Celebrity Pastors, Church, Ministry, Women

The Patterson Pandemonium: What He Got Wrong, What He Got Right, and What We Can Learn About Handling Spousal Abuse Biblically in the Church

Unless you’re a student of late twentieth century Southern Baptist history or you’re just an old enough Southern Baptist to remember him, you probably don’t know who Paige Patterson is. (I wasn’t very familiar with him until recently, myself.)

The short version: Dr. Paige Patterson has been the president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS) since 2003. Prior to that he spent eleven years as president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS), served two terms as president of the Southern Baptist Convention, was instrumental in the Conservative Resurgence, and pastored several churches. (You can read the longer version here.)

So why are we talking about Dr. Patterson today?

One of the ripple effects of the #MeToo movement has been #ChurchToo. Ephesians 5:11, in the context of addressing sexual immorality, says:

Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.

The #ChurchToo movement has rightly exposed many shameful instances of sexual abuse in the church and forced a reckoning- of criminal charges, of church discipline, and, hopefully, of genuine repentance on the part of the victimizers.

But ripples don’t rein themselves in, they keep spreading farther and farther out. And that’s what’s happening with this social (media) phenomenon. We’ve moved from sexual assault victims comforting one another, to rightfully exposing the guilty, to fishing expeditions into the pasts of high profile individuals to see if any inappropriate behavior or remarks turn up.

In some cases this is a good thing because it brings a guilty individual to justice. And in some cases, innocent people get caught up in the too-wide dragnet that’s been tossed out.

Which, at some point along that spectrum, is how Dr. Patterson’s name arrived in the spotlight recently.

At the time I’m posting this article, to the best of my knowledge, Dr. Patterson has not been publicly accused of any sexual misconduct (nor am I anticipating that he will be). Apologies to those of you who actually read every word of an article and comprehend what you’ve read, but let me say this again loudly for those who don’t: Dr. Patterson has not been accused of any sexual misconduct.

However, as #MeToo and #ChurchToo ripples continue to reach farther out, and more and more past remarks and behaviors of those in leadership come to light, some troubling comments from Dr. Patterson on spousal abuse (not sexual abuse – physical spousal abuse) have been made public to the watching world, embroiling him, his family, and SWBTS in controversy.

Please click here and listen to an excerpt (less than five minutes in length) from an interview Dr. Patterson gave in 2000 on his thoughts on spousal abuse and how he counseled an abused wife who came to him for help.

Overall, though I’m sure well-intentioned, Dr. Patterson’s remarks seem shockingly ignorant, hurtful, and, at best, ill-advised, to our 21st century mindset on abuse. But he did actually say a few things that are correct, even biblical.

I have talked to enough abused women to know that being victimized by an abuser is an agonizing experience that can leave you with overwhelming emotions any time the subject of abuse is broached. May I say – with the utmost love and compassion – I know if you’ve been abused and you listened to Dr. Patterson’s comments it may be too painful to accept that anything he said was correct. I get that. So as we move on to examine his remarks, it might help to mentally separate what was said from who said it and just examine the statement at face value, as though the originator of the statement were unknown to you.

Let’s take a look at some of the things Dr. Patterson got wrong, a few things he got right, and what we can learn as we seek to minister biblically to victims of abuse.

“It depends on the level of abuse to some degree…”(:56)
These were the first words out of Dr. Patterson’s mouth in response to the interviewer’s question, “What do you recommend for women who are undergoing genuine physical abuse from their husbands and the husbands say they should be submitting?”

There are two issues in this question and answer that need to be addressed.

First is the issue of abuse and biblical submission. These two terms should never even be in the same sentence unless it’s to say that abuse should never, under any circumstances whatsoever, be part of the equation when it comes to biblical submission. The two are universes apart, and one has nothing to do with the other.

This is the first, and more important, issue that Dr. Patterson should have addressed. Any “man” who thinks abuse is a justified response to a wife who isn’t submitting is indulging his own self-centered, sinful anger, and has no clue what biblical submission is. In fact, he’s not even interested in biblical submission, he wants his wife to submit to his own personal, selfish will. He’s just twisting the Bible and turning it into one more weapon of abuse. Biblical submission is a gift a woman freely gives her husband out of love for him and love for Christ, not a cowering bowing-and-scraping he beats out of her.

