Boys Must Become Good Men

Hollywood movie mogul, Harvey Weinstein, has been in the news for several weeks. It appears that he used his powerful position in the entertainment industry to abuse in unspeakable ways women striving to rise to stardom.

Close associates of Weinstein claim complete ignorance of his offenses, but a large number of women believe his abuse was widely known by them but was protected, not rebuked.

Similar scandals have erupted at Amazon, Fidelity, and NBC News, but we don’t have final information on any of these.

As the stories unfold, however, we are likely to hear counselors explain rightly that the evil conduct of these men is driven not by sexual desire but by an excessive need to dominate women in cruel and humiliating ways.

If charged, these men are likely to experience long days, even months, in court leading in some cases to jail time or other punishments.

For the offended, it will take years to achieve justice and some measure of healing. The expertise not only of lawyers, but also psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, rehabilitation centers, therapy groups, ministers, priests, and rabbis will be called upon. Such wounds go deep.

It seems to me that parallel to all this two questions deserve the attention of large numbers of citizens: First, when do grown men take their first steps towards character-grounded respect for womanhood? Second, What are the resources Judeo-Christian understanding provides?

First, the training for respectful conduct toward women begins unconsciously with what boys learn in early childhood — particularly what they learn from how their dad treats their mother.

But the boys’ learning is cumulative over time from a great variety of sources such as: the strength of family cohesion, what goes on at the playground; the influence of a kindergarten teacher; what their friends laugh at; what they learn in Sunday School; the friendships they develop: print media; endless television; and pornography. The influences are numerous.

Second, the primary Christian resource is the Bible and the primary classroom is the home. Genesis 1 tells us that God created everything that exists.

It is God’s world, and he is everywhere present and all-knowing. Little boys can grasp early that he sees our every thought and action. Thus, conscience is reinforced and respect for others engendered.

The recent news has been dark, and impresses upon us that we have an oncoming generation of little boys to train to show respect across gender lines.

The oft-repeated saying, Boys will be boys usually used to excuse some mischief — needs to be changed to Boys will be men — fine men — because that’s where we should be leading them.


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Did the Eclipse Prompt You to Reflect?

Recently, the moon totally eclipsed the sun even though the far more distant sun is 1000 times larger than the moon. It was a rare spectacle.

Advance notice of this phenomenon brought people from far and near — tens of thousands of them — to be under the total eclipse’s charted path all across America, and to witness the phenomenon.

How could it be known almost to the second where the total eclipse would manifest itself at any particular time of that day? And that the total eclipse in every case would last for two minutes?

The moon performed magnificently.

One telecaster, microphone in hand, moved among a crowd of viewers sprawled across a large area in Oregon, asking: What word describes it for you?” One after another said with enthusiasm, “Awesome.” “Awesome.” Awesome.” Awesome was the only word that seemed adequate.

Awesome: “Causing feelings of fear, or wonder, or awe.” Or “causing overwhelming feelings of reverence.”

For Christians, our awe at the mystery and magnificence of the heavenly bodies is amplified dramatically by the opening words of the Scriptures: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1).

God exists, and the universe he spoke into splendid order exists. Both sun and moon are his doing. Verse one of Genesis 1 is like the topic sentence of the Bible.

The Bible quickly takes us beyond the heavenly bodies themselves to insist that a Divine Mind creates and sustains the order of Nature and He, maker of sun and moon and everything else, is to be worshiped.

The prophet Jeremiah prays, “Ah, Sovereign Lord, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you” (Jeremiah 32:17). Think of that!

Or turning to the hymnbook of the ancient church, the Psalter, we come across these words to guide us in our reflection: “My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:2).

We cross into the New Testament and find the call to reflection on God’s creation becomes even more revealing. Consider, for example, a portion of the Apostle Paul’s hymn to the supremacy of Christ:

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him” (Colossians 1:15,16).

