someone who lives a life that matches the statement.

While each encounter is a little different, the conversation usually goes something like this:

Anonymous: You are a pastor? Well, God is a big part of my life.

Me: Oh? How so?

Anonymous: I’ve gone to church, and I pray… And I’ve read the Bible before. There was even a time in my life when God really helped me out of this tough situation.

Me: I see. So, are you connected with a church family now?

Anonymous: Well… I used to go to [insert obscure church or megachurch name], and we’re looking for a church. But, a person doesn’t have to go to church to get to heaven, and I try to be a pretty good person.

Me: Ok. How do you think you are doing with that?

Anonymous: With what?

Me: Being a good person.

Anonymous: Oh, I think I am doing pretty well.

Me: Would you mind if I tell you what the Bible says about being a good person, and would you mind if we see how God might measure how well you are doing?

Anonymous: (awkwardly smiling, and trying to think of a way to end this conversation) Ok.

Me: Are you familiar with God’s commandments or “the 10 commandments?”

Anonymous: Yes!

Me: Can you name some of them?

Anonymous: Don’t lie, uh… don’t steal, uh…

Me: Yes, you’ve got it! So, have you ever told a lie? Even a small one?

Anonymous: Yes, but I was younger then, and everybody has told at least one lie.

Me: What do you call someone who lies?

Anonymous: (blank stare) …a sinner?

Me: Don’t you call a person who lies a “liar?”

Anonymous: Oh, yes… a liar.

Me: Have you ever taken anything that does not belong to you? Stolen something? Even something small?

Anonymous: Yes, but that was when I was a kid.

Me: What do you call someone who steals?

Anonymous: A theif.

Me: That’s right. And another of God’s commands is that we should not commit adultery, but Jesus said in Matthew chapter 5 that even to look upon another person with lustful thoughts is to commit adultery in your heart. Have you ever done that?

Anonymous: Sure… Who hasn’t?

Me: So, you admit that you have broken God’s law on at least three points. God says He is a perfect judge who will let no sin go unpunished. If God were to judge you right now, would He say you are innocent or guilty?

Anonymous: Guilty… But I’ve been forgiven! Jesus forgives!

Me: Yes, you are right! But, does Jesus forgive everyone? I mean, does everyone go to heaven?

Anonymous: No.

Me: What is the difference between those who go to heaven and those who do not?

Anonymous: You go to heaven if you try to do good, and you don’t if you’re bad.

Me: But, doesn’t that get us back to where we started? I mean, you already admitted that you are not actually good. You are, in fact, guilty and liable to the judgment of God.

Anonymous: But God is forgiving… I am forgiven.

Me: I believe you are right to appeal to God’s forgiveness, but I also think you are leaving something very important out. How does a guilty person receive this forgiveness you mentioned?

Anonymous: You have to believe in Jesus?

Me: Yes, but what does that mean?

Anonymous: (questioning look and long silence)

Me: The Bible says that Jesus was born perfect, and that He lived a perfectly good life (unlike you and me). And, when Jesus died on the cross, the Bible says that He was counted guilty and bad, even though He was actually perfect and good, so that people (like you and me) who are actually guilty and bad could be counted as though we are perfect and good. You see, Jesus exchanges His perfect goodness for the guilt of all those who love and trust Him.

Anonymous: Yes, I do trust and love Him!

Me: What if I told you that I love my wife, but I also told you that I never listened to a word she said, never cared to know anything about what she values, and never spent any time with her?

Anonymous: I’d say you were a bad husband.

Me: And you’d be right! You would say I am a bad husband, because my statement “I love my wife” would be disproved by my actions, wouldn’t it?

Anonymous: Yes.

Me: So, when you say, “I love Jesus,” but you also tell me that you don’t read the Bible (God’s Word), you don’t know much of anything about what Jesus says is important, and you don’t make any effort to spend time with the local “body of Christ” (the Church), how can I say anything else but that you have just disproved your statement of love for Christ? Please consider the seriousness of the subject, and honestly assess where you really are today.

