Biblical Marriage in a Broken World, Part 4

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[Editor's Note: This summer we at BtT are running some older but good posts. Look out for all new content in August. This post originally appeared on October 31, 2008.]

Portrait of a Redeemed Husband

Male bashing has been a favorite American sport for some time now. It is epitomized by a cover story in Time magazine dated February 14, 1994. On the cover you will see the body of a man with the head of a pig. The lead story for that Valentine’s edition was entitled, “Are Men Really That Bad?” The gist of the article was “yes they are.” Give them your heart and they will break it. Put your trust in them and they will let you down.

I think it must be admitted that men have too often invited such ridicule and scorn. Too many males have failed to act like men. They have come up short as husbands and fathers. However, this is where Jesus Christ makes all the difference. A redeemed man cannot be satisfied with a half-hearted devotion to his wife and children. Christ in him compels more. Christ in him demands more.

In Ephesians 5:25-33 the Bible teaches that a godly, spirit-filled husband will love his wife. In 1 Peter 3:1-7 the Bible teaches he will “know” or “understand his wife.” Let’s take a look at both admonitions.

Paul calls on a husband to love his wife. It is the Greek word agape. The word occurs six times in Ephesians 5:25-33. Its first appearance in verse 25 is a “present imperative.” A man is commanded by God to continually and consistently love his wife. Not leaving this to our imagination, Paul develops five facets of the Christ-like love every husband is to demonstrate toward his wife.

First, his love should be sacrificial (v. 25). A husband is to love his wife just at Christ “loved the church and gave Himself for her.” The emphasis of the love described here is volitional more than emotional. This love is a choice, a decision, an act of the will. This is not an “I love you if. . .” or an “I love you because. . .” No, this is an “I love you anyway. I love you even when you may not be lovely.” This is how Jesus loved us when we were dead in sin (Ephesians 2:1-10) and alienated from God (Ephesians 2:11-22). Emotional love/feelings have their proper place in marriage. It is usually that which gets us started in a relationship. However, it cannot sustain us for a lifetime. We need something wider and deeper. We need a sacrificial love that seeks the best for another even at great cost to oneself.

Second, his love should be sanctifying (vs. 26-27). Christ gave Himself for His church “that He might sanctify and cleanse her . . . that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.” The truth of this text as it relates to Christ and the church is readily apparent. But, how does it apply to the husband/wife relationship? It works like this. Because your wife is married to you, she is encouraged and enabled to grow in Christlikeness. The husband is her help in the process of sanctification and her being conformed to the image and likeness of the Savior. This means a husband will mentor and disciple his wife. He will lead and guide her to mature into a radiant woman of God. He will help her and not hinder her in her pursuit and passion for the things of God.

Third, his love should be sensitive (5:28). “Husbands ought (there is a moral imperative here) to love their own wives (it is exclusive) as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself.” A husband is sensitive to himself. He knows when he is having a good day or a bad day. He knows when he is up or down, happy or sad. In the same way he should be sensitive and aware of what is going on in the life of his wife. He needs to develop what I call a “marital radar system” that picks up signals that come from his wife. I should be quick to add this radar system should improve with practice and age. The way she walks into the room, body language, facial expression, and tone of voice are just a few of the areas a wise and godly husband will study and learn to read.

Fourth, his love should be satisfying (5:29-30). Paul says a wife should be “nourished” and “cherished” by her husband’s love. Both of these words are present participles affirming continuous action. A husband continually nourishes or feeds his wife with his love, and he continually cherishes or honors her with that same love. His love strengthens and sustains her. His love informs her that there is a place in his heart reserved just for her.

Fifth, his love should be specific (5:31-33). Paul (and Peter) not only grounds his theology of marriage in the atonement, he also locates it in the doctrine of Creation. Verse 31 is a direct quote of Genesis 2:24 (note Jesus’ citation of this as well as in Matthew 19:5). It is also pre-fall (Genesis 3). Having left father and mother to join or cleave to his wife, Paul concludes by charging the husband in verse 31, “let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself.” God calls a husband to be a “one woman kind of man.” He calls him to love his wife in such a way that she knows, the children know, friends know, and even enemies know this man is in love with and devoted to only one woman, and that woman is his wife. This man is neither a flirt or a fool. He commits to being alone with only one woman, and that woman is his wife. He constantly reminds himself that it does not matter how much he loves Jesus or his wife: “the wrong person + the wrong place + the wrong time = the wrong thing happening. The tragic example of King David is never far from his mind’s eye.

The Community of the Gospel: Regenerate Church Membership

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[Editor's Note: This summer we at BtT are featuring old but good posts for your reading enjoyment. Look out for an all new BtT in August 2014. This post originally appeared on July 22, 2008.]

This is the third post in a series dedicated to the relationship between the gospel and Baptist identity. My previous post argued that Baptists should primarily embrace a Protestant Christian identity that is nuanced by a cluster of ecclesiological distinctives that have historically been associated with the Baptist tradition. Beginning with this post, the rest of the series will address those historic Baptist distinctives.

