Worship

Throwback Thursday ~ God’s Not Like “Whatever, Dude,” About The Way He’s Approached in Worship

Originally published April 27, 2018

Social media is a strange universe to live in. There’s a lot of stupidity, but there’s also a lot that can be learned from various trending issues.

Such was the case recently when Christian social media was up in arms (and rightly so) about Cory Asbury’s worship song Reckless Love, and whether or not churches should use it in their worship services. Discussion centered around the use of the word “reckless” to describe God’s love for us and whether or not that was a semantically and theologically appropriate adjective. “Relentless” was suggested as an alternative lyric. “Reckless” was defended as an appropriate lyric. And then Cory Asbury’s explanation of the song came to light and did further injury to his doctrinal cause.

It was all a very interesting and helpful discussion, but, to some degree, it was a rearranging of deck chairs on the Titanic.

‘Cause we’ve hit the ice berg, folks. And the ship is taking on water.

Focusing on the word “reckless” missed the point – at least the big picture point. You see, Reckless Love was produced by Bethel Music. And Cory Asbury is a “worship leader, songwriter and pastor” with the Bethel Music Collective. Prior to joining Bethel, he spent eight years as a worship leader with the International House of Prayer (IHOP).

Why is this important? Because Bethel “Church” in Redding, California, and IHOP are, functionally, ground zero for the New Apostolic Reformation heresy. Heresy. Not, “They just have a more expressive, contemporary style of worship,”. Not, “It’s a secondary theological issue we can agree to disagree on.” Heresy. Denial of the deity of Christ. Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. Demonstrably false prophecy that the head of IHOP, Mike Bickle, has publicly rejoiced in (He estimates that 80% of IHOP’s “prophecies” are false.) And that’s just the tip of our metaphorical ice berg when it comes to the NAR.

IHOP and Bethel are, by biblical definition, not Christian organizations and certainly not Christian churches. They are pagan centers of idol worship just as much as the Old Testament temples of Baal were. The only difference is that, instead of being creative and coming up with their own name for their god, they’ve stolen the name Jesus and blasphemously baptized their idol with that moniker.

The point in this whole debate is not the word “reckless”. The point is that Christian churches should not have anything whatsoever to do with idol worshiping pagans as they approach God in worship. Yet Sunday after Sunday churches use Bethel music, Jesus Culture music, Hillsong music, and the like, in their worship of God.

And it’s not just that churches are using music from the temples of Baal in their worship services. We have women who usurp the teaching and leadership roles in the church that God has reserved for men – many even going so far as to preach to men and/or hold the position of “pastor”. We have men setting themselves up as pastors who do not meet the Bible’s qualifications. We have churches that let anyone – Believer or not – participate in the Lord’s Supper. We have pastors who welcome false teachers and their materials into their churches with open arms and castigate anyone who dares point out the false doctrine being taught. We have preachers who have forsaken God’s mandate to preach the Word and use the sermon time to talk about themselves, deliver self-help tips, or perform a stand up comedy routine.

And everybody seems to think God’s up there in Heaven going, “Cool! Whatever y’all want to do in the name of worship is just fine and dandy with Me. You do you.”

Well, He’s not.

God demands – and has every right to do so – that He be approached properly. In reverence. In awe. In holy fear. With clean hands and a pure heart.

Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?
And who shall stand in his holy place?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not lift up his soul to what is false
and does not swear deceitfully.
He will receive blessing from the Lord
and righteousness from the God of his salvation.
Such is the generation of those who seek him,
who seek the face of the God of Jacob.
Psalm 24:3-6

Let’s take a stroll through Scripture and be taught by those who learned that lesson the hard way…

Cain

Most of the time, when we read the story of Cain and Abel, we focus on the fact that Cain killed his righteous brother. But we tend to gloss over the event that precipitated the murder. Cain and Abel both brought offerings to the Lord. God accepted Abel’s offering but rejected Cain’s.

