Areas I Struggled In Regarding Legalism

Saturday, September 15, 2012



A Message for Mamas

In this blog, I write a lot about the struggles I had with not knowing how God wanted me to mother.  Frequently, I found myself blaming Him for the confusion I was in and asking Him why He had burdened me with standards I could not reach.  Nothing could have been farther from the truth!  Our God is "not the author of confusion" (1 Corinthians 14:33) and His "burden is light" (Matthew 11:25-30).  Certainly, death to flesh is required, and death is never pleasant.  But, in His strength, His will is not a burden that weighs us down.  I have since come to know our God as a gentle Shepherd Who desires for us to lead our little ones in gentleness, as well.  Apart from the Spirit's work in me, I have never been known as a gentle person.  My father frequently referred to me throughout childhood as "a bull in a china shop" and it was a fitting title.  Unfortunately, my rough way carried over into my mothering (There is a reason my kids hate getting their noses wiped!), and my lack of gentleness was only intensified by my confusion and the heavy weight of rules I had burdened myself with that God had not given.  How I am urged to grow in this fruit of the Spirit the more I learn about the gentleness of our Savior.  

He is a Victorious King, yes!, but a Gentle Shepherd, too. 

My official "mommy verse" is Isaiah 40:11 which says,

"He will tend His flock like a Shepherd;
He will gather the lambs in His arms;
He will carry them in His bosom,
and gently lead those that have young."  

What a wonderful truth God has written on my heart through this verse!  He will lead us gently, not in confusion or with impossible expectations (as is often the result of legalism).  He "knows our frame" as it says in Psalm 103:14, and His gentle leading of us will translate into our gentle leading of our children.  Candy Summers writes, "If frustration and yelling have taken the place of peace and gentle leading, life has gone astray from God's design."  It is not just that yelling and frustration are contrary to God's design, but they are also the fruit of lives that have drifted from His leadership. (Oh, can I testify to that!)  It is only when are being led by Him that we can truly be at peace as we seek to lead our little ones to Him.  

I wrote the following poem early on in my parenting journey and the Lord has used it often to encourage me.  I pray it is a reminder to you to seek His leading, as well as an encouragement that, as a daughter of the King, "...it is God who works in you both to will and to do according to His good purpose" (Philippians 2:13).


Gently Led to Gently Lead

I'll never be a perfect mom,

 But You, O Lord, are perfect in me.
Above all of my faults and flaws,
May it be You in me they see.
Hold my hand while I hold theirs,
So I can take them where You lead.
Lord, You've blessed me with Your little lambs;
As I shepherd them,
Shepherd me.


P.S.  I am sure it goes without saying (especially if you know me!), but I have NOT always sought the Shepherd's leading and have often failed to follow His direction.  By sharing this message that I am so passionate about, I know I need to be careful and not give the impression that following God's leading is something I have "mastered".  I am still very much a work-in-progress, but I can also testify that God, by His grace, continues to be faithful to lead me through the process of learning to be led by Him.  And for the multitude of times I fail, He is there to beckon me to "come boldly to the throne of grace" so that I may "find mercy and grace to help in (my) time of need." (Hebrews 4:16) 


Disclaimer:
I have disabled the "Comments" section on this blog due to time considerations.  As much as I would like to read your feedback, I could easily get lost in responding to and moderating comments.  I know you fellow moms will understand :).  

Navigating Tip:
I would recommend reading the main blog posts first (simply by scrolling down) before the pages (highlighted in red at the top next to "Home").  The posts mainly detail my "soap box" message, while the pages are more of an encouragement stemming from it.


Heavenly Father,

I dedicate this blog to You.  May it bring glory to Your great Name.  I ask that You would use it to expose any legalism that is burdening moms and their families.  I ask that, in my weakness, Your strength would be made known.  I desperately want everything to be “right”, but I know I am fallible and there is the potential for error.  Please, guard my sisters from anything I write on here that You would not want them to receive.   

“I’ll never be a perfect writer, but You, O Lord, are perfect in me.  
Above all of my faults and flaws, may it be Your Truth that they read…”

In Jesus’ name,
Amen

Saturday, February 25, 2012


What is my Soap Box Message?

As I am completing my first decade of parenting, I am starting to realize that the sweet "little old ladies" in the grocery store were right – it does go by fast!  (It is equally true, as my friend Page says, that though the years fly by, some days are long... especially those potty training days for me!)  I recently realized, as a younger generation of women in our church are having their first babies, that I am no longer one of the “young moms on campus”.  I was equally surprised when a couple new mamas started asking me for advice.  Me?  The woman who STILL doesn't know how to potty train and who can find herself arguing with preschoolers?  The woman who loves her kids, but doesn't want to get out of bed some mornings?  The woman who fervently prayed for "a heart for home" night after night after night after night after night..."  
(Praise God, He is working that in me!)    
I still struggle in this calling and may not have much to offer in the way of expertise, but I do have one "soap box" message in particular that is stamped on my heart, so to speak.  It goes something like this:
Be a Berean! (Acts 17:11) and check everything you read and hear regarding parenting against the plumb-line of God's Word.  Be wary of those books that tell you something is THE Biblical way to do something when it really is a Grey area.  There are many things that are THE way God wants us to do something.  They are often referred to as the Black and Whites in Scripture which are the universal commands and teachings of God.  If God says it, so should we! Then there are the Grey areas which are issues in life about which God is either silent or not specific about.  If God doesn't say it, we shouldn't either!  By that, I mean we should not make laws/standards of righteousness that He has not made.  As it says in Colossians 2:8, "See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ." 


Making Into Law The Traditions Of Men

The following section concerning Grey areas contains many excerpts (in bold) from the post on this blog entitled "A Response to Divided":

"A misunderstanding of this difference (between the Black/White and Grey areas) is the cause for many divisive issues within the Church today.  Whole ministries have even been built upon the assertion that their particular methods are THE Biblical way.  One example would be that of infant feeding and sleeping.  Certainly, meeting your baby’s basic needs is obeying the Biblical Command to "love" them, but the specifics of HOW that is carried out is largely a Grey area.  Other examples include: the particulars regarding modesty, educational choices, health and nutrition guidelines, the process leading up to marriage, the specifics of discipline, how to best be a "keeper at home" and family devotions."  

An example of a Grey area being taught as a Black and White is regarding the popular teaching that parents "have" to hold regular family devotions.  I would like to point out that while we are commanded in Deuteronomy 11:19 to speak God's Word to our children ("when we sit in our house, and when we walk along the road, and when we lie down, and when we rise up"), the practice of regular family devotions is an application of this command.  What is being described in the Deuteronomy passage is making God's truths part of our everyday talk with our kids.  Nowhere in Scripture is there a command for a family to have a scheduled worship service in the home.  Is it a wonderful thing to do?  YES!!!  It is just not universally required, as it is a Grey area.  