The foundational theological distinctive among Baptist Christians is a commitment to a regenerate church membership. My colleague John Hammett goes so far as to call regenerate church membership “the Baptist mark of the church.”[1] Proponents of this position argue that a local church’s membership is to be comprised only of individuals who have been born again and placed their faith in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.

Why Regenerate Church Membership?

It is worth asking why Baptists consider regenerate church membership to be such an important doctrine. There are at least two reasons. First, as Protestants, Baptists adhere to the Scripture principle and believe that biblical doctrine and practice trumps all religious traditions, creedal documents, and private theological opinions. This means that Baptists believe in a regenerate church membership because we honestly believe this practice is both taught and modeled in the New Testament.

But there is a second reason for our commitment to regenerate church membership. Simply put, Baptists believe that a church that practices regenerate membership is more consistent with the gospel than a church that grants any form of membership to non-Christians. Baptists believe that the local church is the community of the gospel, and as such it ought to be comprised of individual “gospel people” who have voluntarily covenanted together as a local expression of the body of Christ.

Alternatives to Regenerate Church Membership

There are several alternatives to regenerate church membership. It is worth briefly discussing two of these alternatives: pre-Christian and non-Christian membership.

A form of pre-Christian membership is practiced in many pedobaptist churches whenever an infant is sprinkled and declared to be baptized or christened. Whether the child is considered a “covenant child,” a child of the Roman Catholic Church, or the pedobaptism is considered the first step in the child’s (presumptive) regeneration, the result is the same: a membership-like status has been conferred on an individual who has not confessed personal faith in Christ.

To be fair, most pedobaptist groups employ some type of confirmation or other spiritual right-of-passage before an individual can become a full member of the church. But by “baptizing” infants and making a distinction between the spiritual status (or at least the spiritual potential) of the children of Christians versus the children of non-Christians, a quasi-membership status has been granted to an individual based upon something other than that person’s faith in Christ.

Many mainline churches practice an openly non-Christian membership. In some congregations, faith in Christ is not a prerequisite to church membership. Many liberal churches do not even affirm the concept of a personal faith in Christ, instead opting for vague concepts like following their interpretation of Christ’s ethical teachings. Some even totally jettison traditional Christianity and opt for some form of soteriological pluralism. Non-Christian membership is generally not practiced among evangelical congregations.

Baptist reject both pre-Christian and non-Christian membership. We do so because these practices both fail to reflect the New Testament pattern and undermine–and sometimes sever–the relationship between the gospel and the church. Only those who claim to embrace the gospel are to be included in the community of the gospel.

Preserving Regenerate Church Membership

Although some other Christian groups affirm a regenerate church membership in principle, Baptists argue that baptistic Christians most consistently adhere to regenerate church membership. Though we may fail at times, we honestly try to “practice what we preach” when it comes to this ecclesiological distinctive. We do this through at least three practices, two of which are discussed below (the other is discussed in the next post).

The first practice is the adoption of local church covenants. Historian Charles Deweese defines a church covenant as “a series of written pledges based on the Bible which church members voluntarily make to God and to one another regarding their basic moral and spiritual commitments and the practice of their faith.”[2]

Baptists churches have been adopting church covenants since our inception in the 17th century, having imported the practice from our English Separatist forefathers. Among Southern Baptists, most churches drafted their own covenants until the latter half of the 19th century. In the years after the Civil War, many churches simply adopted the covenant that was included in J. Newton Brown’s Church Manual of 1853 and reprinted in J. M. Pendleton’s Church Manual of 1866.

Comparatively few Southern Baptist churches placed great value on church covenants for most of the 20th century. Most churches included a covenant in their legal documents; often the Brown/Pendleton covenant. Some churches, especially newer churches, did not even bother adopting a covenant. Fortunately, in recent years many churches have reemphasized the “owning” of a church covenant as a precondition of membership and an aid in promoting meaningful church membership.

The second practice, which often accompanies the adoption of local church covenants, is the exercise of redemptive church discipline. Church discipline has received a great deal of attention in recent years among both pastors and scholars. In 2008, the SBC adopted a much-discussed Resolution on Regenerate Church Membership and Church Member Restoration at the annual meeting in Indianapolis.

According to Theron Price, church discipline is intended to help preserve three principal concerns of a local church: [3]

  1. The purity of her doctrine, which is threatened by heresy
  2. The holiness of her members, which is threatened by sin
  3. The unity of her fellowship, which is threatened by schism

Church discipline is not intended to be punitive, but rather is meant to be redemptive. To say it another way, church discipline is intended to be a means of grace in bringing about conviction and repentance in the life of the offender. This is true of both Christians and non-Christians. Church discipline helps to convict and correct genuine believers who are promoting doctrinal error, engaging in ongoing, unrepentant sin, or undermining the unity of the church. Church discipline also helps to remove potentially unregenerate people from church membership by excommunicating incorrigible individuals, thus providing one important safeguard against non-Christian membership.