Scripture doesn’t tell us why God found Cain’s offering unacceptable. The Levitical laws delineating offerings and sacrifices hadn’t yet been given, and even if they had, grain offerings and other offerings of vegetation were perfectly appropriate if offered at the right time and for the right reason. Was it because Cain had a wrong attitude or motive when he gave his offering? Or maybe because he offered God leftover produce instead of his firstfruits? We don’t know. What we do know is that God had a standard of how He was to be worshiped, Cain violated it, and God expressed His displeasure.

Aaron and Israel

It’s shortly after the Exodus. The Israelites have seen God perform ten – count them – ten plagues on Pharaoh for his idolatry and failure to bow the knee to God’s command to let Israel go. They saw God destroy the entire Egyptian army in the Red Sea. And now, their fearless leader, Moses, has trekked up Mount Sinai and is late getting back. The people are worried and restless.

Does Aaron lead them to pray? Trust God? Be patient? Nope. He fashions an idol for them – a golden calf. And if that wasn’t bad enough, he wasn’t even creative enough to come up with his own name for this idol. He stole God’s character and work and blasphemously baptized the idol with that moniker. He led the people to worship the false god as though it were the true God. (Does that ring any bells?)

“These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord.” And they rose up early the next day and offered burnt offerings and brought peace offerings.

Surely God gave them a pass, right? I mean, Moses broke the tablets of the Ten Commandments when he came down from the mountain before they even had a chance to read the first and second Commandments that prohibited what they were doing.

Uh uh. God told Moses to get out of the way so He could fire bomb Israel off the face of the Earth and start over with him. It was only after Moses pleaded with God to stay His hand that God relented and allowed for the lesser punishment of having the Levites kill 3,000 of them with the sword and sent a plague on the rest of them.

Doesn’t exactly sound like an “anything goes in worship” kind of God, does He?

Nadab and Abihu

Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded them. And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord has said: ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’” And Aaron held his peace.

Are you seeing a pattern here? God is so not OK with people approaching Him irreverently, via idol worship, or in any other way He deems inappropriate that He’s willing to kill them.

Saul

God sends Saul and his army on a mission to defeat the Amalekites. His instructions are simple: completely destroy everything. “Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.”

But Saul’s a smart guy, see? He knows better. He goes in and destroys all the worthless stuff, but saves the good stuff for himself. It’ll be OK with God, he reasons, because he’s going to take some of the really nice sheep and make a big, showy sacrifice. Like a rich man pitching pennies to an urchin shoeshine boy.

And when Samuel confronts Saul about his rebellion, “Why then did you not obey the voice of the Lord? Why did you pounce on the spoil and do what was evil in the sight of the Lord?”, Saul has the temerity to say, “I have obeyed the voice of the Lord.” Because he was going to perform an act of worship. And the fact that he was doing it his way instead of God’s way didn’t matter. In Saul’s mind, it was the outward act that counted and God should have accepted it.

God didn’t see it that way:

And Samuel said,
“Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
as in obeying the voice of the Lord?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
and to listen than the fat of rams.
For rebellion is as the sin of divination,
and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the Lord,
he has also rejected you from being king.”

God is not pleased with worship offered by hands dirtied with sin and rebellion. Saul paid the price: his throne and God’s favor.

Uzziah

Uzziah started off well as king of Judah. He listened to the counsel of Zechariah, obeyed God, and prospered. But after a while, prosperity can make you proud, and that’s just what happened to Uzziah.

He became so proud, in fact, that he took it upon himself to enter the sanctuary of the temple and offer incense to God on the altar. That was a position of leadership restricted to the priests. Uzziah had never been installed as a priest because he wasn’t biblically qualified to hold the office of priest, much like many who take on the role of pastor today.

Bravely, Azariah and eighty of his fellow priests stood up to the presumptuous king – at the risk of their lives, but in defense of proper worship as commanded in God’s Word – rebuked Uzziah, and kicked him out of the temple. “You have done wrong,” they said, “and it will bring you no honor from the Lord God.”

Well! Uzziah was hot with anger. How dare these mere priests stop him – the king whom God had blessed and prospered – from worshiping God any way he wanted to!

Guess who God sided with? The priests who were upholding His Word and His standard of worship. God struck Uzziah with leprosy for the remainder of his life, which exiled him from the palace and a royal burial, and effectively ended his reign.