No one has ever been in right relationship with God by simply saying they are. In fact, Jesus warns that such presumptuous thinking is fatally dangerous (Matt. 7:23). Nevertheless, many seem to be quite comfortable with their belief that a mere “profession of faith” will save them from God’s wrath.

Make no mistake. Jesus said that the mark of a true disciple of His would be true love for Him, in the form of obedience to His teaching (John 14:15). If there is not evidence of true love in your life, then you should not try to fool yourself into believing that everything is just fine.

Just as a man would leave the comfort of his bed in order to escape his burning house, so we should consider the safety of our current situation. Only a fool would deny the obvious in order to keep his temporary comfort.

Southern Baptists, Arminians, and Calvinists

Within Southern Baptist churches there exists a variety of people who claim to be Arminians or Calvinists. In my experience, many of these individuals do not actually affirm many of the propositions that are included in the historic theological systems represented by those names. Instead, the shorthand references seem to have been drained of some substantial theological cargo. More often than not, “Calvinist” and “Arminian” now simply float as hollow battleships representing differing views on the doctrine of salvation. This is unfortunate and less than helpful.

The rise in number and influence of those who might call themselves Calvinist has also caused no small amount of concern for many Southern Baptists. The reasons for all of this heartburn may be many, but I think that one major contributing factor is unfamiliarity. Anytime something is unfamiliar, it tends to make us uneasy – at least a little.

Ask the average Southern Baptist what he or she knows about Arminianism or Calvinism, and you are likely to get a puzzled look followed by a confused reply. Moreover, if some Southern Baptists do seem to know something about either or both of these camps, they will often have only a truncated or twisted perspective. If the Southern Baptists of today were as disinterested in theological investigation as the Southern Baptists of the 1950s-1990s (activity was their greater focus), then this misunderstanding would not be as much of a problem. However, there has been a dramatic rearrangement of the American cultural landscape, and the congregations who live and work on this new terrain have changed as well.

Since the Southern Baptist Convention was first formed in 1845, there have been both Calvinists and Arminians in the family. Particular Baptists (Calvinistic) and General Baptists (Arminian) both joined in cooperated efforts to proclaim the Gospel far and wide. Because of this diversity in the SBC, there have also been various times in which each theological camp has enjoyed the more prominent role in the convention. Of course, there have been vigorous debates and even family fights, but Southern Baptists have never shied away from a healthy debate or fight. The point is that the disagreeing sides of this particular theological debate have cooperated significantly in the past. I believe that we would be childish and foolish to think that this kind of cooperation cannot continue.

In order to work towards clarity and civility in the current situation, it will be helpful for everyone to investigate, think, and then speak (with patience and humility). By God’s grace, Southern Baptists (Arminians and Calvinists alike) can continue to unite under the banner of the Gospel, and we may continue to defend those Biblical distinctives that have made us Baptists.

 

Is the NIV Bible good or bad?

My first Bible was the NIV

I began my Christian journey at 19 years old, and I was reading through “The Student Bible” New International Version (published in 1996 by Zondervan). It was given to me at some point during my teen years, but I never had any time for the Bible until I was miraculously converted in my college dorm room. One afternoon I noticed that I was just sitting on my bunk bed reading the Bible, and this had been a regular occurrence for several days. This was totally unusual for me, and so I began to notice other changes in my affections too. God saved me from my sin, from myself, and from His wrath.

I continued to read this “Student Bible” for some time, but someone gave me a burgundy, leather-bound New American Standard Bible (NASB) with my name engraved on the cover when I was in my early twenties, and my old paperback “Student Bible” was shelved. At the time, I did not know much about the various Bible translations, but I felt I had crossed a maturity threshold when my Bible was covered with leather and no longer had the word “Student” splashed across its face. Over the years, I have come to understand much more about translations and the intent behind each one. It has been more difficult to keep up with all of the more recent translations, but I try to keep my awareness at a reasonable level. As a pastor, church members will occasionally ask me a question about Bible translations, and I like to give them a quality answer as often as I can.