Historically, church discipline was greatly valued by Baptists; one only needs to read local church minutes or associational minutes from the 18th and 19th centuries to see that church discipline was a priority. Like church covenants, church discipline was largely ignored during the 20th century but has been reemphasized among many Southern Baptist churches over the course of the last generation.

Conclusion

Baptists believe that New Testament churches were covenanted communities of individuals who had embraced the gospel. And we believe our own churches should be as well. As the Baptist mark of the church, regenerate church membership is the central Baptist distinctive. The other historic Baptist distinctives only function correctly and consistently when churches are comprised of genuine believers. When this is not the case, the other distinctives are misunderstood, corrupted, or ignored. Many of our own contemporary problems in local churches can likely be traced to a failure to seriously maintain a regenerate church membership while practicing, at least in theory, other Baptist distinctives.

————

Notes:

[1] John Hammett, Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches: A Contemporary Ecclesiology (Kregel, 2005), 81.

[2] Charles W. Deweese, Baptist Church Covenants (Broadman, 1990), viii.

[3] Theron D. Price, “Discipline in the Church,” in What is the Church? A Symposium of Baptist Thought, ed. Duke K. McCall (Broadman, 1958), 164.

Biblical Marriages in a Broken World, Part 3

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[Editor's Note: This summer we at BtT are running some older but good posts. Look out for all new content in August. This post originally appeared on October 29, 2008.]

Portrait of a Redeemed Wife, Part 2

I believe a wife can be a blessing to her husband and honor him as the Church honors Christ by giving him five specific gifts of love.

1) Show him admiration.
Work to understand and appreciate your husband’s value and achievements as his wife. Remind him of his capabilities and gifts and help him maintain his walk with God. Be proud of your husband, not out of duty, but as an expression of sincere admiration for the man you love and with whom you have chosen to share your life. Let him know you see him as God’s gift to you and that you admire and respect the good and just things he does (Ephesians 5:22-23, 33).

2) Provide sexual fulfillment.
Become an excellent sexual partner to him. Study your own response to recognize and understand what brings out the best in you; then communicate this information to your husband, and together learn to have a sexual relationship that you both find repeatedly satisfying and enjoyable. (Underlining important!)

Dennis Rainey notes that men often connect their own sense of self-worth with their ability to be a satisfying sexual partner for their mate. Everything fits physiologically, but the visual, mental and emotional components need to come together as well. In particular remember your husband is a visual creature moved by what he sees whereas you are more of a person of the ear and heart. Good communication and understanding are essential if you are to enjoy this powerful and tender area of marital life (Proverbs 5:15-19; Song of Solomon 4:9-5:1; 1 Corinthians 7:1-5; Hebrews 13:4).

3) Cultivate home support.
Create a home that offers him an atmosphere of peace and quiet and refuge. Manage the home and care of the children. The home should be a place of rest and rejuvenation. Remember, the wife/mother is the emotional hub of the family. Men cannot stand to be around gripping, nagging, whiney women. Fight or flight will often be their response. A godly wife will work hard to make the home a place where her husband wants to “hang out” (Proverbs 9:13, 19:13, 21:9, 19, 25:24)!

4) Strive to be an attractive wife.
Pursue inner and outer beauty in that order. Cultivate a Christlike spirit in your inner self. Keep yourself physically fit with diet and exercise. Wear your hair, makeup, and clothes in a way that your husband finds attractive and tasteful. Let your husband be pleased and proud of you in public, but also in private. I could add a word at this point about the evil nature of flannel gowns and cotton socks (!) but I will move on (Song of Solomon 1:8-19, 2:2, 6:13-7:9; 1 Peter 3:1-5)!

5) Become his best friend.
Develop mutual interests with your husband. Discover those activities your husband enjoys the most and seek to become proficient in them. If you learn to enjoy them, join him in them. If you do not enjoy them, encourage him to consider others that you can enjoy together. Become your husband’s best friend so that he repeatedly associates you with the activities he enjoys most.

When I do premarital counseling I take the first session and talk with the couple about their relationship with Jesus, the need to attend together a Bible-believing church, and common problem areas in marriage (e.g. communication, finances, sex, children, in-laws and aging parents). I then conclude by asking the question, “Do you like your potential mate and are you becoming, if not already, best friends? I then tell them if they will grow to be best friends I believe 1) their marriage will go the distance because best friends do not give up on best friends; 2) their marriage will be a joy because best friends like being with their best friend; 3) being best friends will insure that your husband finds you attractive, feels supported at home, will be your lover and that he knows he is admired (Song of Solomon 8:1-2, 6).

“The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable (corresponding) to him” (Genesis 2:18). I believe God knew what He was talking about.