Counseling women in abusive situations to “do what you can at home to be submissive in every way that you can, and to elevate [your husband]” (as Dr. Patterson says later: 4:24), is reckless and unloving. It leaves a woman with the impression that if her husband continues to abuse her, it’s her fault. She’s not being submissive enough. She’s not praying hard enough. She’s not elevating him enough. That’s not the biblical picture of submission in marriage.

The secondary issue in this statement is two tiered. Dr. Patterson is correct in saying that different levels of abuse exist. There is a vast difference between, say, a Christian husband who, in the heat of an argument, grabs his wife by the arm, immediately realizes what he’s just done and lets go, grieved over his sin against God and his wife, apologizes, repents, asks forgiveness, and never does such a thing again, and a pagan husband who, in drug-fueled rages, regularly beats his wife bloody and broken-boned with whatever weapon is handy and has no intention of ever repenting.

Do those differences in behavior mean that it was OK for the Christian husband to grab his wife’s arm in anger? Of course not. That’s a sin that requires repentance and proactive safeguards and accountability to make sure it never happens again. What those differences in behavior do mean is that you’re going to handle those two situations very differently. It would not be biblically appropriate to handle the arm-grabbing situation with the exact same level of intensity as you would handle the man who has put his wife in the hospital multiple times.

All abuse is sinful. All abuse needs to be addressed. All cases of abuse need to be handled on a case by case basis to determine the most biblical, legally appropriate, and safest response.

“I have never, in my ministry, counseled that anybody seek a divorce, and I do think that’s always wrong counsel.”(1:00)
Dr. Patterson may never have run across a situation in his own ministry in which it was biblically appropriate to counsel a divorce, but the Bible would disagree with him that it is always wrong counsel.

God’s design is for marriage to be for life and for a husband and wife to be reconciled to one another even when one sins egregiously against the other. God uses the picture of marriage multiple times in the Old Testament when addressing the issue of His “bride,” Israel, whoring after idols. God’s desire is not to “divorce” Israel, but that she should repent and be reconciled to Him. Jesus re-emphasizes that marriage is for life, and the New Testament uses marriage as a picture of Christ’s relationship to His church. Whenever possible, repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation of husband and wife (who is living in a safe place during this process) should be a pastor’s counsel.

But even God made allowances for those impossible circumstances. And when physically separating from an abuser is insufficient to legally protect a woman and her children from harm, there may be no alternative but a divorce.

“I say to them, ‘You must not forget the power of prayer.’.”(2:06)
This is absolutely true (although it is not our prayers that are powerful but the God who answers them perfectly). It is not beyond God’s power to save and completely transform an abusive husband into a trophy of grace. And what an amazing testimony it is when God does that.

Behold, the Lord‘s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save,
or his ear dull, that it cannot hear;
Isaiah 59:1

We need to urge women in abusive situations to pray fervently for their husbands and for God’s help. But we should also urge them to remember that God can hear them wherever they pray and that they need to get to safety first. Indeed, they will probably be better able to focus and pray undistracted in a safe environment than in an abusive one.

“At some point, He will intervene.”(2:57)
God does hear and answer the abused Christian woman’s prayers, but this remark coupled with the subsequent anecdote leave the impression that God will always save the husband and restore the marriage. Though it’s a wonderful thing when that happens, that’s not always the case.

God may intervene by having her husband arrested and spending many years in jail. He may cause her husband’s life to end. He may move the wife and children across the country to safety. We don’t know how God will intervene in the situation, only that he will intervene, and that He will intervene for His glory and for the good of the Believer. The wife needs to take advantage of the safety nets God has placed in her life and prayerfully trust Him to do what He knows to be right and best.

“…she was being subject to some abuse…’get down by the bed, and when you think he’s just about asleep, you just pray and ask God to intervene…get ready, because he may get a little MORE violent’…”
My personal opinion is that this qualifies as pastoral malpractice. It was not the wife’s responsibility to handle this problem. It was her pastor’s responsibility to step in, protect her, and confront the husband. Titus 1:9 says that pastors are to “give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.” This husband was contradicting sound doctrine regarding the treatment of his wife, and was sorely in need of a rebuke and instruction in sound doctrine – starting with the gospel – from Dr. Patterson. Yet Dr. Patterson not only chose to put the burden of handling the situation back on the woman’s shoulders, but gave her terrible advice.