As I became more aware of the intentionality that drives each Bible translation, not to mention the various texts consulted by interpreters, I actually continued to like the New International Version (1984 NIV). Some translations seek to be more of a word-for-word translation, others seek to be a thought-for-thought translation of the original language, but the NIV aimed for a middle ground between the two. Some translation committees (the groups of scholars investing time and effort into translation) hold a higher view of Scripture than others, and this too has a dramatic effect upon their translation. The NIV (published in 1973 and revised in 1978 and 1984) sought to be “a contemporary English translation of the Bible.”[1] In this translation, the committee also remained conservative in their scholarship and maintained a high view of Scripture.

I believe that the 1984 NIV is a good translation of God’s Word. It is not my favorite for personal study, nor is it my first choice when reading Scripture publically, but I still like it. I have even recommended it to some readers at times. This is why the developments of the NIV over the last decade have been so disappointing.

New International Controversy

In 2005 there was a controversial translation published by Zondervan called “Today’s New International Version.” Among the scholars listed on the Committee on Bible Translation for this project were some noteworthy individuals (Gordon Fee and Douglas J. Moo). This particular translation was in line with the general philosophy of the NIV translation from the beginning, but it also made significant changes to gender-specific language, which earned this translation the moniker “the Gender-Neutral Bible.” While those who investigate the TNIV may view the debate from varying perspectives, it is clear that gender-inclusive language was intentionally an aim of the translators.

A Washington Post article depicts the controversy over translations with a reference to one of the less significant passages. Pointing to Mark 4:25, the article cites the 1984 version of the New International Version (NIV) of the Bible where Jesus is quoted saying, “Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.” The article goes on to say, “Today’s New International Version [2005 TNIV], changed that to: ‘Those who have will be given more; as for those who do not have, even what they have will be taken from them.’”[2] There seems to be little here for major concern. No violence appears to have been done to the meaning or intent of the text. But this is an example from a passage that blurs the translation’s design to pull away from the purposeful language of the biblical text.

The 1984 NIV translates Genesis 1:27 “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” The 2005 TNIV translates the same passage “So God created human beings in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” This too may seem less than offensive in the eyes of many, but there is great significance to the words God intended divinely-inspired authors to write. It is no small matter that both maleness and femaleness are distinctions under the original creation of “man.” There is much more to delve into here than a brief article will allow, but gender-neutral language leaves much theological import on the table.

In spite of the controversy (maybe precisely because of this gender-neutral language), the TNIV has sold well from the shelves of Christian bookstores. One might understand that widespread trust and acceptance is one of the major rubs of the controversy to begin with. Many people like and trust the NIV Bible, so it is not a surprise that many would also embrace the newer translation in the same vein. Those who advocate against the gender-inclusiveness of the TNIV seem to sound their alarms in the direction of deaf ears.

Even though the TNIV did sell fairly well, the Committee on Bible Translation sought to reattempt a better launch of an updated NIV. It may be difficult to show that the committee was motivated by the stinging reception that the TNIV got when it was published, but it would seem that the experience likely provided at least some provocation for the 2011 NIV translation. This latest translation has done away with 25% of the gender-inclusive language adjustments from the 2005 TNIV, but that means that 75% of those adjustments remain.

We are not free to do as we please

The serious question that one must consider is not, “Is there room to allow for more gender-inclusive language in the biblical text?” Instead, one should ask, “Should anyone feel at liberty to adjust the biblical text where it may better fit the cultural norms of the day?” No doubt, many will argue that the gender-neutrality of many passages is no significant adjustment. However, it may also be argued that it is precisely in the gender-specific language of the biblical text that we are able to see the only rationality that will undergird value and distinction for both males and females. There is much at stake here for the observant Christian, and there is good reason to avoid gender-neutrality. God has created “man” in His image, and He has created “man” male as well as female (Gen. 1:27). This truth is more profound than most understand, and it is exactly what our gender-confused culture needs to know.

Like the TNIV, the 2011 NIV has also sold very well in Christian bookstores. Most Christians do not seem to have much difficulty accepting this translation as one of quality, and many celebrate the gender-neutrality of the 2011 NIV. After releasing the 2011 NIV, the Zondervan Publishing House discontinued both the 1984 NIV and the 2005 TNIV. The New International Version of the Bible is now exclusively the 2011 NIV. Even my favorite online Bible study tool (biblehub.com) displays the 2011 NIV as simply “NIV.” For these reasons, I no longer use the NIV Bible.