The crowds that gathered all across America on August 21 of this year with their special glasses and picture-taking devices dispersed as quickly as they gathered. I assume some will reflect again and again on what they viewed. It was spectacular. Others will perhaps soon forget the wonder of the moment and go on to other things.

May those who enjoy the wonders of nature also treasure their Creator and his revelation to humankind through the coming of our Redeemer, Jesus the Christ, recalling with awe that “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made” (John 1:3)

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It’s Time for the Church to Shine

7945046588_dd7ef1ef1e_mIn the reportage of the battle for the American presidency, the airwaves of late have been full of epithets, unproven charges and vulgarity. The charges and emotional responses to them hang in the air unresolved long after they are spoken, and the battles rage on.

Society of course has legal procedures for dealing with such things. But to paraphrase Miss Manners, etiquette exists to resolve such matters outside of court and we seem as a western society to be neglecting etiquette these days. As well, western culture has centuries of jurisprudence to draw on.

But in times of high emotion we can easily descend to incivility and injustice toward others. In the church, as in society, we can depend upon etiquette and unenforced virtue to render apology and make restitution, or the church’s legal apparatus can be utilized. If we do neither, wounds go unhealed and our Lord is displeased.

In conversation with an ordained minister of one of America’s largest denominations recently I learned that he has such a passion for fair play and integrity in his church that he is spending much time in his retirement years as counsel to ministers who he believes are not getting just treatment under his denomination’s laws.

It seems to me that when in society the injunction to “love your neighbor as yourself” is so often disregarded, it is a good time for the church to shine with obedience to both grace and fair play. We have such a longstanding and rich source of procedures for promoting neighbor love, and a collection of examples in the Christian Scriptures from which to take our bearings.

For example, early on in the development of the early church, the Apostles heard complaints of alleged wrongs committed by Hebrew Jews against Grecian Jews regarding the unfair distribution of aid among the Greek-speaking widows (Acts 6:1–5). The Apostles didn’t say, “stop complaining” or in any other way disregard the complaint. They called the whole Jerusalem church together and asked them to put forward seven men of sterling Christian character to be sure the Greek widows were not neglected. That done, they then appointed seven disciples (who had Greek names) for this purpose.

And thanks to this wise and fair action of leaders, the work of evangelism went on with effect. The church grew, the account says. A contingent of Jewish priests even came to faith and joined the ranks of the church.

It was not as though the Apostles were plowing new ground. They had a source book — the Old Testament, richly endowed with teaching about justice. Consider for example, King David’s abject repentance when brought face to face with his sin by the prophet Nathan, prompting his psalm of repentance, “Create in me a new heart, O Lord.” Or the Lord’s charge through eighth century prophet, Zechariah: “Speak the truth to each other, and render true and sound judgments in your courts” (Zechariah 8:16).

Or the custom of having elders who gathered at the city gate settle disputes that were brought to them. The Christian cause has always had a place for individual repentance in response to the “court of personal conscience” and also for committees, and even courts to reconcile differences between brothers and sisters, and to redress objective wrongs.

This is an excellent time in secular history for the church to examine its commitment to fair and righteous dealings, both in the community of believers itself and in the broader community where the people of God are to shine as lights in the darkness. But leaders must have the heart of a King David, and the courage of a prophet Nathan as they pursue righteousness for themselves and those they lead.

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How Clear is the Bible About Same-Sex Marriage?

RingsWhen the Supreme Court of the United States (and earlier the Supreme Court of Canada) legalized a new form of marriage joining man-to-man or woman-to-woman and calling it matrimony, this tectonic shift thrilled some, distressed others, and left yet others confused on what they should believe about marriage.

Many Christians are in the latter category. They have never questioned that marriage is the joining of one man and one woman for life but have also never thought deeply about why this “heterosexual oneness” is God’s exclusive standard.

Because some Christians may be drawn away from God’s standard by feelings of empathy for same-sex unions, or what they believe is a need for greater justice, all Christians must be ready to respond to uncertainty on the subject with clarity and grace.