"Of course, everything we are led in regarding the Grey areas MUST comply with clear Biblical commands.  And if God leads us in a particular Grey area, it then becomes sin for us to disobey.  However, we have to be careful to never hold up a standard God has given us personally as something He is calling everyone else to.  One of the reasons we as believers can get caught up promoting our way as THE way is because we often do have godly reasons for why we do what we do.  The Lord may have even used some examples in Scripture to lead us in a particular direction.  And when we begin to experience the blessings of obedience to God’s leading, it is natural to then want others to experience the same blessings.  The danger comes when we go beyond sharing our testimony regarding our particular "tradition" to then holding up our way of life as the best way, or worse, THE Biblical way."

This is a form of legalism.  I will clarify the three forms of legalism so as to be clear which one I feel called to address on this blog.  The following was taken from CARM (the online "Christian Apologetic and Research Ministry"): 
"...legalism can take different forms.  The first is where a person attempts to keep the Law in order to attain salvation.  The second is where a person keeps the Law in order to maintain his salvation.  The third is when a Christian judges other Christians for not keeping certain codes of conduct that he thinks need to be observed... The last kind of legalism...is a frequent problem in the church."

Concerning the last form of legalism, in his book "The Bible Exposition Commentary", Warren Wiersbe writes, "Legalism is one of the major problems among Christians today.  We must keep in mind that legalism does not mean the setting of spiritual standards (emphasis mine, as it is an important point);  it means worshiping these standards and thinking that we are spiritual because we obey them.  It also means judging other believers on the basis of these standards... The Pharisees had high standards; yet they crucified Jesus."

And R.C. Sproul, of Ligioner Ministries, writes, "a... prevalent and dangerous form of legalism occurs when we elevate our opinions to the status of divine revelation and impose them on others.  Jesus often castigated the Pharisees for adding rules to the Bible and then acting as if those rules were from God (Mark 7:1-13).  May we never be guilty of this great sin."

It is this form of legalism that I feel called to address on my blog.  I also have a burden for any sisters who fall prey to such legalism and begin to believe that their salvation, righteousness before God or His approval of them is contingent upon keeping legalistic rules.  I pray that God would use something here to remind them that is is "for freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery."  (Galatians 5:1)

It is important to note that because the main message of this blog is concerning legalism, it may appear that I am saying it is the THE problem facing the church.  But this is not the case.  Licentiousness (disregard for the commands of God) is just as much a danger to the Body of Christ.  I want to make it clear that there are two dangerous extremes that we are prone to swing to: legalism and license.  The only way we can keep ourselves from swinging from one extreme to the other is to know and obey the Word of God.


My pastor recently said something quite excellent.  It was, 
"All Scripture is God-breathed; even the stuff left out."

"The fact that there are Grey areas raises a question.  If God is silent on some issues, then is the Word no longer “sufficient” for all of lifes decisions?  The sufficiency of Scripture is in no way compromised by Grey areas because the Word DOES “speak to all of life” by giving us direction on how to proceed when the Bible is not specific: “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 DIRECT YOUR PATHS.”  (Proverbs 3:5-6)   “Ask, seek and knock…” (Matthew 7:7); "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask…"  (James 1:5) 

Why would we be told to ask for wisdom if everything we EVER need to know about every detail in life is to be found in Scripture?  I believe God is silent concerning some specifics in life not only because our cultures, callings and circumstances are unique, but because He wants us SEEKING HIM for direction.  We were redeemed not just for holiness, but for RELATIONSHIP with the Living God!  Not only has God spoken to us clearly through His Word, but He has also given us His Spirit (HIMSELF) to live within us.  These two Guides in our lives work together to lead us in "paths of righteousness for HIS NAME’S SAKE" (Psalm 23:3).  Look at it this way:  God is silent on some things in the Bible so that He might speak about them to us through His Spirit."

It is important to note that those of us that are wives are called to submit to our husbands (within Biblical parameters, of course  – we should never submit to sin!).  When they lead in a particular Grey area that we may not agree with, we should share our concerns with them and PRAY!.  But as long as it is not something we feel our consciences stirred about, we are called to follow them.  God will bless this obedience.

This soap box message became very clear to me through a long and painful struggle that began when I was introduced to a Christian parenting book during my first pregnancy.  The next post shares that testimony...

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Note: Before I begin, I want to say that I know a number of wonderful families who have had positive experiences with the two books I am addressing here.  I cannot stress this enough, as it is not my intent to attack anyone's parenting or dissuade anyone from using methods God has given them.  It isn't the methods in-and-of-themselves that I find fault with, but the way in which some of them are presented in the material.  I am extremely sensitive to written material that carries legalistic tones. What others may be able to sift through with discernment and "spit out the bones", may become, for me and others who are also weak, a minefield of confusion and doubt.  It is out of this weakness of mine that God gave me this passion to expose legalism.  Please know, I am NOT trying to stir up a debate here!  Rather, my heart is for truth and unity and I pray that is clear as you read.


Growing Kids God’s Way?
It was through an intense spiritual and emotional struggle I had with one ministry in particular called Growing Families International (GFI) that I came to be so passionate for Christians to know the difference between the Black and Whites of Scripture and the Grey areas.  In this post, I will share that experience and hopefully, it will help to illustrate my soap box message.


Preparation for Parenting

During the third trimester of my first pregnancy, a friend gave me the book "Preparation for Parenting" (PFP) by Gary and Anne Marie Ezzo.  (It should be noted that all of my experiences with this publication are with the edition that it at least ten years old.  Revisions to the issues I am raising may very well have been made in newer editions.  Also, PFP’s secular counterpart entitled "Babywise" does not contain any of the Christian references or arguments from Scripture.)
In PFP, the Ezzos teach that scheduled feeding and sleeping is THE Biblical way to parent an infant.  They misuse Scripture at times to substantiate their opinions and also give extreme fictional examples of children not parented according to their parenting philosophy.  I certainly did not want to raise the kind of tyrannical child they portrayed!  And, of course, I wanted to parent according to God's will, so when my son was born, I tried the PFP feeding/sleeping schedule.  It did not take long for me to know that this method just wasn't for us.  (Please know, I am not saying it is wrong universally; just that it was not right for our individual family.).  While I didn't feel comfortable parenting according to what was put forth in PFP, it was still a struggle for me to shake the things I had read in there.  Had I really chosen an unbiblical, "neoprimitivistic" way to mother my little one?  This was a time of extreme confusion and emotional turmoil for me.  On one hand, my husband (and I, at times) had a peace about the way we were being led to parent; on the other hand, I was SO confused whenever I would hear other sisters talk about baby scheduling because in my mind the context in which they were speaking was what the Ezzo's referred to as “God’s order” for babies.  Again, the doubt would creep in that I was parenting contrary to His will and I was harming my child.  