The Pharisees

Hypocrites! Blind guides! Fools! Blind men! Greedy! Self-indulgent! Whitewashed tombs! Lawless! Serpents! Brood of vipers! Murderers!

How would you like to be dressed down like that by Jesus? You’re teaching the Scriptures. You’re tithing to the nth degree. You’re traveling over land and sea to proselytize. You’re behaving with outward righteousness. You’re memorializing the prophets. As far as you can tell, you’re doing pretty well with this holiness thing.

And here comes the Messiah – the One you’re (supposedly) doing all of this for – and He shames you. Publicly. He exposes your blackness of heart to the commoners you want looking up to you. All because God’s way is for you to worship Him in spirit and in truth, but you insist on doing it your way- for all your deeds to be seen by others, and because you love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others.

You’re approaching God in arrogance and selfishness, and He will have none of it. You won’t die to self, so He – if only temporarily – kills your pride.

The Corinthian Church

You’ve probably never seen a Lord’s Supper as messed up as the way the Corinthian church was doing it. Some people were going without while others were getting drunk. The “important” people got to go first while the poor and lower class went to the back of the line. People were using the Lord’s Table as an opportunity for selfishness rather than putting self aside and focusing on the fact that the purpose of this meal was to proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.

That wasn’t acceptable to God. He didn’t want the church observing the Lord’s Supper just any old way. It was dishonoring to Christ and shameful to His church.

So God declared that “whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord…For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.”

 

“But all of that was back in Bible times!” you might protest. “God isn’t killing anybody these days for worshiping Him improperly. In fact, some of the worst violators of God’s Word are rich ‘Christian’ celebrities!”

That’s right, they are. Exactly like God said they would be: “teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach.” And woe betide them when they stand before Christ in judgment. Because judgment is coming for them:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
Matthew 7:21-23

God is high and He is holy, and so are His standards for those who approach Him. He expects His people to obey His Word about how He is to be worshiped.

“I, the Lord, do not change,” God says in the Old Testament. The New Testament tells us, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” God hasn’t mellowed out or calmed down or gotten more tolerant. The God who poured out His wrath on those who blasphemed Him with unbiblical worship in the Old Testament is the same God we worship this side of the cross. Nothing escapes His notice. He doesn’t let sin slide. Whether in this life, or the next, or both, there will be a reckoning for unbiblical worship.

When it comes to worship, God is not a “whatever” kind of God.

Favorite Finds

Favorite Finds ~ March 3, 2020

Here are a few of my favorite online finds…

“Why is the doctrine of justification by faith alone so important? Luther said that sola fide is ‘the article upon which the church stands or falls.’ As R. C. Sproul puts it, ‘We are either justified by a righteousness that is in us or by a righteousness that is apart from us. There is no third way.’ This short work surveys the main tenets of the doctrine of justification in Roman Catholicism and evangelicalism.”

Enjoy reading this FREE e-book from R. C. SproulJustified by Faith Alone.

Have you ever wondered where Paul’s wife was when he was gallivanting all over the world preaching the gospel? Denny Burk explores  Paul’s marital status through Scripture in this excellent article, Was the apostle Paul married? Yes, he was. Here’s how we know. (Also included: the audio to Denny’s sermon on this topic, in case you’d like to listen.

Some of God’s attributes are communicable and some are incommunicable. Which of God’s attributes do humans, made in the imago dei (image of God) possess, and which attributes belong only to God? Check out this helpful resources from CARM (Christian Apologetics & Resource Ministry), What are the communicable and incommunicable attributes of God?

The Master's Seminary“By God’s help may we not retreat from the fight for truth. May we be all the more invigorated by a love for our Lord, His truth, and His people. And may this commitment be evident to all as we discern with precision, humility, and sorrow.” Reagan Rose has a wonderful article about exercising love when practicing discernment over at TMS’s blog: The Danger of Loveless Discernment.

What’s the difference between Baptists and Presbyterians and Lutherans and Methodists and all the other Protestant denominations out there? Dr. Gregory Wills of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary explains the basic similarities and differences in What’s the Difference between Christian Denominations?.