The Bible is our guidebook. In facing questions like this we may reflect on other sources (tradition, experience) but the clear teachings of the Bible must prevail. For evangelical believers down through the centuries, this book has been the primary source for what we must believe and how we must live.

I therefore offer biblical passages that support the long established contention that marriage from creation forward is in essence the union of one man and one woman in covenant for life.

When we enter the front door of the Bible (at the book of Genesis) the very first declaration is the sweeping claim that there is one God and everything that exists was created by him (Genesis 1:1).

This lyrical account then unfolds but does not trail off into the creation of planets or distant stars; rather it reaches its apex with the creation of mankind. It says: God created humankind as male and female and gave them together the primary assignment of procreating and subduing the earth (Genesis 1:26–28).

For Christians, that brief command is the ground for marriage as a conjugal union – the joining of a man and woman as one flesh, thus uniting them as one unit in society for the propagating of the race.

This unique joining is more fully developed in the story of Adam and Eve (Genesis 2). I read this story as the model for what marriage was divinely intended to be, noting especially that God’s ordering of marriage precedes even the fall of man.

No same-sex union or three-party alternative can be worked into the story of Adam and Eve. Marriage is clearly presented from the start as the union of one man and one woman without options.

But the Bible reports a number of departures from this unique and exclusive male-female joining; in its pages there are loathsome tales of bigamy, adultery, incest, fornication, polygamy, sodomy, etc. Consider even the concubinage of the patriarchs, Solomon’s extensive harem of foreign women, King David’s multiple wives, etc. Does all this disordered conduct cancel out the idealism of Eden?

When we read the Old Testament, it is important to distinguish between what the Scriptures “report” and what they “approve.” They may report sinful and destructive sexual deviations from conjugal marriage; they only approve the union of one man and one woman.

Real marriage is also repeatedly approved in the Wisdom Literature of the Old Testament. For example, “May your fountain be blessed, / and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth, / A loving doe, a graceful deer — / may her breasts satisfy you always, / may you ever be captivated by her love” (Proverbs 5:18,19). There is only one man and one woman in that picture.

The prophets of Israel even used marriage as a metaphor for God’s relationship with his chosen people. For example, Jeremiah 50:1 presents Zion collectively as the mother, individual Jews as the children and Jehovah as the husband and father. The metaphor represents the standard of one man in sacred union with one woman.

But, how can the deviations be wrong when they are reported so plentifully in the Old Testament? Many generations later the Apostle Paul answers the question. He addressed the Athenians on Mars Hill in Greece and took note of all their idolatrous practices by saying, “In the past God overlooked such ignorance but now he commands all people everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30). The New Testament light shines brighter.

The New Testament shows regard for conjugal marriage in many ways: it reports Messiah’s coming as involving two couples, Zachariah and Elizabeth, and Mary and Joseph (Luke 1,2); it attempts to re-order marriages seriously dis-ordered by sin (1 Corinthians 7); it warns against the sin of unfaithfulness in marriage (Hebrews 13:4); it exhorts the cultivation of Christian graces in the marriages of a husband and wife (Colossians 3:18–21); and it calls for sexual purity in marriage as a male/female union (1 Thessalonians 4:1-8).

In none of these does it hint that marriage is to be anything other than the union of one man and one woman covenanted for life. In fact, in the Scriptures there is not even a hint of a same-sex union as an alternative form of marriage.

Jesus spoke the clearest words recorded in the New Testament on the essential nature of marriage when the Pharisees tried to engage him regarding divorce. In answering, he took them back to the original orders of creation.

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together let man not separate” (Matthew 19:4-6).

The temptation to compromise our views may be great in a secularizing culture. Our feelings of empathy for same-sex couples may be strong and there may be legal problems that same-sex laws promise to fix. But we are called in sacred Scriptures to “contend for the faith (the revealed content of what we believe) that was once for all entrusted to the saints” (Jude 3).

God’s decree is rightly limiting: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they (two) will become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).