Over time, I grew in my relationship with the Lord and my understanding of His Word.  I came to know the difference between the Black and Whites of Scripture and the Grey areas.  I now trust His leading in our lives as opposed to being confused by the opinions and personal convictions of others.  It was so wonderful to be freed!  However, it was a very painful process.  And it is something that I have a passion for others to avoid.  With God's Word as our plumb-line, we can avoid being "carried to and fro by every wind of doctrine"! (Ephesians 4:14) 

want to make it clear that I don’t believe there is anything wrong with infant scheduling.  In fact, I know that God may very well lead my husband and I to that one day!  What I do have a problem with is it being presented as THE Biblical way because that is simply not true.  I am concerned for those who don't schedule feed but, due to this book, feel guilty that they are not parenting Biblically.  I also have concern for parents who feel they HAVE to follow the Ezzo's methods and do so with turmoil.  

The following section highlights concerns I have with another popular book by the Ezzo's called "Growing Kid's God's Way" (GKGW).


Legalism found in Growing Kid’s God’s Way
By legalism, I am referring to calling something sin, or holding up something as a standard of righteousness, when God has not.  This is what the Pharisees were guilty of (Matthew 15:9).  Such legalism has the potential to burden people with rules that God has not given them.  I believe GKGW contains this kind of legalism and I am speaking out about it not only because such teachings pose harm to some families, but because they can also hurt the Body of Christ in general by causing disunity... especially when ministries like GFI encourage people to associate with a "like-minded" community. 

I do need to make it clear that there is much good in the pages of GKGW.  No doubt, discerning people have been able to glean helpful parenting tips.  It is not for those parents that I am concerned.  My concern is for those who may, apart from the Spirit's leading, follow the Ezzo's teachings because they believe it to be "God's Way" and find themselves burdened by legalism.

Legalism flows out of a Wrong Emphasis 


I believe the legalism in GKGW has its foundation in a wrong focus.  While the Ezzos do state that apart from regeneration a child cannot truly be godly, they then go on to place an exorbitant amount of emphasis on the moral training of children and even make it seem as if we as parents have the ability to produce children who are morally righteous.  There is a lot written about "intrinsic controls" and not enough, in my opinion, on saving faith in Christ to truly transform an individual.  The goal of morality (which apart from Christ is "filthy rags" (Isaiah 64:6)) is a thought repeated throughout the book, while the importance of the Gospel in Christian parenting is not emphasized.  Again, they do affirm the need for regeneration, but such comments seem to be few and far between.  Raising a moral child is clearly the Ezzo’s emphasis in parenting (which probably explains why it is so popular amongst Mormons).  They make this goal clear in many different ways throughout the book.  However, for believing parents, isn't it our ultimate desire goal to raise children who obey the Lord because they love Him and, in doing so, glorify Him with their lives?  Don't we hold our children to the moral law not just because it is good, but because it is primarily a "tutor...to Christ" (Galatians 3:24)?  By taking the focus off of Christ and the Cross, and by making the primary focus of parenting the moral training of children, I believe GKGW presents a parenting philosophy that is more focused on outward appearances than the heart.  This is fertile ground for legalism.


Applications are not Moral Mandates

Again, the legalism I am referring to in GKGW is the elevation of certain opinions to standards of righteousness which God has not made.  For example, the Ezzos write "We believe it is morally correct for children to use titles of respect...We believe such titles are more than personal preference  they are a moral mandate." (emphasis mine)  The latter statement is simply not true that it is a moral mandate to use titles (Mr., Mrs., etc.).  And both of these statements could confuse people into thinking that those who choose not to use them are wrong (i.e. in sin).  Using titles of respect is an application of the command to respect one's elders (Leviticus 19:32; 1 Timothy 5:1-2), not a Biblical requirement.  A good example of this is from my own family:  Many of the adults in our social sphere have asked our children to call them by their first name.  Therefore, in order to respect these people's particular wishes, we have chosen for our children to refer to them as they have requested.  We have been led in a different (yet, still appropriate) application of the Biblical command to respect elders. 

Social "Sins"
Other sections I found to be troubling were concerning social behavior: 
  • Regarding a shy child not speaking to an adult who had addressed them, the Ezzos state that not only is the shy child committing a "minor sin", but that the parent’s sin in allowing it is of a more serious nature.  This may be true in individual cases (if God convicts someone that their shyness is a sin for them and certainly, He may lead parents to address it in their own children), but it is not true in a universal sense.  While there are sins like "the fear of man" that can definitely result in shyness, being shy in-and-of-itself is not something the Bible teaches is sinful; therefore, we shouldn't either.  It is these kinds of teachings that, when internalized by some parents (like I used to be), can lead to bondage to the "rules of men" instead of seeking to be led by the Spirit in the lesser things.  


  • Another example of this is their comment that a child interrupting is "unbiblical".  Of course, it can be selfish, or rude (depending on the situation and culture), to interrupt and parents may be led to train their children in various ways not to do so, but to say that it is unbiblical is to say that it is wrong period (a sin) which is simply not true.  Adultery is always a sin; interrupting is not.   


  • They say (in regard to a study on small children) that the "moral" child was the one who didn’t eat until the hostess sat down.  In contrast, how are we to think of the child who did not do so?  I believe it is these kinds of teachings that have contributed to GFI's history of divisiveness in the Body of Christ. 


  • They write the following: "waiting until five years old is much too late to start working on the skills of sitting, focusing and concentrating.  These are moral-developmental skills, not stage-acquired activities."  Now, I know God leads some people to teach their children these skills early in life, but to say that they are moral-development skills is a confusing statement.  Here they are raising their opinions concerning a particular method to the level of morality which is cause for concern.

  • Their section about mealtime etiquette could cause people to overly focus on outward behavior that is not commanded in Scripture.  Of course, the law of love is to be applied at the table ("love is not rude"; which means "unseemly") and basic manners are very good things to teach our children!  But they will often look different family to family (certainly in different times and cultures!), and are not a major reflection of people's parenting as the Ezzos assert.  They refer to their rules as "standards".  In a book entitled "Growing Kids God's Way", these kinds of statements concerning standards are even more confusing.  Whose standards?  Theirs or God's?  They state, "Your goal is to train your child in a way that he adheres to these standards both at home and away."  They are giving parents a goal and standards that God has not given universally.  