This woman was already being abused and Dr. Patterson knew it. Even so, he sent her back into an abusive environment with instructions he knew could cause the husband to become – in his own words, mind you – “more violent.”

I realize Dr. Patterson is 75 years old and times were different during his formative years. That might help us to better understand the origin of his perspective, but it in no way excuses this horrific pastoral counsel.

Pastors, sisters – we should never counsel a woman to immediately return to a husband who has a history of abusing her and has not repented or made any attempt to change his ways. And we should certainly never instruct her to do something we know could cause more abuse. There is absolutely no biblical foundation or justification for counseling an abused woman this way, and if anybody should know that it should be an experienced pastor with a seminary Ph.D. like Dr. Patterson.

It is unfathomable to me that, not only would a pastor have counseled this woman this way in the first place, but that he cites the way he handled this incident as an example to pastors and anyone else listening of a proper way to handle an abusive situation.

“…and she was angry at me, and at God…and she said, ‘I hope you’re happy.’ And I said, ‘Yes, ma’am. I am.’.”(3:34)
An abused, vulnerable woman comes to her pastor for help. She wants to do what’s godly and she wants her husband to stop using her as a punching bag. Her pastor sends her back to the abuser, the duty of handling the situation resting on her shoulders, and instructs her to do something he knows will result in more abuse. When she returns to the pastor, having been further abused, he says he’s happy.

Does she have reason to be angry with her pastor? You’d better believe it. Good reason.

Dr. Patterson is also the one who has caused her to be angry with God. The fault for that anger, while her responsibility to deal with in a godly way, lies squarely at his feet. He is her pastor. He is supposed to protect her and give her biblical counsel. She trusted that what he told her to do was the godly thing to do, so she did it. He was telling her what God wanted her to do, so, in a sense, he was the voice of God to her. It is only natural that she would be angry with God when her pastor failed her.

And to reply, “Yes ma’am, I am,” to her “I hope you’re happy!” comment? Unconscionable. I’m at a loss for words as to how any pastor could think that was an appropriate, godly, compassionate rejoinder to an abused woman’s pain and hopelessness when he should have been brokenhearted over failing her, and begging her forgiveness.

 

God has been abundantly gracious in Scripture to show us people who serve as good examples to us as well as people who serve as poor examples to us. The same is true today. There are pastors and other brothers and sisters in Christ who show us good examples of how to live out the Christian faith and there are times when those pastors and brothers and sisters fail and serve as an example of what not to do.

Paige Patterson is a brother in Christ who has failed, just like we all do. It is the duty of those Christians who are closest to him to rebuke him and encourage him to repent. God can and will cause this situation to work for Dr. Patterson’s good, and for ours as well, if we take the opportunity to learn from it. Let us put this sorrowful situation to work for the good of the Kingdom and for victims who need our help by using it to help us see how to biblically handle instances of spousal abuse in the church.


Additional Resources

Press release from Paige Patterson 

SWBTS Statement on Abuse by Paige Patterson and Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees

CBMW Statement on Abuse at The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood

What about divorce and abuse? by Denny Burk, President of CBMW

Paige Patterson and Doing the Right Thing for the SBC, Again by Ed Stetzer

Christian women, Women

6 Reasons Godly Women are Stronger Than Feminazis

I’m working on a project I’ve got to get done this week (prayer appreciated!), so I’ll be re-running a few favorite articles from the archives in lieu of new content.

Originally published June 12, 2015

feminazis

Gloria Steinem. Bra burning. The ERA. “I Am Woman Hear Me Roar.” Maybe you remember them, or have at least heard of them. That was the heyday of feminism. It was going to be a new era of strong, powerful women. And they’re still fighting the battle today. Never let a man get the upper hand. Sacrifice whatever you have to for a successful career. And Christian women who submit to their husbands or choose to stay home with their children are sneered at or dismissed as weak, barefoot and pregnant ignoramuses.