I still like the 1984 NIV, and I would still encourage anyone who enjoys this translation to keep reading it. It saddens me to be forced into including the 1984 NIV with the 2011 NIV, but because of the confusion between the two (both are called NIV) this is what I must do.

Therefore, I cannot endorse the 2011 NIV, and thus I cannot endorse the NIV anymore.

 

The Southern Baptist Convention Statement on the NIV

It may also be helpful to note that the Southern Baptist Convention (that is the collective of Southern Baptist pastors and church representatives from all over the nation) has publically and adamantly denied an endorsement of both TNIV and 2011 NIV (See the SBC Resolutions below). I am not one to follow a crowd just for the sake of avoiding what usually accompanies a solitary stand, but I appreciate the significant effort regarding biblical fidelity of the SBC.

Over the years, the SBC has ebbed and flowed, as have the Southern Baptists who comprise the group. But, the SBC has earned Southern Baptists the identity of being a “people of the Book” for good reason. Southern Baptists are a people who are constantly going back to the Book (the Bible) to reaffirm adherence to it, and to submit to God’s Word rather than to cultural expectations. God’s holy Word is too important to capitulate to the socially acceptable language of the day. It is my strong conviction that the Bible should be readable and accessible to all people everywhere, but this does not mean that it should be made more palatable or inoffensive to all people everywhere.

 

SBC Resolutions

WHEREAS, Many Southern Baptist pastors and laypeople have trusted and used the 1984 New International Version (NIV) translation to the great benefit of the Kingdom; and

WHEREAS, Biblica and Zondervan Publishing House are publishing an updated version of the New International Version (NIV) which incorporates gender-neutral methods of translation; and

WHEREAS, Southern Baptists repeatedly have affirmed our commitment to the full inspiration and authority of Scripture (2 Timothy 3:15-16) and, in 1997, urged every Bible publisher and translation group to resist “gender-neutral” translation of Scripture; and

WHEREAS, This translation alters the meaning of hundreds of verses, most significantly by erasing gender-specific details which appear in the original language; and

WHEREAS, Although it is possible for Bible scholars to disagree about translation methods or which English words best translate the original languages, the 2011 NIV has gone beyond acceptable translation standards; and

WHEREAS, Seventy-five percent of the inaccurate gender language found in the TNIV is retained in the 2011 NIV; and

WHEREAS, The Southern Baptist Convention has passed a similar resolution concerning the TNIV in 2002; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, June 14-15, 2011 express profound disappointment with Biblica and Zondervan Publishing House for this inaccurate translation of God’s inspired Scripture; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we encourage pastors to make their congregations aware of the translation errors found in the 2011 NIV; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we respectfully request that LifeWay not make this inaccurate translation available for sale in their bookstores; and be it finally

RESOLVED, That we cannot commend the 2011 NIV to Southern Baptists or the larger Christian community.[3]


[1] http://www.bible-researcher.com/niv.html

[2] http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/03/17/AR2011031703434.html

[3] http://www.sbc.net/resolutions/1218

Should a believer wait to have a “burden” before witnessing?

When is the right time to witness to someone?  What does a Christian need to know before witnessing or evangelizing?  Must a Christian wait to witness to someone until he or she is burdened or compelled by some inward sensation?  This question may be phrased in numerous ways and yet ask basically the same thing.  I think asking and answering three larger questions will help us answer these and others more definitively, as well as guide our understanding of evangelism or witnessing in general.

What is evangelism or witnessing? 

Essentially evangelism and witnessing are two ways of labeling the same activity.  Evangelism comes from the word evangel, which is a transliteration of the Greek word euangelion, meaning good message.  The message called good is that singularly wonderful message of how God promised and performed all that was necessary to save sinners in the person and work of Christ.  Therefore, evangelism is the activity of proclaiming or telling of that great message.