The Ezzos do not always equate their opinions and methods with moral law, but at times they do as in the teachings regarding interrupting, shyness and titles of respect.  At other times, the line between application and principle or command is blurred which is concerning in books that claim to be teaching you "God's Way".  By internalizing these kinds of teachings that really are not God's way for all Christians, I fear that some people may lose the joy in parenting because their burden is heavier than it ought to be.
Parenting according to God's commands (children are to obey and honor their parents (Ephesians 6:1-2),  we are to be careful not to exasperate our children and bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4), we are to love them with a phileo (affectionate) love (Titus 2:4), etc. as well as all the other (Grey) areas God will lead us in individually as parents) is a big enough task without adding instructions that God has not given to us.  If you are a parent who has sat under the Ezzo’s teachings and feel overwhelmed, please do not forget that Jesus said His "burden is light" (Matthew 11:30).  If you find yourself burdened by standards that God has not given in His Word, I would encourage you to pray about them and see if, in fact, they are part of God’s gentle leading in your parenting journey: 

"He gently leads those that have young."
Isaiah 40:11

A Word of Warning

The following is a copy of an e-mail from a dear sister in the Lord who felt led to warn the Body of Christ about the No Greater Joy ministry and some of the legalistic, and even dangerous, parenting methods it presents.

A NECESSARY WARNING:

Children have died from their parents getting carried away with a method of child
training that is presented as biblical:  "To Train Up  A Child" by Michael Pearl. 

The children who have died are: Sean Paddock - 4 years old , Lydia Schatz -
7 years old, and Hana Grace-Rose Williams -13 years old.  You can verify
this information for yourself just by googling - death and Michael Pearl.

Dear Body of Christ,
Please take to heart that what we need to raise our children is not a
method, but it is for us as parents to truly rely on the Spirit of the
Living God who indwells us.  He does all things well!  Grace to all who love
the Lord Jesus with an undying love.


Regarding Methods

Pastor Reb Bradley has written::

"It is critical to understand that God wants us to trust not in principles, methods, or formulas, no matter how "biblical" they seem.  God wants us to trust in HIM!...our responsibility is to obey 
 God's job is to produce results (1 Corinthians 3:6)."

There have been times in our parenting when God has led us to certain methods that have been very helpful.  However, it is important to know that methods must always be subject to His leadership.  I remember one evening in particular when my daughter was throwing a tantrum.  Now, we had a certain method for dealing with such behavior that we felt the Lord had given us.  However, He clearly impressed it upon my heart at that time to forego it, just hold her instead and pray over her out loud.  Not only was it exactly what was needed for the moment, but I learned in a very powerful way to trust the Master and not the method.
As we read,
 may our Shepherd lead!

"To (read), or not to (read):  that is the question."  It is a question I should have been asking myself long ago.  Being an avid thrift store shopper as a young wife and mother, I read MANY Christian books written by women for women.  I gleaned much solid teaching and many helpful tips from a good number of these books, however sometimes the author's opinions were put forth as THE way to be a godly woman which would often send me into a whirlwind of confusion. 

There was a season where God called me not to read anymore "How To" books for a while.  Referring to the Bible, my wise mother would often say to me during that time, "You have a Book, Laura. Read it."  It is so important that we be grounded in the Word of God as we navigate the waters of the Christian book market.  Books can be a tremendous blessing, but we should never neglect THE Book in our pursuit of other reading.  This is something I have been woefully guilty of that contributed greatly to my lack of discernment in the past.  

Even after I grew to know the difference between people's opinions and God's revealed will, I still struggled with the comparison trap.  2 Corinthians 10:12 says, "Comparing themselves to one another they are without understanding……"  Failing to heed this truth, I got caught up in wondering whose way was "best", while failing to realize that what is "best" for one family may not be God's best for another.  Many well-meaning women will give you practical advice based on their unique situations/callings, personal strengths and/or relationships with their own husbands.  I struggled with one author’s writings in particular until I finally realized she was writing from the perspective and experience of having raised one daughter.  Just practically speaking, she was able to do things I simply am not able (or called) to do with six!  


I also often read about the importance of making beds.  Now, my husband thinks bed-making is unnecessary and has requested that we not do it.  It took me quite some time to make peace with the fact that it really was God's "best" for us to have messy beds.  By God's grace, I am no longer easily distressed when I read other people's opinions and recommendations because I know He will lead my husband and I in it if it is His will for us.  And if it isn't His will for us, I can rest assured knowing that His will for our individual lives is ALWAYS best. One of my favorite quotes is:  "There is no better place to be than in the center of His will."  


Realizing that His will for families (in regard to the Grey areas of life) will look different family to family, we are freed to appreciate these differences instead of always looking to others as THE standard of what a godly family looks like.  We are also protected from the danger of seeking to validate our own decisions by finding problems with others' (which is also something I have fallen into).  Jesus alone is our standard and, within the parameters He has set for us in His Word, there is much room for differences.



Jesus is the Pattern 

Karin Kyle, Pastor Damien Kyle's wife from Calvary Chapel Modesto, gave a good illustration of this in a teaching at a women's conference.  In one of her Bible Study classes she handed out a dress pattern to each of the ladies. They were given the assignment to take it home and, following the pattern, make a dress out of any material that they wanted.  She said that at the end of the class, when all of the completed dresses were brought back, it was amazing to see how different they looked even though they had been cut from the same pattern. 
In the same way, Jesus is our pattern.  Yes, we are to pattern ourselves after Him, but within the parameters of that pattern we are allowed distinctions – distinctions that reflect the creativity of our God Who makes no two fingerprints, snowflakes or sunsets alike. When reading, instead of comparing ourselves with the author, we can appreciate the woman God has created her to be while keeping an open heart to anything in her example that God may be calling us to emulate.

All Kinds of "Good"
Another great illustration of this truth was written about by Melissa Howell in a devotional story she authored about her family's sock-matching techniques.  Every person in her family had different ways of finding a pair of socks out of the "big, yellow sock bucket" that housed all of their single socks.  She wrote:
"Watching how my husband and children handle their matchmaking duties has taught me that there are indeed many ways to accomplish – with success – a single task.  From carefree Ken to organized Elizabeth, they all get the job done.  They just use different tactics and, most days, each of us leaves the house with a sock on each foot.
It's much the same with mothering.  When I'm tempted to compare the way I run my home and care for my kids to another mom's parenting style,  I have to remind myself  that a good mother is defined in a million different ways, and a perfect one does not exist just as Jill Churchill says..."
Jill's quote was, "...there (is) no way to be a perfect mother and a million ways to be a good one."

For example:  Some good mothers give their kids bubble baths every evening; other good mothers bathe their children less frequently.  (And there are good moms who let their children take "showers" by running through the sprinklers in their swimsuits on summer evenings!)  I used to think "good mothers" only did the first one, which was a guilt-inducing problem for me because I have never bathed my children every night.  How freeing it was for me to realize that there was not one right way to care for my little ones in this area.

We are "not (our) own"...
You may not struggle at all as I did in regard to books, however I believe this next encouragement applies to all sisters:
Be sensitive to the Spirit when making reading choices.  