The resources listed above are not to be understood as a blanket endorsement for the websites on which they appear, or of everything the author or subject of the resource says or does. I do not endorse any person, website, or resource that conflicts with Scripture or the theology outlined in the Statement of Faith and Welcome tabs at the top of this page.
Mailbag

The Mailbag: Should I Join a Church Pastored by a Loved One?

 

We are just coming out of a non denominational church environment, and we’re so excited to have found a new, doctrinally sound church. However, my son-in-law is the assistant pastor. Is it wise to consider joining a church where your son-in-law is in a pastoral position? I am concerned as this may be crossing boundaries in some respects and I’m wondering if we would be better to seek out another church.

I suspect a lot of people might wonder if it’s a good idea to join a church where their close family member is the pastor, minister of music, or in another pastoral leadership position, so this is a great question to tackle.

Naturally, when we have a decision to make, the first thing we do is to find out what Scripture has to say about the issue. It would be so much easier to answer this question if the Bible clearly said, “Thou shalt/shalt not join a church pastored by a relative,” but, as with so many other specific scenarios, God’s Word doesn’t really address this issue. We have to pray and ask God for wisdom and guidance as we seek to make the most godly decision possible:

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. James 1:5

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Proverbs 3:5-6

Basic Training: 8 Steps to Finding God’s Will for Your Life

There’s no “one size fits all” answer to this question. A lot of it is going to depend on your particular relationship to your particular family member, which position he holds in the church, and how spiritually healthy the church is. But mostly, it will depend on whether God is truly leading you to this specific church or not.

If this is the only doctrinally sound church available to you, join it. Sound doctrine is more important than potential family issues.

If it’s a strong, healthy church, you have a solid, loving, relationship with your loved one on staff, and you’re convinced through wisdom, prayer, and circumstances that it’s God’s desire that you join this church, then go the direction God is leading you and join it.

Having been a member of a couple of churches in which a pastor’s extended family were members of the church, and even when extended family members simply attend the same church together and none of them are on staff, I would encourage you to think about the following points and sit down with your daughter and son-in-law and have an open and honest discussion about these things and how they might be handled. A sit-down meeting like this will help give you more insight as to whether or not you should join the church:

•What are your daughter’s and son-in-law’s thoughts about you and your husband joining this church? Would they be uncomfortable in any way with you joining the church? Encourage them to be completely honest about concerns and problems they foresee arising, and lovingly hear them out.

•Honestly and objectively consider the emotional and personality dynamics of your relationship with your daughter and son-in-law. Would your son-in-law feel tempted to make church decisions that would please you rather than following God’s leading or the pastor’s direction to do something else? Would you be tempted to be critical or manipulative with your son-in-law if you didn’t agree with his decisions? Could you graciously submit to your daughter’s leadership (without trying to tell her what to do) if she were leading the area of ministry you were working in? Ministry is hard enough without the added pressure of trying not to offend a family member, especially a parent.

•Recall or imagine the worst thing you’ve ever seen or know of happening in a church. Now imagine that happening in this church with you, your husband, your daughter, and son-in-law as members of the church, and your son-in-law in a position of leadership. What would be the impact on your familial relationships with one another?

•What’s going to happen to your personal relationship with your daughter and son-in-law if a problem arises in the church and you’re on opposite sides of the issue? What if it’s such a huge problem you and your husband have to leave the church? How will that affect your family?

•One thing I have always encouraged pastors’ wives to do is to have at least one good, godly friend outside the church she and her husband serve. That way, she has someone who’s not personally involved with the church who can pray for her, offer her objective counsel, and with whom she can freely share her burdens. Your son-in-law needs that too. Consider whether you and your husband could be a greater support and godly counsel to your daughter and son-in-law by not joining their church.

•If you decide to join the church, are there any “ground rules” that either you and your husband or your daughter and son-in-law feel would be beneficial to your relationship as family members, as church members, and as assistant pastor to church members? It may be helpful to discuss these, write them out for clarity, and agree to them before you join the church.