But as any woman brave enough to follow in the footsteps of Christ can tell you, it ain’t necessarily so. Secular feminists will never understand the kind of strength it takes to strive towards godly womanhood.

1. Only the strongest of women can voluntarily relinquish the right to be in control.

It’s easy (at least for decisive, type A control-freaks like me) to walk into a room assess a situation, lay down the law, and expect your instructions to be carried out. It’s much harder to step back and hand off the decision-making to your husband, or to offer your input and stand aside and watch when he decides not to follow it. But God expects us to follow in the footsteps of our Savior, who voluntarily surrendered control of His very life to the men who took it from Him.

2. It takes a strong woman to trust God enough to put her life and her children’s lives into her husband’s hands.

Let’s just get real here for a minute. It can be hard to trust God sometimes. Even though we know He is perfect and has our best interests at heart, we can’t see Him or touch Him. We can’t ask Him a question and get an audible yes or no answer.

It can be even harder to trust our husbands. Even though we can see, hear, touch, and talk to them, we know all too well that they’re fallible. Sometimes they have their own interests at heart. Sometimes they mean well and still make the wrong decisions.

But God tells us to trust Him. Even when it’s hard. Even when we don’t understand what’s going on. Even when we think we could lead better than our husbands. We trust God enough to obey His word even when.

3. It takes tremendous strength to control our mouths.

James tells us “no human being can tame the tongue,” and all who have tried know how true that statement is. Still, God expects godly women to control our speech. We’re not to nag and be quarrelsome. We’re to speak wisely and kindly. Sometimes, we’re not to speak at all, but let our actions do the talking. The strength to bite your tongue or think before you speak? It’s a daily trial by fire for Christian women.

4. Godly women have to be incredibly strong to deal with the heartaches that come our way.

John once said, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” (3 John 4). While he was talking about his spiritual “children,” godly wives and mothers have that same joy when our husbands, children and loved ones are walking in the truth of the gospel. And unspeakable agony when they are not. We not only have to cope with the regular griefs of life that everyone experiences, we also must deal with the pain of those closest to us who rebel against Christ and His word, all the while trusting God and walking in His ways.

5. We must develop the godly strength it takes to stand against the culture.

It’s easy to do the godly thing when everybody’s rooting for you, but in a society that is openly hostile to biblical womanhood, we often (sadly, even in the church) find ourselves fighting our way upstream like so many spawning salmon. Many times, we are seen as – and called – doormats, uneducated, gullible, traitors to the cause of women’s rights. We must rely on the strength God has promised us to stand for godliness in the face of opposition.

6. Only strong, godly women can joyfully deny self and serve rather than being served.

In a “because you’re worth it” world, putting our own desires aside to serve our husbands, children, and others is utterly incomprehensible to many, and, often, even to ourselves. The flesh rears its ugly head again and again, demanding to have its every wish fulfilled by the very people God put us here to serve. It takes a mighty woman of God to do battle with that enemy, send it packing, humble herself, and tend to the needs of others. But we have been bought by the blood of a Savior who declared that He “came not to be served but to serve,” and we conform to His wishes, not our own.

 

They can push and nag and argue and boss and control. They can be soldiers, construction workers, CEOs, and President. They can wear the pants in their families and have cowed husbands. But the shrillest of feminazis will never know the strength it takes to be a godly woman, because what they’re attempting is miniscule compared to the high standard God calls His daughters to. And any fleshly strength they can conjure up couldn’t in a million eternities touch the supernatural, mighty, rushing force that is the power of the Holy Spirit which God promises to His own, enabling us to say, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

God doesn’t call us to have dominance over men, He calls us to become like a man, the God-man, Jesus Christ. And in our feebleness and brokenness, He gives us the power to attempt that feat of greatness for His glory. That, my sisters, is where real strength lies.

Christian women, Movies, Throwback Thursday, Women

Throwback Thursday ~ Fifty Shades of No Way José

With the second of the Fifty Shades trilogy, Fifty Shades Darker, releasing in theaters tomorrow (Feb. 10, 2017), it’s prudent to refresh our memory on the Christian woman’s response to movies like these.