Just because a book, or other writing, is "lawful" doesn't mean it is necessarily "beneficial"               (1 Corinthians 10:23).  This does not only apply to those things that confuse or burden us, as there is always the factor of time.  We live in a unique period of history where a vast array of information is at our fingertips.  As moms in the 21st century, many of us have more teachings, ideas, opinions, etc. coming at us than previous generations of mothers did.  It just takes time (time that God may not be giving us) to read and process it all.  And, if needed, is there time to be a Berean (Acts 17:11) to make sure that what we are reading is in accordance with sound doctrine? 

Again, books and articles can be great resources, and what is not "beneficial" for one, may be just what God has for another (Different dresses; same Pattern).  My heart in writing this is to simply encourage all of us to involve God in this aspect of our lives.  After all, we "are not (our) own"             (1 Corinthians 6:19); we are His.
"To (read), or not to (read):  that is the question..." that only God can answer for us...
Are we asking Him?
"Fear of man is a snare..."
Proverbs 29:25

In Matthew 23, Jesus accused the Pharisees of washing "the outside of the cup", while ignoring the weightier issues of the heart.  The reason they were guilty of this is because they sought to appear righteous for the praise of men (in verse 5, Jesus says, "They do all their deeds to be seen by others.").  I have often adopted legalistic standards simply because I cared desperately about what others (not God) thought of me.  I would have my children perform certain ways in public that the Lord had not led us in, or I would be terribly embarrassed and apologetic when they didn't do what I thought those watching expected them to.  What bondage!  (Please know, I am not saying that this is THE reason people fall into legalism; rather, it is one reason that was a significant factor in my life.)

Fear of man has also caused me to often focus solely upon the outside behavior of my children and ignore the state of their hearts which is always where true godly behavior will come (Matthew 15:18).  Here is a recent example:  One Sunday, I walked into my kid's classroom to make sure they had checked in okay.  My older son had taken his two sisters to class and had "dragged" one of them in too roughly by the hand.  She responded by swinging her fist at him.  I came in just as he was retaliating.  I was MORTIFIED, which is actually an understatement!  People were there.  People other than our immediate family!  I took them out into the hall and began to correct them.  Not from the perspective, mind you, of "God wants you to love and be kind to one another.", but the "What do you think you are doing here AT CHURCH!?!?" angle.    

Of course, I don't want my kids to fight at home either, but later the Spirit convicted me that I wasn't at all upset because they were being unkind to one another (which is the appropriate response to such sin).  Rather, I was terribly embarrassed because of my pride.  I was concerned only with the outside (how we appeared before others) and not the inside (how we appeared before God).  The heart conditions that led to the unkind actions of my children were not my concern; I wanted them to be good only because others were watching.  I was washing the outside of the cup...


A Good Read

Reb Bradley has written an excellent article that addresses the dangers of parenting with an overemphasis on the outward.  It was through this article that it was impressed upon me how the enemy wants a Pharisee as much as a Prodigal.  

The article was written specifically to homeschoolers, but the message in general applies to all Christian parents. You can link to his article here: 
http://www.joshharris.com/2011/09/homeschool_blindspots.php

"Choose You This Day Whom You Will Serve..."
Joshua 24:15

When I am living for my image I am serving myself and it has terrible ramifications in how I portray the Christian life to my children.  How I long to be completely free of the sin of the fear of man that I might only emphasize in my parenting the things that truly matter!

May we all, by God's grace, be parents who parent unto Him alone;
who seek to hear "well done" from Him alone;
and who model before our children a fear of God alone.
"He has showed you, O man, what is good.  
And what does the Lord require of you?  
To act justly and to love mercy 
and to walk humbly with your God."
Micah 6:8

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Note:  'Divided' is a controversial film about age-integrated church worship that was produced by the National Center for Family Integrated Churches (NCFIC).

A Response to ‘Divided’

If you took the time to watch ‘Divided’, I ask you to also take the time to read this critique of some of the arguments made in the film and on the website.  (While it is written in the first person, it should be noted that my husband and I both wrote it together.)

I am entering this discussion because this issue is causing disunity in the Body of Christ, which is something that I am, and God is, passionate about (Ephesians 4:1-3).  Pastor Chuck Smith once said, "When Christ's Body is divided, pray tell, who bleeds?"

My purpose in writing this is that I see a misunderstanding in the film ‘Divided’ regarding the BLACK and WHITES of Scripture vs. the GREYS (areas the Bible is silent about).  To have Youth Ministry or not to have Youth Ministry is not a Black and White issue.  It is an area where we need to be led by the Spirit in our individual churches and families. 

First I must make a few disclaimers:

Please know, my heart is not to cause division, but rather to expose an error that is hurting the Body of Christ.  Even though I feel compelled to write this, it is my fervent prayer that I do so "making every attempt to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:1-3)

This is written with respect, and in the love of God, for the men who produced, and appeared in, the film 'Divided’.  Also, I am not saying my conclusions necessarily reflect the personal views of all the family-integrated Church (FIC) proponents featured on 'Divided'.  Rather, the conclusions I have come to are based off of the presentation as a whole, as well as the information provided on their website.

I share the concern that many youth programs have become entertainment-based instead of Scripture-based.  I also wholeheartedly agree that fathers need to be the spiritual leaders in their homes (Ephesians 6:4).  Additionally, I am in no way opposed to age-integrated worship.  I truly believe the Lord is leading certain churches and individual families in that direction! 

What I don't agree with is saying that age-integrated worship is THE model we see in Scripture, or conversely, that "...Youth Ministry is Contrary to Scripture" as 'Divided' puts forth.


The Positions Of ‘Divided’

The ‘Divided’ website states the following concerning their primary argument (emphasis and numbering is mine): “First, the primary argument of the NCFIC and the film Divided is not that youth ministry does not exist in the Bible.  While we do observe in the film that the modern form of systematic, age-segregated youth ministry has neither precept nor example to support it in either the Old Testament or the New Testament, we do not rest our argument on this fact alone.  What is more important – and this is the main point we want to make – is that (1) all the positive commands and examples in Scripture call for the practice of age-integrated worship and discipleship in the church and the responsibility of parents to disciple their own children.  Deuteronomy 4:2 commands us not to add to or take away from the teaching and commands of Scripture in this regard.  (2) To engage the church in systematic age-segregated youth ministry adds to God’s instructions on how youth are to be taught and trained, and (3) it takes away from God’s commands to parents to teach their own children (Deuteronomy 4:9; 6:7).

From this statement, we see three main positions of their argument, which I have numbered and emphasized in capital letters.  I disagree with each of these positions, and will deal with each one in order. 


Scripture Does Not Call For Age-Integrated Worship

The first position I disagree with is that: “all the positive commands and examples in Scripture call for the practice of age-integrated worship and discipleship in the church, and the responsibility of parents to disciple their own children.”