•Bear in mind that any negative situation that might happen in the future is not something you can foresee right now. Even if something nasty does end up happening in the church it doesn’t necessarily mean you were wrong in deciding to join the church. God may put you in this church specifically for the purpose of being a biblical example and influence in that future situation that He knows is coming, even if it’s extreme enough to cost you your relationship with your daughter and son-in-law. Our calling as Christians is not to maintain family relationships at all costs, but to follow and obey Christ and His Word no matter the cost. Will you – and they – be able to do that if you join this church?

•Remember that the final decision on this issue is up to your husband, and God calls you to graciously submit to whatever he decides.

Pray and discuss these things with your daughter and son-in-law, and ask God to lead you and your husband to a wise decision.


If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.

Mailbag

The Mailbag: How to Leave a Church

 

What is the biblical way to leave a church?

This is a great question that I’ve received from several readers. There are a lot of different circumstances that might cause someone to leave her church, and there are right ways and wrong ways to leave. I’ve been so grateful to hear from women who want to handle things biblically.

First, a couple of words of counsel that generally apply to nearly all situations when you’re considering leaving a church:

•In most circumstances, even bad ones, I would counsel against “ghosting” your church – simply disappearing with no explanation or goodbyes to anyone. When you’re preparing to leave, as appropriate to your particular situation, tell your pastor how much he has meant to you. Say a special goodbye to dear friends. Speak words of encouragement to your leaders and teachers. Search your heart for anyone you may have sinned against, repent, and apologize. Leave graciously.

•If you’re married, you and your husband will need to talk and pray together about whether or not to leave and how to do so. Be sure to remember that your husband is responsible for making the final decision and you are responsible for submitting to him.

Let’s talk about some of the more specific reasons you might have to leave a church, and what it would look like to leave well in each situation.

Death

If you’re a faithful member in good standing and you die unexpectedly, you’re off the hook. It’s OK to “ghost” your church. :0)

If you’re a faithful member in good standing and have a terminal illness, use some of your remaining time (if you’re able) to make a gracious exit. Take some time for special goodbyes. Discuss your funeral service and details with your pastor if applicable. Consider leaving a gift to your church in your will.

Moving or Temporarily Relocating

If you’re moving too far away to continue attending your church, let your pastor and those you’re close to at church know.

Do you know your new address and/or e-mail address? Provide it to the church office if you’d like them to keep sending you the church newsletter and any other mailings, and let them know if it’s OK to give that information out to other church members who would like to stay in touch. Make sure you have correct phone numbers and e-mail addresses for church friends you want to stay in contact with. If you’re not yet connected to a church in your new hometown, ask your pastor if he can suggest a good church in the area.

For those who are temporarily relocating (for example, college students or military families) and want to keep your membership in your home church, yet be active members of a church in your new location, find out if your new church has any sort of dual membership option (sometimes called “watchcare”). This allows you to maintain your membership in your home church while giving you membership benefits (voting, teaching, communion, or whatever your new church’s policies are) in your new church.

Switching from a good church to a church that’s a better fit for your family

Maybe the church you’ve been attending is a good one, but you’ve recently become more Reformed in your soteriology and you’d like to join another church in town that you more closely align with, theologically. Perhaps there’s a nearby church that has started offering programs and accommodations your disabled child could benefit from that your current church isn’t equipped to offer. Maybe, though doctrinally sound, your current church has switched to a genre of music that, even after giving it a good faith effort, still grates on you to the point of distracting you from worship, but another local church has music you’re more in harmony with.

None of these are reasons you absolutely have to leave a church. In fact, if your church is teaching sound doctrine, and the reason you’re considering leaving is a matter of preference or convenience, I would encourage you to try to work things out and stay at your current church if at all possible. It might be that God would have you start programs and accommodations for the disabled at your current church, or that He will begin to use the new music style in your life in some way. At the very least, when it comes to non-doctrinal issues like these, give it plenty of time, prayer, and serious thought before you leave.

Talk to your pastor (or appropriate elder) when you start thinking about leaving. This should not be an “If you don’t change X,Y, and Z, we’re outta here!” type of conversation. Be kind. Express your concerns or needs lovingly and biblically. Find out if there’s any information you need to know that would affect your thoughts about leaving. For example, maybe the pastor has also started becoming more Reformed and needs you to stay and support him as he begins transitioning the church in that direction. Maybe a lot of other church members have expressed discomfort with the new direction the worship music has taken and the leadership is considering changes that would make it easier for you to stay. You never know until you discuss it with your pastor.