50shadesLooking for something else to do tomorrow night? Try one of my 50 Alternatives to Fifty Shades over at Satisfaction through Christ.

Originally published February 6, 2015

no way jose

As you’ve no doubt heard, the movie Fifty Shades of Grey is releasing next weekend. Valentine’s Day weekend. Isn’t that a little like picking Pearl Harbor Day as the release date for a movie celebrating kamikaze pilots, with veterans as the target audience?

But perhaps I’m getting a little ahead of myself. If you’re not familiar with the subject matter, Fifty Shades of Grey is a film adaptation of the novel by the same title written by British author E.L. James. Girls Gone Wise posted an excellent report on the book here in 2012, and summarizes the storyline thusly:

“The books in question are erotica that explicitly describe sexual bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism (BDSM). The story follows an unfolding affair between a recent college graduate, the virgin Anastasia Steele, and handsome young billionaire entrepreneur, Christian Grey, whose childhood abuse left him a deeply damaged individual, and who enlists her to share his secret sexual proclivities. Steele is required by Grey to sign a contract allowing him complete control over her. Because of her fascination and budding love for him, she consents to a kinky sexual relationship that includes being slapped, spanked, handcuffed, and whipped with a leather riding crop in his ‘Red Room of Pain’.”

Let’s set specifics, such as “How much nudity does the movie show?” aside and look at the bigger picture:

Is a movie (or book) that romanticizes and normalizes abuse-infused sexuality something that Christian women should be viewing and supporting financially?

Imagine this book and movie didn’t even exist and some man-on-the-street reporter walked up and asked you that question out of the blue. What would your answer be? Then imagine he turned to Jesus, who just happened to be standing right next to you, and asked Him the same question. What do you think His answer would be?

Well, you might not be sure about your answer, but we can find out Jesus’ answer by looking at His Word:

1. No, because it’s blasè about fornication.

Be honest- did the fact that the two lead characters aren’t married to each other even register a blip on your radar? No blip here, initially, I’m sorry to say. I know it’s just sooo yesterday to say that sex outside of wedlock is a sin, but Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever and HE says that’s what it is. It’s a sin He died to pay the penalty for just like murder or rape or stealing, and to treat fornication as not only normal, but a given (Think about it- how many copies of the book would have been sold if it featured a married couple?) is a slap in the bloodied face of our crucified Savior.

2. No, because it approves of perversion.

BDSM has been around for a long time, but in our culture, it has been relegated to the shadows, locked away out of sight, and not talked about by the vast majority of marginally moral society, because, with God’s law written on our hearts, we know it’s wrong. Grey takes BDSM out of the stock room, removes its plain brown wrapping, and attractively arranges it in the center showcase. “It’s fine! It’s a healthy expression of sexuality! It’ll spice up your love life– just look how playful and romantic it can be!” Romans 1:32 is not amused.

3. No, because it embraces violence and humiliation.

God is not a God who engages in violence and the humiliation of others to gratify Himself. That is cruelty. God is a God who loves us so much that He allowed His Son to be subjected to violence, humiliation, and cruelty in order to forgive those who commit the sins of violence, humiliation, and cruelty. God is good. God is kind. God is patient and loving. To embrace the antithesis of these characteristics is to embrace all that God stands against.

4. No, because it tells men a lie.

God tells men to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. Christian Grey (can I just say, I hate that this guy’s name is Christian, since his actions are so un-Christian) loves himself and uses a woman to gratify his own selfish desires. God tells men that, in the same way that they do not abuse their own flesh, but nourish and cherish it, they are to nourish and cherish their wives. Christian Grey nourishes and cherishes his own flesh and abuses the flesh of his woman. God tells men to be understanding with their wives, to honor them, and to respect that they are physically more delicate than men. Christian Grey only understands himself, dishonors his woman, and disrespects her physicality in order to fulfill his own base proclivities.

When Christian women clamor for Grey matter and support it with their pocketbooks, it sends the message to men that Christian Grey’s lusts and behavior are not only acceptable, but what we want. It tells them Grey’s way is good, cool, and cutting edge, and God’s way is sissified, frumpy, and out of date. It sells men a lie.