There are numerous positive commands in Scripture regarding the responsibility of parents to disciple their own children, and therefore, I do not disagree with the second half of their statement.  However, it is significant that there is not one single positive command for age-integrated worship anywhere in Scripture.

Clearly, the parental responsibility of discipleship is not something God wants His people in confusion over, so He has repeated the command to parents explicitly in numerous places (Genesis 18:19; Deuteronomy 4:9; Deuteronomy 6:6-9; Proverbs 22:6; Ephesians 6:4). 

If age-integrated worship was also important to God, we would expect that He would similarly instruct us with clear commands to implement it within His church.  But He has not. 

It is my position that just as no set of positive commands exists which specifically call for age-integrated worship, neither does there exist a “normative pattern” of “examples” which calls for age-integrated worship as it relates to the regular weekly worship structure of the New Testament (NT) church.  


Scriptures Used In Support Of FIC

The Bereans (Acts 17:11) were noted for searching the Scriptures.  Let’s be Bereans and see what “normative patterns of “examples” might exist in Scripture of age-integrated worship. 

The ‘Divided’ movie and website claim that age-integrated worship is clearly taught and seen throughout the Bible, however, very little Scripture is provided.  What follows comes from the NCFIC community (in absence of references on the ‘Divided’ website) and are the only Scriptures I have seen used to support the supposed normative pattern of age-integrated worship. 

Before we begin, what should be noted up front is the immediate context of each of these supporting passages.  When it comes to Bible interpretation there is a popular saying which is “Context is King”.  Significantly, regular corporate worship is not the immediate context of any one of these passages.

“Assemble the people, men, women, and little ones, and the sojourner within your towns, that they may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God, and be careful to do all the words of this law, and that their children, who have not known it, may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God, as long as you live in the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess. (Deuteronomy 31:12–13)  Earlier, in v10, Moses was instructed to do this at "...the end of every seven years, at the set time in the year of release, at THE FEAST OF BOOTHS (emphasis mine), when all Israel comes to appear before the LORD your God."  Notice the context:  This was not their regular worship, but rather a festival.  Not even a yearly one, but one that came every SEVEN YEARS.  Is this passage truly in support of age-integrated worship within the NT Church?  I don’t believe so.

“There was not a word of all that Moses commanded that Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel, and the women, and the little ones, and the sojourners who lived among them.” (Joshua 8:35)  Here, Joshua is fulfilling something Moses instructed in Deuteronomy 27:1-8: "Now Moses and the elders of Israel commanded the people saying, Keep the whole commandment that I command you today.  And ON THAT DAY THAT YOU CROSS OVER THE JORDAN (emphasis mine) to the land that the LORD your God is giving you, you shall set up large stones and plaster them with plaster.  And you shall write on them all the words of this law, when you cross over to enter the land that the Lord your God is giving you..."  Here again, we do not see a pattern for weekly corporate worship, but a celebration and memorial on a very special and never-again-to-be-repeated occasion: the people coming into (to possess for the first time) the Promised Land.

“While Ezra prayed and made confession, weeping and casting himself down before the house of God, a very great assembly of men, women, and children, gathered to him out of Israel, for the people wept bitterly.” (Ezra 10:1)  In this passage, a worship service is not taking place but rather, a national time of repentance for the people having "...broken faith with our God and married foreign women from the peoples of the land...” (verse 2).  Some of the women and children present here may have even been of the ones who were "put away".  Verse 3 says, "Therefore let us make a covenant with our God TO PUT AWAY ALL THESE WIVES AND THEIR CHILDREN (emphasis mine), according to the counsel of my lord and of those who tremble at the command of our God, and let it be done according to the law."  Clearly, the context of this passage is not one of regular corporate worship.  Rather, it is a tragic event in Biblical history, and example of the devastating consequences of sin.

And all the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate. And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the Lord had commanded Israel. So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could understand what they heard, on the first day of the seventh month.” (Nehemiah 8:1–2) The footnote in my ESV Bible says concerning this passage: "In this (passage) the Book of the Law is solemnly read, the Feast of Booths is kept, and a great act of covenantal renewal is performed."  The Israelites had come back into the land after a long absence.  This was a unique occasion and festival (the Feast of Booths), not a regular gathering of corporate worship.  Yes, in each of the above passages we saw men, women and children present during the reading of the Law at three distinct gatherings (and one tragic event in Israel’s history that includes not the reading of the Law, but corporate repentance), but do these examples really argue for a normative pattern that then is to be looked at as a prescription for NT church worship?  

Let's move on to the New Testament.  These passages should be especially important, since it is the New Testament Church we are discussing.

“At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me.” (Matthew 18:1–5) “Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” And he laid his hands on them and went away.” (Matthew 19:13–15)  Notice that corporate worship is not the context.  The purpose of these passages is to teach truth regarding the Kingdom of Heaven, of which children are a precious part. Was it important that Jesus called the little children to Him?  Yes!  But it is not an example of age-integrated worship.  They came to Him there (presumably alongside their parents) because the King of Kings and Lord of Lords was physically in their midst!  Today, little children can come to Jesus in the sanctuary alongside their parents OR in a classroom with a Sunday School teacher. There are NO commands (either positive or negative) of Scripture that would lead us to believe otherwise.

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” (Ephesians 6:1)  The context here is also not corporate worship.  Rather, it is the institution of God’s design for the Christian household (Ephesians 5:22-6:9). 

Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.” (Colossians 3:20)  Same as above.

The elder to the elect lady and her children, whom I love in truth, and not only I, but also all who know the truth,” (2 John 1).  The context here is not corporate worship, but a salutation.

Regarding the above three verses, some have made the argument that Paul assumed that children would be present when these letters were being read.  Therefore, they conclude that the normative pattern of the NT church was one of age-integrated worship. 

First, it should be noted that the children being present in the worship service MAY have been out of necessity (limited space) or the result of cultural norms.  If cultural norms and setting constitute examples we are supposed to follow then you would also have to conclude that women must keep their heads covered during worship, that the Lord’s Supper is to be more than bread and wine (i.e. a meal), that believers are to adopt a kind of communal living based on the example of the church in Acts that had “all things in common”, and any number of false conclusions.

But even if these three NT passages are examples of children being present in the worship service with their parents, it does not follow that they constitute a normative pattern for the NT church that then warrants a prescription for how the global Church should operate.  I will make the argument further on in this post that patterns are not tantamount to commands, and cannot be used to determine whether something is THE Biblical way to do something (i.e. it would be sin not to do it).   

Having reviewed the Scriptures provided, it seems clear that there is neither a Biblical command nor a Biblical pattern for age-integrated worship.  (For that matter, neither do we find a prescription for age-segregated worship).  Rather, the Bible is silent on the matter.  It is a Grey area.