If you come to the decision that you really need to move to another church, talk with your pastor again and let him know your decision. Take care of all of your church responsibilities before leaving: if you’re teaching a class with a definite end date, finish it. If you’re teaching a permanent class, let whoever is in charge of securing teachers know when you’ll be leaving so a new teacher can be found. Wrap up any projects or turn them over to the appropriate person. Resign any positions you hold. Don’t leave your brothers and sisters in the lurch.

When you say your goodbyes, it’s not necessary to disclose to everyone every detail of your reasons for leaving, but, if possible, try to stop any gossip before it starts by making sure people understand you’re not leaving because of someone else’s sin, unresolved conflict, false teaching, etc.

Leaving due to sin or false doctrine

The chairman of deacons is having an affair and nothing has been done about it. Your pastor just finished Bill Johnson’s book and is starting to teach New Apostolic Reformation false doctrine. Women have been preaching from time to time on Sunday mornings.

The most crucial time not to simply disappear from your church is when there’s sin or false doctrine in the camp. Jesus and the Apostles did not handle sin and false doctrine by avoiding it or ignoring it. They loved the people committing the sin and teaching the false doctrine enough to confront them – sometimes harshly, if needed – so that they might repent and be reconciled to Christ. We don’t run. We reconcile.

Just as God placed Esther in exactly the right position at the right time to help rescue His people, it could be that God has placed you in your church and given you a biblical understanding of the situation for such a time as this.

In cases of both sin and false doctrine, you should usually* follow the steps for church discipline outlined in Matthew 18:15-20:

1. If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. (15)

2. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. (16)

3. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. (17a)

4. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. (17b)

(*If you have knowledge that someone is imminently about to commit sin, especially if that sin will victimize someone else, and time is of the essence, gather the appropriate leaders and/or church members and intervene immediately. If a crime has been committed, alert law enforcement.)

In my article, The Mailbag: How should I approach my church leaders about a false teacher they’re introducing?, I’ve outlined some steps to take when approaching your pastor or lay leaders about using materials authored by false teachers. Most of this information can be adapted for dealing with issues of sin and church discipline as well.

If the sin or false teaching issue is resolved biblically, praise God, forgive, do whatever you’re able to do to be at peace with all involved, and stay at your church if at all possible.

If you have done everything you’re able to do to help bring about a biblical resolution to the situation and the sin or false doctrine is being allowed to continue, it’s probably time to leave and find a spiritually healthy church. Talk to your pastor or elders, and let them know you’ve decided to leave and why.

Attempt to leave as graciously as possible, taking care of your teaching/serving responsibilities, saying goodbye, making arrangements to stay in touch with friends, etc.

You will need to prayerfully consider the biblically appropriate way to explain to fellow church members and leadership why you’re leaving. Don’t slander people, make an unnecessary scene, or disclose inflammatory details indiscriminately on your way out, including on social media. However, it may be a situation in which those left behind need to know what’s going on so they can make an informed decision about how to address the situation or whether to stay or leave themselves. It may be appropriate to write out a calm, objective, scripturally annotated letter explaining your reasons for leaving, and mail or hand deliver copies of it to the appropriate people. You might need to talk to the denominational leadership board or organization that oversees your church. There are so many different possible scenarios it would be impossible for me to make a blanket statement as to what would or would not be biblically wise and appropriate in every single situation.

 

No matter your reasons for leaving your current church, your search for a new church to join with needs to begin as soon as you’ve made the decision to leave. If you need some help, ask your pastor or trusted Christian friends for suggestions of good churches, or explore the Searching for a new church? tab at the top of this page. Whatever you do, don’t succumb to the sin of staying out of church, because for the Christian, Church is Not Optional. And that’s Non-Negotiable.


If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.

Mailbag

The Mailbag: What’s In a Name?

 

How should my child and I refer to a child who is transitioning (girl to boy)? This is not a child with whom we are close. She is the granddaughter of a neighbor and visits them once or twice a year. Because she and my daughter are near the same age (tweens), they spend time together while she is visiting. 