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One War On Two Fronts

Imprimis_Share-250x235I’m a Canadian — born and raised in Saskatchewan. But Kathleen and I lived for 18 years in the United States where I went to college and seminary and where we served pastorates. We now live in Canada but spend five-and-a-half months each winter in Florida.

This means when we are home in Canada we listen to Canadian cultural and political news, and when we are in Florida we get American cultural and political news.

In both countries, it seems the news media we follow report the same culture war between sexual revolutionaries and Christianity.

The sexual revolution is not new, tracing its beginning to the years following the Second World War, intensifying in the sixties of the last century, but in recent years showing open and increasingly malicious opposition to the Judeo-Christian roots of the western world.

The April, 2015 issue of Imprimis, a publication of Hillsdale College in Hillsdale, Michigan, reports a speech given there on this subject in April by David French, a writer for the National Review.

He says, “… the battle is not between gay rights and religious liberty … but between the sexual revolution and Christianity itself.” In his long piece he convincingly supports his contention.

Yet, there is a guarded optimism in his presentation. He contends that “From the grassroots to the intellectual elite, conservatives are girding themselves for the long war, and a long war it will be.”

Those who cast this conflict in favor of gay rights have come forth with fierce aggression. By attempting to overwhelm the culture they try to define committed same-sex relationships as equivalent to marriage.

But French casts a ray of hope. Pointing to the church, he writes, “not a single orthodox denomination is making or even contemplating such (doctrinal) changes” so as to support the same-sex “marriage” drive.

“This means,” he goes on, “that tens of millions of Americans will remain – indefinitely – opposed to the continuing expansion of the sexual revolution.”

At the same time as I read David French I read a news report from Christian Week here in Canada for the same month. It was headed, “Christian Worldview Under Fire.” Christian Week is a substantial and thoughtful evangelical paper published in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

The Christian Week piece is about Craig McCartney, a member of the Canadian parliament from Vancouver Island, and his decision to leave the conservative party to sit as an independent. He does so, he says, to get greater freedom to speak out more effectively against what he calls an attempt by atheism to silence the Christian worldview.

With a federal election in view, he says, there exists a smear campaign “to undermine and discredit those who hold a Christian worldview in politics, law, medicine and academia.”

This threat can be documented from many incidents. Here are just two examples: On both sides of the border, heavy fines have been leveled against small businesses when, for reasons of conscience, proprietors refuse certain services intended for religious observances. And the legal establishment’s effort to keep a university from creating a law school simply because the university is a Christian institution.

If David French is right when he writes “a long war it will be” then Christians on both sides of the border must face the questions: Is it going to be a war worth fighting? How do we wage spiritual, not carnal, warfare in a conflict like this? In such an environment can the Judeo-Christian underpinnings of marriage be shored up, at least in the Christian community?

Here are three things Christians — whether nominal, Protestant, Charismatic, Catholic, Evangelical, Orthodox, etc — can do to make our influence more clearly felt in the ensuing struggle. First, there is widespread need on both sides of the border to take the Christian faith more seriously at the personal level.

St. Peter wrote to Christians in deeply troubled times: “Therefore rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good (1 Peter 2:1-3). That could mean revival.

Second, we should commit ourselves by prayer and participation to strengthen the local church we are a part of. Congregations of all sizes are in need of a deepening in both pulpit and pew that will make them greater spiritual powerhouses in our world.

Third, there is need for Christians in greater numbers to make our voice heard more clearly in public life – via comments to or from the various media we have access to, in public discussions, and in private conversations.

May the prophetic words of the prophet, Amos, never apply to the present community of faith on this continent at this critical time: “Woe to you who are complacent in Zion” (Amos 6:1).


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Marriage and God’s Judgment

172651522_7c748a64e1_mIf, as some expect will happen, the Supreme Court of the United States rules that same-sex marriage is a civil right guaranteed by the American Constitution, this will create distress within the Christian community and beyond.