Youth Ministry Does Not Add To God’s Instructions

The second position which ‘Divided’ argues is: “Age-segregated youth ministry adds to God’s instructions on how youth are to be taught and trained”.
They also say, “DEUTERONOMY 4:2 COMMANDS US NOT TO ADD TO OR TAKE AWAY FROM THE TEACHING AND COMMANDS OF SCRIPTURE IN THIS REGARD.”

What does it means to “add to God’s instructions”?  When one claims that some particular practice adds to Scripture, they do not simply mean that whatever is being practiced cannot be found in Scripture.  Many practices in this life can be godly, while not found in Scripture (e.g., art, educational methods, occupations, para-church ministries, etc.)

Rather, adding to God’s Word occurs when one takes a practice not found in the Bible, and elevates it to the level of Scripture.

Jesus called out the Pharisees for doing exactly this with their strict adherence to traditions of men (Mark 7:5–8).

Since the Bible is silent on the issue, if one argued that Youth Ministry was THE Biblical model then they would most certainly be guilty of adding to God’s instructions.  However, most proponents of age-segregated ministry do not say it is THE Biblical way.  Rather age-segregated ministry is a way to teach children and youth about Jesus. 

Only when we take something not found in Scripture, and elevate it to the level of Scripture, are we guilty of adding to Scripture.  Therefore, it is not correct to say that churches who have a Youth Ministry are transgressing God’s command in Deuteronomy 4:2 not to add to the Law.


Youth Ministry Can Help Parents Teach Their Children

The third position which ‘Divided’ argues is that “age-segregated youth MINISTRY TAKES away from God’s commands to parents to teach their own children”.

Is this true?  Does age-segregated Youth Ministry usurp a parent's calling to teach their own
children? 

If an hour and a half of Bible instruction to children in a Sunday School class is “contrary to Scripture” because it “takes away from God’s command for parents to teach their children”, then it would seem (following that chain of logic) that any teaching not given by the parents would HAVE TO BE WRONG, as well.  I don’t think  ‘Divided’ would argue that it is wrong for children to sit under the teaching of a pastor alongside their parents, so maybe their position is that it is only wrong for children to be taught when their parents are not present.  

What about churches hosting Homeschool Co-ops?  Or what about having an instructor trained in Inductive Bible Study teaching those methods to a class of children?  Would these particular arrangements “add to God’s instructions on how youth are to be taught and trained ?  Are Homeschool co-ops “unbiblical” or are they, as I would argue, aBiblical (not specifically mentioned in the Bible, but not contrary to it)? 

God did not say to parents that they ALONE were to be the teachers of their children.  Clearly, we as parents must not abdicate our responsibility to teach our children of the Lord.  But we DO have the freedom in Christ to prayerfully choose teachers in their lives; whether it be through the books of C.S. Lewis, the sermons of R.C. Sproul or the felt board stories of a Sunday School teacher. 

If parents are obeying the command in Deuteronomy 6:6-7 to talk about His commands when they sit at home and when they walk along the road, when they lie down and when they get up, then a few hours of Youth Ministry a week does not usurp their parental authority or calling to teach.  And since Youth Ministry and other Sunday School programs can, and often do!, fulfill the very clear Biblical commands to “Preach the Word” (2 Timothy 4:2), “Bring the little children to (Jesus)” (Matthew 19:14) and “…make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19), it is simply NOT TRUE to say, as ‘Divided’ does, that “Youth Ministry is contrary to Scripture”.


Patterns Are Not Commands

The reason I disagree with the previous three statements from ‘Divided’ is because I do not believe they have a Scriptural argument for them.  I see a foundational flaw in the Biblical exegesis underlying the primary positions in the film ‘Divided’ and its website.  The problem is the authority given to patterns and principles found in Scripture.  I believe that God’s universal will for us is found in the Black and Whites of Scripture, namely, His commands.

The ‘Divided’ website states, “If we accept the premise that we are only obligated to obey the Word of God when there is an express command, then we are forced to grapple with a number of other issues.  For example, there is no command against polygamy, but Christians believe polygamy is wrong because of the patterns and commands of Scripture that define marriage, not because of a direct command against it.”

Polygamy is here being used to support two points, one of which I agree with.  It is correct to say that we do not have to have “express commands” in Scripture in order for something to be regarded as sinful.  What I do not agree with, is that polygamy is sin because of “patterns and commands of Scripture”.  Here, it appears that patterns are being elevated to the same level as commands.  While it is true that we do not have an express (or literal) command in Scripture that polygamy is a sin, we do have very CLEAR COMMANDS regarding marriage, which polygamy clearly violates (Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19 4-6; 1 Corinthians 7:10; Ephesians 5:22-33; 1 Timothy 3:2; Hebrews 13:4).  Patterns do not determine that polygamy is wrong; COMMANDS do. 

‘Divided’ goes on to say: “Gambling and the smoking of marijuana are not condemned in the Bible, yet there are principles of Scripture that make it clear that these are sinful.”  Again, ‘Divided’ is correct in saying that “we are not only obligated to obey express commands”.  Some things, though not explicit in Scripture, fall under the interpretation of certain commands.  Marijuana is one of those.  Though there is not an “express command” (i.e. marijuana is not specifically mentioned), there is a Biblical command which speaks to it, namely: And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit. (Ephesians 5:18)  We interpret and apply this command to marijuana by understanding that we are not to be controlled by anything which leads to debauchery.  Instead, we are to give ourselves over to the leading and control of the Holy Spirit.  Clearly, marijuana has the same controlling effect as being drunk with wine and therefore, violates the command.  So it is not the principles of Scripture which makes smoking marijuana a sin, but rather clear commands in Scripture which make smoking marijuana sinful.

Concerning whether or not gambling is sinful, I would not say that “principles of Scripture” make ALL gambling sinful.  Instead, there are clear commands in Scripture which make MOST instances of gambling sinful.  Gambling very often is motivated by greed, which God’s Word clearly addresses as sin in numerous places (Colossians 3:5, 1Timothy 6:9-10, etc.).  Ephesians 4:28 says, “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.”  Since much gambling involves stealing from one’s own family (using money that is meant to pay bills, purchase needs, etc.), this command would identify many instances of gambling a sin.  2 Thessalonians 3:11-12 says, “…we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies.  Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living…”  This command would make gambling as a means of primary income a sin, since those who gamble are not “earning” their winnings.  When gambling becomes an addiction it is sinful.  The following is a quote is from www.BlueLetterBible.org : “The moment any activity (be it gambling or reading) begins ruling one's life that is when that activity becomes sinful for that individual.”  Also, gambling is not generally wise for Christians because of the environment it often takes place in (in 1 Thessalonians 5:22 we are told to “avoid the appearance of evil” ).  Furthermore, it could cause “another brother to stumble” (Romans 14:21).  So again, it is not patterns and principles, but rather clear commands in Scripture that would make the MAJORITY of gambling sinful. 