Witnessing carries the same idea.  To witness to someone is essentially to attest to those propositional statements, which make up the good message or Gospel.  So, evangelism is the telling of the Gospel (the good message of salvation through Christ), and witnessing is testifying to the trustworthiness of that message.

There is a common ambiguity in our day concerning both the Gospel message itself and what it means to convey that message.  There are those who would attempt to expand or condense the Gospel in order to enhance or improve it, but any adjustment to the Gospel is a violent attack upon it (Galatians 1:6-9).  Many are not satisfied to only adjust the message; they even seek to thwart the communication of any real substance.  Some would claim that the Gospel message may (and in many cases should) be delivered in action rather than speech.

Well-intentioned preachers and Christians attribute a saying to St. Francis of Assisi, “Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary use words.”  This phrase is not a direct quote because there is no actual record of St. Francis ever saying or writing these words.  Yet, even if there were such record, the statement would remain utterly nonsensical.  While bringing a meal to an individual in need of nourishment may be an illustration of what implications the Gospel message has, it is an extremely poor substitute for the Gospel message itself.  A sinner with an empty belly, after eating a marvelous meal, remains still an enemy of God and destined for eternal destruction.

Only the verbal (audible or otherwise) communication of propositional statements concerning God, sin, Christ and His eternally saving work will suffice as a means by which God brings dead sinners to life in Christ and saves their souls (Romans 10:13-14).

What role do Christians play in evangelism or witnessing? 

Wrapped up in the desire to tell people about the Gospel is usually the Christian’s aspiration to see at least someone believe that message.  So, one would do well to understand how much a witness or evangelist can contribute to the conversion of another before they set their contributive goals.  If the evangelist’s goal is to save sinners, then he or she has set a goal unattainable by anyone but Christ.

The Apostle Paul says to those to whom he had been a witness, “I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).  He says that he had been the recipient of a message and he had also passed that message along to them.  The message he speaks of is that message concerning Christ and His work that was ‘according to the Scriptures.’  The Apostle Peter refers to the “good news” that was preached and received or believed (1 Peter 1:12, 25), thus resulting in “the salvation of souls” (1 Peter 1:9).

There are a number of passages that would lend themselves to this discussion, but in these two passages we may understand at least a couple of things.  One, the Gospel or good news is a message of a particular content that is to be transmitted by someone (or more than one) through the use of words.  Two, the believing or receiving of the message is distinct from the message itself and this is the delineating line between those who experience the salvation of which the Gospel speaks.

It is not an overstatement then to say that the best and most an evangelist can do is transmit the good message or Gospel.  There are far reaching and profound implications in this simple phrase, not the least of which is the idea that the highest goal of the evangelist is to transmit the message accurately – without addition or subtraction.  This short address of another issue will not give enough space to map out all or even most of the implications in the statement above.  Yet, the fact remains that the role of the witness is to transmit or communicate the message.

Successful communication of the Gospel, then, is nothing more and certainly not less than accurate communication of the content of that preeminent message.  In other words, whether one believes the message upon hearing it has nothing whatever to do with the role of the evangelist.

What is the ultimate purpose of evangelism or witnessing? 

If the purpose of witnessing to someone is not to try to convert them (as we established above, this is not the role of the evangelist), then what is the purpose?  The short answer is to glorify God.  One cannot read through the first 14 verses of Ephesians chapter one without surmising that what God has done in the salvation of sinners is for His glory and according to His will or good pleasure.

There is no doubt that some will perceive this goal as too rigid, lifeless, or uncompassionate, but this is the highest goal that anyone might have.  In fact, this is the chief goal of everything in life.  The Christian is privileged to participate in God’s work of glorifying Himself in the salvation of sinners.

Thanks be to God that He has given Christians any part to play at all!

So, evangelism is telling people of the message of Jesus Christ’s redeeming work, and the witness’s role is simply to transmit that message accurately and regularly.  The ultimate purpose of witnessing is to bring glory to God in an accurate proclamation of what He has done in revealing Himself through the Gospel.

Because these are true, it seems easy to answer the questions listed at the beginning.

Should a believer wait to have a “burden” before witnessing?  NO! 

Why would one need to wait for anything like that at all?