In Canada the decision has already been made in favor of revision. On July 20, 2005, the Federal Government passed Bill C-38 making same-sex marriage a legal right in all provinces.

Believers who feel uninformed or uncertain on the issue, might begin by reflecting on the question in the first two chapters of the Bible, where marriage is presented as “an order of creation.”

The first chapter of the Bible begins with the timeless affirmation, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). Then this creation account unfolds to a climax with the creation of man as “male and female” (Genesis 1:27). And to male and female together God gives the mission to “be fruitful and increase.” (Genesis 1: 28).

Then, in the second chapter of the Bible the author in a sense reaches back to chapter one to further develop what is implied there. In doing so marriage is spoken of in a visible, concrete way and we meet Adam and Eve — one man and one woman.

You can see from this that marriage is presented even before the fall of man. That is why we say marriage is an order of creation and see it as a design of the Creator God.

So, we cannot see procreative marriage merely as a relationship prehistoric man gradually stumbled onto over a period of many centuries, and developed little by little. If that were so, a lack of procreational capabilities at the outset would have registered mankind as extinct.

As the Scriptures develop they report many deviations from the model set forth in Genesis 2 — one man and one woman exclusively. In Genesis 4 Lamech is the first bigamist, taking two wives (Genesis 4:19). Later it is implied that Pharaoh, an Egyptian pagan ruler, keeps a harem. But when he intrudes into the one-man-one-woman marriage of Abraham the Lord shows him his offense by sending serious disease on him and his household (Genesis 12:10–20).

When it comes to “male and female” relationships both Old and New Testaments report negatively on all sorts of deviations from the exclusive union of one man and one woman — fornication, adultery, polygamy, rape, even a deviation to sodomy (Genesis 19).

These deviations are sometimes cited to support the new and experimental situations being tried in our times and to diminish the sanctity of “one man and one woman” in the present.

It is important to note, in reply, that the Scriptures acknowledge all of the above and more in order to report them because the Bible is a very honest book. But they do not affirm any of them except “one man and one woman exclusively.”

So, what would Jesus say about this issue? First, consider his honest but compassionate treatment of the woman he met at Jacob’s well. She had already experienced five failed marriages and was at the time in a live-in relationship (John 4). He did not affirm her wretched career but he was kind without being sentimental. He spoke to the spiritual thirst beneath her marital confusion.

And what did he say to the woman who had been seized in an adulterous act? Again, without affirming her action he offered forgiveness, restoring to her her dignity. (John 8:3–11). No one could thus ever call him a hateful person.

Yet, in another situation some pharisees tried to draw him into conflict over the knotty problem of divorce. They asked him to declare on what grounds divorce would be considered allowable?

He went behind their debate to speak of the nature of marriage as set forth in Genesis: “God made them male and female” and said, “be fruitful and increase.” (Genesis 1:27). He added, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and they shall be one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). In his response he linked together the first and second chapters of Genesis as though they were one (Matthew 19:4-6).

Marriage is a covenant between one man and one woman.

If for Christians marriage is an order of creation, not negotiable and not amendable, then any move to revise it radically should be seen as reckless and hurtful to participants and to society. A nation that scorns the loving provision of God for heterosexual union and potential procreation will invite his judgment.

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Can Marriage Be Redefined? Part 3

5118561480_3296f53489_m_PeteEvangelicals almost universally believe that marriage is an institution ordained of God, a covenanted relationship bonding one man and one woman for life. They ground this belief in the Scriptures, and in doing so they are joined by many nominal Christians and also non-believers who nevertheless have a view of life deeply influenced by Judeo-Christian thought.

On this matter, I write with good will toward all, none excepted. My purpose is positive, not negative. I address only the one question: what does the Bible say on this issue?

There are reports that evangelicals in some quarters are deviating from this understanding of marriage in the name of compassion. Does the Bible leave room for such a variance?

The answer begins with the story of creation. The opening chapter of the Bible declares that everything that exists was spoken into being by the word of God. Then it tells the story step by step, moving relentlessly forward to the pinnacle of God’s creative work — the creation of man.