‘Divided’ continues this argument for patterns by speaking about “…the authority of principles, positive commands, and normative patterns.”  Normative patterns, even principles, do not have the same “authority” as commands in Scripture.  Jesus said if we love Him we will obey His COMMANDS (John 154:15).  He told us to go and make disciples, teaching them all that He had COMMANDED (Matthew 28:28-20).  Yes, “All Scripture is God breathed” and “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness…” (2 Timothy 3:16), but not all Scripture is equal in the sense of being guidelines that we MUST order our lives after.  Normative patterns in Scripture do not need to be obeyed as Biblical commands and instructions do.  Patterns can certainly illustrate Biblical commands (as in Acts 2:42), but, in-and-of-themselves, “normative patterns” cannot be treated as having the authority that Biblical commands and instructions do.

For example, what about seeking medical care?  In Scripture the pattern we see for healing involves God either healing directly by Himself, or through His prophets and disciples.  Since the Biblical pattern for healing of physical ailments excludes seeking medical care should we say that medical care is "contrary to Scripture”?  Of course not.  We would only say medical care is contrary to Scripture if there was a Biblical command being violated.

God has given us very clear commands regarding the New Testament church (just as He did with the tabernacle and temple).  NONE of those commands deal with where children are to be during the church service.

Black And Whites vs. Grey Areas

At the beginning of this article, I stated the following: 

“I am entering this discussion because this issue is causing disunity in the Body of Christ, which is something that I am, and God is, passionate about (Ephesians 4:1-3).  Pastor Chuck Smith once said, "When Christ's Body is divided, pray tell, who bleeds?"  My purpose in writing this is that I see a misunderstanding in the film ‘Divided’ regarding the BLACK and WHITES of Scripture vs. the GREYS.” 

I will now turn my attention to why it is so important for unity within the Body of Christ for us to understand the difference between the Black and Whites of Scripture and the Greys (areas where God is silent).  “Silent” meaning there is no clear command or instruction of Scripture that speaks either directly to it; or indirectly, as in the case of polygamy.

A misunderstanding of this difference is the cause for many divisive issues within the Church today.  Whole ministries have even been built upon the assertion that their particular methods are THE Biblical way.  One example would be that of infant feeding and sleeping.  Certainly, meeting your baby’s basic needs is obeying the Biblical Command to “love” them, but the specifics of HOW that is carried out is largely a Grey area.  Other examples include: the particulars regarding modesty, educational choices, health and nutrition guidelines, the process leading up to marriage, the specifics of discipline, how to best be a “keeper at home” and family devotions.  

Of course, everything we are led in regarding the grey areas MUST comply with clear Biblical commands.  And if God leads us in a particular Grey area, it becomes sin for us to disobey.  However, we have to be very careful never to hold up what is God’s leading in a Grey area FOR US as God’s leading for another. 

For example, my husband and I have been led to homeschool and to have a large family.  These are areas we know the Lord has led us in.  However, we do not believe everyone is called to walk the same path we are on.  If the Lord at some point leads us to have our children sit in the worship service with us, we will approach it the same way. (In fact, He very well may lead us in this as our oldest has already joined us at the age of eight.)  Certainly, if people ask why we will share with them the reasons we were led, as well as the benefits of our decision.  But to say that our way is THE Biblical way would be untruthful and would cause division. 

One of the reasons we as believers can get caught up promoting our way as THE way is because we often do have godly reasons for why we do what we do.  The Lord may have even used some examples in Scripture to lead us in a particular direction.  And when we begin to experience the blessings of obedience to God’s leading, it is natural to then want others to experience the same blessings.  The danger comes when we go beyond sharing our testimony to then holding up our way of life as the best way, or worse THE Biblical way.  SUCH damage occurs to the Church when we slip into this because it results in dividing the Body of Christ.  Also, what does such division do to our witness to a lost and dying world?  How can they “know us by (our) love” (John 13:35) when we are not being loving toward one another?  I am NOT saying discussions about doctrinal differences between believers shouldn’t happen or that there isn’t a place for “iron (to sharpen) iron” (Proverbs 27:17), but we need to “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit” (Ephesians 4:3) to avoid hurting each other, our witness and our King. 

The fact that there are Grey areas raises a question.  If God is silent on some issues, then is the Word no longer “sufficient” for all of lifes decisions?  The sufficiency of Scripture is in no way compromised by Grey areas because the Word DOES “speak to all of life” by giving us direction on how to proceed when the Bible is not specific:

“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 DIRECT YOUR PATHS.”  (Proverbs 3:5-6)   “Ask, seek and knock…” (Matthew 7:7); “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask…”  (James 1:5) 

Why would we be told to ask for wisdom if everything we EVER need to know is to be found in Scripture?  I believe God is silent concerning some specifics in life not only because our cultures, callings and circumstances are unique, but because He wants us SEEKING HIM for direction.  We were redeemed not just for holiness, but for relationship with the Living God!  Not only has God spoken to us clearly through His Word, but He has also given us His Spirit (HIMSELF) to live within us.  These two Guides in our lives work together to lead us in “paths of righteousness for His Names sake” (Psalm 23:3).

Look at it this way:  God is silent on some things in the Bible so that He might speak about them to us through His Spirit. 

This is also true regarding the spiritual training of our children.  God commands parents to teach their children of Him, but many of the specifics are Grey areas for which His Spirit will lead them if they are seeking Him.  Parents who are seeking to love God “with all of their heart, soul, mind and strength” (Matthew 22:37) will be transformed to seek God’s best for their children and they will be “gently led” (Isaiah 40:11) by Him in the specifics of raising their family.

It is my prayer that those of us in this discussion will see that both age-integration and age-segregation in the church can be godly.  Moreover, both WILL be godly when based on the CLEAR COMMANDS of Scripture, and executed in the power, and by the INDIVIDUAL LEADING, of the Holy Spirit.

What We MUST Do

What then are we to do about the alarming statistics regarding youth in the church?  Ultimately, we must leave the results to God, but our part is to simply obey what He has commanded of us:

Pastors, "Preach the Word".  
Fathers, bring up your children "in the discipline and instruction of the Lord”.  
Mothers, "love your husbands and children".  
Children, "honor your father and mother".  
Church, “be in the world but not of the world”. 

And anything else God teaches and COMMANDS of us in His Word, and leads us in by His Spirit: 
Psalm 143:10 says, “Teach me to do your will, for you are my God!  Let your good Spirit lead me on level ground.” 

If we truly love Jesus, we WILL obey His commands (John 14:15), and those commands are “not burdensome” (1 John 5:3).  

Nor are they hard for believers to understand:

Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children;  yes, Father, 
for such was your gracious will…

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  
For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” 
Matthew 11:25-30