She recently arrived for a visit and informed my daughter that she is transitioning and wants to be called Brandon* instead of Shannon from now on. She now dresses like a boy and has a male-looking haircut.

I have already talked to my daughter about the biblical issues at play and have explained that we need to be loving and kind to her friend, but also not cooperate with her delusion of becoming a boy.

I don’t want to use the pronoun “he” to refer to this child because it is not biologically possible and it is sinful to try to change the gender God gave you. But what about her transition name (Brandon)? People change their names and I don’t think that’s sinful. But to change it for the purpose of denying your God-given gender would be.

Would you call her by her given name or her new name?
*Names changed

This is such a heartbreaking situation, and it’s happening way too often. So called “gender reassignment” is physically, psychologically, and spiritually abusive. Children in sexual identity sin need loving, kind, supportive, biblical help, not for someone, especially their parents who are supposed to protect them and do what’s best for them, to enable them in their dysfunction.

You didn’t ask about this, and you might already be doing it, but could I suggest two things before we get into the names and pronouns? Pray fervently for this child. Pray by yourself, with your daughter, with your whole family. Pray for her parents and grandparents. Pray for opportunities to share the gospel with all of them. This child is in for a very painful life, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

In addition to loving her and sharing the gospel with her, try to do little things that will subtly continue to keep Jesus in front of her eyes whenever she’s with your family: say the blessing before meals, invite her to go with you to the church picnic or youth activities at church, do a mother-daughter Bible study every morning and ask her if she’d like to join you and your daughter. Don’t beat her over the head with these things or stop doing things with her that she would consider “normal” (going for a swim or out to get hamburgers), but try little avenues like this for introducing her to Christ.

Now as far as calling this little girl “Brandon” and using male pronouns for her, I would probably land very close to where you are on the issue. The way we use and understand language as human beings is very impactful, which is precisely why we’re starting to see people getting fired from their jobs for refusing to use male pronouns for women who think they’re men, and vice versa. Changing the language changes the tide of the movement. Once the people pushing this agenda get the language changed, changing laws, hearts, and attitudes is much easier for them. They even think it can change reality – that a woman can actually become a man and a man can actually become a woman.

As Christians, we should recognize better than anyone how integral someone’s name can be to her identity. God’s name is I AM. It’s not just an arbitrary label chosen for its mellifluous lilt. That is the essence of who He is. Matthew gives us two names for God’s Son – Jesus, “Yahweh saves,” and Immanuel, “God with us” – these names tell us His true identity and purpose. And all over the Bible, we see the importance of a person’s name to his or her identity. People’s names often had ontological meaning. And sometimes God changed a Bible character’s name at a milestone moment to indicate that that he was moving into a new phase of life. Abram to Abraham. Sarai to Sarah. Jacob to Israel.

Interestingly, there’s even an incident in the Bible that parallels the name-changing issue today. When Nebuchadnezzar took the people of Judah captive and changed the names of Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah to Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, he did so as a method of forcibly assimilating them into their new identity as Babylonian slaves in Babylonian culture. He was attempting to change their entire identity – the way they thought about themselves – from sons of God to conquered slaves of Babylon and make that new identity a reality. And that’s what’s going on with Shannon as well as the sexual identity agenda “pronoun police.” The change of name and pronouns is an attempt to change the new identity of the person into a reality. But every time someone uses the biologically correct name and pronouns for someone in sexual identity sin, that person is jolted out of her delusion of being the opposite sex and right back into the inescapable reality of the sex God created her to be. (It’s the sexual identity sin version of the positive confession aspect of Word of Faith theology: If you just believe hard enough and say all the right things and never the wrong things, you can speak your desires into existence. Scary, huh?)

So when someone in sexual identity sin asks you to call her by an opposite sex name and pronouns, it’s not some “no big deal” kind of thing. Whether that person realizes it or not, she is asking you to help perpetuate her delusion and protect her from being confronted by the reality of the way God created her, so that she can continue believing that what she wants to be true actually is true.