“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our own image, in our likeness …’” (Genesis 1:26). Man, this planned, God-formed creature, the peak or exclamation point of creation as the story tells it, is going to be assigned to rule over all.

The fulfillment of this divine intention to bring humankind into being is then announced and nailed down by the threefold repetition of the word “to create.” “So God created man in his own image, / In the image of God he created him; / male and female he created them (Genesis 1:27).

Then came their united domestic assignment: “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28). Together they are “man” (Genesis 1:26) — that is, humankind — but as “man” they are “male and female” (Genesis 1:27). The implication is that together, through copulation, they will procreate, that is, act in behalf of God to bring human life into being.

Then comes Genesis 2 with its matchless story of Adam and Eve. Here is the ground for marriage as it has been understood for centuries. One man and one woman in a “one flesh” union.

I see Genesis 1 as the big picture of creation, taken with a wide-angle lens. Then the angle narrows and we look in upon the creation of man in greater depth. He is alone at first, and his name is Adam (man). God sees that he is lonely. He solves the problem with a divine surgery. Now there are two. They share a common human identity but there is a bifurcation so that they are attracted to each other by certain differences. They are male and female.

This is how the Bible gives us the first intimation of marriage. Adam and Eve are capable of producing children, which in time they do.

From that point in prehistory there is a string that runs through the Bible featuring marriage as a relationship of one man with one woman. Abraham had one wife, Sarah, though after her death he married Keturah. Earlier when he succumbed to Canaanite practices and took Hagar as a concubine to bear him an heir the Bible makes clear things did not go well. Concubines as second wives, were not in God’s plan.

Jacob wanted to have only one wife but his father-in-law tricked him into having two, and eventually there were four. In that story Bible readers are shown the negative consequences of polygamy: domestic disorder.

Ruth, the Moabitess married an Israelite man while he was living in Moab. He died there. She came to her mother-in-law’s home in Bethlehem and married the Israelite, Boaz. In each case, even for someone from another culture, one man and one woman was the standard.

The Bible favors this Adam and Eve plan. It also contains many examples of deviations from the plan. It appears to prescribe the former, and only to describe the latter.

The Proverbs also have a string of wisdom sayings to favor traditional marriage: “A wife of noble character who can find? / She is worth far more than rubies” (Proverbs 31:10). Notice: “a wife,” not “wives.” “May your fountain be blessed / and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth” (Proverbs 5:18). Again the model is one throughout life.

The New Testament is no less clear that a marriage is a union of one man and one woman. To the Corinthian church planted in a degenerate seaport city the Apostle Paul wrote, “But since there is so much immorality each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband” (1 Corinthians 7:2). To the Ephesian church likewise he wrote, “However each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband” (Ephesians 5:33).

The Bible has much to teach about the evil of deviations from this pattern of one man and one woman. Even the scandalous situation of Solomon with 700 wives and 300 concubines is only reported, not commended. Other reports of deviation are many. Lamech is the first to take a second wife (Genesis 4:19). The Sodomites veer to the course of same-sex intimacy and violence (Genesis 19:1–5). In all such deviations the reports do not condone any immoral practice or plead for the approval of what the Lord does not approve.

Most significant, our Lord spoke clearly to the issue of marriage when he was confronted by the Pharisees on what to them had become a sticky question — the issue of divorce (Matthew 19:3–9). Rather than entering their ongoing debate at that level he reminded them of the timeless account of Adam and Eve (Matthew 19: 4–6). And in doing so, he merged as God’s inspired word the accounts of Genesis 1 and 2, quoting from each together on the subject.

All Christians are called to treat with compassion the troubling issues others wrestle with in the realm of sexuality. But to do so by veering from the clear teachings of the Christian Scriptures will always be a response of unfaithfulness. Our sacred book makes clear that marriage cannot be other than the covenanted relationship of one man with one woman.


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