5. No, because it dims your light.

You don’t hear it much any more, but when I was a yoot, we were frequently asked, “If you were put on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” It’s not that the things we do make us Christians or even prove that we’re Christians, but rather that, if we’re Christians, the things we do will necessarily differ from the things lost people do because the Holy Spirit lives within us, conforming us to Christ’s image.

Does your life look any different from an unsaved person’s life? Because of your love for Christ, it should. We are ambassadors for Christ to a lost and dying world. Our every move preaches a silent sermon to them, showing them what is right in God’s eyes and what is wrong, what is Christlike, and what is not. If you do something, it must be OK with God because you’re a Christian, right? How can we be an example to the world if we look just like them? Jesus said, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16) Is your light shining brightly, or are you allowing it to fade into the darkness? How would going to see Fifty Shades of Grey make your light brighter?

6. No, because it’s time to put your money where your mouth is.

You believe the Bible, right? Of course you do. You’re a Christian. Well there’s more to it than that. God doesn’t just call us to believe His word, He calls us to submit ourselves to it and obey it. That means there are going to be some things we want to do -that we feel like doing- that we’re simply going to have to deny ourselves out of a greater desire to obey Christ and to represent Him well. Can you go see Fifty Shades of Grey and obey these Scriptures?

Ephesians 5:5-12:

For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret.

Philippians 4:8:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Colossians 3:2-3,5:

Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God…Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.

 

I’ll ask again: Is a movie (or book) that romanticizes and normalizes abuse-infused sexuality something that Christian women should be viewing and supporting financially?

Scripture seems pretty clear that Jesus’ answer would be no. What will your answer be?

Christian women, Church, Discernment, Sanctification, Women

Throwback Thursday ~ Sacrificing Truth on the Altar of Tone

Originally Published April 17, 2014

truth tone

Ladies, do you believe in woman’s intuition? Do you have it? I’m not talking about premonitions– having a feeling that some future event is going to take place- I mean intuition. Being able, for example, to sense from a friend’s tone of voice that she’s having a bad day, noticing from the body language of two people who are “just friends” that romance is brewing beneath the surface, or discerning the tension between two people who are seemingly cordial to one another.

wonder-woman-552109_1280Maybe men have this “super power” too, but I’ve noticed it more with women. I believe it might have something to do with the way God has hard wired us. Nothing against men here (y’all are awesome in your own masculine way), but we women generally tend to be more sensitive to and concerned about other people’s feelings, we listen “between the lines,” and we hear and analyze tone of voice more. It’s one of the great things about the way God has created us that helps us as we nurture, comfort, and care for others.

But lately, I’m noticing that this “super power” of ours can also be a super problem.

Our sensitivity to tone (of voice, of writing, someone’s demeanor, etc.) is a hindrance rather than a help to us when we refuse to evaluate the content of what someone is saying to us simply because their manner of speaking, writing, or behavior has offended our sensibilities. This is especially harmful when that content is biblical truth.

I have recently observed several instances of this, all involving women who, at best, found it difficult (with some outright refusing) to put aside their feelings of offense at the writer’s or speaker’s tone in order to compare the content of his speech or writing to Scripture to see if it might be true. (And, by the way, the speech and writing I’m referring to here are sermons, commentary, and articles, not someone writing or speaking to these women personally.) I can sympathize. It’s happened to me plenty of times.

Often, when we hear a fellow Christian put biblical truth bluntly in black and white and it rubs us the wrong way, our first reaction is to quote part of Ephesians 4:15 and chastise him for failing to “speak the truth in love.” But is that the only point of Ephesians 4? Let’s take a look at it in context:

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
Ephesians 4:11-16 (emphasis, mine)

When I was in elementary school, one of the reading comprehension tasks we were often assigned was to find the “main idea” of a piece of writing. So, what is the “main idea” of this passage in Ephesians 4? I’ll even make it multiple choice (my favorite!).

Is the main idea of the passage:

a) Teachers and preachers should speak the truth in love so that they will not offend anyone.

b) A discussion of the different types of leadership roles in the church.

c) Christian leaders are to equip church members to grow to spiritual maturity which builds spiritually healthy and unified churches.