I have said on previous occasions that Christians shouldn’t use opposite sex names or pronouns (or made up/incorrect pronouns like “ze,” “fae,” or “them/their”- referring to an individual) for all of the aforementioned reasons and more. I do understand that for various reasons of employment, family peace, and so on, there are godly people out there who may decide in their own circumstances to use opposite sex names and pronouns for people in sexual identity sin, and I want to make clear that, while I probably would not agree with those decisions, I don’t necessarily think those godly people are, across the board, sinning by doing so. This is a tough issue to navigate because the Bible doesn’t explicitly tell us what to do in this situation. We need to prayerfully examine the issue and the Scriptures and follow our biblically informed consciences in our particular situations. (Todd Friel helpfully discussed this issue on Wretched {~51:36}, recently.) So please hear me clearly: this reader asked what I would do in her particular situation (which doesn’t involve the possibility of losing a job, being arrested, etc.) so that’s how I’m going to answer.

I could not, without violating my biblically informed conscience, call Shannon Brandon and start using male pronouns for her. However, I would also realize that she is going to feel hurt by not being called Brandon, which could cause her to distance herself from my family and the gospel influence we could have upon her.

The way you worded your e-mail, it sounds like Shannon came in and sort of announced or told your daughter that her name is Brandon now or that’s what she’d like to be called. Shannon announcing this is not the same thing as you and your daughter agreeing to comply with it.

Personally, what I would do, is just skip using formal names and not worry about the pronouns. The pronouns will be easier to dispense with because he/him/his and she/her/hers are third person pronouns. In other words, you use them when talking about someone (to another person), not when you’re talking to someone. When you’re talking to someone, you use second person pronouns (you/your/yours) which are already gender neutral.

Avoiding using Shannon’s formal name may also be easier than you realize, especially since you don’t see her very frequently. Think about how often you actually use your husband’s, children’s, or friends’ names when speaking directly to them in conversation. Usually, we don’t start a conversation with someone we’re sitting across from by saying, “Bob, let me tell you about my day,” we just start talking. We also use pet names (sweetie, kiddo, my friend) and nicknames (Green Eyes, Tiger, Boss). Some people are in the habit of calling others by their last names, military style. If Shannon’s “boy name” and “girl name” started with the same letter (ex: going from Shannon Johnson to Steve Johnson) you could call her by her initials.

One of the main reasons people in my house call each other by name is if we’re trying to get that person’s attention or call them from another room. Instead of your daughter calling to Shannon from another room or through a closed door, “Shannon, would you like a drink?”, teach your daughter to walk up to Shannon, tap her on the shoulder, or wait until she comes into the room, and ask her the question once the two have made eye contact. (She’s probably already good at this since most kids that age have earbuds in all the time!) Among kids, “Hey!” “Yoo hoo!” or a yoo hoo-type whistle to get her attention can also work. Keep all of these kinds of things lighthearted and casual, and Shannon might not even notice. Meanwhile, you can keep on loving her and sharing the gospel with her.

Anyway, that’s the kind of thing I would do unless Shannon point blank says something like, “I want to be called Brandon. Will you please call me that?” or “Why aren’t you calling me Brandon?”. At that point, you or your daughter will need to lovingly and briefly explain that in the same way Shannon feels uncomfortable being called a girl name, your daughter feels uncomfortable calling her a boy name. Ask Shannon if there’s some kind of compromise she and your daughter could make (initials, nickname, “secret code names” they can have fun making up, etc.) that would make both of them feel comfortable.

If she wants to know why you/your daughter feel uncomfortable, lovingly tell her the truth. “We love God. God made you a girl. If we call you by a boy’s name, we feel like we would be saying He did something wrong or made a mistake, or that we would be lying about how He made you. But we do still love you and still want to be friends.” If you feel like it would be appropriate or helpful, you might want the grandparents to be present while you have this conversation. You and your daughter might also want to role play this scenario ahead of time so that she will feel prepared when it’s time to have this conversation.

When you have this conversation with Shannon, you need to understand that it most likely won’t be well-received and that it could very well be the last conversation you have with her. Her grandparents may be angry with you. Her parents may be angry with you. As Christians who stand firmly and lovingly on Scripture, we should expect the world to hate us. But we should also remember Christ’s promises to us:

If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. John 15:18

Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5:11-12


If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.