While the passage touches on some of the ideas in a and b, the main point is c. We’re to grow up. We are to listen to preachers, teachers, and writers who rightly handle God’s word, even if we come across one every now and then who steps on our toes with his demeanor or tone. Look, I know it’s hard. There are people out there who offend me sometimes, too, but persevering through the offense will grow us into mature women of Christ and make our churches healthier.

Statistically speaking, more women regularly attend church these days than men. And when I say “more,” I mean 61% women to 39% men. Can you imagine the impact it would have on the health of our churches if all of those women were pursuing spiritual maturity through biblical truth and sound doctrine?

Instead, we are often like a little girl in a burning building. The fireman is vehemently insisting that the little girl come with him to escape, and she refuses to move because he hasn’t said it nicely enough.

Ladies, I say this to all of us (including me) in love, because true love is desiring what’s best for someone:

It’s time for us to grow up. It’s time to stop taking our dollies and stomping home from the playground in a huff every time somebody speaks or writes strenuously. It’s time to stop crying about our hurt feelings, put on our big girl panties and be women.

Discerning women. Berean women. Women of God’s word. Women who can handle having our feathers ruffled and come out on the other side stronger for it.

9283e86a7bd7185b880df318c7681846Too often, we make the mistake of equating a soft tone of voice and a sweet disposition with “love”.  But many of the people who speak with this kind of “love” are not speaking the truth. They are smooth talking, charismatic con men selling snake oil for our souls.

If we’re not careful, we can become people who “will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4), or “weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:6b-7), or even “children unwilling to hear the instruction of the Lord; who say…“Do not prophesy to us what is right; speak to us smooth things, prophesy illusions,” (Isaiah 30:9-11).

We forget that our Master, the perfect embodiment of love, didn’t always speak softly and act politely when the gospel was at stake. Because there are things out there that are much more important than our feelings, and biblical truth is one of them.

Church, Parenting, Throwback Thursday, Women

Throwback Thursday ~ Yes Sir! That’s My Baby!

 Originally published April 17, 2013yes sir baby

*Ladies, I’m about to address one of the most volatile, polarizing issues in the church today. Everybody, it seems, has an opinion – a strong opinion—on this one. It has torn message boards apart, led to the giving and receiving of the evil eye across the pew, and caused rampant unfriending on Facebook. Dare I mention this topic that ignites such a flame within our collective bosom?

Well, after that build up, I guess I’d better.

Lemme brace myself.

And batten down the hatches.

And find something to take cover behind.

Um…it’s your baby.

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Well, maybe not yours in particular, but somebody’s. Somebody’s baby or small child is making a ruckus in church, and it’s distracting everybody within earshot, including the pastor, who is making a valiant attempt to continue his train of thought even though he’s not sure of his own name at the moment.

There. I said it, and I lived to tell the tale.  Whew.

Now before you fire off an angry e-mail, let me backtrack for just a sec.  Titus 2:3-5 says that “older women” are to “teach what is good and so train the young women.” So, as much as it Cute-Black-Babies_largepains me at the age of almost 44, I’m going to put on my “older woman” hat for just a minute, because I think there’s a teaching moment here for all of us. Yes, all of us, whether your best church dress (or capris) is freshly stained with strained peas or you’ve graduated to dry clean only.

If you’re a young mother, I’ve been where you are. I have six wonderful children in my family ranging in age from 25 all the way down to 9, and they have all been in church from day one. My husband has been a minister of music for most of our married life. We have served in churches with and without imagesnurseries, children’s church, cry rooms, and “piped in” sermons. (“With” was easier.) I know what it’s like to try to wrangle one or two or three or more infants and small children during a sermon and keep them quiet. There were years when I got nothing out of the sermon for weeks on end because I was so busy trying to keep Baby from squalling his guts out and Junior from scribbling in the hymnal. Believe me, I sympathize. I get it.

Your baby is adorable. I don’t even know what he looks like, but I know he’s adorable. If he’s within a ten foot radius of me, I will probably try to get my hands on him and cover him with kisses. I love babies and small children.

I love that you want to have your children worship with you in church. That’s where they belong! I’m excited that you’ve chosen to raise them in church, and, having done so myself, images (1)appreciate the time and work it takes just to get to church clean, in one piece, and not hating each other (or at least two out of three!). And it’s great to have them in “big church” where they can start getting their feet wet learning how to sit quietly through the service. I would never say that people shouldn’t bring their munchkins into church.

So, please don’t see me as some never-been-through-it-herself, baby-hating curmudgeon, but rather an older, wiser, been-there-done-that mommy when I say:

Sometimes your child makes noise. Too much noise.

And, as much as the people around you love your child, it bothers/annoys/irritates many of them when they’re trying to hear and participate in the worship service. And that doesn’t make them bad people.

And it’s distracting to the pastor/pray-er/speaker/musician who’s currently trying to carry out his part of the worship service. And that doesn’t make him inept or unprofessional.

And it is your job as a parent –just as it was mine—to alleviate that situation, not the job of the people around you to ignore it.

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Most people are reasonable when it comes to a little distraction. They understand that Baby is going to fuss for the few seconds it takes you to find the pacifier he just dropped, lick the dirt off of it, and cram it back into his mouth. No big whoop. And if it is, well, those folks need to get a grip and show some understanding, or the next time they cough during the sermon, you have my permission to aim Baby over your shoulder in their general direction when he’s of a mind to spit up. (Ok, ok. Not really. That’s not a very Christlike attitude. Sorry.)

What most people find unreasonable is continuous, unabated noise from your child. Five minutes. Fifteen minutes. Thirty minutes. The entire worship service. And that’s not limited to fussing and crying. Happy babbling and talking is cute, but it can be just as loud and distracting as crying. And for someone who’s trying to focus on worship or the sermon, that’s not cute.

You need to take Baby out until you can get him quiet, and then you can bring him back in.

Are you going to miss part of the service? Yes. But—and let me assure you, I say this to you in love –toughen up, Buttercup. That’s one of the things that happens when you become a parent—you miss out on things you want to do. You probably don’t get baby-meme-funnya full night’s sleep, trips to the bathroom by yourself, or uninterrupted conversations with other adults, either. Add this to the list. Yes, it can be discouraging, but cheer up! This, too, shall pass! You’re training your child, and it won’t be long before you will be able to sit through the whole service with him being quiet. Trust me, there are plenty of sermons on this side of Wailapalooza for you to enjoy with Junior coloring quietly at your side. You can make it!

One final aspect of this issue: church is not solely about you and your right to bring your children into the worship service (which, as I’ve said, no reasonable person who doesn’t want to get spit up on would dispute) and keep them there whether they distract people or not. I know the vast majority of moms don’t think this way, but for the tiny percentage that do, let me disabuse you of this idea right now.

Your role as a church member is not to demand your rights and have the rest of the congregation bend to them, whether you’re a young mother, a pastor, a deacon, the head of a committee, or just Joe Church Member. That is a narcissistic, selfish, unChristlike attitude. Jesus Himself said,

“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” Mark 10:45

Your role as a church member is to serve your brothers and sisters in Christ. So is mine. That means, if you’re sitting near me, and I see you struggling with Baby or Junior during the service, I lean over and offer to help (Pleaseletmeholdyourbaby. Pleaseletmeholdyourbaby. Pleaseletmeholdyourbaby. :0) even iflittle_girl_with_Bible I end up missing part of the service. It also means that if your child is keeping the people around you from growing deeper in their walk with Christ because they can’t hear and apply the sermon, or if he’s throwing the pastor off from being able to deliver the sermon, you serve those people by taking your child out until he’s quieted down.

If we all practice what Galatians 5:13 says, and “serve one another in love,” we’ll have a phenomenal, loving, self-sacrificing church environment for Baby and Junior to grow up in. And that will benefit us all as the family of God.

*(NOTE: I want to reassure my friends at my own church who are young mothers that this article was NOT inspired by you! We baby-graphics-funny-445479hardly ever hear a peep out of the babies and children who sit in our worship service because we have some fantastic young parents who are in tune with their children’s and the rest of the congregation’s needs, and they serve us both beautifully. These parents and their children are a joy and a delight, and my hat is off to them!)

I just think this is a fun song :0)